When I decided to our I expected a second round of what I’d already seen during my Thailand and Malaysia trips. What I got in Vietnam was an amazing, eye-opening experience. The country is so rich in culture, as well as beautiful beach resorts.
Hanoi: History And A Hopping Atmosphere
Booming cities in South-East Asia aren’t for the faint-hearted, but you get used to the mopeds pretty quickly. I was after something more than a mad rush hour and neon signs, though. For me, Hanoi was the answer. I found so much authenticity in the Old Quarter’s French and colonial architecture, and 36 streets here are named after the shopping you’ll find in them.
The food scene is really impressive here. Street stands get going early with steaming pho bowls and omelettes, but it was the French influence that surprised me the most. Banh Mi baguette sandwiches and croissants were the last thing I expected to find in a Vietnamese city, but they were fantastic.
I did a half-day tour of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, before opting for a rickshaw ride around the streets which was a really nice way to see local life. The highlight for me was definitely the Halong Bay Cruise which took us past limestone rocks, caves and some much-welcomed calm. Back in the city, there’s also the Hoan Kiem Lake which tones down the district’s buzz, you find locals hanging around here on a weekend. The locals were some of the nicest I’ve ever met. Most of them speak some English and unlike other destinations, they don’t expect money in return for helping with directions.
We stayed in the Tirant Hotel which is in the Old Quarter. The rooms are really quirky, the views are great and it’s one of the only hotels in the area with a pool.
Next Stop- Ho Chi Minh City
I flew from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, where the feel was definitely different. Ho Chi Minh is really cosmopolitan, so it’s more about fusion cuisine, big wide streets and tall buildings than Hanoi’s narrow alleys. Still, there’s a lot of deep-rooted culture here. Ho Chi Minh was formerly Saigon, and it was great to do a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels which are now easily reachable from Ho Chi Minh by boat. The Delta is also meant to be magical, with floating villages, pagodas and nice views of rice paddies but unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore this part of the country, however my colleagues say it’s definitely worth visiting.
Again, food here is a big deal. You’ll find everything under the sun at the Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Street Eats tour, but I was more about picking what I fancied as I found it. A word of warning about museums here, though. Vietnam has its fair share of traumatic histories, and the country doesn’t exactly hold back when it comes to displaying them. While some of the Imperial exhibits were a bit gruesome, the rest of the city was fun to explore. We stayed at the Liberty Central which is right by Ben Thanh Market and a 10-minute walk from both the Saigon River and Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Hoi An’s Lanterns And Beaches
My schedule meant I had to skip Hue, so it was onto Hoi An, the picturesque town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was nice to switch up bustling cities with a relaxing beach setting, although Hoi An has quite a lot going on. You’ll see Chinese, Japanese, European and Vietnamese architecture here, lots of lantern-lit spots, antique stands and the nice Old Quarter.
Market haggling is something you get used to anywhere in Asia, but Hoi An is famous for whipping up made-to-measure clothing for bargain prices. Some of the people in my group came home with tailor-made dresses and suits.
Despite dreading the Hoi An cycling trip, I ended up loving it. I got the once-over of village life, local culture, pretty rice fields, crops and wildlife. Hoi An definitely isn’t a wild party zone. Most bars here close before midnight, and while there are some backpackers, they’re not the rowdy type. An Bang Beach is popular here, and for coastal views, Lang Co or the Marble Mountains are stops I often recommend, although I didn’t have time to visit them.
When You Somehow End Up In Hong Kong
As I was flying from Manchester, the best flights went via Hong Kong and as I’d never been it seemed daft not to have at least have a brief stay, so I wrapped up my trip with 36 hours there. While I definitely felt I was in a 21st-century mega-city, it was great to see one the largest seated Buddha statues in the world, a Kowloon light show and the Victoria peak. You can also get around easily with a 24-hour public transport tourist card.
For me, Vietnam was a beautiful blend of East meets West, unique cities, fantastic food and something I just hadn’t experienced before. To experience it yourself, take a look over our or get in touch directly for a tailored quote.
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