Vietnam: A land of beauty and welcome surprises

Vietnam is a popular tourist destination known for its stunning landscapes, historic sites, and cultural attractions. Places like Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, and the Mekong Delta attract millions of tourists each year. Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. It has a diverse geography that includes mountains, deltas, and coastal areas.

In central Vietnam, the land is only 50 to 80 kilometres wide, the flexible supporting bar, as it were, if the north and south are viewed graphically as bamboo baskets. However, the rugged mountain terrain means that traversing this narrow part can take several hours. I was invited by VietJet Airlines to experience some of what Vietnam has to offer.

After a direct flight from Sydney, then a short connecting flight from Ho Chi Minh City, we arrived at the Movenpick resort in Cam Ranh, 30 minutes from Nha Trang City. The resort is family-friendly, with multiple swimming pools, water slides, rope climbing activities, private beach, and much more. Whilst it would be possible to spend the whole holiday staying in the resort, there are plenty of local experiences to try. Boat cruises, temple visits, countryside cooking classes, and rooftop cocktail bars are just a few of the many attractions in the region.

Presentation of the food and drink is like a work of art. We had fresh coconuts on arrival at the resort and the room had a selection of sweets and delicacies to enjoy. Unlike many places, the mini bar was included in the room. The breakfast bar is a smorgasbord feast – fresh fruits including dragon fruit, watermelon and pineapple, local iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk that soon became my favourite, yoghurt cups, pancakes and more. Not to mention the cooked breakfast English style and local delicacies.

Our group enjoyed a delicious lunch of duck salad, followed by king prawn and Argentinean Wagyu beef (Australian Wagyu beef is also served in the restaurant) and finishing with the most delicious creamy coconut mango sorbet I have ever tasted.
Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its fresh ingredients, vibrant flavours, and use of herbs and spices. Dishes like pho (noodle soup) and banh mi (sandwich) are popular worldwide.

However, the food is much more than this. Think spring rolls, crab cakes, lettuce rolls, cold rolls with rice paper just as a start. We visited a small village homestay, surrounded by rice fields, outside of Nha Trang that specialises in teaching traditional Vietnamese cuisine. We learnt how to roll our own rice paper rolls. The explanation is easy, the execution more difficult. Wet the rice paper wrappers, start with prawns and pork, fold, and roll, adding chives, cucumber strips, julienne carrots, and torn lettuce. Dip them in the homemade chilli fish sauce and voila. Fortunately, we also had prawn dumplings and omelettes, followed by main course of duck curry and rice. The freshness of food is a recurring theme. We see tanks of live eels and king prawns ready to serve, and often the fruits, spices and herbs are locally grown.

What else is there to do in Nha Trang? The Po Nagar Cham Hindu temples are an important part of the culture, overlooking the harbour and dating back to the 7th century. They are remarkably preserved, considering their age and the monsoonal seasons that frequent this region. These towers are dedicated to the goddess Po and there is a steady stream of people making offerings and prayers inside these remarkable temples.
Buddhism is the largest religion in Vietnam, but the country also has influences of Confucianism, Taoism, and indigenous beliefs. There’s also a significant Catholic population due to the country’s colonial history. Nha Trang Cathedral (Christ the King Cathedral) is built to honour Christ. It is unique in the way that the stonework and stained glass combine to allow fresh air to circulate in the hot climate.

For evening entertainment, we had dinner on a traditional junk boat while cruising the harbour. A violin and guitar player sing classic tunes while guests enjoy cocktails and canapes on the top deck as the sun sets. Moving downstairs, we then enjoy a five-course meal including lobster as the boat gently sails around the harbour, the city lights in the distance.

As a beachside city, there are plenty of options for those that want to head out onto the water. We also chose a snorkelling tour the following evening that took us across to the islands across the bay. A threatening storm meant that we didn’t end up in the optimal spot for snorkelling, however our group enjoyed swimming, paddling, and exploring the warm waters in the bay. A healthy appetite meant that we tucked into the sumptuous BBQ cooked onboard. As the sun set, we headed back into dock, marvelling at the city light show. It seems that every building puts on a light display and it was a spectacle to remember.

The capital of Vietnam is Hanoi; however, the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City, with approximately 10 million residents and transient workers. There are approximately eight million scooters here, with Honda and other Japanese brands being the best regarded brands. Formerly known as Saigon, the name changed in 1975 and commemorates Ho Chi Minh, the first leader of North Vietnam. The two names are still used for the same city.

The French influence is obvious in many of the public buildings. The Opera House, City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office are classic examples. Even private residences are decorated in traditional French colonial style.

For those that love a bit of bartering for textiles, watches and fabrics, head to Soai Kinh Lam market. Another market worth visiting is Ho Thi Ky Street, otherwise known as the Flowers Street.

Our accommodation in Saigon was the French inspired Hôtel des Arts, which was a breath of luxury. The rooftop pool transforms into a thriving nightclub after hours, with DJ and cocktails the go. The breakfast was incredible, with Pho bar, egg station, juice bar and much more served to perfection.

For an experience that takes you to the heart of Saigon, try a vespa bike tour with Vespa Adventures. Driving through the streets of Saigon on the back of a vintage motorcycle makes you comprehend the thriving metropolis and the active nightlife on the streets.
Each person in the group sits with experienced rider, dons helmets, and sets off into the chaos that is Saigon traffic. There are five destinations, a rooftop cocktail bar, a couple of local traditional restaurants, and a couple of music stops. From above, you see the bright lights of the city of 10 million people. From the street you become part of the constant parade of people out enjoying the evening life. The traditional food is delicious, mussels, fried crab legs and “jumping chicken” – i.e., frogs’ legs, which honestly do taste like fried chicken. A local boy, who would be 10 years old maximum, entertains from the street with a skilful display of fire breathing. At the next restaurant it’s local rice flour pancakes and learning how to make lettuce wraps. This is followed by an acoustic style bar and finally a Latin underground dance bar. Vespa adventures offer a range of tours and prices, so check out their website for more details. Vespa Adventures | Southeast Asia Vespa Tours

To get around Saigon via taxi, there are two companies that are recommended: Vinasun and Mai Linh. Take care to use reputable taxi companies to avoid scams.

Floating fish farms on the Mekong River

About an hour south of Saigon is the Mekong River, the world’s largest inland fishery. Mango Cruise has a fantastic range of cruise options to explore the coconut production along the delta. Our group cruised along the river in a long boat, whilst eating fresh dragon fruit, mango and rambutan, while learning about the regional coconut production. The young coconuts (under 5 years old) are best for coconut water, while the riper coconuts are harvested for the meat. Nothing is wasted, the husks are used to make coir or smoked for firewood.

We also climb into smaller craft to visit a local home where we are served delicious honey jasmine tea. At another local stop, we learn how rice paper is made by Mr Sau Truong, a former Vietcong soldier who survived fighting the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh.

The tour was capped by a delicious 5 course lunch including king prawn, and chicken curry, in a tranquil riverside setting. This was despite a torrential downpour only minutes before. Such is the changeable weather in this region.

Vietnam is a land of contrasts and surprises, from local farmhouses to the most cosmopolitan hotels and restaurants. It is a place that has been on this writer’s bucket list and I’m keen to return for more.

The writer visited Vietnam as a guest of VietJet Airlines and stayed at Mövenpick resort in Cam Ranh and Hôtel Des Arts in Saigon.

Check out Vietjet return flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane on their website HERE.


Immerse yourself in Vietnam’s stunning natural and coastal landscapes for the ultimate luxury and relaxation experience. Throughout September, Australian travellers have a unique opportunity to enjoy an exclusive retreat at two luxurious resorts in Cam Ranh, a coastal province in South-Central Vietnam, when they fly with Vietjet.

Special offer: until August 31st use the promo code “BESTFLIGHT” (*) to enjoy up to 40% discount on Business class seats, while those wanting to book SkyBoss seats need to key in “ENJOYFLYING” (*) to avail of up to 50% discount.

Just a one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s bustling business hub, Cam Ranh provides the perfect backdrop for a peaceful and tropical luxurious getaway. Choose between the Ana Mandara Cam Ranh or Pax Ana Doc Let Resort and embark on an unforgettable journey of indulgence and rejuvenation in the coastal province of Cam Ranh.

Discover tranquillity at the homegrown Vietnamese luxury resort Ana Mandara

Ana Mandara Cam Ranh, crowned with the 2023 World Travel Awards for its peerless elegance, is nestled along Bai Dai Beach on Vietnam’s South-Central Coast. Conveniently close to Cam Ranh International Airport, it’s a mere 30-minute drive from Nha Trang’s vibrant central coastal town, offering easy exploration of the cultural experiences the city has to offer.

As a serene haven tailored for couples, families, and business voyagers alike, Ana Mandara Cam Ranh harmoniously caters to diverse preferences. Its 176 rooms, comprising Poolfront and Beachfront Villas, as well as accommodations in the “Ana” and “Beach” resort abodes, promise not only solitude but also breathtaking coastal panoramas.

Travellers can indulge in exceptional culinary experiences at Ana Mandara’s two dining venues, called Ana Beach House and Ana Sand House, celebrating diverse local and international cuisines. They can also indulge in a range of invigorating treatments and therapies at Ana Mandara Spa after a busy day of exploration.

Travellers flying with Vietjet can partake in an unforgettable sojourn enveloped in tranquility and the unmatched hospitality of Vietnam at Ana Mandara Cam Ranh. The Autumn Retreat package ushers in extraordinary savings of up to 40% until December 23, 2023. Rates commence from AUD 220 per night, including a delectable breakfast, and present the chance to ascend from a Garden View Deluxe room to the more enchanting Seaview Deluxe room(*).

Immerse in the seaside Splendor at Pax Ana Doc Let Resort

Nestled in Van Phong Bay in Ninh Hoa Town, Pax Ana Doc Let Resort is a one-hour drive from Nha Trang city. Offering a beautiful seaside haven, this hidden oasis sprawls over 12 hectares of lush green landscapes harmoniously interlaced with its distinct rooftop vistas.

Pax Ana Doc Let features traditional tiled houses and balconies that overlook vibrant gardens with a captivating array of fruits and flowers, surrounding guests in a rare escape from the busy city life.

At the heart of the resort lies 82 meticulously designed rooms and bungalows. Among these, 26 cabins resembling a fishing village offer sea views for soaking in the waves and sunrise hues. The remaining 56 cozy rooms are nestled in a sanctuary adorned with white porcelain flowers.

Beyond its accommodation, Pax Ana Doc Let Resort offers a spectrum of curated experiences, from lawn tea parties to water sports, spa treatments, and al fresco cinema evenings. The Sea Lantern restaurant serves seafood and Eurasian fusion cuisine with ocean views, while The Bamboo House restaurant offers serene breakfasts.

Travellers journeying with Vietjet can reserve their haven at Pax Ana Doc Let Resort and indulge in an ambience of serenity, coupled with an array of culinary indulgences. Capitalize on the Autumn Sensation package, available for reservations until September 2023, with stay dates extending till December 23, 2023. This exclusive package unveils savings of up to 40%(*), commencing from only AUD 85 per night. Bask in a sumptuous breakfast and relish in the half-board (lunch or dinner) service for two, elevating relaxation to an art form.