Vietnam as a whole
The capital city of Vietnam is Hanoi, and the currency there is the Vietnamese dong. This seemingly small country is actually surprisingly large – so if you are going to spend you holiday in Vietnam, it calls for a bit more careful planning of your trip. Otherwise you risk running out of time to experience everything!
Traveling around Vietnam generally requires rock-solid nerves and boundless patience. Buses traveling long distances are somehow peaceful – you do not sit in them, but lay down. That being said, the drivers tend to be a bit crazy, taking sharp turns. They always tend to send foreigners to the back seats as well.
What not to miss in Vietnam
I divide Vietnam into north and south. The North is absolute perfection for me. Hanoi, for example, is a city full of life. You can walk around and find endless cafes and restaurants. In restaurants you sit down on a small plastic stool and – tada – like magic a culinary masterpiece will appear before you. And if you don’t know how to brandish your chopsticks, never fear – the locals will be happy to show you how. The chaos of the city in and of itself is magical – mopeds laden down with countless packages and people, carts full to the brim with delicious fruits and vegetables, and more…
It is also famous in its own right for its mountain panoramas with cascading rice fields. Here you can trek and marvel at the beauty of the nature and the local ethnic groups in colourful traditional costumes. You can also see epic waterfalls, and travel winding mountain serpentines to reach breathtaking lakes (talk about nirvana level 1000!).
Halong Bay, or ‘Dragon Bay,’ is one of the most visited Vietnamese sites. You can take a boat tour cruising through a number of islands, floating villages with neat markets, and nice beaches for swimming. If a solo-adventure is more your speed, you can grab a canoe and explore the surrounding caves. Boat tours can last one day, or up to three – it’s up to you.
What else to see and do in Vietnam
The land surrounding Halong Bay is called Tam Coc – it is a flat area sprinkled with rice fields, and surrounded by hundreds of limestone rocks. In Ninh Binh you can take a boat to explore the caves, or see the temples hidden among the limestone cliffs.
Hoi An (a city in central Vietnam) will surprise you with its ancient charm. It is a port that was once of great importance, and is a city of beautiful lanterns, winding canals filled with boats, a nice beach, and spotted with soft Vietnamese sheep. You can even find seamstresses to sew you a suit, or you can explore the various fashion shops.
The road to the south of Vietnam is long, but you can make it in a sleeping bus. Or you can just buy a ticket and fly south. Along the way, if you take the scenic route, you can stop in the capital, Hue, which is most well known today for Đại Nội Citadel and being home to the temples of ancient rulers.
The largest Vietnamese city, also located almost entirely south, is Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Also known as ‘welcome to the concrete jungle’ after the other beauties of Vietnam I have described. That being said, there is plenty worth seeing and doing here. I recommend checking out the underground tunnels, which played a powerful role in the Vietnam-America war. In them you will find kitchens, living rooms, a hospital, and an armory/weapons room. But watch out, this is not the trip for anyone who is claustrophobic!
Some other cool notes
When visiting south-Vietnam, it is also worth it to stop by the Mekong River – a huge maze of rivers, swamps, and islands, teeming with floating markets, Khmer pagodas, and picturesque villages surrounded by rice fields.
You might not guess it, but Vietnam is also a place where you can hit the beach and relax. The beaches stretch for miles and are typically located quite close to cities, making for easy access. So, plan to relax by the waves while the sun is high, and hit the parties when the moon rises. The nightlife surrounding the Vietnamese beaches will definitely give you a workout. For the most stunning beaches and bays (similar to the ones you’ll find in Thailand), check out the island of Phu Quoc (located in the South Vietnamese province of Kien Giang). Surrounding it are 21 smaller islands, and it is best reached by plane.
Fun Fact: In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) you will be amazed by a whirlwind of scooters. If you plan to drive here, my advice is to take things slow and, most importantly, don’t stop. For pedestrians, I recommend you walk calmly but be aware, lest you be run over by those crazy bikers…
So, do you want to marvel at panoramic mountain vistas, zigzag in the serpentines amidst the rice fields, swim through caves, and drift between floating villages. Jump into the urban wilderness full of scooters, Vietnamese hats, and Asian delicacies? Get in touch with me and we’ll put together an itinerary encompassing all your ideas and exploring all possibilities!