Travel Tips | Vietnam | By Chris Litt
After their two-year travel ban, Vietnam recently opened their borders once more. The rich history, vibrant interactions, stunning natural beauty, and warm, friendly welcome from the locals are unchanged. However, it’s clear that Vietnam, like the whole world, has undergone some distinct shifts in recent years.
What better witnesses to these changes than our B&R planners and guides, who’ve been uncovering the very best of the country for the past quarter century? Our Limited Edition Vietnam 25th Anniversary Expedition is the perfect chance to honour and cherish Vietnam’s traditions while embracing all that’s fresh and forward-looking!
So, in honour of our 25 years of travel here, below are 25 reasons to visit the new Vietnam with B&R in 2023.
Cycling is deeply woven into the fabric of everyday Vietnamese life, from grandmothers riding their vintage wheels to the market, to the flocks of school kids pedalling in their immaculate uniforms. We feel welcomed and celebrated when we show up to ride these scenic roads, led by our B&R Expert Guides!
We love the diverse landscapes within this dynamic country: roll along idyllic beaches with the breeze in your hair, navigate the winding canal-side lanes of the Mekong Delta, or challenge yourself with the Hai Van (Ocean Cloud) Pass and its awe-inspiring views.
If you’d rather walk than cycle, Vietnam’s got you covered! Paths spiral up limestone mountains with temples tucked away in nooks and crannies; local farmers beckon you to try your hand at some chores; the dense tenement blocks of Saigon lead to hidden dwellings seemingly insulated from the passage of time. Vietnam is a place to wander and invite serendipity!
Naturally, Vietnamese design sense makes its way into the properties we stay at on the 25th Anniversary trip, and in glorious fashion. Whether it’s the hushed, tree-shaded pathways of our longtime friends at Pilgrimage Village Hue; the breezy beachfront of the luxuriant Four Seasons Nam Hai; or the Zannier Bai San Ho with its stunning views of a secluded cove; each hotel will leave you awestruck and enamoured of the natural and built beauty of Vietnam.
Pilgrimage Village Hue
Four Seasons Nam Hai
Zannier Bai San Ho
Vietnamese have long subscribed to the notion that food is medicine. Here, gardeners and cooks will hold forth at length about the therapeutic properties of numerous herbs, fruits, seeds and flowers. The early morning callisthenics at Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake are another aspect of this emphasis on clean living and health. These values carry through to the on-trip restaurants we visit, as well as the fabulous spas of our hotels, where you can relax and decompress with a massage or treatment in complete serenity after the day’s ride. Your epic journey through Vietnam will leave you feeling joyful, healthy and inspired!
Vietnam’s pandemic response was one of the most effective in the world, with relatively few lockdowns necessary in much of the country. This is in keeping with its reputation as one of the world’s safest countries, with very little crime and an excellent healthcare system. The reason? A solidarity among the people that they also extend to visitors from abroad, so that you’ll instantly feel accepted and welcomed on your journey.
If you love natural, locally grown fruit, produce and meat, you can’t do any better than Vietnam. Each town has not one but multiple markets bursting with all that this fertile land brings forth.
With a coastline of 3,260 km (2,025 mi.) Vietnam is very much intertwined with the fishing culture. You’ll witness small wooden boats head out to sea with distinctive eyes painted on their prows to watch for danger. They bring back fresh, delicious seafood of every variety you can imagine, all of it on display at the morning markets for our selection!
The Vietnamese are discerning chefs who know how to bring out the maximum flavour from their healthy ingredients! Whether it’s our friend Duc in Hoi An or Saigon’s Anan interpreting traditional cuisine in funky new ways, or the mom and pop serving the classic pho or banh xeo, Vietnam rolls out the red carpet for your tastebuds! Psst… we get to visit some of these chefs for exclusive cooking demos and meals at their homes on trip!
Every region in Vietnam is proud of its local dishes, from Huế city’s bánh khoái pancakes to Hội An’s scrumptious mì quảng noodles. In fact, McDonald’s completely flopped in Vietnam because the locals knew it couldn’t compare with their homegrown snacks!
Faith is a major part of Vietnamese life. You’ll see little altars in most small businesses, intended to summon good fortune by honouring gods or ancestors with offerings of food. Throughout the country, you’ll come across spectacular pagodas and temples of many faiths in Vietnam, including Mayahana and Theravada Buddhism, the more modern Cao Dai religion, Cham Hinduism, Roman Catholicism (about 10% of Vietnamese identify as Catholic), and the traditions of Vietnam’s minority ethnic groups.
It’s no surprise that Vietnam excels at manufacturing, the country has long produced crafts that require precision, patience and skill. Lacquerware, silver carving, silk weaving, lanterns, fans and pottery… artisan families often congregate in villages centred on their particular crafts, so you can wander from house to house to enjoy the many variations on time-honoured techniques.
With one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Vietnam is a country on the rise. Enterprising young Vietnamese, heartily encouraged by the older generations, look to the dawn of new possibilities in this booming era. The positive energy is palpable from the moment you arrive.
Pristine beaches stretch for miles along the coast, from north to south Vietnam, inviting you to wade into the opalescent surf in the morning, grab your board catch some waves, or watch a glorious sunset over cocktails.
Since the victory of the communists led by Ho Chi Minh in 1975, Vietnam has undergone transformations, first to a hardline communist system that lasted until the early 1990s, then to a gradual opening that has seen the flourishing of private enterprise.
The impulse to trade and build businesses is deeply ingrained in Vietnamese life, and the dichotomy between collectivism and free enterprise is fascinating to witness. “Ho Chi Minh Thought,” the revered leader’s precepts, themselves are a melding of philosophies and traditions.
The Vietnamese gracefully integrate the newfangled with the traditional. As you ride, you’ll see farmers using centuries-old techniques, then pulling out their smartphones for a chat with a friend! With its highly skilled workforce, Vietnam is producing many sophisticated goods, including smartphones and its domestic brand of an electrical vehicle, VinFast!
There are a stunning 54 recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam. This richness of language and culture makes a trip here endlessly stimulating, with varied clothing, farming techniques, home construction, and cuisine. To read more on the many ethnic groups of Vietnam and its neighbours, check out James S. Scott’s fascinating overview, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.
The Vietnamese love of music can be seen around every turn, from small bands playing in local bars to karaoke resounding through the fruit groves as you bike past.
Vietnamese celebrate their history, legends and love of country through song, and you will hear these rendered beautifully on the numerous traditional instruments of each region.
Through the influence of feng shui principles, geomancy and the realities of a tropical culture, Vietnamese architecture and the landscaping that goes with it have long induced feelings of openness, serenity and comfort. In ancient sites such as Hanoi’s Temple of Literature right through to their distinctive take on Modernism, Vietnam’s designers usher us in to revel in their creations.
Vietnam’s biodiverse ecosystems are home to many rare and beautiful species, including monkeys, bears, cats, otters, birds, and the saola, sometimes described as “the Asian unicorn.” Through B&R's Slow Fund, we support the World Land Trust, which does important work in Vietnam protecting the homes of such precious and threatened wildlife.
Throughout our Vietnam trip, from north to south, we make use of boats to truly witness the amazing aquatic ways of life that are part of the Vietnamese identity. This can mean a ferry ride across a river during a bike ride; a sumptuous lunch on the Perfume River; or the arrival at the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, located on a sun-drenched peninsula accessible only by boat, surrounded by white sand beaches.
At the resorts on trip, you can also snorkel to explore the underwater coral palaces as shimmering schools of fish swim by.
As the mighty Mekong, the longest river in Asia, approaches the sea, it splits into nine large distributaries called the Nine Heads of the Dragon. Here, husband-and-wife teams steer puttering barges along winding river highways, and the floating markets feature small crafts piled high with durian, pineapple, jackfruit and mangoes. As we pass by on our own boat, we can haggle with them and buy our snacks for the day. Cycling the roads and canal side lanes of the Mekong Delta, we encounter a landscape unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Vietnam is a garment-manufacturing hub, and it shows in the styles worn on the streets: vibrant colours and patterns, each chosen with a personal flair. You can join in the fun by visiting local tailor shops (we know the best in town); whether you’re on the hunt for a new bespoke suit or a comfortable shirt for the warm temperatures, you can have it made to measure and delivered to your hotel within a couple of days!
Vietnamese have a keen sense of history, and we mean deep history: artifacts found in caves date back to 20,000 years ago, and the average person is keenly aware of the dynastic periods, wars with Chinese occupiers, and resistance to colonization over the centuries.
On our trip, we also encounter the towers of the Cham people, a Hindu culture that 1,000 years ago had an empire along the southern coast of Vietnam. The empire has long since been conquered by the Kinh (Vietnam’s majority ethnic group), Cham people still visit these towers to pay homage to the gods.
It’s more important than ever that we travel with the well-being of the planet in mind, and Vietnam is quickly moving to the forefront of the sustainable travel movement. The Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is one such example. Among many measures, they've drastically reduced the use of plastics, recycle all glass products into concrete used on-site, and help reduce poaching of sensitive species on their scenic peninsula by offering alternative opportunities.
Don’t just dream about it, see and stay for yourself! Get in touch with Nathan Lane, our Experience Designer for Vietnam, to start planning.
B&R Experience Designer Nathan Lane has been named a Top Travel Specialist for 2022 by Condé Nast Traveler.