When I look back on my 2 weeks in Vietnam I think of food and motorbikes. Oh, the food. I ate so many amazing things that I’m dribbling on my laptop remembering it all. It also makes me really glad that I take pictures of my food because I get to relive all my best meals. Sometimes it really does pay to be a food pervert. But that’s enough about that.
Motorbikes. There are LOTS of motorbikes.
Yep, it’s crazy. You won’t find road rules, traffic lights or safe crossings in Vietnam. It’s every man for himself. Top tip: just stroll across and don’t hesitate. You’ll be surprised, but the bikes actually slow down for you. If you’re still not confident, do my trick and awkwardly glue yourself to the shoulder of a local. Never fails.
I started my journey in the North, at Hanoi.
I flew here from Bangkok after spending a week on the islands. When I first arrived in Hanoi there was a huge storm with torrential rain. I honestly have never seen anything like it. I got soaked in a few seconds just from walking from the taxi to the door of the hotel.
I was staying with a friend at the Hanoi Serenity Hotel in the Old Quarter. I would highly recommend this if you’re in a group or in couple as it’s great value, the staff were really helpful and you get free breakfast with coffee and banana pancakes. What could be better?
After arriving, we tried to venture out with just one umbrella between us. This was a massive mistake. After about 10 minutes we were drenched, slightly lost, traumatised by the traffic and then (tragically) my flip flop broke. So, we turned back, grabbed some Saigon beers from a small shop and watched the rain pour from a cover outside our hotel – which was actually pretty perfect.
Thankfully though, the storm had cleared by the following morning and we got to see the city at last.
First we headed to the West Lake in the centre of town to get our bearings. We spent a few hours exploring our new surroundings, then after a while we went to The Old Quarter to find a vegetarian cafe called Tamarind, which was recommended by one of the hotel staff. The food was absolutely delicious and really fresh. I ate summer rolls with a garlic and chilli dip and Pho noodle soup with a fresh ginger tea on the side.
During the evenings, we’d usually head to the night market and have a few drinks over-looking the city. FYI, normal bars and restaurants close early in Hanoi, about 11pm so make sure you don’t head out too late.
Ideally I would have spent longer in Hanoi but it didn’t work out that way.
I missed out on the chance to see Halong Bay and Sapa which was a massive shame. Many boats and tours were cancelling trips due to the rain and fog, and it was school holidays too. This meant there were no seats on any buses or trains out of the city for 5 days. As we had other bookings further South, we thought it was best to catch a super cheap flight to Da Nang the next day and cut our losses.
I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time.
So, we ventured South to Hoi An. By this time, I was craving the beach again so I couldn’t wait. I’d heard really great things about Hoi An too, so I was curious as to whether it would live up to the hype. Needless to say, it did. In fact, Hoi An was my favourite place in Vietnam and I’d go back in heartbeat.
The town has a certain romantic quality to it, so I can see why couples love it.
Being single and all, I embraced my aloneness and shunned the romance (whilst secretly giving every happy couple the death stare behind my 8th bottle of Saigon).
You know how it is.
Single or not, the evenings are perfect for exploring the Old Town, where the vibrant lantern-filled streets come to life with traditional Vietnamese night market-style culture nestled into old French Colonial architecture. Seriously, it’s just beautiful and my photos do not do it any justice.
We visited the ancient Japanese Bridge and explored all the small streets, getting lost along the way. We released some prayer lanterns onto the river during a traditional festival and ate more delicious food – my favourite being the Vietnamese vegetable hot pot.
I didn’t have a bad meal in Hoi An, and there’s loads of cheap options and endless veggie dishes to choose from. If you fancy something a little more upmarket, try Mango Mango. The restaurant has an amazing view of the river too.
After dinner we would usually drink at the famous Why Not bar and grab a moped home. Lots of people hire push bikes here though, which I’d definitely recommend as it’s cheaper and safer.
As for the days in Hoi An, we spent most of them at the beach. We opted for Cua Dai which was serene and not too crowded in May.
After about 4 days in Hoi An, we headed to Nha Trang.
I’ll be totally honest, I didn’t enjoy my time in Nha Trang. It was a holiday-resort type of place and I couldn’t wait to leave. The Russian’s love it so there’s loads of holiday-makers, and it’s perfect if you want to party and spend money. Which, at the time, I did not. The only thing I would recommend doing would be the day trip to the mud baths. It was so much fun and my skin felt amazing afterwards!
After a few days, we got the night bus (or as I like to call it, The Hell Bus) to Ho Chi Minh.
Please be warned ladies and gents, there are NO TOILETS on this bus.
I repeat, NO TOILETS. Zero. Nothing.
Even if the lady at the bus stations says there are toilets, take it from me, there are none. She is lying. Ignore her. I hate her.
I really wish I’d known, because then I wouldn’t have downed a 1.5 litre bottle of water with the intention of hydrating myself, because, ya know, there’s toilets on the bus and I can pee it all out, yeah? Wrong. Sorry Becks, you’ll have annoy the bus driver every hour for the next 8 hours (making him very angry) resulting in an awkward moment where he pees very close to you making weird, unnecessarily hateful eye contact mid-flow. No thanks.
More Valium please.
In Ho Chi Minh we stayed in District 1 (also known as the backpackers district) at the Bizu Mini Saigon Hotel right in the centre of Bui Vien Street, which is full of bars and restaurants.
Top tip: ask for a top floor room and you won’t hear a thing. It gets pretty loud in District 1 and people party all night long.
Looking back, I wish I’d stayed in a hostel, but my friend wasn’t up for it and I was kind of stuck.
Another reason why it’s best to travel solo my friends.
In terms of food, I loved Baba’s Indian (so amazing I forgot to take pictures) and Hum Vegetarian in District 3 near the War Remnants museum. Hum has one of the best veggie menus I’ve ever seen, full of healthy dishes and really delicious too.
If I could eat here every day I’d die a happy lady.
It was lunchtime when I visited, so I opted for some summer rolls, a young ivory bamboo soup, crispy tofu sticks with a coriander dip and a side salad. All washed down with a fresh lemongrass and ginger tea.
It’s a great place to stop in between sight-seeing, and afterwards I visited the War Remnants museum which was close by. It had a really big impact on me which I wasn’t really expecting. I assumed that because I studied the Vietnam war in college I knew all about the horrors involved during those years, but I was wrong.
It was a real eye-opener.
The majority of the museum is made up of photo galleries telling stories about what happened to the Vietnamese people during the war and how badly they were affected by the fighting and the horrific Agent Orange attacks. A lot of the images and stories were graphic and harrowing, but nonetheless very important to see, so please don’t miss it.
I also visited the Reunification Palace on the same day, which is worth a visit if you have time.
On my last day in Ho Chi Minh I went on a Mekong Delta Tour.
Tours like this are very cheap (about £5 per person) and it came with lunch included too. The day started with a boat ride down the delta, stopping briefly at an island to taste some fresh honey and have a casual rendezvous with a python.
Yep, a python.
I also got to see a coconut candy workshop in action, listen to some Live Vietnamese music and meet some water buffalo. It was a long, hot day but definitely worth it and a great way to finish off my time in Vietnam.