Vanuatu has had one of the most turbulent histories of any island nation in the region due to repeat recolonization. As a result, the country has an unusual mix of cultures and buildings present and sadly has a lower population than when the first contact was made with Europeans. In my opinion, Vanuatu has a fantastic atmosphere to it, a very happy and welcoming atmosphere, more so than New Caledonia. A key highlight of visiting Port Vila is the central marketplace, which acts as a hub for the entire town. In this market, you will find every fruit, vegetable, and meat available in the country. Additionally, you will find a traditional food area serving all local dishes, as well as goods market which sells every manner of tourist nicknacks and garments. I also suggest making the walk to the top of the central hill in town as it offers a beautiful view of the island in all directions. The city also has a fantastic kava shop, stocking every variation of kava available. If you are not familiar with kava, it is a traditional substance consumed throughout the Pacific. It is a sedative that causes relaxation and numbness and is normally used in large social settings. Port Vila overall is a nice place to spend a relaxing day and take in Vanuatu’s culture and cuisine.
New Caledonia is a Pacific Island nation located just east of Brisbane Australia. The nation is a former French colony and has a rich mix of French and traditional tribal culture. Noumea is the largest and most developed city in the country, as well as being the nations capital city. In Noumea, you will find some fantastic markets and some great French and traditional cuisine. If you have some time, make sure to visit St Josephs Cathedral in the center of the city, aside from being a beautiful and historic building, it offers a great view of the city. Mare, by contrast, is mostly undeveloped and still has a traditional tribal feel to it. Most residents either still live in traditional thatched huts or small more modern shacks. The island is home to beautiful beaches and palm/pine forests. Here you will find traditional foods and beverages, along with fresh coconuts and French beer. Mare is a fantastic way to spend a day on the beach, eating traditional food and drinking cheap French beer, soaking in the Pacific Island sun and making the most of the clear blue waters surrounding the island.
Ben Tre is located in what is known as the Mekong Delta, a lush sprawling agricultural area interwoven by rivers and tributaries. Located throughout this region you will find small villages surrounded by farms and workshops of all natures. For instance, on the day tour I took, we visited several coconut, honey, and fruit farms, along with a coconut candy workshop. Shrimp farming is also extremely popular in the region. As far as entertainment goes, cockfighting is extremely popular here, as it is in many rural areas in SE Asia and you will find that a large number of people keep roosters on their property in small cages. If you manage to visit this area try to take a small paddled boat ride through the regions palm-lined canals as it is a very enjoyable experience. Additionally, if you haven’t had a chance to see them up until now you will be able to see plenty of water buffalo on the farm properties here. Ben Tre definitely makes for a nice way to get out of Ho Chi Minh hustle and bustle for a day.
The Củ Chi tunnels are located outside of Ho Chi Minh City in a large forested/jungle area. This is a historical site dating back to the Vietnam War, housing the tunnel system used by the Viet Cong against American forces. The tunnel system is immense, including tunnel networks stretching several kilometers long and stories deep. Included in this tunnel network are bunkers, underground bomb-making facilities, water supply system tapping into underground rivers, etc. The entire area was once boobytrapped using numerous styles of traps. At the modern-day facility, these traps have been replicated for visitors to view and are operated to show their effect. The tunnels have been reinforced and expanded so as to allow visitors to travel through them and really experience how vast these networks were. Also located on the premises is a very impressive shooting range with a vast array of guns to fire. I personally chose to use a jeep mounted M30 machine gun, which I was able to fire down a range at targets. The main weapon to be found in plenty is the AK47 in numerous models. The tunnels are a must visit if you find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City.
Mũi Né and Phan Thiet are adjacent coastal towns located north of Ho Chi Minh city. Despite being relatively small, the towns have a surprising amount to offer. Aside from the obvious white sand beaches, lined with palms, there are both natural wonders, as well as historical landmarks and some more unusual activities to be found. One of the key attractions in the area are the large areas of sand dunes in varying shades of white, yellow and red located just outside of the towns. These are so vast that they almost seem like a desert, stretching into the distance in most directions. On the dunes, you can find vehicles to rent and drive across the sand dunes as well as boards to rent to be able to go sandboarding. Po Sah Inu Tower is an impressive historical site dating back over 1000 years and still in relatively good condition. Also located in the vicinity of the complex are numerous bunkers and war monuments used during the Vietnam War. Another key attraction is Fairy Stream, a shallow stream that can be walked down on foot, with stalls located in the actual stream itself. A large section of the way down is bordered by stunning rock formations which stand in stark contrast to the red sand behind and above it. Located a small distance down the stream is a small and very strange attraction, an ostrich riding corral. Which is honestly one of the most random things I’ve seen and couldn’t resist going for a ride. The entire way down the coast you will find beautiful rainbow colored boats n the hundreds and small traditional Vietnamese woven basket tugboats. I would definitely suggest a visit to either or both of these small towns as there is plenty to see and do and you can get away with spending very little money doing so.
Located just outside of Da Lat are several fantastic attractions such as Datanla Falls, Trúc Lâm Temple, Robin Hill and Tuyền Lâm Lake. All of these attractions are within a short driving distance of the city if you rent a bike or scooter. Located at Datanla Falls is an awesome land based rollercoaster that takes you through the forest and down to a cable care. The cable car takes you through a small valley to the falls themselves. The falls are beautiful and are a very relaxing way to spend the day. Trúc Lâm Temple can be accessed via a cable car that departs from the Robin Hill cable car station. The view from the car is stunning and takes you over valleys, hills and alpine forest, ending at Trúc Lâm Temple located on the shores of Tuyền Lâm Lake. The temple complex is beautiful and is surrounded by forest area. Overall you can have a fantastic day exploring these attractions while still spending very little money. The only real cost involved is the roller coaster ticket and cable car tickets, which amount to very little.
Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam and is located in the center of the country on the coast. While Da Nang is not the most touristy city in Vietnam it is an extremely pleasant city. I ended up spending a few days there just because of how nice the city was. Having said that there is plenty to do in the city, such as Marbel Mountain, Chùa Linh Ứng (a large temple complex with an enormous Buddhist statue), the Sun Wheel and beautiful beachfronts. The city is also filled with Communist monuments, propaganda billboards, stunning arty bridges and fantastic restaurants and bakeries. The city has a very livable feeling to it and if I were to live somewhere in Vietnam it would probably be Da Nang. In Da Nang you will also see Vietnamese daily life go on all around you, seeing sights such as scooters transporting massively oversized loads of planks, garden supplies fans and almost anything that you can think of. The city’s attractions will be covered in the following articles.