Travelling in Vietnam
Summer is ending fast and our three-week long trip to Vietnam was over far too quickly. Naturally I will be writing about our amazing journeys and experiences in the following weeks.
Planning the Trip
I spent a long time planning our exploration through Vietnam and so I thought it worth giving all my readers an insight into our itinerary with some photos and impressions of the country using a few photos from from my iPhone…. before I fight my way through the nearly 8000 that I took with my camera!
A lot of effort went into planning this trip as Vietnam has a large number of diverse sights and places that I wanted to visit. Besides the country stretches a long way from the North to the South and distances are not as easily covered as in Europe or America. Consider that the country is over 2000 km from top to bottom, although not wide, but has still limited good roads and just one very slow railway that runs North to South.
In the end I decided to only explore the Northern part of the country, from Hanoi to Hoi An, skipping the South and the mountainous areas completely. Most people usually want to see as many places as possible, however I felt it more important to get a real feel for the country and see fewer destinations by spending more time at each stop to experience the real Vietnam, rather than to just get a quick insight. With hindsight I feel this was a good choice and would recommend other travellers to consider covering less ground but seeing more of each location.
First Stop: Hanoi
Most travellers will either start at the bottom in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and work north or fly into Ha Noi and move southwards. We started our Vietnam trip in Hanoi, where we spent 3 nights acclimatising to the hot, humid weather, plus the crazy mayhem of the streets chock a block with motorcycles and to get a feel for the people and the country in general. We stayed in the French Quarter at Lapis Hotel, away from the narrow, noisiest streets (all streets in Hanoi are noisy) of the Old Quarter.
Exploring Hanoi is easy, we walked everywhere – it was just the crossing of roads took us days to get used to (to be honest we still have not quite mastered the trick). The markets were an explosion for all our senses, the buildings grand and a reminder of the French occupation, besides the narrow and deep houses of the locals. The food was delicious and the cheapest we have ever eaten. The sights, including the Citadel, Temple of Literature, the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and Hoan Kiem Lake, plus of course the Old Quarter were all fascinating and somewhat different to what we have seen before on our many other trips.
Cruising Bai Tu Long Bay
After our initial taster of Hanoi we left the capital city for some peace and serenity and a cruise through Ha Long Bay. After the challenges of three hours on the road to the coast we boarded a traditional wooden boat, the Dragons Pearl by Indochina Junk, and sailed through the calm waters of Ha Long Bay. In total awe at the beauty of the karst formations, we spent two nights in bliss on our first cruise with an amazing crew and a bunch of lovely guests. Jerome enjoyed the daily kayaking and swimming sessions, while we savoured the incredible views and delicious food. While I am still terrified of being stuck on a large cruise ship, I can say that the cruise to the far corners of Bai Tu Long Bay has awakened my senses for overnight travel on a small sailing ship. The cruise was definitely one of the highlights of our trip in Vietnam.
A Unique Experience: The Overnight Train
Many of the other guests packed in the sights of Sapa in the mountains with another long transfer and journey but whilst we would certainly have enjoyed that, we have left that for our next visit preferring to spend more time elsewhere. Leaving the Northern part of Vietnam behind we took an overnight train from Hanoi to Hue, a unique experience that is a must, at least once, when travelling through the country. With the cabin to ourselves we played cards while glancing out of our window at the passing city and landscapes.
Next Up: Hue
In Hue we stayed in the peaceful Pilgrimage Hotel, outside the town centre, surrounded by lush green and tropical vegetation. We extensively used the hotel’s bikes to discover the area in and around Hue, including an abandoned water park, the Royal Palace and some of the royal tombs that lie dotted around the countryside. Not to mention absorbing the local scenery and culture from two wheels.
Peaceful Cau Hai Lagoon
At nearby Cau Hai Lagoon we stayed in Vedana Lagoon Resort hidden away from the usual tourist tracks in an over water bungalow. From there we ventured out by bike to visit local fishing villages and deserted beaches along the nearby coast. This area, being between centres and therefore not on most of the tourist routes. By staying longer in the Hue region we felt we absorbed more of the local feel and had a chance to get to know the real Vietnam.
Colourful Hoi An
Hoi An was our last destination before returning to Hanoi, we stayed at Atlas Hotel. The charming river town with its lantern lit streets and colourful houses stole our heart despite the torrential rain upon arrival and hour long black out. We wandered the little alleys, discovered the local food and markets and cycled past rural villages, surrounded by rice fields around the river delta.
Serene Resort between Hoi An and An Bang Beach
Hoi An is not only famous for its lanterns and food, it also has one of the best beaches close by. Therefore I had decided to split our stay in Hoi An between city and beach, and so booked a villa at the Allamanda boutique resort near An Bang in the meadows behind the coast. From there we cycled to the beach on one of the days. Thanks to the recommendation of our previous hotel manager we also made a trip to a small fishing village along the coast, which has been converted by two artists into a treasure trove for street art and murals.
Last Days in Hanoi
After a short flight back from Da Nang to Hanoi we spent our last day in Vietnam with sightseeing in the Old Quarter and near the West Lake. We also stocked up on some last minute presents and souvenirs.
Three weeks in this beautifully country went by way too fast. Richer in memories and experiences we headed back home to London where school is about to start again soon and I will have time to write down more detailed accounts of our trip and filter those 1000s of photos for you. Start reading them here soon!