In 2002 I stopped in Thailand on my way to live in Australia for a year. I was so excited to be starting my independent travels with such an awesome destination. However, after 10 days, most of which were spent being ill or made to feel very uncomfortable by Thai women about not being ‘little’, I changed my flights and left for Sydney earlier than planned. That experience led me to me spend the next ‘few’ years traveling elsewhere in the world. I pushed Asia down on my bucket list, knowing one day I would get there (it counts to have whole continents as one item on a bucket list right?) I have spent hours engrossed in blog posts and articles about Asia as a whole but specifically about Vietnam. I have enviously scrolled through hundreds and hundreds of images of beaches, temples, bays, mountains, rice fields and boats.
So when faced with the reality of having to leave South Africa for visa reasons and deciding where to go, Vietnam was a no brainer. Seeing as this is a pretty spontaneous trip, it helps that flights and expenses once there, are cheaper than other destinations.
While I am getting ready for this adventure, I need some distraction from the ever-present worry about coming back in to SA on a new visa and whether smiling sweetly at the immigration guys will be enough. What better way to fuel my wanderlust than to compile a Vietnam Bucket List? (read, I would like an excuse to reinstate my Kindle Unlimited account, download more Lonely Planet guides, ask around and generally procrastinate from doing any real work!)
I have asked some of my lovely friends at home as well as travel blogger pals to contribute with their top 3 things and photos too. Added to things and places I have read and dreamed about, it makes for a pretty awesome Vietnam Bucket List!
I managed to get a great deal on flights so myself and the boy (this will be his first time leaving South Africa…) will fly into Ho Chi Minh and out of Hanoi. Having read about plenty of awesome trips, our vague idea is to travel by scooter from one city to the other however I am not sure how feasible it really is (don’t panic yet Mum).
Hi Chi Minh City.
Formerly Saigon, this is an iconic city and for someone like me who loves the hustle and bustle of cities, it’s a must see (and we land there). One of my favourite things to do on a trip is to discover museums and HCMC seems to be home to a few. Katie from Katie’s Year Off recommends The War Remnant Museum in Ho Chi Minh city, describing a visit there as “brutal but necessary to understand the history around the civil war (aka the Vietnam war)”. (A different) Katie, Katie D, from On A Budget describes the same museum as “heartbreaking but really eye-opening.” She recommends going there in the afternoon, as I will likely be “emotionally drained afterwards.”
Close to HCMC, Vicki from Make Time To See The World suggests The Chu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh as a worthwhile visit, a network of connecting tunnels that make up part of the larger network that lie under much of the country.
Having seen endless pictures of these, the concept fascinates me and I cant wait to see them in ‘real life.’
Labeled the most cosmopolitan and civilized of the cities in Vietnam, this beautiful, picturesque UNESCO listed city apparently has it all; an ancient port, old town area, temples and is near to An Bang beach. If I’m not (or rather the boy isn’t) museumed out, Katie D described Hoi An as “a lot of stimulation packed into a small area. The colors, restaurants, markets, and volumes of people are quite impressive.” She suggests removing yourself from the bustle “by retreating to the beaches a few beautiful kilometers away; or renting a bike and taking it out to one of the little islands in the river.” It all sounds like perfection.
I love Vietnamese food. One of my favourite restaurants in Toronto was an apparently very authentic Vietnamese place, confusingly located in China Town. I picture myself eating fresh, healthy meals and taking a food class at some point too (I am not sure how transferable the skills will be when it comes to cooking in the caravan!). Vicki recommends Morning Glory Cooking School in Hoi An and getting clothes made while I am cooking! Katie recommends I “eat everything, specifically the street food in Hanoi and the egg coffee which can only be got in Hanoi.” Thanks, but I am not sure how I feel about egg in my coffee..
Another city, more museums to see: The Museum of Ethnology details the diverse ethnic groups that make up the Vietnamese population. Vicki thinks Hỏa Lò PrisonWar Remnant Museum (nicknamed The Hanoi Hilton by US POW), is a must see; focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence and housing 2000 prisoners in the 1930s.
I also can’t wait to explore the Hanoi old quarter, getting lost, people watching, taking in the street scenes, street food and stalls.
Darrell from Adoration 4 Adventure combines seeing and experiencing the city with another must do; the beer! He said in Hanoi “just walking down Beer Street is an experience itself. As you pass by bars and restaurants, the walking space becomes more and more narrow due to hundreds of tourist and locals are all sitting together on tiny plastic chairs. If close spaces aren’t your thing, you can walk through the street and then head a block over for more spacious seating.”
Vietnamese Bia Hoi is fresh draught beer, brewed daily with no additives or preservatives. It’s cheap and readily available – what’s not to appeal?
Get off the beaten track and meet the locals.
If you have been following my blog, know me and my ‘travel style,’ or are familiar with Global Handprints, you will know I love to meet the locals and really experience a new place. Darrell told me about a time when he was in Hanoi; “I met an incredible family who told me all the things I needed to see and even welcomed me into their home for an incredible meal, which included Pho, chicken feet, and many other delicious options.” Now, if that’s not getting to really learn about a country, I don’t know what is.
Thanks to everyone I have asked, you all mentioned Sapa! Located in the highlands with classic views of the tiered rice paddies shown in many images of Vietnam with trekking, and a great base for hiking and exploring traditional villages cant be missed. The area in the north, around Sapa, with historic battlefields and mountain passes, is apparently biking territory and dubbed ‘road trip of your life’. Given that we could well be on scooters, I am not sure if that terrifies or excites me.
This city used to be the capital where Nguyem Dynasty emperors sat. With a vast citadel, palaces, shrines, temples and tombs it sounds amazing. Right up my street and its apparently almost traffic free meaning it’s less daunting for the novice scooter rider amongst us.
Despite it being a top tourist attraction, I don’t think a visit to Vietnam is complete without an overnight cruise or kayaking through some of the 2,000 islands making up the World Heritage Site (link to article).
Darrell from Adoration 4 Adventure says “Ha Long Bay is truly unlike anywhere else I have experienced in the world. The best way to see the true beauty and why it is one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the world is to take an overnight cruise. My favorite part of my cruise was when I was able to solo kayak through a floating village on Christmas morning.”
Katie D said “The bay cruise is absolutely my favorite thing I did in Vietnam. I learned a lot, was fed really yummy Vietnamese food I might not have been able to try otherwise, and take in the gorgeous scenery of this geological wonder.”
I. Cant. Wait.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
With jungle crowned hills, rainforest, turquoise waters, traditional villages and caves including the cathedral like chambers in Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave
Phu Quoc Island
This island is apparently picture postcard perfection and what’s better than watching the sunset while sipping cocktails on a perfect beach? Nothing.
Con Dao Islands.
Previously homing political prisoners, the 15 islands and islets in the archipelago are now a prime diving spot where you can also see nesting sea turtles.
Ba Be National Park
Although other areas and National Parks have waterfalls and caves, this is the only place I have heard of people doing homestays with the Tay ethnic communities
A mud spa
I’m sure I will be spoilt for choice but if you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments!
Ethnic minority markets
I love a good market! Whether its food, bric-a-brac or arts and crafts. I have read that Bac Ha is the base to explore markets, people watch, drink local wine made from corn and absorb the traditions, colourful sights, hustle and bustle going on around you.
Centred on a lake and surrounded by waterfalls this is apparently the place to go both canyoning and abseiling down waterfalls. It is becoming known as the adventure sport hot spots so I am sure the boy will find plenty of things to throw himself off and down to stay entertained!
In addition to all these awesome suggestions for Vietnam, Katie D told me she regrets “not taking the boat along the Mekong from Vietnam into Cambodia.” Now Cambodia deserves it’s own Bucket List post!
Thanks to everyone who sent me their tips and must sees! You can follow these fab bloggers here: