Vietnam has extended its visa-waiver scheme for another three years, making it easier for travellers from the UK – as well as France, Germany, Spain and Italy – to visit the Southeast Asian nation.
Holidaymakers from these four countries will be permitted entry for up to 15 days without having to acquire documentation, while an e-visa will be necessary for for trips of up to 30 days.
Here, our experts have picked 17 reasons you should take advantage of a paperwork-free trip to one of the world’s last communist countries.
1. Hustle and bustle in Hanoi
What makes the capital so interesting is that it feels very old-fashioned, stuck in the past with its French colonial history entrenched in its pavement cafes, architecture and wide tree-lined boulevards. Take a ride in one of the thousands of tuk-tuks swarming through the city’s streets to get a sense of the daily buzz.
2. Visit Ho Chi Minh
Not the city, but the man. The communist revolutionary and first president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam lies embalmed in his Hanoi mausoleum, as he has done since his death in 1969. The body lies in a glass case in a cooled, central hall, through which visitors must pass silently to pay their respects.
3. Get suited and booted
Head to the trading port of Hoi An – regarded not only as the tailoring capital of Vietnam, but of Southeast Asia too – to have a suit tailor-made for as little as £75. Ladies can have dresses made to measure for a similar cut-price. Take an empty bag on the outbound flight so that you can take your new wardrobe home with you.
4. Breathe in the Mekong
The famed river winds its way through Southeast Asia, but flows into the South China Sea at the Mekong Delta just south of Ho Chi Minh City. This is Vietnam at its most pastoral. Here, more than 1,000 species of animals live side by side in what is described as a “biological treasure trove”. If you’re looking for a little more human interaction, take a boat to explore the floating markets.
5. Go underground
A bit of a cliche, perhaps, near Ho Chi Minh City, but the Cu Chi tunnels of the Viet Cong are worth crawling through. You can shoot a kalashnikov or an AK47 (for a small fee) if that’s your thing.
6. Find the right angle at Halong Bay
Increasingly popular, especially with the Chinese thanks to its proximity to the border, Halong Bay remains a staggering sight: shimmering turquoise waters punctuated by mossy rocks rising steeply out of nowhere.
7. Eat, eat and eat some more
From pho to banh mi, and spring rolls to steamboat, Vietnam’s cuisine is fascinating. Mark C O’Flaherty recently visited a market in Hanoi for Telegraph Travel: “We watched tofu being made and shaped into pliable white girders, ready to be cooked with tomato sauce. There were stalls heaving with tiny clams; baskets of colourful chillies and limes; delicious and sweet jackfruit (best fried in flour with coconut milk); plumes of banana flower; sacks of lotus seeds to make puddings, and giant live catfish that periodically made a bid for freedom from their giant bowls.”
8. Stay in a hotel with history
The Park Hyatt Saigon in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City was a base for the US military during the Vietnam War and was where DJ Adrian Cronauer made his daily broadcast, made famous in the film Good Morning Vietnam starring Robin Williams.
This luxurious, colonial-inspired grande dame sits right at the historic heart of Ho Chi Minh City, with contemporary comforts including a world-class spa. The hotel was a base for the US military during the war and DJ Adrian Cronauer made his daily broadcast from it, made famous in the film Good Morning, Vietnam.
9. Look out over Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City offers a contrast to northern Hanoi. The swaggering city of the south is all modern skyscrapers and new building projects. Find a hotel bar high up to admire the lights as the sun sets – many would have propped up war correspondents in the Sixties.
10. Fly direct – on a swish plane
Vietnam Airlines is the only carrier to fly direct from London, into either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll do so on a shiny new 787 Dreamliner, one of the most advanced planes about.
11. Find luxury in Danang
On the east coast half way between north and south, Danang has developed a reputation for its sandy beaches and luxury accommodation. La Maison 1888 at the InterContinental in the city was the first restaurant in the country to boast a Michelin-starred chef, in the shape of Michel Roux during his first foray into Asia.
12. Find peace in a templex complex…
My Son, the former capital of the Champa kingdom, lies 25 miles south-west amid a circle of mountains. The Cham ruled parts of what is now central and southern Vietnam from the fourth to the 13th centuries and this site of 70 red-brick temple towers, dedicated to Hindu deities, represents the height of their spiritual and artistic expression. People say “it’s not Angkor Wat”. No, it isn’t, but it has its own atmosphere of ruined majesty. Arrive early to avoid the heat and other tourists, though if you walk to the edges of the site you will always find a quiet spot.
13. …or better, in a cave
Vietnam is home to some of the world’s most extraordinary subterranean landscapes, with the most popular of the country’s caves the gigantic Hang Son Doong. So big it has its own weather system, the caves could accommode a 40-storey skyscraper, or let a Boeing 747 pass through. Only 1,000 visitors are allowed into the caves each year, with each tour taking four days and three nights (from £2,245). Other caves include the Tu Lan cave systems, used in the filming of Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Hang Va.
14. Enter the DMZ
Arrange a car for a sobering day in the former De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) two hours north of Hue. On the shore of the East Sea lies the fishing community of Vinh Moc. The people here dug into the rust-red earth to avoid US bombardment and today you can stoop through 2,000 yards of tunnels, some as deep as 70ft. You should also drive up Highway Nine to Khe Sanh, a US base besieged in 1968 – hardware, a museum and a lingering sense of horror remain.
15. Marvel at rice terraces
The Sapa region, close to the Chinese border, offers vast swathes of vivid green rice paddies to trek through.
16. Combine with Cambodia
One of Vietnam’s key draws is that it acts as a gateway to Cambodia – and Angkor Wat – for those looking to complete a Southeast Asia double-header
17. Cycle the length of it
On tours such as Intrepid Travel’s 15-day Cycle Vietnam (intrepidtravel.co.uk) you can ride through some of Vietnam’s most stunning landscapes. Pedal through mountain passes, seaside villages, the landscapes of Ninh Binh, paddy fields, the karst of the Mai Chau Valleys and the imperial city of Hue.