Vietnam: a hidden gem

Posted In: Travel

For those of you getting married or those already married you will know that picking a honeymoon destination can be one of the most difficult parts of the planning. So when it came to picking ours we spent hours googling ideas, destinations and boutique hotels.

We only had a few key criteria – somewhere neither of us had been before, somewhere we could learn about a new culture and somewhere we could combine travelling with a little luxury. I was thinking India, Abu Dhabi, maybe China, so when Joss suggested Vietnam I was a little surprised. I didn’t know much about Vietnam and hadn’t even considered it as a holiday destination, let alone a honeymoon trip.

But the more we looked into it, the more appealing it became. It seemed to have culture, food, beautiful scenery and enough history to please Joss, so we decided to book it as the bulk part of our trip. We travelled from the North to the South, stopping for a little bit of luxury in Da Nang –  making it more of a flashpacker trip than a backpacker trip – and ended our journey in the historic city of Saigon.

First stop – Halong Bay

This beautiful natural wonder made me feel like I was on the set of Avatar. With over 2000 islands protruding from the turquoise waters, a cruise on the serene waters of Halong Bay is not something to be missed. We stayed on a traditional junk boat with a company called Paradise Cruises – there are hundreds of cruise companies so be sure to do your research – and the team on board were second to none. We actually spent New Year’s Eve on the boat and dined on a traditional Vietnamese meal whilst dressed in the local attire. 

You can choose from a variety of activities whilst sailing the islands. Whether you are into kayaking through mystery caves, hiking to the top of Ti Top Island where you can take in the romantic vistas from 100 metres above sea level or spending time inside one of Halong Bay’s most famous caves, you won’t be disappointed by this beautiful location.

The bay also has a lovely little mythical story attached to it. The name Halong Bay literally translated means “Bay of Descending Dragons” and the story goes that The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons to help the Vietnamese people fight invaders. They spat fire and jewels at the invaders which turned into beautiful islands in the emerald waters and after helping them to win, the Dragons settled here on earth in Halong Bay.

Next stop – Hanoi

Hanoi was one of the most interesting cities we visited on our trip with an eclectic mix of East Asian vibes with a western feel. Once we learned how to cross the road and when to avoid the endless supply of mopeds that ride up onto the pavement, we began to love the buzz that hums through the busy streets. By day we made our way to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the nickname given to the prison that housed the American prisoners of war among others, and although an unpleasant realisation of what many Vietnamese people went through, it was certainly a visit I am glad we made. We also visited a variety of temples whilst in the city which was an amazing experience if you are eager to learn about new traditions, cultures and beliefs. 

Hanoi is also a city that is just as beautiful at night as it is by day. At night we walked around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, people watching and eating ice cream, visited a traditional water puppet show and explored the stunning buildings in the french quarter. We also ditched our shoes to grab a seat and feast on Hanoi’s best fried spring rolls at Bun Cha Ta – we ate a lot of spring rolls over the three weeks and these were by far the best!

Stop three – Da Nang

Da Nang was our little bit of luxury as we stayed at the Intercontinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort. I had never seen anything quite like it with gorgeous dark wood, panoramic views and ornate furniture, with all suites and villas separated into Heaven, Sky, Earth and Beach. We were also lucky enough during our stay to eat at La Maison 1888, the only restaurant in Vietnam to host a three michelin star chef. The restaurant was also listed in the top 10 of the World’s Best New Restaurants 2016 by CNN.

But back to Da Nang as a location. As we stayed on the Monkey Mountains, every morning we woke up to beautiful beaches, rolling mountains, breathtaking scenery and very cheeky monkeys (that trashed our balcony at 6:30am every day!) It is a truly stunning part of Vietnam. Da Nang itself is really popular with tourists for its long, golden beaches and array of bars, not to mention Da Nang’s famous Dragon Bridge that lights up and breathes fire at 9pm every evening. It is also worth taking a trip up to the 67m high Lady Buddha statue on the edge of the Monkey Mountains where the scenery becomes even more peaceful.

Next up – Hoi An

Hoi An was probably one my favourite places of the whole trip (and we were only there for one day!) The beauty of the old town was so memorable and possibly one of the most atmospheric places I may have visited in a long time. We took a day trip out from Da Nang and wandered through the old town that is most famous for its variety of tailors and jewellers. The river separating the two sides of the town is also a great spot for a short boat ride or to spend a moment people watching and taking in the atmosphere.

One thing we weren’t lucky enough to see during our time in Hoi An was the full beauty of the Hoi An lunar lantern festival. For the Vietnamese, the night of the full moon is prime time to pay respects to ancestors by making offerings and lighting lanterns to promote in luck and prosperity. By night the town closes off to vehicles and electric lights, instead swapping street lamps for lanterns lining the streets and the river. I was absolutely gutted we missed this.

Quick little tip: You have to buy a ticket at the entrance at the old town in order to gain access to all the main sights and temples. However if you just want to look around, shop and eat you do not need to purchase a ticket even though they may insist that you do.

Last stop – Ho Chi Minh City

This famous city, otherwise and frequently known as Saigon, was the most fun packed place we stayed. We were only in Ho Chi Minh City on a whistle stop tour – 2 nights and really just one full day – so we filled it to the brim. After a dramatic entrance (tip – make sure you do your research on Vietnamese Visas before you try to re-enter the country!) we headed to our hotel. Quick call to room service, some sleep and we were up ready for our moped tour of the town.

It is fair to say that I was pretty nervous about getting on the back of a moped in Vietnam (with 7.5million mopeds and no highway code you can guess why) but I can honestly say it was one of the best things I have done in my life. I loved every second. Our guides were two lovely Vietnamese girls and they made me feel at ease straight away, we weaved in and out of the main tourist attractions and even stopped at a drive through juice bar to grab some local sugar cane juice (it was delicious) and they dropped us right back at our hotel when the day was over.

And if you have some extra time it is worth visiting the Cu Chi tunnels. The site is quite a distance from central Ho Chi Minh City itself but it is full of history and the tunnel system (and its size) is just fascinating. You can also try your hand at shooting here – that was an experience.

Overall I couldn’t recommend Vietnam as a holiday destination enough. The Vietnamese people were kind, accommodating and very friendly; the food was delicious and everywhere we went we learnt something new. It was a hidden gem that I am so glad we found and got to explore.

People and places we would recommend

Paradise Cruises – Bun Cha Ta – Intercontinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort 

XO Tours – Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

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