Nestled alongside Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam is too often a destination entirely passed over for visitors to Southeast Asia. Within its borders, though, are some of the most distinct and fascinating flavors, cultures and stories. Getting a first taste of the country’s myriad of travel opportunity comes down to four absolute musts while in the country - with a little something for the kids, too.
Vietnam is a treasure trove of incredible street eats, and the ultimate recipe for culinary discovery is its most iconic, must-have dishes. In the north, make sure to dedicate at least a few mornings to a steaming bowl of pho bo – Vietnam’s iconic beef noodle soup breakfast. In the afternoon, tuck into a bowl of bun cha or bun bo nam bo – both a mix of rice noodles, meat and leafy vegetables – and round it all up with a hearty plate of bo bit tet, filling and with a dash of French influence. For a between-meals treat, try che – a tasty Vietnamese dessert with jelly, beans, ice, fruit and coconut milk – which kids love.
No visitor can leave Vietnam without a hefty helping of its fresh beer, bia hoi. Straight from the brewery into a keg, and finally your cup (all without preservatives), this tasty beer only lasts for 24 hours and only costs about 5000VND, or roughly 30 cents SGD. For the full experience, start the morning with a super-sweet cup of ca phe sua da – rich black coffee with ice and condensed milk – and a few cups of tra da, or iced tea, to cool off throughout the day. Junior travellers love tra chanh in Hanoi, or lemon tea – a healthier alternative to sodas. The best cup is sold in front of the Ly Quoc Su Church in the Old Quarter.
Throughout 3000 kilometres of coastline are some of Asia’s most magnificent and fascinating destinations, and travellers exploring the length of the country will see the scenery and the culture transform from north to south. Kayak and cruise through UNESCO-recognised Halong Bay from the capital of Hanoi, before wandering the breezy avenues of Hoi An Ancient Town and former Imperial capital Hue on the central coast. Round it off with a day-cruise along the vast Mekong River in the Mekong Delta, just south of its heaving southern metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City.
This dazzling country of contrasts is a kaleidoscope of bustling cities, rustic frontier towns and historic landmarks. For a healthy dose of urban energy, take to the motorbike-dense streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City by foot or bicycle. A trek into the valleys of Sapa – passing through towering rice paddy terraces along the way – gets you up-close-and-personal with Vietnam’s ethnic minority communities for a Batik painting class. For something family-friendly, try out a lantern-making workshop in Hoi An, a fun and hands-on way for the kids to learn about local culture and handicrafts.
Written by Buffalo Tours Singapore.