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The economic backbone of Vietnam and the largest metropolis in the nation, Ho Chi Minh – also known as Saigon to locals – is one of the most exciting places to visit in the country. The sprawling city is officially home to some 8m residents, but in reality, it’s far more populous than that. The central business zone – or District 1 – is the area most visited by tourists. However, for the adventurous types, head to the less explored, more authentic and interesting neighbouring districts: Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan or District 3. The city is home to several great centrally located museums, endless shopping and a vibrant nightlife. Anyone spending time in Ho Chi Minh should explore Nguyen Hue, Ben Thanh Market, Bui Vien, the Bitexco Tower, the seafood restaurants along the canal, and Binh Thanh’s maze of alleys.
Considered the most famous beach town in Vietnam, Nha Trang is an increasingly popular destination for tourists. Lively nightlife and excellent seafood make a great addition to the white sand beaches and calm sea. Scuba diving has skyrocketed in popularity here and the bay is warm and clear year round. The city is one of the more family-friendly destinations in Vietnam, home to a number of amusement parks, water parks and resorts. For an unparalleled view, take a ride on the mile-long Vinpearl Cable Car.
Cần Thơ is the largest city in the Mekong Delta and home to some of the most interesting markets in the country. The commercially friendly location along the banks of the Hau River has made this an important trading centre for centuries. Anyone visiting should set aside a day to rise early and visit the wholesale Cai Rang Floating Market and the retail Phong Dien Floating Market. A day trip exploring the numerous narrow canals and tributaries of the region – with stops in rice paper factories and crocodile or python farms – comes highly recommended.
Phan Thiết, a lively fishing port along the south-central coast, serves some of the best seafood in the country. Spend the day exploring the mishmash of streets surrounding the colourful harbour. Just north of the city centre lies the increasingly well-travelled ward of Mui Ne – famed for its Sahara-esque dunes and miles of picturesque coastline. Like almost everywhere in Vietnam, the best way to explore is on two wheels. Those with a motorbike should take the opportunity to ride south from the city along the great coastal roads.
Take a trip to this cool mountain escape when motorbike madness becomes too much. Đà Lạt can be reached by bus or motorbike from the country’s largest urban centre in four to six hours and is a peaceful pine-scented alternative to Ho Chi Minh. The city itself can be explored in a day – just don’t miss the central market, or Hang Nga Guesthouse. The outlying areas offer even more to see as the region is the epicentre of Vietnam’s enormous coffee industry and the hills and valleys surrounding the city are blanketed in coffee plantations. For nature lovers, the surrounding forests offer some great canyoning through dense valleys and over misty waterfalls. On the way in or out of the city, make sure to stop at Elephant Falls – the most famous waterfall in the Central Highlands.