Southeast Asia is a hub to so many weird and wonderful things that it can feel impossible to know where to start. Luckily the tried and tested backpacker trail offers the majority of the experiences and sights that most of us covet, so the route becomes pretty standard – the Indochina loop. Don’t get me wrong, getting off of the beaten track is always an authentic and enriching experience, but the backpacker trail is popular for a reason. And as a female solo traveller, I usually feel a bit safer to be honest.
Despite this, there is an abundance of activities and sights to see that we don’t all have the time or money to do it all. Sometimes flights dictate that we are restricted in how much time we have in a new country, or maybe you need to get home before a new job starts. You might be saving to do a skydive in Australia so can’t be too frivolous with the cash in Asia. For whatever reason, sometimes we need to pick and choose.
So although there are a million and one awesome things to do in Vietnam, I have narrowed it down to my favourite 5 experiences. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed, please let me know!
1) The Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta can be experienced in a variety of ways, and most hostels, guesthouses and travel agents will be able to provide you with a multitude of options, from Day Trips to 4-day excursions. Definitely wait until you’re there to book your trip as it will be a fraction of the price! I always imagined I would go for one of the 2 or 3 days options, but once shown the different itineraries, decided to opt for the day trip. It seemed to include everything I wanted to get out of the trip in a single day, and to be honest I’d already spent a week in Ho Chi Minh City and I needed to move on sharpish!
Sometimes in Southeast Asia I would get carried away partying and hanging out with other travellers, and forgetting to really engage with a country. The Mekong Delta trip was where I got a chance to soak up the Vietnamese culture. I got to see the floating market of Cai Be and see a level of poverty I hadn’t really seen in the city.
I also got to taste the famous honey tea and speak to the locals. Chuck in a really tranquil ride down the river in a wooden boat and it was an insightful and really eye-opening day. It was a lot for one day when you consider travel times but I’m glad I did it.
And you should be aware that like most day trips in Asia you will be influenced to buy things. I normally don’t succumb to it but I bought some coconut sweets for my family in the Mekong Delta as it only seemed right to support the economy there. I didn’t go for the crystals in the crystal shop though… what is it with all the crystals??
2) Vinpearl Land in Nha Trang
I had never heard of Vinpearl Land before I left and it was the nicest surprise when I got to Nha Trang. Nha Trang in itself is a quaint, seaside-like town, on the coast with the most gorgeous beach and a smattering of backpacker bars. It’s an easy place to chill for a couple of days. But across the water on the mountains I spotted a Hollywood-like sign spelling out ‘Vinpearl’. I did a bit of research and found out it was a theme park. Better yet, the world’s longest cable car takes you across the sea to it! Well I obviously had to go, didn’t I?!
Now don’t get your hopes up thrill-seekers, even though this is Vietnam’s answer to Disneyland, this isn’t the thrilling rides of Alton Towers. It’s completely family-friendly. But it has a taste of every form of entertainment there! Theme park rides, arcades, fairground-esque entertainment, an aquarium, a water park and even its own beach!! ALL IN VINPEARL LAND.
Seriously I had the best day, it’s totally under-rated. You should pay it a visit on your trip.
3) Custom-made Clothes in Hoi An
This is one of the things I knew I wanted to do in Vietnam – Get a custom-made trench coat. Hoi An is full of talented tailors who will make glorious creations, perfectly custom fit, for a fraction of the price back home. I had a lot of custom clothes in mind but narrowed it down to the trench coat, purely because it’s a classic that was missing from my wardrobe and I had always struggled to find the perfect shape. The High Street tends to have girly, full-skirted trenches and I wanted a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ -esque androgynous number!
As there are so many tailors in the area I had expected to be able to haggle quite a bit. But I guess these guys are in high demand with high levels of tourism in the town, so I couldn’t get the price down by much. But still, £40 for a custom made trench coat? I was pleased. I liked that you could design it yourself as well, picking the fabric and the lining and the buttons. I felt like I was on Project Runway!
On a side note, Hoi An is a GORGEOUS town. I would recommend hiring a bike and exploring the cobbled streets and pretty little shops.
4) Halong Bay
Halong Bay is on most backpacker’s bucketlist right? We’ve all seen those ridiculously amazing photos of the limestone karsts and old fashioned junk boats. I’ll admit straight up that I think I had unrealistic expectations of this place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s damn beautiful and I 100% recommend seeing it, but I think the long journey from Hanoi, the cold dip in the weather coming up from the coast, along with one helluva hangover, did dampen it for me. It’s still in my top 5 though and I think if you’re there, you have to go see it.
Much like the Mekong Delta, you can do Halong Bay in a variety of trip lengths. Due to a recent boat sinking, I was put off staying overnight and did the day trip, but be warned that it is a mammoth of a journey. Not only did I get to do the boat ride through the gorgeous karsts but there was also a stop at some caves that looked like that bit in Aladdin when everything starts melting? You know what I’m saying. It’s pretty cool.
5) City Sights of Ho Chi Minh City
Other than the Mekong Delta, I did 2 day trips from Ho Chi Minh City – The Cu Chi tunnels and a day trip around the sights of the city. And although the Cu Chi tunnels are an interesting visit, I actually much preferred the city sights. If you have enough time definitely still do the tunnels trip though! I booked the city trip through my guesthouse – Madame Cuc – and it promised a taste of what the city had to offer. I wasn’t disappointed.
It was a busy day visiting loads of different locations in the city but I felt like I got a glimpse of what HCMC is really all about. The trip covered beautiful architecture in the form of the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office (sounds random but is pretty) and a beautiful Chinese temple – Thien Hau Pagoda.
It was also highly educational with visits to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum where I learned about the Vietnam War and the effects of Agent Orange.
Throw in a market visit and a local tea room and it’s a pretty full-on day! Like I’ve said before, do not pre-book this. It will be cheaper when you’re there and most hostels and guesthouses will have similar trips on offer.
What did you think of Vietnam? Any places I haven’t included and you think is a must? Leave a comment!