Travel

Vietnam’s largest city offers the ultimate Asia escape

Soak up the bustling temples and markets at Ho Chi Minh City then relax by the beach at nearby Ho Tram.
Aerial view of the beach in Hon Tre Island in Nha Trang, Vietnam

I’m in a minivan, speeding past southern Vietnam’s vast sugarcane fields and the pleasures that draw so many travellers to this beautiful land: ancient temples, vibrant markets and steaming pho served at roadside noodle houses.

But for now, I’m leaving them behind to delve into the country’s more luxurious offerings. The sparkling beauty of Vietnam’s winding cerulean coastline has made it a Mecca for beach resorts, and that’s where I’m heading for some recreation and relaxation.

My first stop is Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort. Just two hours from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), the Mediterranean-inspired resort has a reputation for luxury. I’d landed in HCMC just 12 hours earlier, and even though the flying time is a relatively civilised eight hours from Sydney, the prospect of a post-flight pampering is always welcome.

So, I’m delighted when my host guides me to the YHI Spa, where a traditional Vietnamese oil massage is on offer. Set among idyllic still water and lush greenery, the spa is a haven. All is silent except for the slap of koi fish in the nearby pond, and my stress quickly melts away.

Generally, I prefer sightseeing and hiking holidays to sunbathing and relaxing, but the sunlight is dancing on the ocean and as I drink a cocktail at the beach-front level pool, I reconsider my allegiance.

My host has arranged dinner under the stars at Muôi, Meliá’s modern Vietnamese restaurant, where the very best spicy, tangy, peanut-y, chilli fresh elements of Vietnamese cuisine are on offer.

The themes of food and relaxation continue the next day as I pass the morning learning the meditative practice of making rice paper rolls in a garden farm, amid the aroma of mint and basil, before soaking up more sun and ocean views from the comfort of a poolside daybed.

resort overlooking the ocean in Vietnam

Meliá has been the perfect destination to slough away the stress of work, but with so much to see, I’m ready to be more adventurous. I venture to Mui Ne, where my home for a few nights is The Anam, an elegant meeting of old-world elegance with modern amenities.

I walk The Fairy Trail, which is an ankle-deep creek that winds through sand dunes, then visit a busy, raucous marketplace, tentatively sampling some local confectionery. Mui Ne’s sand dunes and colourful streets delight but the natural beauty of Cam Ranh calls.

The journey is three hours, so we break our trip at a beachside restaurant where waiters bring salty, tasty street food to our table perched right on the sand. The highlight of Cam Ranh is Green Oasis Island, which is a postcard come to life.

The glassy blue water is perfect for kayaking, snorkelling and parasailing. I paddle solo to the mangroves and am grateful, when I return, that I don’t have to do anything but lie on a sun bed at the beautiful Alma Resort, where 12 swimming pools cascade down to the beach.

A quick flight and I’m back in Ho Chi Minh City, where my resting place is the Fusion Original Saigon Centre. Fusion is also the perfect word to describe HCMC, also known as Saigon. Colourful paper lanterns burst out of second and third-floor balconies of restaurants and coffee houses in the lively streets.

It’s cosmopolitan, sophisticated and pulsing with energy. Dodging the swarms of motorbikes, I poke my head into some local temples and I try some street-side banh mi that zings with coriander and chilli.

For dinner I visit Fusion’s restaurant, Miss Thu, which serves art in a bowl. The lemongrass crème brûlée alone was worth the trip. Food is indisputably the star of any trip to Vietnam and Miss Thu also serves an amazing buffet breakfast complete with the one thing you must partake of when visiting Vietnam: the famous Vietnamese coffee, served cold and sweetened with condensed milk. Miss Thu will add a dollop of coconut cream if you ask, and I recommend you do.

I wrap up my trip with an historical tour of the city led by Old Compass Travel. It ends in the charming Old Compass Cafe, which serves homemade fare. The homely farewell is a highlight of the spectacular adventure.

Man dishing up Vietnamese soup

The best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City

See: The Saigon – Tales of the City tour is a detailed and fascinating insight into this multifaceted city.

Eat: The Triêu Institute’s delicate meals encompass the textures and flavours of this wonderful nation in each and every dish.

Drink: Coffee culture is alive and kicking in HCMC and the Cafe Apartment on Nguyen Hue, District 1, is its epicentre. The entire nine-storey residential building has been transformed into a hub of coffee shops and boutiques.

Shop: Skip the knock-off designer markets and head to Saigon Kitsch, which offers unique and quirky gifts and homewares.

Stay: Fusion Original Saigon Centre is the perfect home away from home.

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