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Insiders Guide to Vietnam

rice paddies 2
chi chi tunnels

Insiders Guide to Vietnam

story by: Tom Ricketts

Ha Long Bay
Probably Vietnam’s most famous attraction, the gorgeous Ha Long Bay is a collection of thousands of rainforest clad islands rising spectacularly from the ocean across this massive bay. The islands are dotted with small beaches, some of the world’s biggest caves, and abundant wildlife. Visiting the bay on old Chinese junk style boats for one or two nights is the best way to see this UNESCO World Heritage site.
HOT TIP: Save yourself a long four hours on the road by taking a water plane from Hanoi instead.

Explore Hue’s Royal Tombs
The city of Hue is well known for its UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments. The city was once the capital of Vietnam and residence of the Nguyen dynasty. Many of the royal buildings (mainly tombs) were lost during the war, but some survived and reconstruction efforts are ongoing, making this a must visit destination.
HOT TIP: One of the most unique tombs, the ​Tomb of Khai Dinh, features amazing statues of elephants, warriors and dragons, reminiscent of China’s Terracotta Army. So grandiose is the building, the emperor had to raise national taxes by 30% just to fund it.

Squeeze through Viet Cong Tunnels
One of the most popular attractions in Vietnam are the notorious underground tunnels built by the Viet Cong. The tunnels were central to the Viet Cong resistance, and as well as giving troops a safe way to travel about the country, they also housed hidden living quarters, weapons depots, and even hospitals.
HOT TIP: At Cu Chi, outside of Ho Chi Minh, you’ll find the most visited and most accessible network of tunnels in the country. Authorities have even gone to the extreme of widening the tunnels so westerners can fit in them! However if you’re wanting less crowds and something a bit more authentic, head to Vinh Moc.

See a real Fire Breathing Dragon
The central city of Da Nang is arguably the third most important city in the country and the jumping off point for several of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. But the city itself hides a very unique attraction, a 666 metre bridge decorated with a giant golden dragon which spans the Han River. At night the bridge is lit up with an impressive light display, and on Saturday and Sunday nights at 9.00pm it releases a huge burst of fire, like a fire breathing dragon. At times it also sprays water and has been known to drench unaware tourists!
HOT TIP: The prime viewing spots start getting busy at 8.00pm, so make a night of it at one of the riverside restaurants and enjoy the light and fire show with dinner and drinks?

Eat the Food
Vietnamese food is popular throughout New Zealand so you’ve all probably experienced it before, and loved it! Be sure to try the local delicacies, especially Pho (like a soup) which is different everywhere you go, and great for brekkie.
HOT TIP: Why not reserve a place on the popular cooking classes so you can replicate all your new favourites when you get back home?

Cruise the Mekong
The mighty Mekong is the 12th largest river in the world and the largest in Southeast Asia passing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally Vietnam, before it reaches the sea. The delta starts in the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh and flows through southern Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City. A cruise down the river is simply fascinating and you’ll see people living in houses on stilts, travelling on various crafts that look in no way seaworthy, shop up large at massive floating markets, and see farmers with their cows, buffalo and even hoards of ducks as they go about their day.
HOT TIP: At minimum, a day trip to the floating markets should be done on any visit here, but consider taking a longer cruise such as 4 or 7 night trips between Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh, or even further afield to Angkor Wat!

Vietnam's Cities
Vietnam’s largest city of Ho Chi Minh and its capital city of Hanoi are both each certainly worth a visit. Both were major players when the French colonised the country and therefore packed full of beautiful French colonial architecture mixed with modern Vietnamese buildings. Hanoi is a lot more traditional and hides a relatively untouched old city complete with cobblestone alleys and delightful stores selling all sorts of trinkets. Hanoi is also blessed with many urban lakes, the perfect place to slurp down your morning pho while watching the locals do their tai chi. Ho Chi Minh City, fondly referred to as Saigon, has many attractions based on the Vietnam War such as the Cu Chi Tunnels, Reunification House, and the impressive War Remnants Museum. But this is also where Vietnam’s economy meets the world and that’s evident in the impressive highrises and huge shopping malls popping up all over the place.
HOT TIP: Ho Chi Minh is Air New Zealand’s newest destination with direct flights from Auckland kicking off in June!

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