Vietnam is magical. My perception of Vietnam was very much formed by movies and TV shows that covered the Vietnam War, and it was absolutely fascinating to see how that developed into something beyond that after only a week. The country is wonderfully lush, filled with rich culture and history and I loved learning about it all. I really can’t wait to return to venture further up north one day soon!
HO CHI MINH CITY
War Remnants Museum – the first place we visited was by far, the most impactful, heartbreaking places I’ve ever seen. A fair warning to those who visit here that many of the photos on the walls, while very informing about the atrocities, are also extremely graphic. If you want to know what powerful photography is, then here may be the place. I don’t even know how to explain how I felt walking through this place. I was mostly sad, horrified by the pain so many were put through, angry that this happened, frustrated, disturbed. While it was a very confronting experience, I would urge people who visit this city to see this museum. It will help you understand the war, the history of this amazing country and how far it has come.
Reunification Palace – an absolutely fascinating place to visit. This was formally the headquarters of the French/Americans, and when the Vietnamese Communists stormed Saigon, this was where North and South Vietnam became reunited, with this city named after their leader Ho Chi Minh. The palace itself is grand, but not in what most people are used to when they think palace. It is not like an old European castle, but relatively modern, and you can instantly tell it was used in the 70s. I think that’s what gives it charm. What was really exciting and interesting was heading down to the bunkers.
Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral – Unfortunately for us, the cathedral was closed for renovations during our trip, but it was still beautiful from across the road. Instead, we spent time at the Central Post Office. It was also a beautiful building, with some great maps of the country on the walls.
Ben Thanh Market – fruits, vegetables, and poultry galore can be found here, and it made for such a colourful experience. If you’re in need of some sustenance, sit down for a bowl of pho or cool watermelon juice. Markets always are my favourite parts of travelling and Ben Thanh Market did not disappoint.
Bitexco Financial Tower – great view of the city, and with the branded Heineken experience, we even got two beers out of the deal! We loved walking around the viewing deck, admiring the stunning view. It was amazing to see this bustling city from above.
Day Trip to Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels – I’ll be the first to say the boat trip down the Mekong Delta was definitely one of the biggest tourist traps ever, but I still had a pretty good time. Heading down in a tiny boat was still a ton of fun. The Cu Chi tunnels was definitely the more fascinating part of this day trip – nothing is more interesting than seeing history right before your eyes. Our guide took us through a small portion of the tunnel (which had been widened for tourists), and it had me quickly feeling very claustrophobic. It’s a really eye-opening reminder that the events of the Vietnam War are very much in living memory.
Old Houses and Temples in the Old Town – there are so many wonderful little gems in the Hoi An old town to explore. Quan Cong Temple, the Japanese Bridge, Tan Ky Family House, and Fujian Assembly Hall to name a few. Because they are all on the small side, these sights are a quick and easy visit.
Coffee – Like us Melburnians, the Vietnamese love their coffee, and I would say arguably do it better. When in Hoi An, enjoy lots of coffee in the local cafes, and watch the day melt away.
Lanterns – Hoi An is known for them. The old town really comes to life at night, with the streets completely filled with colourful lanterns of every colour. It is truly stunning, and the river in the centre of town is filled with floating lanterns each night too.
My Son – just a short drive away, these temple ruins are definitely worth a visit! They remind me a little bit of the Siem Reap temples, and I absolutely loved walking through these ruins.
Bicycle Tour – one of the best things we did in Hoi An was a bicycle tour! We took a boat to a nearby village and cycled through paddy fields, learnt about how rice paper noodles are made and enjoyed a couple snacks. We also cycled up to the nearby beach in the afternoon (although it was way too cold for a dip).
Yaly Couture – Hoi An is also known for its incredible well-made, and efficient tailors. They can make just about anything you want, personally tailored to your measurements in just a few days. Hit this place up when you first arrive, and you’ll soon be back for a fitting and your final outfit before you leave. They truly work some magic here.
SOME PRACTICAL NOTES
- Similarly to the rest of South East Asia, the afternoons are warm here, so best do your most walking/sightseeing in the mornings. It can however get pretty chilly depending on the time of year and where you go, so bring light layers! I was in my hoodie the entire time we were in Hoi An.
- Motorcycles are a fact of life, and walk slow, steady and forward when needing to cross the road. Yes, it is very scary and it still does my head in.I think the key is confidence. When in doubt, cross when a local crosses!
- Vietnamese cuisine is super regional! Pho was more common in Ho Chi Minh City, whereas in Hoi An, we feasted on a lot of Banh Mi. Enjoy the regional dish of choice!