Tripping Through Vietnam
February 29, 2024
Embarking on a journey through Vietnam feels like stepping into a realm of wonder and magic. Once marred by the scars of war, Vietnam has evolved into an enchanting destination, offering a spectrum of experiences-from opulent accommodations to embracing the rugged allure of hiking, biking, and backpacking adventures.
For a first-time exploration, the key cities to immerse yourself in include Hanoi, where a day or two is well-spent, followed by Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh, and the captivating delta. Should time permit, consider venturing to Phu Quoc, an island off the coast of Ho Chi Minh. Personally, I found solace in navigating the delta, unraveling the tapestry of fishing villages, and venturing into Cambodia. Keep in mind the necessity of a multi-entry visa to return to Vietnam and a separate visa for Cambodia. From the stunning Ha Long Bay, you're merely six hours away from China, so having a Chinese visa in advance can open doors to further explorations up north.
Accommodation options and experiences in Vietnam are boundless. People often ask whether it's better to commence the journey from the north or the south. In truth, both directions offer a tapestry of diverse experiences. Navigating the towns is a breeze and budget-friendly. An app called Grab.com, akin to Uber, simplifies car services with convenient payment options. The cost to the airport from the Old Quarter is around $12, and in-town travel ranges from $3 to $4. The app even offers the choice of riding on a motorcycle or in a car, with the motorcycle option being just a few dollars. Equipping yourself with a SIM card or global WiFi is advisable, as there were instances when service was elusive. Personally, I had downloaded maps.me on my phone, and my T-Mobile account provided reliable coverage. Additionally, Google Translate for Vietnamese proved to be a handy companion.
Should you start from the North, Hanoi and Sapa offer a cooler respite, especially during certain times of the year. In Hanoi, a city you can conveniently fly into, the Old Quarter beckons with its vibrant, central location, or you can explore the colonial architecture and designer shops in the French Quarter.
Side Trips from Hanoi:
1. Tam Coc and Trang An:
• Immerse yourself in the stunning karst landscapes, taking a boat ride through caves and rice paddies.
2. Perfume Pagoda:
• Explore a complex of Buddhist temples nestled in a scenic cave setting.
3. Duong Lam Ancient Village:
• Roam the well-preserved ancient village adorned with traditional architecture.
Places to Stay:
1. Tam Coc Area:
• Retreat to a tranquil setting near the famous karst landscapes.
• Recommendations: Tam Coc Rice Fields Resort, Tam Coc Bungalow Esmeralda Resort.
2. Ninh Binh City:
• Establish a convenient base for exploring the surrounding areas.
• Recommendations: Ninh Binh Hidden Charm Hotel & Resort, Ninh Binh Panorama Homestay.
Side Trips from Ninh Binh:
1. Van Long Nature Reserve:
• Embark on a boat trip in the serene wetlands surrounded by limestone mountains.
2. Cuc Phuong National Park:
• Discover a haven for diverse flora and fauna, featuring hiking trails and a primate rescue center.
3. Phat Diem Cathedral:
• Consider exploring this attraction, especially if your journey includes Hanoi and Ninh Binh, as people often head to Sapa for countryside and hiking.
One of my cherished side trips from Hanoi involved cruising in the mystical Halong Bay. Opting for a less crowded port, I started in Cat Ba. Booking a cruise is a breeze-every other shop in Hanoi is a travel agency. Online bookings through Agoda or Booking.com are equally convenient. I recommend indulging in a 5-star tour with a balcony, and both Elite of the Seas and Aspira Tours come highly recommended. If you embark on a 2-day, 1-night cruise, consider being dropped off in Cat Ba for a night or two to explore and hike. The Flamingo Hotel in Cat Ba, with its breathtaking views, offers a memorable stay.
From Cat Ba, rent a motorcycle to conquer the iconic Ha Giang Loop. This mesmerizing adventure unveils the remote landscapes of Northern Vietnam, featuring stunning mountain passes, vibrant ethnic villages, and awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Upon returning to the mainland by speedboat or ferry, shuttle back to Hanoi and proceed to Hue via flight, bus, or train. Rely on rome2rio.com to explore options and secure tickets.
1. Imperial City:
• Immerse yourself in the historical imperial complex.
2. Tomb of Ming Mang:
• Pay homage to the final resting place of Emperor Ming Mang.
3. Thien Mu Pagoda:
• Revel in the beauty of an ancient pagoda overlooking the Perfume River.
4. Tomb of Tu Duc:
• Explore another mausoleum adorned with beautiful gardens.
5. Royal Tombs:
• Discover various tombs scattered around Hue.
6. Hue Royal Palace:
• Uncover a historical site showcasing the former imperial residence.
7. Thanh Toan Bridge:
• Cross a charming ancient bridge set amidst the countryside.
Hue unfolds as a beautiful city, inviting exploration of its numerous historical sites.
Transitioning from Hue to Danang, find a central airport to land in. The beaches in Danang are a marvel. Staying at the Hyatt Resort, with its beachside tranquility and expansive landscapes, provides a serene break from a bustling schedule. The hotel even offers a shuttle to Hoi An, a mere 30 minutes away. My preference, however, is to spend a few days in Hoi An, whether in the city or at the beach. The smaller hotels exude a calming energy, a necessary respite after delving into Hoi An city-a place pulsating with sparkling lanterns, boat rides, shopping sprees, and the overnight creation of custom clothing at reasonable prices. Key sites in Danang include My Son Temple, Ba Na Hills Golden Bridge, and Marble Mountain. If skipping Danang and opting for a one-way tour to Hoi An, a Grab.com car will cost around $20, encompassing site visits. Without the sites, the cost drops to approximately $13.
1. My Son Temple:
• Marvel at the ancient Hindu temple ruins.
2. Ba Na Hills Golden Bridge:
• Experience an iconic bridge supported by giant stone hands.
3. Marble Mountain:
• Explore limestone hills adorned with caves and pagodas.
1. Boat Ride in the Evening:
• Revel in an evening boat ride as lanterns illuminate the water.
2. Lantern-Making Class:
• Embark on a class to create traditional lanterns.
3. Pampering Days:
• Treat yourself to foot massages or hot stone massages.
4. Custom Clothing:
• Have bespoke clothing or jewelry crafted overnight.
5. Explore Temples and Pagodas:
• Tour various temples and pagodas in the city.
Leaving Hoi An, catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh for a couple of days. Many hotels in the city offer daily tours. While traffic can be intimidating, I opted for a rickshaw to explore the city. In a single day, my rickshaw guide took me to most sites, including the women's museum, the historical museum, various temples, and the historic post office.
Ho Chi Minh:
1. War Remnants Museum:
• Immerse yourself in arguably the best and most impressive museum in Vietnam.
2. Cu Chi Tunnels:
• Explore a war museum showcasing the Vietnam War and the Cu Chi tunnels.
3. Mekong Delta:
• Partake in daily tours to the Mekong, visit fishermen villages, or rent a boat to explore the area.
4. Incense Factory and Silk Factory:
In conclusion, the journey through Vietnam unfolds as an exhilarating experience, seamlessly blending the exotic, the historic, and the breathtaking nature of this distant land. As a solo traveler, I felt a sense of security wherever I ventured.