There are a select few destinations that are on my list of places to go next year. Vietnam is definitely one of them. One of my best friends went there and she hasn't stopped talking about it ever since. It's her all time favourite destination, so naturally I had to find out more about her trip and why Vietnam is a must visit destination for any travel enthusiast.
Please describe Vietnam in three words
Amazing, stunning and welcoming.
What did you like best about Vietnam?
Within a two-week period just from travelling around you can do so many different things. The country is so varied that you can experience the scenery of Ha Long Bay, the history of the Vietnam war and the stunning white sandy beaches all in one single nation. It was also extremely cheap.
Vietnam is known for it's delicious food. What were your favourite dishes?
Vietnam had some of the tastiest food I've ever had. The length of the (very long) country runs along the coast, so we enjoyed really incredible seafood (even appreciated by non-seafood eaters!).
All the meals are super fresh, very colourful and usually comprised of meat, vegetables and noodles/rice. My favourite dishes were Pho Bo which is a beef noodle soup that costs no more than £1 and Vietnamese crispy fried chow mein noodles. We also drank a lot of Saigon beer during our trip.
What did you do during your visit in Vietnam?
We flew into the north in Hanoi (the capital of Vietnam) and we were there for Independence Day which was really special. There was a massive party in the city around the lake Hoan Kiem.
We also watched a big firework display and they had some local Vietnamese celebrities performing. The streets were crazy busy, completely full of motorbikes. You can't cross without any traffic you just have to go for it and they move around you. A little tip, don't stop in the road or the bikers can't judge where you are going to be.
We also did this thing called Hanoi Kids, which is where local students show you around for the day for free, you just pay for their food and drinks. The students get to practice their English and you get the most authentic of local guides, it's a really good way to see the city.
From there we went to Ha Long Bay which was a two or three-hour trip. We then stayed overnight n a junk boat. We just travelled down the country stopping off at various points of interest with four days in Hoi An where the best beaches are and where you can get your clothes tailored.
Finally we continued South until we reached Ho Chi Minh City where we went on a day trip to the Mekong Delta and caves. You can do some great souvenir shopping here.
What were the local people like?
They were so friendly and so welcoming. This could be because they feel the presence of tourists means the country is safe again. The one thing I remember was when we were walking round in water up to our knees due to a typhoon. The conditions were very difficult. We had arranged for a driver to come pick us up and due to the extreme weather and he was about 15 minutes late.
We couldn't believe how apologetic he was for being late, despite the fact that he had to brave a typhoon to get to us. We told him not to worry, in England under these circumstances you wouldn't turn up. This experience just summed the people up, they were lovely.
Did you learn much about the history? What historical sites did you see?
We learned a lot about the Vietnam war (or as they call it, the American War). Most of the historic tourism is centered around Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City). Here you can visit the Cu Chi Tunnels (under an hour away) and see the impressive underground network of tunnels the Vietnamese soldiers (Guerrillas) managed to dig out without the Americans noticing!
We climbed through some of the tiny tunnels on our hands and knees (they've been widened for Western tourists to do so, but they're still tiny). You can also fire AK47 guns in the shooting range.
It was fascinating to see the simple, yet very effective, booby-traps the Vietnamese installed throughout the jungle. We found our trip to Vietnam very educational as well.
Did you visit the beaches in Vietnam?
We planned to have four days at the beach but because we were there during a typhoon we couldn't do that. However, during the two sunny days it was clear that the beaches were amazing. It was pure paradise.
Try and visit the beaches in Hoi An and Nha Trang. Here you can enjoy miles and miles (over 2,000 miles in fact) of white sandy beaches and turquoise water. It's perfect for snorkelling, diving, water sports and watching the sunset from one of the many beach-front restaurants.
What is the scenery like?
It's really varied; you go from these big limestone cliffs jutting out of bays to white sandy beaches to the tropical wetlands of the Mekong Delta. In between all this you have all these historical sites to see.
What did you think of the shopping in Vietnam?
The shopping has two sides to it, the tailoring which is great for clothes and the souvenir side of it. A couple of my favourite souvenirs we bought included a really realistic designer bag and a handcrafted chess board all made from stone and marble and it was only £10. I also got very cheap real freshwater pearls including a pearl necklace and bracelet for £2 each.
What were the top three places you visited (names of towns/cities/villages)?
Ha Long Bay was easily my favourite place in Vietnam. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most stunning places I've ever visited. There are over 3,000 limestone islands jutting out of emerald waters. We sailed around for a couple of days, staying overnight on a wooden 'junk' (boat) where we sunbathed on the deck and spent time stargazing at night. We also were lucky enough to be able to walk through 'the amazing cave' (as the locals call it) and kayak around the bay.
My second favourite place was the Mekong Delta. We combined a trip to the beautiful Mekong Delta and the tropical wetlands of Vietnam (about 1.5hrs away). We were amazed by the stunning scenery, remote fishing villages and bustling floating markets. We were able to see all this from the comfort of our own traditional wooden rowing boat.
We also loved the Hai Van Pass. We spent time driving through the mountains and admiring the spectacular scenery. The Hai Van Pass was featured on an episode of Top Gear.
What would you rate Vietnam out of 10 as a travel destination? Why?
10, just because there is so much to do and the food and the people are amazing. The price also makes everything massively affordable. Although it's an expensive flight it evens out.
What would you do if you went back again?
Visit Sapa in the North - you can go on a mountain trek and take tours through rice paddies.
Dalat - you can do some really cool adventure stuff such as canyoning and abseiling down waterfalls.
Any top travel tips?
Try the street food, it's ridiculously cheap and super tasty (we once paid £1 for 4 courses!).
The tailoring in Hoi An is the cheapest you'll find in Southeast Asia. Bring along photos or magazine cuttings of a dress or suit you want and they'll make it for you. Be sure to stay a few days so you can go back for fittings in between sunbathing.
I recommend starting at the North and working your way South, saving your souvenir shopping for the Ben Thanh Market in HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City - Ex Saigon)!