I turned the big 3-0 in 2019 and as part of the year long celebrations, we had a holiday in Vietnam!
As this was a bucket list country for me, we booked a guided tour for part of the trip to make sure we covered the best parts and learned about the country as we went. Having previously been to Thailand, I had heard that Vietnam was a less Westernised, more traditional South East Asian experience. I had bought the Vietnam Lonely Planet guide a couple of years ago but we ended up not going so I was even more keen to get there and experience the culture of this exciting country!
We went mid-October 2019 and because we covered most of the country we had a bit of sun, wind and rain! Character building!
International Flights: booked through STA Travel website: Emirates, departing Glasgow: £623
Domestic Flights: HCMC – Hanoi, Da Nang-HCMC – booked through Vietnam Airlines directly.
Hotels: Ho Chi Minh – Central Palace £165 for 3nights; Da Nang – Novotel £204 for 2 nights both booked through Booking.com.
The rest of the accommodation was through the guided tour
Guided Tour: We booked the guided tour through a company called Tour Radar.
The operator of the tour was Friends Travel Vietnam. The total cost per person was £1362 but we booked it over Easter so got a 5% discount.
Our itinerary was then 3 nights in HCMC; 10nights on the tour; 2nights in Da Nang with one last day in HCMC before a late night departure back to the UK.
Part 1 of the blog will cover HCMC and getting to the tour!
Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived in HCMC quite late at night – one of the suitcases were missing which was unsurprising because our flight into Dubai was late landing due to fog so we had to sprint through Dubai airport (conveniently one of the longest airports I’ve ever been in!) to make our connection to HCMC. We grabbed a taxi to the hotel which was pretty cheap. The roads in Vietnam take a bit of getting used to!
The Central Palace hotel lives up to its name with being very central! We made our way to a food market which had lots of food stalls and bars still open quite late. We ordered a selection of food and a few beers (literally 20p bottles of local Saigon beers which were delicious!) and sat on the long tables. We got chatting to an English couple who gave us some pointers.
We dedicated our first full day in HCMC to Sight Seeing:
Ben Thanh Market: the market was pretty close to our hotel so we moseyed round for a look. The market is indoors with a variety of food, drink, clothing and household goods. We didn’t buy anything but it was nice to see all the different things on offer! It’s quite busy there so would advise keeping your wits about you. There is also a lot of fake designer goods being sold so tourists are targeted a bit.
War Remnants Museum – the museum has a myriad of war planes, tanks, prison cells, propaganda and other artefacts. The museum is fascinating – I learned a lot about the history of the war and how people were impacted by the fighting. It costs next to nothing to get in and you can spend a good couple of hours there.
Notre Dame – after the museum, we took a walk to the Notre Dame cathedral. We were not allowed in because a service was on but it was nice to see the building from the outside.
Saigon Central Post Office – The post office is in a very grand French style building just next to the Notre Dame cathedral. Inside, there is intricate detailing on the walls and ceiling, beautiful marble floors and old style phone booths. Walking inside is like stepping back in time (if you avert your eyes from the tourist tat on sale!)
Opera House – we moved on to the opera house where a live dance performance was going on outside which was cool to see. Similar to the Notre Dame and the Post Office, the Opera house is built in a French style.
We walked everywhere and found it really easy to get around!
Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta
Through the hotel, we booked a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. We were picked up promptly in the morning by the tour guide and driver in an air conditioned minibus. There were 5 other people on the trip as well as ourselves.
The trip cost about £40 each an lasted from around 8:30am – 6:30pm.
Not gonna lie, I slept most of the journey so I’m not a reliable source on what the scenery was like!
The journey to the tunnels was allegedly a couple of hours. Our tour guide from the bus organised the tickets and then took us around the site. We spent just over an hour walking around the different torture methods – bamboo can cause a fair bit of damage! Our guide also explained how the tunnels were built at different depths to trick the enemy and how the troops survived in the cramped conditions. There are opportunities to go and walk underground in the tunnels – I got to the entrance of the shortest one and freaked out, it just looked too claustrophobic. Most other people on the tour did it.
We were taken for lunch at a riverside restaurant (food included in the tour, drinks were extra which was totally fine). We were served a mixture of dishes – spring rolls, rice, stir fries, soups – which were delicious!
Then it was time to move on to the Mekong Delta which was another drive away. We disembarked the mini bus to get on to a boat where we were given a fresh coconut to drink from. The boat took us over to a coconut farm where we saw people making coconut candy and other items out of coconut. I bought a cute bowl. There was a random bit at the back of the room where you could drink fermented snake oil – as you do. Never in a million years would I dream of even looking at the fermented snake oil!
We then journeyed on on golf buggies to a rural village where we then got the chance to go on the small river rowing boats. This part of the journey was hilarious – any slight movement made the boat feel like it was going to capsize. It was great to experience the boat trip and thankfully someone was there to do the rowing for us otherwise we’d still be floating about in the Mekong now!
Everyone on the bus was pretty sleepy so I didn’t feel bad sleeping all the way back to the hotel!
One of the main highlights for me on every trip is where to eat!
As mentioned already we had street food on our first night which was delicious
Propaganda Bistro (Han Thuyen):
This was a recommendation from one of my friends who had gone for brunch.
We went for dinner and chose one of the set Discovery Menus (http://www.propagandabistros.com/assets/files/menu/discovery.pdf – we chose Menu 1 for those interested!) The beef salad was a definite highlight! We also treated ourselves to a few drinks and cocktails.
The restaurant has a lovely ambience and the quirky décor makes it a really cool place to spend an evening!
We love a steak dinner so this was a natural choice. The restaurant is near the town hall building and to access it, you have to go in through a travel agent / tour operator shop, go up the stairs of what looks like a residential building and into the restaurant. Don’t let the access process put you off – the restaurant was really cool – darkly lit, amazing wine selection and a real buzz to the place. We were lucky to get a table! We had starters, steaks and copious amounts of wine. Afterwards, we went over to the rooftop bar at the Rex Hotel for a few cocktails ( https://www.therooftopguide.com/rooftop-bars-in-ho-chi-minh/rooftop-garden-at-rex-hotel.html )
The Central Palace is in a great location – walking distance to most tourists sights in the city. The rooms are a good size, good TV channels (essential for those afternoon naps!) and nice bathroom. There was a small pool on the roof along with a rooftop bar which had stunning views across the city. Breakfast was included – the breakfast was a round the world buffet style with options for everyone. The staff were very polite and friendly!
Next Stop! Hanoi!
Although we only had a couple of days in HCMC, we managed to pack a lot in! Now it was time to go on to our next stop, Hanoi, where we would start the guided tour.
We booked flights with Vietnam Airlines from HCMC to Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines were great, even though the flight was quite short, we were given a proper meal which was nice!
Landing in Hanoi we were greeted with a driver who had our name on a card. He took us to our hotel, La Siesta. We were given instructions to be at the tourist centre office at 08:30am the next morning for the tour to start properly.
La Siesta has to be one of the best hotels I have ever been in. The hotel itself is a boutique style hotel kinda French colonial themed. It is beautiful. On arrival, we were given scented cold towels and a welcome drink which was just what the doctor ordered after a plane journey and jostling about in a hot city.
We were upgraded to executive room – we had a massive king sized bed, a nice bathroom and dressing area and the all important – TV channels!
In our welcome packs there were lovely hand written notes from the hotel manager welcoming us to the hotel and some happy hour vouchers.
What set the hotel apart though is the staff – they knew everyone by their name and recognised you as soon as they saw you even though we were only there for a few nights. It definitely added to the overall experience!
Restaurants & Bars:
We were in Hanoi for three nights
Le Garden Chinese: we went to this restaurant on our first night after walking around for ages trying to find somewhere. We ordered a few sharing plates and some beers. The mayo prawns are delicious!!
Essence Restaurant – we walked past this place a couple of times when wandering around. The restaurant always looked buzzing and after reviewing the menu we knew we had to go! The food was lovely and beautifully presented. The staff were so kind and friendly. The restaurant is part of a hotel which looked quite similar to La Siesta.
Ta Hien (Pub Street) – There is a whole street dedicated just to pubs. During the day the street is quite quiet, but at night, all the pubs spill out into the street with tiny tables and chairs, resulting in a street party atmosphere. Definitely recommend for a good night out!
One of our other nights were spent on a food tour as part of our guided tour so will cover that later in part 2!
Will leave it here for part 1 and pick up at the start of the tour !