Vietnam is a country with bustling cities full of energy, motorbikes and street food, but also one with breathtaking beaches, stunning mountains, vast rivers and inspiring religious and natural world heritage sites. It’s hard to think of a more interesting or vibrant place to visit in Southeast Asia. As an avid traveller, I try to make it to Vietnam as often as possible and am completely enchanted by this colourful country and it’s hidden treasures. Luckily, for those of us in Hong Kong, this incredible destination is only a few short hours away.
Vietnam is like a pick-n-mix bag of candy (and who doesn’t love candy?). There’s a little bit of something delicious for everyone. So, whether you’re up for a week-long relax in the sun or a quick weekend city break, consider taking your next holiday in Vietnam. The guide books will tell you all about the tourist attractions, but here are my insider tips for my favourite Vietnamese cities.
Vietnam’s capital city and home to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, Hoan Kiem Lake and Hoa Lo Prison Museum, Hanoi is one of my favourite cities in Asia. It is cooler than Ho Chi Minh City (particularly in the winter months) and is a great jumping off point for exploring cities in the north of Vietnam. Definitely visit the top sites, but leave plenty of time for exploring the Old Quarter and eating!
Are you a fan of Pho Bo (beef noodle soup)? The Pho Tai Nam at Pho Gia Truyen at 49 Bat Dan Street will blow your socks off. Go early in the morning for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast. Make sure to stop and smell the charcoal and smoke at one of the many Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle) restaurants lining the streets. It’s a Hanoi specialty. My favourite is Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim at 67 Duong Thonh Street.
Also, make sure to try an egg coffee. Egg coffee? Yes! Don’t be scared. It’s strong coffee topped with beaten egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk. It’s available in most coffee shops around town. Wash it all down with Bia Hoi (cheap, freshly made beer) and lots of local charm at one of the many corner Bia Hoi establishments.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly Saigon and the largest city in Vietnam and definitely the most bustling, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is home to the Cu Chi tunnels, Ben Thanh Market and Reunification Palace. With around 4 million motorbikes, crossing the street in HCMC can be a bit of a thrill-seeking adventure! But, don’t let the traffic put you off. Just look forward and keep a steady pace. HCMC is divided into several districts, and most of the action is in District 1, which can be walked with a map.
Prefer venturing a bit further out? Consider taking a day trip to visit the Mekong Delta. There are numerous Mekong Delta boat tours available and you can usually book them right in your hotel. It’s worth sacrificing a day in HCMC to see the floating markets, fisheries and coconut candy factories along the way. My favourite group activity involves, big surprise, FOOD! XO Tours offers motorbike tours through the many districts of HCMC and the foodie tour is a great way to learn about the many delicacies of Vietnam, to meet fellow travellers and have a good laugh.
Need a break from the motorbikes? Head over to Hoi An. Or, as I like to call it, ‘Hidden Gem’. To reach Hoi An, book a flight to Danang and hire a car to make the 30 minute journey from the airport to your hotel. I promise it’s worth it! Once there, head to beautiful Cua Dai Beach or wander through the ancient town. There are fabulous restaurants lining the canals. Look for one with an upstairs balcony to snag the best view. My vote is definitely for Morning Glory. I’d recommend having your hotel book a table for you, as they tend to fill up (and order the stuffed squid!).
Speaking of hotels, definitely spend at least one night in Hoi An. Nighttime is when the city really comes to life with the ambient glow of colourful silk lanterns. Many people prefer to stay near the beach for peace and relaxation, but I always prefer to be near the action. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, consider staying at M Gallery Collection’s Hotel Royal Hoi An. This stunning hotel is the definition of plush and is less than 10-minutes walking distance from old town. Plus, the spa is amazing!
Also on the Vietnam must see list is Halong Bay, ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. The dragon certainly did have great taste and Halong Bay is truly spectacular! The area is best explored as part of a trip to Hanoi, as most tour companies pick up from there (around a 4 hour drive) and each cruise has something different to offer. I’d recommend staying at least two nights/three days in order to see the further stretches of the bay. If possible, book a trip that takes you belong Halong Bay. Like Indochina Junks, which ventures out to Bai Tu Long Bay.
While in Halong Bay, make sure to do some kayaking! It’s the best way to see all of the bay’s secret caves and private beaches. Don’t worry if you’re kayaking skills aren’t exactly up to par, the waters of the bay are glassy and easy to manage. You can always just sit on the kayak and soak up nature’s amazing gifts, there are plenty of them to go around.
So, have I convinced you to visit Vietnam, yet? I sure hope so. Not sure which destination to choose? Emulate your 5-year-old self, grab a big silver scoop and make your own pick-n-mix holiday with a combo of beach and city or boat and motorbike. It’s all Viet-nom,nom,nom.