Travel: Vietnam from north to south

One of the main reasons for starting my blog was so that I could write all about the places I have visited over the years and give helpful advice and tips.

It has been four years now since my partner and I began our four month journey around South East Asia. We had the most amazing time, Vietnam being a particular highlight and a country that we will endeavour to visit again.

In October 2012 we began our tour of Vietnam in the busy city of Hanoi. The constant traffic can take some getting used to, but once you realise that the only way to get across the road is to just go for it, the sooner you will feel at home.

We stayed in Hanoi for three days before making our way to Halong Bay, I’d say this gives you plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy what the city has to offer. You can find plenty of reasonably priced hotels on Booking.com, we stayed at the Golden Palace Hotel which was very nice and a perfect central location.

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Hoan Kiem Lake

Things to do in Hanoi

There are lots of things to see whilst you are in this bustling capital city. I always find that Tripadvisor is a great website for genuine traveller reviews, below are the places that we visited. The best thing to do when visiting new places is to walk around and take in the atmosphere, see as much as you can. Have an idea of the places you would like to visit but also see what you might stumble across whilst you are walking around.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Pictured above, this lake is absolutely beautiful and so lovely to walk around when you want to get away from the busy traffic. Centrally located so an ideal walk for after breakfast or whilst on an evening stroll. You will find quite a few locals here, many of which use it as a photo opportunity on their wedding day – a lovely moment to witness.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Wherever I go in the world I always try to embrace the culture of that particular country. The water pupper show was a particular highlight for me, I loved every minute of it! The whole production was amazing and it was very cheap for a ticket, also very central again so only about five minutes walk from our hotel. There was a mixture of locals and tourists, it is definitely worth checking it out if you get the chance.

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Hoa Lo Prison

This place is really worth a visit. Very eye opening to see the conditions that the prisoners were kept in, you really need to go in with an open mind and take in the history. The prison was very well managed with a reasonable entry price (30,000 VND – roughly £1).

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Gecko Restaurant

I thought I would mention this particular restaurant as it has a mixture of Vietnamese and Western dishes which are cheap but very tasty! Again, centrally located. The place is quite small but you can make a reservation online to guarantee a table.

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Halong Bay

If you only go to Vietnam once, you have to make the trip to Halong Bay. This place really is so beautiful and such a great experience. Most of the hotels in Hanoi will have organised trips there, this is how we booked ours which was a massive help as it included travel, overnight stay and excursions whilst we were there.

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There are different package options but we decided to go with the one night stay on a boat. This turned out to be a very wise choice as the weather changed dramatically the day we came back to Hanoi, which resulted in lots of boat trips being cancelled.

We paid roughly £60 per person which included the following:

  • Transport from the hotel to Halong Bay and back
  • Overnight stay on a boat with a double room, own bathroom etc.
  • All food included with a fully stocked bar on board
  • Cookery class and cocktail evening
  • Kayaking in the bay (this was incredible, the water was so clear and we saw monkeys swinging from the trees!)
  • Tour of Dau Go Cave with a tour guide
  • Boat ride to a small beach with steps to see the whole of Halong Bay – great photo opportunity!
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Dau Go Cave

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In my opinion this was extremely good value for money. We had the most incredible time! Writing about it is making me want to go back right now, hopefully one day! Our tour guide was so lovely too.

One word of advice…. make sure you bring lots of dehydration, constipation and diarrhoea medication just incase. I had a fish allergy at the time so didn’t eat any fish, however my partner did and lots of it, resulting in him feeling very unwell when we got back to Hanoi. You also need to be careful of the rice!

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Hoi An

After Halong Bay, we really did think that any place could top our experience of Vietnam. That was until we got to Hoi An. We made a quick stop in Da Nang for a couple of days but there really wasn’t much to do there (back in 2012). This may have changed now but when we were there I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists there! We ended up going to the cinema to see Taken 2 as there wasn’t much else to do. It looked like they were trying to develop this particular area of Vietnam so I can imagine it being quite different now.

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So, back to Hoi An. What a place! We stayed here for about four nights, I wish it had been for so much longer, we didn’t want to leave. I was actually genuinely sad when the taxi pulled up to take us to the airport. We stay at the Sunshine Hotel which had only just recently opened. For £20 per night we had a large balcony, king size bed, bathroom, breakfast, swimming pool and free bicycle hire. The small family run restaurant directly opposite does really great food, would definitely recommend.

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Beautiful view whilst on our cycle ride to the beach

The hotel was about 10 minutes walk from the centre of Hoi An, a lovely distance to cycle during the day and walk on an evening. The beach was in the opposite direction, again only about 10 minutes on a bike with lovely views along the way.

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An Bang Beach

Hoi An has a mixture of locals and tourists, plenty of high quality restaurants and a mixture of gift shops. The reason I loved Hoi An so much was because the majority of the buildings had been kept in their original state, beautiful yellow brick properties with locals living above them.

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On the 14th of each lunar month, the streets of Hoi An switch off all of their flourescent lights and light lanterns and candles whilst playing traditional music. It really is a beautiful sight and your opportunity to a light a lantern and place it in the river.

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For all you beer lovers who love a bargain… grab yourself a Bia Hoi for only 10p! It is the most refreshing beer you will ever taste, even better because of the cheap price. Quite a few of the bars sell it, just look out for sign. The beer is brewed in the morning and has to be sold that day, give it a try!

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The cycle view from our hotel to the beach
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Central Hoi An

Walking around this historic town is so lovely, I would really recommend staying here for at least a week if you can and definitely consider hiring a bike. It is so easy to get around (very flat).

Nha Trang

After Hoi An we made our way to Nha Trang for a few days. If you are short on time then in my personal opinion you could potentially miss out this place. Don’t get me wrong, the beach is lovely and Vinpearl Island is fun but to me it felt like any beach holiday, not at any point did I feel like I was in Vietnam.

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View of Vinpearl Island from the beach

My personal highlight was our visit to Vinpearl Island. To get there you have to go via cable car which was both fun and scary at the same time!

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Cable car to Vinpearl Island

At Vinpearl Island you can enjoy visiting the aquarium and the waterpark, lots of fun! You can definitely spend a full day there.

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 Ho Chi Minh City

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. Another extremely busy city but well worth a visit! There are so many different parts to this city; there is an obvious backpackers area which we weren’t very keen on but still worth a visit, even just to walk around and take it all in.

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Particular highlights for us were:

  • War Remnants Museum – a must see, give yourself a good few hours to look around and take it all in. I found this museum extremely emotional.
  • Opera House – we didn’t go in but just to look at the building from the outside and the surrounding areas is worth a visit.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral – this cathedral is absolutely stunning! We visited this place on a lovely sunny day and chose to enjoy the view whilst enjoying an iced coffee at a local cafe.
  • The Independence Palace – a great place to visit to broaden your knowledge of Vietnam history.

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Notre Dame Cathedral

Again, when visiting somewhere for the first time be prepared to do a fair bit of walking and see as much as you can. this really gives you a proper insight to the city, plus its great exercise!

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Opera House

Travelling around

Internal flights were extremely cheap and very frequent so this is how we got from north to south. We did think about getting the train but after already experiencing this whilst in Thailand we thought going by plane would be much easier and less time consuming! The majority of our flights were with Vietnam Airlines.

Accommodation

We were travelling for a total of four months so booked our accommodation as we went along which worked really well for us. Before we moved on we would usually book at least a one night stay in advance so that we knew we had somewhere to stay when we arrived (this also usually involved free airport pick up which was extremely helpful).

On the odd occasion we were so pleased that we only booked the one night as sometimes the hotel just wasn’t what we imagined! There are so many hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh in particular, have a walk around and see what catches your eye. This is what we did after our first night in HCMC which resulted in us finding the perfect hotel for the rest of our stay.

If we had more time we would have visited more places in Vietnam. Hopefully we can explore further when we go again, further advice welcome!

My next travel post will be all about our time in Singapore… stay tuned!

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