Features

The vibrant, cosmopolitan spirit of Vietnam

Vietnam is intent on attracting upmarket tourists by rebranding itself as the new Thailand. And it certainly has plenty on offer to rival its more popular neighbour.

If you are of the generation who grew up during the Vietnam war, it may feel "extraordinary" to visit the country as a tourist, says Lynn Barber in The Observer. But Vietnam has moved on and is now intent on attracting upmarket tourists by rebranding itself as "the new Thailand".

It certainly has plenty on offer to rival its more popular neighbour. You can relax on a beautiful beach, be pampered in a secluded spa hotel, or take a scenic trip in your own Vietnamese junk (complete with proper bedrooms rather than bunks) around Halong Bay.

But the best place to experience "luxury Vietnam" is in "the Paris of the East". Ho Chi Minh City once known as Saigon has a more "vibrant, cosmopolitan spirit" than the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Wide French-style colonial avenues and the designs of Gustave Eiffel sit alongside the shining new glass and steel high-rises that are testament to the country's rapid economic growth.

For a true Graham Greene experience, enjoy a cocktail and spectacular views at one of the city's rooftop bars, such as Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel, where foreign correspondents drank during the war. As for eating out and souvenir hunting well, you'd never guess this was a communist country, says the FT's Sarah Murray. Commerce saturates every corner of the city. Head to Dong Khoi Avenue for designer stores or pick up gifts at Ben Thanh Market, where you'll also find plenty of noodle stalls to sustain yourself between bargains. For a more upmarket meal, the Xu Saigon serves up exotic ingredients in stylish surroundings, while new designer eatery Cepage does fusion food for fashionistas. 

More traditional Vietnamese fare can be had at Square One at the Park Hyatt hotel, "a stylish and successful" evocation of colonial-era ambience, where king-size rooms start from £188 a night. For more authentic colonial character, stay at the five-star Hotel Majestic, located by the Saigon River and on Dong Khoi. Colonial' rooms with a river view start from $239 a night.

There are no direct flights between the UK and Vietnam. The best way to get to Ho Chi Minh City is with Qatar Airways from Gatwick or Heathrow via Doha.

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