Ah Vietnam! It really has it all; a fascinating history, stunning landscapes and bustling cities. You could be lounging on a picture-perfect beach one day and taking in the historic sites of Hanoi the next.
If you're planning a trip to Vietnam (and you really should), from north to south there's so much to do that you could easily spend a year there and not see everything! If you only have a few days to enjoy this beautiful country though, here are my top suggestions of things to do.
Days 1 & 2: Halong Bay
Don't even think of going to Vietnam and not going to Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site can't be missed. Reminiscent of Thailand's Krabi province, it has over 1600 craggy limestone islets and isles dotted about the bay and sticking up out of the azure waters. You might think it's like something out of a movie. Well, in fact, Halong Bay has featured in several Hollywood productions, including Pan and Kong: Skull Island.
The best way to see the bay is on a traditional junk boat. Take a 2-day, 1-night cruise across the bay and drool over the simply spectacular scenery!
Days 3 & 4: Hanoi
It's roughly a four-hour bus ride from Halong Bay back to Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city. On your first day, take a stroll down to Hanoi's Old Quarter, which is a maze of streets and alleyways. It's probably best to meander through it without any particular direction in mind (you'll only get lost anyway!) and while there, have a ca phe sua da (iced milk coffee) and a bun cha (pork noodle dish) – two of my favourite treats! In the evening, head over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to catch a show.
On the second day, soak up the beautiful colonial architecture of the French Quarter before walking down to Hoan Kiem Lake to take some stunning pictures as the sun goes down.
Days 5 & 6: Hue and Hoi An
For those short on time, it's just an hour and 15-minute plane ride from Hanoi to the ancient city of Hue. Once there, visit the Thien Mu Pagoda, the Imperial City and the Tombs of the Emperors before relaxing by the Perfume River to take it all in. Then, hire a private car to drive down to the riverside city of Hoi An, which takes around three hours.
Once in Hoi An, visit the Japanese Bridge and get your zen on (this covered bridge houses a teeny Buddhist temple), rent a bicycle and make your way to Cua Dai beach for some rest and relaxation. Be sure to try some white rose dumplings (the local speciality) too. Yum!
Days 7 & 8: Ho Chi Minh City
Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City never sleeps (well, the traffic certainly doesn't!). On your first day in the city, check out the markets, particularly the Ben Thanh one. After a busy day of retail therapy, make your way down to Pham Ngu Lao Street and enjoy the eclectic nightlife.
On day two, take some time to see the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and finish the day off with a performance at the Saigon Opera House.
There's so much to see and do in Ho Chi Minh that two days really isn't enough. For more ideas and a longer holiday, I recommend checking out this Ho Chi Minh City guide.
Days 9 & 10: Ho Tram Beach
Ho Tram Beach is in Bia Ria-Vung Tau Provence (125km southeast of Ho Chi Minh City) and the perfect place to chill out for a couple of days, especially after a busy sightseeing schedule. Its unspoiled waters and pristine sands make it the ideal way to finish your trip.
Be sure to try Ho Tram's excellent seafood restaurants and the nearby Binh Chau Hot Springs are great, if you're looking for a pamper session. I'll be going there the first chance I get!
Expedia is a good option for independent travel.