Vietnam – Tell me what YOU want to know.

When Monsieur and I travelled through Vietnam some time back, this fascinating country and its people had such a profound effect on me that I haven’t yet blogged about it. Every time I think of our journey, my mind fills with such a kaleidoscope of vistas and tastes and people and experiences that it overwhelms. But now, sixteen months later, I’m going to try to share our experiences.

To start with, here’s a synopsis of how we did it. We didn’t see everything that we wanted to see, because Vietnam is a big place with troublesome roads and slow trains and we only had two weeks within which to learn how to cross the roads and explore as much of the country as possible. The upshot of that is that there’s plenty to keep us busy when we go back one day. And we will go back one day. If I could wangle it, I’d go back right this minute.

GETTING THERE AND BACK:

Monsieur and I flew on Eva Air from London to Bangkok because direct flights from London to Vietnam are exorbitant and this way we’d both save money and see a little bit of Thailand. It’s significantly cheaper for UK residents to fly to Bangkok and then hop across to Vietnam on one of the region’s low cost airlines. In our case we flew Air Asia from Bangkok to Hanoi, and from Ho Chi Minh City back to Bangkok. Air Asia is cheap and efficient, but the baggage allowance is a meagre 15 kilos. Going out, this wasn’t a problem and my packed suitcase only weighed 10 kilos, which is somewhat of an achievement for this girl scout who likes to be prepared for all eventualities. Quite naturally, as we travelled about, Monsieur and I picked up more baggage weight in the form of clothes and gifts for family and friends, so that by the time we left Vietnam, our baggage excess was such that we had to pay a hefty $125 US dollars. The way we looked at it this was that once added to the cost of the flights themselves it just made the flights feel more regular in price as opposed to a real bargain. You have been warned.

Internally we flew Vietnam Airlines, which we found to be pretty good. We later found out that they have a terrible reputation but that wasn’t our experience at all. Had we had more time, we would have liked to try the train that travels up and down Vietnam, but unfortunately the journey times were too long to be practical for us.

So here’s what we got up to. It would be great if you pick out something that you’d like to hear about, leave it in the comments and I’ll write it up for you.

THE ITINERARY

Day 1 – Arrive in Bangkok. Stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Swim off the travel grime and enjoy lovely buffet at the hotel.

Day 2 – Breakfast by the river. Hire a driver to take us around Bangkok for 5 hours for the equivalent of a 15 minute cab ride in London. We manage to take in the Golden Buddha, the Grand Palace and a vibrant weekend market before returning to the hotel. Cocktails at the Sirocco Bar with fantastic views over Bangkok and dinner at the Blue Elephant.

Day 3 – Fly to Hanoi. Have fun with immigration officials and ATMs at Hanoi airport. Stay at the beautiful Sofitel Metropole Hotel. Learn to cross streets without being mown down by a tidal wave of mopeds. Walk to old town via Hoan Kiem Lake. Visit Ngoc Son temple. Circle the lake. Dinner at the Spices Garden restaurant at the hotel.

Day 4 – Take tour to Halong Bay. Long day. Epic ingests an entire dish of MSG. By herself. And suffers the consequences. 

Day 5 – Walk around Hanoi. Visit Temple of Literature, Hanoi Hilton. Just about evaporate in the heat and humidity.

Day 6 – Fly to Danang. Pass China Beach on way to Hoi An. Stay at Ha An Hotel. Lunch at Banana Leaf. Do walking tour of Old Town – temples, Japanese Bridge, a ‘real’ Vietnamese home etc. Visit Yaly tailors. Dinner at Mango Rooms.

Day 7 – Fitting at Yaly then a lazy day at nearby Cua Dai Beach. Lunch at the beach. Dinner at Brothers Café.

Day 8 – Fly to Nha Trang. Stay at Six Senses resort. Laze around at the beach and in the pool. Dinner and DVDs in our room. We need to slow down for a couple of days, and so we do just that.

Day 9 – All meals taken at the hotel. The much-needed chilling-out period after so much travelling helps a lot so we spend another day at the beach.

Day 10 – Travel by road to Dalat. Looks close on map. Takes hours each way. Visit our driver’s family shrine, rest stop in village, see Dalat train station, Prenn Falls. See coffee/ tapioca/sugar cane plantations. Afternoon at Dalat Palace Golf Club. Interesting drive back to Nha Trang with our fascinating driver. Much of our conversation is taken up by what Vietnamese eat, which is just about everything.

Day 11 – Another day chilling out. Vietnamese coffee rocks. We watch Vietnamese musicians at dinner. We also have a sunburn relief massage with fresh aloe vera. I’d never had a massage before. What total decadence!

Day 12 – Fly to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay at Majestic Hotel on Dong Khoi. It rains buckets. Visit the post office, haggle with street vendors, give thanks for safe travels at Notre Dame Cathedral. Walk to Reunification Palace. Dinner at M Bar with great views over river. That river is a floating highway, even at night.

Day 13 – take tour out of HCMC. Visit Cu Chi Tunnels and My Tho on the Mekong Delta. Boat ride to Ben Tre for lunch. Coconut candy factory, snakes and longboats. Cao Dai Temple. Lacquerware factory visit. Dinner with Adam from Vietnam Travel Notes – we go to Bin Thanh Market together. REALLY good night!

Day 14 – last day in Vietnam. Shopping in town. Lunch at Lemongrass. Dong Khoi. Back to the airport. Long delay because of riots in Bangkok. Stay at The Peninsula Hotel.

Day 15 – Fly home with a head full of wonderful, colourful memories of Vietnam.  

+16 months – Epic finally gets around to blogging about it.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Annie says:

    This would be interesting to go Vietnam after reading this 🙂

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    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Annie – thanks for visiting! Vietnam has me hooked. There is a huge amount of interest and beauty wherever you go. And the seafood is wonderful.

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  2. Nicolaï says:

    Vietnam is my top 3 places to go, but haven’t been yet.

    I’m wondering about French in Vietnam. My Dad recently said it’s widely spoken there, and I said no, I think only very old people know how to speak it.

    Apart from people who engage tourists for their jobs (they’re not representative), what’s the level of spoken French in Vietnam?

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    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Nicolai, you’re right – French tends to be spoken mainly by the older generation nowadays. Although at different times we were greeted in a curious Vietnamese franglais by younger people – I think they might see Western faces and want to cover all the possible bases, but if Monsieur or I responded in French, they couldn’t continue, so French when used by the younger generation tends only to be for greetings. There is still a French-language newspaper in Vietnam but the visible French influences tend to be more in the areas of food and drink (they make fantastic baguettes and coffee) and remnants of colonial architecture with French influences. There’s a bridge in Hanoi which was designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. It was damaged during the American War but France is now helping to restore it. In Ho Chi Minh City the central post office is another Eiffel work and across the street the Cathedral is called Notre Dame. There is still a small population of Roman Catholic Vietnamese – this is also a direct result of the French having been there for so long. Apart from those bits and pieces, Vietnam is really just itself and English is the language of the moment.

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  3. razzbuffnik says:

    I can’t believe it’s so long since you went to Vietnam.

    Glad you liked liked it. I also loved it and I’d go back again. If you ever do go back, I’d suggest going to Sapa (if it not totally ruined by then) and Halong Bay.

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  4. epicurienne says:

    Hey Razz –

    yes Sapa sounds fascinating, especially with all the different indigenous groups in that reason. Even if we’d had time to visit Sapa on our trip, we wouldn’t have been able to. Sadly, there had been devastating floods just a couple of weeks before our visit and people and their homes were literally washed away. So sad. I’ll still put it on the list for next time, though! Just don’t tell my Mum. She panics every time I get on a plane.
    Re: Halong Bay – we did go there. We decided to take a day trip, which was exhausting because of the journey time from Hanoi, but well worthwhile. Those islands with all the junks – like walking into a postcard. Or should I say FLOATING into a postcard?

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  5. Brian says:

    Vietnam is certainly a fascinating location retaining myriad attractive spots in in its kitty that magnetizes the explorers and travelers every moment. However fortunately, my dream to touch this virgin destination was fulfilled by my tour planners in January 2009 when. I was really amazed to see the superlative hospitality services and incredible tourists attraction that one can enjoy being in Vietnam. I really recommend Vietnam to all the hardcore travelers who’re constantly in pursuit of eccentric destinations

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  6. gorgeoux says:

    You did a lot in two weeks! Much more than we did in five weeks across two trips… Looking forward to read your take on Vietnamese food 🙂

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    1. epicurienne says:

      Hi Gorgeoux, thank you for your comment! Yes, we did loads in two weeks. Too much probably. But it did help us to learn which parts of this wonderful country we’d like to see more of, so yes, we are planning another trip to Vietnam in the next year or two. It really got under my skin.

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