If you love spectacular beaches and you love to try fantastic flavors—weddings are stressful so you’re probably overdue for a few indulgent meals, after all—then Vietnam may be the honeymoon destination of your dreams. Lovebirds who thrill at the idea of dish after dish of tastebud-stimulating fare, from markets to fine dining and everything in between, will meet their match in the Southeast Asian destination that’s also home to some of the region’s most breathtaking natural beauty and unique culture.
Long and skinny, the best way to approach Vietnam is by choosing a few stops and making your way either north or south to hit them. It may not be a huge country, but it does have a blinding amount of diversity in things like cuisine—after all, it used to be split in two quite distinct pieces. So the ultimate itinerary would hit both north and south as well as the middle, with unique cuisines and customs, too. A no-brainer way to see a lot of Vietnam without dealing with domestic flights or long drives is actually a cruise, with smaller luxury ships like Seabourn offering itineraries featuring a handful of beautiful days traveling up the length of its coastline, and even an overnight in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where you could book a hotel for a night to mix things up.
Starting your ultra-romantic trip at the top—to leave the warmest, beachiest part for the grand finale—could look a little something like this. Fly into Hanoi, a city bustling with young people (the average age in Vietnam hovers around 30, actually, and it’s especially evident at the city’s many busy cool coffee shops) and dotted with banyan trees, twinkly bistro lights and old French-accented architecture. It’s the birthplace of pho, pronounced fuh, but as a global city it’s packed with recommended restaurants reaching as far as impeccable Neapolitan-style oven-fired pizzas at 4Ps. Virtually every type of Vietnamese food is available here, but it’s the coffee you really need to experience—Giang Cafe for famously sweet meringue-like egg coffee, in particular.
From there it’s a couple hours to one of the seven natural wonders of the world: Halong Bay, honored by UNESCO World Heritage for its natural beauty. At least a day or two should be spent cruising around the hundreds of limestone islands that hold hundreds of stalagmite-filled caves where long ago the Vietnamese lived. Kayak through a floating village in awe at the seascape, and hop aboard a motorized junk for a seafood meal while you weave through the painting-like scene.
From there continue south to central Vietnam, where the charming village of Hoi An and seaside stretch known as Da Nang offer an enticing mix of culture and tradition alongside more spectacular natural beauty. At the Banyan Tree Lang Co, couples can dine on the beach during sunset, just the two of you, or get a bit more adventurous with water skiing and wake boarding outings, biking excursions through the Truong Son Mountain Range, or try being a Fisherman for a Day in the round basket boats native to the region.
Also set on the wide sandy beach, Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai has super-sexy villas with large sunken bathtubs—big enough for two!—and low draped beds that open doors to plenty of soulful experiences and pampering. The epic Heart of the Earth Spa is home to many of these, and couples can even have it all to themselves after-hours for a Goodnight Kiss to the Earth ritual after which you’ll have a three-course wellness dinner and be paddled in a basket boat on the candlelit lagoon to a spa villa for a singing bowl lesson then sound bath as you’re in a fragrant aromatherapy bath, ending with four-handed massages for you both. (They’ll mail you a trio of singing bowls at home so you can continue the ritual post-honeymoon.)
Immersive cooking classes are a favorite pursuit in Hoi An, since it has its own local specialties, like rose dumplings and cao lao soup. The Nam Hai Cooking Academy offers fun themed sessions, and in town there are fun options such as Gioan Cookery School, which starts with a bicycle ride to the market for your ingredients—with tips about how to buy the freshest produce—and ends with a massive amazing meal after you’ve prepared four recipes. In Hoi An proper, ancient architecture mingles with a proliferation of silk lanterns—it’s incredibly Instagram-worthy and vibrant. Try to line up your visit with the lunar calendar since monthly full moon festivals make for especially gorgeous evenings.
More adventures await in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon. There you’ll get a lesson in how to cross the street if you take a street food tour such as those exciting itineraries offered by Saigon Street Eats. Started by a local and his Aussie expat wife, the hours-long experiences touch all the senses, not just taste. Curious types can ask a billion questions as you sip treats like Vietnamese iced coffee or sugar cane juice, slurp the city’s best pho for breakfast, and bravely try things like betel nut and century eggs after getting your fortune read at a temple. Don’t forget to go karaoke, essentially Vietnam’s national sport.
After a day or two in the beyond busy city you might be ready for something a little more rural. Take to the Mekong River for a boat tour and more bucolic scenery, or head to Amanoi , in the little-known southeastern part of the country, immersed in a pristine national park. This off-the-grid gem is a bastion of luxury and calm, with dramatic cliffs to admire from kayak or boat cruise and untouched reefs to explore with a snorkel, and plenty of places for deserted picnic lunches. In Vinh Hy bay, you can cruise on Hobie Cat or head out on a catamaran to admire the coastline, and hike through ancient trees and lush ravines to stunning lookouts in Nui Chua National Park or cycle to a secluded traditional village. Some of the guest pavilions are equipped with private pools, so you can also just hole up in your plush, minimalist digs and pretend like you’re the only two people on Earth.
Because glorious Vietnam does offer the best of both worlds—ultimate privacy in the most peaceful natural setting imaginable, and then the total opposite, an avalanche of friendly people and mind-blowing flavors.