Vietnam was the 5th country of my 5-months travel through South East Asia and Australia with my girlfriend. We spent two weeks here. Even though I got stressed out by most of the locals only seeing walking dollar signs in the tourists, Vietnam has some amazing cities and landscapes to explore. And it’s very cheap still.
In this photo journey I lead you from the very south of Vietnam along the highlights up to the north to Hanoi and the Halong Bay.
Ho-Chi-Minh-City is the biggest city of Vietnam and was, known as Saigon, capital of the country until 1975. It received its new name in 1976 after the reunification of Vietnam after the war in honor of the most promininent Vietnamese communist. The city lies in the south directy above the Mekong Delta.
Every evening the streets of Ho-Chi-Minh-City are packed with seemingly endless masses of motor bikes. No wonder: Vietnam has the highest density of motor bikes per person in the world.
Scooter is love, Scooter is life. Everywhere in Ho-Chi-Minh-City you can watch people taking a break in the otherwise bustling city, on their porches, their small plastic chairs or on one of their motor bikes.
The Cathedrale Notre-Dame was built between 1877 and 1883 and is one of the most important colonial buildings of Vietnam.
The main post office was built unter the French colonial rule in 1886-1891 by Gustave Eiffel, builder of the Eiffel Tower.
The area in the southern tip of Vietnam is called the Mekong Delta. Here the Mekong, branched into countless creeks, flows into the sea after its 4350 km to 4909 km long journey.
It’s easy to organise tours into the Mekong Delta from Ho-Chi-Minh-City. There are one day as well as multiple day tours. You can also book transfer to Cambodia after the tour.
These boats, which sell fruits and coffee/tea to tourists and merchants, are a typical sight on the Cai-Rang Floating Market, the biggest of its kind in the Mekong Delta. They are often run by mothers with their children.
Everywhere around the Mekong life is bustling. Apart from the villages which have formed along the river many people are living in their boats on the Mekong. The result is an own fascinating world with the big river at the centre of it.
In the low south west of Vietnam on the border to Cambodia the Phuoc Dien Tu Temple was built into the Sam Mountain.
Starting from Ho-Chi-Minh-City the usual travel route runs north along the ocean. Normally the next stop is Nha Trang, one of the top tourist destinations in Vietnam. To escape the masses of tourists you can travel a little bit further north to Qui Nhon, where the beach is equally fantastic but where almost only Vietnamese tourists come.
The biggest highlight in Qui Nhon for me were the people, which were the friendliest I encountered in Vietnam. I think that’s mostly due to the fewer foreign tourists so the locals are not all about the money and you’re not only the cash cow to be milked.
The best way to get to know Qui Nhon and its countless temples and archeological sites is to rent a scooter or a bicycle.
Like for example the Long Kanh Pagoda, which was erected in 1715 and restored in 1957. Or the Thap Doi Towers, remains of the Champa-Kingdom, which had its centre in the region around Qui Nhon from the 11th to the 14th century.
Approximatly in the middle of Vietnam lies the enchanting village Hoi An. The old town was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Even though the tourism flourishes here like almost in no other place in Vietnam it’s one of its must sees. The architecture, its location and especially the atmosphere make it a unique place. What’s more, the street food is fantastic.
Hoi An is famous for its markets. Apart from all the fruits and vegetables you can get cheap custom-made clothes.
Lust-4-Life-Highlight: Mỹ Sơn
My Son lies about 50 kilometres away from Hoi An and is easily reached with the motor bike.
My Son is one the most important archealogical remains of the Champa and was the site for religious ceremonies and the burial site of the Champa kings for almost 1000 years, from the 4th to the 14th century. On the site there are more than 70 temples, buried in the landscape of central Vietnam.
If you travel further north you come to the old city of emperors Huế, which was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. While the new city is rather unattractive the old town with the Citadel and many more sights is so much more attractive.
The Citadel of Huế from the19th century encloses the emperors palace, which was built after the model of the Forbidden City in Beijing. One of the most impressive places in Vietnam.
Yet again you should rent a bike, to visit the many pagodas of Huế, some of which lie on the fringes of the city. The most famous of them is the Thien Mu-Pagoda, the highest pagoda of Vietnam. It is situated directly on the Perfume River in the west of Huế.
Another highlight, also reachable with the bike, are the different Emperor Tombs of Huế a bit outside the city.
Lust-4-Life-Highlight: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park may lie a little bit off the route to Hanoi but you shouldn’t miss it. There are many treks leading through the landscape of central Vietnam, apart from the caves.
The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is famous for its stalactite caves, which belong to the biggest in the world (the biggest cave can also be found here, but it is not open for visitors).
The capital of Vietnam and the oldest still existing city of South East Asia. In the course of its long history, which began with the building of the Thăng Long-Citadel in 1010, Hanoi was capital time and time again but was just as often captured by invaders.
During the Vietnam War, or the American War as it is called in Vietnam, Hanoi was the capital of North Vietnam and accordingly under the control of the communists. Between 1966 and 1972 Hanoi was repeatedly bombed by the USA, by which 25 % of the city was destroyed. In 1975 Ho-Chi-Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi and the city was named capital the next year.
The close road network which is the old city of Hanoi is called The 36 Streets, one street for every profession, from shoemaker to cook.
Hanoi is known for its lakes in the middle of the city. Best known is the Hoan-Kiem-Lake with the red bridge, which leads to a temple in the middle of the lake.
The World Nature Heritage Site Halong Bay in the north east of Vietnam belongs to the most famous landscapes of South East Asia. The karst limestone formations break through the surface of the water in an area of about 1500 km².
Tours are easily organised from Hanoi. There are different alternatives, from 1-day to multiple day tours, with accomodation on the boat or one of the islands.
Instead of just doing a 1-day trip to the Halong Bay you should book transport to the Cat-Ba-Bay, an extension of the more famous bay, which differs only slightly. From here you can explore the bay on your own in a kayak, since here the small islands have beaches where you can take rests. If you want bring some rum.