Founded over 1000 years ago, Vietnam’s capital is rich in history, with the streets of its rambling Old Quarter dating back to the 14th century, and countless atmospheric temples and colonial mansions to check out. However Hanoi is about much more than the past. Scores of modern cafes, world-class restaurants, and contemporary galleries are scattered across the city. When the sun goes down, visitors can choose from rooftop bars, sophisticated drinking dens or hundreds of buzzing open air bia hơi joints that bring locals out in droves every night of the week.
The Old Quarter
The 36 narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter serve up a sensory overload for the eyes, ears and nose. Wisps of incense drift out onto streets from ancient temples, while the clang of a blacksmith’s hammer mingles with a mobile fruit seller’s call. Each street is named after the guild or trade that once flourished there. To fully immerse yourself in the Old Quarter, jump in a cyclo and take a tour of this intoxicating maze of markets, street kitchens, and shop houses.
There can be few cities in the world that rival Hanoi in terms of coffee shop density. By taking a seat, watching the sidewalk and waiting for the coffee to slowly filter itself, that the capital can best be understood. Fast-paced on the surface, the true rhythm of city life is far from hurried. Hanoians still spend long mornings and afternoons idly enjoying caffeine and conversation with friends.
Hoan Kiem Lake lies at the heart of Hanoi and embodies the soul of the city. Every morning it comes alive with walkers, aerobics classes, badminton, ballroom dancers and even a laughing yoga group. It bursts back into life at sunset, and after dark, is again thronged with locals out to take the evening air. Get amongst the action for an immersive Hanoi experience.
With stunning beaches, fantastic street food, the fabled Hai Van Pass and a growing collection of cafes, restaurants and bars, it’s no wonder the residents of Danang sport some of the broadest smiles in the country. In the early morning there is a palpable sense of positive energy. It’s impossible not to feel the buzz of Danang life and be swept along with it, so be sure to set the alarm clock early at least once on your stay.
Danang is a dream destination for foodies. Banh mi—the Vietnamese baguette—is taken to a new level here, with seemingly every street-side vendor out-doing the next. Mi Quang is another delight and every Danang local will offer an opinion on where to find the best. Grilled and steamed seafood is another highlight, with scores of seafront eateries serving a fresh catch every night of the week.
Wine and dine
Alongside Danang’s hundreds of no-nonsense beer joints, there is no shortage of places to enjoy a more sophisticated drink, with modern resto-bars including Fat Fish offering several homegrown Vietnamese craft beers on tap. For knockout views head up to Sky 36 in the Novotel for a panoramic vista of the city’s riverfront and bridges, including the Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong) which breathes fire on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Hai Van Pass and Lang Co
The Hai Van Pass is one of the finest stretches of coastal road anywhere in the world. Climbing for 9km out of Danang, it rewards motorists with views of forested slopes, deserted beaches, and lofty peaks. The descent down to the other side leads to the Lang Co lagoon where floating restaurants serve the freshest of fresh seafood, making this a great day-trip for visitors to Danang.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is bursting at the seams with enticing experiences for travellers. Vibrating with energy, innovation and traffic – lots of traffic – Ho Chi Minh City is the economic heart of Vietnam and the main hub of the southern region. A cosmopolitan metropolis, this dynamic cityscape draws together old and new Vietnam, representing the country’s past as well as its future. Here, leafy residential districts, built-up downtown areas, and colourful neighbourhoods sit side-by-side. Stay for a few nights to eat, drink, and shop in style.
Ho Chi Minh City Highlights
While Nguyen Hue is a good spot to begin your shopping, make sure you continue the retail therapy at Ben Thanh Market, the city’s most iconic trading centre. Around District 1, a host of old apartments and former office buildings have been repurposed as shopping centres, leading to some surprising retail discoveries. Decades-old buildings like 22 Ly Tu Trong and 42 Nguyen Hue are good examples of these impromptu shopping malls.
Though they may be small and sometimes difficult to find, Ho Chi Minh City has no shortage of contemporary art galleries. Start your artistic adventure at the Fine Arts Museum, once the mansion of one of Ho Chi Minh City's wealthiest residents, before venturing out to other spaces. Popular venues include Galerie Quynh, The Factory, and Craig Thomas Gallery.
Southern Street Food
Perhaps one of the southern hub's most important facets is its street food, which draws together countless regional specialties. Locals gather at dented metal tables and plastic stools across the city for incredible roadside feasts. While the options are plentiful, highlights include Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì), southern-style savoury pancakes (bánh xèo), and broken rice (cơm tấm). Cantonese cuisine is also plentiful in the city's Chinese neighbourhood.