Experiential travel, Vietnam
Get up close and personal with elephants, learn kitchen secrets from a chef, hurl yourself down a snowy mountainside, paraglide into paradise – if you're after an eye-opening, mind-expanding or pulse-quickening experience, these are the hotels for you.
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Vietnam’s hinterland cradles ruins of old empires, captivating Unesco-listed sites and fertile terraces of verdant paddy-fields. River-straddling Hoi An charms with an intoxicating mix of 19th-century merchant houses, ancient temples and alluring stretches of sand. Ho Chi Min City is the South’s pulsing metropolis, replete with labyrinthine streets, boutique-lined boulevards and unbeatable eats. Slow the pace down on serene white sands – untouched and authentic Phan Thiet gets our vote – or commune with nature on out-of-the-way Con Dao; secluded beaches, lush green mountains and rare wildlife make this archipelago one of the country’s best kept secrets.
Beachfront Fusion Maia Resort has stylish lodgings and smart dining down pat. Set within tropical gardens, its day spa is the largest in Hoi An and, irresistibly, all pampering sessions are included in the rate.
An Lam Saigon River is a quiet sanctuary of leafy gardens, river-watching rooms and zingy Vietnamese food. Make your lantern-lit entrance at dusk; the boat can whoosh you back to central Ho Chi Minh City in just 15 minutes.
Rustic but undeniably luxurious, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay’s boulder-perched villas are set in a secluded crescent-shaped bay; dive, spa or simply laze at this dreamy eco-friendly Nha Trang getaway.
Anantara Mui Ne Resort & Spa spawls across three heavenly seafront hectares; expect angelic masseuses, vanilla-infused cocktails and endless white sands at beachy, off the radar Mui Ne.
Vietnam’s the kind of place where you can happily flop down on a glittering beach or strap yourself in for all manners of hillside and aquatic adventures. Nha Trang’s mountain-backed bays are the jumping-off point for diving adventures; in Mui Ne, set your surfboard to the waves, or tackle the startling red-sand dunes. Pick up Ben Thanh market bargains or boutique buys in sartorial capital Ho Chi Minh, or measure up for tailor-made togs in Hoi An’s Yaly Couture; Tran Phu Street and Luong Van Can Street stock gorgeous silks and graceful ao dais. Salute the sunrise at the jungle-set temple ruins of My Son; putter past paddy fields on a two-wheeled tour of the Mekong Delta; or go bar-hopping between the soaring skyscrapers of beachside Danang.
Vietnam’s sea-plucked produce, French heritage and remarkable street food make it a strong contender for one of the best places to eat in South East Asia. Fragrant pho, bulging banh xeo crêpes and fresh banh mi sandwiches are a good start, but for the tastiest banana flower salads or charcoal-smoked bun cha, make a beeline for the roadside stall with the biggest crowd and briskest service. Nobu graduate Martin Brito mans the culinary reigns at ambitious Blanchy’s Tash; you’ll want to order everything on the menu at Bobby Chin (the tea-smoked duck and sticky coconut rice pudding are memorable). Strong, dense and aromatic, Vietnamese coffee is the stuff of barista worship; hot or iced, don’t skimp on the generous glug of sweet condensed milk for an instant afternoon pick-me-up.