Phong Nha-Ke, Vietnam's best kept secret

  

vietnam Phong Nha Ke caves

Designated a Unesco World Heritage site back in 2003, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park spans 885 square kilometres of unspoilt jungle, caves and underground rivers. Home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia, which were formed 400 million years ago, the park is also famous for being riddled by mesmerizing underground rivers and hundreds of cave systems, including the world's largest cave Hang Son Doong (Son Doong Cave).

Caves
Thorough explorations began in the 90s when cavers from the British Cave Research Association and Hanoi University first penetrated deep into a Phong Nha Cave, which stands out for being of the longest cave systems in the world. Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005 and the world's largest cave - Son Doong - was discovered in 2009.
You can only access Phong Nha Cave by dragon boat from the little jetty in Phong Nha town. In Dark Cave (Hang Toi) you can zipline, explore through the mud, swim in the cold water and go kayaking. If you prefer a dry cavern, head to Paradise Cave, but don't let small entrance deceive you; it's a majestic cave. There, the stalactite and stalagmite formations will send you through the roof. If you are up for some exercise, Hang Va and Hang En require some demanding trekking.
Paradisiac landscapes
Many refer to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park as Vietnam's last paradise on Earth, and that's because above the ground, the park boasts nearly untouched tropical evergreen jungle, out of which 90% is primary forest.
The park is home to threatened large-antlered muntjacs, langurs, macaques and Asian black bears, apart countless birds, reptiles and amphibians. To keep this park protected, you can only see a part of the park. Although the park is free to enter, you might have to pay to see certain attractions.
Given the park's growing popularity, you might want to book overnight caving tours for Tur Lan, Hang va and Hang En in advance.
Tun Lam Cave
The Tu Lan cave trip starts with a countryside hike. You need an intermediate fitness level then to swim through two river caves before reaching a spectacular valley. You continue hiking through a lush rainforest until you reach a beach which is the meeting point of the two rivers.
Hang Toi
This tour is one of the most comprehensive adventures to be had in the park. You won't only get to swim into the cave, but you will also enjoy ziplining above-water to get here. You can also explore a pitch-black passageway of oozing mud. After visiting this cave, you can make it back to the jetty by paddling on a kayak.
Paradise Cave
Visiting this cave is a one-way ticket to Middle Earth. You'll feel like part of the fellowship of the ring when they enter the mines of moria. As you descend wooden stairs, you are greeted by titanic stalagmites and shimmering stalactites. If you want to go deeper inside Paradise Cave, book a tour which might include swimming through an underground river.
Hang En
Three kilometres from Hang Son Doong lies the third biggest cave in the world, Hang En. If you like trekking, this is a great opportunity to explore the area and camp in this colossal cave beside an underground river. You must be prepared, however, to hike 12 kilometres through the jungle.
Scenic Drive
One of the activities you can undertake is a scenic drive through the park which is an absolute treat to the senses. From your window, you'll be amazed by wet tropical evergreen forest clinging to craggy karst. If you are lucky, you might also see langurs or other creatures. You can also accreate this drive from a two-wheeled vehicle as the breeze brushes your face. From your motorbike, you will enjoy more seeing the ethereal scenery of flat rice fields framed by massive karst sprouting from the earth. Then head down the Bong Lai Valley and stop for a swim or at least for a bite.
Weather
You might want to avoid embarking on a journey to the Phong Nha area from September to November as it is the rainy season and the valleys might get heavily flooded, and thus some treks and caves are off limits. During the dry season from February to August, however, streams can dry up. If you are planning on camping near caves,you might want to avoid trekking from December to February as it can be very damp and cold, particularly at night. If you are a trekker at heart, the best time to visit this park would be from February to May where you will find pleasant temperatures accompanied by drier conditions.

 

Adventures in Vietnam

  
Adventures in Vietnam
With a surreal landscape of limestone islands in Halong Bay, some of the world's most spectacular caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, buzzing cities with a tornado of motorbikes in Hanoi, and with an absolutely breathtaking and exotic outdoor appeal, Vietnam is a thrill seeker's paradise. Whether you are into watersports like kayaking, diving, snorkeling and surfing, or you pump your adrenaline inland with activities such as trekking, cycling and motorcycling, there are world-class adventure opportunities for every adventure seeker.
Planning
As Southeast Asian country, Vietnam's climate may vary drastically and is monsoon-dependant. As such, you need to carefully plan your trip and what season will suit best itinerary so you can make the most of this wonderful country.
If you are into surfing and kitesurfing, the best time to catch the waves is from November to April. If you are surfer, however, you might want to avoid these months as the water visibility is quite poor; the best time for you dive would be during the months of June, July and August.
If you like outdoorsy activities that involve climbing and trekking, you might want to avoid the rainy season from May to September.
Trekking
From highland valleys to limestone mountains, Vietnam is blessed such dramatic scenery that surpasses any trekker's expectations.
Safety
Whether you are an experienced hiker or an amateur, Vietnam can become a dangerous place to trek if you explore remote paths on your own. As the country is also full of unexplored terrain, you should hire a local guide. Fortunately, they usually speak English, they are unexpensive and they can communicate with tribal villagers.
Whether you are on a budget or not, it might be worth it to invest in boots with ankle support if you are planning on trekking in Vietnam.
Best trekking
The best area to go trekking is Northern Vietnam where you will find ethereal mountain paths and beautiful trails across wonderful national parks. Trekkers from all over the world flock to Sapa, Vietnam's trekking Mecca. Boasting dramatic scenery, spellbinding tribal villages, impressive mountains and bright green rice paddies, Sapa attracts so many hikers that trails can get very crowded and there are plenty hiking operators and hire stores (renting out sleeping bags, boots and waterproof gear). Although there are many hikers around, you'll need a local guide to explore remote paths.
Bac Ha is another unmissable spot for trekkers, which offers fascinating highland hiking opportunities, along with picturesque village homestays. While Mai Chau offers ethereal landscapes and the mysticism of tribal villages, Dong Van offers top-class mountain scenery.
If you go to central Vietnam, it is imperative you hike across the limestone hills of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park where you'll also be able to explore the world's largest cave, Hang Son Doong.
Nature lovers are in for a treat in Southern Vietnam, which boasts amazing national parks, such as Yok Don National Park, where you might get a glimpse of a mammal, and Cat Tien National Park, home to crocodiles.
Motorbiking
Riding a motorcycle in Vietnam is probably the best way to get your adrenaline pumping, particularly because your survival instincts will be at their prime when you try to find yourself at a 4-way intersection with no traffic lights and tsunami of bikers on the road. Apart from the thrill of survival, motorbiking is the best way to soak in the local culture, not only because it's Vietnamese's favourite mode of transport, but also because commuting on two wheels allows brings you a step a step closer the country's smells, people and scenery. Riding a motorcycle is also an exciting way to explore a city and it shows you the place from a different perspective.
Surfing
Dotted with a good left-hand break, Bai Dai beach is an ideal spot for experienced surfers. Amateurs, however, should head instead to Mui Ne, which boasts multiple breaks around the bay, including short- and left-handers. In season and when conditions are perfect, you can catch some of the best waves in Vung Tau.
Diving and snorkelling
Although Vietnam's underwater world is not as impressive as other Southeast Asian countries', it might still be worth seeing, but don't expect excellent visibility. The most popular diving spots are around Nha Trang, Cham Islands and Phu Quoc Island. Just do some research before hiring a tour operator as there are some dodgy dive shops in the country. Go online and look for reputable dive schools with certified instructors and equipment in optimum conditions.

 

Vietnam - Unmissable Experiences

  

visit vietnam Unmissable Experiences

Dotted with a unique heritage, alluring landscapes, aromatic and sensational cuisine, and an exotic and mystic air, Vietnam's highlights are limitless. From a thrilling motorbike ride to hiking the evergreen hills around Bac Ha, from its spicy noodle soups to its rice wine, and from its ancient craft industries to grand colonial mansions from the French era and the skybars of 21st-century glass-and-steel highrises, there is a large range of unmissable experiences that cater to every taste, every whim and, ultimately, every kind of traveller.

Food
Boasting subtle flavours and a vast diversity, Vietnam is a culinary superpower and sampling these glorious dishes is a treat to every traveller. Thanks to its position on the map, the north of Vietnam has benefitted from Chinese cuisine, which has influenced the soups of the north. Meanwhile, spices are king in southern cuisine, and herbs and complex techniques enrich the central coastline.
Another secret to Vietnam's top-class cuisine is that its ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal, therefore, they are all fresh and the result are heavenly dishes with complex textures. Vietnamese cuisine is so complex that dishes are expected to balance sour and sweet, crunchy and silky, fried and steamed, soup and salad. Therefore, this is a great country to indulge yourself in the local specialties.
Hoi An
Boasting historical lanes, beautiful temples and pagodas, this ancient port is Vietnam's most civilised and cosmopolitan town. Here you treat yourself to a banquet even if you are on a budget, wander along the riverside and bike the back roads. Whether you want a thrill or to chill, Hoi An won't disappoint.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is one of Vietnam's most exciting parks, where you can hike through the rainforest and watch as the mountain rivers course through ravines.
But more adventures await underground where the most intrepid travellers will find Hang Son Doong, the world's largest cave. The prehistoric atmosphere is such that caving expert Howard Limbert stated, “Watch out for dinosaurs. That's what we called this place when we first discovered it.” This is thrilling and unique experience you can't miss out on when you visit Vietnam.
Perhaps less unique but equally exciting is the opportunity to go zip lining and kayaking in Hang Toi. Another highlight is the out-of-this-world beautiful Paradise Cave.
Markets
Whether you are looking to shop till you drop, soak in the local culture or a precious combo, street markets are Vietnam beating heart. From the floating markets of the Mekong Delta to the tribal gatherings in highlands and the streets bursting with souvenirs in Hoi An, Vietnamese markets are a vibrant attraction, colourful display of local culture and a shopaholic's paradise. If you really like markets and you visit the north of Te country, you might want to check out the region around Ba Ha, where you will find a large number of interesting markets.
Halong Bay
Categorised as a World Heritage Wonder, Halong Bay is where karst limestone peaks meet shimmering seas. With more than 2,000 different islands to see, you need to book a cruise to see everything. One of the main activities here is to rent a kayak and paddle into dreamy lagoons. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of these touristic attractions, head to Lab Ha Bay, which, despite being less touristic, is equally stunning.
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi
Located on opposite ends of the country, these two cities are usually either the first or last place s traveller sees. Surrounded by orbiting motorcycles, this buzzing cities are indulge yourself in a wealth of history, fun shopping. delicious food and an exciting nightlife. Whether you wander the the streets of the Old Quarter, score inexpensive souvenirs or explore the French Quarter, you'll never get bored in this buzzing cities.
Hue
History lovers, rejoice! There's a city in Vietnam where you can satisfy your inner culture-loving self and this is Hue. Over 150 years, from the 19th century all through the early 20th, Hue was the capital of the country and as such it is dotted with valuable national treasures such as the Hue Citadel, its royal residences and elegant temples, admirable walled defence and gateways. This city also housed some of the country's most striking pagodas and royal tombs.

 

The Dalat Washing Machine

  
The Dalat Washing Machine
While most tourists explore Vietnam by travelling along the coast, it's worth going off course and dip inland to the town of Dalat. Located in the province of Lam Dong, Dalat will give you a break from the country's tropical hot weather and will welcome you into a town blessed with spring weather and is dotted with elegant French-colonial villas rather than stark socialist architecture.
It's not Dalat's interesting History nor its colourful European-style buildings, dreamy lake and beautiful farms thick with strawberries and flowers what attracts visitors from far and wide, but the fact that the town is home to Vietnam's biggest Washing Machine. This is not about laundry service but about the opportunity of a lifetime to have a crack at canyoning.
Safety first
When you choose a tour company to embark on this adventure, make sure they look legit. Remember that in Vietnam they are a bit loose when it comes to safety rules and although canyoning might be good fun, it can also be very dangerous.
They usually take you in groups, and only good companies will have tour guides that will look after every member of the group. Just remember that sometimes more is less or the other way around. Just because one company offers a tour package that is more experience than another, it doesn't mean that they are offering a better service. Instead, you should always try to negotiate and ask around. Read reviews of the companies online, ask fellow travellers who have done this experience before if they can advise you and how much they paid. All in all, you need to be informed and prepared before you book a tour.
Just because you want to be safe it doesn't mean you have to be anxious or nervous. On the contrary, if you are apprehensive, your instincts will prompt you into grippin the rope like there's no tomorrow when you are on the edge of the cliff. If you don't relax and let the rope slip through your fingers, you won't be able to rappel down the cliff face. Therefore, you must need to be confident while canyoning.
The first rappel
After walking for a few minutes, you come across the first abseil which is an 18-metre rappel down a dry vertical rock face with a fast flowing waterfall cascading next to it. At the bottom, you have jump into the chilly river. Then you'll have to paddle and swim before reaching a small patch of rapids. Water slides and slippery rocks will then propel you into the bottom pool. Although it might be unnerving to water slide, it is actually pretty safe, but you must follow the guide's instructions to avoid any potential hazards.
While nerve-racking for those who have never done natural water sliding, the activity is actually quite safe and as long as you follow the guide's instructions you will avoid any hidden dangers.
Then another exciting 16-metre dry rappel follows, and you have to jump as high as possible into the abyss.
The abyss in Dalat
You won't get much time to catch your breath after slithering down slides before you come face to face with the biggest challenge of the them all, abseiling down Dalat's 25-metre high waterfall. Although this is a thrilling experience, it is also terrifying. Apart from the fact that abseiling down a cliff is already a difficult task, add a waterfall to that and it gets tricky. To start with, it's slippery and you are trying to remain steady and avoid small crops of rocks while you have water ploughing into your face.
The real challenge, however, is when you reach the point when the rope is not long enough for you to reach the floor and the only option is to push off the rock and jump.
The Dalat Washing Machine
After falling into a pool and swimming you reach the infamous Dalat Washing Machine. You abseil down the cliff while jets of water hit you from every direction. You hang and then are swept into a whispool that drags you under and the water spins you around like a washing machine, hence the name.

 

Vietnam Travel Tips

  

Vietnam Travel Tips

Boasting a vibrant culture and dramatic landscapes, Vietnam's might be an explorer's paradise, but it's not exactly the easiest country to visit. From tour scams to poverty and poor infrastructure, there are certain factors that can dampen your sunny holidays. That is why you a little preparation will steer you in the right direction.

Here are some tips so you can be prepared when you travel:
Have your visa ready
Prior travelling, find out what you need to get your tourist visa and make sure you have the right documentation. The requirement to get a tourist visa vary depending on where you are from so check on the embassy's website what you need to do to get this visa.
Be friendly
Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnamese people don't often come in the rescue of lost travellers or freely approach them. Although they don't seem interested in tourists, while Thais are open and curious about travellers, they will help you if you approach them. Therefore, don't be shy, be friendly and don't be afraid to ask for directions if you need them.
Be careful when you get a taxi ride
Unfortunately, taxi scams are not uncommon in Vietnam. That is why it is important to have a sense of where you are going. If you feel like your driver is stalling and taking the long way there, just ask him to pull over and then you can get a new taxi. Arrange a pickup from the airport or hotel, so you can avoid overpaying when they see you are in need and carrying luggage. Looking buses up online doesn't cost a thing and it might save you a great deal of money on taxis.
Look into night buses
Booking an overnight bus might also save you on accommodation costs when you have to cover long distances. It also allows you to maximise the time of your trip as you don't waste a day travelling, but you can sleep on the way. To maximise your rest, book a top bunk and away from the loo. Speaking of which, bathrooms on buses are a cruel joke of lfe, so you might want to avoid them; therefore, try not to drink any liquids until you've made it to you destination.
Plan a realistic travel itinerary
Most travellers like to fly in Hanoi, travel southbound and fly out from Ho Chi Minh, so they can cross the country and have a sense they have seen everything. Although this is a fantastic way to explore Vietnam, you need at least three weeks to travel the country from North to South or the other way around, and see it at your leisure. If you are rushing to make it to the other side of the country, you will miss out on the experience of discovering Vietnam and instead of enjoying that experience, you'll feel stressed out and rushing about.
Motorcycles
Sure riding a motorcycle is a thrilling experience, but if you are not a pro or Valentino Rossi, for that matter, you might want to avoid renting a motorcycle. Let's just say traffic in Vietnam can be a bit daunting and too many tourists have unfortunately lost their lives while driving a two-wheeled vehicle.
If you don't want to leave Vietnam without experiencing life on a motorcycle, then you can always get an experienced Vietnamese rider to show around.
Weather can be somewhat temperamental
Southeast Asian countries are famous for their humid and hot weather. But their weather is also famous for going from sunny skies to the Biblical Great Flood that prompted Noah to build an ark.
Weather in Vietnam varies from one region to another. You can expect hot wet summers and cool dry winters up North, while Souther Vietnam is defined by only two seasons - wet and dry.
Bargain
This is Southeast Asia and haggling is a national sport and part of the fun of being a tourist. Just remember that there are no set prices, so don't be shy and haggle away, particularly because it is common in Vietnam to inflate prices. Locals won't only inflate prices when you are a tourist but also if you look like you are loaded, so try to look too fancy.

 

Ho Chi Minh City - Food and Dining Guide

  

Ho Chi Minh City   Food and Dining Guide

 

From an exciting street food scene to top-class international options, quirky coffee shops and fine regional cuisines, Saigon is Vietnam's culinary capital. Home to residents from all over the country, Saigon is the best place to sample all the regional cuisines and fresh flavours of Vietnam.
Although the most popular, regional cuisines don't represent the whole picture of Vietnam's dining scene. There are actually a large impressive collection of international restaurants in town, raging from French cuisine to Chinese, Thai, Japanese, among others. If you want to experience Saigon's international food offer, head to the expat enclave in District 2, which is around 15 minutes by cab from downtown, across the Saigon river. Fast becoming an important hub of international cuisine, this is a foodie's paradise where you will find some of the city's best dining options.
Here are some of the options you cannot miss:
Quan Ut Ut
Although it is actually an American barbecue joint whose name can be translated as “Restaurant Oink Oink”, this is one of the most popular restaurants there. As you might have guessed given its name, this restaurant serves dishes centered in pork. These porcine creations are some of Vietnam's most loved dishes, which include bun cha (vermicelli noodles with grilled pork meatballs) and thit heo kho (caramelized pork). Despite being a very popular place, they don't take bookings, so you are going to have to queue.
Quan Ut Ut, 168 Vo Van Kiet Phuong Cay Ong Lanh, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City 70000 Vietnam; +84 839 144 500
Monsoon
Although this restaurant might look like a fine dining establishment and it offers world-class dishes, it's still a bargain. Here you can sample a large range of Southeast Asian cuisines such as Cambodian, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai and Laotian. Don't miss out on the sweet port curry from Myanmar.
Monsoon Restaurant & Bar Saigon, No.1, Cao Ba Nha, Nguyen Cu Trinh ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 84 Vietnam; +84 8 6290 8899
Cuc Gach Quan
Located on the outer limits of District 1, Cuc Gach Quan is the right place to sample Vietnamese dishes. Although the menu is quite lengthy, you can't miss out on are soft shell crab and red rice. They also offer a deliciously homemade tofu for vegetarians. Vietnamese through and through, this is a great place to eat amazing food if you are on a budget.
Cuc Gach Quan, 10 Dang Tat Ward Tan Dinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam; +84 8 3848 0144
Banh Xeo 46A
If you visit Vietnam, you can't miss out on their scrumptious sizzling pancake - banh xeo. The batter is made out of rice flour, water, tumeric power and coconut milk. This batter is stuffed with stuffed with fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Then it's pan-fried and served with aromatic herbs dipped in nuoc cham - fish sauce thinned with water and lemon. One of the best places to try this delicacy is Banh Xeo 46A.
Banh Xeo 46A, 46A D Dinh Cong Trang District 3, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam; +84 8 3827 1372
Ho Chi Minh's Street Food
Saigon abounds with street-side eateries that range from proper stalls to nothing more than a pushcart and some stools on a street corner. Offering ambience and atmosphere along with delicious varied Vietnamese food, these street vendors are the beating heart of Saigon. Eating food from a street vendor is more than a dining option, it's an experience and an ideal opportunity to soak in the local culture.
The best streets for street food are Van Kiep street (Phu Nhuan district), Su Van Hanh street (street 10), Vinh Khanh street (district 4), Phan Van Han street (Binh Thanh district), Co Giang street (district 1) and Tran Khac Chan street (district 1).
Here are some of the best dishes you can get from a street vendor:
Bánh cu?n
Originally from the north of the country, this disch consists of a ladle full of rice batter which steamed on top of a cloth stretched over a pot of boiling water. This process leads to a rice sheet which is filled with ground pork, mushroom and shallots and then it's rolled up and cut into mouthful pieces.
Bun bo Hue
Associated with the cooking style of the former royal court, this traditional Vietnamese noodle soup can be bought from street vendors in Saigon where it retains its royal flavour. This traditional soup is prepared with vermicelli, generous slices of beef shank and a broth made out of lemongrass and shrimp paste. The dish can be garnished with either basil leaves, banana leaves or diced green onion.

 

Ha Long Bay

  

Ha Long Bay(1)

Situated in the North East of the country in the Quang Ninh Province, Ha Long Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. The 1,553 square kilometre area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 and features some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of South East Asia.

Some of the most prominent features are the limestone karsts and islands, jutting straight out of the clear water, of which there are thousands. These were formed over 500 million years of geological formation through different weather conditions and environments. Each of the limestone islands is topped with thick jungle vegetation which makes an interesting and striking view, and some of these islands are hollow and have magnificent limestone caves such as the striking Thien Cung grotto to explore. There are four small fishing villages in the bay where roughly a total of 1600 people live in floating houses and sustain a lifestyle through fishing.
While you can stay in Halong City which is the main gateway to the bay, it is also possible to stay on an overnight cruise to experience the natural phenomenon. This is slightly more expensive, but well worth it, as you will immerse yourself in nature and remove yourself from the busy city. Many of these overnight cruises will stay away from the most visited bays and take you to the quieter, more remote and more peaceful locations, which also ensures that you have a unique experience.
Located in the bay is Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park. This is an excellent place to witness the native vegetation and to complete some moderate and challenging hikes, including a challenging six hour 18km route to the top of one of the mountain summits. It is home to 32 types of mammal included the world's most endangered primate, the golden-headed langur. Guides are not essential, but are recommended so that you can listen to a local expert tell you all about the different vegetation, the history and the nature of the park, and they can be found at the park headquarters which are at Trung Trang, a short bus trip away from Cat Ba Town which is where you will land. There is also an easily accessible multi-chambered cave called Hang Trung Trang within the park to explore. If you do decide to visit this, ensure you have a flashlight with you and check with the park rangers that it is open. The Cat Ba Island Market, located in the town's harbour, is a great place to visit for local seafood and local culture.
One of the best views of the bay is from the Cannon Fort on Cat Ba Island. Only a short but steep 10 minute walk from the town will take you to the entrance, and from here the hike continues another 20 minutes or so to the fort at the top, following well signed pathways past underground tunnels and gun emplacements which were installed by the Japanese in the second world war.
For those who don't wish to spend the night, there are numerous cruises that leave from Halong City and from Hanoi. This is the quickest and easiest way to experience Ha Long Bay and will show you a cross section of the main bay. Prices range from as low as $40USD to around $100USD for single day trips depending on the size of the group, the quality of the food, how luxurious the cruise is, and indeed the company you use to book it.
Halong City itself is somewhat less remarkable, but is a good place for budget hotels, gambling and karaoke. It is one of the cheapest places to stay in all of Vietnam, and offers excellent access to the bay. For travelers on a very tight budget, it might be worth considering staying here and accessing the bay by day.
This beautiful attraction is highly recommended by every travel guide and travel agent, and although very popular, it is still possible to escape the crowds and to immerse yourself into something truly natural and amazing. Make sure to include Ha Long Bay in your itinerary for an unforgettable experience and to see one of the best places in Vietnam.

 

Good things to know before you go

  

Good things to know before you go

Every country operates a little differently, and sometimes it helps to know a little bit of what should be very basic information before you travel to a new location.

The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, of which, roughly 22,000 converts to $1USD, depending on conversion rates at the time of exchange. The US dollar is also widely accepted all over Vietnam, and most touristic establishments will accept payment in both currencies. Some places will take credit or debit cards, but a lot of establishments will only accept cash, so make sure you have some with you before you leave.
Prices in Vietnam are often not fixed like they usually are in Europe or America, and so often the locals will inflate the price for tourists. There is no point in pretending you're a local unless you can speak fluent Vietnamese, so be prepared to haggle and to bargain prices, and always check that vendors give you the correct amount of change that they owe you after agreeing on a price.
When it comes to paying for transportation, make sure you purchase your tickets directly from the train station and not from an agent or a hotel as they tend to overcharge as they want to make a profit from your business. Vendors will often say anything to obtain your business, so even if they insist that it is the price of the ticket, it can be purchased at the train station for the actual price, regardless of what you are told.
In Vietnam, they drive on the right-hand side of the road, although roads, particularly in cities, can be very chaotic and often motorbikes and scooters can be seen darting between traffic in brave maneuvers from all directions. It seems like organized chaos, but the locals manage to navigate with ease, however you should consider whether you think you are capable of driving in such manic conditions before you hire a car. Once you are outside of the cities, things calm down considerably, but road conditions are not always great. Traffic accidents are the most frequent cause of tourist deaths in Vietnam, so if you are driving, be careful.
Most Vietnamese who work in the tourist industry will have a good enough grasp of the English language, however as you find yourself in more rural communities, you might struggle to find people who can understand English. These are some key words and phrases that you should learn in the local language of any country that you are travelling to as a show of respect, even if only to be dismissed and spoken to in English. Learning these will actually mean that you know more Vietnamese than 90% of the travelers in Vietnam. There is a pronunciation guide in brackets to help you say the phrases correctly.
chào b?n (te-ow ban)/alô! (ah-low) - Hello
t?m bi?t (tam bi-ey) - Bye
cám on (cam uhn) - Thanks
Obviously, you can go much further and learn entire phrases, but even just saying chào b?n will be well received by the locals and create a good impression.
Visas are often required by visitors, and you should check with the official websites before departing for Vietnam if you are required to purchase one. This is taken very seriously at the airports, and so make sure you check all your information matches up correctly, make sure you have an accommodation address to provide to the immigration officers, and make sure you treat them with respect.
Food poisoning is quite common for tourists in Vietnam, so make sure you eat at trustworthy sources. Soup can often be the cause as it has been sat for a long time, so ensure it is boiling when it arrives and if it is not, politely send it back. Busy restaurants have a larger turnover of customers and therefore have food prepared more frequently, and are slightly less risk than quieter restaurants.
Vietnam is a fairly safe country to travel but petit thieving is still quite common. Make sure you keep an eye on your belongings on trains and busses, particularly when travelling overnight. Don't leave your money or your phone on the table at restaurants.
Vietnam is actually quite a big country, and it takes longer to travel around than maybe you think before you start your trip.

 

Hanoi

  

Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, albeit only the second largest city by population in the country. Located in the North of the country, it is known for it's older architecture, it's rich cultural blend of Southeast Asian, Chinese and French heritage, and it's many small temples. The city is more than 1000 years old, and has been occupied by many different nations during it's life.

During a trip to Vietnam, it is quite hard to avoid the capital, and there is absolutely no reason to. There are many museums, parks, historical sights and things to keep you well occupied, and you will never be stuck for something to do. Here are some highlights, picked out of the many attractions that Hanoi has to offer.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Thang Long is one of the previous names of the city of Hanoi, and the citadel is an interesting relic of Vietnamese history. It has been granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of it's historical and cultural significance, and stands 40 meters high, representing the historical political centre of the city. Here, amongst the beautiful architecture, you can find many artefacts that date back as far as the sixth century, from many different locations all around Asia as this used to also be a trading centre
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - Ho Chi Minh is considered one of Vietnam's greatest leaders from history, and he has left a legacy that is celebrated throughout the country. The mausoleum is his final resting place, and has become one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi. This is a unique piece of history and an impressive piece of dominant granite architecture. Visitors should remember to dress modestly, so no shorts or short skirts, and be aware that security here is very strict and that bags and cameras will have to deposited upon entering. The mausoleum closes annually around October for the deceased leader's remains to be maintained, so do check that it is open before you go.
The Perfume Pagoda - This is a stunning temple complex, supposedly first built in the 15th century. They are built into a mountain range and have a complicated labyrinth of alleys carved out of the rocks, topped with thick forest and small trickling streams. This is a little trip out of Hanoi and into the Son Mountains, which requires a two hour journey followed by a board trip to the bottom of the mountains. There are lots of different pagodas to visit and some interesting geology to explore, as well as a beautiful temple. Between January and April, this site attracts even more visitors for the Huong festival.
The Old Quarter - This is a chaotic and bustling part of the city featuring many beautiful examples of colonial architecture along narrow and crowded streets. There are many Buddhist temples and pagodas, and this also functions as Hanoi's main commercial district. There are plenty of trendy cafes, bars and restaurants to keep you well fed as you explore around this historical part of the city.
The Temple of Literature - This is a really beautiful and picturesque building which has been preserved since 1070 when it was built. It is a really amazing example of classic Vietnamese architecture and offers an insight into a world of literature as well as peaceful courtyards, pavilions, passageways and the famous Well of Heavenly Clarity.
Ba Vi National Park - Ba Vi is just a short two hour drive away from the crowds and chaos of Hanoi city and into an area of outstanding natural beauty. In the centre of the national park is a three-peaked mountain amongst jungle and tropical rainforest. This is an excellent place for some hiking and to discover some of the natural side of Vietnam. There are also hot springs and a spa inside the park, panoramic views to discover, and mountains to climb.
Hanoi offers a plethora of different accommodation offers, from luxury hotels to more budget friendly shared accommodation in hostels and is often the starting or ending point for your Vietnam adventure. Most of the locals involved in the tourism industry will have a fair grasp of the English language which makes it very easy for you to navigate around. Whether you like history, culture, nature or sightseeing, there is something for everybody to enjoy.

 

Hoi An UNESCO World Heritage

  

Hoi An UNESCO World Heritage

Formerly known as Fai-Fo, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a small city in the east of Vietnam. It is a well preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port which operated between the 15th and 19th century with a unique blend of architectural influences, both from Vietnamese culture and from abroad. It is an excellent place to escape the larger cities of Vietnam to as there is very little traffic and pollution, despite a steady rise in tourism in the last few years. Despite no longer operating so much as an international trading port, international business is still very important as the trade of tourism has taken over the town.

At the centre of the town is the iconic and beautiful Japanese Covered Bridge. This was constructed by the Japanese community to link them with the Chinese Quarters and has been well preserved ever since, becoming an emblem for H?i An and a top location to visit. While the French flattened the roadway to enable cars to cross, the original arched shape was restored in 1986 making it more true to it's original design. As Vietnam experiences a lot of earthquakes, the bridge has a very solid design and has survived some potential battering over the years. There are some old and weathered statues at either end of the bridge, a pair of monkeys at one end and a pair of dogs at the other, which are more than likely relevant to the year of the dog and the year of the monkey in one way or another, although nobody quite knows why.
Another top attraction is the Tan Ky House which was built over two centuries ago by an ethnically Vietnamese family and has been well preserved ever since. Both the Chinese and the Japanese have had heavy influences over the architecture and the attention to detail in the interior decorating is truly stunning. This little house holds a lot of history and culture and is a memorable and interesting destination for tourists in the area.
There are several tours operating in the area to give you an insight into the culture and history of the town, including boat and bike tours to explore the surrounding islands and villages, four tours around the town to introduce you to some of Vietnam's world renowned cuisine, and excursions out of town. One of the more popular locations to visit on these tours is the My Son Sanctuary which is another UNESCO World Heritage Sites dating back to the 4th Century.
Walking around the town is a good opportunity to admire the fusion of different cultures. A lot of the architecture has been well looked after and a gentle stroll would feel like a step back in time if not for all the modern tourists. The town is a blend of mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese design with elements of French influences from colonisation. There are many little temples to discover, pagodas and ancient homes and buildings to explore around a series of canals and narrow streets and alleys. There are four museums around town to highlight the history and culture of the region, all of which can be accessed using a H?i An Entrance Ticket which is available from the tourist information.
Accomodation ranges from basic shared rooms in hostels from as low as $8USD a night to a $600USD a night world class, 6 star resort called Nam Hai which is supposedly the best in Southeast Asia, and everything else in between. There are restaurants and cafes all over town to cater to the tourists who may very well outnumber the residents of the town.
The main season for visiting H?i An is between the end of May and the end of August, when the weather is calm and mild and more stable. For those looking to explore the Cù lao Chàm Islands, this is the best time to visit the town as tours are more frequent and run more often. The weather in the remainder of the year is very temperamental and conditions can vary drastically between humid hot weather, cold rain, and windy conditions.
For a truly unique, historical and cultural experience in Vietnam, make sure to include a trip to H?i An on your travels.

 

  
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