Vietnam is a destination with a rich and colourful history. While some perhaps associate Vietnam with the terrible conflict that wreaked havoc on the country and left us with some of the starkest imagery of war, there is far more to this destination. Vietnam is a spectacularly bio-diverse location boasting lush tropical forests, two World Natural Heritage Sites in Ha Long Bay and Phong Nha-Kė Bàng National Park as well as so much more. Here, Kenwood Travel’s own Far East product manager Alex Wilson explains his experiences of this amazing country and what makes Vietnam holidays so special.
While Vietnam is proving more and more popular among tourists it still doesn’t quite get the amount of visitors that nearby Thailand and Bali enjoy. This is something that Alex points out actually works in Vietnam’s favour ‘It is less established on the tourist trail so you get a more authentic feel while travelling through Vietnam at times.’ He said before mentioning that even the most touristy areas of Vietnam can offer travellers amazing experiences, Nha Trang for instance boasts the breathtaking Ninh Van Bay.
Even Alex, who has travelled Asia extensively and stayed in some of the continent’s most exclusive resorts, admits he was surprised by the high standards found in Vietnam’s hotels. ‘Each hotel is unique in its own way.’ He explained ‘Mia Resorts for example in both Mui Ne and Nha Trang offer personal touches so you feel right at home. For unique natural settings meanwhile the Lang Co Resorts of Banyan Tree and Angsana are ideal.’ Alex’s favourite hotel on his trip was the Nam Hai, which is found in the breaktaking Old Quarter of Hoi An. This stunning boutique hotel boasts an array of fabulous villas and a sumptuous spa which houses eight distinct treatment rooms all floating on a tranquil lagoon. Whether you desire a luxurious spa break, a heavenly beach holiday or a stay near one of Vietnam’s bustling cities, Alex explained that there is a resort to suit the needs of every type of holidaymaker.
But what of the country itself? While watching the above video one notices that driving around the country looks like a pretty unique, some might say scary, experience: ‘We were able to sit back and take in the sights while our drivers took care of the roads!’ Alex said with a slight tinge of relief ‘The most amazing drive was when we traversed the Hai Van Pass. The terrain was pretty mountainous and on some of the hairpin bends higher up the cloud meant you could barely see one metre ahead of the car!’
Undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s crowning features are the wonderful stretches of beach. A favourite of Alex’s is found at the Princess D’Annam Hotel on Vietnam’s southern coast where the beaches are resplendent. Moving into central Vietnam Alex told me that ‘The Ninh Van Bay area had huge granite boulders and crescent bays with white sand, creating some really stunning beach settings.’ Once travellers hit the northern areas of the country the beaches become much wider and stretch on for miles into the horizon.
Vietnamese people, while perhaps not as gregarious as those from other Asian countries, are on the whole always willing to converse with visitors. ‘Once you speak to them they are always friendly and helpful. Vietnamese people are extremely proud of their country and as such always on hand to tell good stories and give sound advice on where to go’ Explained Alex when describing how it’s always worth having a chat with the locals during your visit. Vietnam is a real melting pot of cultures. Although the country is quite heavily influenced by Southern China, for instance there is a prevalence Mahayana Buddhism and Confucianism, baguettes and coffee are still very popular due to a hangover from the time when Vietnam was a French colony.
Speaking of coffee, during his trip Alex tried arguably one of the most bizarre cups of joe going. Cà Phê Chon, or weasel coffee, is a drink produced in a fairly unique way. As Alex explained ‘Civets are mammals that live in South-east Asia and enjoy eating coffee beans. When they digest the coffee the fermentation process that occurs as a result rids the beans of their bitterness, after the beans have been expelled [I’ll leave that one to your imagination] they are washed, roasted and then ready to make coffee with.’ Although Alex did try weasel coffee, he drew the line at trying cobra wine, and who could blame him?
In a perhaps more traditional (and sane) culinary experience, Alex tried his hand at the iconic Asian hors d’oeuvre of spring roll. The variety Alex tried is known as a summer roll, this is prepared fresh as opposed to wrapped in a pastry and fried. ‘It was actually not as difficult as I’d imagined’ he assured me ‘and you realise just how healthy summer rolls are as they use the freshest ingredients and raw vegetables which pack a lot of punch while still looking elegant.’
So what was Alex’s favourite activity in Vietnam? ‘Although we were sceptical about the cycle tour through the Old Quarter of Hanoi because we thought it might be a bit cheesy, it actually turned into a surprise highlight.’ Alex explained that the anonymity of moving through the streets of the Old Quarter proved very atmospheric and indeed a haven for any budding photographers you may have in your group. Hoi An, the old quarter of which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, was another highlight and boasts a stunning variety of temples, lanterns and pristine examples of Asian architecture from the 15th to 18th centuries.
Vietnam embodies so much of what makes South-East Asia such an incredible destination. Unique cuisine, enriching cities and a landscape that refuses to be tamed make this a place that will satisfy the needs of even the most discerning traveller. If Alex’s tales from this wonderful country have whetted your appetite and made you yearn for a Vietnam adventure, why not give us a call or visit our Vietnam holidays page for more information on the country and its plethora of magical resorts?