Vietnam is a beautiful contrast of a country, and one i fell in love with instantaneously.
Despite the fact it has been almost 3 years since I last visited, Vietnam is one of those special places that stays with you long after you leave. Even now I find myself day dreaming about the sleepy little town of Hoi An and the pulsating city of Ho Chi Minh.
It's diverse landscapes, exotic food, challenging history and fascinating traditions make it an absolute dream to discover. From the mountaineous region of Sapa in the north, to the tranquil beaches further south it is sure to offer something for everyone. It is also home to the world's largest cave and of course, the world heritage site of Ha Long Bay.
With such a harrowing history there is so much to learn about Vietnam, however this once war raveged country is now a rapidly developing nation which seamlessly entwines the traditional with the modern. In addition to it’s landscapes and history, Vietnam is also a culinary experience like no other. The food is simply delicious, Pho is to die for and the claypot dishes from the South are immense. I think I ate about 1000 summer rolls and never once got bored. And let’s not even start talking about the seafood sold on the beaches…
Although I would recommend spending as long as possible in this country, a 1 month trip of Vietnam is a good amount of time to travel the country and to slowly start scratching beneath its surface.
Hanoi - 2 Days.
Hanoi is a city which most people either love or hate.
If Hanoi is your first taste of Vietnam then the city will blow your mind.
There are motorbikes everywhere, driving in all directions. The noise of constant beeping and street hawkers selling food from woven baskets fill the streets. It is noisy and crowded, it invades your personal space and I loved every second of it.
2 Days is just enough time to explore this fascinating city's chaotic centre. Wander around the Old Quarter, visiting temples and the various markets where live produce is sold to bartering locals. I would highly recommend staying in Downtown Hanoi Backpackers, a hostel on Ma May street which provides a free walking tour of the city. Other highlights include Hoan Kiem Lake and Hoa Lo Prison. In the evenings be sure to visit Bia Hoi where you will sit on little plastic chairs, drinking cheap local beer and chat to new found friends.
If you plan on staying in Hanoi Backpackers then I would recommend booking ahead as this place is very popular and rooms book up quickly!
Sapa - 3 Days
Sapa is an overnight train ride from Hanoi, hidden in the Northernmost region of Vietnam, near the Chinese border. It is a world away from the hectic city for Hanoi and comes complete with mountains, waterfalls and rice terraces to explore.
The town itself is small and filled with friendly locals, you will see lots of hilltribe members here who hike to the town from their remote villages. Dressed in colourful clothes, each tribes garments are different from the next to distinguish between the different tribes.
I would recommend spending at least one night in the town itself but there is much more to Sapa than it's centre. Most travellers come here to explore the rice terraces and hike through its steep, picturesque hillsides. If you aren't a fan of hiking then you can rent a motorbike and drive along the winding roads to take in the views, but I opted to do a homestay. This involves trekking through the hills of Sapa with a local guide and staying with a Vietnamese Hilltribe family overnight. This was one of the best experiences I had in South East Asia as I was able to meet and experience a day in the life of people who are completly self sufficent, who shun technology and who have no desire for money or material things. I opted for the 2 day, 1 night option however you could easily explore this region for much longer and get caught up in its natural beauty.
If eating in the town then I would recommend a restaurant called Viet Emotion! So good!
Ha Long Bay - 2 Days
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site which features over 1500 rainforest-topped-limestone-cliffs rising out of emerald waters. The majority of these islands are completely uninhabited and unaffected by human presence. This spectacular setting can be viewed by a boat tour. The boat weaves its way around the cliffs enabling you to relax on the top deck and absorb the magnicifent setting before you.
Tours vary from 1 day up to 5 days and you can opt to visit different islands scattered throughout this national park. I chose a 2 day, 1 night boat cruise which included a trip to Sung Sot cave and kayaking around the cliffs. You will also see floating villages where the population live almost their entire lives at sea, only venturing to land when it is utterly essential.
Although Ha Long Bay is a tourist hot spot, and you will be one of many visitors, on one of the hundreds of boats which tour this stunning national park - no trip to Vietnam would be complete without witnessing this national treasure.
Hoi An - 7 Days
One of my favourite places on the planet, Hoi An is a magical, sleepy little town which will not fail to charm you. With it's cobbled lanes lit up by low hanging lanterns, an idyllic river which flows languidly through the town and a beautiful Japanese bridge connecting both sides of the town, it is the definition of picturesque.
I could have stayed in Hoi An forever and been more than content watching the world slowly go by at one of it's riverside cafes. It has such an old world charm about it, and its so easy to say “just one more day”.
However, just because the pace of life is slow, it doesn't mean there is nothing do. The town is filled with local tailors and no trip would be complete without leaving with a custom made outfit. I would recommend renting a bike and exploring the town and surrounding areas, with An Bang beach only a short cycle away. The food here is also incredible! The local dish is called White Rose, and it is beyond delicious. Hoi An is the only place in all of Vietnam where you can try this dish as it's one families secret recipe! If you are planning on attending a cooking class anywhere in Asia, then Hoi An has to be one of the best places to do it!
If looking for places to eat then try Miss Nams (number 5) just across the Japanese bridge, the food is cheap and delicious! Or if looking for something a little fancier then Good Morning Vietnam is a great little place!
Nha Trang - 8 days
Nha Trang is a beachside city, and remembering that Vietnam has very little nightlife, this place is a breath of fresh air. Cool bars and modern restaurants fill the streets.
There is so much to see and do here which is why a minimum of 8 days is needed to see it all. Of course, there is the gorgeous beach for relaxing days, and you can jump across the water via cablecar to Vinpearl - Nha Trang's very own water and amusement park! You can rent a motorbike and drive to see the White Buddha which overlooks the city or pay a visit to the nearby Thap Ba Hot Spring and the town of Da Nang isn't too far away either. There are waterfalls to visit and you can also go on a snorkelling trip and visit little islands off the coast.
Nha Trang is alive and loud with lots to see and do, I can guarantee that you will never be bored in this city.
One of the best meals I had in Nha Trang, if not Vietnam was in a restaurant called Lanterns - their claypot dishes are exquisite! In addition to having great food, they also raise money for a great cause! Lanterns works with local schools and orphanages providing support, scholarships and food supplies. I would definitely recommend!
Mui Ne - 3 days
I've met people that have loved Mui Ne, however I certainly didn't.
I found the locals rather unfriendly, the beach was dirty and I was so underwhelmed after all the great things I had heard. So you might wonder why i would recommend you spend 3 days here..
The Sand Dunes.
Although Mui Ne itself didn't impress, the nearby sand dunes blew me away and made the stop off here more than worth it. Only a short motorbike ride away, you should aim to go for sunrise (or sunset) and watch the sky illuminate with beautiful colours before you over a mass of white sand. If you are looking for some exhilaration, then there are "Red" sand dunes nearby where you can rent a board and try your hand at sand boarding!
Mui Ne is a really popular spot for kite boarders, so if you kite board or want to, this place could impress you more than it did me! Ve Tam's is also a great little guesthouse to stay in!
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) - 5 days
HCMC is a collision of the old and new Vietnam.
It has a rich history and is steeped in tradition yet it has 21st century shopping malls, skyscrapers and rooftop bars. It's chaotic, it's loud but it is also utterly exciting. You can't help but get caught up in this vibrant city's fast pace of life. Here, you will taste the most delicious street food, learn about the brave Vietnamese in the War Remnants Museum and drink with fellow backpackers at yet another Bia Hoi. From the city you can go on day trips to the nearby Chu Chi tunnels to learn about how the Vietnamese outsmarted the Americans to survive the war and you can take a boat trip along the Mekong Delta, visiting various islands along the way.
HCMC is an explosive contradiction and spending 5 days here simply absorbing the city's vitality makes for an exciting visit full of discovery.
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