The holiday season was around the corner and I had begun shortlisting the countries to see. I took note of Vietnam when a friend murmured the name Vietnam at some get together. That moment, the only thing I knew about the country was the infamous Vietnam war. That is when my fascination for researching about places took over and it appeared to be quite an interesting country to travel to and of course a little offbeat too.
On world’s map, Vietnam stretches out vertically ensuring the ever-changing landscape and contrasting weather as one travels from north of the country to its south, the cuisine transforms suitably, the beer in hand goes from Hanoi beer to Saigon beer, the dialect varies and the style of doing business is a lot different. North Vietnam is more traditional and have preserved their culture and traditions to an extent whereas South Vietnam appears to be more business focused and westernized in several ways. Hanoi is to Ho Chi Minh City as New York is to Atlanta!
Straight from my travel journal, here are the cities (from North to South), one should not give a miss on a trip to Vietnam.
1. Hanoi : The current capital of Vietnam has managed to keep the ancient charm of the city intact irrespective of it hosting a myriad of tourists. The city has a lot to offer in terms of its french colonial architecture, age-long history, exotic food culture and immense scope of shopping of fake brand originals. The two most famous districts are Ba Dinh District (aka the French Quarter) where the government offices are located and other one being Hoan Kiem District (aka the Old Quarter) which entertains the tourists and is also the city’s business hub. I had spent most of my time in the Old quarter around Hoan Kiem Lake immersing in the local aura of the city.
Things to do :
- Visit famous tourist places like Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi Opera House, One Pillar Pagoda, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and Ba Dinh square
- Dong Xuan is the largest shopping area and my picks were local painting, silk scarves, coffee beans and conical hats after a reasonable bargaining as the shopkeepers expect us to do that. Made in Vietnam stores are a huge hit amongst the foreigners.
- For the night owls like me, the old quarter offers a good time while dancing and merrying over drinks at one of the pubs.
Delicacies to eat :
- Eating local in Hanoi is relishing cha ca, banh goi and pho at the street stalls.
- The french connoisseurs would appreciate the authenticity in baking in some really fine lively cafes. Kopi luwak popularly known as Weasel coffee and Vietnamese sandwich are also a must try in the cafes.
2. Halong Bay : Patches of different sizes and shapes of tall limestone islands covered with rainforests amidst the emerald colored ocean is what mesmerized me in the UNESCO famed Halong Bay. Truly a sight which left me spellbound uniting me with the nature. The rustic boats (luxury cruises did not fit my budget) took me around the islands and it was child like fun to spot islets like Stone Dog islet , Tea pot islet. Usually there are Halong bay tour packages of either 2 days 1 night or 3 days 2 nights and the tour operators arrange for you to indulge in water sports like kayaking, scuba diving etc. The packages also include the exotic sea food which indeed tantalize the palate. I had planned to get off the boat and visit Cat ba island for its pristine beaches and a humorous experience of laughing gas.
The caves can be reached via Dong Hoi which is the capital city of Quảng Bình Province in the north central coast of Vietnam. These caves date back to the 7th century when Champa people ruled southern and central Vietnam. The boat took us to the caves gaping mouth cruising along past the small churches and huge limestone rocks. Upon reaching the cave’s mouth, the engine is stopped and the boat is rowed silently inside the cave giving a chance to tourists to capture astonishing views. I can’t use enough superlatives to express the thrill of sitting in the wooden dragon boats, almost floating on an underground river and staring at the dark cave.
For anyone visiting Vietnam with the slightest interest in caves, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a must-see destination.
4. Da Nang : It is the biggest coastal city in central Vietnam and a base for visiting the famous Ba Na Hills. The sandy beaches and different hue of blue and green are major attractions of the city. My Khe beach was my personal favorite for its serene view and its water sports offerings.
Things to do :
- Tour of famous places like Lady Buddha, The Marble Mountains, Dragon Bridge
- A half a day trip to Ba Na hills which offers a breathtaking view from the world’s longest cable car. The child in me got engrossed in the gaming arena and all the cute little things at Ba Na hills
- Spending some leisure hours at My Khe beach with the view of Lady Buddha covered in the mist recharged me enough for the rest of the travel.
Delicacies to relish:
- Head out to Ba Duong for best Banh Xeo, a fried rice flour crepe stuffed with spring onions, bean sprouts and shrimp.
- Mi quang is the signature dish of Da Nang which is half noodles and half salad dish with some broth of chicken, pork or shrimp.
5. Hoi An : A city with trading port from ancient times has managed to keep its rustic and old city charm without getting much adulterated. It is definitely a city of my dreams to immerse in the quaint shopping streets and french colonial architecture. The city caters to travellers of all tastes and culture.
Things to do :
- Cycle along the paddy field countryside.
- Spend leisure time shopping the gorgeous lanterns and hand-made crafts in the night market alongside Thu Bon river.
- Spot the Japanese covered bridge and stare at it for a while.
- The downtown market of the city offers the lip smacking culinary specialties.
6.Ho Chi Minh City: The 21st century skyscrapers, the posh cafes , the expensive cars in the city shout out loud to claim to be the business hub of the country. I fell in love with the city on spotting music and dance lessons happening in huge parks and what astonished me the most was people, old and young, men and women working out using the gym tools placed in those lovely parks. A perfect glimpse of modern Vietnam is on the cards if one visits Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon city.
Things to do:
- Sight seeing tours of Cu chi tunnels, the Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh square, Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and my personal favorite War Remnants Museum.
- For shopaholic, a shopping spree at Ben Thanh market is almost like visiting paradise.
- Spend a gala evening partying with locals at one of the sparkling pubs like Apocalypse Now bar, Chill Skybar , Shrine Bar Saigon and many more.
Read more : Best Vietnam Backpacker Hostels
I’ll be glad to know if you found this post informative and please drop a comment if you have questions around planning a trip to Vietnam! Happy travelling 🙂