Mekong Delta

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Nine dragon river delta

The Mekong delta is located in southern Vietnam, a four hour drive (196.5km / 121 miles) south of Saigon. The area covers 40,500 square kilometers (15,600 square miles) of southwestern Vietnam. Incredible. Extending south and west from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City to the gulf of Thailand and also to the border of Cambodia. The Mekong delta is a low laying plain, only three meters above sea level, and contains a maze of canals and rivers.

The Mekong delta is described as the food bowl of Vietnam. The agricultural importance is huge. The delta is able to produce more than a third of the countrys’ annual food crop! As, approximately 10,000 square kilometers of the Mekong delta is under rice cultivation. In addition to rice, the ecological diversity found here can also produce other crops/food. Not only does the Mekong delta provide food to the people of Vietnam, this area is also one of major rice-growing regions of the world.

The biodiversity found here is incredible,  from rice paddies, dense jungle to mangrove swamps. Home to not only  people, but over 1,000 animals species can be found here and not to mention the rich plant life. With such rich diversity, the Mekong delta is also under threat from climate change and over exploitation. Environmental protection is required to protect this amazing region and its inhabitants.

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Two day, one night tour

As we were based in Ho Chi Minh City we decided to take a tour to visit the ecologically impressive Mekong Delta. The Mekong river is one of the most impressive rivers in the world. The Mekong river is the 12th largest river in the World, the 7th largest in Asia and the largest river in southeast Asia. The river flows from the Tibetan Plateau to the southeast through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, finally flowing out to the south China sea.

Day one

We departed Ho Chin Minh City by mini van and drove for two and hours, arriving at My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong delta. Our guide was very informative, telling us about the local region. At My Tho we boarded a  boat to take a cruise around the Mekong delta. We stopped at an island, where we departed the boat to walk around the lush gardens and sample some of the local fruit, so delicious and refreshing. Next stop, a local coconut candy factory, here we tried samples and learnt about the local industries from the people who lived in the nearby villages.

After lunch from a local restaurant, we transferred into small rowboats, and rowed through narrow canals of the delta. This was an incredible and surreal experience. After this, we transferred back onto the bigger wooden boat and sailed to My Tho, here we continued on to Can Tho by mini van. In Can Tho we stayed at a hotel for the night. Can Tho is a city based on the southern bank of the Hau River, we had time to explore the city before and after dinner.

Day two

We woke up in Can Tho and had an early breakfast, before boarding another boat for a 40 minute journey to reach the impressive Cai Rang floating market. This is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Floating markets are so amazing to see in person. We continued on to visit a noodle and rice paper factory  learning about this trade. Then  it was back to Can Tho for lunch! After lunch to was time to head back to Ho Chi Minh City.

The Mekong delta is a really fascinating place, the biological diversity is incredible and meeting the local people who live and work here was so rewarding.  A must see.

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Ho Chi Minh City

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Saigon

The largest Vietnamese city by population is located in the south-eastern region of Vietnam, 1,760km (1,090miles) south of Hanoi. The city has undergone several name changes, which reflects the settlement of various ethnic groups, and the various political and cultural groups. Ho Chi Minh City is the official name of the city, however the former name of Saigon is still commonly used.  When Saigon was the official name of the city, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina before becoming the independent republic of south Vietnam. In 1976, Saigon merged with the Gia Dinh province, which surrounded the city and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, named after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of history. The area that reflects the city was once a part of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In the 18th century, relations with France began. Even when the Japanese occupied Saigon, the French still continued to administer Vietnam until 1945.  Although the city of Saigon was relatively unaffected by world war two (compared to other areas of Vietnam), it played a huge role in the Vietnam war, the fall of Saigon is described as  marking the end of the Vietnam war and as illustrating the beginning of the transition period of the unification of Vietnam.

This city has undergone so much change, and nowadays resembles city life, full of pulsing energy. The city is bold and dynamic.

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District one

We left the beaches of Nha Trang on an overnight train to the largest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. Our train ride was about nine hours long. We arrived early and checked into our guest house and set out to explore the city. The city is separated into twenty four districts, we were staying in district one. District one is the commercial and financial center  and is a very popular district for travelers. District one and district three is home to the majority of sights and filled with bars and restaurants.

With its rich history, fascinating culture and ever growing into a modern city, Ho Chi Minh City is very interesting  place to explore. The city has a mix of old new, from buildings with the classic French architecture to sleek new skyscrapers, from the typical vietnamese street food to fancy rooftop bars and restaurants, plus the charm of the ancient ornate temples and pagodas. This city was different from the seemly reserved capital, Hanoi, and contained different vibes from the other places that we visited on our journey through Vietnam. It was so interesting to see the diversity throughout Vietnam.

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Highlights and must sees

Ho Chi Minh square

Surrounded by stunning French colonial buildings, this historic square is a symbol of history of south Vietnam during the 19th and 20th century.

Independence Palace

Also called “Reunification Palace”  and was a significant government center during the war.

Saigon Notre- Dame Palace

Represents the French architecture and charm of the city. A cathedral built by the French.

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Elegant French architecture, I was in awe of its beauty.

Central post office

A remnant of French colonial times, withs its stunning architecture.

War remnants museum

A museum which greatly documents and showcases the brutal impacts that war has on the civilian victims.

Ben Thanh market

A huge market, a great place to buy local art and souvenirs. I enjoyed walking around amongst the chaos of this busy market.

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The end of this backpacking adventure

We spent seven nights based in Ho Chi Minh City, after exploring areas of the north and central region of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City was a great place to finish the trip, we were able to explore the culture and beauty of the city and enjoy the nightlife, with both the local people and other travelers.

Mid way through our stay in Ho Chi Minh City we took a one night, two day tour to the amazing Mekong Delta .  Another great tour and very easy to access from the city.

Traveling through Vietnam was a really enriching and enjoyable backpacking journey. My knowledge of the history of Vietnam greatly increased. I loved experiencing the diverse climate and different landscapes throughout the country.  This was a really rewarding and memorable trip, arriving in the north at Hanoi and traveling throughout the country to reach the south. From looking into the effects of war, to the breathtaking world heritage sites, Vietnam has a lot of beauty to offer. From the history, culture, people, diverse environment and the delicious local food, Vietnam is a great country to explore.

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Nha Trang

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Riviera of the south China sea

Nha Trang is a coastal resort city, located on the south central coast of Vietnam.  This city is also the capital of the Khanh Hoa province. Nha Trang is well known for its beaches and water activities. The coastline stretches for six kilometers, with the palm trees, sandy beaches and mountain backdrop, Nha Trang is so stunning. 19 islands are located off the Nha Trang coast, so this destination is also perfect for island hopping and scuba diving experiences. Historically the city was known as Kauthara and is now often described as the Riviera of the south China sea!

Nha Trang has been a popular backpackers destination for years, and has recently became popular for luxury travel too. With its cosmopolitan feel and high energy, it is easy to see why Nha Trang is so popular.  Beautiful beaches, trendy restaurants and chic boutiques Nha Trang makes for the perfect getaway destination, and was a nice change of scenery on our backpacking journey.

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We departed Hoi An and took the over night bus travelling for ten hours to reach Nha Trang, Vietnam’s premiere beach destination.  We arrived very early in the morning, and relaxed on the beach until our accommodation was ready. We stayed in Nha Trang for four nights at a backpacker hostel. Meeting more backpackers to party with during the night. Nha Trang is well known for its nightlight and it did not disappoint, with options ranging from local dive bars to luxury restaurants and cocktail bars.

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Highlights and must sees

Island hopping

With 19 Islands just off the coast of Nha Trang, Island is a popular is an easy and enjoyable activity to do here. The options to snorkel and scuba dive are also great.

Vinpearl amusement park

This unusual large scale theme park is located on an island just across from the Nha Trang beach!

Thap Ba hot springs

A hot thermal mud center offering mud baths, and other spa facilities such as massages, it is a great way to relax and unwind.

Nha Trang cathedral

Beautiful architecture and also the largest church in the city.

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Po Ngar temple complex

Another rewarding experience  while you are visiting Nha Trang is to take a break from the beaches and nightlife and visit the Po Ngar temple complex. A charming complex to walk around and explore history. These temples were built by the Cham people (The cham people once ruled the central section of Vietnam) between the 8th and 11th century. Another outstanding visit to a historical site, during our travels of Vietnam.

After relaxing and exploring the city of Nha Trang it was time to continue our journy, next stop Saigon

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Hoi An

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Hoi An ancient town

The old town of Hoi An is a well preserved example of an old port. During the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was an major trading port. Hoi An has over 2,000 years of history. Hoi An was also a principal port of the Cham kingdom. This kingdom controlled the spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century.  As a result the culture and history of Hoi An is strongly influenced by the Cham people.  The second major influence of this charming town is from the Chinese. The buildings represent a unique blend of style from both foreign and local influencers. Hoi An old town is listed as UNESCO world heritage site and is well worth a visit.  The old town is so charming to walk around and to explore the rich history. The greenery that is covering the ruins is also so impressive, and makes the place so much more magical.

Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, in the Quang Nam province.  This area is a popular tourist attraction. People visit to see the charm of the old city and to relax at the beaches nearby. From Hue we travelled by bus for three hours to Hoi An, we stayed at a hostel at a nearby beach.

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An bang beach

As we were craving the sun and beach, we decided that we would stay at a beach close to the old town of Hoi An. We stayed at a backpackers hostel along the An Bang beach.The hostel was great and we met up with some other backpackers, and enjoyed the nightlife with them. Hoi An old town was easily accessible from this beach town, so we were able to make the most of visiting the ancient ruins and enjoying some time in the sun. You can also catch a glimpse of the Cham Islands from the beach!

Next stop on our backpacking journey through Vietnam is further South, the coastal resort city Nha Trang

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Hue

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Ancient city

After exploring the north of Vietnam, we departed Hanoi by train, and travelled south. Next stop, Hue which is described as the most royal city in Vietnam! Hue is located 700km (430m) south of Hanoi, in the Thua Thein Hue province, in central Vietnam. Hue was once the capital of Vietnam, founded in 1802 by Gia Long who was the first king of the Nguyen dynasty empire. Hue remained the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. This powerful family ruled the then capital from 1802-1945. To this day the influence of a royal lifestyle and royal customs have had a huge impact on the characteristics of the people in Hue.

The city has a rich and interesting history,  with the affects of war still very present today. Visiting the city was very enriching and very different from other parts of the country that we visited.

We stayed at a guest house for two nights and three days, exploring the ancient ruins during the day and  then enjoying the Hue nightlife.

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Highlights and must sees

The Perfume river

This ancient city lies on the banks of the Perfume river. So beautiful to see on a clear and sunny day. The Perfume river is surrounded by the ancient sights of Hue. It is also perfect for people watching, taking in the river life of the people who live here. We were also grateful to witness a stunning sunset over the ancient capital, while sitting at the banks of the river.

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The Tomb of Khai Dinh

This tomb was built for the twelfth emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh. The tomb is located in Chau Chu mountain, on a steep hill near the city of Hue. The architecture is a mix of western and eastern influence and took eleven years to build!

Thien Mu Pagoda

Translates to the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady and is considered to be the unofficial landmark of the city, with its iconic seven story pagoda. In addition to its rich history, the Pagoda also looks out to the gorgeous Perfume river.

The Mieu

A place to worship ten of the Nguyen dynasty kings. The Mieu is an ancestral temple to Vietnams emperors.

Imperial city (The Citadel)

The former residence of the royal family. Now, listed as an UNESCO world heritage site. This site is a large complex of hundreds of monuments and ruins. Rich in history and devastated by the Vietnam war, this former site of the old capital has a moat and ten ornate gates guarding the palace, temples and tombs.

Hue, was much different from the rest of our backpacking journey through Vietnam. I enjoyed the history and culture of this ancient city. The next stop after Hue, is further south – Hoi An

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SaPa

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SaPa

With the extreme beauty and dramatic landscape, it is easy to see why SaPa is said to be the tourism center of the northwest of Vietnam. Our visit to this gorgeous place, left me in awe. SaPa is an absolute dream to explore.

SaPa is 380km (236miles) northwest of Hanoi, located in the Lao Cai district and close to the border of China. The town of SaPa is described as a quiet mountain town and home to a diverse range of ethnic minority groups. There is a great connection between the people of SaPa and their surrounding land.  The town of SaPa sits at an elevation of 1500 meters. The region is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. Within this range, the highest mountain of Vietnam, Fan Si Pan is located here, at 3143m above sea level! Very impressive. The Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is the eastern extremity of the Himalayas, so amazing.

SaPa is home to a unique place of biological diversity, as the geological location and climate is able to support a great range of fauna and flora. Some of which is only found in the north west of Vietnam! Due to the high biological importance, the Hoang Lien nature reserve was made into a national park, the park includes the majority of the mountain range to the immediate south of SaPa. The beautiful souls of the people in SaPa and the natural beauty of SaPa made this travel experience so special. SaPa is a highlight of my travel adventures.

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Overnight train

As we were based in Hanoi, we took a two night, three day tour of this magical location.  Plus, two nights traveling to and from Hanoi. We were picked up from our guest house in Hanoi and transferred to the Hanoi rail station, where we boarded the overnight train to SaPa. Now, I have to admit this train journey was terrifying! Our cabin was fine, as we were traveling in a group of four, we were placed in a four bed (two bunkbeds) wooden cabin with air conditioning. We had brought some snacks and drinks to enjoy the train journey, however I had to stop drinking due to the constant violent rocking and loud screeching of the train, which made me afraid and the fact that I couldn’t see where we were going made this even worse. This fear was irrational, no one else in the group was scared (there was no need to be) the train was perfectly safe! Anyway, I did not get much sleep and was so happy when we arrived at the Lao Cai train station.

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Trekking the rice terraces

From the Lao Cai train station we were taken by mini bus to SaPa ( a 5o minute drive). Once we arrived at the town we were able to take showers before sitting down to breakfast. After breakfast, we began our trek from SaPa town. The views at the beginning of our trek was already so incredible, but continued to become more breathtaking the further we went into the mountains.

Our local guide, took us south east of SaPa, along the side of the Munong valley to the Y Linh Ho village of the black H’Mong. This section of the trek took us to lunch time, here we enjoyed a lunch with a local family, made by them. After lunch, we continued on our trekking adventure through the terraced rice fields. The sights during our trek were spectacular. Late afternoon we arrived at the Ta Van village of the Dzay people.

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Homestay

For night two, we were warmly welcomed by a family of the Dzay people in the Ta Van village for an overnight stay at their place. For the night we stayed at their traditional wooden house and we all shared stories about our lives, learning from each other.  We learnt from them about the daily life in this pretty village, and their family traditions. We shared a great meal with the family, there was a lot of talking and laughter. After dinner, their children were put to bed and  we all stayed up  playing board games and drinking rice liquor, the laughter continued well into the night. This was a really enjoyable experience! This was my first homestay and I would do one again.

Waking up the next day  to mountains views was so dreamy. The Ta Van village is absolutely stunning.

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Waterfalls and bamboo forests

We left the Ta Van village and continued on, trekking down to the south-west of SaPa to visit two more villages. The first part of this journey, was trekking through some gorgeous bamboo forests. After the bamboo forests we reached the Thac Bac- silver waterfall, the view was so majestic. The water falls down from a height of more than 100 meters. Next, we walked over the suspension ratten bridge! We then reached the Giang Ta Chai village where we met some of the red Dzao people.

After the Ta Chai village we crossed the Muong river up the mountain to visit our last village. This was the Supan village of the H’Mong. We connected with more local people before finishing our amazing two day trekking journey! From here, a mini bus took us back to the main village of SaPa.

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SaPa town

When we arrived in SaPa we were able to check into our hotel, and have the night to explore this charming place. The architecture of the buildings is so stunning and exploring the local stores and markets is a treat.

The next morning, we met up with another local guide who took us for a short walk downhill to visit the beautiful orchid gardens and pine forests. Next, we stopped by the small village of Suoi Ho. We continued our journey, trekking through rice paddy fields looking out to spectacular mountain scenery on our way to Ma Tra.  Another great day of exploring before taking the bus to the Lao Cai train station to take the dreaded overnight train back to Hanoi!

Trekking through SaPa is a must do, if visiting Vietnam.

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Ha Long Bay

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Bay of descending dragons

The famous Ha Long bay is an absolute dream.  A UNESCO world heritage site and often included in lists declaring the natural wonders of the world. Sailing through this bay is a must do. Ha Long translates to the “bay of descending dragons” – the bay is located in the gulf of Tonkin and consists of thousands of monolithic islands rising from the ocean and topped with dense vegetation.

Ha Long bay is located 170km (105 miles) east of Hanoi in the Quang Ninh province. The Bay is of great biological interest and was really fascinating to see in person,  especially for someone who has studied Wildlife Biology and Conservation and as true nature lover. Ha Long is an area of 1,553 km2 which is mostly uninhabited and unaffected by humans – and it needs to remain this way to preserve this magnificent beauty. The bay consists of 1,600 limestone monolithic islands, which have gone through 500 million years of formation! The evolution of the karst has changed via the impact of the tropical wet climate, very impressive!

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Three day tour

We joined a small cruise for a tour of Ha Long bay – there was 12 of us for a 3 day, 2 night tour. We departed from Hanoi in a mini bus.  The first day was spent sailing through the breathtaking bay, our first glimpse into this beauty. When we boarded our ship, lunch was ready to be served, a full Vietnamese buffet. After lunch, the ship arrived at the gorgeous Sung Snot Cave, we were able to get out and explore. This cave is one of the largest in Ha Long bay. Walking through the cave was incredible, and we were also exposed to some amazing views looking out at Ha Long Bay from inside the cave! So incredible.

After exploring the cave, our ship continued on, sailing past the the amazing limestone monolithic islands, so much beauty to take in and try to capture on camera. Later on in the afternoon, our ship docked for the night. Here we were able to take kayaks out and kayak through the bay, this was amazing.  Our night was spent on the cruise ship, where  we enjoyed another Vietnamese buffet, we were able to jump off the ship and swim around our area and later on had drinks on the top deck of the ship. The rooms were small and each had their own bathroom, I found sleeping on a ship for the night to be quite relaxing and charming.

The next morning, the ship set sail and continued on through the stunning bay. After lunch, we were able to get off the ship and explore Monkey Island, here you can swim at two beaches and take a hike up the mountain for some great views! And yes, you do get to see monkeys! The afternoon was very enjoyable. Next, we moved on to our beach bungalow for the night. I loved our accommodation, the Island we stayed on was tiny, so it felt like a nice getaway and the bungalows were gorgeous. Here we met some other backpackers, and enjoyed a meal and drinks with them. The next day was spent sailing back through Ha Long Bay, then to our mini bus to return to Hanoi. This trip was amazing and extremely memorable. A highlight of my travels.

 

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Tam Coc

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Three caves

Tam Coc located in the Ninh Binh province, is located 100Km (62 miles) south of Hanoi and 5km (3 miles) from the centre of the Ninh Binh town.  This place is breathtaking. The landscape consists of limestone outcrops and rices paddies along the Ngo Dong River. Tam Coc is essentially a flooded karst system, with three long tunnel caves eroded by limestone hills. These three natural caves are named Hang Cam, Hang Gialla and Hang Chateau. Often referred to as the Ha Long bay on land! A trip to this natural beauty, will have you row boating along the charming and peaceful Tam Coc system, rowing past rice paddy fields and into the mouths of the caves! Inside the mouth of a cave you will witness the gorgeous stalactites and stalagmite formations. It is easy to see why Tam Coc is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Day trip

As we were based in Hanoi, we chose the option of taking a one day tour to Tam Coc. Our tour was with about eight other people, we departed Hanoi in a mini bus. Our first stop was at the Hoa Lu ancient capital, here we were able to visit King Dinh and King Le’s Temples. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, so it was really interesting to see this historic location.

Next stop, the Tam Coc wharf were a Vietnamese buffet lunch was part of the agenda. After lunch, we rowed through the gorgeous Ngo Dong river, also referred to as the green sea!  I was in awe of the incredible scenery. The views are stunning. Seeing these formations was one of my highlights from the whole trip to Vietnam.

After the sailing tour, we were able to bike ride around the village before departing for Hanoi. The biking tour was fun, as we rode past the rice paddies and were able to see the local area.

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Hanoi

 

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Backpacking journey through Vietnam

After a week in Bangkok, Thailand, we flew (only a 1 hour and 50 minute flight) to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. This was the start of our six week backpacking journey from the North to the South of Vietnam. Hanoi, was out first introduction to this amazing country. As one of the most ancient capital cities in the world, we found the city quite charming with its mix of Russian, Chinese and French influencers. With its rich history, culture and charming atmosphere, Hanoi was the perfect introduction to Vietnam.

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Old quarter

We stayed at a guest house in the old quarter  (the Hoan Kiem district). This district is considered to be the busiest in Hanoi and the most popular district with tourists. Plus, the old quarter is the oldest developed area in Vietnam! I found wondering through the streets of the old quarter to be rather charming, as you can witness generations of Vietnamese life. Strolling through the ancient commercial streets is a must do in Hanoi. Street food and street artists are prominent. Each street was unique and provided a different glimpse into the local way of life. I always find that just roaming the streets, with no plan is the best way to gain a sense of any of the locations that I visit, and the best way to find hidden gems.

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Highlights and must sees

  • Hoan Kiem lake and Ngoc Son temple: We found ourselves relaxing by this lake on most days of our trip. It a a calming place to rest from  roaming around the hectic streets. The lake surrounds the gorgeous Ngoc Son temple.
  • Ho Chi Minh museum: An informative museum dedicated to the late Vietnamese leader; Ho Chi Minh.
  • Ho Chi Minh mausoleum: The final resting place of the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
  • Temple of literature: Visit the country’s oldest University! Although this historic site of education was destroyed during a war, restoration work is ongoing to retain this 1,000 year old temple of education.
  • Thang long water puppet theatre: Watch a traditional performance at this gorgeous theatre, seeing this performance was one of my favorite nights in Hanoi.
  • Dong Xuan Market: Shop and bargain hunt in Hanoi’s largest indoor market! Even if you don’t like to shop, walking around this market is amazing to just take in the city’s atmosphere.
  • Vietnamese coffee: Try the local coffee at one of the numerous cafe shops around the city, it is strong and delicious!
  • Binge on street food: Try the local street food, there are many options in the old quarter and around the Hoan Kiem lake. Full of flavor and so cheap.
  • Nightlife: Experience the laid back Hanoi night life, cheap beer bars on street corners, to fancy cocktail bars in the French quarter.

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 Trips from Hanoi

For the beginning of our backpacking journey of Vietnam we based ourselves in Hanoi. From Hanoi we were able to take three trips before heading south.

  1. A day trip to the stunning  Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
  2.  Three days in the magical Ha Long Bay
  3.  Four days in the breathtaking Sapa

From Hanoi, we continued our journey south along the coast, next stop Hue 

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