Vietnam is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia featuring beaches, rivers, farms, temples, and bustling large cities. I recently took a family trip to Vietnam and spent 10 days traveling from north to south, with stops in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Danang, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, and the Mekong Delta. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable international trips I’ve ever taken, which is no small feat having visited 23 countries now. The welcoming people, mouth watering food, and activity-packed cities, made this a country that Julia, Owen, and I fell in love with instantly. Here are 10 reasons why I think you’ll fall in love with Vietnam, too!
1. The People. Especially Their Love Of Children!
The people we met in Vietnam are what we remember most fondly and talk about the most now that we’re home. Everyone we met was so kind and hospitable.
Before embarking on our flight from LAX to Hanoi, we did a lot of research on what it would be like traveling to Vietnam with a toddler. Every blog that I read mentioned how much the Vietnamese love children. They weren’t kidding! Owen was treated like a little prince at every stop of our journey. The wait staff at restaurants were so nice that we had a difficult time getting Owen to focus and eat. They all wanted to hold him!
Local craft shops were always warm and welcoming, and had no issues with us brining a toddler around to see what they were selling. One of our favorites was a wood working shop in Hoi An.
While touring Hanoi, we stumbled upon a college graduation ceremony. They had balloons for all of the graduates, and Owen just had to have one. Luckily, one of the ladies holding the balloons happily obliged him.
We partnered with Odynovo Tours for this trip, and they provided us with amazing local guides and drivers. Below is our guide from Saigon, Tino. He was such a knowledgable and professional guide, and also very accommodating for a family with a 17-month old.
2. The Incredible Food
Julia and I don’t eat out much at home, but when we do, our rule is that it has to be something we couldn’t have prepared on our own. Vietnamese food is one of our favorites at home here in California, so we were very excited to have 10 days of some of our favorite cuisine.
When most people hear’ Vietnamese food’, their mind first jumps to Phở, a soup with herbs, meat, and bánh phở rice noodles. I loved eating so much phở, but I also really enjoyed the use of lemongrass with the chicken and pork dishes. In Saigon, we got to eat a little more seafood, especially during our visit to the Mekong Delta.
Breakfast was probably my favorite meal of the day, which is largely because of the Vietnamese coffee. Vietnamese coffee is strong and bold with hints of dark chocolate. I drink my coffee black, and would put down a few cups every morning before starting our day.
Vietnam is well know for the quality and availability of street food. You’ll want to be a little careful here though, as food born illness can occur from vendor stands without proper sanitation and/or food turnover.
3. The Scooters And Street Life
The first thing we noticed when arriving in Hanoi was the number of scooters and motorbikes on the road. Here in California they make up a very small percentage of vehicles traffic. In Vietnam, they far outnumber the cars. Motorbikes fill every street, and you’ll even see babies and toddlers riding the bikes with their parents.
Traffic laws exist in Vietnam, but in most places they seem to be largely ignored. There are very few crosswalks, and stop lights are viewed more like a suggestion, and not a rule. At first we found this slightly overwhelming, but quickly adjusted. When crossing a street, just move slowly and predictably. The scooters and cars will adjust to you like a school of fish moving around an obstacle.
In Hanoi and Hoi An, you can get around the cities by way of a rickshaw. Being on a front facing rickshaw in the middle of Hanoi’s traffic jams was quite the experience!
4. The Crafts And Markets
Many Western companies have manufacturing factories in Vietnam to take advantage of the cheap labor. Because of this access to so many Western goods and electronics, Vietnam is the perfect place to find “knock-off” goods from just about any company. Salomon shoes, North Face backpacks and jackets, Coach purses, Mont Blanc pens, Brietling watches…you name it, a vendor probably has it. One of the largest shopping areas for knock-offs in Hanoi can be found in the Old Quarter.
There are also a lot of hand made crafts and unique items to be found in Vietnam. The wood working, jewelry, and clothing tailors were some of the most impressive.
Saigon has a large indoor market with stalls and stands selling everything under the sun. There is also a large food court area and a dedicated Street Food Market just up the street.
5. The Quaint Town Of Hội An
Of all of the places we visited in Vietnam, Hội An possessed the most charm. Hội An is a small town that preserves the look and feel of a South East Asian trading port from centuries past, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most well known feature of Hội An is the prominence of lanterns throughout the town.
6. The Mỹ Sơn Temple Ruins
Just outside of Hội An, we visited the Mỹ Sơn temple ruins. Mỹ Sơn was a series of Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the Champa. Mỹ Sơn is also a UNESCO world heritage site and is starting to be revered in the same way travelers view temples like Angkor Wat.
7. The Bustling Hồ Chí Minh City (Saigon)
As we made our way to the south of Vietnam we visited Hồ Chí Minh City, which the locals still call Saigon. Hồ Chí Minh City is the the most populous city in all of Vietnam with some 10 million people. Hồ Chí Minh felt like the most modern of all of the places we visited in Vietnam.
We visited the Independence Palace, which was the headquarters of the US military during the Vietnam War.
Hồ Chí Minh City has a very large Chinatown called Cholon. We visited a temple here and walked around the local market.
8. The Breathtaking Mekong Delta
Not far from Hồ Chí Minh City is the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is an amazing area to visit, and one that I wish we would have spent more time exploring. One of the highlights of this trip was a river boat ride along one of the delta’s many tributaries.
We also enjoyed our stops at a bee farm for tea, candied, ginger, and honey. We followed up that stop at a place where we got to hear some traditional Vietnamese music.
One of my favorite stops was at a coconut candy factory, where just about everything in the manufacturing process is still done by hand.
At the end of our visit to the coconut candy factory our guide, Tino, introduced me to a rice wine that was made with fermenting snakes. The shot of rice wine went down smoother than I thought it would!
9. The Capital City Of Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populous city with 7.7 million people. One of the most iconic spots in Hanoi is the large concrete structure of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is the final resting place of Vietnam’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh.
In the middle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter you’ll find Hoan Kiem Lake with the iconic Turtle Tower and Huc Bridge. This was one of my favorite spots to see at night.
No visit to Vietnam is complete without taking in a water puppet show. Water puppet shows date back to the 11th century in Northern Vietnam, and Hanoi is the perfect place to see one.
One Pillar Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located in Hanoi that is regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. The temple was built in the 11th century by then emperor, Lý Thái Tông.
10. The Beautiful Halong Bay
My 10th and final reason I think you’ll love Vietnam is the beautiful Halong Bay. Halong Bay is an iconic UNESCO World Heritage site that’s famous for it’s countless limestone pillars jutting up and out of the Bai Tu Long Bay. We were unfortunately plagued by rain and thick fog on our visit, but it was still a memorable and beautiful cruise from what we could see. We did an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, which really let us relax and enjoy the sites.
We hiked to the top of Ti Top Island on our second day at Halong Bay. The views from up top were spectacular despite the bad weather.
We also paid a visit to the Sung Sot Cave, a massive two-chamber grotto that allows visitors to explore Halong Bay underground.
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