This past May, Goway hosted a group of travel agents on a fam trip to Vietnam, and I was thrilled to join them. This was my first trip to Vietnam, and, landing in Hanoi, I was immediately thrust into this bustling city of 7.5 million. I noticed that English was widely spoken, and the people seemed incredibly humble and down to earth.
A nice surprise was the coffee – so strong and smooth…better than in Cuba (and I love Cuban coffee)! I enjoyed walking through the chaotic Old Quarter in the heart of the town, which is full of narrow streets and many little temples. A must-see on a Vietnam vacation is the water puppet show – a tradition dating back to the 11th century when villagers entertained each other during rainy season while the rice fields were flooded.
3-Day Hanoi Stopover
Our next visit was to Ha Long, about three and a half hours northeast from Hanoi. Ha Long literally means “descending dragon bay,” and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its emerald waters and the thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforest. We got to overnight out in the bay, on the Bhaya cruise ship, made in the style of a traditional junk boat. Lounging around and enjoying the scenery was a nice option, but there was also plenty to do on board – joining a cooking class, doing early morning Tai Chi – and fun excursions directly off the boat, like kayaking, exploring caves, and visiting a fishing village. Ha Long was the most beautiful part of our trip.
2-Day Halong Bay – Bhaya Cruises
From Ha Long, we transferred back to Hanoi airport and took a short flight to Danang, the nearest airport to Hoi An. Hoi An is located on Vietnam’s central coast, and the former working port city is known for its well-preserved ancient town and canals. The architecture is a colourful mishmash of eras and styles, from wooden Chinese shop houses to colourful French colonial buildings, as well as an iconic Japanese Covered Bridge and pagoda. Hoi An is where some members of our group got tailor-made outfits – dresses, business suits, and even winter coats (not needed here!) were made within 24 hours. Besides the charm of the ancient town, Hoi An’s beach is calm, quiet, and beautiful. Hoi An is a great place to enjoy some R and R while on your Vietnam vacation.
3-Day Hoi An Ancient Town
We transferred back to Danang for a short flight onwards to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as it is again more popularly referred to by the locals. This is a fast-paced city with tons of modern and old-fashioned charm, and an absolute MUST, on your Vietnam vacation, is a night tour on a vintage Vespa scooter. Navigating Saigon’s hectic downtown traffic, I tried to relax and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city after dark. We sampled a few drinks, drove through alleyways and residential neighbourhoods, tasted some of the city’s street food, and visited a coffee house. We ended the evening at a contemporary live music bar.
While in Saigon, we visited the impressive and slightly claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels, a 121 kilometre-long complex of tunnels that has been turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels were used by Vietnam soldiers as hiding spots during combat, and served as communication and supply routes, underground hospitals, food and weapon storage, and living quarters. This was an emotional place to visit. Our tour guide’s mother, who was a nurse, was kidnapped and held in the tunnels for 2 years to treat injured soldiers. Her first two children were born in the tunnels in the early 1970s.
3-Day Ho Chi Minh City
From Saigon, we ventured south into the Mekong Delta, about an hour away from the city. This is an area of lush tropics and is often referred to as the “rice bowl” of Vietnam. The region also produces vegetables and exotic fruits (coconuts, mangoes), and is a major fishing area. Boats are the main means of transportation in the Mekong – it was quite amazing to see floating homes, markets, and villages surrounded by the rice paddies.
3-Day Mekong Delta
I went to Vietnam not knowing quite what to expect, and it was truly a pleasant surprise – I would go back in a heartbeat! I loved the people, the food, and the distinctive sites of the five regions I visited (Hanoi, Ha Long, Hoi An, Saigon, and the Mekong). On my next Vietnam vacation, I would like to visit Phu Quoc island to enjoy its laid-back yet stylish resorts and beautiful beaches.
3-Day Phu Quoc Island