A guest post from Shannon of Lives Abroad.
Vietnam isn’t a remarkably huge country, but its appealing destinations can fill up an itinerary fast. If you don’t have the time to do a “Top Gear” worthy sort of tour, here are the top 5 picks for places that should definitely make the list.
You want nature? Here’s where to find it. Way up in the northern section of the country, this mountain town sits proudly amongst the mist, seeped in both Vietnamese and small town culture. You won’t miss the colorfully dressed local girls, in town from their villages, selling handmade crafts. In fact, trekking is THE thing to do in Sapa and local tour guides will take you into their villages to hike along the rice paddies and farms. You can book one day hikes or multi days treks that include home-stays and authentic Vietnamese meals. If you’re feeling bold, longer and more difficult hikes can be had up Fansipan, the highest peak around.
Most people have Hanoi on their list but not everyone gives it the time it deserves. While some who stick around the main tourist quarter find it overbearing, those who take the time to dig into the nooks and crannies can be quite surprised. Wander down the sketchiest alleys to find the best street food, sit at the street side cafes for the traditional iced tea and have a look at every market you pass because they all have just a little something different and more interesting than the last one. Whole days alone could be spent just exploring the hundreds of cafes, and doing so gives an even deeper look into the culture and a pretty good buzz off of the drip coffee.
Ha Long Bay
Some tourist sites are genuinely overrated but Ha Long Bay isn’t one of them. Every bit of the turquoise waters and karst towers look just like you’ve seen on the back of the post cards, but amplified. While you may be expecting the beauty, the local fisherman and tiny house boats might be an added perk that put the scene perfectly together. If you have the chance and are down for a little adventure, venture out by kayak to reach the secluded beaches and secret caves that are hidden all around the bay. There are a number of tours that can take you out to explore but make sure to do your research to find the experience you’re looking for. While there are beer fueled party excursions on the bay, you can also opt for a cruise with a hot tub on board or one offering Tai Chi every morning on the top deck.
It’s an antiquated town and just based upon looks alone is enough to fall in love with it. The best place to start is with a wander through the streets and alleyways, stopping in the markets and unique boutiques. The town is an epicenter for the culinary minded and is said to have some of Vietnam’s best cuisine. If you aren’t eating it, you can be cooking it as offers for classes and workshops can be found easily and in abundance. After a day of taking it slow with a stroll, rent a bicycle and go for a cruise to see what else you can uncover. Nighttime is when it really comes alive and down by the river you can send a wishful candle off to sea, listen to live music and see the markets come alive with paper lantern lighting. Locals wait in colorful boats to give visitors a scenic cruise and stalls of intriguing snacks will pop up all over the streets. Don’t leave Hoi An without getting some custom clothing items made. They are best known for their suits, but they do everything from gowns and shoes to pants and tops. The prices are right, the quality is good and the fit is fantastic.
Phu Quoc Island
Right off the very bottom of the country is a Vietnamese island, just getting started in the world of tourism. Much of it is still national park with the occasional monkey hanging out on the side of the road. Rent a motorbike and drive around the island, making frequent stops at random beaches and markets along the way. If you prefer relaxing over driving along dusty roads, most of the resorts on the island back right up to the beach. Rent a bungalow and lounge right in your backyard by day and take a coastal walk at night to the other restaurants and bars along the beach. There are plenty of tours that will take you snorkeling and a fantastic night market offering every fresh sea critter you can think of to be cooked up especially for you.
Vietnam is diverse and while you may not be able to see everything, this selection of destinations will ensure that you get all of the food, culture and nature that you went there to see.
Shannon is an American travel blogger who writes about educational opportunities, workshops, classes and volunteering abroad. She also throws in a good dose of destination guides, personal stories and helpful travel tips. At the moment, she is currently living out of a van while traveling through New Zealand. You can follow her adventures on Lives Abroad and on Facebook