The most delicious soups for two dollars, quality (and I mean, quality) backpacker accommodations for less than 10 dollars, and affordable transport options to get to your next destination.
Vietnam is easily one of the cheapest places in the world to travel in. For what little amount you pay, you get rewarded with a lot of things: stunning natural scenery, electric urban landscapes and, I cannot stress this enough, the tastiest food you will ever find anywhere.
So here’s my take. If ever you travel to Vietnam (and you should), here are the five places I suggest you have in your Vietnam itinerary. Easy to remember. Just think of the five H’s.
The peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter of Hanoi
Begin in the cultural and administrative capital of Vietnam: Hanoi. Hanoi is a full-fledged city but it has an old soul. That’s easy to see in the city centre: the Old Quarter. Here, streets are narrow and made even narrower by the street-side vendors and numerous parked motorbikes. Houses still have that quaint, old-world colonial French vibe. At the centre of the district, you will find placid Hoan Kiem Lake and the 18th-century Jade Mountain Temple along its northern banks. At night time, catch a water puppet theatre performance to experience traditional Hanoi performance art.
As spectacular as they come. A sunset in Halong Bay.
After a couple of days in the city, it’s time to see Vietnam’s top tourist attraction: Halong Bay. I highly recommend spending at least a night aboard a Halong Bay junk (a boat). Many tour companies in Hanoi can offer this and make sure you go with a reliable and safe one. Halong Bay is about a four-hour drive from the city, and as soon as you approach the coast, you will instantly see limestone karst towers jutting out from the sea. An hour into the bay aboard a junk and you will find yourself completely surrounded by these towers. If you’re lucky like us, you get treated to a spectacular sunset, too.
Entrances to the grand Purple Forbidden Palace in Hue’s Imperial Citadel
As you begin to go down to the central part of Vietnam, you will find Hue. That’s pronounced ho-way, mind you. What’s here? Just the grandest and most impressive imperial structures you will find in the country. Hue is the capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty. On the northern side of the Perfume River are the grounds of the vast, relatively peaceful Imperial Citadel. Inside the citadel are a number of grand structures like the Purple Forbidden Palace (fashioned, they say, in the style of Beijing’s Forbidden Palace). Head to the outskirts of Hue, too, in order to see the eerie but nonetheless grand Tombs of the Emperors.
4. Hoi An
Peaceful, pretty and laidback. That’s Hoi An for you.
From Hue’s grand imperial structures, you can head to Hoi An to see Vietnam’s quaint and quiet provincial side. Hoi An is the home of a UNESCO World Heritage ancient town. The old part of town is quite intact and well-preserved. Narrow streets are flanked on both sides by small, yellow shop houses with terra cotta roofs. The focal point of it all is the very colourful Japanese Bridge. Hoi An is also the origin of delicacies such as the very delicate shrimp dumpling, aptly called white rose, and cao lau rice noodles, said to be made special by the water which can only come from the local well.
5. Ho Chi Minh
Motorbikes are the king of the streets in Ho Chi Minh. And this isn’t even rush hour.
Finally, as you find yourself in the fertile Mekong Delta, join in the chaos of the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. Motorbikes rule this city making for an exciting and energising atmosphere like no other, especially during the evening rush hour. Though it can be sombre, learning about the dark period that is the Vietnam War and its effects are one of the best things you can do here. Definitely check out the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum and, outside of town, the Cu Chi Tunnels.
There you have them, Vietnam’s fantasy five. Of course, there are other travel destinations in Vietnam that are worth checking out: mountainous areas like Sapa and Dalat or coastal cities like Mui Ne and Nha Trang. But with the fantasy five—the five H’s, you’ve already got some of the best travel experiences in Vietnam covered.