Hanoi is one of those cities — if you haven’t seen it, then you haven’t seen Vietnam. But simply follow the tourist trail or get snared by scammers and you may vow never to leave Ho Chi Minh City for the weekend again. Or, use your time in the 1001-year-old city wisely, and you’ll come back again and again, hooked by its people, its charm and the addictive hunt for that bowl of something you haven’t yet tried.

For the first five weeks I knew Ms Nguyet we spoke in echoes.

A few years ago an excited resort owner in Nha Trang told me of one of those ‘undiscovered’ natural wonders that every travel writer yearns to find. Somewhere in Phu Yen between Tuy Hoa and Quy Nhon was a beach made up of black volcanic rock rolled into hexagonal coins that resembled the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and the Devil’s Postpile in the US. He’d heard of the place from a traveller who had chanced to turn off Highway 1. But as with all the mythical Camelots out there, he didn’t have a location and certainly not a name. “You should go and have a look,” he told me. With no more than a description, two months later on a trip to Quy Nhon I did just that.

Bung Binh Thien Lake north of Chau Doc

 

A location within kilometres of the Cambodian border causes many to write off Chau Doc as just another nondescript border town. But built at the confluence of three strands of the Mekong, like the waters of the rivers that converge on this French-designed market town, so the peoples here are also from afar, bringing with them a veritable hotpot of colours, race and religion.

The beach at Quan Lan

When most people think of Quang Ninh Province, Halong Bay often comes to mind. However, few people visit Quan Lan, a hidden island about an hour past the renowned bay, where the crowds are small, the beaches big and the seafood fresh.

Where Vietnam ends - Ca Mau

 

It’s not every day people plan a trip to Ca Mau, the southernmost province in Vietnam. But lucky for me, I’m here on a work assignment — travelling dirt roads lined with coconut trees and meeting inspiring HIV-infected youths. It’s bound to be another of those unforgettable 48-hour tourist-free journeys in Vietnam.

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