We had two weeks in Vietnam. Determined to see as much of the great country as possible, we travelled from south to north beginning our journey in Ho Chi Ming City, once known as Saigon.
Some places were incredible…others, not so much. So here’s my Vietnam hit list, to make sure you don’t waste any precious time wondering streets that don’t quite hit the mark and more time eating multiple bowls of Pho in these top towns.
1. Hoi An – a picturesque slice of Vietnamese elegance
The ancient town of Hoi An is a place like no other. Unbelievably picturesque, the UNESCO World Heritage Site exudes history, culture and elegance like no other spot in Vietnam.
The buildings that line the well-preserved streets reflect the unique blend of influences that passed through this old trading port from the Japanese to the Portuguese and of course, the French.
With such a beautifully balanced mix of architecture, one could spend hours exploring this motor-free town. Get ready to set your eyes upon quaint wooden Chinese shop houses and temples to mustard coloured French colonial buildings, extravagant Vietnamese tube houses and the infamous Japanese Bridge. Not forgetting the lanterns that give every evening in Hoi An that unforgettable, warm atmosphere.
Vietnamese cuisine reaches it’s peak here in Hoi An; the mixture of influences over the years has created some incredible dishes. Chow down on some Cao Lau, nibble those White Roses and take a crunch out of one crispy Wonton – delish!
Fancy a day at the beach? No worries – An Bang beach is a mere 20 minute drive away and has some of the best seafood in town! Grab a bite at the Deck House or Soul Sisters – you won’t be disappointed.
2. Halong Bay – the home of the dragons
Get ready to cruise the UNESCO World Heritage site of Halong Bay and become immersed in the towering, forest covered limestone pillars surrounded by emerald green waters.
The bay is a mere 3 hours from the city of Hanoi and transport to and from the city is included in all cruise packages. Yes, there are booze cruises but if you’re like us and would prefer the more sophisticated option then book with the junk boats – we sailed with V Spirit but if your budget allows, Indochina Junk may be the better option.
The cruises offer up some great food and even better scenery. Days are spent visiting caves and islands, such as Ti Top beach where you can climb 850 steps and watch one hell of a sunset.
Wake up with a morning session of Tae Chi followed by kayaking in the infamous waters of Halong.
The days are very regimented, with clear schedules set. If you’d prefer to do your own thing then a trip to Cat Ba Island may be more suitable.
3. Sapa – the home of Hmong
Sapa, the final destination of our Vietnam adventure…last, but by no means least! This northern town boasts spectacular scenery whilst the hill-tribe locals fill the town with colour as they parade the streets in their native dress.
The town has a slight alpine feel, perhaps the high altitude helps? The main street is dotted with bakeries, Vietnamese restaurants, coffee shops and some great bars (Hmong Sisters and Hill Station being two of my favourites). But what really makes Sapa so spectacular is the countryside villages that surround the quaint town – September is the best time to visit as the countryside is at its greenest.
If you’re not one for walking then Sapa may not be for you, but if you fancy a good trek then there’s no better place to do it. Being further north, the air is cooler making the walk a little easier.
Spend your time exploring the Hmong villages, home to the stunning rice paddies, finding those waterfalls and finally taking that cable car and those final steps up Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina. Complete your day with a much deserved Gluhwein and a good feed!
4. Hanoi – the bustling capital that packs a punch
The capital will leave you exhausted, but that kind of exhaustion that feels oh so good! Hanoi is busy – locals line the pavements sat on teenie tiny stools scoffing down a Pho or Banh Mi (best sandwich you’ll EVER have) whilst the roads are overrun with mopeds, but the atmosphere of this city is bloody great!
Explore the Old Quarter scattered with French Colonial buildings that’ve been turned into incredible restaurants, then take a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake before hitting the Dong Xuan Market for those street food delights.
Bier Corner is a great evening spot, we headed to Beer 27 with a good friend who calls Hanoi home. We enjoyed the local drink of vodka and green tea (we were given a whole bottle and it only set us back £3!) followed by a sophisticated drink at Hill Station…surprisingly we woke up hangover free!
For dinner we ate at New Day, a basic Vietnamese style restaurant; no airs and graces but the food will blow your socks off! We had a selection of dishes but the favourite was lime chicken. Other top spots for food include: Bami Bread, Quan Bia Minh and Na Hang Ngon.
5. Ho Chi Ming City – Vietnamese history explained
HCMC is much like Hanoi, busy, busy but it’s worth spending a day here.
A must is the war museum; not the cheeriest of places but it’s a museum that thoroughly explains the Vietnam War and you’ll leave a little in shock but educated with a new appreciation for the people of Vietnam.
Wander the streets, visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and why not take a peek in the designer stores? I drooled over a Chanel handbag for a good 10 minutes…
Backpacker street is the place to be in the evening, great food and even better drink deals…although we found the buy 2 get 1 free option a little strange! Feeling fancy? Head to Sky Bar for rooftop views.
For a day time eat there is a shopping centre just off of Backpacker Street that has an excellent Asian Food Court – we both had some great meals here and wanted to eat at each and every stall!!
So, that’s the lot! My top spots in Vietnam. Happy exploring