Now with direct flights from the UK to Vietnam, planning your perfect holidays in Vietnam has never been easier. Departing twice a week with the national carries Vietnam Airlines (Gatwick to Hanoi Tuesday and Friday and Gatwick to Saigon Wednesday and Saturday) these new flights make a beach stay or fully inclusive holiday including land touring a realistic option over for a holiday of even 10 days in length. Travellers can also look forward to direct flights from Paris and Berlin international airports with Lufthansa and Air France.
Often the first thing on travellers minds – when is the best time to go? Well, as a general rule of thumb the peak months are between the months of October and March. This is when the temperatures are at their most pleasant. However, travelling out of the peak months means you can experience the best of Vietnam without the crowds, however, with such relative tranquillity is often partnered with more frequent rainfall and more humid conditions. The choice is yours!
A great way to explore Vietnam (and neighbouring Cambodia) is on a Mekong cruise. As a relatively untouched part of the world these cruises are still incredibly intimate and have avoided the trappings of mass tourism and usage. The cruises will typically take you from the bustling and frenetic streets of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to the more rustic and charming streets of Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh and then the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap. These cruises will generally take a minimum of 5 days and prices will start at $1,200pp. The Mekong benefits from a dearth of large and characterless cruising vessels and instead is resplendent with often boutique vessels that have been tastefully constructed to compliment their surroundings. A typical route down the Mekong will start in Saigon and then leisurely move down the river, crossing the Cambodia border at Chau Doc (home to a charming little town that has floating market and ancient potteries with sizeable Chinese, Kinh and Khmer communities.) and continues on the silent waters of the Mekong. Along the way many cruises will stop at the pre-Angkorian temple of Wat Hanchey, the traditional silk-weaving villages of Chong Koh and the floating villages and markets of Kampong Cham!
In addition to these relaxing cruises that showcase real life on the Mekong, there are ample opportunities to explore the rest of Vietnam at your leisure, before or after your cruise. Unfortunately there is no real option to explore the entirety of Vietnam by boat as much of the Mekong is impassable and not nearly developed enough. However, if you have your heart set on exploring as much as possible of Vietnam by boat then the below are just a few options:
Mekong Delta: easily reached from central Saigon in about two hours the Mekong Delta makes a fascinating day trip or short break that can typically last around two days. Many guide books will recommend using the port of Can Tho which is just 1.5 hours from Saigon. However, if you have your heart set on a more authentic experience then making the trip down to the lesser well known Ben Tre will offer a much quieter and less touristic view of life on the Mekong delta. From Ben Tre you can explore the small coconut processing plants where you can sample Mekong Candy; explore the traditional brick kilns that line the rivers banks or even indulge in a traditional Mekong meal of ‘razor fish’, pork curry or hand-wrapped spring rolls! Although day trips will often take place on small cruises there are always options to venture out on smaller and more traditional boats that are often individually piloted. Other activities on the Mekong include intimate walks that led by local guides that will often take you to other traditional artisans such as matt weavers, artists and potteries. As with all river travel please be sure to book with a reputable tour operator prior to travel.
Halong Bay: long the soul preserve of fishermen and small hidden communities, Halong Bay was one of the first areas of Vietnam to allow and introduce cruising as a tourist activity. A day cruise on the bay will let you see these wondrous limestone outcrops of Halong Bay up-close. As you approach these deserted islands you will start to notice the small clusters of vegetation that hang off the cliffs edges on islands that have been almost untouched by the hands of man. Although most of the boats will leave Halong City at a similar time giving an overcrowded appearance, once you start to steam ahead the boats will disperse and often give you a secluded view of this UNESCO World Heritage site. On the bay there is the option to overnight at the bay on-board a traditional junk boat meaning you can watch the sun set and rise over the mystical bay. Overnight options will generally cost upward of $250. Alternatively you can overnight at Halong city where you can enjoy a comfortable hotel room often with great views of the bay. Halong Bay can be reached by bus in just three hours from Hanoi. As with the above please be sure to book with a respectable and established tour operator before you travel and ensure that the boats used are fully certified.
Hue: As well as exploring the ancient citadel, Thien Mue Pagoda and charming streets you can also look forward to a short cruise on the perfume river which earned its name due to the fragrances carried down from the surrounding mountains. Thee cruises are often only a few hours in length and will cost upward of $20 per person.
As will every well laid holiday plan be sure to research widely, book anything your not sure about before you leave and, most of, enjoy!