What to see
Vietnam is a fascinating country of buzzing cities, historic towns, and the magnificent Mekong Delta. Highlights of this region include the fascinating cities of Hanoi and Saigon, the historic pearls of Hué and Hoi An, the Cu Chi Tunnels and the magnificent landscape of Mai Chau, Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta.
Halong Bay: Situated in the North-East region of Vietnam, Halong Bay is a bay in the Gulf of Tonkin comprising the regions of Halong City, the township of Cam Pha, and a part of the island district of Van Don. Halong Bay borders Cat Ba Island in the southwest, the East Sea in the east, and the mainland, creating a 120 kilometre coastline. Halong Bay is made up of 1,969 islands of various sizes, 989 of which have been given names. There are two kinds of islands, limestone and schist, which are concentrated in two main zones: the southeast (belonging to Bai Tu Long Bay), and the southwest (belonging to Halong Bay). This densely concentrated zone of stone islands, world famous for its spectacular scenery of grottoes and caves, forms the central zone of Halong Bay, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’ a fertile region of flat farmland interlaced with thousands of waterways and tributaries of the Mekong, known locally as Cuu Long, the river of Nine Dragons. The Delta’s waters are interspersed with rice fields, colourful floating markets, isolated villages and accessed only by boat. Annexed by Cambodia by the invading Vietnamese in the 17th century, the region remains home to descendants of the former Khmer Empire and the region is scattered with a working collection of temples and resident Buddhists that continue to use Khmer as their mother tongue.
Hanoi is relatively small and runs at quite an unhurried pace for a capital city. Resting in the Red River delta region, the centre is a mix of tree-lined avenues, maze like back streets with lively merchants stores, temples and lakes and has many fine colonial buildings.
Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, is a frenetic Asian city of markets, streets clogged with scooters, street side food stalls, as well as foreign restaurants office blocks and shopping malls.
The RV Mekong Pandaw and RV Tonlé Pandaw are replicas of colonial era river steamers, with ultra shallow hulls that allow them access to previously unexplored areas of the Mekong Delta between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Siem Reap. Experience the striking cultural contrast between the bustling Vietnam delta and the tranquillity of Cambodia. Constructed in traditional 1920s marine style, the boats offer 38 spacious airconditioned cabins finished in teak and brass. A choice of local and Western cuisines is offered on board. Several cruise itineraries are available, including “Mekong Exploration”, which connects three important destinations in one trip: Saigon, the exotic former capital of South Vietnam, Phnom Penh, the quaint Cambodian capital, and the stupendous World Heritage monuments at Angkor. “Into the Heart of Cambodia” travels from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, and “Mekong Delta Exploration” discovers rural villages and landscapes between Saigon and Phnom Penh.
Northern Vietnam is home to communities from neighbouring China that have retained their ethnic culture and dress. It is a region of stunning mountain scenery and bustling weekend markets where local minority groups shop and trade, dressed in dazzling costumes. In the heart of this area is the French colonial town of Sapa. Travel to Sapa by the classically restored Victoria Express train and stay in the colonialstyle Victoria Sapa Hotel. Spend time exploring local villages, visiting weekend markets and trekking in beautiful surroundings. The Victoria Express recreates the romantic era of travel and features one dining carriage and two elegant sleeping carriages accommodating 48 passengers. The train departs Hanoi six times a week for the 10 hour journey to Lao Cai.