Vietnam: Top five experiences

Ta Hien Beer Street in Hanoi

Vietnam is uniquely South East Asian with all the good parts – great food, polite service, plenty of old culture and sights to devour, yet with subtle differentiating touches of its own. I mean, the sight of scores of locals and tourists sitting on low stools, red and blue, chugging fresh beer (Bia hơi, 20 cents, I kid you not) out of large decanters, throwing peanut shells and questionable animal leftovers onto the floor, and creating a party cacophony into the receptive night… was really uniquely Vietnamese 

My memorable experiences were many, but I’ve tried to list the top five, which despite being hyped and touristy, were totally worth it.

Cruising along Halong Bay
By the Halong Bay

Totally worth the hype and the money paid. Cruising along the bay, watching the sunset amidst the gently lapping sea, looking over as the towering hills pop out of the sea and loom around as I sip an unidentified cocktail on the ship’s deck, was quite something else. Hạ Long Bay, in northeast Vietnam, is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rain forests.

A Hạ Long bay cruise costs between USD 170 to USD 220. Paradise, Indochina and Dragon junk are among the better rated cruise companies. We took the Huong Hai Sealife cruise which was very good too. It visits the Bai Tu Long bay, more remote than the others, else we hear the night docking area looks like a parking lot. As part of the cruise, we also visit some fishing villages, learn how to cook local fare, watch movies of the French rule or American war and attempt Tai Chi. Cheesy, but picturesque fun.

Boating on Trang An
Trang An Grottoes

Situated at the south of the Red River Delta in Vietnam, the Trang An Landscape Complex is a spectacular landscape of limestone peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. This is less crowded than the more popular Tam Coc, just minutes away, but equally mind blowing. Rowboats, driven by hardy women, take you through the limestone caves and the hills, and over a period of three hours you get a taste of darkness and light…green hills and greener waters…slow lapping of the paddle…gentle lulling of the sun on your face…silence of the tall hills around…bees buzzing in your ears… you get the picture.

The bike ride from Hue to Hoi An
Riding along
Riding along lagoons from Hue to Hoi An

This is a must do activity. We were lucky to have good weather and a fantastic tour group organizing this for us and we had the best 8 hours of our Vietnamese sojourn. we tried all modes of transport in this trip – we flew (JetStar – good enough), took the SE19 (basic and clean), cruised, took a local bus to Ninh Binh (decent but avoidable in bad weather) and this rounded the portfolio.

It drizzled on our faces. The wind blew our hair. The roads were wide and smooth, the sights beautiful. Specially when we moved over from Hue to Da Nang.

I looked it up online. The Hải Vân Pass (or “ocean cloud pass”), is a ~21 km long mountain pass on National Route 1A in Vietnam.

The first view of Da Nang

“Historically, the pass was a physical division between the kingdoms of Champa and Đại Việt. The pass is renowned for its scenic beauty. Presenter Jeremy Clarkson, host of the BBC motoring programme Top Gear, featured the pass during the show’s 2008 Vietnam Special, calling the road “a deserted ribbon of perfection—one of the best coast roads in the world.” Wikipedia

 

Hoi An
Hoi An streets

What a great, great little place!

The little town is called the Venice of Vietnam and you’ll see why as soon as you’ve stepped foot on it. Beautiful night markets, lanterns in the sky, a fancy Japanese bridge, perplexing art work, old houses, crafts and coffee…I didn’t want to leave. Umm… did I mention lanterns in the sky?

Buy a ticket for 120k Dong to enter the old quarters and just walk and walk. I could never tire of it and wanted to stay on forever. And there is a lot more to do.

Night life
View from Chill Sky bar at Saigaon

Backpacker’s street in Saigon and Ta Hien street in Hanoi – party the night away with cheap beer and pop mixes which seem to run on a loop. The locals love a good party too and the weekends are throbbing with activity.

Did I convince you enough? Pack your bags for Vietnam now. It is pocket friendly, and offers experiences you will scarce find elsewhere.

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