Our series of three articles on tailor made holidays in Asia concentrates on holiday destinations where cultural sightseeing may be combined with relaxing on fine sandy beaches. This article focuses on Vietnam, where the central beaches of the South China Sea with their luxury hotels and pretty fishing villages perfectly complement a discovery of the country’s elegant historic capital, Hanoi.
Described by some as the quintessence of Asia, Hanoi, otherwise known as Thanh Long (the soaring dragon), is a melange of elegant French colonial buildings on lake-bordered boulevards, and slender tube houses packed tightly in the narrow labyrinth of its Old Quarter. The latter’s flag-festooned streets (each with a different artisan craft) date back a thousand years; with local ladies waddling with baskets spilling with cherry blossom and apricots, and craftsmen bending to their craft with chisel and blowtorch. The only difference to the last millennium is the soundtrack of scooters rather than bicycles whistling past.
Timeless and atmospheric, the Old Quarter is a world away from the stylish restaurants and bars that represent the new face of 21stC Hanoi and makes for a great impromptu dinner with street hawkers alchemizing pho (noodle soup), bun cha (barbequed pork) at makeshift stalls.
Hanoi is fiercely proud of its past, be it the Temple of Literature or the Army Museum, indeed there are almost as many museums across the city as there are lakes. The outcome of the Vietnam War would have been less than triumphant without the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, and you’ll find Uncle Ho’s benign smile following you at every turn. At the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex travellers can get a closer look at the great eerily preserved leader, and the simple stilt house he lived in.
When your weary feet have retraced enough battles, make for the city’s liquid heart, picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake. Beguiling with a red bridge to the blossom-rioting temple island of Ngoc Son, it’s conveniently close by the Puppet Theatre, which with water puppets and shadow play, ingeniously tells the story of the country’s history.
Leaving Hanoi behind on you Vietnam journey south to Central Vietnam: a rich tapestry of emerald paddy fields, turquoise sea, imperial citadels, hidden cave systems and gothic karst formations beholds you. At the heart of this, riverside Hoi An, is an architectural gem of Chinese and Japanese merchant houses now revived as stylish cafes, galleries and restaurants. One of the country’s most magical towns, visitors come here not just for its exquisite cuisine (try the Hoi An ‘white rose’ dumpling) but also for the excellent tailors. A few kilometres away lies the South China Sea, powder-fine beaches and the exquisite Nam Hai resort; a haven of peace and contemporary style for those looking to unwind with a round of golf or in its elegant spa.