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Vietnam is a kingdom of dramatic landscapes, deep cultural heritage, and the most kindhearted locals I have ever met. When travelling through this beautiful land, you’ll find unimaginable amounts of freedom and wonder. From laying on a 10$ boat gazing at mountainous limestone islands in Ha Long Bay, to weaving through the chaos of Hanoi and Saigon on your very first mammoth motorcycle – every corner you turn in Vietnam is electric with fantastical amounts of life. This is a country rich with unfiltered history and culture, lush nature, and mouthwatering cuisine.
Although there are several conventional ways to travel Vietnam, the best and most unique is without a doubt, motorcycles! Journeying from top to bottom (or vice versa) of the long, thin, country by motorcycle is an adventure that is significantly poignant to the Vietnamese experience. At arrival in Hanoi (North), or Saigon (South), it is easy to rent or buy the motorcycle of your dreams at a shockingly affordable price. Alternately, there is a plethora of automatic and semi-automatic scooters available for the less experienced, yet still thrill-seeking wanderer! Experience riding through the mountainous switchbacks that curve around the striking scenery in the west by doing the Ha Giang Loop, as well as the picturesque beaches of the South China Sea alongside the Hai Van Pass in the eastern centre of Vietnam.
If you are not one for biking, it is just as simple and inexpensive to hop on cozy sleeper busses that take you from one area of the region to another. Although the cosmopolitan buzzing of Saigon and the rustic, dilapidated charm of Hanoi make for surprisingly fresh and fashionable big city experiences, the real magic of Vietnam lies in the rolling towns, villages and nowhere-countryside in between!
In the north, you have the chance to explore luxuriously by taking a two-day cruise through the jagged island scenery of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself venturing further up the country, you’ll find endlessly lush, eminent mountains that resemble pouring waterfalls of mystical flora and fauna embracing the Viet-Chinese border. Over here is Ha Giang, and Sapa. Sapa is a palace of viridescent, pastoral green where you can enjoy your time hiking through mountains and rice fields. It is also home to many ethnic minorities and tribes such as the Hmong tribe, Tay tribe and Red Dao tribe. In Sapa town, you will come across many of these tribeswomen, and they will welcome you with nothing but smiles. If you are interested in hiking, or staying in a more natural homestay, the tribeswomen will help organise a traditional experience for you in their villages.
Towards the south of the country, lay the idyllic towns of Hue, Da Lat, Hoi An, and Da Nang. Although each spot is equally compelling, Da Lat and Hoi An have their own, individual charms. Nestled in the very middle of the country is dignified and historical Hoi An, with it’s old world charm, cozy European architecture, lantern studded canals and some of the most palatable food in Vietnam. At just a 20km drive away from Da Nang, it is a coastal town, giving home to several white-sand beaches, perfect for spending the summer months in golden leisure. Over here you can also find world renowned artisan tailors. The town is flecked in tiny, local stores with the dazzlingly authentic handicrafts; an ideal spot to gather your Vietnam souvenirs at incredible prices. Edging further south is Da Lat, Often referred to as ‘Le Petit Paris’, or ‘The City of Eternal Springs’, it is a product of French Colonial-era architecture merged with the perpetually pleasant climate of a hill station. It is famous for it’s agriculture, delectable wines, and my personal favourite, the condensed nature that surrounds the town. A great spot for adventuring, the cascading waterfalls and dense forrest area make for extraordinary possibilities to go rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and even canyoning! Both towns are great spots to rent bicycles, and take in the breathtaking scenery while coming back to your inner child.
Finally, at the South-Western tip of Vietnam is Phu Quoc Island, the archetypal South East Asian beach spot that you comes to mind upon hearing the words ‘tropical paradise’. The quintessential setting for sun-seeking travellers, you can spend your days lounging on the beach or enjoy the crystalline ocean by diving at reefs and kayaking through sandy, celestial bays. Phu Quoc is also home to ‘Epizode’, the biggest South East Asian techno festival which takes place on the little island every December.
Vietnam and food
Celebrated across the globe, when it comes to food, Vietnam is truly individual and spectacular. Cooking classes and street food tours that run across the country lay testament to this fact, and with the communal ‘family style’ method of eating meals, there is a strong aspect of homeliness and love that comes with your food. Geography plays a crucial role, as the cuisine diversifies intensely in flavour from North to South. Northern Vietnamese dishes are densely influenced by the Chinese, with their heavy use of stir-fried noodles and soy, this is seen in staple Northern dishes such as Bun Cha (charcoal grilled pork and noodles), Bun Rieu (crab noodle soup) and Bun Thang (fermented fish paste noodles). The South’s sweeter and spicier flavour is inspired by neighbouring countries, Cambodia and Thailand, and is in reflected in dishes like Banh Mi Op La (egg baguette sandwich), Banh Tam Bi (coconut cream noodles), and Goi Cuon (summer rolls). The national food of Vietnam is Pho, a traditional noodle soup dish; eating Pho is a fantastic, as well as delicious, way to teach your palate in the difference between Northern and Southern Vietnamese cuisine. Although many prefer the tangy relishes of Southern Pho, the food originates from the North, and it is a must-try dish in both places!
Travelling this prepossessing country, with it’s deep rooted culture and heritage, magnificent nature and incredibly kindhearted people is truly a humbling experience. Vietnam has given me newly harvested feelings of freedom, understanding and the immense beauty of purely living life; travelling here is an act of wonder in itself, and it is something I genuinely recommend to everyone.
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