A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mark and I decided to take a last minute trip to South East Asia. It had been a big year so we thought Christmas was the perfect time to reward ourselves with a little holiday! Since we only had three weeks we originally planned on only going to Thailand and maybe Laos, but when I found out that my best friend from France would be in Vietnam around the same time we just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to meet with her.
Vietnam turned out to be the highlight of our trip. It is such a beautiful and interesting place with lovely people, a rich culture, amazing food and breath taking scenery. You can definitely feel that the country is fast changing with resorts and tourism infrastructures popping up all over the place but there are still many unspoiled places to discover.
As you’ll see below we managed to cram quite a bit into our 8-day stay; visiting Hanoi, Hoi An and Hue and travelling by train, car and plane. It was a magical trip and we’ll definitely be back…
A lot of people consider Hanoi to be one of the most beautiful capitals in South East Asia and I can understand why. The city is a beautiful blend of Old World charm, Vietnamese tradition and Chinese influences. I found the old French buildings particularly interesting and the tree-lined boulevards reminded me a lot of Paris. The street traffic can be a little bit overwhelming at first with millions of motorbikes, cars, buses and cyclos roaming pass you in different directions and ‘tutting each other along. The simple act of crossing the street can be quite a ‘fun’ challenge (if you make it in one piece) and we ‘quickly learned that pedestrian crossings are nothing more than street decorations to Vietnamese motorcyclists.
Situated in the middle of the city, ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ provides a wonderful oasis of peace and is the perfect place to relax at sunset…
Hoi An is a gorgeous little town half way down the coast of Vietnam. Once a major trading port, the city has been influenced by a myriad of cultures (Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, French and even Portuguese) which makes it really unique. The Old Town is now a Unesco World Heritage site and most of its colonial buildings have been beautifully restored. Most of the town is also closed to cars which makes it easy to get around and its winding streets are bustling with restaurants, tailors and souvenir shops. Because it’s such a small place Hoi An can sometimes feel a little bit touristy but it’s a small price to pay really.
The real highlight for us was the food, which was amazing wherever we ate. We even took an evening cooking class to try and bring some of the magic home, which I’ll talk about in a future post. Our friends rented bikes and cycled around the city whilst we opted for a massage and having clothes made (Mark got a tailored suit made for $150!). To each their own -)
At night the city becomes alight with multi-coloured lanterns making the city even more romantic. Swoon…
Danang to Hue
After a short drive to Danang we travelled to Hue by train. We could have travelled the whole way by car but we really wanted to do something different.
It was a great experience. Vietnamese trains are divided in many sections from hard seat with no air condiditoning to private soft sleepers. The seats are really cheap; we paid $7 for an air conditioned ‘soft seat’ which was a little bit worn down but still quite comfortable (I wouldn’t recommend it for more than a few hours though – you might want to opt for a sleeper instead). We were mostly surrounded by locals which was nice and there was even a food cart selling yummy looking hot meals. I’m not going to lie – it was a bumpy ride and the train was half an hour late to Hue but it was largely compensated by the amazing view as we traveled through mountains and along the coast.
Hue was once an imperial city and it has a fascinating history. The ‘Citadel’ and its ‘Forbidden Purple City’ are well worth a visit but if you have time I would definitely recommend visiting the ‘Royal Tombs’ as well. Most are situated in beautiful surroundings and it’s easy to feel like you are lost in time whilst walking through the gardens. My personal favourite was the tomb of Tu Duc.
Vendors are slightly more pushy in Hue so be prepared to kindly say no to Cyclos (Cycle Rickshaws) and street merchants who will happily follow you down the street.
As this was the end of our Vietnam holiday, we decided to stay in a resort outside of town. I’m not usually a resort person but this particular one was truly special and to be honest they had me at ‘over-water bungalows’. It was the perfect ending to our stay.
ps. How to make Vietnamese iced coffee.