Aside from the fact that I had never properly watched Forrest Gump from start to finish before, Vietnam was a place of first experiences for both my partner and myself. In fact I knew very little about Vietnam and its history prior to visiting in August aside from the fact that it was a place where you could find amazing beef Pho and Banh Mi for less than $2 (AUD). We spent just over two weeks there (the tour runs for 12 days) and though some places were slightly rushed, the impression we had of the country was incredibly positive.
The long and dark history of the country is still very fresh and it’s difficult not to find yourself immersed in it when you can still see the effects on the locals today. When you hear the stories of the turmoil the country experienced over the last 150 years you’ll quickly realize that the Vietnamese are truly proud of everything they’ve accomplished and where they are today.
As with any South East Asian country the usual precautions as a traveller should be taken and you can most certainly expect to be overcharged by locals for anything and everything. That shouldn’t deter you from visiting because we never found ourselves truly getting ripped off as tourists (except for the very expensive fruit we bought from two grandmas in Hoi An to borrow their props for photos) and everything is cheap in comparison to let’s say – Europe. So if you’re thinking about booking your next trip then read on for my highlights from the Contiki Vietnam Experience.
Halong Bay Cruise
This was definitely something that I had been looking forward to the entire trip and it definitely did not disappoint. We were a little skeptical when we read that we’d be staying overnight on a junk boat but boy were we wrong! The boats are so luxe (complete with AC for those who can’t stand humidity) and the beds were so comfy we didn’t want to get out. Fresh seafood meals, hot showers, happy hour and amazing sunsets overlooking the islands in the Bay are some of the things you can look forward to. The only negative was that we spent too little time here and would have gladly spent 2-3 nights on the boat and just enjoying the surrounds.
Tip: If you’re going to go visit and plan on doing a cheeky swim in non-patrolled areas then make sure it isn’t jellyfish season because there were A LOT when we were there in August and I was unlucky enough to get stung.
Hoi An Old Town
By far one of our favourite parts of Vietnam; this UNESCO heritage listed town is incredibly charming and romantic – especially when the lanterns illuminate the riverbanks. Make a wish and light your own candle down the river whilst taking a rickshaw ride before exploring the street markets and indulging on local cuisines.
We were introduced to the famous Yaly Tailors (if you haven’t watched Top Gear then I suggest you do) where we splurged on new custom made dresses and suits. Did I mention they turned everything around in 24 hours? Insane right? We even managed to do a cooking class and even though it turned out to be disastrous for me (a cooking newbie) it was still an amazing culinary experience nonetheless.
Tip: If you love your Banh Mi’s then Banh Mi Phuong is a must visit because not only are the sandwiches cheap but they’ve been deemed to be THE best ever by Anthony Bourdain and we’re inclined to agree.
Cu Chi Tunnels
I have mixed feelings about calling this a ‘highlight’ of our trip but it definitely was eye opening to see and experience the reality of those who had to endure through what I could only describe as a true test of mental and physical grit. You’ll see the booby traps used, experience the small trapdoors the Viet Cong’s had to squeeze into and even hear gunshots in the backdrop for enhanced atmosphere.
Imagine being on your hands and knees (especially difficult when you’re both pregnant and claustrophobic) in a small tunnel, sweat profusely running down your face as you gasp for air in a pitch black hole. I lasted all but 90 seconds before I bailed and could hardly fathom that people actually lived in these tunnels for years to survive. If you’re a history buff then this would definitely be a must visit on the list.
Snorkelling in Nha Trang
Whilst the reefs aren’t as stunning as what you get in the Great Barrier Reef or in Mexico, it’s still loads of fun floating around in the warm waters. Nha Trang itself is incredibly touristy though there are a few funky beach bars and restaurants, which are beautiful to relax with a nice meal and drink at sunset.
Tip: Try to avoid jelly fish season because the waters are crawling with sea lice!
Local Food Tour in Hue
This one probably won’t be particularly appetizing to those who aren’t adventurous when it comes to food but if you are then it is a must! Having said this, my partner isn’t particularly adventurous when it comes to exotic foods but managed to try the local delicacy of balut (fertilized duck egg) – whilst that wasn’t the most delicious of cuisines, we did however try some amazing delicacies and handmade noodles.
Tip: Check out the local vegetarian restaurants because they really do know how to make a mean salad and spring roll!