Vietnam was absolutely lovely. The people are so friendly, the food is amazing and it is such a diverse country that there is so much to see. We only did a one week trip which was definitely not enough to see everything but we did get a taste of the main cities. I hope to go back and do the rest some day!
We started off in the capital Hanoi and spent one day walking around and taking all the sites in. The weather was really nice, about 60-65 degrees so walking around was really pleasant. We stayed in the Old Quarter which is mostly made up of small streets and small shops selling countless items. There were a lot of clothes and jewelery boutique shops and as we got closer to the main market, it seemed like each shop specialized in something particular so we saw shops selling just gift wrapping paper or just stuffed animals. I thought this area had a lot of character to it because of the small windy streets although it made it harder to navigate sometimes. Next we walked around the main lake and headed towards the French quarter area. This area was more fancy with the main 5 star hotels and huge French style colonial mansions. Finally we also visited the Temple of Literature which was the first university in the country and saw the outside of Ho Chi Minh’s mauselom.
Vietnam is motorbike country. Everywhere you look there are thousands of motorbikes driving in every which way. Crossing the street is like playing a real life frogger but thats what makes it exciting! People really take pride in thier motorcycles it seemed too. In the Old Quarter we found so many shops selling motorbike accessories in every color and design like helmets, seat pads, pedals etc.
The next day we did a day trip to Halong Bay. It’s considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world made up of 2000+ islands which are ancient limestone peaks. These peaks also continue into Laos and China but the reason Halong Bay is so beautiful is because the limestone peaks are in the water instead of on land. We took a shuttle bus 3.5 hours each way so it was a very exhausting day. The other options are to stay overnight on the boats which we did not have time for. Although it wasn’t sunny it really was stunning and peaceful. There is even a small floating village complete with a bank and a school! The pictures do not do it justice, it really is a must see for yourself.
Next stop was Hoi An. Since we didn’t have a lot of time we flew from Hanoi to Danang (about 1 hour) and took a taxi from Danang to Hoi An (about 40 min). Hoi An is a lovely town with small streets and very few cars and was a nice break from the big cities. It is filled with tourists but still has a charm to it with lots of cute cafes and restaurants with delicious food. The main “attraction” are the tailors and shoemakers. They’ll make anything for you! I got a few dresses and tops made as well as two pairs of shoes for about $25 each. I could even pick out my leather and type/height of heel for my shoes. It was heavenly. Next time I’ll go I’m going to have to take a bigger suitcase!
We took another 1 hour flight from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. Since I like that name better (and shorter to say) I’m going to refer to the city as Saigon. Saigon was quite different from either of the two cities. The city had wide streets (with all the more motorbikes to cross!) and was hot. It was about 100 degrees when were there so we spent more of the daytime in museums. We visited the Fine Arts Museum which is in a pretty old French colonial house but unfortunately not air-conditioned and the War Remanats Museum. Obviously two very different museums but it was interesting to see the “American War” from the Vietnamese viewpoint. Since it was the end of the trip and we had gone around non-stop in the other cities we relaxed a bit and just walked around taking in the sites like the Notre Dame and sampling the street food.
All in all an excellent trip! Hope to be back again soon to see some of the other sites in the country like the sand dunes, beaches and seeing the indigenous people in the northern city of Sapa. I hear the train from Hanoi to Saigon called the Reunification Express is pretty fun since you get to see many sites along the way.
- The visa process is a little different from other countries in the region. You have to apply first online for $20 USD, then pay a stamping fee at the airport of $25 USD for a single entry visa. Multiple entry visas are also available.
- US Dollars are widely accepted. Since the Vietnamese dong is about 20,000 to $1USD, it is easier to take more US currency than changing all the money into VND.