HO CHI MINH – HOI AN – NHA TRANG
Our fifth and final stop on our travels was Vietnam. I was so excited to arrive, not only because it was completely different to all the other places we had visited but also because of the food!
Our first destination was Ho Chi Minh! Having landed in the evening we decided to find somewhere to eat out and with the help of the friendly staff at our hostel (Town House) we decided to go to The Secret Garden. Waking to the restaurant, I was amazed at how vibrant the city was and also at how insane the traffic was! When we arrived it is fair to say that Hannah and I were filled with dread – the restaurant was located down a small alleyway in what looked like an abandoned building. However, once we climbed the stairs all the way up to the top we found the restaurant on a roof terrace decorated with beautiful plants, fairy lights and lanterns. Not only did the place look lovely, but the food was absolutely to die for and SO CHEAP! It was a much welcomed change from our rations of eggs and pasta that we had been used to in New Zealand!
Being on quite a tight schedule we only had one full day in Ho Chi Minh so we were determined to make the most of it. We were given a really useful map of the city by our hostel so we decided to go on a walking tour – which was a brave decision considering the 40 degree heat and humidity! Over the course of the day we visited some of Ho Chi Minh’s most famous landmarks – the notre dame cathedral, city hall, the opera house, the Ben Thanh Market, and the central Saigon market. The highlight of the day was walking around the war museum. It was so interesting to learn all about the American/Vietnamese War from a Vietnamese perspective, although also very upsetting and disturbing – especially the many photographs detailing the terrible impact of Agent Orange.
Next up was the little town of Mui Ne – which was entirely different from the busy, bustling city of Ho Chi Minh! Again our stay here was short but sweet. We spent the day relaxing by the pool at our hostel and later on took a trip to the famous red and white sand dunes to watch the sunset. Watching the sunset itself was lovely, but the rest of the trip was a bit of a let down. We got to the dunes a few hours before sunset as we wanted to hire quad bikes to ride around the dunes on. However, when we got there the Vietnamese men hiring out the quads tried to completely rip us off, asking for 1,000,000 Vietnamese dong. For a country known for being very cheap this was absolutely ridiculous. The man refused to negotiate on the price and so instead we were forced to simply sit around and wait for sunset.
After Mui Ne, we visited the city of Nha Trang – known for being a favourite with Russian tourists. The city was not as vast or busy as Ho Chi Minh, but still had a lively atmosphere. Also, unlike Ho Chi Minh it is right by a beach, which was a bonus! Again we had just one day here so we decided to visit the city’s most famous landmarks, including the long son temple, dam market, and the Cham towers. The temple was absolutely stunning and features the hugest Buddha statue, which you could walk inside, that I have ever seen. The Cham Towers were also a major highlight. Just like the temple these were beautifully decorated and felt extremely sacred.
Before we left Nha Trang we decided to eat at a very highly rated restaurant called Lanterns. In line with its name, the ceiling of the restaurant was covered in beautiful multicoloured lanterns. Hannah and I both had traditional Vietnamese dishes, which were absolutely incredible! I would definitely recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in the area!
HOI AN – HANOI – HALONG BAY
Moving North, our next stop was Hoi An. Hoi An was not only my favourite place in Vietnam but possibly one of my favourite places of my whole trip! The old town was absolutely enchanting, located next to the river and made up of cobbled streets, lined with lanterns, cafes, restaurants, shops and tailors. To me it felt as if I had gone back in time. Walking around the town, there were historical landmarks around every corner, including old churches, temples and art galleries. It was so surreal to be able to walk out of a cafe or a jewellers and see a beautiful temple in front of you. The old town also hosted a huge market that stayed open throughout the day and night. This market sold everything from every kind of food, clothing, jewellery and more. It was so much fun to barter with the local people and try the amazing food samples that were on offer.
One of the things I was determined to do whilst in Hoi An was a traditional Vietnamese cooking lesson. We booked on one through our hostel (Hoi An Backpackers) and it was above and beyond all my expectations. Having been picked up from our hostel we were first taken to a silk village where we got to see how silk is harvested from silk worms. We saw all stages of the process, from collecting the worms to turning their cocoons into silk and finally watching how the Vietnamese people use the silk to make scarfs, bags, ties and more. Whilst there we also got to try our hand at making traditional Vietnamese lanterns. It was laughable that it took us about half an hour to make one lantern when for the Vietnamese ladies it would take them 5 minutes!
After visiting the silk village we rode bicycles to the old town market to buy our ingredients for our cooking lesson. We bought a number of things, including fresh sea food and vegetables. The cooking lesson itself was one of the highlights of my time in Vietnam. We were shown how to prepare a 4 course meal of fresh pork and prawn spring rolls, traditional savory pancakes, a pork and papaya salad, and finally a delicious Vietnamese curry. After each course we were able to eat all the food we had made – it was absolutely delicious. At the end of the day we were also given a recipe book so that we could cook the dishes we had made again once we were back home!
Our final stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, which was also up there as one of my favourites! Like Ho Chi Minh the city was extremely bustling and had such a great atmosphere. However, it felt far more traditional than Ho Chi Minh which I liked. Although a beautiful place to walk around during the day, Hanoi was even better by night. After 6pm they close all the streets in the city centre to accommodate for a huge night market. They also have locals doing performances in the streets and selling traditional Vietnamese food.
Whilst in Hanoi we booked to do the Castaways tour around Halong Bay, which is a 2 night 3 day tour where you stay on an island in the middle of Halong Bay. Known for being quite a ‘party’ trip it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of our travels whilst staying in and exploring a world heritage site! We got to stay on our own private island where we were able to do activities like rock climbing and doughnutting! On our second day we went on a cruise around Halong Bay where we got to experience all the beautiful surroundings. After lunch we also went kayaking for a couple of hours, which was amazing! On our final night on the island we had a huge party, which was the perfect way to end not only our time in Vietnam but our entire trip!