SE Asia has been on the top of my travel bucket list for quite sometime. 2016 started off with a bang, as I was able to escape to SE Asia for three weeks and finally check it off my list. After months of planning the trip, my SE Asia adventure to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia became a reality. The next few blog posts will take a closer look at some of the most memorable experiences from my Southeast Asian adventure that I took with my brother. First stop on the journey: Vietnam
After 18 hours of flying time on EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. With a connection through Taipei, the long flight was extremely enjoyable with EVA’s service and comfort in their ELITE Class. With access to the lounge in Taipei, the layover allowed me to recharge allowing me to be ready to explore Ho Chi Minh upon arrival. Landing refreshed and rejuvenated, my trip could not have started out better!
Ho Chi Minh was the largest city we visited on the trip, we acclimated ourselves to the time zone and wandered the streets getting acquainted with the smells and sounds that we would experience for the remainder of the trip. Our short time in Ho Chi Minh City allowed us to take visits to the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels, tunnels used by locals and VietCong during the war. Another memorable experience was visiting a local cricket farm and enjoying a nice cricket spring roll.
After a brief stay in HCMC, our journey took us north to Central Vietnam to visit two historical (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and much smaller cities, Hue and Hoi An. Hue, the capital of the Nguyen emperors is where tourists flock to see royal tombs and the Citadel. The city of Hue, while a stop on many itineraries, does not feel overcrowded with tourists or international chains, so it is a good chance to see historical sights and experience what living in a moderately sized city in Vietnam might be like. Our time in Hue was highlighted by exploring the Imperial Enclosure of the Citadel, which was constructed between 1804 and 1833. The Citadel has been severely damaged from the French and American wars, but what has survived is definitely worth the visit. The expansive courtyards, elaborate theatres and temples, and the sophisticated gardens makes the experience great for architecture lovers or those eager to snap a photo. Wandering the Citadel will take at least half of the day so plan accordingly. The rest of our day was spent wandering the local market, eating some authentic Bun Bo Hue, a popular beef Vietnamese soup associated with the city of Hue. Another highlight of our time in Hue was a pleasant stay at Hue Holiday Diamond Hotel. Boutique hotels are very common throughout SE Asia and are very cheap for western standards. They often are family owned and almost always include breakfast with standard rooms. This particular hotel invited us to an authentic Vietnamese “grill out”. We joined the family that owned the hotel and other guests to a great evening to bring in the New Year. The people of SE Asia and the tourists you meet along the way make the time even better than one could expect.
After a short visit in Hue, we hired a local driver to take us to Hoi An. The drive was very interesting as we stopped at a beach and a few great viewpoints along the way. While on the coast, this stretch of coastline has a very substantial incline and is a beautiful drive. When visiting both Hue and Hoi An, hiring a private driver to stop along the way is a great method to travel the 4 hours.
One of the highlights of the entire trip was our time spent in Hoi An. Hoi An was an ancient trading port that was utilized by many different countries. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has streets shut off to motorbikes, which is a pleasant experience after traveling in HCMC. While it is a very touristy destination, it has quaint coffee shops, many boutique shops and is known as a hotspot to get a suit or shirt tailored. The city was a wonderful surprise and reminded us very much of a European city with Asian architecture and culture. While our entire trip in Vietnam was remarkable, we really loved Hoi An in part to the wonderful experiences we were able to have.
The time started off with in real luxury when we arrived at the newly created Almanity Hoi An, a wonderful resort and spa, just outside of the Ancient Town. From the moment we stepped foot into Almanity, we were greeted with outstanding service and a wonderful and natural welcome drink. (It changed color too..pretty impressive) Our wonderful room was spacious and had a balcony overlooking the pool. In addition to a wonderful hotel, Almanity also has a wonderful spa and fitness room. One extra perk of our stay was a complimentary 90 minute spa experience and bikes to take out to the town. Another great part of the time at Almanity was the wonderful breakfast, which had a wide range of both western and Asian foods. Almanity truly was an oasis that can’t be missed.
Our time in Hoi An was also highlighted by a cycling tour that we took with Buffalo Tours. Our day began early being picked up by our guide at our hotel with a few bikes in tow. We learned the rules of the Vietnam roads and were off on our tour, which took us out to nearby villages. Maneuvering through motorbikes and exploring the surrounding villages was truly a unique experience. We were able to ride through rice fields and take in the sights of rural Vietnam. Midway through our tour, we arrived in a very small village where we stopped in for a home visit. We were greeted with open arms and were able to hear what life is like living in a very rural village. We were served fresh coconut water and were made many palm frond rings and toys before being taken out in a boat to explore the local area. We saw many people coming back from fishing and did some of our own crab fishing. After being taken around in the boat for about an hour, we were off on our bikes. Before our arrival at our hotel, we made a quick stop to learn how to make lanterns, which are quite popular in Hoi An. After making a lantern of our own, our amazing day with Buffalo Tours came to an end.
Our experience in Hoi An was one for the memory books and we thought it would be hard to top. However, our trip to Ha Long Bay and many other experiences certainly were equally as memorable. After departing from Hoi An, we made our way to Ha Long Bay, which will be highlighted in the next post.
The Best of Vietnam: Hoi An, Ha Long Bay
Best Food: Passion Fruit Crème Brulee, Mango Mango- Hoi An
Best Hotel: Almanity- Hoi An
A Few Tips for Vietnam:
- In HCMC, consider going to the top of the Bitexco Financial Tower to get a great view of the city. The tower has a 360 degree skydeck, but if you say you would like to visit the bar, you can save a few bucks as the restaurant/bar is only one floor below the skydeck.
- Make the drive from Hue to Hoi An with a private driver. You can go to Hue first and fly out of Hoi An/Danang or do it in reverse.
- If you travel to Hoi An, consider biking around the city or neighboring towns. Most hotels and hostels offer bikes and helmets.
- Make sure to explore Hoi An at nighttime. It is very magical and lanterns are very popular to put in the river.