My last post left you in Halong Bay, figuratively of course, not literally. Because you aren’t a crazy 4 year old having a temper tantrum in Target on Christmas Eve. Or maybe you are? In which case, congratulations on your advanced reading level and sorry for leaving you in Halong Bay.
Woah, that got off track quickly. Part 1 of my guide to Vietnam filled you in on all things Hanoi and Halong Bay, Part 2 will take you through Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh.
I was desperate to get out of the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and head to the more relaxed town of Hoi An. Mother nature, however, had different plans. As Matt sat watching CNN on the hotel TV his expression grew tense, “Typhoon Nari is set to hit the coastal town of Da Nang in 2 days.” Coincidentally we were headed for Hoi An, via Da Nang, in exactly 2 days.
While all the other tourists at Hanoi Airport were sweaty, peeved off, tired and frustrated, I was just sweaty and tired. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s much better to be safe and sound on the ground during a typhoon than hurtling through the air in an aluminum tube.
Hoi An is a short drive from Da Nang and your hotel will be able to organise a transfer for you. Our driver made us stop at a local marble shop, which we really didn’t want to do, and I felt really pressured to buy something when all I wanted to do was get to the hotel. If you don’t want to stop either, tell your driver as soon as you get in the car otherwise they will just take you there.
You’ll find Hoi An has a more touristy feel to it, with locals not afraid to get up in your face and ask you to buy things. The little French style buildings are an Instagram lover’s dream and the local food is sooooo good.
Matt and I decided to do a cooking class because there isn’t really much else to do in Hoi An but eat and relax (which isn’t a bad thing). We did the night class with Red Bridge and found it really fun and most importantly, we got to eat the food pretty quickly – it was delicious!
The big thing to do in Hoi An is have clothes made. The hotel recommended a place to us, but we found out they get a kickback if you use the tailor they recommend. We also found out tailors on the main streets are more expensive, so it pays to find someone further back from the main area. At the end of the day it’s really a gut instinct decision. Find a tailor whose sample clothes and fabric you like and who you get a good vibe from.
The key to success when having something made is to be VERY specific about what you want. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about. If you want it lined, say so. If you want a chunky zip, say so. Otherwise you’re likely to end up with a leather onesie covered in rhinestones. I was really detailed when I spoke to the tailor and am really happy with everything I had made.
The main thing to do in Hoi An is relax in one of the quaint local eateries for lunch or dinner and watch life roll by. There are some amazing little spots to eat, we went off a few recommendations from friends but also ducked into places we liked the look of or had read about online.
I recommend staying along the water somewhere, provided there isn’t a typhoon in progress, and hiring bicycles or scooters to get into the main town. Just be wary, there are certain times of the day when you are not allowed to ride your scooter through the main streets (yes, we learned that one the hard way).
Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa – I stayed at the Vinh Hung Emerald resort, which was nice, but based on my excellent experience with the Hanoi Elegance Ruby, I would recommend staying at their sister hotel in Hoi An, the Essence.
Cargo Club – I absolutely loved the relaxed, comfortable vibe here and the food was really delicious too. A great little spot with a great view of the street-life, this place is a must-do.
Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
The mean streets of Hanoi are just a warm-up for the scooter-riddled cyclone of chaos that is Ho Chi Minh. Matt and I hid behind a local woman and shadowed her in order to cross one of the busiest roundabouts in the city. When our human shield went a different way to us, it took 5 minutes of soul searching, sweaty palms and jerky head body movements for us to get up the courage to cross on our own.
By far the best way to see everything you want, including all the different districts, is with a tour. We only had a short time in Ho Chi Minh, so opted to do a scooter tour with XO Tours. The foodie tour was absolutely incredible as it gave us a chance to see so much of the city but also dig into lots of local street food without fear of severe gastro and subsequent hospitalisation. I have to say, the food we ate was some of the best Asian food I’ve experienced and the tour was incredibly fun.
Before we left for Vietnam I had been told about the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh. I decided not to go as I had been told it is very confronting and to be honest, it wasn’t something I wanted to see on my honeymoon. Matt visited the museum and the very busy markets in town and did not have a very glowing review of either. Of course there is not ever going to be a great review of a war museum, but I believe this particular one is quite graphic and not for those with a weak stomach. That said, it is important to remember and respect the hardships of those who have experienced war.
As with Hanoi I don’t really feel like there is too much to see in Ho Chi Minh in terms of landmarks and sights. It is a bustling city with a fast pulse and if you are able to get on a good tour you’ll be able to see the very busy lifestyle of the locals and experience some excellent food and brilliant Vietnamese hospitality.
Hotel Nikko Saigon – Holy moly! This place is absolutely amazing. I would have to rate it as one of the very best hotels I have stayed at. The staff are amazing, the location is great and the rooms make you feel very spoilt.
Wherever XO Tours tells you to! – Trust in your tour guide and the local food, it’s VERY much worth it. The foodie tour allowed me to (safely) try a huge variety of delicious local food I would never have experienced otherwise. They are able to accommodate those with food preferences or allergies.
My advice for those visiting Vietnam would be to minimise the amount of time you spend in the major cities and spend more time visiting Halong Bay and coastal areas like Hoi An and Nga Trang. As with most Asian countries, Vietnam is about the friendly locals, their warm hospitality, excellent food and vibrant culture. It is the perfect holiday destination for those on a tight budget looking for somewhere to indulge themselves.