Incase you didn’t know, I’m currently doing a bit of travelling with my boyfriend and that would probably explain the holiday inspired posts and videos that I’ve been churning out recently. It’s only right that I blog about my travel too as I did with my trip to Indonesia earlier this year. However, instead of a travel diary, I thought I’d highlight the key places to visit and things to do in each country. My first destination is Vietnam, the birthplace of my parents. Without further ado…
Phu Quoc is the largest Island in Vietnam and probably the newest tourist destination that we were to explore in Vietnam. We flew with Viet Jet Air (their equivalent to UK’s Easy Jet/Ryan Air) from Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) to the island which took about an hour. I thought it might be worth noting that we paid for extra baggage at 20kg each but we still managed to exceed it by a couple of kilos. The fee for allowing us to keep the extra weight was minimal, just over £2 so it would be far less to pay the fee rather than chucking things out. Enough about that though. If you’re after peace and quiet, a full-on relaxed break then this is the place to be. Compared to the other places we visited in Vietnam, this was by far the quietest and most chilled of them all. The Island is relatively underdeveloped where you can expect to come across lots of unmade roads and dirt tracks, numerous areas under construction and (relatively) unspoilt beaches.
We stayed at a resort about a 30-minute drive from the town centre of Duong Dong, on the west coast of the island where resorts were far and few between. If you’re in that area then may I suggest checking out the Mango Bay resort. I’m not sure about the rooms or the rates but if the restaurant and service is anything to go by then this is going to be a safe bet. In all honesty, if we hadn’t stumbled across this place, I think we may have well cut our stay on the island short.
Now, this isn’t any flash five-star resort but they know how to run the place. We dined at the Mango Bay restaurant for lunch and dinner after discovering the place on the third day of our stay. It was a short walk from our resort, around 10 minutes tops. The restaurant is run by a French guy and they also had a European head chef (I spied in the kitchen and he also led the cookery classes at the resort). This didn’t mean that the menu was western, but a western take on traditional Vietnamese dishes. Some dishes remained true to its origins like Pho and Bo Luc Lac, others were completely from the western side of the globe like tapas and pizza. There was variety in their menu with different specials daily. The staff there were attentive when they needed to be and they were kind enough to let us sit in peace (and even let us use their electrical points to charge our phones, laptops etc). The view from the restaurant was spectacular; a wide and long, uninterrupted view of the ocean. Also, the beach in front of the Mango Bay bar was so much nicer than the beach we were on as there were no works being done. The sand was smooth and powdery whilst the water was clean and clear and warm!
If you’re into sampling the authentic Vietnamese street food then you may want to hop into a cab into town (that’s if you’re not already staying anywhere near the town). It’s a lot busier in the town with street food vendors at every corner you turn. We even ventured to the night market there where they cook freshly caught fish and shellfish right then and there for you. However, if you want fine dining then you’ll be a little stuck for choice. There are lots of small restaurants/cafes where you see mostly locals having dinner and a beer but only a few places catered for tourists. However, during our stay, there weren’t that many tourists around so restaurants were pretty much empty.
Nha Trang is a different kettle of fish compared to Phu Quoc. We stayed in Tran Phu Street amongst the hustle and bustle of both locals and tourists. Lots more tourists! The street where we stayed is pretty much a ‘strip’ made up of many hotel chains, restaurants, cafes, shops and bars so you are literally spoilt for choice. The area was quite easy to navigate although crossing the road is a challenge, but after a while, you get used to it and adopt the mentality ‘they will slow down for us’ when setting foot on to the road (famous last words).
The beach is set alongside Tran Phu street and gets extremely busy in the late afternoon/early evening with local kids playing football bare-footed in the sand and adults embracing the our-door gym facilities next to it. If you’re going to be venturing to Nha Trang, which has become a bit of a haven for Russian tourists since there is now a direct flight from Russia to Nha Trang, then may I suggest checking the following if you need some food recommendations.
For cheap and cheerful sushi without compromising on quality or choice, head to Oh Sushi Bar! Had we not found this place on Trip Advisor, we would have literally walked right on by as it’s not particularly aesthetically pleasing to the eye from the outside. But you’ve heard of the term ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ and never has it been more appropriate than when describing this little gem of a find.
If you’re after a place with a view of the beach then head no further than The Sailing Club. The bar is on the actual beach whilst the restaurant is set up right in front of it. Confusingly, the restaurant has three menus; the ‘Sandals’ menu which serves up international dishes, the ‘Ganesh’ menu for your fix of Indian Cuisine and the ‘Sen’ menu which caters for those who want straight up Vietnamese food. Reasonably priced by Vietnamese standards, the food is good that we dined here twice.
For those who are after somewhere quieter and a little romantic i.e. away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and crowded beach, then look no further than the Ana Mandara restaurant homed in the Evason resort. You can choose to have dinner in the restaurant or right on the beach. I decided to opt for an uninspiring non-authentic Vietnamese dish otherwise known as Spaghetti Bolognese but it wasn’t just any bolognese. It was boar meat bolognese and quite frankly the best bolognese I’ve ever had. EVER! Funny that who would have thought eh? My boyfriend enjoyed a large steak and I quote him ‘up there in my top five steaks’. Need I say more?
The words I would use to describe Hoi An is ‘cute’ and ‘quaint’ because that is exactly what it is. We stayed a 15-minute drive from what is known as the ‘old t15-minute ancient town’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port and most of the buildings are made exclusively out of wood and, of which the architecture is of traditional style dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a definite must see if you plan to visit the city and there you will find loads to do and see (there is a fee of 120K dong which is around £3.50 to enter but you can use it over a number of days if you plan on coming back) like the Thu Bon River and the Japanese Bridge as well as a plethora of restaurants and cafes to choose from. One of the places we dined at was called The Lantern Town which was a great find after exploring the town and deciding where to eat as we were spoilt for choice.
If you’re going to do a trip in Hoi An and are into history and ancient ruins then you may want to check out the temples of the My Son Sanctuary which is another UNESCO W.H.S. The temples date back to the 4th century and was the ‘religious and political capital’ of the Champa Kingdom. I was totally in awe of the remains which survived World War II and of which is currently being restored.
Halong Bay was the one place I was most excited to visit in Vietnam and yet another UNESCO W.H.S (who would have thought we’d visit 3 UNESCO W.H.S. within one country let alone one week). Now I understand the hype behind it. We had booked this trip before leaving for our travels and with lots of cruise companies to choose from, we finally settled for Indochina Junk. Out of the many ‘junks’ they had to choose from, this is where we decided to spend a little more and really make the most of our trip. We went for the private, single room boat called the Princess 3 for our three day, two-night tour in Halong Bay. Luckily we were blessed with good weather for the first two days as it had been raining the few days prior to our trip and also on the second night of our trip, all through to the morning of the third day. That was fine with us as we didn’t have much planned on the last day but to relax and enjoy our journey back from Halong Bay.
The trip exceeded both our expectations and a big part of making it special was the service provided by Indochina Junk. The boat was better than we could have hoped. Although the room was a tight squeeze with our two hefty luggage, we did have a full-size double bed with ensuite shower and toilet. We had an area outside where we dined for breakfast and dinner as well as two sun loungers on the bottom deck if we wanted to stay out of the sun, and two on the top deck for a better view in the evening when the sun had gone down. The meals were included; lunch and dinner the first day, all three meals the second day and breakfast and early lunch on the last day. The food for me was hit and miss but there was a lot of it so there should be something to suit your tastes but be warned as there is a lot of it. They do actually ask you when booking and also check again prior to boarding whether you have any special dietary requirements so they can plan for your needs accordingly.
But getting back to the trip at hand, if you want to experience some of the most beautiful sites that Vietnam has to offer then Halong Bay is a must (even for me despite not being able to handle travelling by any transportation means other than by aeroplane too well nowadays, so make sure you come prepared with motion sickness tablets if you worry about not being able to stomach the trip). I think being on a smaller boat made it extra special as apparently, we were able to access some of the routes that the bigger boats couldn’t but that could have been a sales ploy for all we know (I’m forever the cynic). The timings at each stop-off point seemed to be perfect as there was absolutely no one else around as far as the eye could see.
On the first day, we kayaked around the huge limestone rocks and stopped off at a secluded beach where we got involved with picking up litter that had been washed ashore. Our tour guide even bought some Stone crabs (which were still alive and kicking!) from the fisherman we spotted upon our kayaking trip and we were invited to join him and the crew to dine on them (once cooked of course) with a few drinks before they served us dinner.
On the second day, we visited a fishing village to see how the local people there lived as well as visiting an oyster pearl farm (fascinating how pearls are made). In the afternoon, we were taken to another beach where they set up a BBQ with just us on the beach. Later that afternoon we went to explore the cave next to the beach which was pretty amazing although at times, a little claustrophobic (you have been warned!). What we loved most was the crew and how professional yet friendly and welcoming they were. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and informative and made sure that we were comfortable at all times. I did worry about being stuck on a boat with just us and the crew but they respected our privacy at all times so a lot of the time we were able to chill alone in the front or up the top deck.
Hanoi, the last stop of our Vietnam trip, was a pleasant surprise to us both. Being the capital city, I expected it to be a bit, or rather, very hectic with people and bicycles/motorbikes/scooters covering every square mile for as far as the eye can see. Whilst that was very much the case, Hanoi wasn’t as annoying as I thought it would be. Even though, with every step we took outside the hotel premises, I could literally see my life flashing right before me (being run over by a man on his moped, and his squadron of pigs in the back), we managed to get into the rhythm of it after a couple of days.
We stayed in the Old Quarter at the Splendid Star Suite hotel, not too far from the Hoan Kiem Lake, which we used as a reference point to navigate the around the area (which we only just got to grips with on our second full day there. Every turn you make takes you down a tiny back street which looks pretty much the same as the last; hotels/hostels, a line or two of motorbikes/mopeds and rows of Vietnam flags should you forget what country you are in!). The lake is big and somewhat unassuming, and a place that people; some alone; some together with friends and/or family, sit back to take a minute or two away from the chaos and carnage surrounding it. At night, there are colourful lights that light up the river making sure that it’s a sight not to be missed.
Being in the city, I thought things like food and drink would be more expensive but if anything, it’s the opposite. With so much on offer from restaurants and cafes to spas and convenience stores, the prices were competitive and we found some places ( like massage places and coffee shops) to be a lot cheaper in Hanoi compared to any of the other places we visited in Vietnam.
I would definitely recommend checking out the Essence Restaurant located in the Essence Hotel if you’re looking for a place for good authentic food at reasonable prices (I got the case of serious food envy when my boyfriend’s order of bamboo beef and steamed rice arrived even though my papaya and beef salad was delicious). Joma Bakery does the ‘best banana cake’ according to my boyfriend whilst their Mint Lemon Freeze was deliciously refreshing. If you fancy a coffee stop, check out Le Place Restaurant and grab a seat on the upstairs terrace for the perfect, up close and personal view of St Joseph’s Cathedral. For a pampering session there’s the Orchids Spa that we stumbled across on our first day there and I wished we had the time to go back there. A 2.5-hour package which includes an hour full body massage, an hour facial plus a mani and pedi, cost me 900k dong which is around £25. Bargain!
And there you have it. I hope this is useful to anyone planning to travel to Vietnam and I’d be happy to answer any questions regarding the trip should anyone want to know a little more. If not, I hope you’ve found this an enjoyable read. Next stop? Malaysia!