[top photo: The Hmong tribe are recognisable by their indigo-dyed linen clothing. They live at high altitudes and grow their own rice and animals.]
By Cheryl Tan
PERFECT FOR BEACH BUMS
Nha Trang, Vietnam
Forget budget-busting trips to the Maldives.
For a taste of beach paradise, there is always Nha Trang. Bordered by mountains and soft golden beaches with turquoise waters, the city along the south-central coast of Vietnam offers absolute bliss for beach lovers such as sales and marketing executive Karen Tan, 37, who spent six days there in March.
She says: "It was really a rest-and-relax beach holiday."
Laze about and get a tan at Tran Phu Beach, where sun beds are available for rent at 10,000 dong (85 cents) a day.
But not every visitor in Nha Trang is content to worship the sun in leisure. Water sports such as snorkelling and scuba diving are a huge draw, too.
There are about 71 offshore islands which offer some 25 dive sites. A diving expedition starts from US$25 (S$36) per person, including equipment and lunch.
Not a qualified diver? No matter. Certified open- water diving courses are also available for US$400, including equipment rental.
Avoid going between October and December when the waters get pretty choppy during the monsoon season.
To soothe weary muscles, pop into the Thap Ba hot springs centre, where you can dip in a tub of therapeutic thermal mud or slosh around in a mineral bath. Prices start from US$170 for a twin-share room and the use of spa facilities.
Nature lovers, take a two-hour drive north to Van Phong Bay and hop on a boat to Nha Trang Whale Island to watch whales and whale sharks.
The sea creatures come to the archipelago to feed between April and July.
Food in Nha Trang was a highlight for Ms Tan, who says: "The seafood was cheap and fresh." Beachfront restaurants serve freshly caught seafood with prices starting from US$10 for lobsters and crabs.
Take a Singapore Airlines flight (about 1 hour and 45 minutes) to Ho Chi Minh City ($454), followed by a 45-minute connecting Vietnam Airlines flight to Nha Trang ($484).
Where to stay
Hon Tam Resort Nha Trang (from US$50 for a double room) in Nha Trang City offers rooms with air- conditioning. Seaview Hotel Nha Trang (from US$25) offers views of the nearby beach, air-conditioned rooms and private bathrooms.
Cost: About $1,049 per person
EXPERIENCE THE UNAFFECTED LIFESTYLE
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
A Vietnamese farmer at work along the Mekong Delta.
Why escape from Singapore's urban craziness only to plunge into the hustle-bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, which is filled with whizzing motorcycles? Go to the more tranquil Mekong Delta instead.
Get a taste of local life and Vietnamese homecooked food with a homestay holiday along the famous river in the province of Can Tho.
"The air is fresh and it is peaceful and quiet compared to Ho Chi Minh City," says Vietnamese writer Nhu Binh, 25, who makes occasional trips to Can Tho to visit her friends.
While in this rural paradise, drop by a bee farm to sample and buy honey and honey wine. Learn how the famous Vietnamese rice noodles, pho, is made. And embark on a boat tour along the river to visit the Cai Rang and Phong Dien floating markets, where locals hawk fruits, food and flowers from their boats.
Take a Singapore Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a five- hour drive by car or bus south-west to Can Tho province.
Where to stay
Vietnamese homestay along the Mekong River
Cost: About $641 per person. Log on to Vietnam tripadvisor.com for the Mekong Delta two-day homestay package. It includes a land tour worth US$129 per person, transport from your Ho Chi Minh City hotel to Can Tho, a guide and entrance fees to attractions.
FEEL THE TRIBAL HEARTBEAT
Go further out and stay among the traditional hill tribes who live in the remote villages of Sapa, located 380km north-west of Hanoi. Getting there takes more than a day by train or bus.
A view of Sapa, a remote village north-west of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Take along proper trekking shoes to embark on a whole host of hiking trails in the area, which will lead you to villagers such as the Black H'mong tribe. They live at high altitudes, grow their own rice and rear animals.
This tribe is one of the biggest minority groups in the area and can be identified by their traditional indigo-coloured clothing.
Overnight stays with dinner at the villages can also be arranged.
"It is kampung style. We bathed with cold river water and slept on mattresses covered by mosquito nets," says Ms Nicole Ho, 34, who ventured to Sapa with five friends in March.
Take a 21/2-hour Singapore Airlines flight to Hanoi ($466), transfer to a nine-hour overnight train to Sapa ($95).
Where to stay
Holiday View hotel (from $65) or Sapa Goldsea Hotel (from US$26).
Cost: About $1,116 per person (includes land tour and three-night stay at hill tribe village worth $650 per person). For bookings, call Universal Travel on 6535-6004.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.