Whilst Southeast Asia has always been a tourist magnet for the sun and culture-loving British, it is now more accessible than ever with increasing numbers of Asian airlines offering stupendous levels of comfort and a multitude of destinations. Top of your list for consideration must be the ever-expanding Vietnam Airlines.
They offer the UK's only non-stop scheduled flights to Vietnam daily from Heathrow T4 and can proudly proclaim to have one of the newest fleets of aircraft in the world with both the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and Airbus A350-900 XWB. An authentic Vietnamese dining experience with the airline is guaranteed as they've partnered with acclaimed Australian-Vietnamese Chef Luke Nguyen to be their Global Cuisine Ambassador. Business class passengers have eight brand new dishes to choose from based on Luke's travels across different regions of Vietnam.
The airline has been winning non-stop accolades such as the Skytrax 4-star rating and a new Global 4-Star certification from APEX, the Airline Passenger Experience Association meaning it is ranked alongside the very best like British Airways and Emirates.
If you are looking for itinerary suggestions, the triumvirate of Hanoi, Yen Tu and Halong Bay should be high on your agenda. The rich tapestry of culture that exists in Hanoi is unsurprising having been ruled by China and France throughout its illustrious history. The narrow streets (roughly arranged by trade) in the chaotic old quarter is best navigated by a cyclo tour. The ideal scenario ending at the picturesque Hoàn Ki?m Lake followed by a water puppet show at the renowned Thang Long theatre.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi could not have a more apt name, having opened in 1901 with a distinct colonial style and is regularly regarded as the best hotel in Vietnam. Graham Greene famously wrote The Quiet American whilst staying at the hotel and Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon there. They have a historical Metropole Wing which has preserved the original grandeur of the hotel whilst the Opera Wing offers neo-classic splendour.
Whether it is street food or fine-dining, you will be astonished by the freshness of Vietnamese cuisine. You can enjoy a simple Bún ch? at H??ng Liên, which has been practically renamed the Barack Obama cafe since his famous visit in 2016, to a meal at Madame Hien which is run by chef/owner, Didier Corlou who has cooked for presidents and royalty and also oversaw the development of the restaurants at Metropole Hanoi on numerous occasions. Home Hanoi is also highly recommended with their marriage of historical Vietnamese recipes adapted with modern touches to please the discerning diner.
Yên Tu isn't a region you will find teeming with tourist but more likely devout worshippers as it is the site where pure Vietnamese Thien Tong Zen Buddhism was founded and developed and you will come across many architectural masterpieces related to this. There is the Hoa Yen pagoda with a height of 543 metres is the largest in the area and thankfully they've constructed a cable car system so you don't have to trek up the mountains for hours like the pilgrims of many centuries ago.
However, you don't have to be a religious tourist to visit this area, but someone who might seek a sense of spirituality. The recent opening of the Legacy Yên Tu Hotel and Village by acclaimed architect, Bill Bensley is another reason to visit the region. This project could have easily been misjudged in less capable hands and turned into a theme park, but instead, we have a 13th-century design that elegantly blends in with the surroundings and respects the sanctity of the region.
You have luxurious amenities like rainfall showers and multimedia hubs but one item you won't find is a television. Instead, you can relax with meditative yoga masterclasses, enjoy an impromptu evening show at the night market village or world-class spa facilities which are set to open after their soft-launch phase. The genius behind this mammoth project, Bill Bensley has been widely regarded as the man who has sparked the luxury resort boom in Southeast Asia with the likes of Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai.
Finally, Hailong Bay which has been voted as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature is an area not to be missed with literally thousands of towering limestones islands covered with luscious vegetation and emerald waters. The best way to navigate the area is via overnight Paradise Luxury Cruises. They have traditional wooden junks that have been fitted with chic, modern amenities with an abundance of activities on offer from night squid fishing to onboard cooking. They have excursions which include hiking through the stunning Sung Sot limestone caves or kayaking near the famous pearl farms in the region. They offer both authentic Vietnamese cuisine and also an Italian-style dinner, which is unsurprising of a very high standard as they are under the same parent company as Home Hanoi mentioned previously.
Vietnam is the kind of magical destination waiting for you to visit: it is less commercial than some of its neighbouring countries, with prices from accommodation to eating out extremely reasonable. And thanks to Vietnam airlines, it is incredibly accessible for UK visitors.
Vietnam Airlines www.vietnamairlines.com operates the UK’s only nonstop scheduled services to Vietnam, with daily flights from Heathrow T4 to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Flights are operated by the latest Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with Economy, Premium Economy and Business Class cabins, and Skytrax 4-star rated Vietnamese service. Return fares start from £464 per person in Economy; £938 in Premium Economy; and £1,818 in Business Class. Experience Travel Group (020 33557873; www.experiencetravelgroup.com) offers a four-night package including stays at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Legacy Yen Tu – MGallery by Sofitel, and the Paradise Luxury Halong Bay Cruise and return Vietnam Airlines flights from £1746 per person.
For more information on Vietnam, see here.
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