Someone loves it. Someone swears to not to come again. There is nothing in between. I am with the first group. From the first day on in Saigon, a hectic city, and I turned into a side street. We are about to introduce you to a new series where we tell you about interesting places in the city and the country. First of all, let’s talk some important facts about the country.
Initially, I intended to stay about three weeks in January in the country. Eventually, however, I returned to spend there almost entire March. I travelled across the country from south to the north. There I rode a bike, met many locals and foreigners who live there and once again I saw the stark contrast between tourist resorts and non-tourist places, be it even side streets. And in small villages the difference was even bigger. You cannot expect anything different if you travel with a group of tourists to be nothing else than exploited for money. Well, it is hardly any different than in Europe.
There is also large contrast between the north and the south of Vietnam. It is technically same country but there is great rivalry between the south and the north and both are different from one another both culturally and economically. I don’t want to spill too much details about the Vietnam War but the south never did want to join the north. Similar situation was in August 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Only in Vietnam, the Russians and Americans played their role.
Why travel to Vietnam?
There are countless reasons. In the first line are nature, mountains, beaches, world-famous food. Places like Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Da Lat or Nha Trang are on every the list of every traveller intending to visit the country. Who don’t know about the famous beef noodles soup Pho Bo, spring rolls, or Bahn Mi baguettes?
However, Vietnam surprised us with rich, diverse culture. People are very friendly and true. Just get away from the main road and let your nose guide you. Smell of food brings you to many locals. Vietnamese easily compete with the French regarding their gourmet tastes.
Where to go?
Be careful about this – many consider Vietnam another Thailand. However, it can snow in the north. Two thirds of the northern part of the country are really cold from November till March. So don’t travel to Vietnam in winter. Best part of the year is September till November.
How to get into the country?
From Europe, you can take a flight only with one transfer with Emirates, Quatar Airways, or Etihad Airways. However, it is better to travel to Bangkok or Hong Kong with traditional airlines. Once there buy a ticket with a low costs to Ho Chi Min city or Hanoi.
Comfortable night trains or night buses can take you to the inland. There are regular flights to larger cities either with Jetstar Pacific or VietJet Air. Sometimes they are fabulously cheap.
Where to live?
Vietnam offers a lot of hotels of all price strata. Even the cheapest hotels in the south are clean enough. For 10 dollars a night you can even get breakfast. Of course, you pay extra for comfort. The prices are still far lower than in Europe. Usually, before confirming a registration it is a habit in Vietnam to see the room and bargain the price. Therefore, it is better to arrange your accommodation after you arrive at your destination (apart from tourist places).
What about the food?
Many are afraid to eat on the street in Asia. They rather go to expensive restaurants. Don’t worry. Vietnamese “streetfood” is excellent. If locals eat at street food stands, the food is 100% safe. The usual causes of digestive problems– the food is usually not fresh.
Be sure to try Pho Bo, any rolling – a type of spring rolls–Bahn Mi baguettes, Hanoi pork Bun Cha, Mi Quang shrimp noodles popular and, indeed” all types of seafood.
Go to Vietnam. Do not be influenced by stereotypes and let’s be surprised. We show you several places where to go. Yet it is up to everybody what they want experience in a particular party. In Vietnam as well!
Da Nang (a city almost in the geographic center of Vietnam) is largely unknown. Which is unfortunate. An average tourist usually passes by there in a taxi on his way from the airport to his favorite Hoi An hotel…. I spent three weeks in Da Nang. And the city got on the list of my favorite places in Southeast Asia (right next to Chiang Mai). In Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson called the old road to Hue as the “abandoned fragment of perfection.” I absolutely agree.
As much as I hate to travel by bus, I would repeat the ride from Nha Trang and Da Lat. The former is the city of two hundred thousand. It is the most popular spot to spend honeymoon at in Vietnam. It is situated at 1500 meters in the Central Highlands. You can enjoy a number of great views while on the road. And it gets even better on bike …
Omnipresent honking, grandmas pulling bikes with flowers, Vietnamese sitting on small chairs, food, bikes, wires, bikes, French cafes, bikes with food, bikes with chairs, bike transporting part of another bike… Welcome to Hanoi! It is a city crazy beyond believe. You either love it or you hate it eternally.
Upon an hour of waiting for a visa I was free to explore the capital of the country I really looked forward to exploring. First of all, I somehow let a cab driver to make a 300 crown rip off. Sometimes things like this happen. But honestly – this happens in Prague as well. Aboard the airplane I could see streets where millions of bikes stream in all directions. And “down” here the traffic is even more crazy. If I compare Ho Chi Minh city to Bangkok, a city of comparable size, in the former there are much less traffic jams. One must add that there is no subway, or rail that would go above the ground. It seems that high taxes on car is working.
In the evening we arrive at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). We are already busy only to lodge for a quick dinner in the busy streets of this largest Vietnamese city and sleep. The next day a very exciting war trip is waiting for us - we go to the Cu Chi tunnels.
After a tough night-train trip, we arrive early in the morning to Da Nang City, where we do not stay very much. First we head to perhaps the most beautiful Vietnamese city - the Hoi An lantern, from which we go for a trip to the Marble Mountains, Vietnamese Ngũ Hành Sơn.
When visiting south Vietnam, go to the Mekong river delta. The river originates in China and runs across five countries. It is however in Vietnam where it enters the sea. The area lures in tourists who may experience boat rides here, a floating market, or see interesting life of the locals on the riverbank. Its brown color is not appealing for locals use it to their everyday activities – washing, cleaning etc. There are no dangerous animals in the river so you can swim in it.
Phu Quoc is the name of the largest Vietnamese island situated in the Gulf of Thailand close to Cambodia. Islands in the Gulf of Thailand are beautiful this one is no difference. The island is mere 50 kilometers long (from north to south). In the north the island is wide and it narrows down towards the south. Majority of the island is covered in green but this will not be the case in the future. The island features beautiful sand and palms. Who would love this?
Do you think which destination is the right one for you? Where is something interesting and unusual? Where you can find beautiful landscape, excellent cuisine, and pleasant locals? Well, I know where to go. My favorite place is... Vietnam and I will try to convince you in the next few articles that even for you this is the right choice.
We imagined the visit to the lake as relaxing time after quite a busy day. The reality was seriously different from our expectations. I have remembered the first impression until today. With my daughter and son, we dodged through the local traffic and it was not really easy. The flood of motorcycles was not to stop. We naively thought that someone might slow down or even stop. Don't expect that. Just walk to the other end of the road. And be brave.
The very first day in Asia went very quickly, and in the evening we moved to a cozy family hotel. The environment is friendly, staff gives advice with a smile, they recommend you meals, trips, help with transportation or you can buy the fruit you want. At least first, before you get by, you will certainly appreciate the help.
One day trip to the Bach Ma National Park, approximately 40 kilometers from Hue, was one of our best days in Vietnam. The park was founded in 1991 and its name means a white horse. It covers an area of 220 square kilometers.
Nha Trang is practically the most famous tourist resort in Vietnam, not so much for some landmarks, this coastal city of Khanh Hoa province is famous for its seven kilometers long sandy beach with adjacent islands. The city of approximately 392,000 inhabitants and this number is growing steadily.
Today we are about to enjoy our last amazing trip in Vietnam, we originally intended to visit the Ba Vi National Park, but for time constraints we had to change our program because we need to reserve at least two days for this park. So we had a hotel counseling and planned a trip to a place that was not even mentioned in our book guide, although it is very popular for tourists (even for local people). Today, we go to visit the largest Vietnamese pagoda Bai Dinh and then explore the beautiful complex Trang An.
We reached Hanoi (Hà Nội in Vietnamese) by train, again. Friends had been waiting for us at the train station already. Hospitable as they were they took us on their bikes to their place. Founded in the 11th century, Hanoi’s original name was Thăng Long – Soaring Dragon. The legend says the emperor saw a dragon soaring at this place so he founded the city there.
When someone in Prague says “Sapa” everybody recalls the famous marketplace in Prague. However, once you dig into where the name originates you soon find the mysterious area of Sa Pa in Vietnam’s northwest (near the borderline with China).
In the region of Sa Pa, northwestern Vietnam, the best means of transport is a bike. You don’t have to worry about missing your bus, of taxi not coming, or that your taxi cab driver would be someone who drives illegally. Therefore, we rented us a bike in Sa Pa. It cost only a few crowns. Then we planned our trip.
I have always longed to see a large desert with sand dunes. However, neither in Europe nor in Southeast Asia (the places where I spend most of my time) is one. Once I first saw pictures of Mui Ne, Vietnam I knew for sure that I want to go there. Okay, it is not a desert per se but sand dunes there are huge.
The end of my stay in Vietnam was neigh. There was one more place to see, a must-see place. The Caodaistic temple. Caodaismus (Đạo Cao Đài) is a young, syncretic religion established by a bureaucrat from South Vietnam in the 1920s.
Every time I have the feeling I know something more about something I come to realization which tells me the opposite. I spent one year of studying and travelling in China. Bit arrogantly I had felt Asia couldn’t surprise me much more. Fortunately, I hadn’t boarded a plane to the Czech Republic, instead I boarded a plane to Vietnam.
On the following day we set off to Hoi An (Hội An . It was during the daylight and also it didn’t rain. The sun was pleasantly shining and warm. We reached the historical center by foot and were ready for some great sightseeing (even the one in the night had its atmosphere).
Even though the title suggest some offensive connotations we were did not intend to disgrace royal tombs as if we were in an action movie. A rented bike, however, solved our problems. The tombs around Hue are scattered along vast area. Before relying on public transportation it is better to pay couple of crowns to rent a bike.