9 Things to do in Vietnam

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) has French colonial landmarks, plus Vietnamese War history museums and the Củ Chi tunnels, used by Viet Cong soldiers. Here are a few ideas on some of the attractions or activities one can do in Vietnam.

1. Visit Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon

Boat ride to Cu Chi via Saigon river.
The easiest way to get to Cu Chi from HCMC is by a boat ride to avoid traffic.

2. Take a bike ride around Cu Chi

If the tenacious spirit of the Vietnamese can be symbolised by a place, few sites are more symbolic than Cu Chi. At first glance, there is scant evidence today of the fighting and bombing that convulsed Cu Chi during the war. To see what went on, you have to dig deeper – underground.

The tunnel network of Cu Chi became legendary during the 1960s for facilitating Viet Cong control of large rural area only 30km to 40km from HCMC. At its peak, the tunnel system stretched from the South Vietnamese capital to the Cambodian border; in the district of Cu Chi alone more than 250km of tunnels honeycomb the ground. The network, parts of which were several storeys deep, included countless trapdoors, constructed living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centres and kitchens.

Cu Chi has become a place of pilgrimage for Vietnamese school children and Communist Party cadres.

(This town really looks like my hometown, SelatPanjang, Riau, Indonesia. The houses and motorbikes. For a moment, I thought I was back in Selatpanjang until the kids started talking in Vietnamese).

Came across many rubber plantations along the trails – Vietnam is the fourth major producers of rubber in the world. However, prices of rubber has dropped significantly over the years due to decrease in demand especially from China. 
Food market in Cu Chi
How the Viet Cong entered the tunnels and concealed their paths – 
I did went in too and it’s not easy at all!

3. Do a multi-days cycling tour from Dalat to Hoi An

I did a cycling tour from Dalat to Hoi An, and have written a detailed post on my wonderful experiences of the multi-days cycling adventure here.

Last dinner with the team!
This is how you cheers in Vietnam!
Một hai ba yo! (One two three cheers!)
Vietnamese don’t normally drink alone. They do it in a group and when someone wants to drink, that person would cheers for something.

4. Explore Hoi An by bike and kayak

Have an exciting day cycling the countryside of Hoi An and paddling the Thu Bon river delta and explore the places that can be reached only from the water. I recommend joining this day tour with Grasshopper Adventures.

Traditional mat weavers family
Explored Hoi An from the water!
We paddled past water-coconut plantations, shrimp farms and little fishing hamlets. 
As soon as we saw this, we hit a bunch of bushes and were stuck. The water buffalo didn’t look impressed.

5. Cycle to My Son

The site of Vietnam’s most extensive Cham remains, My Son, enjoys an enchanting setting in a lush jungle valley, overlooked by Cat’s Tooth Mountain (Hon Quap). Sadly, the temples are in poor shape – only about 20 structures survive where at least 68 once stood – but the intimate nature of the site, surrounded by gurgling streams, is still enthralling.

My Son was once the most important intellectual and religious centre of the kingdom of Champa and may also have served as a burial place for Cham monarchs. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century by the French, who restored parts of the complex, but the American bombing later devastated the temples. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site today. The temples and towers of My Son were built by the Cham people, initially Hindu and later of Muslim faiths. The Cham Kingdom, once dominant in the region, was eventually conquered by the Vietnamese and Khmer. Descendants of the original tribes are now scattered throughout the region, mostly along inland waterways.

It is incredible that some of the structures still stand today after so many years of rain and heat! I was really impressed that the structures were precisely built when there were no tools or sorts in those days! It is so embarrassing that given the technology today, people still build low quality buildings.

I recommend joining this half day tour with Grasshopper Adventures.

On the way to My Son – It can’t get any greener and blueer than this!
My Son
Visited a local market in the town near My Son – they have everything here! From fresh fruits & veggies to seafood and even bra!

6. Visit Hanoi

Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, with a population of 7.58 million is the second largest city. Its streets surge with scooters vying for right of way amid the din of constantly blaring horns, and all around layers of history reveal periods of French and Chinese occupation – offering a glimpse into the resilience of ambitious, proud Hanoians.

The site where Hanoi stands today has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in AD 1010, naming it Thang Long (Ascending Dragon). The city was then named Hanoi by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831, from the words ‘Ha’ meaning ‘river’ and ‘Noi’ meaning ‘interior’, referring to its position alongside Song Hong (Red River).

Hanoians usually eat either this (Bahn Cuon) or Pho for breakfast.
Bahn Cuon is rice paper roll filled with mushroom and pork. Eaten with steamed pork at the side. 
The rice paper roll is then dipped into soup for consumption.
This looks a little bit like Hong Kong, isn’t it?
Old railway station in Hanoi – this railway is still functional today! Can’t imagine the chaos when train is passing by. There are cafes & stalls just right next to it, with chairs right next to the track! 
Hanoians LOVES to sit at cafes, have coffee and do people watching! 
Do you know why the tables & chairs at cafes in Hanoi are always so small? One of the reasons could be it’s easier to move around when there’s a police raid. 
While I was sitting there, there was a police raid. Cafes aren’t allowed to have tables & chairs on the pedestrian paths. When the police came, the cafe owners & staff were very quick in getting the chairs inside the cafe!

7. Take an overnight cruise trip to Lan Ha Bay

Lying south and east of Cat Ba Town, the 300 or so karst islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha are just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay and have the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches. Due to being a fair way from Halong City, not so many tourist boats venture here, meaning Lan Ha Bay has a more isolated appeal. 

Geologically, Lan Ha is an extension of Halong Bay but sits in a different province of Vietnam. Around 200 species of fish, 500 species of mollusc, 409 species of anthropod, and numerous hard and soft coral live in the waters here, while larger marine animals in the area include seals and three species of dolphin.

Views were stunning! Lovely to be kayaking in here.
Musical performances over dinner using Vietnamese musical instrument.
Musical performances over dinner using Vietnamese musical instrument.

8. Do some hiking in Ninh Binh Province

Located south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh province is blessed with natural beauty, cultural sights and the Cuc Phuong National Park. Highlights include boat trips amid Karst landscapes at Tam Coc and the Unesco World Heritage listed Trang An Grottoes.

Down a sleepy road between rice paddies, this cave is not terribly impressive, but there are panoramic views from the peak above. A stone staircase beside the cave entrance zigzagging through the karst and it is almost 500 steps to a simple altar to Quan Am (the Goddess of Mercy). The climb is paved but steep in sections, so bring water and allow an hour return. 

9. Take a traditional boat ride in Trang An

Trang An grottoes, a gathering of 31 valleys, 50 cross-water caves, and home to 600 kinds of flora and over 200 kinds of fauna. Rowboats bob along the Sao Khe River through limestone caves. It is a relaxing trip, but many caves have also enlarged to accommodate boats. This was a very fun experience even though it rained heavily. Views were incredibly beautiful! 

Five mins to our boat ride, it started raining very heavily accompanied by thunderstorms.
One of the many caves. Nice hideout from the rain.

All photos and videos were taken using iPhoneX.

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