Vietnam-based travel lover and a keen writer
French-colonial era villas in Ho Chi Minh City. (AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam)
Need a place to spend your summer vacation? Think Vietnam.
One of the most sought-after destinations for all budgets, there are so many reasons to visit Vietnam. And if you do not yet know where to start, below is what you may want to add to your travel list.
Once considered a sleepy town, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, has quickly emerged as a favorite place for many tourists instead of being just a stopover to Halong Bay or Sapa.
The city, with its thousand-year history boasts a bountiful collection of historical and cultural artifacts and represents a fusion of tradition and modernity. One can find a rich account of museums and religious institutions amid high-rise buildings, world brand stores mingling with local merchants in Hanoi Old Quarter. Perched on the Southern edge of Hanoi Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake, which sees ebbs and flows of history. On the weekend, the area around the lake is turned into a walking complex where you can witness most vividly how daily life for the Vietnamese unfolds.
A night view of Turtle Pagoda in the Hoan Kiem Lake area, Hanoi.(Shutterstock/File)
If you have a day or two to spend, make sure you add Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, Tran Quoc Pagoda, Dong Xuan Market and the French Quarter to your list. And don't hesitate to try the many local street foods which have made its name to world culinary map such as Pho (Vietnamese noodles), Bun bo (round noodle with beef), Banh Cuon (thin rice crepes) to name a few.
A former hill station first explored by French colonists, Sapa is now a popular mountain retreat for locals and foreign visitors alike. One can get to Sapa by overnight train (eight hours) or by bus via the newly built freeway (4.5 hours).
Paddy field in the mountainous area near Sapa, Vietnam.(Shutterstock/File)
Thanks to its high-altitude location, Sapa has cool weather year-round except for December and January when it may become bitterly cold. The town is famous for its colorful diversity of ethnic people and best explored if you spend time in a local homestay with a local guide. Sapa is also known for hosting Fansipan mountain - the rooftop of Indochina. You can take a cable ride to the top of the Fansipan (US$30 per ticket) or if you can afford the time and the stamina, take a 3-day hike. The view and experience are extremely rewarding either way.
Hill tribe girl walking pass traditional cloths shop at Sapa, Vietnam.(Shutterstock.com/Wongwiss )
An iconic landmark of Vietnam, Halong Bay is one of the most renowned world heritage sites of the country. The natural wonder consists of thousands of karsts rock formation and small islets rising out of turquoise water.
Today a visit to Halong Bay is quite easy with an all-in-one cruise trip from Hanoi which include pick-up from your hotel, transfer to the cruise, meals, activities and accommodation on board and drop-off after the trip. There are plenty of options for you to choose from that can meet all sizes of pockets and you can select among day trip, 2-day trip, 3 day trip and 4 day trip.
Picturesque view of Halong Bay, Vietnam.(Shutterstock/File)
The best time to visit Halong Bay is during the dry season from November to March, but summer is a perfect period too as there are many promotions and fewer tourists thanks to the low season. Bring your swimsuit and a fully charged camera/ smart phone as this IS the place to take your selfie photos.
Hoi An sits between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and about 30 minutes by car from Danang, the third largest city in Vietnam. An old trading port, Hoi An represents a stunning fusion of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese cultures that are seen and felt in its building, food scene and lifestyle. Tourists are often charmed by its supreme tranquility and its warm-hearted locals and often take a 3- to 4-day vacation there.
Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Hoi An is a major tourist destination.(Shutterstock.com/iamtripper )
Things to do in Hoi An include taking a cooking class, having your clothes made within the day, learning to make lanterns, carving your own pottery product, to name a few.
Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
Ho Chi Minh City is where all the fun things happen. The grandest economic hub of Vietnam, it once rivalled the extravagance of Hong Kong and Singapore. Today, the city is dotted with skyscrapers, modern shopping centers, extensive food courts and world famous restaurants.
The Mekong Delta is the best place to sample local fruits or to learn about local farming .(Shutterstock/File)
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can easily reach Mekong Delta, with its coconut-filled villages and year-round blossoming orchards. The Mekong Delta is the best place to sample local fruits, to learn about local farming and to realize how starkly diverse Vietnam is from North to South. You can book a bus ticket and get there yourself, or buy packaged 2 day or 3 day tour from Ho Chi Minh City which will offer coconut candy making workshop, cycling trips and overnight stay with the locals.
Visa and immigrations: Indonesia nationals do not need a visa to enter Vietnam if staying less than 30 days. See full list of visa exemption. If your nationality is not on the list, you can contact Vietnam embassy in Jakarta for further information or apply online for a visa on arrival.
Getting to Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines and Garuda Indonesia organize daily non-stop flight from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City. One way flight is 3 hour 20 minutes. Currently there is no direct flight from Jakarta to Hanoi.
Getting around Vietnam: There are 3 major airlines in Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and Vietjet Air, operating a comprehensive network of flight within the country. The longest domestic flight will take you less than 2 hours. Popular flight routes include: Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi - Danang, Ho Chi Minh City - Danang, Hanoi - Nha Trang. Besides air travel, Vietnam is well served by several train lines that run all the way from the far North to the far South. Highway conditions are improving and traveling by bus is an option that is both inexpensive and time-saving.
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Tours and activities:
Hanoi: Hanoi is easy to explore on your own. Or contact Hanoi Kids for a free guided tour of the city (English speaking only).
Sapa: You can book your homestay with the owner directly, many now have their own website or Facebook pages. You can then discuss the tour activities when you complete the booking. Transportation: Train tickets cost $30-40/person/ way and bus tickets cost around $10-25/person/way (see full train schedule).
Halong Bay: It is best to book in advance for your cruise trip to guarantee space and save your bucks. The only tip is to do your research well and book the cruise trip that matches your budget and expectation. Some cruises offer kayaking and transfer from Hanoi for free while others charge a substantial extra for these services. Children under 5-year-old can travel free of charge and many family friendly cruises offer family cabins and organize special activities for young children. Day trip to Halong Bay costs from $45 for all-inclusive.
Hoi An: Similar to Hanoi, Hoi An is a heaven for independent travelers. However, if you are interested in doing a food tour or a cycling trip, contact local agents which are readily available on Ba Trieu or Nguyen Thai Hoc area.
Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta: Most travelers tend to work out their own activities in Ho Chi Minh City, though you can also check out XO tour, a motorbike-based tour which you can simply sit on the back of a local guide's vespa and enjoy the best scene and sights of the city. There are both day tours and night tours which start from $48. For Mekong Delta, consider TNK for budget trip or Ginkgo for an upper end adventure. Tour to Mekong Delta starts as low as $30 for 2-day trip covering basic food, transportation and accommodation. (kes)
A Vietnam-based travel lover and a keen writer, Linh has been to over 15 countries in Asia, Europe, North and South America. She loves exploring places, hiking new trails, sampling new foods and meeting new people. Her favorite place of the world is Hanoi (Vietnam), where she spends the majority of her time, and Sangolqui (Ecuador), where she stays for 1 year to study Spanish.
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