Ho chi minh mausoleum – Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh a revolutionary, a symbol of hope, he stood for everything Vietnam is and strives to be and for many of its people he offers the same things today – BUT - stripped back his mausoleum is a bit of a buzzy place to visit. This icon died in 1969 and has been perfectly plastically preserved (by Russian scientists) for 49 years so that people from all around the world can line up in a giant line and in single file view his body for approximately 30 seconds before being quickly ushered out by uniformed guards. It’s definitely an experience and a nice way to start this list.
Abandoned theme park – Hue
Our arrival into Hue was a little weird and we couldn’t really grasp a feeling for the city. After being in such characteristic places in Vietnam like Saigon, Hoi An, even weird Russian Nha Trang, we just felt Hue was a little lack lustre where nothing really gave that umph a city needs to define itself. I mean there’s many historical attributes like tombs, the citadel and pagodas that are credits to Hue but cool vibe… not so much. HOWEVER, one super cool thing we did find was this abandoned water theme park that boasts stories of live crocodiles and a giant dragon. Naturally this was on the top of our list and after deep diving into a google search we quickly found the directions. There’s a guy at the gate who took a couple of dollars from us (he definitely just bought a security hat from the local market and is pranking all the tourists) but because he was using his initiative we paid him anyway and headed on in. Waterslides, graffiti, smashed aquarium displays – this place is a photographers dream and it was pretty isolated even though it’s now a main tourist attraction for Hue.
Nha Trang and wider region-
This place is an oddity because it’s very easy to forget you’re in Vietnam. The city has Miami like vibes but is full with…. Russians. Not something we really expected to find our trip to Vietnam but that’s the oddity of Vietnam for you. Every second store was Russian food and the entire beach front was hard-core electronic night clubs. Not really being our cup of tea, we rented scooters and headed up the coastline away from the resorts to find a more authentic experience of Vietnam’s coastal life style. About 20 minutes up the coast we found everything we were looking for, coconut boats (literally the shape of half a coconut) used to take fishermen from shore to their boats, stinky nets being fixed by kind, smiling elderly women and food so cheap we paid twice. If you keep going up the coast for another 15 minutes you’ll see a blue sign on the side of the road saying “Ba Ho” it leads to epic clean waterfalls the clearest blue water. We spent the afternoon laughing and flinging ourselves off rocks into the deep pools of fresh water – a stark contrast to the Russian city vibes in Nha Trang.
Mekong – Floating markets
There are many floating markets up and down the length of the Mekong River. We were lucky enough to have met a local girl in Saigon who had grown up on the banks of the river and still had family way up on the Cambodian border. She put us in a bus and off we went for seven hours to a small town we still don’t know the name of, surrounded by mango farms and lotus ponds. In the morning we paid a local fisherman to take us around the floating markets where we enjoyed breakfast with coffee purchased from a lovely woman who cooked the best Pho’ we had in Vietnam.
Share a rice whiskey or five with locals
This stuff will blow your shoes off! If you’re invited to share rice whiskey then the tradition goes that you must say yes! Each family has their own special mix of Chinese herbs and spices that they add to rice whiskey. The ones we tried were warming and plastered crocodile smiles on our faces.
Hai Van Mountain Pass
Made famous by three hoons on Top Gear this beautiful mountain pass got a little neglected after a bypass left it almost desolate. Jump on a moto and head up into the jungle covered mountain range. It'll reward you with epic coastal views and corners that will make you wet your undies. At the summit there are a few little shops where you can get a coffee or some hot food with a view. Watch out though as some places will try and sting you for parking as well!
Phu Quoc Island tour
There was only one time on our trip in Vietnam where we struggled to barter the price down and that was hiring a speed boat to take us around the islands at the southern end of Phu Quoc (a tiny island to the south of Vietnam). Head to the port at the south of the island and then just ask around for the 5 island special. This lady, who seemed to have a monopoly on the speed boat game, would not budge and as it was nearing the end of our trip we also did not have much movement on what we could offer $$. We finally settled on the lowest price she could go and ended up taking a small, definitely broken speed boat about 40 minutes offshore to some spectacular islands. As the motor only died once, i'd say we got a great deal. The price of the wee speedboat includes snorkels, lots of beach time and some of the spots that they anchor up at and drop you to have a swim in are spectacular. Must do if visiting Phu Quoc.
This lantern town is the stuff of your Instagram’s dreams. At night the historical centre can be lit only by lantern light creating a magical ambient atmosphere. You can take a boat ride on the canal and release floating lanterns or check out the night markets on the other side of the historic bridges. We found this great place to eat called Streets, proceeds from the restaurant go towards a programme that helps kids who are in the worst situations by teaching them English and training them up to be highly skilled hospitality industry workers. After talking to the wait staff and hearing some of their stories, you could see in their eyes how genuine the program is. They told us how they had the ability to lift their families from poverty and their friends in the programme that could now work at top resorts all around the world. Plus the food was amazing! Another great thing to do in Hoi An is wake up before sunrise and head down to the river. At this time the town is sleepy and you don’t even have to dodge motorbikes.
Ninh Binh – On land version of Ha Long Bay
Unfortunately, our arrival into Ha Long Bay was not what we expected. The turquoise blue waters were shadowed by big black storm clouds meaning our boat tour did not include kayaking and back flips off the top deck. We left Ha Long in awe of its beauty but disappointed by the weather, we cant wait for another opportunity to go back. HOWEVER, a store lady in Hanoi spoke of a place called Ninh Binh – just a couple of hours south and said it was “Ha Long Bay BUT on land”. So, with a quick google search we jumped on a train and headed south east. The description the lady gave was absolutely correct. Giant marble mountains scattered the country side, surrounded by rice paddies and rivers. Definitely a MUST DO from our time in Vietnam. We took a traditional boat tour through the set of king king land, where our lovely captain showed off some insane manoeuvring skills through claustrophobic caves and past lime green rice paddies.