Vietnam! Some call this country the most beautiful in the world, others hate it. Nomadic Matt, one of our favorite travel bloggers, says he will never return to Vietnam. In one of his blogs, he writes ‘The No one ever wants to return to a place where they felt they were treated poorly. When I was in Vietnam, I was constantly hassled, overcharged, ripped off, and treated badly by the locals …’. I had the same experience about 10 years ago but the recent year’s many people told me that the country has improved a lot. This country is rich in history, culture nature, amazing people, and motorbikes … a lot of motorbikes.
According to the latest World Happiness Report, Vietnam ranks #94 in terms of happiness, yet they rank #7 in the Happy Planet Index ranking. However, as we said before, with Happiness around the Globe we search for the stories behind the numbers. In our blog ‘happiness in Vietnam is more than just a pretty smile and making money’ we’ve put all secrets to a happy life according to the Vietnamese. In this blog we share the highlights Vietnam you shouldn’t miss.
Hanoi – Highlights in Vietnam you should not miss
Most people start in Ho Chi Minh city and work their way up. We started in the beautiful and still much more traditional Hanoi. Apart from nature, the city Hanoi is one of the highlights in Vietnam you shouldn’t miss.
Strolling the old quarter – Our favorite thing to do in Hanoi is just strolling around the 36 streets of the old quarter.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is our favorite neighborhood of Asia that is not there just for tourists, it’s there for everyone.
Both the tourists and the locals go here to shop, eat, get massages, do business, have drinks, ride motorbikes … spending your full holiday here would be possible but there are so many other highlights in Vietnam you shouldn’t miss. Click here for all the names of the 36 streets.
Flag raising and lowering ceremony in Ba Dinh Square – A fun and interesting activity is the daily flag ceremony at the Ba Dinh Square. A national ritual of Vietnam, which is performed every day at 6 am in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Performed for the first time on May 19, 2001, on the occasion of the 111th birthday of President Ho Chi Minh and it has been carried out by soldiers of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Guard High Command every day since then.
Bluebirds nest – A hidden gem for those who want to have good wifi and a peaceful place to have some blogging done. This place is every bit as cute as it sounds, with a cozy little library, a corner for live music performances, and a fantastic rooftop terrace.
Go to one of the KOTO places – KOTO stands for Know One, Teach One. Learning should be passed on; knowledge is meant to be shared. This is the essential idea of KOTO’s Vietnamese-Australian founder, Jimmy Pham. KOTO’s purpose is to end the cycle of poverty by empowering and helping our targeted youth to forge a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. Only for this beautiful mission you should go and have breakfast, lunch and/or dinner in one of their places. We had breakfast at the KOTO Pho & Street Food Restaurant next to Koto Van Mieu.
Hanoi Social Club – On our first night in Hanoi we didn’t go for the true Vietnamese dinner experience yet. We walked by the Hanoi Social Club and were attracted by this cool multi-level café in a 1920s French colonial villa. Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the vibe of the café has is western, like can be found in any big city. The menu, the music, and décor are all reminiscent of a chilled-out laneway café with the scent of coffee wafting through the air. The food is delicious at prices that are a little higher than in most places.
Food tour and cooking class – There are so many places in Asia to do food tours and cooking classes and it may be hard to choose. Just don’t and try to do one or two in every country. You’ll learn so much about the culture and traditions, the markets are beautiful and the food is amazing. Hanoi is famous for street food and street stalls on the sidewalks. Our favorite Vietnamese food? For sure the traditional Phở soup, that is simple but tastes amazing any time of the day, and the fresh spring rolls … why deep fry when you can eat it raw! We booked our cooking class through our hotel (serenity diamond) but also heard a lot of good things about the Hanoi Streetfood Tour.
Early morning market visits – Quang Ba Flower Market and Long Bien wholesale market are two places tourists should visit once at least when visiting Hanoi. The main products here are flowers and foods. Markets may open almost all night. Visit these markets, not only buyers, sellers, but also many visitors who want to find a different perspective on culture in the life of Hanoi people.
Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake – Triston Yeo, a famous photographer and close-knit in Vietnam, has voted Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning is the most wonderful places to visit here. Visitors not only see the beauty gentle, loving nature but also the routine of Hanoi people, doing morning exercise, regardless of winter or summer. Visitors can stroll along the lake to enjoy the fresh and cool air or rest on a bench to observe and even join the group of people doing aerobics, playing badminton…
Serenity Diamond and Hanoi View 2 Hotel – Hanoi has so many options to say at more than decent places for only a few Dongh. Try to stay in the old quarter to be where all the action is within walking distance. We stayed at two different hotels that were both very good value for money: the Serenity diamond Hotel, and the Hanoi View 2 Hotel.
Sapa – Highlights in Vietnam you should not miss
From Hanoi, we booked a 3 days 2-night hiking trip around Sapa. There are so many options that are hard to choose.
You can also go by yourself and look for a guide around Sapa, a little more hassle and maybe a little cheaper. We heard great stories about the Friends of Vietnam company so choose an organized group trip with them. They are really great and we feel they offer the best value for money! We had a great local guide that knew the tracks, the culture, traditions and shared some of the famous rice wine with us. We did the Real Sapa experience by sleeper bus.
Please be aware that it can be rainy in this part of Vietnam and your trekking through a rough part of the country. Pack a waterproof daypack, take your rain jacket and poncho, some energy bars and water and dry clothes. With that, you will have the best time no matter if you have sun or pouring rain.
Halong Bay / Cat Bha island – Highlights in Vietnam you should not miss
Halong Bay is world famous and a Unesco World Heritage that is on many travelers bucket lists. This popularity comes with a price being that Halong Bay is getting crowded, some say too crowded. Some travelers skip it because it has lost the glance it once had. We were in doubt as well as I already went there 10 years ago. I remember I found it a majestic place even with all the boats with tourists.
As we had such an amazing experience with Friends Travel Vietnam going to Sapa we booked a two-day tour to Halong Bay with them. And Friends Travel Vietnam has done a great job bringing back the uniqueness of Halong Bay. How?! They let you embark a boat on Cat Bha island and from there cruise to a less famous part of Halong Bay but still mesmerizing!
We did a two day tour and had the best time. Our tour included transport, a private cabin with your own bathroom, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking, good food and the best tour guides of Vietnam.
Hoi An – Highlights in Vietnam you should not miss
After Hanoi, this is our favorite city in Vietnam. The old quarter of Vietnam is still traditional and real, Hoi An is conserved very well. The houses, the streets, the shops, the food, even the people are beautiful! Just take a bicycle and stroll around. Don’t forget to take your bike to the nearby villages Tra Que and Thanh Ha Pottery Village. Marble mountains are a nice place to visit as well. They are a little further away so a scooter is needed. We stayed at the Golden Sunset hotel for several nights which is a very nice place with spacious rooms, a pool, and free bicycles!
Below find some of our tips when exploring this beautiful town and its surroundings.
Most important tip is to take your photo camera and a lot of extra memory cards as Hoi An is as photogenic as it gets.
Strolling and cycling Old town – Don’t take a map and just get lost as this is the best place to get lost in. In the early morning, you will have the town for yourself but it is beautiful every moment of the day.
Mot – When we spoke with Ti on Happiness at Joi Factory Restaurant she said we had to go to Mot. This is the hottest pavement tea shop in Tran Phu Street, Hoi An. You will easy to find out Mot tea that is decorated with colorful small plants, some herbals, and baskets…Despite its small space, you would be impressed immediately at first sight. You will be excited with a lovely round bamboo basket full of small ceramic cups with many herbs such as honeysuckle, cinnamon, Luo Han Guo, lemon, lemongrass, etc. which are so attractive that you would order one when you see them.
Joi Factory Restaurant – This is such an amazing place that is hidden in Tra Que village. Thu Nguyen, the founder of Christina’s Vietnam and a recent convert to vegetarianism, has oriented this new eatery around the same principles of his dietary lifestyle. On top of the health benefits, Thu revealed that his new vegetarian lifestyle is also governed by the ethics of joy. We didn’t stay at the hotel but that looked great and it is a beautiful riverside hotel in the midst of the rice fields.
Tra Que vegetable village – The Tra Que Village is known for its non-toxic agricultural practices. The farmers in this region use no chemicals on their crop yields, producing the safest and best quality of vegetables in Hoi An.
Hop on your bicycle or scooter and just 10 minutes outside of Hoi An you’ll start to see the magnificent pastures of this veggie village, with plot after plot bursting in varying shades of emerald.
It sounds romantic and it is, especially when wheeling past women tending to the budding plants in their conical hats, on a bicycle, in the soft light of early morning.
It’s an inspiring environment to be immersed in, especially in regards to healthy food habits.
Hai cafe restaurant & cooking class – This is our favorite restaurant in Hoi An and that’s why we had dinner here twice! It is housed in a stunning colonial-era villa. The courtyard’s a good place to chill-out by day. There’s also a restaurant and cooking school. Hai Cafe also offers popular daily cooking classes and is owned by the people behind Red Bridge Cooking School. Staff is very friendly too, prices are what you can expect in the old town of Hoi An.
Coco box – They call themselves a rustic café, juice bar, and farm shop. A modern western type of place but with a traditional look and feel. Refreshing cold-press juices are the standout at this compact combo of cafe and deli. Prices are a little higher than the average in Hoi An but the quality is very good.
Nomad cafe – If you’re in for a stretch and or detox the nomad cafe is the place for you. Not in Hoi An center but close to the Tra Que village you wouldn’t want to miss. Nomad café embraces their enduring commitment to fresh food. With a weekly changing vegetarian menu depending on what is fresh in the market. Great teas, great bowls, great juices … and handmade ice cream.