Vietnam is a popular tourist destination with many interesting places to visit. The people are friendly and your dollar goes a long way, especially outside of Ho Chi Minh.
I travelled the well worn path from Hanoi to the Mekong Delta. Here are my 5 favourite destinations.
Turtle Temple - Hanoi
1 – Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it’s second largest city behind Ho Chi Minh. Situated in the north, Hanoi was established just over a thousand years ago, and has a rich culture.
We stayed in the Old Quarter, a bustling market and food district where even crossing the road is a challenge. Other interesting areas in Hanoi include Hoan Kiem Lake, home to the Turtle Temple (pictured above) and the French Colonial district.
A highlight of Hanoi is its cheap and varied food, from street food which is literally eaten from small plastic stools on the road, to western style restaurants where a mains and beer cost less than $10.
Hanoi makes a logical starting point for tourists planning to follow the coast down to Ho Chi Minh and beyond. It is also the access point for Halong Bay cruises and rural Sapa.
Airfares into Hanoi start can be purchased for under $100 flying in from Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.
Hanoi Street Food
Halong Bay Storm
2 – Halong Bay Cruise
A Halong Bay Cruise is a high point of a trip to North Vietnam. Three hours by road from Hanoi, there are many tour operators offering 2 and 3 day trips on live aboard ships.
Unfortunately there is little consumer protection in Vietnam, so due diligence such as research on TripAdvisor is recommend before booking any tour. We heard some horror stories and the basic rule of it seems too cheap to be true it probably is applies double throughout Vietnam.
We booked a 3 day tour with Indochina and had an amazing time. You can read more about that tour in my article Halong Bay Cruise
We really enjoyed our trip and got to kayak, visit a floating fishing village and have a candle lit dinner in a cave.
Halong Bay Fishing
Bamboo Boat on Hoi An Beach
3 – Hoi An
Hoi An is a popular seaside town that sits roughly half way between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Nearby Da Nang is the main gateway, you can either fly there or take a train, then arrange transport for the 45 minute road trip to Hoi An, usually through your hotel.
Hoi An has a nice laid back feel and is usually busy with travellers stopping over on their way north or south, though plenty of holidaymakers visit Vietnam just to stay here.
There are two main parts to Hoi An, the beach and the town. The beach is lined with resorts, food stalls and the odd restaurant, while the town contains historic sites such as the Japanese Bridge, a little bit of shopping and many restaurants.
The straight line trek through Vietnam is such that you will often run into people you have met in other towns. In Hoi An we ran into some girls we cruised with in Halong, amazingly we were both looking for the same restaurant. You can read more about our Hoi An visit in this article Hoi An Holiday.
Lady on Japanese Bridge
Buyer Beware - Ben Thanh Market
4 – Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh is a big, busy Asian city with lots to see and do. While not as cheap as Hanoi, it is more modern and has a greater variety of food and shopping.
Known as Saigon before the Vietnam War, the country’s largest city has an interesting history with both the colonial architecture and war remnants museum to show for it.
Markets such as Ben Thanh are an adventure, and a good place to practice your bargaining skills, while after dark there are many great restaurants and clubs to explore.
Mekong Hotel Dropoff
5 – Mekong Delta
If you are visiting Ho Chi Minh you should consider visiting the Mekong area, it is such a lush vibrant place and a good contrast to the traffic choked city.
There are many day tours available from Ho Chi Minh, booked either on the web or through your hotel. Research is a must to be sure you are getting what you want, and be sure to check feedback on Trip Advisor.
We decided a day tour was not enough for us, so we booked an overnight stay at a resort on the river, but did not make arrangements to get there. We ended up taking a day tour which kindly dropped us off at the pier to our resort, but we had issues on the return leg.
The Mekong is literally filled with life. We saw lots of different kinds of birds and tropical fruit such as pineapple and guava were growing all around the waterway.
Other things to do in the Mekong area include visiting the floating markets, which is a collection of local boats that advertise their wares on the end of their flagpoles, and touring interesting factories where they make rice cakes and paper rolls.
Vietnam is an amazing place to visit, these five destinations are only a small sample of what is available. We found the people to be friendly and helpful, especially outside of Ho Chi Minh, though we did hear stories of people getting scammed, so be aware.
We found the food to be better than expected, and very good value. Even western style restaurants were reasonably priced.
Shopping was average, though there were some interesting finds at the markets, particularly in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.
I look forward to returning to Vietnam in the future to explore it more, and would recommend it to anyone who is not afraid to rough it a little.
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