Vanuatu: Port Vila

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.

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New Caledonia: Noumea and Mare

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 (Mekong Delta)

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.

 

Mũi Né/Phan Thiet

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.

 

 

Da Lat

Da Lat is the central highland capital of the Lam Dong province, located in central Vietnam. The city sits at a higher altitude than the majority of other larger cities in the country,  located in the mountains as opposed to the coast. As such, the climate, foliage, and scenery are very different from that of the majority of other tourist visited cities. Da Lat offers a nice break from beaches and tropical weather and the opportunity to see another side of Vietnam. Da Lat is an agricultural hub due to its climate, with the city being surrounded by farmland and orchards. The town center is rather unusual and revolves around one large roundabout and a large rectangular one-way street encircling a building making for interesting driving. You will find more traditional Vietnamese cuisine in Da Lat than in the larger cities, along with some fantastic bakeries, offering pastries that you have never seen before in your life. Surrounding the city are numerous tourist attractions which will be discussed in their own articles. You will also find fantastic wet markets to visit, with all means of animals and fruit/veggies. Just make sure to pack a raincoat because it will definitely be raining for at least some of your time in Da Lat, hence the fertile soil.

Marble Mountain and Chùa Linh Ứng

Marble Mountain is located just outside of the city center and is well worth the visit. The site (as the name suggests) is a collection of five large marble and limestone hills, housing caves, and temples. You will find beautiful architecture, statues and art work throughout the complex. You will also find fantastic views overlooking the surrounding area, including the other limestone and marble hills. Chùa Linh Ứng is a large temple complex located out of the city on the peninsula. The complex houses numerous beautiful statues, stunning architecture and one enormous Buddhist statue overlooking the bay. You will need a few hours to cover Marble Mountain and around an hour to see Chùa Linh Ứng, both are highly worth the visit.

 

Da Nang

 

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.