If you are looking for the perfect combination of culture, relaxation and adventure, then Vietnam offers one of the most unique luxury travel experiences in Southeast Asia. From the elegant heritage hotels of Hanoi and Saigon, to the exotic mystique of Halong Bay and Vietnam’s exclusive island resorts, luxury travel in Vietnam provides the perfect destination for seasoned and sophisticated travellers looking for new experiences.
In this guide, we explore the highlights of luxury travel in Vietnam with a proposed itinerary that takes you from the mountainous North to the fertile South. Along the way, we will suggest high-end accommodation, exclusive experiences and exciting modes of transportation that will ensure you have an unforgettable journey through this spectacular country.
Heritage Hotels, Art and Theatre in Hanoi
Begin your voyage in the heart of historic Hanoi, surrounded by French colonial architecture and colourful markets teeming with life. The Sofitel Legend Metropole was founded in 1901 and still retains some of the decadent atmosphere associated with the French Indochina Era. The immediate surroundings offer a plethora of cultural experiences, such as a concert in the Hanoi Opera House or a performance inspired by traditional Vietnamese goddess worship (recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO) at the Viet Theatre.
For those interested in traditional and contemporary art, we can warmly recommend a tour of the city’s many museums and galleries accompanied by an expert art historian. The labyrinthine alleys of Hanoi’s old quarter also contain numerous hidden galleries, with contemporary masterpieces waiting to be discovered by discerning connoisseurs. For history buffs, it is also possible to visit the bomb shelter below the Metropole where American actress Jane Fonda and folk singer Joan Baez sought shelter during the Vietnam War.
Luxury Trains, Traditional Culture and Crafts in Sapa
The closest thing to riding the Orient Express in Southeast Asia is taking a journey through the picturesque rice fields of Northern Vietnam on the Victoria Express to Sapa. The cool mountainous region of Sapa was once the favoured destination of French officials seeking to escape the hot summer months of Hanoi. Besides the breath-taking scenery, Sapa is also home to fascinating hill tribes such as the Flower Hmong and Black Hmong ethnic groups.
The markets of Sapa are a gathering place for the various ethnicities of the region and the their intricately woven textiles make perfect souvenirs. There is a good selection of reasonably priced boutique hotels and resorts in Sapa town, but for a truly memorable experience we recommend the Topas Ecolodge. Located on a hilltop in the beautiful Hoang Lien National Park, this luxury lodge provides spectacular views from their incredible infinity pool overlooking the surrounding mountains and seemingly endless rice fields.
Seaplanes and Luxury Cruises in Halong Bay
Taking a cruise of Halong Bay on the deck of a classic Vietnamese junk is probably one of the most iconic experiences for travellers to Vietnam, but there is a huge difference in quality depending on what cruise provider you choose. For the most unique and exclusive experience, it is possible to fly straight from Hanoi to Halong Bay onboard of a private seaplane, circle the majestic karst islands and land gracefully next to your luxurious cruise ship.
For the ultimate immersive experience, you can choose either the luxurious L’Azalea junk or the atmospheric Emeraude Cruise, a reconstructed steamer from the French Colonial Era. The Emeraude was inspired by postcards discovered in a Parisian flea market, depicting a magnificent fleet of steamships that once operated in Halong Bay.
Shopping and History in Hoi An
The ancient port town of Hoi An is widely acclaimed as one of the most charming and romantic towns in Vietnam. These lantern-lit streets are lined with traditional craft shops, selling exquisite silk, lacquer and embroidery. Hoi An is particularly famous for its tailors and cobblers, who can produce high quality bespoke garments in a very short time.
This historic town is also a melting pot of culture and architecture, with buildings inspired by Chinese, Japanese, French and traditional Vietnamese styles. During festivals, all the electric lights in Hoi An are switched off and replaced with a multitude of colourful lanterns that give the town an enchanting atmosphere.
Nightlife and History in Saigon
As the old capital of French Cochinchina, Saigon has always had a reputation as an exotic and vibrant city with unique cultural offerings. While it may lack some of the rustic charm of Hanoi, this sprawling metropolis more than makes up for it with its rich history and lively nightlife. One of the main attractions of Ho Chi Minh City is the fascinating and often disturbing legacy of the Vietnam-American War, with the centerpiece being the opulent Independence Palace (also known as reunification Palace) which is lavishly furnished and served as the seat of government under former president Ngô Đình Diệm.
A visit to Saigon is also incomplete without a visit to the legendary Caravelle Hotel and its infamous rooftop bar. The Caravelle served as home to war correspondents during the 1960s and was fully fortified with bullet proof-glass windows. From the Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar, journalists would sip cocktails while watching the night sky light up as flares dropped over the frontlines.
Luxury Living on a Prison Island
Con Dao is known for its pristine beaches, beautiful views, coral reefs and abundance of marine life. However, this island paradise also has a dark past and served as a prison colony for political prisoners under French rule. Today, Con Dao is dominated by the exclusive Six Senses Resort on a long stretch used by sea turtles for nesting. The waters around Con Dao are also inhabited by the endangered Dugongs, a marine mammal known colloquially as the sea-cow, and Six Senses is heavily involved in helping to protect these amazing animals and their environment.