I recently wrapped up my second visit to Vietnam, one of the most vibrant countries in Southeast Asia. Land of rice fields, lanterns and noodle soup. It was a trip of old favorites and new wonders, and I wanted to share just a few highlights with you lovelies. Happy travels! ♥
Favorite City – Hoi An
This celebrated port city was home to a spectacular Ancient Town, a cluster of 800+ buildings and colorful corridors filled with charming shops, market stalls, restaurants, etc. on the banks of the Thu Bon River. And lit up at night, the place was even more magical! Every evening, I watched as tourists and locals boarded the tiniest boats to set lanterns afloat along the river. By 9 PM the river looked like a painting – a dark waterway aglow with hundreds of flickering yellow lights.
Favorite Pool – Mai Chau Eco Lodge
I had to go off-the-beaten path to find Vietnam’s most epic pool, nestled in the northern countryside. The Mai Chau Ecolodge was a haven of green with its surrounding rice fields, banana trees, swaying palms and limestone peaks. And smack dab in the middle of it all was this sparkling oasis of turquoise with the dreamiest pool views.
Favorite Food – Pho
Pho was my go-to meal at every stop in Vietnam. It was cheap, and it was delicious. I’m a pretty picky eater, so I had a hard time with some of the more exotic Vietnamese cuisine and flavors. Luckily, pho was served almost everywhere – from little street stalls to sit down restaurants.
Favorite Rice Fields – Ninh Binh
People always tout Halong Bay as the crown jewel of northern Vietnam, but Ninh Binh remains my favorite. The soaring limestone peaks rising out of the riverbanks looked like something out of a fairytale. One of my favorite adventures was exploring Tam Coc Grotto by private boat on a river that snaked through rice paddies and soaring limestone karsts. And for a topside vantage of the grotto and rice fields, I headed to nearby Mua Cave for the prettiest views in Vietnam.
Favorite Resort – Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai
Hoi An was home to the only Four Seasons property in Vietnam, and it felt a world away from the chaos of Saigon and the bustle of Hanoi. The resort’s picturesque beach setting shocked me into much-needed R&R mode – I saved this for the last leg of my trip. Happily, I spent my days poolside on one of the resort’s luxury loungers sipping on coconuts & passion fruit juice with beach views of swaying palms. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought I was on a remote tropical island.
Favorite Off-the-Beaten Path Adventure – Halong Bay via Bai Tho Mountain
A junk boat tour of Halong Bay is touted as a must by every guide book, but honestly, I’ve done it twice now and it’s a bit … boring. The bay was beautiful, but there was very little to do on the water, and after a few hours of floating, it got a bit old. I love freedom when I travel and I think because this place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s (understandably) very restricted. Tour companies seemed to be the only way to see the bay, and outside of a few overcrowded spots to, there wasn’t much else to do. I preferred my off-the-beaten-path experience at Bai Tho Mountain. It was a tricky trailhead to find in Halong City. And it was also a gnarly climb straight up a mountain. But the soaring view over the epic bay of 1,600 islands was absolutely priceless.
Favorite Historical Sights – Hue
Citadels, temples, tombs and pagodas. Hue had it all, and its central Vietnam location made it the perfect stop while traveling from Saigon to Hanoi. The sights were a bit spread out, so my favorite way to see the Imperial City and its surroundings was on two weels. About $3 a day to rent a bicycle – quite the deal!
Favorite Big City – Hanoi
Hanoi was a sensory overload, but I loved everything about Vietnam’s chaotic capital city. I started my days at Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis in the heart of the city, and made my way to the Old Quarter and French Quarter on foot where I let the busy streets and little alleys guide me through the shopping, the street food, the scooters, the crowds and the mayhem.
Favorite Hike – Pu Luong
It’s a truly spectacular journey through the mountains to reach this nature reserve situated in northern Vietnam – a two-hour drive from Mai Chau, and then another three hours to Hanoi. The region was filled with rice fields, sugar cane, wooden waterwheels, gushing rivers, epic limestone peaks and 0 tourists. Completely off the map, Pu Luong offered incredible hiking trails, a lovely escape from the pollution and crowds of Vietnam’s larger cities.
Favorite Driver – Loc Nguyen
With two visits under my belt, I’ve decided that private car is the more comfortable way to explore Vietnam. It also offers a lot more freedom in terms of stopping and schedules for all of the long distance travel. I was randomly assigned a driver from a transport company I booked with out of Hanoi, and completely lucked out. I spent nine days with Loc Nguyen, a rockstar driver who didn’t speak any English, but quickly became a dear friend (the power of Google translate and sign language). He joined me on rice field hikes, grotto boat rides and market visits, and I enjoyed several meals with him all over northern Vietnam. I booked him through the Hanoi Transfer Service company.
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