When you mention you’re going on a cruise, certain stereotypes can be called to mind. People might assume you’re spending all the time on board, full of all-you-can-eat buffet and cheap wine, or worse, that you’re taking an early retirement. A cruise to Vietnam smashes all of these misconceptions off starboard and into the water. Because South East Asia’s most thrilling and  thriving country has so much to offer. Best of all, it’s a whole 3260km of coastline, with history, culture and glorious cuisine by the boatload wherever you alight. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL places to visit on your cruise to Vietnam.

HA LONG BAY

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam’s North East is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. A lofty billing indeed, but the ‘Descending Dragon’ more than lives up to it, with its collection of breathtaking limestone islands which rise majestically from the sea. This truly is one of the most beautiful, otherworldly places on the planet. The city of Ha Long boasts an international passenger port where cruise ships dock. From here, alight and board a traditional junk boat – which can do overnight trips, complete with stops for swimming, sightseeing and squid – to experience the bay at its finest. Vietnam’s number one must-see, make no mistake.

PHU MY (HO CHI MINH CITY)

Though Vietnam’s largest and most happening city isn’t on the coast, the port of Phu My is just an hour and a half’s drive, and it’s well worth making the trip to experience the country’s dynamism and ambition full throttle. It’s a megacity, make no mistake, but one with bags of character and history. Most international cruise companies, such as Planet Cruise, include a stop in the metropolis as part of a tour of South East Asia.

Ben Thanh Market, District 1, is the foodie focal point of the city, with vendors slinging bowls of nourishing soup from early in the morning until closing time at around 7pm. Many of Ho Chi Minh City’s best food options are closeby, so head here if you’re looking to get fed. The backpacker street Bui Vien is also walking distance away, and is always entertaining for a quick beer and some people watching.

If you’re looking for some culture after satisfying your culinary curiosity, then the Reunification Palace, made famous on newsreels during the American/Vietnam War as tanks crashed through the gates, should be your first stop. Just a ten minute walk from there is the War Remnants Museum; a deeply harrowing but vital documenting of the horrors of war.

PHU QUOC ISLAND

Phu Quoc is an island on the up, and Vietnam’s largest, with new hotel developments and restaurants cropping up as fast as the island will have them. Regardless of this mega expansion, it’s still a gorgeous, tropical paradise well worth visiting. 

The island’s main town of Duong Dong has a sizable port. From here, you can get stuck straight into Phu Quoc’s famous cuisine; light, delicate and as fresh as you like, with an emphasis on seafood, particularly squid, which is abundant in the island’s surrounding waters. What’s more, Phu Quoc boasts two highly prized, artisanal products cultivated on the island; peppercorns and fish sauce, the latter reputed to be the best in the world. Take a tour of a peppercorn farm or fish sauce factory during your time on the island and don’t forget to buy some souvenirs!

CHAN MAY (DA NANG & HOI AN)

Chan May is Central Vietnam’s main port, and has links to Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. It’s also just a 50km drive from the flourishing city of Da Nang, now Vietnam’s third largest, and 75km from the ancient trading port of Hoi An; majestically preserved, pedestrianised and simply lovely. The latter is the home of Vietnam’s world famous silk and tailoring trade, with the skilled craftspeople here able to size you up and fashion you an outfit in record time (six hours on our last visit!). With that level of efficiency, there really is no excuse not to get kitted out while on dry land.

NHA TRANG

Yep, we realise we haven’t mentioned beaches yet. And despite the fact that Phu Quoc, Da Nang and Hoi An all boast some spectacular ones, we thought we’d leave the best ‘till last. Because the city of Nha Trang, with a cruise ship docking close to the centre of the action, flaunts some of the finest in the country.

Most popular is Hon Tre, also known as Bamboo Island, which can be reached via speedboat from Nha Trang centre in under 30 minutes. Or, you can take a cable car from Nha Trang, which connects you to the popular amusement park VinPearl Land on the island. Alternatively, the city sits on Tran Phu beach, complete with a beautiful promenade with plenty of seafood restaurants; the definition of paradise, we think.