10. Cat Ba
Although the low-slung harbour town doesn’t have all that much – except location – to recommend it, the rest of the island is rocky and wild and begging to be explored. Half of Cat Ba is verdant national park and it’s a paradise for travellers who come here to hike, climb and kayak (the waters and coral reefs are protected too). For jaw-dropping views across Ha Long Bay, head up to Cannon Fort.
9. Da Lat
Nestled in Vietnam’s central highlands, Da Lat is a quintessential hill station centred on pretty Lake Xuan Huong, whose shore is lined with pine trees. Dotted with French Colonial-era villas and blessed with a cool and temperate climate, this is the Vietnamese honeymoon destination – an air of kitsch only adds to the genteel atmosphere.
8. Da Nang
A surprise entry in this poll, the modern riverside city of Da Nang is increasingly making it onto every traveller’s must-see list. It’s particularly attractive after dark when the neon light spills across the Han River; on weekend nights the quirky Dragon Bridge is illuminated and, astonishingly, it breathes fire. East of the city, a seemingly never-ending stretch of sandy beach extends 30km to Hoi An.
7. Phu Quoc Island
Way down in southern Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is a classic deserted island getaway. It’s still relatively undeveloped, and travellers rave about the west coast with its picture-perfect white-sand beaches and spectacular ocean sunsets. It’s also well worth exploring the red dirt roads of the lush interior, which is dotted with pepper plantations and dominated by a national park.
6. Ha Giang Province
Narrow ribbon roads with hair-raising bends meander the rugged peaks and green valleys of the very far northeast of Vietnam. Though poor infrastructure has traditionally meant fewer outsiders, more travellers are making the effort to visit this forgotten province of dramatic scenery and colourful minority villages.
5. Ho Chi Minh City
The thrill of the big city – and the sheer breakneck speed at which it operates – makes HCMC a popular choice. Although not the capital of Vietnam, the buzzing, cosmopolitan city of skyscrapers and French colonial architecture is sleek and sexy. The best way to soak up the melee of the traffic-choked boulevards is to sit back and sip a latte at a Parisian-style pavement café.
4. The Mekong Delta
A vast sprawling delta through which the Mekong River makes its last push to meet the South China Sea, the landscape here is a lush maze of languid waterways and mangrove forests. This fertile region is Vietnam’s rice bowl and travellers flock to atmospheric floating markets to watch produce being hawked from colourful boats bathed in early morning light.
3. Ha Long Bay
Long on every traveller’s bucket list, Ha Long Bay has been a World Heritage Site since 1994. When the sun rises over the still emerald waters and the bay’s scattered islands, islets and limestone pillars, the seascape is the most beautiful in the world – and even in the cooler off season the fog can add a touch of dreamy mysticism. An overnight cruise on a junk is an experience not to be missed.
2. Sa Pa
It’s the dramatic site of the far north’s Sa Pa, rather than the bustling market town itself, that travellers rave about. If the mist hasn’t rolled in, viewpoints take in green terraces and looming conical mountains, including Mount Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s tallest peak. Trekkers use Sa Pa as a base to visit nearby minority villages that still practice a traditional way of life.
1. Hoi An
The central coast’s centuries-old ancient port has retained its charm despite the throngs of tourists drawn here by the heady mix of wooden-fronted merchant houses, graceful bridges and ornate temples. At night, colourful lanterns are hung from every shop front and light up the narrow streets of the atmospheric old town, casting a romantic shimmer over the Thu Bon River.