by Richard Henderson
Escaping Ha Noi is often a necessity to rejuvenate mind and body, and relax without the city's trademark buzzing sound of traffic.
While Viet Nam offers stunning beaches and mountain areas unmatched in beauty, getting out of the country and experiencing a different culture, cuisine and landscape is a fantastic way of recharging your batteries.
Viet Nam is becoming increasingly connected to travel hubs across the region with direct flights, including those offered by budget airlines, which allow adventurous travellers a chance to see more without depleting their finances.
Direct flights to Bangkok are offered by a number of airlines including Air Asia, which offer inexpensive fares if booked in advance.
The Thai capital is a modern Asian metropolis, a mix of skyscrapers, elevated rail networks and a gigantic matrix of interconnected shopping malls, offering an endless array of products from electronics to high fashion.
It seems the city is addicted to shopping, with a healthy number of markets scattered across the city, including the amazing weekend Rod Fai market, where vintage clothes stalls appear next to cafes, bars and street-food restaurants.
For food lovers, Thai cuisine's hearty mix of spicy green and red curry with fresh seafood will leave you in a constant state of bliss, as will Bangkok's heavy dose of authentic foreign cuisine, due largely to the myriad of diasporas living in the city.
Bangkok is by far the largest city in Thailand, and is thus connected to all parts of the country, making domestic travel easy and affordable. A short flight north will take you to the wonderfully quaint mountain city of Chang Mai, encased with lush forested hills to explore.
Another exciting regional centre connected to Ha Noi is Hong Kong, and after a two-hour flight you can be in the heart of this bustling island-city, with its iconic city scape, which is home to more than 7 million people.
Hong Kong is the pinnacle of modern Asia, with second-to-none transport around the city and surrounding islands, and the very best in shopping and entertainment, from the plethora of rooftop bars to the busy markets.
The city's greatest attribute may be the ease of escaping the city centre and experiencing the clean sandy beaches on Hong Kong Island and surrounding islands such as the small fishing island of Lamma, which is accessible by ferry.
The suburb of Stanley is only a 30-minute bus ride from central Hong Kong, and is home to a famous open-air market and delightful seafront, speckled with bars and restaurants, perfect for enjoying a drink as the sun sets on the water.
If exploring the metropolises of Bangkok and Hong Kong doesn't appeal, a greener option is to fly to Laos, a country known for its stunning natural vistas and friendly locals. There is a wealth of nature-based activities on offer throughout Laos, which have become a popular draw card for backpackers, although visitors seeking a more luxurious stay are also catered for.
The city of Luang Prabang in north-central Laos has a growing reputation as one of the region's most relaxed cities, offering a wide variety of sights and activities for adventurous travellers.
The city has become famous for the Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Caves just outside the city, showcasing the vibrant natural environment Laos boasts. Elephant rides and night markets selling local goods also create an exciting place to relax and explore.
Leaving Ha Noi not only refreshes the senses and opens you to a new culture and cuisine, but also resets your appreciation of the unique charm the Vietnamese capital offers. — VNS