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.

Accommodation 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.

Hostelling in Vietnam

Hostelling in Vietnam

There are many different ways to experience Vietnam as a country, from high priced luxurious tours to more budget friendly alternatives. Hostels often have a bad reputation, particularly for those who have never stayed in them before, however there are a lot of benefits to sharing your accommodation over having a private room in a hotel, and Vietnam is a great country to start.

The first, and probably the most important benefit is the price. You can find yourself a bed for as low as $4USD in Hanoi and $7USD in Ho Chi Minh. For those who are willing to sacrifice their privacy, having their own bathroom, and to risk sharing a dorm room with a snorer, the financial benefits are huge. Whatever money you save from your accommodation can go straight to paying for your adventures or can be put towards trying all of those exotic and exciting Vietnamese dishes. You can also have private rooms in hostels which tend to be cheaper than hotels, but still cost a little more than paying for a bed in a shared room. As people who stay in hostels tend to be budgeting a little more than those in hotels, the partnered companies who provide the tours tend to also be cheaper and more local, so overall you will be saving a lot, and maybe you will even go home with some change for once.

Socially, staying in hostels is awesome. You have no choice but to mix in with people from all over the world, with stories to tell and experiences to share. Quite often, travellers in Vietnam will actually be taking the same routes, and so for those who are travelling alone, it is a great way to meet and to make travelling companions who can help you to spread the cost even further. As a lot of people travel around Southeast Asia by motorbike, you can also find people who will travel with you this way, and perhaps have a more mechanical mindset than you for when they break down. As people who stay in hostels tend to be very international, they are usually very open minded, and you are likely to leave with some friends for life, as well as making a few friends just for the day.

Culturally, staying in a hostel usually lands you closer to the local action. They are usually run by local people who are fully immersed in the local world, and who will be able to recommend potentially less touristic attractions to visit and more diverse things to do. They will be able to send you to restaurants where the locals eat, and to give you a more legitimate and genuinely unique experience of Vietnam. As they are often family run businesses, you will be supporting the local economy in ways that the Marriott can't as an international conglomerate company. Staff are often young people who are enthusiastic about travelling and about the country that they are residing in, and want to provide you with the best snapshot of what their culture means to them.

For those really looking to budget, some hostels have a guest kitchen, although in Vietnam this is less common than in other countries. Here, you will be able to try out local ingredients and to make recreate some Vietnamese dishes while the recipes are still fresh in your mind, as well as team up with other travellers to save even more money and cook together. The sanitary element of hostels is often a worry for first time hostellers, however these are always improving to keep up with modern expectations, and the kitchen is, most of the time, a safe place to prepare, cook and to eat.

Hostels often provide very unique sleeping opportunities, and Vietnam is no disappointment at showcasing some weird and wonderful accommodation. The Circle Vietnam Hostel in Da Lat City offers guests the chance to sleep in some strange pipe shaped rooms, two meters in diameter, with a panoramic view of the city. The Asia Home Nha Trang is similar to capsule hotels in Hong Kong, with shared facilities and the chance to sleep in an all inclusive capsule bed. While competing with each other for guests, hostels quite often are very weird and wonderful places to sleep and offer a unique experience for their guests.

Like most of our visitors, if you are used to five star hotels and have never stayed in a hostel, maybe Vietnam is the place to try something new.

Preparing for your trip to Vietnam

Preparing for your trip to Vietnam

Vietnam is a culturally diverse and fascinating country, and is often a big step away from familiar cultures for visitors to the area. It has a variety of different climates, ranging from tropical to temperate mountainous zones, and the country experiences a high amount of rainfall and also some very strong sun, making it also very humid. For those flying in from Europe or the USA, it can be very difficult to know what to expect upon arrival.

The first thing to consider after booking your flights is to create a rough itinerary. This way, you can start to predict which areas you are going to be in and which vaccinations you may or may not require to protect yourself against infection. The zika virus is a risk in Vietnam, and travellers should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual exposure to this during and after the trip. This is particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it causes serious birth defects, and so it is worth considering postponing your trip if you are expecting. Hepatitis A and typhoid are also possibilities, and it is worth checking with your doctor that you are protected against these before travelling.

Depending on what regions you are visiting, malaria can be a problem, but do be aware that preventative medication against this is very strong and can cause sickness in itself, so it should only be used if necessary. Rabies can also be found in some of the animals, so for travellers involved in outdoor activities, particularly in rural areas, and for people working with animals it is worth protecting yourself against this also. Yellow fever is not a problem in Vietnam, however if you are travelling from a country with a risk of the virus, you will require proof that you are vaccinated against it. It is usually considerably safer to get vaccinated from your home country before travelling than to get vaccinated upon arrival, and sometimes the vaccinations take a few days to become effective, so do ensure this is done before the start of your trip. It's also worth taking a small first aid kit with you, just in case, and it is also worth checking that your travel insurance covers everything you intend to do.

While it is very important to try the food of the culture on your trip, also be aware that unsanitary kitchens and a drastic change of diet can have very unfavourable effects on your body and potentially ruin your whole vacation. Immerse yourself into the new cuisine slowly, and don't eat from anywhere that looks too unclean.

After you have your itinerary, you can start to book accommodation, transfers, and to plan out all of your activities, from which you can start to pack your luggage accordingly. Everybody hates travelling with too much stuff, and there is a real art to packing light which will make all your transfers considerably easier. Vietnam experiences a whole plethora of different weather conditions, often all in the same day, so lightweight and multipurpose outdoor clothing is the most effective solution to ensuring you have the lightest baggage possible. A completely waterproof rain jacket is absolutely essential, but do be aware that the country is quite warm and so pack a small and light one. Strong sunscreen and polarised sunglasses are also very important, and due to the tropical conditions in parts of the country, it also pays to have some tropical grade insect repellent. The mountainous areas are a little cooler, and the temperature drops off a little at night, so make sure you also have some lightweight warm clothing with you as well as plenty of light clothing for the warmer weather. Aim for layering as this minimises packing and maximises the effect. Take some sturdy walking boots for hiking and some flip-flops for the beach. At least one swimming costume is a good idea, as you will likely spend a lot of time in the water.

The best way to obtain a visa for Vietnam is through the official government website, and all of the information can be found at https://vietnamvisa.govt.vn. Some nationalities can bypass this if they are staying for a short time, however you should absolutely ensure that you follow the correct procedure for your country and not make assumptions.