I have always felt enchanted and mesmerized by the beauty of Vietnam; its well-stretched coastline, refreshing beaches and spas, soothing atmosphere, remarkable natural wonders, and cultured people, everything is so inviting about this place. So, I booked a trip to Vietnam to explore some of its most astounding sites including Ho chi Minh, Hoi An, Mekong Delta, and Halong bay.
Vietnam is a South Asian country, which is known worldwide, no… not for the Vietnam War, but for its breathtaking beaches, free-flowing rivers, picturesque landscape, and delectable cuisine. The country’s weather is dominated by rainfalls as Vietnam receives two monsoons and seasons vary a lot. You can travel to Vietnam at any time of the year. Southern Vietnam remains warm and sunny most of the year. Spring and autumn seasons are your best bet but do pack waterproof jackets just in case.
Ho Chi Minh/Saigon City:
Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s largest city and the perfect place to start your trip from. This is THE city for foodies; I tried out every food stall and luxury restaurant while in Ho Chi Minh and my verdict is that food is great everywhere. Pho was the highlight of my culinary adventures in Ho Chi Minh. If you are in Ho Chi Minh, try Pho because only Vietnamese know how to make it. Here it is served with a variety of fresh herbs like basil and cilantro with a dash of chili peppers, bean sprouts, and lime. Simply exotic; just like the city itself.
Ma Maison, owned by a French family, was my pick to stay in this city due to its great ambiance and the easy accessibility it offered to the local street markets. For those on a budget, The Town House is the perfect option.
Next day I visited the BinhTay Market, built by the French in late 1880s. The great Clock Tower offers brilliant selfie background and the place has amazing breakfast and coffee options. I found Ho Chi Minh a busy city where you will find everything from drool-worthy cuisine to both luxurious and humble guesthouses and obviously engaging shopping destinations.
After shopping, it was time to visit some of its landmark sites. I wandered through the old Buddhist temples GiacVien Pagoda and Giec Lam Pagoda and also checked out the sleek and urbane skyscrapers where the city’s best designer boutiques are located.
After doing some sightseeing on my own, I booked a one-day city tour offered by a local travel agency (trust me, there are plenty of those). It was a nice, well-organized trip that took me to a variety of destinations. I explored the Vietnam War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace (which is THE place where Vietnam War was officially ended), the sea goddess’ ThienHau Pagoda temple, French Colonist era Cathedral Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the most talk about Saigon Central post office, the building of which was inspired by Gustave Eiffel’s design.
Visiting Mekong Delta is all about exploring rice fields, fish farms, vegetable gardens, small villages, and floating markets. Mekong Delta is situated in the Southwestern side of Vietnam and quite easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh. The city is named so because Mekong River meets the ocean over here. This is the city of rivers and streams and astonishing wildlife. It is a delight for nature lovers like me as I love lush green landscapes and natural beauty. Mekong Delta is nicknamed Asia’s Rice Bowl because it yields over one-third of Vietnam’s annual food crops.
One tip I learned from my tour of Ho Chi Minh was not to waste time wandering on my own as I explore a lot on the day tour. So, in Mekong Delta, I booked a boat trip that took me toCon Phuong island, where you can taste a diverse variety of exotic fruits. Then I booked an early morning air-conditioned bus tour to visit Pham Ngu Lao and next was the cruise trip to My Thuan.
If you want to enjoy an authentic Mekong Delta experience then choose the boat trip because it will introduce you to the everyday life of local Vietnamese farmers. The region boasts of a lot of activity and spectacular views of lush green crop fields. Farmers wearing conical hats are the trademark of Mekong Delta. Here you need to explore the vibrant Cai Rang floating market, the largest in Mekong Delta. You can enjoy delicious lunch by the riverside while visiting Can Tho and drive across the Can Tho, My Thuan and RachMieu bridges.
To satisfy the foodie in you, try out western Vietnam’s exclusive dishes like the sliced flour noodles served with duck meat at Ben Tre and the delicious Bot Loc cake sold at food stalls across Truong Dinh and Nguyen Van Cu Street.
The best option to stay in Mekong Delta is Hotel Xoai, which is highly affordable and offers roof terrace dining option as well. Mekong Lodge and Mekong Riverside Boutique Resort and Spa are suitable for luxury seekers.
The best time to visit Hoi An is during Tet, the lunar new year in mid-February when the town is covered with bright red lanterns and it’s all glittery and vibrant. Hoi An is a mesmerizing destination that offers a rare blend of historic sites and classic Vietnamese food and souvenirs. For visiting historic sites, Vietnam has a coupon system, one coupon would be worth around $6 and you can visit landmark temples, assembly halls, and workshops. The 17th century Ancient Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO recognized heritage site, and hence, a place not to be missed. This Ancient town offers a glimpse of Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. Not to forget, this well-preserved town is an excellent site for taking some memorable pictures.
If you want to take home the most unique souvenirs from Vietnam, buy them in Hoi An. Here you can learn to make authentic Vietnamese conical hats and lanterns. Hoi An has many tailor shops that I felt like it should be called the city of tailors. Who wouldn’t want to get a perfectly tailored outfit at a reasonable price? I was totally into it and took along pictures of my favorite designer outfits, which I got replicated at an unbelievably low rate.
The beaches in Hoi Anare to die for; Cua Dai Beach and Ang Bang Beach present a completely rejuvenating and relaxing experience. You can even spend some time at the beautiful beach resorts. Visit the less frantic TraQue Herb Village and 500-year-old Thanh Ha pottery villages well.
Hoi An is a city of colonial grandeur, regal architecture and breathtaking riverside. Take a boat ride to Thu Bon River and visit the ruins of My Son to make your trip worthwhile. Princess d’Annam Resort & Spa is the perfect place to unwind.
To satisfy your culinary cravings, try Vietnam’s best BanhMi sandwiches for as low as $1 at Banh My Phuong, Hoi An’s most famous traditional dish Cau Lau at 474 Cua Dai, and how can we forget the magnanimous yet very affordable The Morning Glory restaurant.
Hoi An can be explored from bike as well, so book a bike tour if you are game for $1 per bike. Hoi An Countryside Bike Tour is a great choice as it includes Thu Bon Cruise as well. The My Son Sanctuary tour is best suited for small groups and to enjoy the city’s delicious cuisine try the Old Town Food Tour. Thien Than hotel is an extremely convenient lodging option if you want to tour the city on Bike as it offers easy access to major city landmarks.
The best way to explore Halong Bay is to book a boat cruise otherwise you won’t be able to visit the remarkably preserved limestone islands that proudly rise from the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Halong Bay is a tourist’s delight as it is a spectacular place. Even a week would not be enough to explore this great destination completely. The landscapes are extravagant with emerald, oyster and indigo colors spread out everywhere like a thick, velvety carpet. You must try the elegant luxury junk boat to check out the surrounding caves and grottoes. Halong Bay offers rich biodiversity and an astounding array of flora and fauna. If you are into horticulture then this place would serve as a paradise for you.
Not to forget, Halong Bay is a treat for water sports lovers and adventure sports enthusiasts. It’s beautiful, isolated lagoons and beaches are perfect to enjoy great snorkeling and kayaking experience and swimming is also very enjoyable over here. Autumn is the ideal season to visit Halong Bay.
Here you can enjoy hordes of activities like sunbathing at Halong Bay’s largest Cat Ba island where you can explore limestone hills and hidden waterfalls. Discover the stunning beaches at Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2 and Cat Co 3. Try your hands at Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese martial art to improve your physical and mental health. Practicing sessions are always available for locals and tourists on the deck of the boat cruise. Nothing can beat the experience of practicing thousands of years old skill in the sublime scenery of Halong Bay. Experienced Tai Chi master will teach you some of the main skills of Tai Chi, what more could one ask for.
Take a boat cruise to visit the floating village. You will find colorful, small huts placed in perfect harmony with the emerald waters of Halong Bay. Can’t sleep at night? Go out and try night squid fishing. If budget is not an issue then you can even book a helicopter tour to get an aerial view of Halong Bay. Cannon Fort, Cat Ba National park, Hang Dau Go and Cat Co Cove are not-to-miss destinations.
Dining in the caves is an activity that should be on your to-do-list while in Halong Bay. There are specific cruises and tours available for cave dining so you need to book a trip to enjoy this unique experience. Try fried oysters, pumpkin soup and amazing amalgamation of fresh seafood dishes like grilled monkfish at selected caves. You will find the Floating Restaurant, Huu Dung and Green mango near Cat Ba Island as the perfect options for enjoying some of the world’s best seafood.
Starcity Hotel offers free breakfast, above average rooms and a spa as well, so this was my choice during my visit.