Depending on where and when you want to start your travels, you’ll likely arrive in Vietnam’s capital late in the evening. Check into your hotel, either the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, a longtime favorite with a classic colonial style and a garden courtyard with a pool, or the more over-the-top Capella Hanoi, which has a lavish and theatrical art deco décor but more limited space.
Vietnam is justly famed for its street food, but a notable fine-dining scene has also developed. Both Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and Capella Hanoi have fine restaurants. On our recent stay, we found Gia Hanoi, La Table Hanoia and Tung Dining exciting and reasonably priced, and also near our recommended hotels. Gia Hanoi is across the street from the Temple of Literature. Chef and restaurant co-founder Sam Tran, who worked for a decade at the top restaurants in Melbourne before returning home to open her own establishment, serves up Vietnamese cuisine through contemporary recipes. The chic La Table Hanoi is on the second floor of the Press Club and focuses on gourmet French cuisine, available à la carte or in set menus. And with no fewer than 20 courses, Tung’s tasting menu is the longest in Hanoi. The acclaimed head chef is Hoang Tung, but the restaurant’s name is also an acronym — “Twisted, Unique, Natural, Gastronomic.”
One afternoon, meet a guide for a walking tour around Hoan Kiem Lake and the adjacent Old Quarter; the shopping is excellent. Another day, book a private street food tour and/or visit the Temple of Literature, contemporary art galleries and local craft brew pubs, as your interests dictate.
The new highway system reduces the travel time from Hanoi to Ha Long to about two hours, making it possible to see Ha Long Bay as a long day trip. But if time permits, consider spending the night there, perhaps even aboard a traditional wooden junk, allowing for a leisurely cruise through the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay is a spectacular labyrinth of towering limestone islands rising out of the sea. Junk boat tours and sea kayak expeditions take visitors through these striking sea stacks and include meals. It is possible to experience a guided hike in picturesque Cat Ba National Park, with its lush and tropical rainforest.
Return to Hanoi’s airport and take a short flight to Hue, Vietnam’s former imperial capital. Transfer to the Azerai La Residence, Hue, a stylishly renovated 1930s hotel on the Perfume River. The 122 guest rooms and suites feature high ceilings, terrazzo floors, private balconies and elegant furnishings made from indigenous materials. Many of the accommodations offer river views; public areas include a lush garden that surrounds a 130-foot saltwater swimming pool overlooking Hue’s ancient citadel.
Excellent French-Vietnamese cuisine is served at the hotel at La Parfum, which also offers cooking classes.
Spend a full day exploring Hue, starting with the immense Imperial City, a walled compound in the center. Although it was heavily damaged during the war, many of its gates, temples and pavilions have been restored, as have some of its patios and gardens. Also, visit some of the notable sites on Hue’s outskirts, including the tranquil Thien Mu Pagoda and one or two of the imperial tombs (the hillside tomb of Khai Dinh and lakeside resting place of Tu Duc are especially recommended). Complimentary bikes are also available for hotel guests. Save some time to relax in Le Spa at Azerai La Residence, Hue.
Transfer with a car and driver from Hue to Danang, where gleaming new hotels and apartment towers have sprouted along famed China Beach. Nearby is the Museum of Cham Sculpture, housing an arresting collection of artworks and artifacts dating from the 5th to 15th centuries. Alternatively, detour a few miles inland to Bach Ma National Park, where hiking trails lead to picturesque pools and waterfalls.
Check into the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, set on a beautiful stretch of coastline between the Danang and Hoi An. This lavish resort has 100 beachfront and pool villas with spacious baths that extend into private tropical gardens with outdoor rainfall showers. Pool Villas feature private courtyard entrances, plunge pools, kitchenettes and personal butlers.
Dining options include Café Nam Hai for excellent Vietnamese, Indian and Western cuisine; Beach Bar, which serves tapas and creative cocktails; and the informal beachfront La Sen for Asian comfort food and regional fare.
Make a short day trip to Hoi An, a well-preserved port town with a pretty historic center. After seeing the ornate Japanese Covered Bridge, the unofficial symbol of Hoi An, explore the city’s pedestrian-friendly streets, visiting old assembly halls and temples and shopping the stylish boutiques.
We highly recommend enjoying a treatment in one of the Four Seasons’ entrancing spa pavilions, built over the edge of a placid lotus pond. And definitely take the time to relax on the sand or beside the immense sea-view pool.
Transfer to Danang’s airport and fly nonstop to Nha Trang, Vietnam’s most famous resort town. We recommend two hotels in the region. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is accessible only via a 20-minute speedboat ride from town. Some of its sea-view villas have dramatic private pools hewn from boulders. Exquisite Amanoi overlooks Vinh Hy Bay, about an hour and a half south of Nha Trang by car, in a remote location on the coast of Nui Chua National Park.
Spend at least two days experiencing the amenities of your resort, perhaps enjoying sightseeing cruises, hikes, spa treatments and snorkeling.
Take a short flight to Ho Chi Minh City, known more popularly as Saigon. Check into either the Park Hyatt Saigon or Mia Saigon. The former is right in the heart of town by the Opera House, but its garden courtyard pool is an oasis of tranquility. The latter is on the city’s outskirts, with a large swimming pool facing the Saigon River, giving it more of a resort feel (a motorboat shuttles guests between the hotel and the city center at scheduled times throughout the day).
Highlights at the Park Hyatt include the Vietnamese and French-inspired Square One and the trattoria-style Opera for Italian cuisine. At Mia Saigon, a romantic waterside restaurant, Kitchen by the Sea, serving fine Vietnamese cuisine, is highly recommended. In town, head to L’Usine for lunch. This offbeat shop in an old factory is part restaurant, part handicraft emporium. The store sells Vietnamese housewares, including hyacinth-scented candles.
With so much to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no shortage of potential adventures to be had. Enjoy a private guided sightseeing tour with a driver and guide — perhaps venturing out to sample the wares of the Ben Thanh Market — or simply relax at your hotel. It’s your vacation after all — there’s no wrong way to make the most of it.
Your flight out of Ho Chi Minh City will likely leave either in the morning or late in the evening, meaning that you can depart first thing or have another full day in Ho Chi Minh City before heading off.
This is but one possibility for what your vacation could look like — our travel advisors could spin infinite variations depending on your tastes and their insights. Reach out today and together, we’ll get started on choosing, planning and booking your perfect vacation.