One of the great things about living in Singapore is how easy it is to travel the region. If you have been thinking about taking a trip to Vietnam, delay no more! Here the Expat Living team and some of our readers reflect on their experiences in Vietnam to give you some ideas and inspiration for your next holiday.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh City
Traveller: Melinda Murphy, American
Get ready for the onslaught – seriously. A couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, will leave you on full sensory overload. You’ll leave feeling like it’s a miracle you didn’t get run over by one of the millions of scooters. I’ll never forget seeing a family of four on the back of one, the mother breastfeeding her infant as they drove down the street. You’ll also take away a real appreciation for the culture of Vietnam. The stunning architecture is a reflection of the country’s French heritage, whereas the food is decidedly – and fabulously – Vietnamese.
This was the first trip in Asia with my mother-in-law who has since passed away so it holds a special place in my heart. I’ll always remember how delighted she was when she rolled a perfect spring roll and learned to make a flower out of a chilli for the banana flower salad at the Saigon Cooking Class. The class started with a tour of the local market where we learned to carefully choose ingredients.
We were all mesmerised by the eye-popping A O Show, the Vietnamese version of Cirque Du Soleil held at the breathtaking Saigon Opera House. Just wow.
The exhibits at the War Remnants Museum still haunt me. There is a special section devoted to the war journalists who covered the conflict. As an American journalist, the very graphic images left me speechless. Leave your kids outside to gawk at the military equipment.
Visiting Phu Quoc
Traveller: Kathryn Becker, American
We’ve just come back from Phu Quoc – my husband was there on business, so I joined him for a few days. We stayed at the Novotel Phu Quoc Resort, about 15 minutes from town. It’s part of a larger tourist area, so things are still opening up and being built. Construction noise was our biggest complaint, but it wasn’t as noisy at Truong Beach near the hotel. The beach was clean and the water clear.
It truly is an upcoming tourist destination. There are waterfalls and hiking trails, but we didn’t do any this trip due to my husband’s schedule. We did spend one night at the Duong Dong Night Market, had a good dinner and enjoyed some shopping. Note that if you’re only going to Phu Quoc and not to other parts of Vietnam, no visa is needed.
Traveller: Jo Patman, British
I stayed in the Royal Riverside Hoi An Hotel – about a 10-minute walk into town. The hotel was clean with good-sized bathrooms, including a bath and a separate shower. From my room, I could see the river, which was lovely, especially in the late afternoon. The breakfast buffet was good and the pool was small but nice; it didn’t seem to get that much sun, though, so if you were hoping for a bit of sunbathing, you mightn’t be in luck.
We loved wandering the little lanes of shops and crafts. Strolling through the markets was interesting too, including the night market across the river – more for the atmosphere than buying anything, in our case. For food, we were recommended to go to Banh Mi Phuong by a friend – it gets great reviews on TripAdvisor. It was so good that we went back twice (and we were only there for two days!). Also, find a tailor and have something made. I got a few new dresses made; they fit perfectly and I can’t wait to wear them.
Walking through the streets at night was magical. All the lanterns were just beautiful – so many shapes, colours and sizes.
Visiting Halong Bay
Traveller: Anu Rudra, American
We did a short trip of Hanoi and a Halong Bay cruise a couple of years ago. Based on good friends’ recommendations, we got a great car with a driver and guide through Ciao Asia Travel. Our kids have certain food allergies and our guide was careful to choose foods and restaurants that suited our needs.
Hanoi was remarkable – busy and congested in parts, but rich in history and shopping opportunities. The variety of Vietnam handicrafts is mind-blowing. The Halong Bay cruise was a highlight. We took the Dragon Legend along Bai Tu Long Bay, one of the more untouched areas in the east of the bay. The unique rock formations and serene waters were magnificent, as was the food. We also visited Thien Canh Son cave and enjoyed a two-hour boat ride along the Trang An river. At night, the kids fished for baby squid – fun and squeamish at the same time.
The cabins were perfect – we had two adjoining rooms as a family of four with two kids. Breakfast on the cruise was filling and satisfying – you could have Vietnamese pho or a Westernstyle breakfast of eggs, toast and the works. Our kids made some friends on the cruise as well. I highly recommend it for families!
Traveller: Amy Brook-Partridge, British
Having never visited Vietnam, we decided to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in Hanoi. Our first night was spent in the Old Quarters, in a boutique hotel called La Beauté de Hanoi. It was right in the action, clean, comfortable, with lovely hints of French architecture. We had a cheap and cheerful Vietnamese dinner at New Day, and cocktails at Avalon Café Lounge’s rooftop bar.
Next, we stayed at the five-star Apricot Hotel, across from Hoan Kiem Lake. The concierge recommended Porte D’Annam restaurant and we were impressed with the food and price. We also visited Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, going early to avoid the crowds. Dress modestly – no shorts, tank tops or hats – and be prepared to walk at a slow and steady pace past the “body”. There is also House No. 54, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked, plus his house on stilts and, of course, the presidential palace.
Our final stay was at the amazing Hotel Metropole Hanoi. We upgraded to a suite, which gave us access to the Club Lounge. The hotel offers a free Path of History tour of the hotel, including visiting the property’s bomb shelter. The Metropole is steeped in history and class; I wish we’d stayed for at least another night – but that just means we have to go back!
Visiting Ho Pa
Traveller: Leanda Rathmell, British Filipina
To celebrate our anniversary in March, we ventured to the picturesque mountains of Sa Pa, 350km from Hanoi and close to the Chinese border. The journey and eight-hour overnight train were all part of the fun. After sharing a bottle of Vietnamese wine with our roomies, we cosied up into our fourberth cabin beds and let the melodic clatter of the tracks lull us into sleep. At 5am, we were awoken by coffee and crisp 15-degrees spring air.
Following the overwhelming reviews online, we booked into the Topas Ecolodge. Sat atop two cone-formed hills and surrounded by rice terraces, valleys and the towering peaks of the Hoang Lien Mountains, the property boasts truly breathtaking views from any given spot – including our bed!
Our days were spent trekking the neighbouring areas that are dotted with ethnic tribes such as the Hmong, Giay and Tay and learning their ways of life, from agriculture to textile production. The treks range from a half-day hike to villages and waterfalls, to overnight excursions and tackling Indochina’s highest peak, Fansipan (3,134m). Whichever you opt for, there’s no better feeling than dipping your aching muscles in the heated infinity pool back at the lodge afterwards!
Like this? Read more about Vietnam and other destinations in our Travel section!
This article first appeared in the June 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!