A change of scenery is often just what it takes to put a little magic and mystery back into a relationship

When thinking of romance and travel, the big ticket destinations that pop up time and time again are your usual suspects: Paris, Santorini and the Maldives. Vietnam may not initially register high up on the list but stop for a moment and take a closer look, for this is a deeply, sappy romantic country, and it’s not in the least ashamed of it.

Walk into just about any café from Saigon to Hanoi and count the couples sipping tentatively at their ca phe sua da across the table from one another, sentimental folk ballads serenading out of the speaker system. While out on the streets, in the parks and along the beautified waterways, it’s couples canoodling on their parked motorbikes. As I pen this very piece right now young couples cavort in prized seclusion by the banks of the river over the road under lowered beach umbrellas as boats slink by in the dark.

However, it’s romance in travel, not culture, that I wish to draw your attention to. In Vietnam, all the cinema clichés are here, the candle-lit dinners, the after-dinner walks along the beach, the hand-in-hand strolls around a picaresque lake in mist, but the difference is, they take on Vietnam’s distinctly tropical tone and flavor. There’s no lack of choice, from dining on ocean-fresh seafood on white sand under coconut palm trees on Phu Quoc, kayaking through hidden coves in Ha Long Bay, or island hopping along the coastline of Nha Trang, Vietnam has it all. Up and down the length of the dragon’s spine coastline of Vietnam, the intrepid couple will find something to tickle the romantic sensibilities. And this is all very whimsical and sedate, but for those hankering to push the envelope a little bit further, a look farther afield reveals barely-tapped reservoirs of ardent possibility, and ones quite unique to these shores.

VANTHONG_IMG_0115_131130_NT

Just the other day I came across an article of an adventurous young couple looking back over a two-year stint of travel from Thailand to Turkey and featuring, amongst other left-of-field heavy hitters, camping beside an active volcano in Turkmenistan and visiting the oh-so-rare Tsaatan reindeer herders of Mongolia. Vietnam featured in this list no less than three times, the centerpiece of their entire journey centering on one bended knee and a ring in the spectacular setting of Son Doong, the world’s largest cave located right here in Vietnam. Vietnam has an awful lot to offer, especially for those looking at getting a little more bang for their buck, both in terms of the monetary and the memories. Whether it’s spelunking in the world’s most extensive and majestic cave system in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, motorbiking through karsted wonderlands in the frontier regions of Ha Giang, or clambering up the flanks of Mt. Fansipan.

But let’s bring it back from the extremes. Vietnam is as much about the little moments and details as it is about the big. For some, an idyllic romantic gesture may entail little more than sharing and enjoying a bottle of wine on an empty beach in a fishing village, or perhaps finding refuge from the rain under a café awning. Sometimes it’s the simplest, unscripted moments that end up filtering their way back to us as some of the happiest of our lives.

VANTHONG_IMG_0070_131130_NT

And while we’re talking romantic gestures and travel in Vietnam, there is one destination which simply cannot be ignored, and deserves a special mention in its own right—the honeymoon capital and city of eternal spring—Dalat. Number 1 on many relationship wishlist, Dalat, with its flower festivals, tandem bicycles, cool climes and horse-drawn carriages is high on romance. Regardless of where you choose to stay in Dalat, nestled as it is in an idyll of pine forests and rolling tea hills, with waterfalls and lakes abounding, the “City of Flowers” really makes the perfect setting for a few day’s indulgence for romance’s sake.

IMAGES BY THOMAS CRISTOFOLETTI AND NGOC TRAN