Luxury meets authenticity: 8 travel experiences in Vietnam

Vietnam - credit Four Seasons
Vietnam - credit Four Seasons

Beyond the frequented Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Long Bay, discover some amazing gems on your next trip to Vietnam.

Marvel at the Mekong

If Ho Chi Minh’s frenetic pace leaves you yearning for serenity, then veer south to the bucolic riverside paradise that is Azerai Can Tho. Set within the vast network of tributaries, known as the Mekong Delta, the resort is even further removed from the buzz as it’s accessible only by boat. Travellers staying in one of the 60 rooms and five pool villas, where you can stroll or cycle between the banyan trees dotted throughout the extensive garden, before unwinding on one of the loungers that flank the tranquil infinity pool. Diving into an even deeper state of relaxation might not seem necessary, but it’s possible, thanks to the resort’s luxurious riverside spa.

Those who want to venture outside this lush bubble can visit the vibrant city of Can Tho, after which the resort is named (just minutes away by boat); or indulge in a bespoke local experience. Ease into the day with breakfast served on the Cai Rang floating market cruise, or explore the rural Khmer village of Phu Ly, home to the almost 400-year-old hand-built Khmer Temple, Ang Kuli, hidden deep within the trees.

Experience Hoi An’s Highlights

Known for its exquisite tailors and authentic culinary delights, the peaceful coastal town of Hoi An is a fraction of the size of Saigon, making it the perfect place to explore on foot — or on two wheels.

One of the best ways to discover both the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, and the network of islands and villages beyond, is via bicycle with hidden Hoi An tour specialists, Heaven and Earth. Their Real Vietnam tour pairs a cycle through traditional villages, lush rice paddies, and scenic water ways, with visits to small local food producers and handicrafts workshops and a typical Vietnamese lunch at a local family home, before an afternoon of exploring by vintage car, which includes a traditional ‘basket boat’ ride along the waters of the Bay Mau Coconut Forest. It’s an absolute must-do.

Lounge in Luxury by the Beach

No trip to Vietnam is complete without a visit to a beachside idyll. As a sanctuary that pairs traditional Vietnamese healing rituals with modern approaches to wellbeing, Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An does not disappoint.

Located on the unspoiled shores of Ha My Beach (a short drive from Hoi An’s historic town centre via complimentary shuttle bus) the Nam Hai sits on the grounds of a former fishing village and is a postcard-perfect mix of palm-lined gardens, tiered infinity swimming pools, swaying palms, and ocean views.

The Nam Hai offers several extensive yoga programs, with daily complimentary classes that span the yoga gamut — from basic hatha, through to grounding yoga; yoga nidra, to promote physical, mental, and emotional relaxation; yin, to enhance endurance and flexibility; and there are even yoga sessions designed to target the eye muscles. Complimentary classes are also bolstered by a range of private options, including vinyasa flow and anti-gravity ‘flying’ yoga, during which practitioners try various poses while suspended in hammocks.

The resort offers a way to dial your fit-cation up a notch, with the dedicated Wellness Recharge package — including healthy meals, private aerial yoga and a two-hour, indulgent top-to-toe treatment in the exceptional spa where the eight treatment pavilions appear to float on a koi-filled lagoon.

For premium pampering, make sure to splurge on one of the gorgeous beachfront, feng shui-designed villas that come with a private pool and a resident butler.

Cultural Experience in the Mountains

The sweeping Hoàng Liên Son Mountain range in the northwest region of Sapa boasts the country’s tallest peak, as well as a landscape of enchanting rice terraces and lush forests. A paradise for hikers, the base for most travellers to this part of the country is the charming town of Sapa. For explorers looking to get the most out of their experience in the area then a trekking experience with Sapa Khai Hmong Treks is an absolute must.

Owned and operated by the Black H’Mong tribe, guides avoid the usual touristy go-tos and instead take guests to more remote villages where you can indulge your taste buds with the idiosyncratic flavours of the region’s cuisine while discovering the heritage of the local people, their farming practices, and herbal remedies. The tours not only immerse visitors in indigenous traditions but support local communities in building a school for future generations.

Afterward, recharge and relax at Hotel de la Coupole Sapa. With its eye-catching glass domes and architectural features, the hotel is a dreamy base for weary trekkers. Influences from the region can be found in the hotel’s chic Nuages Spa, where a Red Dzao herbal medicine bath uses local herbs to soothe tired feet and weary muscles.

See Ho Chi Minh like a Local

Steeped in history, Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) provides no shortage of eye-opening cultural and culinary moments. Most visitors will stick to the well-trodden path, but there’s a labyrinth of empty backstreets and off-the-tourist-trail attractions just waiting to be explored, so consider planning a trip with a local guide. Experience Travel Group organises (via a network of expert local guides) creative, curated itineraries for clients all over Asia, including Ho Chi Minh, which allows curious travellers to immersive themselves into this heaving metropolis, from historic pagodas and local textile markets, to cool multidisciplinary arts venues.

Taste Hanoi on a Plate

Whether you’re a pho fanatic or a banh mi enthusiast, there’s a unique foodie fusion of French and Vietnamese found in Hanoi. And what better way to experience the bursting flavours on offer in Hanoi’s maze of streets and alleyways than with a tour designed by the Hanoi-based chef who led celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, on an edible journey around the city’s highlights?

A Chef’s Tour aims to create and curate food experiences that cut through the touristy guidebooks and go straight to the beating heart of the local food scene. Learn about the history, culture, and ingredients that go into this distinct cuisine and try dishes at spots you’d simply never find alone. For early birds, the morning tour to the Long Bien Market (a wholesale market where the restaurants and wet market vendors of Hanoi stock up on their produce) is well worth the 4:00 am wake-up call. The afternoon tour will expand your culinary palate through 15 tasting experiences, all of which can be washed down with refreshing, locally brewed beer. Best of all, tours are customisable and offer door-to-door pick-up and drop-off.

Wellbeing experiences

Thanks to its world-renowned cuisine, a trip to Vietnam will undoubtedly feed the body, but what about nurturing it a little, too? In Hanoi, check into the Sofitel Hanoi Metropole’s Le Spa du Metropole, a prominent fixture in the Vietnamese city since 1901 (when it opened as the first official luxury residence and hotel in the city during the French colonial period). Among the best in the country, the sprawling complex overlooks an idyllic garden courtyard and pool and includes suites for couples and individuals, mani-pedi booths, and steam baths. Treatments artfully blend ancient beauty secrets and holistic rituals from the East, with contemporary therapies from the West, and a focus on traditional Vietnamese wellbeing. Think pure essential oils, warm herbal compresses, and relaxing foot reflexology.

Eat like Royalty in Hue

Virtually equidistant from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and once home to the Nguyen Dynasty emperors, the former imperial capital city Hue sits on the banks of the charmingly named Perfume River, and has a deep-rooted link to the country’s culinary history.

Thousands of traditional Vietnamese dishes were crafted here for the delectation of royalty. And at Hue’s Azerai La Residence — a hotel that has hosted Japanese emperors and Vietnamese prime ministers — you can whip up several of the finest yourself in an exclusive and immersive cooking experience. Before you even don your apron, you’ll be whisked off by indigenous master chefs by cycle to the local market to stock up on ingredients — everything from lemongrass and ginger to basil and mint — while chatting with local vendors along the way. Back at the resort, you’ll create a three-course meal, and after doing the hard yards making the food, you’ll be able to sit out on the picturesque terrace and dine on the fruits of your labour. If you prefer to stay away from the kitchen, then opt for Azerai’s brasserie Royal Taste of Hue menu.

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