A guide to Vietnam
Where to stay:
The old quarter is my favourite part of Hanoi and has some decent air bnb places. Expect busy and narrow streets and alleyways with anything and everything Vietnamese in an old, cultural backdrop. It has so much character and it is bustling with local life.
What to eat:
Foods to try: fresh summer rolls (not fried spring rolls), bun thang, xoi xeo (sweet sticky rice dish), hieu tieu, bun cha (very popular, you can have the best one at this restaurant: Bún Chả Hương Liên, Obama visited it too)
More info on food and where to have what: https://www.authenticfoodquest.com/vietnamese-food-must-eat-in-hanoi/
What to drink:
For beer, you have to go to BIA HOI places, it is a must and literally in every corner in Hanoi. It is freshly brewed beer with no preservatives.
For jazz, go to Binh Minh’s jazz club, the dude has been playing jazz since it’s been practically allowed. Le club also plays jazz but it’s a fancier atmosphere.
Go to the Unicorn Pub for good cocktails!
Also, you have to try the egg coffee if you are in Hanoi. Café Giang is the place to go: it’s a 70 year old café in this big square, if it looks really run down and feels as if you are entering someone’s house then it is the right place. Order the egg coffee!
Nhac café is a cool music café
Other cool coffee places are koi café (they have a cool design and koi fish) and café nanh, where apparently soldiers used to gather during the war but it is now renovated.
What to see:
-Hoan Kiem lake is a must, small temple floating in the middle of the lake and bigger temple accessible by famous red bridge.
-For more expatty cosmopolitan places go to Tay Ho area above the lake,
-If you wish to see some nature, go to Ninh Binh province, it is not far south.
- Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is a popular attraction – you can see Ho Chi Minh’s body but check before hand as sometimes it is travelling to Russia.
Other cool places for tourists:
Tran Quoc paoda
Bat Trang ceramic village
Temple of literature
Old quarter (traveller area)
St Joseph’s cathedral
Tay ho Lake and restaurants/cafes around it
Lotte tower sky bar
*Markets are everywhere in Vietnam and sell some cool stuff, haggling is expected in these places, especially when they see that you come from the West they will up the prices. Pay what you are comfortable with, sometimes if it’s really cheap I don’t bother haggling, the currency is really cheap but there are places that will try to rip you off. Download a currency conversion app on your phone.
*Transportation: if you rent a motorbike they will most likely take a photocopy of your passport (as will all places you will stay in). Motorbike rental is cheap but make sure they give you a helmet as well as they have strict laws about that. If you want to use taxi services they are dirt cheap in Vietnam! If you are hailing a cab, the best ones are VINASUN (white taxis with a bit of green and red) and MAILIN (green taxis), ORRRRR my favourite thing in the world is this app called GRAB and you can book through the app for either a motorbike or a car to come get you :D like uber but for motorbikes and cars alike. So cheap!
Always remember that you are in a communist country so don’t mock or insult anything in any way that could be seen anti-communist. People get in trouble for posting shit online about the government and stuff but that’s just common sense. Also some locals will like getting their photo taken, some will not, it helps if you smile at them. In general, it’s a very different culture and some things might seem weird but it is great and you will love it I am sure. People are a bit more friendly in Saigon but I think that’s because in Hanoi they have a very strong communist hold as during the war the North of Vietnam was where Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong were set. The South, where Saigon is, was the base for the people that wanted to break free from communism and had a more ‘liberal’ influence from the West.
Ha Giang Loop
Honestly the most beautiful place I have been in my entire life. Think green, terraced rice patties, humongous mountains, big valleys, extremely friendly ethnic minorities, cheap homestays.
You need to get the sleeper bus from Hanoi and then rent a motorbike from there. Look into it seriously if you have time it’s really worth it!
Where to stay:
-Some stunning air bnbs in Saigon, you want to stay either in District 1 which is the main city centre or District 3 which is right next to it. Anything near the bitexco tower or the Notre Dam cathedral is considered very central.
What to eat:
-For breakfast, I recommend the Vintage Emporium, it’s western style but delicious. Bunker Bed and Breakfast is also cool, the place is nicer than the food though.
-My favourite place to eat in Saigon is Pho Chay Nhu. It’s vegetarian but their bowls are delicious and it doesn’t get more Vietnamese than this. It looks a little bit run down but it’s truly local and the street is on is beautiful, many cafes and local people selling vegetables and stuff. If you go there, you have to try either the Pho (famous noodle soup with mushroom and veg), the hieu tieu (noodle dish with more stuff in it than the pho) or the mi quang, which is yellow noodles with nuts and crackers and other stuff and just downright delicious, my personal favourite. The wantons there are sick too. The address is: 54 Trương Quyền, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh
Secret Garden or Mountain Retreat are both good and with a view. Vietnamese cuisine
Nha Hang Ngon is Pan-asian cuisine and it is a beautiful restaurant, stunning design and decoration. Best for dinner
Pizza 4Ps is a must. Go to the one in Hai Ba Trung street, honestly the best pizza you ever had!!!
The Deck, is a fancy, good food restaurant in District 2, the most high class district in Saigon. It is expensive but supposed to be really nice, next to the river and stuff. I personally have never been, but district 2 is where I work and it is a drastic change from the rest of Saigon.
For street food, check this ghetto out: http://vietnamcoracle.com/saigons-street-food-ghettos/
For the best sushi at ridiculously cheap prices go to Sushi Ko in 122/37/15 Vĩnh Khánh, Phường 10, Quận 4, Hồ Chí Minh. The whole street now is now an official Saigon Seafood street. It’s bustling!
Also, you have to try a banh mi. It is a French baguette, stuffed with all sorts of goodness. (Vietnam was colonized by the French for ages hence the architecture in Saigon, the baguettes and the massive coffee culture).
They are mostly sold in the street, you know the cart pushing merchants that you will see about a billion of, but if you want to go somewhere and sit down a good place close to many attractions is My Banh Mi: 57 Nguyễn Du, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh. (quan means district btw).
Where do I start!
The Vietnamese love their coffee, and the way the make it is delicious, it just grows on you so much. The one you want is called Caphe sua da ( it means coffee with milk and you pronounce it café shuda.)
The best places with the most character are:
81 CAFÉ (my favourite)
Hidden Garden café
A building you should absolutely visit is the coffee apartments in 42 Nguyen Hue. It is a massive apartment block with each little apartment being either a shop or a café, and it has beautiful little alleys and weird corners. You will recognize it from the outside as there are many balconies. It is lovely to get a coffee there as you see the view of Nguyen Hue, which is the biggest pedestrianized street in Saigon. It is always fun there at night always some festivity going on and there are beautiful buildings and sky scrapers around.
Another building that I think you will absolutely love is 14 Ton That Dam. This one is more underground as it literally looks like nothing on the outside but it’s a little gangster’s paradise, completely run down in the interior with street art on the walls then somehow behind the doors lie some amazing places. The best cafes in here are THINGS café and Mockingbird Café. Also on the first floor behind a black door with a symbol on it lies Snuffbox, a very fancy speakeasy style jazz bar. For more info on this building look here: http://jimmyeatsworld.com/2015/02/07/exploration-saigons-unique-buildings-14-ton-dam/
What to see:
-The AO show in the Opera House, or just the Opera House if you don’t want to see a show (but it’s a fantastic show)
-Pink church in Hai Ba Trung (very instagrammable)
-Notre Dam Cathedral
-Post office (opposite Notre Dam, both are remnants of the French colonial era)
-War Remnants Museum (quite depressing but damn)
-Nguyen Hue (walking street)
- Go to turtle lake at night, many young locals hang about and it’s a street food heaven at night (located at the middle of Pham Ngoc Thach Street)
If you want to book a tour book it through https://www.thesinhtourist.vn/
The main party street here in Saigon is Bui Vien. It is very crowdy, rowdy, the booze is cheap as fuck but so is the quality. It is fun if you are drunk. Expect sexpats, prostitution pretending to be a massage place and a lot of choice on where to drink or do balloons.
However, there are some better bars, like:
PIU PIU (decent nights with good music)
Lighthouse (rooftop, balloons, good music, can be a hit and miss)
Mary Janes the bar (rooftop)
Glow Sky Bar (expensive and classy)
May Cay bar (they have a lovely cat)
Shanty (good rum cocktails and Jamaican food)
Cu Ru Bar (basically someones apartment, used to be an art studio and it looks really cool on the inside and strong mojitos, it is on 240 Duong Nguyen Cong Tru)
Other places in Vietnam:
Dalat- mountains, forests etc, do a trek, or a yoga retreat
Phu Quoc- lovely island close to Saigon, beach life
Cat Ba Island- the less touristy version of Ha Long Bay (beach, massive rocks)
Have a fantastic time! ☺