Few cities can match the incredible, overwhelming sensory assault of stepping out onto the streets of Hanoi for the first time. Slick boutiques and fashionable hotels have sprung up in recent years, but dodge the mopeds around Hoan Kiem Lake, duck into the alleyways of the Old Quarter, and a whole other side of this fabulous city is on show.
A homestay offers the chance to delve even deeper into the Vietnamese capital. Out by the vast West Lake, Huyen’s four-bedroom home is decorated with her husband’s paintings, its arty interiors making it a unique alternative to the small hotel rooms found in the city centre.
For easy access to the bars and late-night food scene in the city centre, Mia’s House is the ideal spot. It’s also close to key sites including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
The northern highlands
Vietnam’s misty northern highlands reward those who take the overnight train from Hanoi with huge views across the terraced rice paddies, picturesque tribal villages and quiet paths into the mountains. However, a boom in tourist numbers and a lack of regulation has made it harder than ever to find peace and quiet around the famous Sapa region.
Set in the gorgeous Muong Hoa valley, 18km from Sapa Town, Le’s home in Tavan village is a haven for those who want to have a more authentic experience after travelling to this magical corner of Vietnam. There are options to go trekking in the mountains or to learn about local handicrafts, or simply sit on the balcony and look out at the lush valley.
Ho Chi Minh City
To the locals, Ho Chi Minh City still goes by its old name of Saigon. But that’s just about the only thing that’s old school about the centre of this southern metropolis. Massive investment has seen a string of new skyscrapers kiss the steamy sky, with vast new roads bringing more and more people into the city. Slick Le Loi is home to high-end hotels and fancy bars. Despite this modern edge, there remains a pleasing air of chaos, especially around Ben Thanh market.
In District 8, a short bus ride across the river from the market madness, Linh’s beautiful five-storey home is the ideal haven from the tourist crowds. Set on a pedestrian alleyway, with access to some of Saigon’s best street food, it’s the ideal spot for living like a local.
Capital of Vietnam until 1945 and home to a spectacular walled citadel, Hue was the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting during the American War.
Today the town attracts thousands of visitors thanks to its historic connections and location on the pretty Perfume River.
While the city has its charms, the surrounding countryside is even more beautiful. Huynh’s homestay offers two double bedrooms and is just a five-minute bus ride from the centre of town. She also offers bike hire, making it easy to get around the quiet lanes and back into the heart of the action.
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