Arm yourself with these three weekend itineraries before you leave Singapore for your short holiday to the bustling country known for its motorcycles, pho, and beautiful beaches
Vietnam, known to many as the Land of the “Ascending Dragon”, is a country sure to ignite a fire in your soul, thanks to its breath-taking scenery, proud traditions and delicious food that takes you on a journey through its history with every mouthful. Access to this rich and diverse land is now even easier with the wavering of the visa for many nationalities.
In just two hours (approximately) from Singapore and the main hubs in Asia, you can be sipping sweet iced coffee on a roof top in the metropolitan Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City), tucking into the tantalising hot, sour and sweet Bun Cha Hanoi noodles in the capital of Hanoi, or relaxing on the white sandy beaches of Hoi An whilst you wait for an entire new wardrobe to be tailored. Ahead, we got Lightfoot Travel to pull together some of the best weekend itineraries for you to get the most out of your time in this fascinating country.
Make yourself comfortable in Vietnam of old with a stay at the French colonial-inspired boutique hotel, Villa Song. After refreshing yourself with an ice-cold gin and tonic (or two), take their complimentary speedboat into town to fill that hungry belly with the flavour-filled dishes that Vietnam is so famous for.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try the many street food places located around the city. Not sure what to eat? Just choose the one with the biggest queue! Otherwise, head to Hoa Tuc, located in a stunning courtyard that was Saigon’s old opium refinery. Cuc Gach Quan is another of our favourite options which serves fresh, local food. For a modern twist on the Vietnamese classics, pop into Xu Restaurant Lounge. Hit up Sorae Sushi, a whiskey bar and cigar club, to soak up the city skyline by night after dinner.
Breakfast at Villa Song is pure bliss: the property overlooks the Saigon River, and you’ll see passengers of birds resting on the water hyacinth. Spend the morning enjoying the tranquillity of the hotel and its impressive swimming pool, then head into town (early, if you like) to discover all that it has to offer. Meander the antique streets and temples in District 5, join an art gallery tour, haggle in Ben Thanh market, or scoot around in a private Vespa; there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy.
The vast tree-lined streets of District One are where you’ll find the best museums, galleries and parks. Right by the Notre Dame Cathedral, we recommend you pop in for a spot of lunch at Propaganda, a Vietnamese bistro with some vibrant examples of War propaganda decorating the walls and a unique twist on the classic Banh Mi sandwich.
As the sun begins to melt into the horizon, escape the frenetic streets and head to the many rooftop bars for a beer or cocktail. Chill Sky Bar boasts one of the best views in the city, but it can get a little hectic later on in the night. Shri is a stylish restaurant lounge with a leafy rooftop area, and features one of the best-stocked wine cellars in the city. If you’re looking for something a little quirkier, head to the bohemian Broma bar that provides spectacular views of the Bitexco Tower that looms above.
Try your luck in nabbing tickets to a show at the Opera House, before heading for a late dinner by the river at The Deck or The Temple Club, one of the last remaining downtown villas offering an upscale experience of Vietnamese cuisine.
After a good night’s rest, awake early for a river day tour. Charter your own private speedboat and guide to take you on a leisurely trip either down the Saigon River to explore the eerie Cu Chi Tunnels, or head down towards the vast Mekong to discover the colourful and vibrant life of the locals residing along the Mekong Delta.
DANANG AND HOI AN
If you arrive early in the evening, make the most out of your first night in one of the most magical places in Vietnam. Hoi An by night really is quite special, as you stroll around the ancient streets bustling with tailors working into the night lit up with silk lanterns and their ambient glow. It’s also a great time to drop in and get measured for those special tailored outfits.
It’ll be hard not to fall deeper in love with charm of this storybook village with its array of great food. One easy dining option for dinner is Brothers Café, formerly the French Police headquarters set amongst lush gardens and offers ample views of the action across the river.
Get up bright and early for a feast for your eyes. Spend the morning riding through the countryside, through the energetic town of Danang, and traveling across the mountain roads of Đèo Hải Vân, meaning ‘The Pass of Ocean Mist’. With unspoiled vistas of turquoise bays and the sometimes white-knuckle turns of the road, this really is a wonderful way to start your day.
After your morning workout, reward yourself with a relaxing afternoon soaking up the sun in your pool villa or on the beach, have afternoon tea and evening cocktails. If you wish to head back into town, another great spot for watching the sunset over cocktails is the riverside. Stay awhile for an early dinner at Mango Mango restaurant, which offers fusion cuisine and a view of the old town. For a sample of Vietnamese food housed in one of the notorious airy merchant houses of late, Ancient Faifo Restaurant is an awesome choice.
A trip to Hoi An won’t be complete without riding your bicycle through the cobbled streets across the bustling markets and out into the lush rice paddies towards the beach. It’s a truly magnificent way to witness local life and become a part of the beat of the town. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, hop onto one of the local ferries to take you to the many fishing villages, where you’ll see boat yards still in production, rice noodles being made in homes, hidden temples and children smiling and waving to their heart’s content.
As the day ends, chill out at one of the cafes within the many French colonial-era buildings and watch conical hat-wearing locals ride pass on their antique bicycles. When your stomach starts rumbling, head to Secret Garden for some traditional Vietnamese dishes in a quiet, cool and leafy surroundings, while discussing when to come back to this spellbinding town.
Hanoi tends to get overlooked by travellers who are making their way to Halong Bay. Yet this Asian capital is possibly one of the most atmospheric in the continent, so do make sure to take some time experience the city.
Our go-to hotel in Hanoi is, hands down, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, which dates back to the 1900s when the French ruled.
For your first evening in Hanoi, you can make it a quiet evening and enjoy a refreshing cocktail at The Bamboo Bar at the hotel – we recommend the Graham Greene Martini, the hotel’s signature drink – or experience the capital’s nightlife at 88 Lounge for their extensive wine list and delicious cold cuts. Alternatively, there’s Rooftop Bar, a trendy spot featuring DJs and great views across the city.
This Vietnamese capital is full of charm, with ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes dotting the landscape. On the list of must-visits are the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the preserved body of “Uncle Ho” resides. A short walk away is the lotus-like shaped One Pillar Pagoda that rests on a single stone pillar emerging from the water. Afterward, find your way to the Temple of Literature, the first university for the sons of mandarins, for an overview on Hanoi culture and ancient Vietnamese architecture.
For lunch, indulge in French cuisine at La Badiane; we can’t get enough of this former colonial villa that has been reconverted into a cosy restaurant. Once your hunger is satiated, visit the serene Museum of Ethnology to get to know Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups better. Then cap a fun day with a show at the water puppet theatre, a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes of rural life and episodes of national history.
For sundowners with a view, 1911, set in the grounds of Hanoi’s spectacular Opera House is the place to be. For dinner try Cau Go Restaurant. The sweeping views across Hoan Kiem Lake and the city are just one of the reasons we adore this stylish eatery which serves up Vietnamese food from across the country.
Food is always a highlight in Vietnam, so get your hands dirty and learn how to concoct some of the country’s signature dishes! The Hanoi Cooking Centre is the best place to learn about Vietnamese cuisine. The course starts off with a lovely introduction, before taking you on a short walk to Chau Long Market where you will source all the necessary ingredients for the day’s class. The experienced chefs at Hanoi Cooking Centre will show you how to whip up several delicacies, which you’ll savour afterwards with local beer or wine.
If all that cooking built up your appetite, make your way to Hanoi’s original cha ca eatery dubbed Cha Ca La Vong, which serves nothing but this northern specialty which consists of river fish, turmeric, dill, peanuts, alongside noodles with fermented crab sauce.
In the afternoon, continue your exploration of Hanoi by cycling along the Red River. Move through Bonsai and the flower gardens, past the Catholic Church and all the way to the Dong Ngac communal house, which dates back to the 17th century. Then, return back to the hotel via the shores of Hanoi West Lake.
This article was brought to you by Lightfoot Travel, a Singapore-based luxury tour operator offering expert travel advice & inspiration, tailor-made itineraries & full booking services.