The first time I ever stepped foot in Vietnam was when I was about 5 years old. Although my parents are Vietnamese, I was born in Hong Kong and we moved to Sweden shortly after. My family’s from the north so we were mostly hanging around in Hai Phong and occasionally, Hanoi. But last year I had the opportunity to travel solo in my home country and to be honest… I was really nervous. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being a tourist, yet not be one. But it turned out to be one of the best trips and I realised how much of a difference it makes when you actually know the language and can communicate properly with the locals. Not only does it make things SO much easier, you also feel integrated and just… safe. Also I got some major discounts being Vietnamese. You gotta work what your mama gave you!!!
Either way, I was there for about a months time, but STILL didn’t get enough time to see everything I wanted to. I had to skip Hue because of time restriction and Da Lat as well. There’s a bunch of other places I’d like to visit such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao Island as well, but I’m going back in one month so perhaps I’ll make it happen this time. But from the places I have been lucky enough to visit, I have some favourites. Let’s check it out!
My favourite city in Vietnam which also happens to be the capital. The only downside is that it gets quite cold during the winter months. It’s of course, not as cold as Sweden, but the humidity makes it feel almost worse. But luckily, winter is short. What I really like about Hanoi is that it’s like a small city disguised as a big. Don’t get me wrong – it is big! But I spent most of my time around West Lake and the Old Quarter, and they’re both such cozy areas, so it never felt chaotic, like Ho Chi Minh City kinda feels to me. The French architecture is also stunning and gives the city a European touch. There’s also always something to do here. Whether you want to go shopping, just wander around, go café hopping, trying out new restaurants, finding the best rooftop bars or go to markets, you can do it all here and much more. I really love it.
The biggest island in Halong Bay has now become a very popular tourist spot. Unfortunately. When I was a child, it was a tradition to visit this wonderful island, and me and my sister often had the beach all to ourselves. It was, in fact, really weird to see a tourist there. If we ever saw one, we always thought they were lost. There weren’t any hostels back then either nor huge, modern resorts, so we opted for a day trip. I love this island because it’s easy to access, the beaches are pristine, the water WAS crystal clear when we were there, and the nature surrounding the beaches is too pretty. We rented a motorbike and drove around the island and it was one of the best things we did in Vietnam.
Another place that’s become really popular in the past years. Ninh Binh to me is where my father was born so it has a bit of different significance to me. I’ve only visited it once though, a few years ago, but I loved it. Back then it was us… and a bunch of Chinese tourists. Actually, this place reminds me a bit of “Yangshuo” in China, where you could also go on a small boat tour and marvel at the natural landscape. It was truly a little hidden gem, one that I can really recommend going to.
Okey, I know I said that Hanoi was my favourite, but Hoi An would be first if it was just a bit bigger. This little quaint town in mid Vietnam is the most photogenic place I’ve ever been to. Really. How can every corner be so pretty? Yes, it’s really touristic and probably overcrowded, but just like with Venice, I didn’t mind it because I was too busy focusing on all the beautiful details around the town. I was supposed to only stay for 2 nights but extended with another 2 because I fell in love. It gets especially magical at night when all the lanterns are lit and there’s a colour explosion. You can also get tailor made clothes here, which I did. Three dresses. Did I wear them? No. But next time I’ll try to get a better tailor and explain what I want better.
The weather is mild all year round here, with the nights being a bit cooler during winter. I was there in January, rented a bike and went to the beach. It was actually the perfect temperature – not too hot but definitely not too cold to go tanning. I had so much fun there, met so many nice people and stayed in a really good hostel called “Tribee Bana“. Try to book a hostel as soon as possible, because it gets full quickly.
White and Red Sand dunes, Mui Ne
I stayed in Mui Ne for one night and I honestly couldn’t care less about it. It wasn’t my cup of tea. But I did stay in one of the best and cheapest hostels in Vietnam – Mui Ne Hills Backpackers. It cost me about 3 dollars per night(!!!) and the facilities were surprisingly very fresh and clean. I think it’s quite a new hostel so could be that as well. I liked the hostel but it was too much of a “young party vibe” for me. They have a big pool with beer pong tournaments, etc. I met some nice people but I felt like I had entered a sorority or fraternity house. Safe to say, I didn’t enter the pool. But I did eat some really nice food in their restaurant and I got a good night sleep because the people in my dorm were not keen on partying. Thank God for that, because I had to wake up at 3 am to go see the sunrise on top of a dune. I booked a tour with my hostel, which was quite affordable from what I can remember, and had a full day of sightseeing. The best part though was the sunrise by the white sand dunes. Then you saw the purple, pink, orange and yellow colours unfold and felt the warmth of the sun rays… It’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.
The red sand dunes weren’t as spectacular, but still quite cool, and it was part of the tour so. If you wish to do it independently, all you have to do is rent a motorbike and go there by yourself. You can rent quad bikes by the white sand dunes if you’re feeling lazy to walk up to the viewpoint. We didn’t, but we got a nice early butt exercise.
I wish I could include the other places I visited, such as Halong Bay, Hai Phong and Ho Chi Minh City, but I just wasn’t so fond of those places as I am with these. And I don’t want to write about something just because. I’m really excited to see other parts of Vietnam this time though. I’ll make sure to update this list then.