Often considered the new Thailand, Vietnam has rapidly become the tourist hotspot of South-east Asia since it started openly welcoming tourists from the late 1980s. Just under two weeks in Vietnam allows time to explore what is often called the five H’s of Vietnam, or sometimes the ‘Fantasy Five’; each ‘H’ having an entirely different fantasy to offer.
Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city, was crazy and full of frantic car drivers who would have their licence taken from them in England. Learning to cross the main roads when traffic lights are nearly always ignored is a new life skill that all visitors will acquire. The noisy, non-stop traffic contributes to the energy of the city, along with the flashy lights, crowds of happy people and buzzing restaurants and bars. The best of these are typically in District 1, where most of the tourist attractions and entertainments can found.
Secondly, the capital Hanoi, located in the north. The traffic situation was similar to Ho Chi Minh City here, but once accustomed to the chaos it becomes a little less stressful. The most notable feature of Hanoi was the friendliness and openness of the residents; whilst walking around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, many children would approach English-speaking Westerners in an attempt to practise their language, which was a warming experience.
Next, Ha Long Bay, one of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. Hiring a private boat to explore the islands was worth every penny (although maybe not to those on a budget; we were probably ripped off with the $400 dollars we paid). This boat took us to the Thiên Cung cave, the “most beautiful cave of the Bay“, a tranquil cove where we kayaked, and a beach where we were the only Westerners for the first time on the entire trip, a rather unusual experience. Then, on the journey back to shore, the crew cooked a magnificent banquet of seafood, which we had previously haggled down and bought from a fisherman’s boat.
Fourth came Hue, another Heritage site, in central Vietnam. Many famous tombs from the Vietnamese feudal empire are here, as well as the Thien Mu Pagoda and the city’s huge 19th-century Citadel which contains the Imperial City. Hue provides what many envision Vietnam to be, with the decorative architecture, the sprawling countryside and the Koi-filled ponds. Making incense sticks at a market on the side of the road was a highlight; the women were so happy to show us how it worked, it was great!
Last, but not least, was my favourite, Hoi An: one more UNESCO Heritage Site. After a beautiful drive through the mountains on the Hai Van Pass (many travellers hire motorbikes to get across here), passing oyster farms, the city of Da Nang and the Marble Mountain, arriving at this pretty little town, adorned with hundreds of multi-coloured lanterns, was truly a treat. The main attraction is the old historic town, which is only accessible to pedestrians and cyclists and featured mustard-colour buildings, intriguing markets and the Thu Bồn River running through it all. Furthermore, only 3km down the road is the chilled-out An Bang Beach, which allowed the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. This place gave me everything I would want, nearing the end of my Vietnamese travels.