Vietnam- Hanoi, Halong Bay & Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam, a country that has so much to show- be it the cruising along Halong Bay; rowing along the Ninh Binh to see the limestone; or seeing how Vietnamese lived during their war times in Cu Chi Tunnels.

When I started my research I was intrigued by how pretty the place looked and was looking forward to experiencing Vietnamese cuisine. However, when I was planning my holiday and reading everyone’s experience all I came across was ‘scams’. I totally got put off with everything that I read and decided I have to look for another destination. At the back of my mind I still couldn’t let go of how pretty the place was so I decided I have to find a way around the negatives.

From being swamped with bikes, to sheer relaxing in the beauty of Halong Bay I can now tell that Vietnam is not that bad.

WHEN TO VISIT VIETNAM

Vietnam is divided between the South and North.  I decided to visit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Halong bay during my stay in the Vietnam.

Best time to visit according to me is November. Between September to March the weather is cooler, April to June it gets sunny and June to August it’s said to be raining. I wanted to avoid the rain hence I took the risk and planned my holiday during October for 6 days. During my visit I did experience the unexpected showers but was lucky enough to get it in the end of the day.

TRAVELING AROUND VIETNAM

We are someone who like to travel like the locals. However, all I read is how you get cheated and decided to not use the public transport. For those wanting to use public transport there are grab bikes and Vietnam taxis. 

I did manage to use the bus services to and from the airport in Hanoi and wasn’t disappointed. I also used the Vietnam taxi in Ho Chi Minh City but did the booking through the hotel and didn’t experience any problems. For inter-state travel there is bus, train and plane option. I opted for plane as I found it to be safe and the fastest option available.

Since I read so much about scams I decided to plan my holiday with a tour company. This was another difficult task as I read many are not accredited and tend to cheat. 

I then decided to contact my hotel and ask them for their tour operators. Most of hotels were having Buffalo Tours. I did receive their itinerary but for some reason I wasn’t totally impressed.  

I then enquired with Viet Vision and was very happy with their itinerary. However, upon the time of booking they increased their prices twice which made me lose my trust with the company. 

There are also many tour companies which have itinerary which can be seen on a bike. I however didn’t do it this way as I felt it was hot, the places were far off and mainly there was also the fear of unexpected showers.

Finally I went to Tonkin Travel with my itinerary. Personally after completing my tour I can now say I wasn’t completely happy with them. The person I communicated with was late and rude in her replies. They further outsource their services as a result we don’t receive the guide promised. The itinerary at times is not carefully thought out and you end up missing few places. I still stuck to them as I read good reviews on them but wouldn’t recommend.

WHERE WE STAYED IN VIETNAM

HANOI

We decided to stay at Melia Hanoi for two nights. We weren’t too keen on staying in Old Quarter but wanted it to be walkable distance hence opted for Melia. I was very happy with my rooms and the breakfast variety. We did receive an early check in with no extra cost and an upgrade during our stay. Our luggage was also stored for one night with no hesitation. Overall I had no complaints with the hotel and would recommend it.

To avoid being rushed I would suggest staying one extra day in Hanoi. It can be done in 2 days but gets little hectic.

HALONG BAY

I am usually sea sick and my husband doesn’t like being in confined space. But the overnight cruise was the best way to explore and enjoy Halong Bay and highly recommendable.

Choosing the right cruise can be daunting especially when you have so many options. My simple advice would be look at your budget, ask for their itinerary, check the cancellation policy and make sure they have a good reputation. 

I had finally short listed on Paradise Elegance Cruise 2. We were lucky to get an upgrade here and received the Caption’s View room.

The room had all the necessary amenities and a well-planned meal. I was very happy with their itinerary also and didn’t feel rushed. The whole team of Paradise Elegance 2 make sure your stay is comfortable. This was my first cruise experience and I was really glad I did with Paradise Elegance 2.

HO CHI MINH CITY

We stayed at Ibis Saigon Airport Hotel for one night because we had a late night flight. We had organised a complimentary airport pick up which we didn’t use because we couldn’t find the booth and the airport information desk weren’t helpful. We ended up walking to the hotel which wasn’t that bad. I found the rooms to be like a typical ibis style rooms. We had chosen the breakfast option and overall happy with the variety provided. Overall I didn’t have much complaints as it served the purpose of a good night’s sleep. 

The rest of the stay we opted for Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint Hotel for two nights. The reason we stayed here was the proximity to the city. This is a fairly new hotel as compared to its chain of hotels. I was happy with the rooms and didn’t have any issues with the amenities provided.

I enjoyed the breakfast variety but our last day early breakfast I was disappointed as they messed up our request. Downside was a major metro work going on and being on 16th floor we still heard the noise. I wasn’t too happy with the front desk also. Overall should I go again I would look for another option.

NORTH VIETNAM

The largest city in the north is said to be Hanoi. It’s known for its multicultural community which is made up of Chinese, French and Russian. There are many ancient temples but the highlight for me was the food. Since it is hotter in Hanoi it is said people usually enjoy street food. As we were walking along the street we saw restaurants with short tables and chairs facing the street and people enjoying a meal. 

North Vietnam at least for me is considered incomplete without visiting Halong Bay. Words cannot explain the beauty of the place, a visit will leave definitely you spellbound.

THINGS TO DO IN HANOI

MUSEUM OF ETHNOLOGY

If you want to know more about the ethnic groups then this is the place. There are 54 groups showcased inside the museum. The main museum gives further information about their history, culture and lifestyle. I really enjoyed seeing the houses of the various tribes who lived in Vietnam. You can walk inside the houses to get a feel for their lifestyle. This one you can do on your own without a tour guide.

TEMPLE OF LITERATURE

The temple was built in 1070 for Confucius, sages and scholars. It is said to be the first university of Vietnam.

The first sight is the four pillars at the great gate. Upon entering, the gate opens to number of pathways each in turn having three doors. The middle door is always closed as it is considered an entrance for the emperor. The side two doors are shorter in height as one enters by bowing showing respect to the place.

Once you enter there are 5 main courtyards. There are four sacred animals namely Dragon, Turtle, Phoenix and Unicorn. This was originally built to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, royalty, nobles and other members of the elite. As per our tour guide Vietnamese still visit the place during their exam times to seek blessings. I would advise to go with a tour guide as the place has a beautiful history which needs explanation.

HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM

This is the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. A reporter who turned into a leader with many followers. Throughout his time all he ever wanted was for the north and south of Vietnam to be together. Since we arrived here in the afternoon we could only see it from outside. There is usually a lot of security at the place and you are expected to dress appropriately. Vietnamese show a lot of respect to the place and the same is expected from you.

BA DINH SQUARE

This is where Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence on 2th September 1945. There are several important buildings in the Ba Dinh Square namely- President’s Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Ministry of Planning and Investments and The National Assembly Building.

STILT HOUSE

This is another one which I only got to see from outside as they had closed it due to a football match. This is home of Uncle Ho who lived and worked here from 1954 until 1969. Ho was a very simple man and his house reflected this. There is also an entry ticket which you need to buy to see from inside.  

ONE PILLAR PAGODA

This temple was built by Emperor Ly Thai Ting who didn’t have a child. After he married a peasant girl when she had a child as a mark of respect he had built this temple. The temple is built in the middle of a lotus pond in a pillar as that is how he had dreamt of it. It is built from a single wood and designed to look like the lotus blossom. Although the place is busy with tourists I felt it would have been more peaceful without people. It was built in 1049 and I was really impressed to see how well it is maintained and even more impressed by the Vietnamese’s belief of the place. I was told that it was destroyed during the French war but was rebuilt again. 

THANG LONG THEATRE FOR WATER PUPPET SHOW

A 45 minutes water puppet show which shows the various beliefs and cultures of Vietnam. It is split in 18 sequence and each one is accompanied by music along with a story. We visited this on our first day and by the end of our Vietnam trip saw glimpses of their culture. Some of the stories shown included children playing in water, men fishing, boat trip of Emperor Le Loi, glorious return of the candidates, fairy dance, wedding sequence and harvesting. I would recommend buying the audio translation as most of it is said in Vietnamese and also choose the front seats.

HOAN KIEM LAKE

Found in the heart of the city is the Hoan Kiem Lake whose name translates to the lake of the restored sword. Sitting in middle of the lake is Ngoc temple and at the other end is the Turtle Tower. The lake is enjoyed by both locals and tourist for its scenic view and its peaceful surrounding. We visited this lake in the evening and saw it with the lights. From Friday to Saturday traffic is banned around the lake hence the locals are seen enjoying late night outing, kids playing sports and vendors setting up stalls.

NGOC TEMPLE

Ngoc means the Temple of the Jade Mountain. To get inside the temple you have to cross the Huc Bridge which is a red bridge built in the typical Vietnamese style. Given its location the temple gives you a serene feeling despite it being small and crowded with tourists. Inside the temple there is a display of a huge turtle which is believed to have lived in the Hoan Kiem Lake. The turtle got a sword to the legend King Le Loi who used the sword to fight a war against China. After the war the Golden Turtle God asked for the sword back and disappeared inside the water. I personally loved the story and found the temple to be prettiest in the night with the lights illuminating on the Huc Bridge and the temple.

THAP RUA TOWER

Also known as the turtle tower which is seen on an islet in Hoan Kiem Lake. The tower cannot be accessed through any bridge however can be viewed from every corner of the Hoan Kiem Lake. Vietnamese believe the turtle as a symbol of long life. At night there is a yellow light illuminated in the tower which makes it a perfect place to click some photos.

OLD QUARTER

A very interesting fact pointed by our guide were the names given to the streets. Each street were named based on the shops in the vicinity. This was how traditional Vietnamese found things, but it’s changed now. The old quarter is made up of 36 streets.

There are many hotels to stay as well however we found it very busy and noisy. It is a nice place to enjoy street food. We were here during the weekend hence got to shop in the night market as well.

NINH BINH 

In northern Vietnam with roughly 2 hours’ drive you will reach this city which is in the Red River Delta. It is a place for nature lovers with scenic views of scattered limestone which have emerged around the rice fields. It is said to be the “Ha Long Bay On Land”.  I was also impressed with the way the locals would row the boats by using their feet.

The route takes you through 3 caves for which Tam Coc is named: Hand Cuoi (45 m long), Hang Ca (127m long) and Hand Giua (70 m long). The whole tour roughly lasts for 2 hours. 

BICH DONG TEMPLE

After our Ninh Binh tour we cycled to reach Bich Dong Temple. Nestled in between lush greenery we got to witness the pagoda which is sitting inside three natural caves.  There were many pagodas being built inside the temple each dedicated to Buddha. We saw total 3 pagodas in between the limestone. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the lotus pond as it had dried out. Lotus is the traditional flower of Vietnam. We also climbed till the top and got to see the scenic view. There are total three levels to see each with a different structure and views.

DINH AND LE TEMPLE 

In Ninh Binh Province are two temples shaped in Chinese characters and built in 17th century. The whole temple you can see glimpses of dragon. The locals here worship the Kings of the Dinh and Le Dynasties. The first temple is dedicated to Dinh Bo Linh who happened to be the first emperor after Vietnam was liberated from Chinese rule. The second temple is dedicated to Le Dai Hanh, who married the first emperor’s wife and also fought two Chinese invasions.
With a tour guide it’s fun hearing the stories about the emperor and their kids fighting for the throne. Had we done it on our own we wouldn’t have enjoyed it much as nothing is written in English.

PHO SACH HA NOI- BOOK STREET

Since we were staying in Melia the book street was less than 2 mins away. I have seen people enjoy a coffee in the surrounding cafes, pose in front of the lamp posts and enjoy collecting books from the various book stores in the lane. It was fun to see Harry Potter series in Vietnamese also.

LONG BIEN BRIDGE & CHUONG DUONG BRIDGE

We crossed this bridge while returning back from Ninh Binh. Unfortunately I only saw it from a distant and didn’t have it in my itinerary. The Long Bien bridge is said to be completely destroyed during the Vietnam war and is in the process of getting restored.

HANOI OPERA HOUSE

Another one which we saw on our way to Halong Bay. Glimpses of the French influence can be visualised by its beautiful architecture. It is located in a very busy area hence mostly surrounded by people and vehicles.

HOA LO PRISON

We passed this while we were exploring the walking street in Hanoi. Since we were time bound we didn’t see this from inside. It is said to be a prison which was used by French colonist for political prisoners and later North Vietnam used it for US prisoners during Vietnam war.

HALONG BAY

Our cruise first started by getting picked up from our hotel. Then had roughly 2 hour drive to Tuan Chau Island in the shuttle limousine. We were taken to the lounge for check in and were allocated a room along with a band around our wrist.

Then we headed to our cruise and were taken to the restaurant to get a briefing about the cruise. After lunch we headed back to our rooms to enjoy the views. We then got to enjoy the below activities while on board.

THINGS TO DO IN HALONG BAY

Below were the things Paradise Elegance 2 cruise had planned in the Two days one night cruise. Along with the below we also had Vietnam cooking demonstration, Tai Chi lessons and squid fishing. 

SUNG SOT CAVE

A jaw dropping experience inside the Sung Sot Cave. A famous cave in Halong Bay which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pathway inside the cave wanders through various sections. There were natural Stalagmites and Stalactites which were formed and could be seen throughout the caves.

Over time the tour guides had even started naming them. The cave is gorgeous, even though there is lot of climbing to do but it’s worth it. Most of the time it’s filled with tourist hence can’t be enjoyed for long.

TUNG SAU PEARL FARM

This was one of the activities during our Halong Bay cruise. You can either kayak to the place or come in a speed boat. Here we got to witness how they made pearls from the different types of oysters. Full demonstration of the process was given and then we were taken to their showroom to see the final product for purchase.

TI TOP ISLAND

Island was named after an astronaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov whose statue is first seen upon entering the island. There is a climb which is steep and narrow. The climb is totally worth it and also explains why it is always packed with tourist. There are two viewpoints on the way up each giving a beautiful view of Halong Bay. The beach is small and those who don’t want to climb are seen enjoying it. We did this early morning and still faced humidity so plan accordingly.

FIGHTING COCK ISLET

On our way back we came across the Fighting cock islet. This is where you can see  two limestone islets which look like a roaster and other like a hen. The locals have come up with funny stories where some say the cocks are fighting while others say they are kissing. It is also said to be there for thousand years and over the years has been added as tourist spot. It is an interesting one and can be easily missed so stay alert.

After the cruise we disembarked at Tuan Chau Marine. We were served light lunch at the lounge and were then taken back to our hotel in the shuttle bus.

SOUTH VIETNAM

Ho Chi Minh City is split into 10 Districts.  Most of the tourist attractions are in District 1 and it is said the government is planning to make it Vietnam’s ‘Little Singapore’.  District 2  is now becoming the Business District. On the other hand District 3 there is a colourful mix of houses be it the French styled Villas, Vietnamese style row houses and luxury homes. If you are looking for Chinatown then head to District 5. Expats and high end Vietnamese call District 7 home and it said to have high end luxury living.

Our tour guide who has made Ho Chi Minh her home also told us the food is sweeter here as compared to Hanoi.

THINGS TO DO IN HO CHI MINH CITY

CU CHI TUNNEL

Vietnam is known for its wars and Cu Chi tunnel is one such place where a small part of the history is still preserved. There are various displays along the way, which includes- tunnel vents, assorted spike traps, entry to the tunnel, high/low cover for entering the tunnel and the dining/ cooking area. I had made an attempt to enter the smallest of the tunnel and was petrified. Walking along the narrow, low and confined tunnels I was wondering how anyone can stay here. There were hundreds and thousands of people actually living inside the tunnel during the war. There is also gun firing in the premises but we didn’t opt to do it. On our way we also were told about how people were affected by the chemicals put in the area. Since we stayed near the airport we managed to cut down on the travel time but on our way back we did experience the long distance.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL

Unfortunately we could only see this from out as it was under renovation. Located around many must see buildings is the twin-towered cathedral stands which is a copy of the one in Notre Dame (Paris). From outside I really liked and was disappointed I couldn’t see it from inside.

SAIGON CENTRAL POST OFFICE

This is not only a tourist attraction but also the oldest post office which is still operational. Again it shows the French architecture and looks well preserved. A nice place to buy a postcard to send to family and friends. It is a very busy place with souvenir shops also, personally wished the shops were not there.

INDEPENDENCE PALACE

It is also known as the Reunification Palace and is now a historical landmark. This was built during the American War for former President Ngo Dinh Diem. On 30th April 1975 the official handover took place here. In the entrance sits the two tanks and inside the palace there are state rooms, private presidential rooms, war bunkers, communication rooms and the original Helicopter. Since we did it with a tour guide it was faster but if you do with the audio guide it might take longer. Either way I recommend doing it with a guide.

GIAC LAM PAGODA

This is the oldest temple in the city and was built in 1744. Unfortunately when we went it was lunch time hence we got to see it from outside and through open windows. There were a number of impressive Buddha statutes inside. Don’t miss the wandering tree which is believed by locals to grant wishes.

NGUYEN HUE PEDESTRIAN STREET

It’s a street filled with tourist and has many lights and fountains for some relaxing. We enjoyed this in the evening and over the weekend the traffic is also closed after 7 pm. Besides having many restaurants, coffees and shopping shops there are also City Hall, Bitexco building and Opera House.

HCMC CITY HALL

We saw this while exploring Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street. Since it was in the evening the whole building was lit up making it look very pretty. Another one which is designed in the French colonial style. Since this is not open to public we could only see it from outside.

BEN TREH MARKET

With over 3000 vendor stalls this can be an interesting place to take back some souvenirs. The market can be very daunting initially but if you see closely they are split in categories. Vietnamese do a lot of bargaining and they mostly do this with a smile on their face. It you like hassle free shopping like me then visit the fixed price shops which are government run where there is no stress of bargaining.

MEKONG DELTA- BEN TRE

The two hour drive from Ho Chi Minh will get you to Mekong Delta. The two closest options are Ben Tre and My Tho. It is said My Tho is a popular tourist spot and hence crowded which is why we opted for Ben Tre. I found the locals to be very friendly here and always had a smile on their face.

We also saw the houses along the way and the different types of fish traps.  I did find the backwaters a little dirty and was told My Tho is even worst.

The area is known for its coconut candy and we had planned a tour for the same.

OUR ITINERARY IN VIETNAM

Customised itinerary which we planned with Tonkin Travel. Included in the tour were car, tour guide, entrance fees and lunch (in certain place). 

Day 1

From airport we took the Vietjet shuttle to Hotel Melia. Our tour started at 1.00 pm. 

We did Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, Ba Dinh Square, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Stilt House, One Pillar Pagoda, Old Quarter, Ngoc Temple, Turtle Tower, Hoan Kiem Lake and Thang Long Theatre (water puppet show). We did it in that order by a combination of car and walking.

Should you wish to do on your own below is a map which can help you plan your day.

Map courtesy Melia Hotel.
1. Hanoi Opera House 2. Vietnam National Museum 3. Ngoc Son Temple 4. Turtle Tower 5. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre 6. Hoa Lo Prison 7. Army Museum 8. Hanoi Flag Tower 9. Ancient Citadel 10. State Bank Building 11. Women Museum 12. Grand Cathedral 13. Temple of Literature 14. Fine Arts Museum 15. Quan Thanh Temple 16. Tran Quoc Pagoda 17. HoChiMinh Mausoleum 18. One Pillar Pagoda 19. HoChiMinh Muesum 20. Long Bien Bridge & Choung Duong Bridge

Day 2

We decided to do a day trip to Ninh Binh by car. Here we took the small row boat to enjoy all the caves. Then cycled to Bich Dong Temple and enjoyed the panoramic view. Had lunch and then went by car to Dinh and Le Temple. Got dropped back at Old Quarter where we enjoyed the lake, night market and had our dinner.

Day 3 

Planned a one night cruise in Paradise Elegance 2 to enjoy each Halong Bay. Today we did Tuan Chau Island, Sung Sot Cave, Tsung Sau Pearl Farm, Vietnamese cooking demonstration and squid fishing. 

Day 4 

Second day on the cruise we enjoyed Tai Chi on deck, visited Titov Island, saw the Thien Cung, Dau Go cave and the fighting cock islet. Got dropped off at the hotel and then took the 86 bus to the airport. Took the Night flight to Ho Chi Minh and checked in at Ibis Airport Hotel.

Day 5

Drove to Cu Chi Tunnel and explored the place, which took half of our day. Came back to the City and visited Giac Lam Pagoda, Independence Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and Old Post Office. We did this with a combination of walking and car. Got dropped off at our Hotel Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint. Night decided to walk to Ben Treh Market where did shopping and had dinner.

The city sightseeing can be done on your own as well. Below is a map which you can use to plan.

Map courtesy Saigon Tourist Travel services

Day 6

Decided to spend the whole day exploring Mekong Delta. Visited Phong Nam Brick, Coconut and Charcoal factory. Went to the village to see their life and had lunch at one of the homes. Visited the mat weaving house and saw more local house. The whole day was done in a combination of car, motor boats, rowing boats, tuk tuks and walking. Got dropped off at the hotel. Night we again went to explore the city on foot with no set itinerary

Day 7

Check out early morning and took taxi to the airport to head to Cambodia.

FOOD TO TRY IN VIETNAM

Goi Cuon– A very popular dish throughout Vietnam. It’s spring roll which is usually served fresh and at room temperature.  It is made with shrimp, pork, vegetable and all wrapped inside rice paper. I have enjoyed eating and making it throughout my stay.

Cha Gil (deep fried spring rolls) – We decided to try the fried spring rolls also to see the difference from the steamed ones.  The wraps are made from rice noodles with similar fillings and fried in oil till it gets crispy.

Pho – This is a popular street food. It’s soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat. Since we don’t eat beef and pork we tried with chicken but I feel it would be better with beef and pork. Pho differs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh by the noodle width, sweetness of broth and the choice of herbs. 

Banh Xeo– I got to try this in Ho Chi Minh and totally loved it. They say its ‘sizzling pancake’ cause it makes a sound when the rice batter is poured on the hot skillet. It’s a savoury dish which is made from rice flour, water, turmeric powder which is stuffed with pork, shrimps, dried green onion, mung bean and bean sprout.

Banh Mi – This is a type of sandwich whose ingredients are a mix of Vietnamese and French cuisine. Most of the Banh Mi are a mixture of meats and vegetables which includes pork sausages, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and pickled Daikon which is combined with chilli and mayonnaise.  

Banh Khot– These are mini sized pancakes which are fried and served with fresh mustard leaves and herbs and enjoyed by dipping in sweetened fish sauce.

Banh nam– Flat steamed rice dumpling. Made from rice flour, shrimp, paprika powder, banana leaves, garlic, shallots, pepper, fish sauce, chick stock and oil.

Nem Chua Be– Popular crispy snack sold on street food of Hanoi. Shaped in a square and contains generous filings of minced crab, pork, mushrooms and various spices. 

Banh Tom (Shrimp Cake) – Made up of freshwater shrimp, flour and sweet potato.  The fried seafood is usually left as a whole instead of grinding it into a paste. It’s usually served with lettuce wrapping, chill, lime juice and fish sauce for dipping. 

Bun Cha- This is the staple dish of Northern Vietnam. It consists of cold vermicelli noodles, fresh local herbs, hot bowl of broth and grilled fatty pork. Usually this is eaten along with fried spring rolls. Also served with a combination of fish sauce, vinegar and sugar.

Bun Ca (fish noodle soup) -Made with a combination of fried fish cakes, dill, tomatoes, green onions and perilla (a mint like herb). There is usually two types of noodles to choose from and also a choice of steamed or fried fish. This dish is very popular in Hanoi. 

Banh Goi (fried dumplings)– Shaped in miniature pillows, it contains mushrooms, minced pork, steamed quail eggs, finely chopped glass noodles and seasoned with rice flour pastry. It is deep fried to get the crispy texture. Usually served with sweet- sour dipping sauce made from garlic, chilli, sugar, lime juice and fish sauce.

Pho Xao (stir fried pho) – This is stir fried noodles with onions, beef slices and assorted greens. Some restaurants also add fried eggs and chilli sauces. I actually enjoyed this dish with chicken.

Com Chien ga va ca man (Fried rice with salted  Fish and chicken) – This is popular both in the street and in restaurants. It’s eaten with spicy chilli sauce or soy sauce. Fatty rice, onions and salted fish brings a unique flavour to the dish.

Com Hai San Tay Cam (Claypot rice with seafood) – We tried this in Ho Chi Minh City. Rice cooked in claypot was very traditional in the past but the culture has again come in. This is usually eaten with braised fish, sweet and sour soup and boiled vegetables. 

Cha ca (fish cooked with turmeric and dill) – Hanoi has named one of it road in the capital as Cha Ca Street. Cooked with fish marinated in turmeric and then fried in a pan with herbs.

Che Ba Mau – The name translates to three coloured bean dessert. This is a combination of yellow mung beans, red beans and green agar jelly.  It is topped with coconut mil sauce and ice. It is said to beat the summer heat and boost your energy. I did enjoy the drink and did feel refreshed.

Che Chuoi – A Vietnamese pudding like dessert which has bananas and rich coconut cream. This is usually eaten at room temperature. I found this very filling and different to the usually desserts. 

Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee) – This is Hanoi speciality which is Vietnamese coffee made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee. There are hot and cold versions. For me personally it felt dessert more than coffee however I was very surprised at how much I liked it. 

THINGS TO NOTE IN VIETNAM

  • Visa in Vietnam is pre-approved. When you arrive make sure to submit the documents at the counter and not stand in the immigration line directly. You will be called up and then you have to make the payment. After that stand in the immigration line depending on your Passports.
  • Most local buses stop operating at 5.00 pm hence plan your trip accordingly.
  • Vietjet shuttle in Hanoi the bus drivers don’t speak English. Bus stops are also not clearly mentioned. We had locals in the bus helping us.
  • Grab and local taxis are available but be careful of not getting cheated.
  • While crossing, the bikes usually don’t stop so make way carefully with confidence.
  • In Halong Bay if you are planning a domestic flight then Cat Bi Airport will save time. We went to Noi Boi Airport and ended up having extra road journey.
  • When booking flight tickets within Vietnam make sure you book with check in bags if you have luggage. 
  • I had planned Cambodia from Vietnam and booked with Angkor Air. Here with international flight there is an extra charge for luggage so make sure you plan accordingly or you will end up paying extra.
  • Advise taking travel insurance during your travel.
  • Most tour company ask for 50% deposit but if negotiate they do reconsider the terms.
  • Most of the cruises in Halong Bay have similar names so make sure you go with the right one.
  • The road journey from Hanoi to Halong city can be long but the limousine which we travelled in was comfortable and we didn’t have any issues. Ours was planned nicely and didn’t have issues with pick up and drop as well. 
  • Choosing the stay in cruise depends on your preference. The one night itinerary wasn’t hectic for us. Should you choose two nights then more caves would get added.
  • Museum of Ethnology is closed on Monday
  • Mausoleum can be seen from inside only in the mornings so plan accordingly. It’s closed on Monday and Friday.
  • Limited number of people are allowed inside Mausoleum. 
  • Bags and cameras are not allowed inside the Mausoleum so plan ahead.
  • Bich Dong Pagoda since we went with a tour guide we didn’t face this. It is said that there is a lot of cheating regarding parking of bikes and entrance fees. Parking is supposed to be free.
  • While visiting temples you are expected to wear trousers and cover shoulders as a mark of respect. Also shoes are not to be worn inside temples.
  • Giving tips is considered very important in Vietnam. We usually like to give tips when we are happy with the service. However in Vietnam many a times I felt we are forced to give which we didn’t appreciate.
  • Paper money are used throughout Vietnam. Coins are not been used and change is usually not returned.
  • In Ninh Binh I would recommend early morning as it can get hotter during the afternoon. 
  • Halong Bay can be very humid so take extra precautions. 
  • Most of the places didn’t have much written in English to know about the place. Hence a tour guide or an audio guide is recommended. The history is interesting hence recommended.

Although I did with tour company, I am not sure it’s the best way. I didn’t enjoy doing it with a tour company. Many places I did feel tour guide was not needed and some places I felt it was. For all the places I would have preferred to do slightly differently, maybe try doing on my own.