Blogger Son #1 and his wife Blogger DIL #1 recently went to Vietnam. I’ve broken their trip into three reports:
Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An
Sapa, Halong Bay and Hanoi
Before I get into the details of our recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, allow me to introduce myself and provide you with a little background about who I am.
I was born and raised in South Africa, was lucky enough to have my first European vacation at the age of 6, did extensive traveling in southern Africa during my youth, immigrated to the United States at the age of 12, and traveled every summer from high school through college and graduate school (including 6 months studying aboard in France). To say I’ve got wanderlust would be an understatement. When I met Son #1, he’d just returned from 8 months of backpacking around the world. I just knew we were meant to be… Son #1 and I were set up 7 ½ years ago, have been married for 3 years, have visited 19 countries together, and have a little bambino on the way in early January… I am DIL #2. Vietnam & Cambodia I’m sure its no surprise that we take our travel planning very seriously. Our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in March of this year was planned for about 6 months. In addition to being our annual ‘big’ trip, it was my 30th birthday present – lucky me! My husband is practically a professional traveler and so, once we decide on a country to visit, he generally takes the lead mapping out our planned itinerary through the country. He does countless hours of research and reading in order to finesse our route (our trips at most are 2 weeks in length due to the fact that we both work full-time). Once he has mapped out the POA, I come on board to help figure out the details of the trip – hotels, transportation, activities, etc. Vietnam and Cambodia were no exception to this general rule. Here was the 2 week itinerary for Vietnam and Cambodia: 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, 3 nights in Hoi An, overnight to Sapa, 1 night in Sapa, overnight to Hanoi, 1 night in Halong Bay, 1 night in Hanoi, 3 nights in Siem Reap.
Ho Chi Minh City
We landed in HCMC after a long flight that took us through Dubai on Emirates. No matter how many times I do it, landing in a foreign country is so disorienting at first – a combination of exhaustion, jet lag, and being on the opposite side of the world can really confuse me! We’d arranged a pick up from the airport to take us to our hotel (I highly recommend organizing at least the first night’s hotel and a transfer there no matter what your travel style), Giang Son Hotel (low-budget hotel in the heart of HCMC that came highly recommended by Lonely Planet & other travelers). After a much-deserved hot shower and change of clothes, I was ready to crash (although it was early), but my husband has different ideas upon landing in a foreign country! Being located in District 1, or the heart of HCMC, we walked right out of our hotel and had hundreds of food options, and decided to go for our first bowl of Pho at a nearby eatery. We eat a lot of Pho in our hometown of D.C., but this stuff was the real deal. After dinner, we strolled around the streets, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of HCMC. Scooters en masse, peddlers, food, restaurants, bars, artists, you name it. What a vibrant place!
The next day (our only full day in the city), we did a bit of a walking tour around the city – went to Cholon market (huge market with food and clothes, shoes, suits, dresses, food, and souvenirs all for a fraction you would pay anywhere else) and the War Remnants Museum (talk about a Debbie Downer, but very interesting too). We got ourselves sufficiently lost on the way back, but enjoyed meandering through the city, taking it all in (a must in any foreign city, if you have the time). That evening was spent in the district around our hotel – eating delicious Vietnamese cuisine, drinking beer, and people watching (one of our favorite activities while traveling).
To get to Hoi An, we took a direct flight from HCMC to DaNang. From there, we had arranged an hotel transfer for the 30 –min trip between DaNang and Hoi An. Almost immediately upon arrival, I knew Hoi An would be a highlight for me.
Hoi An is located on the central Vietnamese coast and used to be a big trading port between the 15 and 19th centuries. The small town is quaint and well-preserved, with a riving running through it, the beach a few miles away, hundreds of top-notch restaurants, lots of shopping and the highlight – thousands of tailors! Other sights include the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple. We stayed at a great little hotel right on river called Long Life Riverside Hotel. All the rooms surround a big pool, and guests get free access to bikes (which became our primary mode of transportation during our 4 days in Hoi An).
We’d start our days with the hotel’s complimentary breakfasts, take long bike rides to the beach, hang out and make friends with the myriads of other backpackers in the area, grab lunch and a beer, and head back to the city for some street food & shopping.
Shopping here was INSANE. One could spend every waking hour at a different tailor in the charming little town and STILL not get to half of them. Both my husband and I got some custom clothing make (although in hindsight, I wish I had more made as its such a great deal). The process for bespoke clothing is quite simple – get lured into the store by a charming salesperson, look at some fabrics and patterns (or bring samples of the styles you want replicated), they take your measurements and a 50% deposit, and off you go. Come back a few hours later for a fitting and then pick it up the next day (or even sooner depending on your timeframe – we learned that anything is possible after I got a custom pair of sandals made in 30 minutes). All in all, this place is a shopper’s paradise!!
The other thing we loved about Hoi An was the food scene – it boasts some of the best street food in Vietnam – and we seemed to find it all (note: eating street food in a foreign city is not for the faint of heart. I am generally a lot queasier than my husband, who’ll eat just about anything. However, even I couldn’t resist the smells and tastes of this food – no matter what the state of the vendor’s refrigeration or sanitation). We also did a cooking class (Morning Glory – much recommended), and strolled through the town market many times, checking out all the diverse vegetables, the noodle makers, the fisherman’s catch, and the sights and smells of the butcher (that are not always so great if you ask me!)