Vietnam two-week itinerary
If you have the incredibly good fortune to spend two weeks in Vietnam, you are guaranteed an unforgettable journey that fulfils all five of your basic senses and perhaps a few others you never knew you had. The sight of glaringly green rice paddies and romantic colonial buildings. The brightly tasteful cuisine that mixes in French and Chinese influences. The sounds of exotic birds and traffic jams. The salty smell of long empty beaches and exotic flowers that bloom everywhere. The feel of a people who have suffered through the unthinkable and emerged a powerhouse of industry and creativity. And while the gay scene may not be quite as out as it is in Thailand or Taiwan, the attitude there is pretty laissez-faire when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Same-sex sex has never been outlawed and the Communist government a few years back abolished a ban on same-sex marriage. It even recently came out with a party line that homosexuality is natural, which is a far cry from its stance a decade ago. People have the right to legally change gender and gay and lesbian soldiers can serve openly in the military. It’s still a conservative culture with a way to go, but certainly, gay travellers will face no discomfort or discrimination here.
Paid for by Six Senses
Day 1 and 2 - Ho Chi Minh City
Best to start off your two-week itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City and get the frenetic, dizzying, intoxicating city out the way. Everything will be a breeze from there on in. The city formerly known as Saigon is abuzz with traffic jams and drip coffee shops and everything in between. While there are no exclusively gay establishments, there are plenty of gays out and about with their mixed groups of friends, LGBTQ parties on the reg, gay saunas and a burgeoning drag scene. Chill Suites is a gay-friendly, pocketbook-friendly place with tidy, compact rooms you’ll be happy to return to after a day of playing frogger in HCMC’s traffic.
Since you probably don’t have a Vietnamese restaurant near you back home that comes anywhere near the food you will eat on the streets of Vietnam, consider a cooking class at Grain. Classes are designed to demystify the beguiling cuisine of Vietnam. After a session at Grain, you will return home confident that you can make a decent four-course Vietnamese meal. And even if you’re the type of traveller who abhors the idea of buying a touristy T-shirt while abroad, you should still go to Ginkgo. Their creative and funky T-shirt designs are all driven by a deep well of love for Vietnamese culture and it shows.
Pro tip: The Uber of Vietnam is Grab. It’s a great way to get around quickly and cost-effectively in HCMC and Hanoi.
The untouched archipelago of Con Dao is home to turtle breeding grounds and well-preserved coral reefs make the diving extraordinary
Day 3 to 7 - Con Dao
Most of Vietnam has become a popular place for tourists, but luckily there is the still untouched Côn Đảo, an archipelago just a short flight from HCMC. Eighty per cent of Con Dao is designated a national park. Its shores are breeding grounds for turtles and well-preserved coral reefs make the snorkelling and diving extraordinary. You can do no better than Six Senses Con Dao. As one of the world’s premier hotel groups with an uncanny ability to locate earth’s remaining remote destinations and make them accessible, Six Senses’ five-star property on Con Dao is committed to preserving the natural ecosystem. Their turtle incubation program allows guests to watch in wonder as tiny hatchlings unsteadily make their way down a great expanse of beach into the vast ocean. Small, secluded and exclusive, Six Senses’ Con Dao provides a Guest Experience Maker (Gal Friday meets PA meets butler) who handles every need you could possibly have. Most critically, the resort provides unfettered access to complimentary homemade ice cream.
You can’t be in Con Dao and not try snorkelling or scuba diving. The underwater experience in Con Dao beats all of Vietnam’s competing dive and snorkel sites. The area is protected as a national park, tourist traffic is light and the coral is pristine as a result. Here’s what you can peep below surface level: hundreds of types of coral species, stingrays, eels, turtles, barracuda, clownfish, cuttlefish, batfish and bamboo sharks. Dive season is March through October with April and May being the best months. For all its pristine beauty, Con Dao has a dark past. Once the site of French-run prisons for Vietnamese political prisoners, the derelict remains of the prison complex and a modern museum documenting the grim history are open for visitors. Don’t miss a trip to the Bao Tang Con Dao Museum and prison.
The ancient town of Hoi An is home to a treasure trove of architecture that reflects the mix of French, Chinese and Japanese influences
Day 8 to 10 - Hoi An
The ancient town of Hội An, although a magnet for tourists for its UNESCO heritage sites, is still a well-preserved wonder. A dreamy rivertown bisected by canals, its storied past is reflected in its treasure trove of architecture that reflects the mix of French, Chinese and Japanese influences. A diminutive hotel with a spa and a pool, Allegro Hoi An is smack in the middle of everything. Steps from the famed 16th century Japanese Covered Bridge, the hotel provides free bikes to get you to and fro and the rooms are tranquil and pristine. The former trading port town of Hoi An is beguiling. To stroll Ancient Town set out before the sun gets too hot. Wander the tight alleyways and canals of a place the modern world seems to have (thankfully) left behind. Heritage buildings to spot are Chinese pagodas, temples and wooden shophouses and French colonial houses in a palette of mustard yellows. In a garden under the protective shade of an elderly banyan tree, Sea Shell by Nu Eatery is a down-to-earth restaurant preparing fresh seafood dishes. Please try the catfish wraps. Bespoke tailoring shops are everywhere in Hoi An. We like A Dong Silk.
After ten minutes spent measuring your every curve and line, they will help you pick out the perfect fabric and design to fit your shape, your tastes, and your wallet. Hit the shop on your first day in Hoi An and your bespoke outfit will be ready two days later. Bring a photo of that couture suit that’s out of your reach; they’ll copy it down to the buttons.
Day 11 and 12 - Hanoi
Hanoi might be a 1000-year-old city with some streets dating back to the 1300s, but don’t let the historical charms fool you. This is also a fully modern city with chic cafes, eateries, art and nightlife. Traffic is so horrendous it could take you 5 minutes to simply get across the street. No matter, the street food is some of the best in the world so best to give up trying to cross anytime soon and wander over to a food stall for some sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Hanoi is a good city for gays, too. Hanoi Pride, established in 2012, grows every year. If you can, try to schedule your trip around the Hanoi Queer Takeover, a boisterous event that is one of the few open displays of rainbow pride in Hanoi every year.
In a brand new building with 45 rooms in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, JM Marvel Hotel & Spa is a great four-star option. Rooms are cosy and elegant. Kick off or close out your night in the hotel’s romantic rooftop bar. A 1920s Amsterdam-themed barber shop that serves whiskey in the heart of Hanoi? Why not? If you need a quick trim or clean up before your flight to Vietnam, you obviously need to put it off and get it done at House of Barbaard. Fashion, art, jewellery and housewares are all under one roof in third-generation design shop Tanmy Design. They specialize in the embroidery that is a high art form in Vietnam. Straightforward Vietnamese food with an innovative twist. Red Bean Trendy specializes in cuisine from all corners of the country. Do not miss their lunchtime buffet with 60 dishes including lots of lesser known street foods. On the menu are fried rice crepes and spring rolls, bun noodles, BBQ meats and fish patties, rice dishes, tangy and spicy soups, and a whole smattering of desserts. Bonus tip: it’s only a five-minute walk from JM Marvel Hotel & Spa.
Day 13 and 14 - Halong Bay
You’ve seen the pictures. A picture perfect bay dotted with towering limestone pillars and miniature forested islands, Halong Bay was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1994. The only way to do it properly is on a proper cruise. Paradise Cruise ships are souped up with all the modern amenities including a full onboard spa. With sleek cabins and a real restaurant, Paradise Cruises are basically floating hotels compared to the simpler boats that sail Halong Bay. Their thoughtfully crafted itinerary hits all the best spots, but you create your own schedule and can always opt to stay onboard for some pampering during one of the stops.
Six Senses Con Dao
House of Barbaard
Photo: Di An h
Sea Shell | Photo: Bastiaan Ellen