Discovering Vietnam's Hidden Treasures: A Journey from Hanoi to Can Tho
Today, I wanted to share with you about Vietnam. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the serene waters of Lan Ha Bay, the ancient charm of Hoi An, the dynamic Ho Chi Minh City, and the vibrant life of Can Tho, our journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.
I had zero expectations of Vietnam and it was just incredible and the best way to start our year in Asia. I really hope you find this blog post (and other ones) informative and helpful for you to plan your travels too!
Hanoi: A City Brimming with History and Culture
Our first stop was Hanoi, a very historical and cultural city. We felt like we had been thrown into the deep end. To make the most of your visit, I highly recommend immersing yourself in the heart of the action in the historic Old Quarter. As you wander through this maze of streets, be prepared for a language barrier that only enhances the authenticity of the experience. Despite the communication challenge, this is the essence of traveling in Vietnam.
While you're in Hanoi, be sure to explore Hoan Kiem Lake and pay your respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – both monuments offer a profound glimpse into Hanoi's rich history. And don't forget to treat your taste buds to the quintessential Vietnamese comfort food – a piping hot bowl of Pho Bo. There's something particularly soul-warming about enjoying this hearty beef noodle soup during the slightly cooler months of December and January.
There is a lot to see in Hanoi so make sure you spend at least 5 days in the city to explore all the temples, markets and of course the lake!
Top things to see: Chợ Đồng Xuân Market, Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Ngọc Sơn Temple, Long Bien Bridge, Canton Assembly Hall, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Opera House and all the incredible temples!
Where to work: Aha Cafe
Lan Ha Bay: Where Serenity Meets Majestic Limestone Formations
As you move on from Hanoi, I really recommend going to Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay. We spent 6 nights there and could have easily extended the stay. We loved the laid back and quiet accommodation that we found, we hired a motorbike to explore the island and the best day was the boat trip!
Cat Ba Island has lush jungles, great hiking, sandy beaches, floating fishing villages, boat trips and dramatic limestone formations, is nothing short of enchanting. I cried when we flew the drone over the floating fishing village. Truly spectacular.
I recommend you hike through Cat Ba National Park, visit Hospital Cave and of course appreciate the unparalleled beauty of Lan Ha Bay on a traditional junk boat cruise. The impressive limestone formations that dot the bay will leave you in absolute awe, and the peacefulness of the surroundings will refresh your spirit.
It's similar to the famous Halong Bay but with less people, less boats and less noise. Perfect!
Top things to see: Bãi tắm Tùng Thu beach, Vịnh Lan Hạ floating village, Hospital Cave, hike around Cat Ba National Park and of course a boat trip around the limestone formations!
Where to work: our accommodation was great to work at.
Hoi An: A Journey Back in Time to Vietnam's Timeless Beauty
Our next destination was Hoi An, a charming town that seems to have been frozen in time.
To fully enjoy the essence of this remarkable place, I recommend a leisurely walk around the town's tailor shops and markets where you can have custom-made clothing tailored to your specifications at unbeatable prices. We didn't do this as we already had a full backpack, but if you're visiting Vietnam for a short period, then going home, this could be a great time to get custom clothes made for you.
Make sure you do not miss some of the most delicious street food you'll encounter in Vietnam. Whether it's the iconic banh mi sandwiches from Bánh Mì Phượng or the delicate freshness of the spring rolls, your taste buds are in for a treat!
We also did a day trip from here and visited My Son Sanctuary and Marble Mountains. Well worth making the effort to do, it was a highlight from our entire time in Vietnam.
Although I enjoyed Hoi An, I have to be honest and say it was very busy, very touristy and we soon got fed up of being approached all the time by the locals trying to sell us stuff. Plus when we did the famous boat trip with the spinning bamboo boat, we got scammed so make sure you have exact change.
Overall, we enjoyed the city, but we aren't desperate to go back.
Top things to see: Hoi An Fabric Market, Teochew Assembly Hall, Bến Bạch Đằng boats, An Hoi Bridge, Cau Temple, sandwich from Bánh Mì Phượng, Cổng chùa Bà Mụ gate, Marble Mountains day trip, My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An night market, enjoy the lanterns and of course the many temples!
Where to work: our accommodation was where we worked when in Hoi An.
Ho Chi Minh City: Where History and Modernity Intersect
From the serene beauty of Hoi An, our journey takes us to the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City. While here, I urge you to prioritize a visit to the War Remnants Museum. This museum, characterized by its powerful exhibits and thought-provoking displays, offers a profound and insightful journey into the tumultuous history of the Vietnam War and its enduring effects on the nation. I didn't know much about the Vietnam war and this museum really taught me a lot and opened my eyes to the catastrophes that took place. Some of the images made me very uncomfortable and even shed a tear or two.
As you continue to explore the city, take in the splendid architecture of iconic landmarks such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and the Central Post Office. These architectural gems are reminiscent of French colonial influences and serve as a splendid contrast to the city's modern skyline.
We were here for Christmas 2022 and I actually got food poisoning so spent the day in bed feeling sorry for myself, and I have to say, the hotel was a lovely place to be ill.
The other thing worth visiting, although I don't think I could stay for a drink or food was Bui Vien Walking Street.
Top things to see: Bui Vien Walking Street, Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Central Park, War Remnants Museum, all the incredible temples including my favourite Ten Thousand Buddha Temple, Sai Gon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City Book Street and Saigon Japan Town.
Where to work: I worked from the hotel room when I was ill.
Can Tho: The Heartbeat of the Mekong Delta
Our epic journey concluded in Can Tho, the vibrant heart of the Mekong Delta. In this bustling hub, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the lively and colorful floating markets. Of these, the renowned Cai Rang Floating Market is a must-visit, as it provides an authentic glimpse into the daily lives of the local people who rely on the waterways for trade and commerce.
We actually loved Can Tho even from the outside it doesn't look that amazing. Although, I will say, it was a very dirty city with lots of plastic rubbish everywhere like in parks etc.
Our favourite day was when we got up at the crack of dawn to see the floating market. With that being said, I think you could limit your time here to 3 or 4 days and that should be enough.
Top things to see: Chợ đêm Ninh Kiều Night Market, Tan An Market, Trung Tâm Thương Mại Cái Khế Market, Lúa Nếp Hotel/Restaurant, Mini Beach, Cai Rang Floating Market, Luu Huu Phuoc Park, Canton Assembly Hall of Can Tho and other temples.
Where to work: The Coffee House
LANGUAGE: It's always good to learn basics such as hello (Xin chào pronounced sin ciao), goodbye (tạm biệt pronounced tam bee-et) and thank you (cảm ơn pronounced gauhm uhhn). I think a little bit of effort goes a long way when travelling abroad.
MONEY: Throughout your journey in Vietnam, you'll find that cash is the preferred mode of payment, and ATMs are readily available. To ensure you're prepared for all scenarios, it's wise to have some cash on hand, especially when traveling to more remote areas. We found that VP Bank was the best one as they don't charge for withdrawals with our bank cards.
BANK CARDS: We use Revolut when we travel as it's the best one for us. We also use WISE for any bank transfers between bank accounts, being paid by clients etc. (Get a fee-free transfer up to £500 when you sign up with Wise using this link)
BUDGETING: We do all our budgeting for our travels using YNAB. (Get 1 month FREE to test it). It is an absolute game changer and we absolutely love it!
GETTING AROUND: We booked all our travels on the website 12go.asia as it was so easy to use and affordable! Highly recommend using this site for all Asia travels like busses, trains, boats etc.
INSURANCE: We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance. It costs us roughly $44 every 4 weeks per person and so far we haven't had to use it but it's easy to set up, affordable and we like it so far.
FLIGHTS: We always book our flights using Sky Scanner.
DAY TRIPS: If we pay for a day trip, we either use Get Your Guide or Viator. Both are great places to meet tour guides, browse different options and also compare prices. Great websites with reliable tour guides. 100% recommend both of them.
VPN: As we work online when we travel, we always use SurfShark to keep our laptops & phones safe when working in lots of different cafes, hotels, airports etc. But also to be able to watch tv shows from all around the world. For me, that means Love Island haha! I love it.
SIM CARD: If you need a SIM card when visiting Vietnam, I recommend you try Airalo as it's super easy to use and you can get a digital SIM card for any country around the world, without going into a store or worrying about it at the airport when you arrive.
PASSWORDS: When travelling, you don't want to be typing passwords out for other people to see, or have them written down in a notebook that you carry around with you all the time. So, Jeremie and I both use 1Password to keep our login information safe.
In Conclusion: An Extraordinary Journey Awaits
In conclusion, Vietnam is a land of unexpected and incredible foods, people, culture, architecture and atmosphere. We arrived in this vibrant country with zero expectations and I left with a heart brimming with amazing memories and a profound appreciation for the diversity of Vietnam.
I wish we could have stayed longer in Vietnam and seen more of the country, but with that being said, I can't wait to come back and see more of Vietnam. A couple of places that have since been added to my list are Sapa Valley, Da Nang & Halong Bay.
Happy travels, and let me know your experiences of Vietnam if you ever have the chance to visit!
If you want to enjoy our travels on YouTube, here is the Playlist from Vietnam!