The East Coast of Vietnam is a delight to explore, with glorious beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites and long stretches of paddy fields filled with water buffalo and workers wearing conical hats. There are lively resort towns (Nha Trang is a hotspot for watersports, seafood and nightlife) and sleepy fishing villages, plus the imperial capital at Huế and the colonial gem of Hoi An, famous for its tailoring. And you're never far from the battle sites of the 1960s and 70s, some of which are compellingly evocative - if you can stomach it. All in all, it’s a fascinating blend of natural beauty and tragic history, which will stay with you for many years.
In days gone by, intricate vegetable carving was all the rage for royal banquets - behold the carrot dragons! The smart Ancient Hue restaurant near Hue's ancient Citadel is conceptualised to give diners a taste of the Nguyen Dynasty. Waiters wear ancient costumes, serve authentic recipes and royal entertainment takes place as you dine. Don't just come here to eat though; there are regular vegetable carving displays, as well as royal cooking lessons. Perfect skills to impress folks back home.
Delightful Hoi An, a Unesco site, is famed for its world-class tailoring, street boats and pretty French quarter. As the sun sets, head over the Japanese bridge to Al Fresco's, a chain restaurant. The food is average, so swerve on the ribs and just have a drink as the night market comes alive; you're right opposite the stalls, so views are amazing (and restaurant staff are a font of knowledge for the best bargains).
The Thap Ba hot springs are a popular trip from Nha Trang (6km), with mud baths (choose between communal and private), a mineral hot tub and a series of swimming pools and artificial waterfalls. For something similar, with comedy added value, head to 100 Egg (Tram Trung). This mud-bath resort is devoted to all things egg-shaped (perhaps to align with the mud-bath eggy smell?). There are egg-shaped tubs of hot mud, egg-shaped swimming pools, an egg-shaped restaurant; it's all very surreal.
Pan Thiet and Mui Ne are lovely sleepy fishing villages where tourism is still relatively new. The latter has stunning sand dunes that are well worth exploring - hire a motorbike to get there. But our favourite thing in Mui Ne is the early-morning fish market. Brightly coloured boats fringe the sea, and the shore is a mass of enormous nets and overflowing buckets. Local traders, restaurant owners and street food vendors barter furiously with the fishermen; it's quite a sight.
Pretty Dalat is a carpet of evergreen forests, lakes and waterfalls, and its cool hill temperatures make it ideal territory for outdoor activities. Be bold and book a canyoning trip through Pine Track Adventures. Their group sizes are small, their English is good, and they're all about safety and responsible tourism. You'll learn a few basics then canyon down two 15m waterfalls and jump from a 10m rock into a natural pool. Gulp.