Vietnam has suffered an unfortunate number of conflict and warfare throughout its history. Fortunately, those days are long over, and the only remaining war nowadays is the one that most travellers in Vietnam face: the battle against time.
Make no mistake, in order to truly discover the whole of Vietnam you need a lot of time on your hands – at least one month! And even then, in four weeks you might have to rush through some places. But not everyone is blessed with unlimited time: whether you have one week, two weeks, three or even four weeks in Vietnam, you will have to pick and choose some destinations. Sure you can do many places in one go, but that only allows you to merely have a taste of every dish, rather than one full meal.
The Versus Game
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) vs Hanoi
If you are flying or taking the bus, you are likely to arrive in either of these two destinations. If I had to choose between the two, I found HCMC more culturally interesting. It offers a number of important museums (the war tunnels are also close by), and it is also the superior destination for food. Hanoi is potentially more fun if you are looking for a vibrant nightlife and cheap booze. If you are looking for beautiful landscapes, and contrasting lifestyle, spend less time in either of these cities and travel to more attractive places.
Hoi An vs Hue / Da Nang
This one is an easy choice for most travellers. Hoi An is one of the most beautiful towns in South East Asia. Vibrant with colours, activities and markets it is easy to see why it is a crowd favourite. Perhaps, the only reason to opt for Hue would be if you are truly a history buff. In that case, the citadel and pagodas scattered around the city will definitely present a big appeal to you.
Keep in mind that the road between Hoi An and Hue is outrageously beautiful. In fact, many travellers opt to hire a motorbike and travel between the two destinations. However, I believe that more beautiful roads can be found elsewhere in Vietnam: particularly in Phong Nha (and Cat Ba island to a lesser extent).
Phong Nha vs Ninh Binh (Tam Coc)
Please do yourself a favour and do not skip both places. These two destinations are amongst the most beautiful locations in Vietnam. If possible, try and see both. If not, I would personally opt for Phong Nha. The reason being: Similar landscape, but with outstanding caves. South East Asia presents a plethora of caves, but nothing compares to the one available at Phong Nha.
Ha Long Bay vs Cat Ba Island or Ha Long Bay vs Bai Tu Long Bay
Many travellers seem to think that Ha Long Bay is an unmissable spot in Vietnam. While I agree that it is outright gorgeous, the north of Vietnam (Phong Nha, Cao Bang and Ha Giang region in particular) still manages to outdo Ha Long Bay. If you are to visit Ha Long Bay, make sure you base yourself in Cat Ba Island. While you are there you can set off on a tour of Bai Tu Long Bay and Ha Long Bay (you will not notice the difference between the two, but you can do both from Cat Ba). However, more remarkable than the Ha Long Bay is the viewpoint that is to be found in Cat Ba national park. Pure Bliss.
Sapa vs Ha Giang
Sapa is one of the ultimate destination for all travellers going to Vietnam. And while Sapa is beautiful, I believe Ha Giang is a much better alternative. Away from tourists and all the grim touts, Ha Giang offers arguably more impressive landscapes, and friendlier locals (or rather, locals who are not yet overwhelmed with tourists). While at the same time you can explore and hike through the rice terraces and local villages (just like you would do in Sapa).
Dalat vs Mui Ne or Mui Ne vs Nha Thrang
First off, Nha Thrang offers nothing special. Except for the beautiful road between Dalat and Nha Trang, it is an underwhelming place with an average beach.
Mui Ne has the incredible sand dunes, but it is also a town that has lost its soul for tourists. Resorts on each side of the street, you count lucky stars if you actually see a local person around town.
The winner here is without a doubt: Dalat. Dalat is an incredibly lively, clean and beautiful city. Outside of the European-style Dalat city centre, you will find a numerous number of amazing waterfalls and adventurous activities.
Bonus: Cao Bang (Ban Gioc Waterfall)
For those who are blessed with time, please do yourself a favour and visit Cao Bang, and in particular: Ban Gioc Waterfall. Sure it is slightly out of the way, but it is the most beautiful waterfall I have ever witnessed in my life. And again, barely anyone there to see it!
At the end of the day, whichever places you decide to visit in Vietnam will undoutebly leave you impressed. You will visit a coutnry with jaw-dropping landscapes, friendly people, and amazing cuisine – you cannot go wrong! Thanks Vietnam <3