Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries not only in Southeast Asia, but the entire world. The stigma of Vietnam after the war does not linger as most people would expect. The Vietnamese people are overwhelmingly friendly and accommodating. There are brilliant destinations all over the country. From the bustling epicenters of Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon) and Hanoi, to the idyllic beach towns of Hoi An, Da Nang, and Nha Trang, to hidden, lush gems such as Da Lat and Sa Pa. You can experience the country in many different ways, and get a taste of some of the world's best food. Renting a motorcycle and driving it from North to South or vice-versa, is one of the most popular ways to travel around Vietnam. Below, we will give our thoughts and recommendations about some of the most magical places in the world.
Ho Chi Mihn City (formerly Saigon), is Vietnam's biggest metropolis. Gushing with loads of history, HCMC provides the traveler with an array of things to do, see, and experience. If you are looking for a good history lesson, look no further than the War Museum. It is an extremely heavy and passionate exhibition based strongly on the wrongdoings of the Americans during the Vietnam War. Be prepared to view explicit materials and leave your thoughts and opinions at home. It is the saddening account of the Vietnamese people during an excruciating period. However heartbreaking it is, it is a must-see as it provides valid perspective on war, humans, and every day life.
Another historical site that must be visited is the Cu Chi Tunnels located about 90 minutes outside of the city by bus. The Cu Chi Tunnels was a militarized zone during the Vietnam War. There are underground tunnels, bunkers, death-traps, tanks, and even a shooting range where you can blast of your choice of assault weapons. It is a place to reflect on the atrocities that took place no less than 50 years ago. At the end of the tour you are able to choose whether or not you would like to traverse through a tunnel. The tunnel provides you with options of 15 meters, and all the way up to 100 meters!
**If you have time check out the Bihn Tay Market in Chinatown. It provides you with endless toys, gifts, clothes, spices, herbs, and traditional Chinese dishes.
Now, on to more uplifting material: Ho Chi Mihn City is the place to get the absolute best and fresh snails Vietnam has to offer. From restaurants to back-alleys, HCMC is the undisputed snail capital of Vietnam. In Vietnamese it is called, Oc, so be on the lookout! A variety of snails in a variety of fresh spices and herbs, there is no better place to excite your wild taste buds. Our recommendation is to walk around the city center down different alleys, and explore what you think looks best. It is those little stands filled with people crouching down on tiny, plastic stools that brings forth the most magnificent meals.
Another favorite food of ours to eat in HCMC is the Bahn Mi sandwich. A Bahn Mi sandwich can be filled with many different ingredients, but the staples are either chicken or pork, cilantro, fish sauce, pickled carrots, daikon, and spicy chili. If you are staying in the tourist area, you are most likely going to the famous Ben Thanh day market. Here you will find food, spices, clothing, accessories, and anything you could possibly think of. The Bahn Mi sandwiches here are overpriced and under-satisfying. Explore surrounding areas for fresher and cheaper Bahn Mi alternatives. However, if you are looking for a great area to eat dinner with a group of friends, the Ben Thanh market is the place to go. The picture at the top of this page is proof that 9-10 people can order plates of spare ribs, pork-belly, snails (Oc), fresh fish, a variety of appetizers, and endless beers for ONLY $6-7 per person. The quality is top-notch and the experience is priceless.
If you're backpacker looking to meet others who share the same post-midnight views as you, look no further than Beer Street. A few blocks of bars and restaurants line the streets and everyone is out to have a good time. Grab some beers, grab some friends, and grab some stools. Hang out, walk around, meet new people, and experience the ambiance of Saigon. Sure, there are classy, overpriced rooftops and expensive clubs, but if you want a true sense of the city, hit the streets!
Nha Trang is a popular destination for tourists as it is becoming a leading SCUBA diving hotbed. Beautiful beaches grace the coastline for miles, and the clear, blue ocean water reflects gloriously from the omnipresent sun. Country Crawl loved its time in Nha Trang as it is a great place to relax, chill at the beach, meet backpackers, and engage in marine activities. The most notable activity besides SCUBA diving is visiting the Vinpearl resort and water park. There are not many things better than taking a cable car over an ocean to get to a stunning, resort containing an all-day splash-filled adventurous water park. Admission is cheap and rooms are available for those looking for an ultra-romantic night out.
It is very easy to rent a scooter here, so we would suggest you take advantage of this perk. The city of Nha Trang is not all that big, but it does pack a punch. Many bars and restaurants stay open well past midnight and offer good food and drink options. There are local markets which offer the goods seen all around Vietnam. There are also a few temples that are worth checking out, so a scooter is definitely necessary.
The main reason we would recommend renting a scooter or a motorbike is to head about four hours west to one of Country Crawl's "Hidden Gems:" Da Lat. Some travelers use Nha Trang as a home base for getting to and from Da Lat. Either way, you can't go wrong with the route you take.
There are many miraculous drives throughout the world, and the route from Nha Trang to Da Lat is one of them. The path to Da Lat from Nha Trang "requires" you (and we are using the word requires loosely), to drive through breathtaking wilderness. Here you will enjoy a serene environment while traversing through valleys, over mountains, around wondrous bends, and into fresh air. Take a deep, deep breath, because there are very few places in the world that provide you with such a calming sensation. The four hour affords you the opportunity to browse natural eye candy, with gigantic trees and heavenly peaks that line the newly installed road. Don't rush your journey to Da Lat, take your time, open up your eyes, and let the pureness of Vietnam enter your heart.
Once you reach this quaint town nestled about seven hours northeast of Ho Chi Mihn and four hours west of Nha Trang, you will undoubtedly recognize a strong French influence. Da Lat was not a heavily involved town during the Vietnam war, so much of what was there before the war still remains intact. Entry into the town as you poke out from the national park will be a picturesque view you will never forget. The architecture in Da Lat is magnificent, and the main attractions in town remind the traveler of European destinations. Da Lat is amazing because of its temperate climate and unlimited surrounding activities.
The feeling when you enter Da Lat is one of satisfaction and relief. You know that upon entry, you are in a place that is homely and organic. When Country Crawl visited Da Lat, we decided to enlist on an all-day canyoning adventure. There are multiple tour companies that provide safe and guided mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoning, and boat tours. The canyoning trip that we went on was one of the most brilliant experiences of our lifetimes. We are able to repel down 75 foot waterfalls, jump off 10 meter cliffs into pristine pools, slide down rocks, and indulge in local grub all while engulfed in beautiful nature with beautiful new friends.
Hoi An, Vietnam is one of those places you'll never want to leave. A lot of the buzz around Southeast Asia for Vietnam is given to Hanoi, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Mihn City, and rightfully so, but Hoi An is overwhelmingly underestimated. Hoi An is perfectly situated on the East Sea in the South Central region of Vietnam. Another one of Vietnam's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Hoi An provides the visitor with a transcendent vibe, unmatched by any Vietnamese challengers. Once Southeast Asia's largest trading port, Hoi An has been well preserved for over 500 years, Built up by both Asian and foreign influence, there is a brilliant blend of town and beach life.
The downtown area of Hoi An is a magical place where rows of shops and restaurants grace the traveler's every step. Fresh and local food is omnipresent, and it is no secret where to find it. Follow the swarms of locals around the day market and into the night to get your hunger fix. A favorite dish of Hoi An and Country Crawl is Com Ga. A mix of fluffy rice cooked in chicken stock, blended with shredded chicken, onions, and spicy chili peppers. Dashed on top of the plate before serving is pepper, papaya, peppermint, and another form of onion. The variance of the Com Ga dish doesn't differ too much in Hoi An, but each food stand caries its own recipe. Another famous dish of Hoi An is Cao Lau, a pork or chicken broth based soup with thick noodles, likewise meat, sprouts, vegetables, and croutons. Don't mind the warm temperature outside, this dish can be enjoyed during any day of the year!
The nightlife in Hoi An is one of the favorites of Country Crawl due to its relaxing vibe. Most of the restaurants and cafes stay open late, so late-night dining and drinking is preferred. Once these close, $0.07 - $ 0.50 beers flow like water down a stream. Yes, you saw right, SEVEN CENTS. If you are staying at a certain backpackers hostel right in downtown, you will be able to enjoy seven cent beer for happy hour. A few bars stay open late into the night, where you can play billiards, darts, smoke hooka, dance, and chill out. For the party-goer who wants to keep it poppin' into the morning, Why Not Bar provides endless fun.
The beautiful downtown, great food, historic culture, and solid nightlife bump Hoi An up many pegs in Country Crawl's "Top 10 Gems of Asia," but what really separates Hoi An from other towns is the serene beach. On top of having all of the fascinating assets, the beach is a superb place with clear, blue water and fine, white sand. It is recommended to rent a bicycle or scooter from a local shop and take the scenic route through town. Here you will encounter visions like the picture above, and truly be able to consume the beauty and mystique of Hoi An and Vietnam as a whole.
Ya, you've made it. Maybe you've been to Thailand or sailed around the Mediterranean. Possibly you've hiked Machu Picchu or dived in the Great Barrier Reef. Sure, all of those have allure, but Ha Long Bay has the whole package. In what other place in the world can you take party boat cruises through an archipelago consisting of almost 2000 individual islands? Where you can go kayaking, snorkeling, and tubing between picturesque caves, and have beach barbecues all to you and your own clan? Swimming, scuba diving, and cliff jumping sprinkled in definitely liven up your day.
Often included in the "Wonders of the World" discussion, Ha Long Bay delivers an unprecedented and unmatched spectacle. Situated about four hours due east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay provides the traveler with a glimpse into a previous world. There are many different tours that are taken throughout the preserve. The most common is a 3-day, 2-night trip, ranging from budget to luxurious boats. Ha Long Bay is perfect for every type of traveler and situation: individual, backpacker, family, couple, romance, and senior citizen. Country Crawl took its money and inevitably went with the 3-day, 2-night party boat tour that left us country "crawling" back to the mainland.
What's great about Hanoi and Ha Long bay is its willingness to work with tourists. The Vietnamese people are very friendly and welcoming, and most aren't trying to rip you off. However, you must be careful and cognizant of the fact that there are a select few people who spot the tourist and his wallet. We have never come across it, but it does exist. With Country Crawl we are knowledgeable about the area and the best companies to book Ha Long Bay boat cruises with.
The few tours that Country Crawl went on provided us with indispensable information which we are more than willing to pass along to our friends. The party boat cruises were undoubtedly some of the best nights in Southeast Asia. There is nothing better than cruising through the islands with unlimited beer, food, and liquor, with 40 of your closest friends and no worries on the horizon. The tour we embark on affords us the opportunity to have a private beach set up with volleyball, rock climbing, soccer, and BBQ & roasts. Kayaking through channels and cavernous passages is a thrill of a lifetime. When its time to head back to Hanoi, we will be sure you'll be gripping onto the life preserver not wanting to leave.
I know we said Ho Chi Mihn City had some of the best snails in Vietnam, and it's true! But, Hanoi is not too far off, and its selection of seafood brings about no competition. Fresh shellfish overpowers plate and palettes, while contrasting spices and sauces blend perfectly to form mouthwatering meals. There is no comparison in quality and quantity to what Hanoi has to offer. The best thing about it is the price - a whole meal with beers costs only $8-10 per person in a group of 6-8. Once you're done stuffing your face, it's time for a night out on the town.
Hanoi has plenty of options for the dancing machine in you. Options span from hookah bars to KTV (karaoke), from nightclubs to pubs to lounges, Hanoi has it all. It's up to you to decide what you prefer, and how crazy you want your night to be. Country Crawl recommends venturing around the city and giving different establishments a chance. There is no limit to what you can find during the night in Hanoi.
Besides Ha Long Bay, the food, and nightlife, Hanoi is also aesthetically pleasing. As the capital of Vietnam, it boasts one of the largest populations. It gives way to many historical landmarks, scenic lakes, and timeless buildings. There are many back alleys and markets to walk around and purchase goods. Take at least a day to walk around this beautiful city, and experience one of the most important political powers of the last 1,000 years. From approximately the years 1000 to 1800, Hanoi established as a dominant force in Indochina. Temples, statues, and Buddhas grace the town at every turn.