Packed with eight million motorbikes – and counting – the bustling roads and blaring horns are the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in Hanoi. But don’t worry, it’s just as impressive as it is manic.
One of the best bits about this historic city is the coffee shops. You can buy weird and wonderful flavours, like Kopi Luwak. It’s made from partly digested cherries that have been eaten and excreted by weasels. It may sound disgusting, but it’s been tried and tested, and, is actually quite delicious.
You won’t forget the food when you visit Hanoi, either. After dark, there are barbecues on almost every street corner, where you can sit at dinky tables with the locals, and grill your own meal. You’ll be given a piping-hot pan, with a selection of meats and vegetables, ready-to-eat noodles, and miniature bowls of dips and sauces – the rest is up to you.
When it comes to sightseeing, one place you have to tick off is Hoan Kiem Lake otherwise known as ‘the lake of the restored sword’. This place is ideal for afternoon strolls, and its peaceful atmosphere will make you forget you’re in the middle of a vibrant city. It’s not just about walking here, though. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can sign up for early-morning t’ai chi lessons, or play a gruelling game of chess with the locals.
Halong Bay is one of those places you’ll never forget. It’s made up of 1,600 towering limestone pillars that rise up out of emerald-green waters, and has UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
You’ll find Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, around three hours’ drive from Hanoi. We think the best way to see it all is on the water, whether that’s by boat, a kayak or a good snorkelling session. It’s a rock climber’s haven, too, FYI. Tonnes of steep overhangs mean there are plenty of places to climb, and there are loads of tours to take you to the best spots.
Halong Bay is considered one of the top places in the world to go kayaking. The still, bright-green waters are great for a gentle paddle, and you can experience it all at your own pace. You’ll come across hidden caves, lagoons and unspoiled beaches as you go. Did we mention that the sunset views are incredible from your kayak, too?
You can also get involved with traditional activities once the sun has sunk, including squid fishing. The best time to catch these glow-in-the-dark creatures is from April to January, when they are at their biggest. You might see squid-ink stains on the decking of boats, and you’ll likely get to feast on them for dinner if you opt for an overnight cruise.
Sapa is a big contender to Halong Bay in terms of natural beauty. It’s one of the most popular basecamps for trekking in Vietnam, too. It’s made up of plunging valleys, filled with beautiful rice terraces, and unforgettable mountain views. It’s also one of the only places in Vietnam where you may experience all four seasons in one day…
It’s the hill tribe locals that fill this town with charm, though. If you decide to go trekking, don’t be surprised if your guides are dressed in brightly-coloured clothing, wearing huge earrings, and balancing their babies in hand-made slings. Along the way, zigzagged routes will reveal sights like huge cows with nose rings, and elderly women trekking the slippery mud in socks and sandals. There are the beautiful rice paddies, too.
Sapa is located in the north-west of Vietnam, where thick blasts of fog often play a game of hide-and-seek. It’s a constant game of keeping your camera to hand if you’re a photo fanatic. It’s a good idea to pack a raincoat when visiting Sapa, too. The spiralling rice paddies are home to splashing waterfalls and streams, so it can get damp and colder as you walk downhill.
Hoi An is renowned for its well-preserved ancient town and bright-green canals. Although it was once used as a trading port from the 15th to the 19th-century, it’s now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it’s right in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, so it’s the ideal stop off point when travelling around Vietnam.
When you arrive in Hoi An, you’ll notice how the town has retained practically all of its foreign influence. Think French-style houses with shutters, Japanese bridges and pagodas, and Chinese temples. It’s also known as the ‘yellow city’ of Vietnam due to its bright-yellow architecture. To sum it all up, it’s basically an Instagrammer’s paradise.
One of the top things to do in Hoi An is the full moon lantern festival, a twice-monthly celebration. Locals release brightly-coloured lanterns onto the water under the Japanese bridge to honour their ancestors. The best way to see it all is by cruising along the river in a sampan boat. The glimmer of the lanterns lights up the water, so it’s really romantic. Back on dry land, food stalls sell traditional treats, like moon cakes. They’re filled with lotus seeds, ground beans and an egg yolk. Many food and trinket stalls take over in the cobbled streets, and lion dancers prance around the old quarter in dazzling costumes.
Hoi An is also known as being a foodies’ haven. You can snack on things like tofu custard, a delicious snack which is served in pastel-coloured bowls with huge spoons. Elsewhere, you can sign up to cooking classes that teach you the basics of Vietnamese cooking. And you can tuck into street food favourites, like Bánh mì, which are available on almost every corner.
If it’s relaxation that you’re after, sandy beaches are within easy reach, too. An Bang Beach – 10 minutes’ drive away – is a great option for days spent lounging in the sun, or chilling out at trendy bars. The golden sands are backed up by thick green forest. Those six-foot waves mean that surfers can have some fun, too.
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Author: Olivia Hunt
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