Vietnam Travel Guide
From the minute you depart the airport, first-time visitors to Hanoi will immediately feel the buzz of the city, specifically in the form of motor bikes and traffic patterns unlike anything seen or permitted in North America. While it takes a few minutes to get used to, this travel writer personally grew to love this aspect of the city, the endless stream of traffic that flows thanks to the lack of traffic signals.
Take a look at the photos. I mean really look at them. It might look like everything is at a stand-still, but trust in the fact that all the vehicles you see are in motion, each massaging their way and taking the shortest distance between their two points of travel. Cars. Motor bikes. Pedestrians. Bicycles. You even have motor bikes going between traffic in the wrong direction. The signs that do exist are pretty much ignored, and intersections become a game of chicken as parties approach from all directions. If you could only hear the horns.
When it comes to food and drink, Hanoi has it all going on. We already told you about how it boasts some of the world’s cheapest beer, and you’ll no doubt find it a good way to wash down all the excellent food found throughout the city. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food vendors are where it’s at in the Old Quarter, serving their own takes on the country’s cultural dishes. As you make your way through Hanoi, try a few different versions of these traditional treats:
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Halong Bay, or the "Bay of Descending Dragons," is about a three-hour car ride to the east of Hanoi, known for its remarkable scenery of 2,000 islands that rise up from its waters. There are literally hundreds of boats willing to take tourists out for a sail, some for the day and others overnight.
It is very important that you do your research before going, as there is a good chance you will end up disappointed if you show up and wing it. You can ask around amongst fellow travelers in Hanoi, or simply use TripAdvisor to see what others have experienced. Many tourists complain of paying too much for very little, and so you want to go with a reputable company. We sailed on the Emeraude, which our sis HotelChatter will dish on next week.
All the more reason to plan ahead is that many companies will transport you to and from Hanoi as part of the package. Although a day trip from Hanoi is doable, we recommend an overnight boat to maximize your time on the water and take in the different hours of daylight (plus, a six-hour roundtrip is a long way to go for a half day sail).
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Besides some of the cheapest beer in the world, visitors to Hanoi will find the city to be rich in history, specifically as it relates to America and the Vietnam War. There is much to see and to learn almost forty years since the end of the war, and trips to the National Museum of History and the Military History Museum are a good place to start.
But if you want to get a taste of what day-to-day life was like for locals during the 70s, a trip to Huu Tiep Lake should be on the itinerary. In 1972, as America bombed the city, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber was shot down and crashed into a small lake. It still rests there today, just poking above the surface.
It's more of a pond than a lake, and what surprised us most was its location in a colorful, intimate little neighborhood in west Hanoi. Half of it is sticking out above the water, revealing the top of the tires and a look at some of the damaged undercarriage. It's just been left there, untouched.
If the thought of a puppet brings dark, creepy images to the forefront of your brain, a visit to Hanoi's infamous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater might be just the thing to set your mind free of such stereotypes.
A staple of Northern Vietnam, the traditional performance hails from the lifestyle of 11th century Red River Delta country farmers, who would use water puppets to entertain each other when the rice fields were flooded. The story told today recreates that world, giving a glimpse into the rice-farming lifestyle with scenes entitled “Fishing,” “Agricultural Work," "Catching Frogs," and "Chasing the Fox That Tries to Catch Ducks."
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Typical Vietnamese cafe found throughout the city of Hanoi
The present value of the Vietnamese Dong will have visitors who explore the country’s capital quickly realizing that everything is extremely affordable for carriers of foreign currency. Luckily, this also includes the price you pay to kick back with a few cold ones.
In a recent study on the cost of beer around the world, Vietnam was number two on the list with an average price of 59 cents. And given that temperatures during the summer in Hanoi are in the mid-90s with maxed out humidity, beer is the drink of choice when it comes to cooling off (you'll want to stay far, far away from red wine or whiskey during the day unless you’ve got the a/c blasting full force).
Americans visiting Vietnam need a visa to enter the country, and there are two ways you can go about obtaining one. The most basic is to get one before you leave American soil by sending your passport and application off to the Vietnam Embassy in the States, but that process can take two weeks while at the same time putting your passport at risk of getting lost in the mail.
The other option is to get a visa on arrival, but it's not as simple as just showing up. While you technically receive it upon arrival, you need to have a letter of written approval in hand. We tested out this process on our recent journey, and found it to be the easiest process and much less stress than mailing off our passport.
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We come across some downright awesome airline amenity kits in our travels, and the surprises of each zippered pouch can often make or break comfort on a premium flight. With this in mind, here's to our new series: Inside the Amenity Kit, wherein we unzip, unwrap, and expose the loot inside:
A few months ago, we reviewed our experience on Vietnam Airlines international business class service. While we were left pleasantly surprised, not to mention utterly and completely stuffed with delicious food, we overlooked one quirk of the entire experience.
Our flight was an overnight from Ho Chi Minh City to Melbourne that featured two meal services, the first of which was a proper dinner service with cocktails and petit-fours. The second was breakfast right before landing on the red-eye.
Perhaps it was the years of waving the French flag, or maybe it's the need to be mentally prepared to face the hectic traffic, but whatever the reason, Vietnam loves its coffee. And, if you've ever sampled the super-sweet and milky Vietnamese style of coffee, you know what a treat it can be. Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the morning beverage in the country.
On a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, we were told by numerous people to check out Trung Nguyen Coffee, a home-grown coffee shop found in numerous neighborhoods. While we aren't always keen on the idea of hitting up a chain shop, Trung Nguyen is a far departure from your typical Starbucks. Here, coffee is a serious matter with plenty of variety and unique blends.
Welcome to "What Everyone's Buying," a new series on souvenirs, wherein we investigate what tourist trinkets are the hottest selling in hotspots around the world.
When walking around any Southeast Asian metropolis, you'll notice how markets play a major role in tourist attractions and offer anything from prepared food to t-shirts and fresh fare and trinkets. Ho Chi Minh City is no different with the city's Chợ Bến Thành Market serving as the most popular center for finding some unique souvenirs. As expected, the streets around the market have become a mecca for sidewalk shopping as well.
One thing that continually caught our eye were tables of colorful greeting cards that could be mistaken for pieces of art with their 3-dimensional scenes. Multiple vendors are peddling these cards as an artistic alternative to the traditional postcard.
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As you can probably tell from our slew of stories on Ho Chi Minh City, we recently traveled to Vietnam. One of the many ways to fly into the country, and the way in which we arrived, is via the green-blue hued planes of the national airline, Vietnam Airlines. Our route had us hopping on at Melbourne to fly nonstop to Ho Chi Minh City and we booked Business Class for a vacation treat.
At first, we considered using the 8.5-hour flight to relax and perhaps nap before what would be a two-week adventure in Southeast Asia, but the airline had a better idea; the flight crew fed us until we were stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Here's a breakdown of what we loved and what we could have done without: