The young traveller's guide to Vietnam
Vietnam, it is one of the most incredible countries I have visited; the vibrant chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City blew me away, Halong Bay with its karst limestone islands is easily one of the most impressive sights in the region, and exploring a Vietnamese food market is arguably the ultimate Southeast Asia cultural experience.
You simply can’t visit Vietnam without casting eyes on the awe-inspiring natural wonder that is Halong Bay. I'm not exaggerating here when I say that this may just be one of the highlights of your entire trip!
Known to the Vietnamese as "Bay of the Descending Dragons", this world heritage site is an area made up of almost 3000 limestone islands that jut out of emerald waters everywhere you look, creating a truly magical landscape.
As you sail through the waters on your "junk" boat you’ll glance floating villages, buoyant huts tied to rocks, tiny beaches and local children fishing in the plentiful waters.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP
Castaway Island through Ha Long Bay.
As soon as the boat started moving the drinking began. We played icebreaker games all while taking in gorgeous sites of limestone karst cliffs and islands. Although the Halong Bay Castaway Tour is known for being a booze cruise, it should also be known for it’s action and water sports, including kayaking.
There’s no better place to crack open beers than in kayaks, paddling in and out of caves and jumping off the boat into the water. And when the sun went down, the partying really began.
Late at night in this private beach the ocean is full of bioluminescent plankton. It rained both of the nights but that didn't stop us in fact it made the experience so much more fun, dancing on the tables while it was pouring with rain with thunder and lighting all around us like I had never seen before. I can easily say this was one of the best experiences of my life.
It's a strange, frenzied place. There are so many scooters around that the city makes you feel more like your caught in a giant swarm of wasps. Much of Vietnam takes place on the street; people eat and drink there, get their haircut, read the newspaper and play games.
I recommend getting lost and spending some time people-watching, because immersing yourself properly in the Vietnamese city life is really one of the best things to do.
Here are some other popular things to do in Hanoi:
* Learn about Ho Chi Minh at the Mausoleum
* Watch a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
* Visit Visit Temple of Literature
* Hanoi Opera House
* Visit Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
* Participate in a Vietnamese cooking class
* Visit Hoa Lo Prison
* Street food tours
I would recommend staying in the Hanoi Backpackers hostel (48 Ngo Huyen Street, Hoan Kiem, 3828 5372, www.hanoibackpackershostel.com). rooms are about NZ$12 a night and are clean and include free breakfast.
If you’re interested in having clothes made, the best city to go to is the coastal city of Hoi An. The ancient town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and reflects a well-preserved port town from the 15th to 19th centuries. The main street through Hoi An is lined with tailors that glisten with fabrics and silks of hundreds of different colours and textures. Enthusiastic saleswomen beckon you in, eager to measure every inch of your body and have you fitted for that perfect new outfit! Beware fellow backpackers, once inside it is addictive!
Market Life: There’s a very interesting local market selling everything from live chickens to dragon fruit to tacky souvenirs. Best experienced in the early morning when the market is the busiest, every day market life is interesting to watch as locals trade goods and haggle prices. As you walk through the market towards the Port, you’ll find the "Fish Market". Boat loads of crabs, mackerel, cockles and other seafood come in every day to be sold in the market stalls. Fishing is still an important economic activity in Hoi An.
I would recommend staying in Hoi An Backpackers hostel (also known as DK'S house) They offer a complimentary breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, eggs any style, bread and home made jams every morning starting at 6am until 10am. Bikes are free to use all day and they offer a free bike tour with a western guide which departs the hostel every day at 10am.
HO CHI MINH
And definitely don’t miss the hustle and bustle of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the largest city in Vietnam.
With both historical and cosmopolitan areas, when visiting Ho Chi Minh you have to go to the Ben Thanh markets, a shopper's paradise. Ben Thanh is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs.
The food in Ho Chi Minh I would personally say is the best, while many areas have a lot of international cuisine, it is well worth seeking out some of the restaurants serving the fresh and spicy tastes of Vietnamese food.
- Stuff Nation