My Top 10 Must Stops!
Most travelers to Vietnam stick to the backpacker route traversing their way through this narrow, but long ‘S’ shaped country. Although there are heaps of places off the beaten track, I was happy to leave my footprints on this well-worn circuit. I began my Vietnam adventure in the bustling town of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, then spent 5 weeks meandering my way up north to the mountain town of Sapa. As Vietnam has a long history, with ancient traditions and scores of attractions there are activities to suit every need.
10 AWESOME VIETNAM CITIES
(STARTING FROM SOUTH TO NORTH)
CAN THO, MEKONG DELTA
Can Tho, the largest City in the Mekong, is a bustling town with a quaint night market, lively bars, and awesome window shopping. Wake before the crack of dawn and rent a boat with a driver who will ferry you to the floating markets, through narrow jungle canals before stopping at tiny villages for snacks and lunch. An average boat rental through your hostel will cost around $5-7 per person and will last from 5 am to 5 pm.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Hoards of people, motorbikes whizzing past and the never-ending honking is an assault to visual and auditory senses. Look past this and Ho Chi Minh City will reward you with tantalizing food, serene yoga classes, and bustling markets. As Ho Chi Minh City was a base for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war, a must visit are the Củ Chi Tunnels and the War Museum – both sobering experiences.
Pull out your sweater for the cooler climate of Đà Lạt. At 1500 m.a.s.l. this Swiss looking town is the perfect reprieve from the heat and humidity of HMC. For you adventure seekers, canyon down a waterfall, for those interested in Gaudi inspired architecture stroll through the Crazy House. Keen on chilling at small coffee houses, browsing calm night markets or paddling Swan boats in their lakes? Then Đà Lạt will sure to impress.
Fellow travelers thought I was nuts for staying in Da Nang as most pass through without batting an eye. I am not sure why Da Nang gets a bad rap as I loved my three nights here. Their beaches remind me of the shores of Miami and the caves of Marble Mountain are incredible to hike through. I was thoroughly impressed with their bridges – the Dragon Bridge breathes fire and water, the brightly lit Rotating Bridge is unique and the other bridges sparkle like beautiful Christmas lights. Party at night and your day is complete. Rest your head at Barneys Backpackers, a wickedly cool hostel inspired by the television series, How I Met Your Mother.
Night time in Hoi An is like walking through a fairy tale – brightly colored lanterns strewn this tiny village, candles float along Thu Bồn River and romance is in the air as you take a boat ride under the stars. During the day head to Hidden Beach, The Cham Islands or My Son Sanctuary. Have a suit or dress made at one of the many famous custom tailor shops, then head to The Central Market to slurp their famous soup, Cao Lầu – a pork noodle soup like no other!
Huế, once the capital of Vietnam, is known for its sprawling Citadel that dates backs to the early 19th Century and their famous 7 tiered Thiên Mụ Pagoda that overlooks the Perfume River. Rent a bicycle and lazily peddle around Huế before partying at night with both locals and tourists mingling in the bars and restaurants.
By far one of the most stunningly, majestic towns in Vietnam. Phong Nha has a short street of hostels and restaurants with a backdrop of limestone mountains. Join a tour and delve deep inside the 31km Thiên Đường “Paradise” Cave. After, adventure awaits at the Dark Cave. Zipline to the entrance of the cave, then an eery swim inside leads to a narrow slippery path where you end up in a pool of mud. Bathe, slather it on, then wash it off while splashing around in the river. At sunset, rent a motorbike or bicycle and watch the colors of the suns last rays create beautiful hues on the mountains and rivers.
Less chaotic and more vibrant than Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is a foodie and photographers dream. Grab a 0.25¢ beer from one of the beer ladies pumping her keg and get lost in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a maze of delicious street food, wacky bars, and impromptu musical shows. Or grab your camera and shoot away at the French-colonial architecture mixed with new skyscrapers – old meets modern in Hanoi.
CAT BA ISLAND
Less than 3.5 hours from Hanoi by an inexpensive minibus and ferry, Cát Bà Island is the perfect place from which to explore Halong Bay. Join a day tour and kayak around the famous limestone islands, swim amongst jellyfish (eek!), chill on Monkey Island and watch the sunset atop your boat. Revel in the marvel of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World!
By far, the best part of my Vietnam trip were the 3 nights in Sapa, northern Vietnam. My two travel buddies and I stayed in the most wonderful homestay, a four-hour hike from the main town. We were fed the most delicious and nourishing meals. Lam, the matriarch took us on incredible hikes and at night we were lulled to sleep by the waterfall. Interested in an off the beaten track experience? Contact me for more details.