Vietnam is easily my favourite country so far, but until recently, had you asked me for the reason, I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on exactly why.
Yes, it’s beautiful. It has a fascinating history. Some of the best food in the world. And the people are wonderful. But the same can be said of plenty of other countries I’ve visited.
I spent some time thinking about exactly why it is my favourite and I decided that it’s because there are so many unique things to see and do. Each place I visited during my trip had different things to offer and it almost felt like I visited more than one country as I travelled around.
Here’s my list of some of the unique things you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Vietnam:
1. Stay on a junk boat in Halong Bay
With thousands of limestone karsts rising up from the water, Halong Bay is one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Stay for a couple of nights on a traditional junk boat, it’s an experience like no other. Be sure to hike up to the viewpoint on Ti Top island for breathtaking views over the bay and to grab a kayak to steer your own way through the waters.
2. Visit the Imperial City in Hue
A walled palace within the Citadel, Hue’s Imperial City is stunning. Get a local guide and spend an afternoon wandering around the complex and learning all about the history of Hue and the palace, which was finished being built in 1832.
3. Stroll around Ngoc Son Lake in Hanoi
Asian cities seem to have plenty of outdoor spaces for exercise and Hanoi is no exception.
Take an early morning stroll around the beautiful Ngoc Son Lake and see scores of elderly people practising tai chi, a Chinese martial art.
4. Drink a Vietnamese coffee
You probably don’t associate Vietnam with great coffee, but it certainly is the place to be if you’re looking for something different to your usual latte.
Traditional Vietnamese coffee is served with condensed milk and is delicious. Grab an iced version to cool you down.
The other type of coffee drunk is egg coffee, which is also very tasty.
5. Get a dress or suit tailored in Hoi An
Now, you can technically do this anywhere in the world but it’ll cost you. Hoi An is renowned for it’s cheap but impressive tailoring.
Do a little research before choosing a shop and embrace the experience, I felt like a real VIP being measured up and having my dress fitted.
I’d recommend Yaly Couture, one of the bigger and more popular operations in town.
6. Drive the Hai Van Pass
A mountain pass around 20km long running between Hoi An/Danang and Hue, Hai Van is a beautiful spectacle with amazing views over the coast.
Take an organised motorbike ride for the best views, but be warned that the pass is closed off in adverse weather.
7. See a Water Puppet Show
Dating back to the 11th century, be sure to see this unique take on Asian puppet tradition, where puppeteers perform with wooden puppets in a pool, along to Vietnamese music.
Silly, strange but definitely a unique and worthwhile experience. See a show in Hanoi, where it’s most popular, although you can do so in Ho Chi Minh City too.
8. Take a cyclo ride
A three wheeled bicycle taxi, a cyclo can be a great way to get around and see the city.Bear in mind that the traffic in Vietnam is crazy, so this isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re doing so in Ho Chi Minh City.
Join a tour which stops off at some of the city’s highlights rather than jumping in a random one and paying a fare, as you’ll probably be ripped off.
9. Ride on the back of a motorbike
Again something that you can do anywhere but it’s a truly a unique experience on Vietnam’s crazy roads.
Join a tour with a company like Hue Adventure Tours to really experience local life and to make sure you’re in safe hands.
10. Enjoy the magic of Hoi An Old Town
There is something about Hoi An that is just magical. Probably something to do with the hundreds of colourful lanterns that adorn the old town.
Take a leisurely stroll around at night but don’t forget to purchase your ticket for the old town at one of the kiosks on the edge it, otherwise you may find yourself in trouble if this is checked.
11. Visit a local market
Visting a local market is an interesting, albeit slightly shocking experience. Expect to see the weird, wonderful and upsetting whilst getting a real taste of local life.
12. Eat your way around a city on a street food tour
Sorry another one that you can do in most cities but there is definitely no other food in the world like Vietnam. It is so fresh, light and delicious.
Join a Hanoi Street Food Tour to try a number of delicious dishes at street food places that you wouldn’t choose from the look of them alone. You’ll eat different regional specialities.
13. Crawl through tunnels used in the Vietnam war
A large network of connecting underground tunnels, visiting Cu Chi gives you a tiny taste of what it was like in the Vietnam war. Communist troops Viet Kong built networks of tunnels in order to combat South Vietnamese and American armies that were much better equipped.
Take the opportunity to crawl through one of the cramped tunnels and imagine what it was like for the people living and fighting in these all those years ago.
14. Drink the world’s cheapest fresh beer
Bia hoi is a popular fresh draught beer served around northern Vietnam in small bars and on street corners. It costs about 30p and must be the cheapest beer from around the world.
Finish your day of exploring by grabbing a cold one, sitting on a low plastic stool and watching the world go by!