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Visiting Vietnam has been on my wish list for a long time so it was only natural that Vietnam would be a priority soon after our arrival in HK. We booked our 12 days trip at the beginning of November with the idea to discover the ‘Urban’ Vietnam in a relaxed mode.
Hoi An is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam and although the city is very touristy, it has a charm and aura that I didn’t find anywhere else in Vietnam. I loved Hoi An, its colorful ancient town, energy, stunning architecture, authenticity and amazing food (if you plan to take some cooking classes, make sure to do it in Hoi An as the food is undeniably better than up North)!
Stroll through the ancient town and marvel at the sight of the city's well preserved buildings. Grab a lunch at one of the stalls in the central food hall and stroll through the lantern illuminated night market along the Thu Bon River. Indulge in some retail therapy with the numerous little shops and boutiques where you can find anything from kitschy souvenirs to higher end clothing. Rent a bike and cycle to the Tra Que gardens for a nice outdoor activity. If you have an extra day and are undecided about whether staying in Hoi An or Hué, I would definitely recommend Hoi An.I can’t end my description of Hoi An without talking about the made to measure tailoring. I personally didn’t get anything made to measure as I was very skeptical about the kind of quality one can get but I did see some pretty well made stuff out there so if you are ready to put the time and energy, Hoi An is the place to do it. The offer is insane so my advise would be to start scrolling through the shops (touch and look at the quality of clothing they have on display and particularly the men’s jackets which is always a good indication of quality). Venture out from the main roads and do not take recommendations from hotels as they will send you to places they get commissions from.
What We Loved
Drum Rice Restaurant: Grab a table outside and order some traditional Vietnamese food. The food was delicious (the baked grouper in banana leafs and baked aubergines were one of the best we ate in Vietnam) and the service lovely. Great spot for dinner.
Nữ Eatery: is a great spot for lunch hidden in a small, quiet street. The menu is small but original and the food very tasty.
Cocobox Café: is your place for a healthy fruity breakfast (with locally sourced ingredients). The coffee is great (as much as in the Roastery). Cocobox café has also a great selection of made in Vietnam dried fruit, honeys, jams, coffee and teas to take away.
Not A Must
Morning Glory Restaurant: If you are a foodie you will probably come across this place as one of the best to taste well-prepared Vietnamese food. The food was average, the service poor and the setting terribly noisy and unpleasant.
Mỹ Sơn Ancient Sanctuary: it takes a little over an hour (with a private driver) to get to Mỹ Sơn and the ride there makes for a nice country scenery. The ruins are small and the site has been damaged during the war. Make sure to get there between 6:30am and 7am to avoid the mass of tourists and take a guide if you decide to visit the ruins as there are no sign or explanation on site.
Hué’s imperial city remains one of the highlights of our trip. Plan at least a half-day and just explore the large gardens, stunning gates and palaces. Just infuse yourself with the peaceful atmosphere that is so unique to the citadel. There is a lot to see in this fascinating place.Plan another day to visit Royal Tombs (Tu Duc and Ming Mang are apparently relatively similar in style so we chose to visit Ming Mang and Khan Din which were both stunning) and pagodas around Hué. The most efficient way is to take a private car and wake up early to enjoy your visit. Personally, I find that two full days are more than sufficient for Hué.
What We Loved
Scarlett Hotel: One of the best value for money hotel I have ever been to. Great location, nice setting and amazing service (the breakfast is really good too).
Sunset drinks at the Imperial Hotel rooftop terrace. The 360 view on a clear day is breathtaking.
Not A Must
Apart from the imperial city, there is not much to see in the rest of Hué. The so-called ‘touristy’ city center is just a road packed with restaurants all bearing the ‘trip advisor certificate of excellence’ sign.
Ho Chi Minh museum: The museum is almost empty and the little on display is a propaganda of Ho Chi Minh’s role in the Vietnamese war. All the signage is in Vietnamese ….
Being part of the wonders of the world, the Halong Bay is supposedly among the most beautiful places on this planet but also a very crowded one. Being a protected area, the routes and visits of key features are restricted and controlled by the government. The majority of visitors are thus concentrated to a limited number of places in the area. Therefore if there is one place to splurge on in Vietnam, Halong Bay is the one.
We booked a private 1 night / 2 days cruise with a company* that offers an off-the-beaten-track cruise on the Bai Tu Long (the scenery is apparently a little less dramatic than on the Halong Bay** but it was not that obvious for me). Having the opportunity to decide on your itinerary and skip some (or all) of the pre-scheduled/imposed and terribly touristy*** places is what will make your experience memorable. We barely crossed a boat and could enjoy the majestic natural scenery and breathless views. Don’t miss the sunset and make sure to wake up in the early hours to watch the sunrise. Although definitely on a more expensive side for Vietnam (still nothing compared of what you would pay for a 2 day private cruise back home) the value for money is definitely worth!
* Indochina Junk: the company was recommended by a friend so we didn’t do any particular research before booking
**We did cruise through the Halong Bay on our way back to the harbour and the persistent smell of fuel and number of boats in view makes the experience much less enjoyable.
***Such as the Thien Canh Son cave, the Vung Vieng fishing village or the Tra Gioi beach which are packed with people.
You will either love or hate Hanoi. Busy, noisy, and motorbike-clogged, the city is one of a kind. Forget the main tourist attraction and wander through the city to discover the quintessential Hanoi. Live chicken, endless food stalls, guild streets, smells and ongoing chaos all make-up the eternal soul of the city. Popular with locals, the center becomes a walk-in road on weekends offering activities such as live music and street performances. A must see!
What We Loved
Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy: This place is a hidden gem with an amazing location in the center of the old town yet settled on a very quite street away from the ongoing traffic noise. Great breakfast and high quality service.
Chả Cá Thăng Long: (not to be mistaken with the Chả Cá La Vong). Chả Cá only offers one dish, a unique Hanoi-style fried fish with turmeric & dill. The mix of flavors and textures is to die for. You will find a great mixture of locals and tourists in this rather simple setting.
Not A Must
Ngon Villa Restaurant: Terrible food overall. Avoid at all costs despite the beautiful outside setting.
National Museum of History: Given Vietnam’s rich history, it is frustrating to see that the overall quality of museums across the country is very poor. The NMH is no exception.
This is a 100% sponsor free article and based solely on my personal opinion.