A Perfect Trip to Vietnam
From the island-studded seas of the north to the meandering waterways of the south, Vietnam is a country defined by the diversity of its land and the resilience and generosity of its people. Amity Smile Travel shows you how to take the perfect trip to Vietnam.
1. Hanoi: Best for city life
Fruit seller heading to market.
2. Halong Bay: Best for coast
The mystical landscape of Halong Bay, where over 2000 limestone islets rise from the Gulf of Tonkin.
Once upon a time, a friendly dragon lived in the heavens above Halong Bay. With invaders from the seas threatening Vietnam, the gods asked the dragon to create a natural barrier to protect its people. The dragon kindly obliged, performing a spectacular crash landing along the coast – digging up chunks of rock with its flailing tail and spitting out pearls – before grinding to a halt. This scene of devastation is now known as Halong Bay – Halong literally translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’.
Less exciting explanations of this landscape involve eons of erosion by winds and waves – but nobody disputes the splendor of the end result. Rising from the shallows of the Gulf of Tonkin are thousands of limestone islands – towering monoliths lined up like dominoes, some teetering at worrying angles. The islands’ names testify to the overactive imaginations of sailors who’ve spent too long at sea – Fighting Cock Island, Finger Island, Virgin Grotto. Having largely resisted human settlement, the islands have become home to other creatures. From above, sea eagles swoop down to pluck fish from the waters, carrying their prey – still flapping – high into the air, and squawking congratulations to each other from their nests.
3. Sapa: Best for walking
An evening fog hangs over Sapa. Clouds sporadically open up a bit to reveal a village, a chunk of a mountain, a patch of jungle, before obscuring them from view again, like stage scenery sliding into the wings. Eventually the clouds lift, and the Hoang Lien mountain range emerges. It is a landscape of extraordinary beauty – the Asian highlands half-remembered from childhood picture books and martial-arts films. Above are peaks thick to their summits with greenery. Below, rice terraces run down the hillsides at right angles, as neatly as the folds in origami paper.
Sapa is a town where the weather seems to operate on random rotation – switching between brilliant sunshine, thick fog, driving rain and occasionally a dusting of snow, before coming full circle to brilliant sunshine, often all within the space of a few minutes. A hill station settled by Vietnam’s French colonists, Sapa now serves as a trailhead for hikers happy to run the meteorological lottery of a walk in these mountains.
4. Hoi An: Best for food
A demonstration Cooking Class
‘Food in Hoi An is about yin and yang,’ explains Le Hanh, a young female chef scrutinising vegetables at the morning market. ‘It’s about balancing hot with cool, sweet with sour, salty with spicy.’ True to Hanh’s philosophy, cooking in Hoi An goes big on contrasting flavours; food that plays good cop/bad cop with the palate. The sharpness of fish sauce blends with the subtlety of fresh herbs; cool lemongrass makes way for the eye-watering panic of accidentally chomping on a red chilli.
Watermelons being offloaded at Cai Rang floating market.
‘If you live on a river island with twenty other people you have to learn to get along with everyone,’ explains Mrs Bui Nguyen, beckoning strangers to shelter in her bungalow beside the Cai Chanh canal. ‘That’s the reason why people in the Mekong are so friendly!’ A 77-year-old who attributes her longevity to a lifetime avoiding doctors, Mrs Nguyen wistfully reflects on the delta of old – in days when the only artificial light came from peanut oil lamps dotted along the riverbanks; an age long before roads had reached the villages. Times have changed. However, human life still instinctively congregates on the water’s edge. Lining the riverbank nearby are grocers’ shops, cafés, a gym, a billiards club and a blacksmith’s. Floating markets, too, are still held every morning at nearby Cai Rang – with creaking barges from across the delta bashing into each other as they offload cargoes of watermelons, pineapples and turnips.