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The vibrant, cosmopolitan spirit of Vietnam

If you are of the generation who grew up during the Vietnam war, it may feel “extraordinary” to visit the country as a tourist, says Lynn Barber in The Observer. But Vietnam has moved on and is now intent on attracting upmarket tourists by rebranding itself as “the new Thailand”.

Vietnam certainly has plenty on offer to rival its more popular neighbour

You can relax on a beautiful beach, be pampered in a secluded spa hotel, or take a scenic trip in your own Vietnamese junk (complete with proper bedrooms rather than bunks) around Halong Bay.
Halong bay
But the best place to experience “luxury Vietnam” is in “the Paris of the East”. Ho Chi Minh City – once known as Saigon – has a more “vibrant, cosmopolitan spirit” than the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Wide French-style colonial avenues and the designs of Gustave Eiffel sit alongside the shining new glass and steel high-rises that are testament to the country’s rapid economic growth.
Ho Chi Minh City

For a great experience, enjoy a cocktail – and spectacular views – at one of the city’s rooftop bars, such as Saigon Saigon at the Caravelle Hotel. This is where foreign correspondents drank during the war.

Commerce saturates every corner of the city. Head to Dong Khoi Avenue for designer stores or pick up gifts at Ben Thanh Market. Here you’ll also find plenty of noodle stalls to sustain yourself between bargains. For a more upmarket meal, the Xu Saigon serves up exotic ingredients in stylish surroundings. While new designer eatery Cepage does fusion food for fashionistas.
More traditional Vietnamese fare can be had at Square One at the Park Hyatt hotel, “a stylish and successful” evocation of colonial-era ambience (for more, see www.saigon.park.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels).
For more authentic colonial character, stay at the five-star Hotel Majestic, located by the Saigon River and on Dong Khoi. ‘Colonial’ rooms with a river view (see www.majesticsaigon.com.vn for more).
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