Vietnam: Same Same But Diffferent.

To cap off 2015, I’ve decided to blog about my recent travels to Vietnam.  I was fortunate enough to travel with some of my closest girlfriend and explore such an amazing country for 2 weeks.  Even though I had traveled to parts of SE Asia before, I was pleasantly surprised how ‘same same but different’ Vietnam was, even within each city from north to south.

We only had 2 weeks in Vietnam, so before leaving we planned out what cities we would travel to and booked all of our flights & hotels.  We also co-ordinated with our hotels to get taxi pick ups from the airport, but for the most part booked day tours with our hotels when we arrived in each city.  To get between each city we switched between using bus shuttles, taxis, and flights.  While doing our research prior to the the trip we had read that the trains were a bit sketchy and not the cleanest, so we opted out of this transportation mode.  We did though try a sleeper bus from Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh which was super safe and cheap ($5 US)!  Although I might not recommend it for overnight travel.  Below is a map of our 2 week travel and some recommendations of things to do and eat!  One thing to mention which caught us by surprise is that Vietnam is still a Communist country, so majority of business and bars closed at 12 midnight.  We did find a couple places open past midnight, but other than that streets were extremely dead.

2 Week itinerary:
Toronto <–> Soeul <–> Hanoi  [Flight]
3 days: Hanoi <–> Sapa [Sapa Express Shuttle Bus – 4 hours each way]
1 day: Hanoi
2 days: Hanoi –> Ha Long Bay [Shuttle Bus via cruise we booked – 4 hours]
3 days: Ha Long Bay –> Da Nang –> Hoi An [Flight to Da Nang – 1 hour; Taxi to Hoi An – 0.5 hour]
3 days: Hoi An –> Da Nang –> Ho Chi Minh –> Mui Ne [Taxi to Da Nang – 1/2 hour, Flight to Ho Chi Minh – 1 hour, Taxi to Mui Ne – 4.5 hours]
1 day: Mui Ne –> Ho Chi Minh [Sleeper Bus – 5 hours]

Vietnam Map

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Sa Pa:
Amazing small town in the mountains.  Beware of local ladies who will swarm you when you arrive in the town to make you buy stuff.
[TO DO]: Definitely go on a hike to see the rice patties, but be warned it will be treacherous!  The local ladies had to hold our hands and help us through the 5 hour hike.
[TO EAT]: We didn’t find 1 specific restaurant we loved, but make sure to grab a coconut bun from one of the local bakeries and enjoy a Vietnam coffee with some condense milk.  Most of our hotels had free breakfast and we made sure to capitalize having a bowl of Pho to start off the day.

Hanoi:
Stay in the Old Quarters as it is walking distance to the major tourist attractions.
[TO DO]: We also did a motor bike food tour, it was a great way to see the city and try new local foods, with Bun Cha being one of my new favourite finds!  Egg coffee is also a must try in Vietnam.  Make sure to find some time and get a quick manicure or pedicure, as they were amazingly cheap at only $8 USD for both services!
[TO EAT]: Visit Tong Duy Tan street (aka Food Street), as it stays open late for food!  Also check out Bia Hoi Corner (aka Beer Corner) where you can pull up a little plastic stool and order some beer and late night snacks.

Ha Long Bay:
[TO DO]: You only need 2 or 3 days in Ha Long Bay and the way to go is doing a boat cruise.  Unfortunately we had rainy weather the whole time, but we still ended up kayaking and enjoying exploring the caves.
[TO EAT]: Most cruises include food along with the booking and a shuttle from Hanoi.

Hoi An:
Probably one of the top cities we visited!  If I had more time I would’ve loved to stay here a couple more days.
[TO DO]:  Shopping!!!  This town is known for custom tailored clothing.  We heard that A Dong Silk was a good quality place to go, so we headed there first to get something made.  The price was more expensive $130 USD for a full suit, or the wool vest that I got, but still a steal relative to prices back home.  You need at least 2 days, as we went in for 3 fittings to make sure the clothes were exactly what we wanted.  Super cool experience getting to pick out everything from the lining inside to the buttons and fabric material.  We also found other shops with long maxi dresses for $15 USD.  Make sure you also check out the lantern market at night and go on a day tour to My Son temples.
[TO EAT]: Definitely grab a Banh Mi Sandwich – we went to Madam Khanh which had great reviews online and boy did it not disappoint!  1 sandwich is under $1 USD.  You can really see the French influence on the cuisine, with baguettes and pate being a staple in Banh Mi Sandiwches.  We were also adventurous and tried their local dish Cao Lầu.  There are tonnes of local food shops by the lantern market and while you’re shopping make sure to stop by the fresh market to grab some fresh exotic fruit.

Mui Ne:
Resort town to relax in and catch some sun while checking out some sandunes.
[TO DO]:  We were extremely happy to get amazing weather (+35 degrees) and some colour to our bodies.  There was also a spa at our hotel that offered 2.5 hours of services for just $45 USD.  Make sure to go on a tour to check out the sandunes.  We only ordered a driver to take us at 5 am in the morning to check out the sunrise, as the sandunes get too hot to walk on even by 8 am!!

Ho Chi Minh:
I was surprised how modern Ho Chi Minh was compared to Hanoi.  
[TO DO]: We only had 1 day in Ho Chi Minh so we opted to check out the War Remnants Museum.  Great place to learn some history about the Vietnam War and the effects it causes on the country of Vietnam.  If you love shopping make sure to check out Binh Tay market.  It has everything from bed sheets to fake purses and clothes.  Make sure to counter their first offer price by 1/4, you’ll likely land at 1/3 of their original price.  Also if you bundle buying more at one stall you usually can get a better offer too!

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