Time of Year: November-December 2019
Places I Visited: Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City
Hostels: 7 Fridays Hostel Hanoi, The Memory Hostel Da Nang, Cococha Hostel and Bar Hoi An, Sunland Hotel ( Space Capsule Hostel) Ho Chi Minh City
Highlights: Grab Motorbike, Sapa, Ha Giang Loop, Ninh Binh, Note Cafe, Train Street, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, Golden Bridge, Hoi An
Vietnam was by far my favorite country that I have ever visited. It has everything you can think of packed into one: culture, nightlife, food, history, beaches, and city. I started up north in Hanoi, although a lot of people tend to hit Sapa which is known for country living and the Vietnamese alps. I did not have enough time to go there sadly but I heard amazing things from fellow travelers. I also did not get to do the Ha Giang Loop which is a famous motorbike, dangerous long road that is unbelievable to see and experience in person. I did start in Hanoi which is a popular city, however, it has so much to offer, it doesn’t even feel like a city sometimes. I first went to a spa called Spas Hanoi, as winding down my trip I needed a break. A lot of spas here provide you with lotus candies which are sweet lotus flowers along with tea before and after your session. The best way to get around Hanoi is by motorbike as the streets are so small that normal size cars take too long. I suggest downloading the Grab app, it is like a Carsharing app such as Uber. The only downside to Grab Motorbikes-although they are cheap, you have to walk up to the grab drivers and ask them to take you places. This was really difficult at first because most would speak Vietnamese to me and say no and walk away. So you kind of have to push them to take you somewhere, you kind of learn as you go. Some want you to pay them more than the Grab app says and you just refuse and say you’re paying what that says. You have to be stern when traveling or you will get taken advantage of and ripped off. Also, if you are looking to get a tattoo in Vietnam I highly recommend Silver Ant in Hanoi, they only take cash so make sure you get some out before, but all of their artists are very talented and quick. They speak English very well and are a very clean shop. Along with the more popular city parts of Hanoi, you will find a lot of smaller shops with Christmas decorations all year long-not really sure why. There are a lot of women who have bikes filled with fruits and you’re probably going to question how well they keep it balanced as I did. There are a few famous spots such as the Note cafe here and Train street which was recently shut down due to many tourists but you’re still able to go and see a bit for yourself and snap and picture or two.
I did a few day trips from Hanoi which were recommended by my hostel. My first day trip was to Ninh Binh aka Ha Long Bay on Land. A lot of people chose to do this day trip if they do not have the time to go to the real Ha Long Bay. You learn a lot on this day trip, you see some really old buildings and temples, you learn history about Vietnam and bike around Nah Tru’ng Bay. Vietnam is known to have four holy beasts which are a dragon, unicorn, peacock, and turtle-this is good to know because sometimes the tour guides play games with you. I won two free beers from knowing this lol. Also, you will see many archways before temples with a step up. This step is so that way people are forced to bow as they step into the arch to be respectful. There are also three arches which were for the females to go through the left side, males the right and any holy figure through the middle although this is not really followed in today’s culture. There is another part of the tour where you get into a boat to get paddled down Nah Tru’ng Bay which was really crazy because all the rowers used their feet to move the paddles instead of using their arms to move the boat.
My second day trip was to Ha Long Bay. There are many different cruises you can go on that are more geared towards couples, day trips, or overnight trips. I decided to go with Oasis Bay Party Cruise for 3 nights and 2 days. The best decision ever. This trip cost about $200 USD and was worth every single penny, I probably would have honestly paid more for it without even batting an eye. The rooms were gorgeous, everything was clean, there were three HUGE hot tubs, a trampoline into the bay, kayaks, performances by the workers on the boat, veggie spring roll cooking class, a private night on freedom island, games and beer yoga. The people I was with on the boat were so fun. If you want more information check out their instagram @oasisbaypartycruise
I traveled South to Da Nang and stayed in a quiet hostel which was pretty unique. Danang was small but fun to find little things to do, it really gave you an in-depth look on Vietnamese Culture. I went on a day trip with a local hostel hired to take me to the famous Marble Mountain and Lady Buddha. This was an amazing personalized tour and the guide was very friendly, nice, and a great photographer. We went to Marble Mountain where he educated me on the history behind it which was a bit awkward because inside the one part was a hospital for Vietnamese during the Vietnam war. It was a bit awkward since I was there as an American but they are very forgiving of the American people as it was our ancestors involved and not us directly, they made peace. Next, we went to the lady buddha where I learned more history but be careful of the vicious monkeys, I saw one steal an entire chicken out of a plastic bag on a motorbike! The lady buddha was built because a fisherman believed that there was a drought of fish in that area and a lady buddha washed up onshore and the water flourished with fish so they built a large shrine for more fish to be brought in. Then we went over the dragon bridge where on Saturday and Sunday nights, it spits fire from the mouth-DONT STAND TOO CLOSE BECAUSE AFTER THE FIRE IT SHOOTS WATER AND YOU WILL GET SOAKED!! There is also a fun little market at night called the Son Tra Night market right bear the dragon bridge. Then he took us to a very local restaurant for Vietnamese pancakes, which was probably the oddest food I’ve ever eaten and was difficult to eat but I learned and it was super good! I highly recommend trying in Vietnam! I also visited on a day trip the famous Hand Bridge, there was way more than I expected here. You go into this place called Sunworld and take a cable car to the bridge, there is also a winery, a few food carts, and beautiful gardens. You have to try the Vietnamese Doughnuts called Banh Cam with bean filling-I personally didn’t like them but most people love them! If you take the cable car higher there is a HUGE theme park with buffets, cultural food, rides, a multi-level floor arcade-it was insane!
I took a grab taxi to Hoi An where I stayed in an awesome hostel. Although small, it was so much fun. I actually wound up meeting some people that were on our Party Cruise in Ha Long Bay! The rooms were nice and the night parties were really fun! There were best-painted neon parties where you could win a tattoo gift card and I actually won! One person in my room and I rented bikes to go to the market and streets. We have a super yummy breakfast and wound up wandering around to the famous bridge that is on Vietnamese Dollar Bills and took epics with the ladies that carry fruit around the streets. In order to take a picture with it, you may have to buy some fruit from here but it’s worth it because the fruit is super fresh too-win win! One thing you really need to experience in Hoi An is the coconut boats. The locals row you on circle coconut boats and do tricks so it’s a lot of fun! Although make sure to check out the local markets and check out the hundreds of lanterns they sell!
The last place I visited was Ho Chi Minh city. I highly recommend the hotel I stayed at, they have a pool, amazing food and drinks, and a space ship hostel that is super affordable. I didn’t spend much time here because it was very dirty and there were so many motorbikes and people compared to any other place in Vietnam. It was very crowded and gloomy and I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time here.