Vietnam stole my heart. Its chaos, the inherent friendliness and pride found in its people, the complex sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors of its food left me wanting to stay far longer than the short time I had. Based on my experiences there, these are the best things to see in Vietnam:
7. Ha Long Bay Cruise (Halong Bay, Vietnam)
Ha Long Bay is in northeast Vietnam and is known for its countless limestone formations, or karsts, that dot the bay. Most people explore the bay through single day or multi-day cruises on junk boats. After some Trip Advisor research, we booked a cruise through Pelican Cruise. The rooms were nicely furnished and my friend and I joked that one day, we would be able to think of this as “normal”. For now though, we were super excited about how plush the bed was and how cool it was that we had our own shower in our room. The cruise also offered kayaking, tai chi with the sunrise, cave excursions and had a sundeck bar where you could buy 2 for 1 drinks until 7:30 pm. You also visit a fishing village and meet the fisherwomen, who take you for a ride through the bay on their expertly balanced basket boats.
On the cruise itself, we brought books to read but after seeing the scenery around me, I just gave up. It was too beautiful and unlike anything I had ever seen before. If you’re planning on making this trip, I highly recommend booking Pelican. The junk that we went on was nicely maintained, the food was pretty good and was able to accommodate my vegetarian friend’s food requests, and the crew was extremely friendly and polite.
View from climbing to the top of the cave, Hang Sung Sot
6. Biking (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Hoi An is a coastal town located in central Vietnam. Its relaxed pace offered a nice respite from the typical frenzy found in other Vietnamese cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. As you walk around the town, you will find plenty of tailors who will offer to custom create suits or dresses for you. My friend ended up getting a cute dress from one of these stores and later, I wish I did too. In Hoi An, we stayed at Golden Bell Homestay, which offered free bike rentals. This was a popular method of travel among both locals and tourists. My friend and I each grabbed a bike and rode around town towards the beach. Along the way we saw some rice paddies and also ventured into one, only to later realize that the road abruptly ended in a narrow, unbikeable path. It was still fun though!
5. Old Quarter (Hanoi, Vietnam)
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is located in northern Vietnam. As you walk through the tree-lined boulevards and spot ancient pagodas, you can see the Southeast Asian, Chinese, and French influences in the architecture. Walking through the Old Quarter allows you to get a taste of the frenzied pace of life in Vietnam, with motorbikes haphazardly driving through the streets, making up their own road rules along the way. Amazingly though, no one crashes and gets into an accident. My friend and I spent the whole day walking from our hotel to the Hoan Kiem Lake located in the Old Quarter. We went during the super humid summer so of course we had to stop at cafes along the way to revive ourselves. It’s also not uncommon to spot locals stepping off their motorbikes for a quick beer, or bia hoi, and then get back on and go about their business. Bia hoi is made fresh each day and contains few preservatives. It is also super cheap at 16 cents a glass!
4. Kayaking (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Kayaking is a great way to explore Hoi An and I was excited to do some water activities, especially because the heat in the summer can be brutal. We found Hoi An Kayak Center through Trip Advisor and while it was a bit tricky to find, once we got there we were immediately greeted by a friendly employee who offered us cold bottles of water. After signing waivers, we were given waterproof bags to keep our belongings safe and were equipped with lifejackets and hats. There are a couple of different routes you can do depending on how much time you have. The currents can be strong though, which my friend and I learned the hard way, so make sure to account for extra time on the way back!
Hoi An Kayak Center
125 Ngo Quyen, An Hoi Islet
Hoi An 560000, Vietnam
3. Cu Chi Tunnels (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)
The Cu Chi Tunnels are well-known as the home of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The maze of tunnels can be found in Ho Chi Minh and are part of a larger network that run throughout the entire country. We found our tour guide through our hotel, Elegant Inn, and due to a Filipino family canceling at the last minute due to an illness, what was supposed to be an 8 person tour turned into a 2 person tour. Our tour guide ended up being the best, telling us about the history of the Cu Chi Tunnels, showing us where the best photo ops were, and even giving one of the Cu Chi Tunnel guards a little bit of money on the side to take us through one of those tunnels. After shuffling along crouched down and at one point having to crawl on all fours since the tunnel was so narrow, I left even more impressed with the tenacity of the Vietnamese people for being able to survive in the tunnels for months.
2. Banh Mi Phuong (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An comes recommended by locals and offers several different types of banh mi, with a vegetarian option available as well. The fresh flavors, the cilantro, the perfect ratio of vegetables to meat, combined to make this the best banh mi I’ve had in my life. Even Anthony Bourdain, of No Reservations and Kitchen Confidential fame, agrees. It was so good that my friend and I made this our last destination before heading off to the airport.
Banh Mi Phuong
2B Phan Chau Trinh
Hoi An, Vietnam
1. An Bang Beach (Hoi An, Vietnam)
This beach in Vietnam offered clear blue water, sandy beaches, and thatched umbrellas that you could relax under. The waveless, warm water remains pretty shallow even if you go far out, so it’s good for kids and inexperienced swimmers too. You can also order traditional Vietnamese food and drinks to be delivered to your lounge chair from the nearby beachfront restaurants.
Vietnam offers so many things to do, see, and eat, you could easily spend years to fully take in everything that this country has to offer. If we had more time, I would’ve loved to spend some time at the Mekong Delta, but that just gives reason to come back a second time.
Have you gone to Vietnam? What were some of your favorite things to do there? Tell us in the comments below!
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