Silke, my best friend from university, and I backpacked in 3 weeks from the South to the North of Vietnam. Vietnam will always have a special place in my heart as I fell in love with the scenery, the people and the food. I bought the flight with my very first salary which made this journey extra memorable. Unfortunately, we lost the pictures from a large part of our trip but our diary keeps the memories alive. If Vietnam is on your bucket list, try to fit in these 5 amazing places.
1. Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex
Ninh Binh is a good base place to explore the impressive limestone scenery of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trang An. The green valleys with steep limestone karst peaks are truly amazing. In Trang An we boarded a small rowing boat to enjoy the scenery from another point of view and to visit caves and temples in the surroundings. During this boat trip, we were photographed a dozen times as we were the only tourists here. In our guesthouse they later told us that local visitors go to Trang An, while foreign visitors tend to go to Tam Coc. So go to Trang An to avoid the crowds.
What we liked as much as the boat trip was the bike ride between Ninh Binh and Trang An. We got lost several times through the narrow paths (you know me) as we didn’t want to take the main road. This way we could observe local life in the villages. We passed across rice fields, small houses, big limestone rock formations and grazing cattle, while the kids enthusiastically waved at us. Here you can observe rural life in one of the most stunning sceneries I have been to, so I cannot recommend this site highly enough.
The boat trip in Trang An costs approximately €6 and renting a bike €2.
2. Cham Islands
The Cham Islands consist of several small islands that are recognized as the World Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO. These islands are a paradise for water sports like swimming, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing and kite flying. We went snorkeling in this pristine area and saw rare marine species and colorful coral reefs. We opted to go on an organized tour as we wanted to be sure to snorkel in the most beautiful spots. Most tours give the time to sunbath on the white-sandy coast and to hike in the forests too. My legs and shoulders were heavily burned so don’t forget your sunscreen. Or even better swim with a short and t-shirt.
If you like to go independently, take a taxi to Bach Dang Pier. The fare of the wooden boats is less than €2 and can be bought daily from 7 am. Don’t go between September and February as the sea will be rough and the underwater visibility poor. Our tour included transportation from our hostel, boat trip, snorkel gear and seafood lunch at the beach and costed €40.
3. My Son Sanctuary
With our rented scooter, we arrived later than expected at the My Son Sanctuary, another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam. The chaotic roads surrounding Hoi An are not so easy to navigate so ask your hostel or the motorbike rental company to give you clear instructions. Don’t suppose that signposts will show you the way, like we did. The Sanctuary is marketed as the “Angkor of Vietnam”. Maybe this is extravagant, but these Champa ruins are certainly unique and worth the visit for the historic interest in a beautiful setting of lush green hills. The site consists of several groups of monuments which require some walking in between. If you are not yet satisfied at the end, you can still visit the decent museum at the entrance.
The entrance fee for the ruins is about €6 and renting a scooter for the day adds €4 more. Count a few extra euro for fuel.
4. Kim Bong Village
We cycled with local students to Kim Bong Village, close to Hoi An, where we peeked into local life on the countryside of Vietnam. During this free tour we observed how locals make and repair boats, visited a fruit garden and rice field and trained how to make sleeping mats and rice noodles. The latter was the highlight of the tour for me as I got the opportunity to make noodles myself. The local women made it look easy, but let me tell you, it was anything but easy.
The volunteering students are eager to share their knowledge and to practice their English. So don’t hesitate and book a free tour with them. More information and the booking form are found here. The tour is free, but they ask a small fee to support the local community (around €1.5). The price for renting a bicycle is €1.5 and the ferry to cross the water costs €1 for both ways.
5. Can Tho Floating Market
If you travel in Vietnam, visiting a floating market should be on your to do list. We toured the Cai Rang floating market in Can Tho, one of the most famous ones for a reason. It is located in the heart of the Mekong Delta and one of the bigger markets. Plenty of boats gather together in the morning hours to sell mainly fruits and other agricultural products, but also other goods as cigarettes, clothes or gasoline. These markets offer a good opportunity to learn about the associated river life too and to observe scenes of family life on boats that serve as mobile houses. Be sure to explore at least one floating market to taste the vibrant atmosphere yourself.
Our host Tran from couchsurfing arranged a boat trip with private guide for us which was ~€12/boat for a tour of 2 hours (max. 4 persons/boat).
Which other destinations or activities are worth a visit in Vietnam? Please share below.
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