The Hidden Charms of Vietnam

Awe-inspiring landscape, mouth-watering food, a rich culture and history – this winning combination will have you waking up and saying “Good morning, Vietnam!”

From the ancient charms of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the rugged limestone karsts of Halong Bay, to the frantic streets of Ho Chi Minh City, each part of this vibrant country offers something unique.

Home to over 85 million people, this dragon shaped country borders China, Laos and Cambodia. Once ravaged by war, Vietnam has since become a popular destination for travellers, and for good reason.

Learning a few words of Vietnamese will go a long way, you’ll be warmly received by the locals if you can do so and you may make a few new friends.  My broken attempt at saying “May I have the bill please?” left many people smiling.

Vietnam caters to both the backpacking crowd and those looking for a luxurious, laid-back vacation.  Just make sure you have your visa arranged prior to departure, unless you want to be met by the words “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you board the plane.”

Visitors to Vietnam often work their way from one end of the country to the other. Regional flights are available with Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com), which makes it manageable to visit different areas of Vietnam in a short timeframe.

For the more adventurous, or those on a tighter budget, bus travel is the way to go.  It’s easy to buy a package of tickets taking you throughout the country, inclusive of numerous stops.  If you don’t want to spend your days sitting on a bus, overnighters are the perfect option for longer distances. Make sure to book a sleeper bus, as the beds will allow you to get a good night’s rest.

With so many diverse locations on offer, how do you decide where to spend your time? These were some of my favourites:

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – Formally known as Saigon, this is the largest city, located in the south of the country. It is also the starting point for many visitors.  Upon arrival one might think there are nearly as many motorbikes here as there are people.  Unless you want to spend your entire day attempting to cross the street, you’ll quickly learn how to navigate amongst the millions of bikes. Once you’ve mastered this, travelling in Vietnam will be a breeze. Better yet, enjoy a steaming bowl of noodle soup (pho) and watch entire families crammed onto one motorbike as they zip by. Pho24 is a popular chain offering variations of this dish, or you can join the locals at small stools on the street for a bite to eat.

Millions of motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

Mui Ne – Three hours north of HCMC is the small, laid back beach town of Mui Ne. This is the perfect spot for a few days of rest and relaxation, after the hectic pace of the big city. Make sure to visit the massive sand dunes for some sand-sledding, or head to the beach for kiteboarding and windsurfing.

Local children just outside of Mui Ne

Hoi An – This beautiful, old town is a shopper’s paradise. The streets are lined with shops where tailors will happily make anything your heart desires. Save your shopping dollars for a visit here, as you will certainly want them! Give yourself three to four days in order to get things properly fitted. Choosing from a dizzying array of fabrics can be overwhelming, so do your shopping with a clear head.

While in Hoi An, try the local specialities White Rose (steamed dumplings) and Cao Lau (a delicious noodle dish) – I couldn’t get enough of them! Those looking to bring a taste of Vietnam home can head to the Red Bridge Cooking School (www.visithoian.com) to learn how to cook some traditional Vietnamese dishes.

The streets of Hoi An

Hanoi – A trip to Vietnam isn’t complete without a visit to the capital. Spend time strolling around the city’s Old Quarter. This is also the ideal place to get situated during a stay in Hanoi.

History buffs can join the crowds of Vietnamese for a visit to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Make sure to stop and try some snake wine while you’re here. It might be just what you need after viewing an embalmed body, although be warned: this is not for the faint hearted.  This concoction consists of rice wine with a fermented snake in the bottle and is said to have many health benefits, but  I’m still not sold.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Halong Bay – An overnight junk boat tour of Halong Bay is a memorable experience and even on a cloudy day the scenery is stunning. Majestic limestone karsts give this UNESCO world heritage site an otherworldly feel.

Halong Bay

Sapa – This city in northwestern Vietnam is unlike anywhere else in the country.  Lush and mountainous, there are many hill tribes living in the area who sell their jewellery throughout the town. This is the ideal spot to enjoy Vietnam’s natural beauty, with many trekking and hiking options for visitors.

A woman from the hill tribes near Sapa – one of my favourite pictures!

 If you learn to safely dodge the millions of motorbikes, there is more than enough to keep any traveller entranced for weeks, or even months, in Vietnam.

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About AdventuressAbroad

adventure seeker.traveling fanatic.food lover.occasional blabbermouth.travel-based PR professional.

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