My friend Dana and I were planning to meet up for months, so we decided on a date in October, 2016. Oh, and we also decided that Vietnam would be a good place to meet up and so I bought a plane ticket, convinced my friend Angela to join, and just like that I was in Asia again! No, Dana and I don’t normally catch up for coffee in exotic locations, but her and her family were there for work and all her pictures had me swooning for quiet some time! In the Fall of 2016, the adventure kicked off when Dana took on the role as our local tour guide and gave us an exclusive look at the very charming city of Hanoi.
“My eyes say more of me than what you dare to say. All I know of you is all the sights of war. A film by Coppola, the helicopter’s roar. One day I’ll touch your soil. Wooden sampans, floating markets, light of gold. All I know of you is the sights of war.” -Quynh Anh
Xin Chao! Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam, where a blend of French colonial architecture, ancient oriental and modern style became my muse for the week.
The deepest conversations happened on my friend Dana’s balcony, with this view.
If I had a Fitbit, I would have beat everyone at most steps ever in a week. I’ve never walked so much in a city, but Dana was trying to take us everywhere by foot so we could cover more ground and I don’t regret it one bit!
Those little colorful, outdoor seats are a Hanoi staple. They make for a good place to eat, drink and enjoy the outdoors when the weather is nice (I hear it’s super humid during summer, so avoid going then if you can). This October day was pleasant, and skinny jeans and a t-shirt did the trick.√
Hanoi is clean; early in the morning you’ll see women sweep the streets and garbage trucks come around to pick up trash. In fact, one of the things I admired most about the city was how hard working and active women there are. Women clean, cook, manage stores, sell goods, they do it all!
Do watch out for scooters coming from every direction at all times, but you won’t find that aggressive and angry attitude you find in other countries from motorists. The Vietnamese are kind, a very refreshing treat for tourists.
Walk around the Old Quarter during the day and night, and notice that at both times, it has something different to offer.
I only knew of two Vietnamese dishes, pho and summer rolls, going into Vietnam. Then I found myself sitting on a plastic stool in an outdoor restaurant cooking food in a hot pot. Best experience ever.
Over this dinner, we shared laughs with the restaurant owner. Did I mention everyone is super friendly?
I also love that Vietnamese food isn’t greasy…which allowed me to indulge more on Vietnamese coffee of course.
I preferred eating in small restaurants on the streets because not only was it delicious, but also more casual, cheap and fast. Below is a collection of “street” food (outdoor restaurant stalls). Fried pork spring rolls were my favorite! Most dishes are $1-3USD.
On our last night there, we went to eat at a restaurant called Chim Sao, where you sit on the floor and order small plates, you could say it’s like tapas. The ambiance is very homey, kind of like you’re invited to someone’s semi-fancy house for dinner. The food was well prepared and tasted fresh.
My drink of choice was Vietnamese coffee. A blend of strong coffee and condensed milk had me sipping. I would go back just for the coffee if I could!
My friend Angela tried the famous egg coffee, which I wasn’t a big fan of. Try it to say you did.
I island hop
Angela and I hopped on a short flight to Nha Trang to check out the beach as a coworker of mine had recommended it. We flew via JetStar Pacific, they were timely and hassle free. On the way back we flew VietJet and I suggest you avoid it like the plague…unless you enjoy airlines that change departure times whenever they feel, cancel flights whenever they feel, and offer terrible customer service. Dana has used them before and her horror story was worse than mine. By the time she had warned me about them, I had already booked the ticket and couldn’t get a refund…shocker.
Once we landed, we had to haggle for a cab price, lucky for us, Dana had taught us the tricks of the trade (and Angela is from India so its in the blood). We paid around 400,000 VND (around $17) to get to our hotel which was 20 mins away. The drive to our hotel was scenic and went from lush greenery, and less developed areas to a more touristy part where all the hotels are planted.
Nha Trang was relaxing and much quieter than Hanoi. Dana suggested Hoi An over Nha Trang but I had already booked my flights. I would recommend Nha Trang if you’re looking for a day or two of relaxation in Vietnam; there’s not much exploring to do there.
Last but not least, we ventured on to Ha long Bay. We booked this trip using Viator. I’ve used Viator before on various occasions and have never had a problem, but there are times where I book a tour using local tour guides to support small businesses. If you’re looking to book a tour once you’re in Hanoi, I would recommend the company “Real Tour.” We got to chat with the owner for a while and I loved how genuine he was and his prices were reasonable. His office is in Hanoi, if you’re interested in getting his WhatsApp number, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.
Through Viator, I chose the option that comes with lunch, kayaking and a tour of caves (so worth it!). Ha long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of almost 2000 islets. I got to enjoy few hours to take in the blue skies and peaceful emerald water. You MUST go here if you’re in Vietnam. The pictures don’t do it justice. It felt whimsical floating past the islands where you’re one on one with yet another one of God’s beautiful masterpieces in this world.
The ride from Hanoi via a comfortable big van is 4.5 hrs each way, but worth the sights.
I take snaps
All in all, I would go back to Vietnam and would add Ho Chi Minh and Sapa to my itinerary. The country is fun, family-friendly and very up and coming so get out there before it gets overrun with tourists!