Vietnam's small town highlights
A guide to Vietnam's small town highlights
Vietnam is a long and skinny country. Most people want to visit the two major cities – French-influenced Hanoi in the north and bustling Ho Chi Minh City in the south. But there is a lot of ground to cover between those two cities – in fact, it's over 1700 kilometres by the coastal route.
So, where do you stop between the cities to make the most out of Vietnam? There are beach towns, hill villages and historic centres to explore. To help you sift through the options, we've put together a guide to the towns and villages of beautiful Vietnam.
Hoi An – a charming Old Town
Hoi An is on the coast approximately halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It is a small city, but the Old Town area has a village feel.
Hoi An is a charming place. In fact, the Old Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site – so that gives you an idea of the level of charming-ness we're talking about here. A port town with a long trading history, this town has been shaped by different cultures and influences. There's a distinctly Chinese feel in the pagodas and the covered 'Japanese Bridge' is a picturesque touch of Venice in Vietnam.
· Wander the beautiful lantern-lit streets after dark
· Explore the handcraft shops and get some made-to-order clothing from Hoi An's creative tailors
· Try the legendary local pork dish, cau lau
· Jump on a bike and take a ride to the local beach for a dip
Mai Chau – an authentic rural village
The quiet rural town of Mai Chau is set in the hills about 140 kilometres southwest of Hanoi.
Mai Chau is set in the lush mountains of Vietnam's north. The beautiful hills are dotted with villages that are home to different ethnic groups including the White Thai and Black Thai people. In Mai Chau, the dirt roads are lined with stilt houses – traditional Thai elevated homes perched above the ground to protect them from water. The views in this valley are breathtaking and the warm hospitality of the locals makes it a great base for exploring.
· Hike or cycle through the beautiful hills and small villages
· Stay in a traditional stilt house with a local family
· Learn about the local weaving tradition and shop for handmade fabrics
· Try some local home made rice wine
Dalat – a picturesque hilltown
Dalat is in the central highlands of southern Vietnam – it is about 300 kilometres north east of Ho Chi Minh City and 100 kilometres from the coast.
This pretty hilltown is set in lush, picturesque surrounds. Manicured gardens abound – there's parkland, lakes, flower gardens and French colonial architecture. It has thriving garden industries, supplying vegetables and flowers across the country. The year-round temperate climate provides respite from the tropical heat of the coast, making Dalat a popular retreat town for locals.
· Visit the retreat of Vietnam's last emperor – Bao Dai's Summer Palace
· Stroll through the vibrant Dalat Market and sample the local cuisine made from the abundance of fresh produce
· Take a look at Dalat's architectural highlights – Lin Phuoc Pagoda, the Gaudi-influenced 'Crazy House' and the Art Deco Railway Station building.
Hue – an imperial capital
The city of Hue is on the coast in the middle of the country – 700 kilometres south of Hanoi and 1000 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City.
Back in the 1700s, Hue was the capital of the Nguyen lords who dominated southern Vietnam. By 1802 they had control across Vietnam and Hue became the national capital. The buildings in and around Hue tell the story of those times – the impressive citadel contains a palace, temples and administrative buildings, all surrounded by sturdy walls and a moat, and lavish tombs of the imperial regime dot the countryside around Hue.
· Explore the Imperial City within the 19th century citadel at the heart of the city
· Take a boat trip down the beautiful Perfume River and visit Thien Mu pagoda
· Ride a bike through the surrounding countryside and explore the imperial tombs
· Slurp on a delicious bowl of Bun Bo Hue, the local noodle soup
Ke Ga – a beachside village
The small beachside town Ke Ga is set on the coast about 200 kilometres east of Ho Chi Minh City.
Ke Ga is set on a boulder-strewn coastline of picturesque beaches lined with palm trees. Just offshore, on Ke Ga Island, a lighthouse looks out over the water. It is South East Asia's tallest and oldest light house – a grandiose monument built in 1899. The town is off the beaten track – fishing boats come and go and not much much else happens. For somewhere so beautifully picturesque, it is remarkably quiet.
· Take in a dip in the warm clear waters of the South China Sea
· Scramble on the boulders of the beach 'rock garden'
· Watch the fishing boats bring their catch in to the beach
· Take a boat to the island – or walk across at low tide – to visit the lighthouse for stunning views
Ben Tre – a town in the delta waterways
Set on an island in the Mekong Delta in the south of Vietnam, the quiet backwater of Ben Tre is less than 100 kilometres south east of Ho Chi Minh City.
Ben Tre is a quiet town surrounded by the waterways of the Mekong Delta. Crops grow by the narrow delta channels – tropical fruits, coconuts, flowers and rice cover the landscape. Ben Tre provides the perfect base for exploring the area by boat or by bike. You'll see families tending their crops, children playing by the river, water buffalo ploughing and the bent backs of locals planting their rice.
· Take a boat journey up the river to watch life unfold by the narrow waterways
· If you're feeling brave, try a bowl of hu tieu, the local noodle soup which features liver and intestines
· Visit a coconut candy factory to see delicious keo dua being made by hand
· Cycle through the picturesque flat landscape between rice fields and farms