Travel Tipps North Vietnam

# Hanoi


Vietnams capitol has its very own charme and is the perfect spot to start your travels throughout the country while being smoothly introduced to the culture. Once you got used to the enormous mass of motorbikes you will definetly find enough reasons to enjoy the cities vibe for two or three days.

You can explore the city centre very easily by foot. Having a walk around the Hoan-Kiem-Lake will give you a first nice impression of how the locals spend their free time in Hanoi. Especially on sundays you will find a lot of vietnamese people here playing games, dancing or having picknicks. Also you can find the Ngoc Son Temple which is located on the lake and can be entered from a small bridge.

Not too far from the centre you can find the Literature Temple in which students of Konfuzius once have been taught. For just a few euros you might like this spot to get a little rest from the hustle & bustle of the city life.

Another quite place among traffic and people which I really loved is the Chua Tran Quoc. This buddhistic padoga is located next to the West Lake and can be visited for free.

Before starting your actual trip through the North of Vietnam a basic understanding of the countries history will help you to understand cultural patterns better. The best opportunity to refresh your historical knowledge is a visit at the Ho-Chi-Minh-Mausoleum and the included museum. Rather check the opening hours on the internet before you make your way there!

Everywhere in the city you will find travel agencies and hotels offering daily tours to the surrounded areas or Halong Bay. Sleeping busses to Sa Pa for instance are quite comfortable unless you are not taller than 1,70 metres since you can stretch your legs in the sleeping boxes. Optional it’s possible to book a minibus or even a private car. Both will be much more expensive tho! For a seat at the sleeping bus you should not pay more than 15 Euros.



TIPP: Even if you travel on a small budget you will have the chance to explore Vietnams culinary excellence. Anyways the small cookshops at the streets are the best choice. Start with a Pho (Rice Noodle Soup) or Banh Mi (vietnamese style baguette sandwich) for breakfast, enjoy your egg coffee after having Bun Cha (Hanoi speciality!) during lunchtime and end the day with some fried springrolls and a Bia Hoi (freshly brewed beer) at a one of the street corners while enjoying the cities vibez at night.


# Sa Pa

At a height of more than 1500 metres Sa Pa is located between the mountain ranges of Hoàng Liên Sơn. If you are into trekking or just looking for the natural balance after being to Hanoi you will probably love this place. Even if Sa Pa is already known as one of the tourist spots for trekking you still have the chance to find routes where you won’t find a lot of other westernes around. Especially if you go there during off-season which I did!

Trails surrounded by beautiful mountains and rice terraces will lead you into the villages of local mountain tribes called Hmong, Red Dao and Tay. Some of them you can support by booking a local guide who will give you a lot of interesting background information of the area and the peoples culture while attending you through the beautiful nature. Also it’s possible to book an overnight stay at one of the tribes homestays.

Sa Pa also is the starting point for trekking tours to Vietnams highest mountain Fansipan (3143 metres).



TIPP: In my opinion you won’t need a guided group trip here. The wide range of trekking trails can easily be handled without any problems. Just be aware that you might be addressed by some old ladies wearing tradtional clothes coming from the tribes and try to sell their handicrafts to the tourists.


# Cat Ba Island / Halong Bay

On a trip to North Vietnam you must not miss the world-famous Halong Bay. I refused to book a boat trip from Hanoi since those seemed to be the most touristic ones.

Therefore I stopped at Cat Ba Island which is a popular destination for backpackers and even during the off-season had a nice vibe. From here you can book daily trips to areas of the Halong Bay which are not that crowded. The trips mostly contain kayaking and lunch on the boat. The lively street on the main pier offers a lot of bars and restaurants in which you can just enjoy your dinner overlooking the illuminated sea at night.

Also I can recommend visiting the islands nationalpark. The cheapest option going there from the main pier is taking the local bus (40.000 Dong = 1,50€). If you have good arguments you will find a motorbike taxi who charges you 70.000 Dong for the 30-minutes-ride there. The entrance of 40.000 Dong at the park itself is totally worth it since you will reach a great viewing point after hiking through a small jungle trail.



TIPP: You shouldn’t pay more than 12 euros for your trip to Halong Bay. Pay attention to the maximum amount of people going on the boat (I won’t recommend more than 15 people) and the overall supply. I was very happy with my choice booking a trip at the Fullmoon Party Hotel which included kayaking, lunchtime on the boat and trekking on Monkey Island.


# Hue

Hue is a quite large city in the middle of Vietnam which has once been the emperior and the countries capitol. Spreaded all over the city you can find a lot of cozy cafés and restaurants. Located at the Perfume River there is also a big local market which offers literally everything from fresh vegetables to chinaware and other local gadgtes.

One day in this place is enough to visit the most popular sights. The old emperior town is a 20-minute footwalk away from the city centre. Other than the emperior tombs which are located a bit more outside of the town.

Fans of seafood will find a lot of new food inspirations in Hue. For 100.000 Dong (3,50 €) you will get a big set with variations of local tapas basically all made of rice paper and shrimps!



TIPP: Don’t pay attention to the taxi drivers who will talk to you on every corner offering transportation to the touristic hotspots. At least the emperor town can be reached within 20 minutes by foot at the same time having a nice walk along the river.


# Hoi An

One of the touristic highlights in Vietnam is the coastal town Hoi An located in the centre of the country. The picturesque old town is definetely worth a side trip since it is the only one in Vietnam which has not been destroyed during the war. Due to its historical background as a trade port Hoi An is part of UNESCO World Heritage since 1999.

As leftovers from the time in which Hoi An has been an important tradepartner for Japan and China there are a lot of indochinese influences in the buldings architecture. Another characteristic of the city and a great photomotive are the uncountable lanterns hanging from trees and power lines everywhere.

Meanwhile Hoi An has become one of the most popular travel destinations of the country. That’s why you will find a lot of chinese tourists scrimmaging around the cute cafés and restaurants. Between the numerous souvenir shops you can still find some really nice places where they sell handicrafts and fair trade products.

If the weather is good you can also have a nice walk at the sandy beach of Hoi An which is located about 5 kilometres away from the city centre and therefore can be combined with a bicycle tour.


TIPP! Even if the many charming restaurants in the old town are tempting: If you are a backpacker or just on low budget you can still have a nice food experience at the Central Market. Here you can try the locals specialities for cheap prices and in a typical asian market atmosphere. If you are looking for a very nice and nourishing breakfast in a cozy and calm surrounding you should make your way to Rosies Café in one of the hidden side streets.



# Phong Nha

Last stop of my trip was Phong Nha-Ke-Bang Nationalpark, which is located pretty much in between Hoi An and Hanoi and on the border to Laos.

Phong Nha contains a 86.000 hectare large wildlife sanctuary and is a popular starting point for cave trekking and adventureous outdoor activites like ziplining or kayaking.

The two most popular caves are Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave have spectacualar illumination and therefore offer unique insights into this natural phenomenon. The big wooden bridge in Paradise Cave which was built for the many tourists coming here makes it a bit less authentic but still the impressive stalagmites will give you an one-time experience. Phong Nha Cave has its very own flair since it is entered by a paddle boat. During high season you will have to expect a big inrush of visitors coming here everyday.

Also I want to mention that the light installations inside the caves contribute to the decreased growth of the stalagmites. At the same time animals like bats or spiders don’t have any chance of survival under today’s circumstances. On the other hand the local people living in this area benefit from the touristic business since economically there are rarely options to earn money. Therefore you should decide on your own if you want to visit the caves. I went there during off season (end of January) which was too cold for any of the adventureous outdoor activities but good since there were barely other people around.

Most of the accomodations in Phong Nha are located in the same street. Here they will sell different trips to the caves in every place. You will pay round about 1.500.000 Dong (ca. 50 euros) for an unforgettable day including lunch and an English speaking guide.

An overnight stay at one of the exclusive and currently explored caves will cost you between 300 and 3000 euros since it has to be arranged with specialists attending the trip.



TIPP! If you are driving a motorbike you can go to the caves on your own without paying for a whole day tour.