My month in Vietnam flew by. Gone. Poof. Done. While I continue to travel the globe, my days pass by quickly and effortlessly as I’m consumed by the wonders and sites of the world. Next thing you know, another month down. See ya, Vietnam. (The eagle has since landed in Cambodia.)
Over the course of these four weeks, I had the pleasure of engaging in sensational activities and adventures both in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), my hub for the month, as well as other Vietnam cities. Below is a list of my fifteen favorite finds to check out as you move about the Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay
1. Book a seaplane excursion with Hai Au Aviation.
Planning a trip to Ha Long Bay? Make your trip quick and seamless with a 45-minute scenic flight. Take in the astonishing views and jade green waters of the bay while enjoying the comfort of a quiet flight with a top-notch flight crew. It doesn’t get much better than this!
2. Cruise Ha Long Bay with Ha Binh Cruises.
Get a closer look at local living and exceptional sites including the Ba Hang fishing villages, Thien Cung Cave, Fighting Cock Islet and Titov Island to name a few. Ha Binh Cruises offers many options to fit the duration of your visit, everything from a half day adventure to three-night stay cruises. Their staff is exceptionally delightful and accommodating.
3. Haul it to Hanoi.
Okay, just kidding. Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a speedy two-hour flight from HCMC. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find a plethora of sites you’ll want to visit including the Temple of Literature, Hỏa Lò Prison, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Quán Thánh Temple. Or, fuel up your morning with a Vietnamese coffee (they are the best) and take a stroll around beautiful Hoàn Kiếm Lake to people watch. There is a lot of activity surrounding the lake. Don’t expect a dull atmosphere here. Make sure to book your stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, which boasts unique French colonial architecture, foodie gems and the best night markets city.
4. Peek at the Trấn Quốc Pagoda
This pagoda, in particular, was one of my favorite sites in Hanoi. So much so that it deserved a standalone call out. Trấn Quốc was built between 544-548 and is the oldest Buddist temple in all of Vietnam. The Pagoda sits next to West Lake and serves as a tranquil backdrop, especially during sunrise and sunset.
5. Customize your clothes.
Looking for something that’s totally you and fits just right? Hoi An is well known for its skillful tailors and seamstresses who can replicate clothing from a picture and have your garment ready within 24-48 hours. The average cost per garment generally ranges from $50-$100 but is oh so worth it. Clothes couture anyone? (Better yet…ladies, these hot studs are up for grabs!)
Ho Chi Minh City
6. Love local music.
Experience the sounds of the city in local theaters and music venues. This one, in particular, Phuong Bao Music, is an enchanting experience for all to enjoy.
7. See Ho Chi Minh City Hall.
Built from 1902-1908 and most picturesque at night, this historic landmark is one of the best pieces of architecture the city offers. In front of the hall, you’ll see a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself, founder of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930 and the League for the Independence of Vietnam.
8. Walk the War Remnants Museum.
This museum is not for the faint of heart and does contain lots of graphic images and content, but is an important part of the past. It contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists. Expect to reflect, feel and ride the waves of emotion as you move through the destruction of modern warfare.
9. Bargain in the Ben Thanh Market.
Located in District 1, this market is one of the earliest surviving structures in HCMC. Bob and weave the endless aisles of colorful products including jewelry, food, fabric, crafts and souvenirs. Don’t be fooled by any fixed price signs. They are a key indicator of a good negotiation waiting to take place.
10. Sign, seal and deliver at Saigon Central Post Office.
Still fully operating today, this 19th century Gothic, Renaissance and French influence constructed post office is a destination for both tourists and locals alike. Buy, write and send postcards right on site. Want to write a letter in Vietnamese? Visit Mr. Duong Van Ngo, the 85-year-old gentleman sitting near a sign reading “Information and Writing Assistance.” Mr. Ngo, the last letter writer in HCMC, has worked at the post office since the age of 17 as a public letter-writer, translating across a handful of different languages and closing a communication gap. (If you do visit Vietnam, take the time to have a brief conversation with Mr. Ngo. I did and found him, and our conversation, to be quite entertaining. Well worth your time.)
11. Eat at Pizza 4P’s.
Generally, I wouldn’t have included something as common as “eat pizza” in my list of best things about Vietnam. But…this pizza place unexpectedly rocked my world. With homemade cheese, fresh ingredients and handmade woodfire grills, you can’t go wrong. And did I mention cheese plates?! You know that one love that you can’t get out of your mind? Yep. This is was mine for Vietnam. Visit. Love. Repeat.
12. Revisit the skyline on a rooftop.
Everything looks different when you’re looking at it from a different angle. That also includes skylines. Grab a cocktail and enjoy the evening sunset as you take in the colorful city lights from up above.
13. Day Trip to Mekong Delta.
West of HCMC you’ll find the Mekong Delta, also known as the “rice bowl of Vietnam.” Mekong Delta is the premier rice-producing producing region of the country and is booming with floating markets and other excursions to partake in such as boat cruising through canals, catching catfish and listening to local music.
All of Vietnam Favorites
14. Eat Pho.
Actually, eat everything. Vietnamese food is amazing, especially pho. Other traditional Vietnamese favorites of mine included: Banh Mi (baguette sandwich), Gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), Cà Phê Dá (iced coffee), Bánh Xèo (hearty stuffed pancake) and Bun Cha (grilled and marinated meat in a rich broth with noodles). And then, of course, there’s the out of the comfort zone stuff. When in doubt, don’t ask, just eat. Looking for authentic Vietnamese recipes to make at home? Check out this month’s A Girl’s Gotta Eat Guide to Vietnam!
15. Uncover the city Uber Moto style.
I will admit, it took me almost two weeks to brave the bikes. Once I did, it was fantastic. Talk about a $0.50 thrill ride, not to mention being able to zip from one end of town to the other in half the time of a car ride.
Well, that’s a month two wrap! Almost. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming second edition of “A Girl’s Gotta Eat” with all the best food finds from Vietnam.
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