Amid a sea of ultramodern high-rises and other new construction, the Vietnamese capital has also undergone a more low-key transformation. Faded Colonial villas have been repurposed into vintage boutiques that jostle for space with sidewalk phô stalls. Once a sleepy outlying district, the Tây Ho area has drawn young Vietnamese and a crew of expats who have opened DIY venues like KUB Café, a casual beer joint that doubles as a motorbike shop. Ambitious yet casual dining options abound in this city, like pop-up burrito stand Mamacita’s—try the pork-belly burrito with onion jam and turmeric rice. At night, locals pack into Bar Betta, a French Colonial house in the stately Ba Dinh District that’s been converted into a drinking hole, and Zone 17, a roadside speakeasy in the shadow of rusty Long Bien Bridge. Avoid the otherwise rowdy backpacker vibe of the Old Quarter by staying at the tiny, antique-strewn 6 on Sixteen (from $65; tet-lifestyle-collection.com/6-on-sixteen/), centrally located a few blocks from historic Hoan Kiem Lake.
Arrange a private car (around $250), and take a three-hour drive to the rolling, palm-speckled hills of Tuyên Quang. In past years, there weren’t many lodging options other than conventional budget guesthouses, but that changed as the region’s ecotourism movement picked up speed and Green Vietnam (from $20, greenvietnam.com), an organic farm and ecolodge run by a local family, opened in 2009. Stilt houses with double beds and private bungalows perch on a hillside surrounded by verdant orchards and rice fields. Free-range Muscovy ducks and plump pigs roam among pesticide-free fruit and vegetables; at mealtimes, the owner’s wife tosses fresh produce into stir-fries and salads laden with garlic and herbs. The surrounding valley, dotted with caves and waterfalls, is best explored by either motorcycle or mountain bike; ride about half an hour along bumpy dirt roads to Ho Dong Tien cave or Tram Chu Mountain, pausing to make way for the odd buffalo. The Tan Trao Historical Site, used as a resistance base during Vietnam’s war for independence from the French, is about an hour from Green Vietnam.