2019, 2016, 2006, 2002
Hanoi manages to combine the bustle of modern Vietnam with a variety of historic sites, some scenic lakes, a couple of excellent museums, and it's own distinctive personality.
Most of the museums have something to recommend, depending on your interest, and sometimes your tolerance for kitsch. I'd give a personal nod to two that are perhaps under appreciated - the Vietnamese Womens Museum, and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
Accommodation options abound. First time visitors are probably best staying in the Old City, or perhaps the French Quarter, but bordering these areas are options that can be a great location, with the best of both tourist & local scenes on your doorstep.
Food choices are everywhere, and most, even in the Old City, avoid the dumbing down of cuisine that can plague tourist areas. Though it's worth remembering that Vietnamese food is not merely the 'traditional', there are some very worthwhile modern takes on Vietnamese food appearing as Hanoi embraces the 21st century.
Speaking of which, should you need a coffee break, and who doesn't in Hanoi, two contrasting tastes of Hanoi's take on hipsterism are worth seeking out - the various branches of Tranquil cafes, which are just as the name implies, or the several branches of Cong Caphe, with it's retro take on the War Years. Interestingly there were also a large number of elderly Vietnamese very much enjoying the latters take on nostalgia.
Hanoi is also the base for day or overnight trips to Halong Bay and to the Tam Cốc-Bích Động area.
Hue is a hidden gem. With historic palaces & tombs along the Perfume River, and a food culture to rival that of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, it's a great place to spend some time.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a bit of a sprawling beast, with a handful of historic sights & worthwhile museums.
A great place for eating & drinking, Ho Chi Minh City is divided into distinct, contained, neighbourhoods, which given the manic traffic involved in travelling any distance is understandable.
Independence Palace is well worth a visit, not just for the usual Vietnamese war histories, but for it's over the top 1960's & 70's architecture and decor. Taking in a show at the Opera House is also worthwhile, and the Saigon Post Office is fun. The Ho Chi Minh City Museum Of Fine Arts is probably really only for art junkies, which is why I enjoyed it.
Such is the pace of change in Ho Chi Minh that accommodation options, and eating venues, chop and change so frequently over the 20 years since I first visited, that even more than most places it's worth checking any information or recommendations are up to date.
The Mekong Delta area is worth more time than just a quick day trip to the floating market at My Tho. Early mornings & evenings are when life along the riverbanks and waterways really comes into it's own. Can Tho makes a good base, and taking a range of boats of different sizes opens up different vistas. Getting around from place to place other than by bus or motorbike is still a bit tricky. And time consuming. But nothing happens particularly quickly in the Delta.
It is what it is these days.
The poster child for the "Disney-fication" of Asian tourism.
Over developed, over hyped, and over crowded, whatever charm it had, which was considerable, is now swamped under the mass of over tourism. If you must go there, you could try and get some respite on the south side of An Hoi island overlooking the Thu Bon River at sunset.
There are of course numerous other places to visit in Vietnam.
Halong Bay is the most famous. While definitely scenic, it's been a few years since I visited, and who knows how the tourist masses have played out. Staying overnight at Cat Ba Island, in the town, was almost as much fun for the chance to see the Vietnamese & Chinese tourists at play. And the food.
There are interesting Cham ruins dotted mainly throughout the central area. My Son, a day trip from Hoi An or Danang, is the largest group, and the Danang Museum has a good collection of Cham sculptures.
An interesting day trip from Ho Chi Minh City is to Tay Ninh, to check out the Cao Dai Temple there, and the scenery along the way.