Vietnam had been on our travel wish-list for some time, not only because it was where Hai was born but because almost every traveler we met raved about it, and we can understand why. We spent three weeks traveling from the south to the north. It's do-able but we'd recommend a month if you have it to cover the long distances and account for delays. Here are our top picks from our time in this wonderfully chaotic and colorful nation.
1. Go South
The Mekong Delta region is worth the trip south from Ho Chi Minh City. Not only is there a super-relaxed vibe, but you'll eat some of the most delicious food Vietnam has to offer, the kind that makes you want to lick your plate clean or slurp every last mouthful of broth from your finished noodle soup. Don't even get me started on the coffee: hands down the best we tasted in the country.
2. Get to know Vietnam's war history from the Vietnamese perspective
Vietnam is much more than a war, but you can't put what you experience in the country into context without knowing something about it. And there are many opportunities to get in touch with Vietnam's war past.
While it is super touristy and you'll be herded around like cattle, take a tour of the Củ Chi tunnels on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City to experience the underground guerrilla network for yourself. Crawling through the hot and narrow tunnels will give you a momentary sense of what conditions must have been like during conflict. Then learn more about the Vietnam War and the effects of Agent Orange at Ho Chi Minh's War Remnants Museum. It's not an easy visit, but you'll come out humbled about the gravity of war and its ongoing legacy. Most Củ Chi tunnel tours swing by the War Remnants Museum on the way back for those who'd like to make it a full day outing.
3. Get a bus from your bus
Most bus companies operate a free shuttle service from bus stations to your hotel in town. They are usually unmarked and unpublicized to foreigners so that the taxi services inevitably waiting for you as soon as you step out of the bus can make their dong out of you. Watch the locals and follow their lead. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the buses/vans to come, so don't be put off by the empty bus station and save yourself a most likely inflated trip into town.
4. Take a free walking tour in Hanoi
Want to experience the capital from a local's perspective without paying for and joining a tour group? Then check out Hanoi Free Walking Tours. They are a student-run organization who provide free English guiding services around the city. While they have some itineraries on their website, these are just as some inspiration. You can go wherever you like for a full or half day depending on your interests. You'll just need to cover the costs of the student(s) – admission fees, lunch etc and any tips you may want to give. The tour is always private even if you are a solo traveler so you can be sure to have a very personalized experience and lots of interaction with your new friend(s).
5. Whatever you do, get to Sapa
Sapa is not only one of the most spectacular places you will ever see, but it is so different to other parts of Vietnam that you won't have truly experienced all that the country has to offer without going here. Go straight to the locals for a true village homestay experience and we promise you won't regret it.
Friday 13th of April 2018
Sapa if the perfect place if you want to know how vast and rich Vietnamese culture is. You'd definitely fall in love with the beautiful sceneries and how hospitable and simple the locals are.
Tonkin - Travel Vietnam
Saturday 28th of October 2017
Oh, cool. Although I have lived in Hanoi for 4 years, I didn't know a B52 sinking in a lake. Can you tell me where it is? And I want to add something: - Using Grab to book taxi is more convenient and cheaper than Uber or traditional taxi thanks to having many discount codes. - 4G is available now. - You should draw money at ATMs of HSBC(maximum $250) and Citibank (maximum $400) instead of using ATMs of some domestic banks like Vietcombank, BIDV, etc.
Friday 30th of June 2017
Hi, Thank for the article. Pretty helpful, I think I will find to see the impressive downed B52 in Hanoi!
Wednesday 30th of November 2016
Great article Jess. I have been to Hanoi so many times and did not know there is a downed B52 in the lake. That's so cool. I have moved back here last year and have a few tips for those who want to travel to Vietnam as well.
1. When crossing the street, be patient and don't panic. Let the motorbike avoid you.
2. Withdraw money from foreign bank ATMs for larger amount and avoid transaction fees.
3. Exchange money at jewelry shops in city centers for better rates.
4. Avoid Tet holiday which is end of Jan and early February. Its empty in big cities like Hanoi and HCMC but super crowded with local tourists in hotspots such as Hoi An and Nha Trang. Prices are all marked up during this period
5. Book an Uber instead of Taxis. Uber price is half price of local taxis.
6. Have your clothes tailored and don't be afraid to bargain.
7. When you have massages, make sure to ask them if tips are compulsory. A lot of masseurs ask you for tips and make you feel guilty telling you that your tips are their only source of income.
Wednesday 19th of October 2016
Great travel blog with great pictures Jessica.
Vietnam is an amazing country to travel in. Sapa and Halong Bay are my personal favorites!