I’d been planning this trip for 4 months – months of research, YouTube vlogs, booking hotels, finding places to sightsee- which cities did I want to visit? What did I wanna see while I was there? Did I want to start in the North and travel South or vice versa?
I decided to fly into Ha Noi and travel South to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). The reason for this was purely financial. It was cheaper for me to fly into Hanoi than it was Ho Chi Minh – that was the deciding factor for me. That, and my daughter isn’t even in the country – she’s adventuring in nearby Cambodia. I don’t meet up with her until I get to Saigon.
So my final travel itinerary is as follows:
Canada ▶️ China (4 hour layover) ▶️ Ha Noi ▶️ Ha Long Bay ▶️ Ha Long City ▶️ Da Nang ▶️ Hoi An ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Vung Tau ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Mekong Delta ▶️ HCMC ▶️ China (18 hour layover) ▶️ Canada
Are you ready to live vicariously through me as I make my way through Vietnam over the next 4 weeks? 🇻🇳 .
I commenced my journey in the capitol city of Hanoi … I’m going to write this blog more journal style – I’m doing so much and I’m finding I’m not having enough time to put pen to paper (or more like fingers to keyboard).
After what felt like an eternity, I landed in Ha Noi 23 hours after leaving Pearson International Airport in Toronto – flight was delayed – we had to de-ice 😂 – remember I’m from Canada and it’s cold as crap there right now (or it was when I left – hang on lemme check – right now where I live it’s -6 degrees Celsius and where I used to live it’s ….. -26 degrees Celsius).
I flew China Southern Airlines to Guangzhou, China and then onto
Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. A 4 bed Female Dormitory Room was ONLY VND 1,119,800 or CAD $64.00! For 4 nights! I needed to stay an extra night because my trip to Ha Long Bay was changed by a day – and was transferred into a 6 bed women’s dorm with no problem, staff here are quite accommodating and friendly. Free breakfast and WiFi access were included in the price.
I REALLY liked this hostel – it has an excellent rating on Booking.com (which I booked via Ebates to earn free Ebates cash back rewards). It’s set a 2-minute walk from Old City Gate in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm district. It offers a really nice accommodation. It also features an indoor swimming pool, and a bar (there is a FREE happy hour daily, but again due to Tết – they served tea – not quite the same lol). All units are fitted with personal lockers, and a personal reading light – good for blogging late a night (I admit I did not do that – I was typically asleep by 8 PM lol). Guests have access to the shared bathroom, equipped with a shower and free toiletries. A continental breakfast is available each morning at the property. I’d definitely recommend staying here if you’re into hostels – this was top notch and didn’t feel like a hostel at all.
My review ✅✅✅✅.5 — I’m only rating it a 4.5 because both times I had anything to eat (other than breakfast) off the hotel menu – it wasn’t all the great (and yes, I ordered Vietnamese food lol).
chúc mừng năm mới 2019
I arrived just in time for Chinese New Year – after a nap, my roommates and I went down to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake to celebrate the lunar new year – the year of the PIG – and take in the fireworks display with a few 333 for 13K ($0.73 CDN). It seems like everyone was out to enjoy the night – and according to this article – they were!
A little about the Tết Holiday for those of you who may not be as familiar with it – it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán (節元旦), meaning “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar.
Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. Many customs are practiced during Tết, but the ones that were obvious to me as a foreigner were ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings and burning Joss paper (fake money) in the streets. The practice of burning spirit or ghost money is quite deep-rooted in Asian culture – in (very) short – the paper money is believed to be deposited in an afterlife bank of sorts, from which the deceased spirits can make withdrawals.
At Tết, every house is usually decorated by peach blossoms – but I understand this blossom is only in the northern part of Vietnam
Due to Tết a lot of things that I wanted to do were closed, a few were opened.
My travel tip is this: if you want to experience the Lunar New Year come for Tết.
IF NOT, avoid Tết. A lot of the things you will want to do will be closed and everything has a Tết surcharge – you end up paying up to 30% more in some cases.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake
According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King (Long Vương) had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against Ming China. Later, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. The first name of Hoàn Kiếm lake is Tả Vọng, when the King hadn’t given the Magical Sword back to the Golden Turtle God (Cụ Rùa).
Since it was New Year’s Day – the Vietnamese were all dressed up in their finest and were out and about taking photos. They were praying at temple and bringing in the new year with family.
Being in the heart of the French Quarter and being Tết it was super busy at the Lake while I was there – the line to get into the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) was looooonnggggg. However, the line was up was understandably long – they wanted to pay homage and respect and pray.
Ha Noi Street Train
Afterward, we went up to see the Ha Noi Street Train – I saw this on YouTube as I was planning for the trip, so mentioned it to the group – they’d never heard of it, so they were game!
Hidden amidst the hectic, narrow streets of the Ha Noi Old Quarter lies a funky little area, where motorbikes are no longer the biggest danger to locals stepping outside of their front door. They’re replaced by high speed trains, hurling through the residential street, mere feet away from peoples everyday lives – their dishes and laundry drying by the tracks. This is the street train. It comes through twice per day around 3:10 PM and 7:10 PM – and it does NOT slow down.
I was pretty excited for this to be honest. I couldn’t believe that this was a tourist attraction – in Canada they’d never make cafés and restaurants encouraging people to crowd in a cramped space to witness a train hurling thought a narrow lane with houses bordering each side lol – but that’s what I love about traveling – you get to see different things – but hey, let’s all be smart about it …
Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre
Our group next decided to go to a water puppet show. It wasn’t on my list of things to do, I’m not an artsy person per se, but, I’m not one to say no to something new and I could use a little Vietnamese culture. Traditional legends and historical tales are among the enchanting puppet plays performed at this popular theatre.
We paid 200,000 VDN (about $11.45 CDN) – those were top of the line seats – they had no more cheepos left …. but, we had some of the best seats in the house (2nd row). It lasted about an hour and to be honest, it was better than I expected. I wouldn’t have done it if I were solo so I’m glad I stuck with the group and went. The puppeteers were amazing!
Hỏa Lò Prison
I have a thing with visiting prisons, they have such history. I’ve been to two others – Kingston Pen and Eastern State Pen in Philadelphia.
Time to make it a triple – I walked up to Hỏa Lò Prison – it was a prison used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished during the 1990s, although the gatehouse remains as a museum. Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and the site now contains two high-rise buildings. I found this museum very interested and would definitely recommend it — but, I like museums and I like prison museums 🤷🏻♀️
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a mausoleum which serves as the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. It’s located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, where Ho, President of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death in 1969, read the Declaration of Independence on 2 September 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Again with it being Tết – the museum itself was closed, but, we did walk around the gardens.
Note: shoulders and knees NEED to be covered for entry.
I really wanted to try egg coffee, not just any egg coffee – the ORIGINAL egg coffee. I had seen it while researching and it look sooooo yummy!
Giang Café was founded by Mr. Nguyen Giang in 1946, when he was working as a bartender for the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Ha Noi Hotel. Although the café has been relocated twice, its egg coffee recipe is almost the same as in its early days, with its chief ingredients being chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.
The coffee is brewed in a small cup with a filter before the addition of a well-whisked mixture of the yolk and other ingredients. The cup is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature.
Mr. Nguyen developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam. He used egg yolks to replace milk.
Again, since it was Tết, the cafe was CLOSED! So, I didn’t get to cross off “original egg coffee at Giang Cafe” off my list ❌. I did, however, try egg coffee in Ha Noi – my second time at the Ha Noi Street Train.
It tasted nothing as I expected. It tasted much sweeter and thicker, the best way I can describe it would be caramelized marshmallow. Once you mix it all together to get the coffee taste – spectacular!
Hạ Long Bay
… 🎵 Hey Hey What Can I Say 🎵 (a little Led Zeppelin reference there) … about Ha Long Bay – it beautiful and stunning, I was in awe about the caves — but touristy, super touristy.
Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon” – we learned all about this from our tour guide Noi on the 4 hour dive there – there is a shorter way – by expressway – but then you’d miss the tourist trap stop shop lol. Most travel companies do take the express route back to Ha Noi however.
The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves – those are stunning and spectacular. Unfortunately, the pics won’t do them justice.
Hạ Long City
I decided not to take my tour bus back to Ha Noi and opted to stay in Ha Long City for the night. So there let me off at the corner of the expressway before They turned to go left and directed me toward taxis. I should have called a Grab, but didn’t But I negotiated a good price with the cab driver and off we went to my hotel.
The population in 2013 was 227,000. This is more my size of city. As much as I enjoyed Ha Noi, it was a bit to hectic for me and other than the river – no real water nearby. I loved that Hạ Long has the beautiful limestone islands/mountains views, but it also has beautiful beaches and French Colonial neighbourhoods mixed amongst the traditional Vietnamese neighbourhoods as well. To me Hạ Long is underrated, I saw online that most people mentioned having nothing to do there other than scaling Poem Mountain, I guess that depends on what you’re looking for. I loved it – I was only there for a day/night, but I loved the vibe.
While there I stayed at Lea House Hạ Long, I strongly recommend this place if you plan on staying in Hạ Long. The hosts Hahn and her husband were super amazing to me during my stay with them. I sat and chatted with them and their daughter, Lea – they all speak Vietnamese, English and French. They even helped me out with catching a bus back to Ha Noi and dropped me off at the station. They arranged for me to go back to Ha Noi with their father who was heading back – he spoke no English – but asked the bus driver to drop me off at the stop closest to the airport. Very kind and gracious.
Lea House Ha Long features free WiFi and rooms with air conditioning. Super cute rooms, aptly named. I also had a little terrace on which to enjoy my coffee. The property is situated in the Hon Gai district. All units come with a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a coffee machine, a shower, free toiletries and a wardrobe. Every room includes a private bathroom with a hair dryer, while certain rooms come with a balcony.
☑️☑️☑️☑️☑️ —- everything was top notch, clean, modern, friendly hosts, great location
So folks, that wraps up my 1st week here in Vietnam, it has been A BLAST. Especially for my first time traveling solo. I’m really enjoying the sights and sounds of Vietnam (although there is A LOT of honking, like a lot!), whilst meeting new friends along the way. Conversely, I’m also really enjoying my ME time.
I have to remind myself that sometimes it’s ok to do ‘nothing’ because I’m on holidays, so if I want to read a book and not sightsee – that’s ok too (Sorry, I was reiterating that to myself lol).
NEXT STOP …. Da Nang and the ancient town of Hoi An … catch up with you in a week!
Comment below if you’ve been to any of these places, what were your thoughts? Where should I go while in Da Nang? Any good recommendations for places to eat in Hoi An?