I went here on a 2-week solo trip when I was leaving Australia, headed back to live in the US in Summer 2007.
I only did North Vietnam, but would love to do the central coast - Hoi An and the Mekong Delta. This is an absolutely amazing country. I can't wait to go back.
Top 5 Days
- Sapa - I went with a guide on the overnight train to stay in this hilltop town on the Laotian and Chinese border. The area has little markets where the mountain people live. From there, we went into some tiny villages with Chinese communities. No electricity and a woman looked at me and screamed and brought me a sun umbrella. She thought I was going to burn up because I was so white.
- Halong Bay - This is a mysterious body of water filled with islands, islets and huge rocks sprouting out of the water. You explore the area on a junkboat, where you stop to swim and kayak in the caves.
- Hit the Internet Cafes - I was astounded at the fact that there are still blacklisted sites that are not allowed in the country. The streets are so young and vibrant, that you forget this is still a communist country.
- Markets and Cooking Class - This may be my favorite food in the world. Go to a street market and grab the fixings to cook a fresh meal. Pho and fresh spring rolls are amazing.
- The Hanoi French Quarter -This was ruled by the French when Hanoi was the capital of French Indonesia (1887-1954). This area is filled with tree-lined, wide-open boulevards that are so elegant, abeit run down.
Top 5 High Style, Low Maintenance Hotels
- Sofitel Metropolitan Hanoi - This is a swanky hotel restored to its 1920s heritage with tons of character in the heart of Hanoi. Ask for one of the rooms in the old wing. You can walk to eats, shopping and arts from right here.
- The Life Resort Quy Nhon - I did a week-long yoga retreat here. Probably not worth going this far out of the way, but special.
- Junk Boat on Halong Bay - This is a must and not far from Hanoi. Stay overnight on one of the boats, I did the Emaraude. Nice cabins and the bay is amazing. High style, low maintenance on the water.
- Victoria Express - Stay overnight in the sleeping cars to get up to Sapa, a Hill town in the North.
- The Victoria Hotel - Wonderful food, up on a mountain in Sapa. Full of charm.
Top 5 Foodie Finds
- Cha Ca La Vong - In Hanoi, they only serve Cha Ca, which is a lovely fried fish dish.
- Street Eats - You can get the most amazing Pho from street vendors for $3 a pop.
- Green Tangarine - A delightful little French villa in Hanoi.
- Bamboo Bar - In the Sofitel.
- Deck at the Victoria - I had the most amazing food, all served with fresh herbs in Sapa. I ordered the imperial rolls every meal.
Top 5 Tips
- Guide - Pay for a guide. For about $15 a day, an English-speaking guide will help you get the know the area. For an extra $20/day, you get a driver that will take you outside the city, to Halong Bay, etc... Worth it to learn more history.
- Cambodia - If you are headed all the way to Vietnam, definitely include a plane ride to Cambodia.
- Read Up Country - By Nelson Demille. This is a fiction thriller, but has great insight into the area.
- The American War - Read your history about what we call the War in Vietnam. It is appalling what we did here.
- Hang with the Teens- This is the fastest growing area for under 30s in the world. Vibrant streets filled with educated youth that are predicting the fall of Communism. In a street market in Hanoi, a young girl with broked English eyes lit up when I told her I worked at Yahoo! She gasped and said, "You just lost your leader." That is how I learned Terry Semel was out.
Top 5 Misses
- Dog - Make sure you don't eat it.
- Mopeds in Hanoi - Walking across the street is like playing a game of frogger. They will run you right over.
- Visa - You have to get one weeks in advance.
- Communism - Amazing this is still a communist country. It isn't popluar with the kids who want change.
- Shopping - I was not at all interested in the little trinkets and art.