Is Vietnam the best country in Asia?
Vietnam, where to begin, defiantly one of the best places Asia has to offer! What a beautiful country. It had been on the cards for a few years and after a taste of Asia in November 2016 to Thailand, it was a giving that Vietnam was the next stop. We had booked everything for Thailand ourselves (me and the bestie) which turned out to be quite time consuming as we had planned to do so much in the two weeks we were going to be there and this time Vietnam was going to be no different, so we agreed we would try a different route and book with a trusted travel agent Trailfinders. Which thankfully eliminating the hours of trailing through websites for hotels etc.
We departed from Cork airport via London and Hong Kong with Cathay pacific to land in Hanoi for the first leg of our journey in North Vietnam. We arrived in the evening and had our visa approval letter ready for immigration along with the $25 (usa dollars) fee. After about in ¾ of an hour, we had bags collected, were through immigration and on our way out the door of Noi Bai international airport.
Our first 4 days were in Hanoi and Halong Bay. We did a local tour of Hanoi that covered so much, such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (final resting place of Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh). Some of Hanoi’s beautiful temples such as One Pillar Pagoda, Trấn Quốc Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. This temple hosts the Imperial Academy, Vietnam's first national university. Hanoi prison. The Old Quarters of Hanoi, a visit to the locals market, a stop off for the infamous Hanoi coffee shops for an egg coffee (which is a must have) and to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre for the unique Vietnam traditional art of water puppetry.
The following day we hit the road to Halong Bay to board the Jasmine Junk boat for a 2 day (overnight) cruise of the bay. From here we visited the Cua Van Floating Village. Here we got to board a sampan (it is a low sided bamboo boat) paddled by very energetic Vietnamese women for a tour of the floating village. We saw the amazing views from TipTop island . Not for the faint hearted, this island boasted spectacular views but it takes 400 steps mostly without railings to get to the top but worth every step once recovered!!! We returned to Hanoi for one last night before our internal flight to Hue (Central Vietnam) with Vietjet the following day.
Arriving in Hue’s Phu Bai international airport, take a deep breath before exiting the airport, because there is 5 taxi drivers to each person exiting all looking for your business and to carry your bags to their car. Have your bearings together and make sure to ask if the taxi is metered!! It costs approx. 15,000dong per 1km so keep this in mind when you are being quote the taxi fare (google maps is a winner here).
We only had an evening and a full day in Hue so we did a local private guided tour to try see as much as we could of what Hue had to offer and it didn’t disappoint! We went to the Imperial Citadel, once home to the last emperors of Vietnam, seen the Forbidden Purple City, went on a cyclo pedicab thought the enchanted Old City, Dong Ba markets, Thien Mu Pagoda (heavenly lady pagoda) and visited the tomb of Khai Dinh. In the evening we lost ourselves in the back streets of Hue, drinking 20cent coffee’s in the locals café’s! Hue has fabulous restaurants and cheap too, two Mì xào dòn (Vietnamese fried noodles) and four tiger beers €8.90!!!
Next stop was Hoi An. We decided to leave Hue early in the morning, so we had booked ourselves into a sleeper bus for the 4 hours road trip to Hoi An. Defiantly a different way to travel, just make sure you bring headphones (they beep a lot in Vietnam). There is a blanket/leather pillow provided, no shoes allowed so make sure your wearing socks and maybe something to cover your nose!!!
Hoi An was beautiful, really tranquil and picturesque stop on our travels. The atmosphere was so different here, it was more relaxed, and a real tourist hotspot. Hoi An is known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, and it is reflected in its architecture which is a mix of all different eras and styles which comprise of wooden Chinese shop houses, to temples and colorful French colonial buildings, to Vietnamese tube houses and of course the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda. Take time to just wonder around, like we did and get swept up in the atmosphere of all the tailors and restaurants that line the streets of the Ancient Town. If you want to get a tailor made suit/ jacket/leather shoes/leather goods, that is made to your exact measurements then Hoi An is the place. I would recommend Tuong Tailor, 67 Trần Hưng Đạo, Phường Minh An, Thành phố Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
While in Hoi An, a trip to My Son Sanctuary had to be done, we were close enough to do a day trip to temples, we went by bus (1.5 hour drive from Hoi An) and returned to Hoi An by boat. The Hindu temples of the My Son Sanctuary consist of eight groups of 71 standing monuments. It is beautiful. There was a lot of damage was done to My Son during the Vietnam war, but what remains is breathtaking and well worth the trip
The last leg of our journey in Vietnam was to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We flew from Da Nang to Tan Son Nhat international airport with Vietjet once again (1.5 hour flight). The craziness of Ho Chi Minh City hit us the minute we left the airport, the humidity, the scooters and the traffic. We found a taxi to carry us to our hotel quite easily with some price negotiating of course! We just walked about and took in the city on our first evening. We booked a full day trip that night for the following day in one of the many tour sales shops scattered around the city.
We had decided to do a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels (defiantly a must) and a cruise of the Mekong Delta, stopping on unicorn island! As we were short on time we did both in the one day but I would recommend doing them separately if you have more time to spare as there is a lot of driving involved to get both done in the one day, either way what an experience. These tunnels show how strong willed, intelligent and what true hero’s the Cu Chi people were. The tunnels are more than 250km long, and your tour guide will show you exactly how resourceful the Cu Chi people were. We had lunch before departing to meet our boat for the cruise on the Mekong Delta (2 hour drive).
Unicorn Island is one of four islands of the Mekong river (Phoenix, Dragon and Turtle Island being the other 3). After we got off the boat, we saw local women making coconut candy which were available to buy. Then we were invited to taste the local honey. We sat down at small round tables and were served tea and dried fruit candy, there was obviously a catch though, they wanted us to buy honey and bee products. We also had a group of local Vietnamese musicians/singers play traditional songs. This again was a bit of a catch, tip baskets being waved around frantically and quite disgruntled when they didn’t receive enough tips from our tour (I may not speak Vietnamese but a woman giving out is a woman giving out in any language haha). We then walked a short distance to a small paddle boat which was going to carry us along the canals. The boat trip lasted about 10-15 minutes and took us back to our main boat, where we then set off back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a beautiful trip, minus the hustling but I suppose everybody got to try make a living right?!!!
Our last day in Ho Chi Minh we decided to just walk around with the intention of finding the local markets and of course make some purchases! The main market Ben Thanh is a tourist trap and the prices they were charging were crazy even for Vietnam, so with a quick look at google we found Saigon Square also in District 1. There are some real good bargains to be had here. They sell everything from handbags to souvenirs to leather goods to fresh fish!!!!
Following morning at 3am we jumped on a plane bound for the Emerald Isle (with a small stop over in Hong Kong first of course)!!!
Any question pop me an email and hopefully I can help :-)
All links for hotels, travel agents etc below
Main tour operator
Instant Vietnam Visa - www.instantvietnamvisa.com
Vietnam tour operator
Hanoi Hotels - Silk Path Hotel Hanoi
Anise Hotel Hanoi
Hoi An Hotel
Boutique Hoi An Resort
Ho Chi Minh City Hotel
Liberty Central Saigon