HoiAn – Vietnam (Part 2)

HoiAn is roughly translated into ‘peaceful meeting place’ and I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. Think narrow alleyways with boutique hotels and cute little hidden coffee shops.

I’ve split our HoiAn entry into 3 sections, click on the links below to read:

Part 1: Things To Do,

Part 2: Where To Stay/Eat and anything else that you need to know, (You’re reading now)

Part 3: Day Trips From HoiAn,

Anyway, here’s some useful tips for planning a perfect get away to the beautiful HoiAn:

Where To Eat:

Inside the old town is really expensive in Vietnamese terms, the central market is the only place you can find a good meal for around 50K.

For an evening meal, cycle away from the tourist trap and try some of the lovely little places along the main road.

Our favourite was the Cao Cao Grasshopper restaurant close to the beach and close to our hotel. Try the chicken in claypot for only 50K.

The Night Beach restaurant is just over the road and also a good choice.

Local Spa’s:

Leave the hotel and get a massage for less than half the price, we got 1 hour at Si Mon Spa for just 150K.

Getting There:

Our hotel charged 770K for a return trip to DaNang airport, which is quite expensive for Vietnam (but still cheaper than a taxi). There are public buses but we arrived to late to catch one.

Where To Stay:

The Ally Boutique Hotel & Spa was just amazing, it’s 4 star and only cost us £22 per night on Hotels.com. Breakfast has everything you want, there’s a pool and a private beach. The cleaners come in twice a day and leave a bedtime story on your pillow case, staff couldn’t be better. I absolutely recommend this place to everyone.

We stayed at the Golden Sands Hotel & Spa in 2016, it’s 5 star so the rooms are a little better and the pool is more impressive but it cost us 4 times the price. (That was when we were still employed!)

Both hotels are on the beach and about 20 minutes bike ride from the old town and both hotels offer free bike hire.

I hope you found this useful. Don’t forget to read HoiAn Part 1 for things To Do inside HoiAn old town and Part 3 for some fun day trip ideas.

HoiAn – Vietnam (Part 1)

HoiAn is our absolute favourite place on earth, we’ve been here twice now and with a combined 2 weeks there’s a lot to talk about, I’ve split the HoiAn posts into 3:

Part 1: Things To Do, (You’re reading now)

Part 2: Where To Stay/Eat and anything else that you need to know,

Part 3: Day Trips From HoiAn,

So let’s get on with Part 1 and list all the fun things that can be done within HoiAn itself.

Things To Do:

1. Get a tailor made dress that fits you perfect, HoiAn is famous for it’s many many tailors. I hit lucky and managed to buy one off the mannequin for 400K and the second one was tailored for 540K, I didn’t try to haggle, I’m sure I could have got these much cheaper if I tried but when someone is staying up all night to make you something that’s already a bargain compared to UK prices it feels unethical to beat them down even more. It’s up to you what you decide to do.

Visit the BAO NI Cloth Shop on the main road just before you hit the junction for the beach.

2. Visit the old town, you don’t need a ticket to walk around, but if you want to visit any of the historical attractions then you need to pay. Tickets cost 120K and allow entry into up to 5 of the major attractions, if you want to go into any more then you need to pay.

We used our ticket to see the following:

A. The Japanese covered bridge,

B. The old house of Phung Hung,

C. Quang Trieu assembly hall,

D. Museum of Sa Huynh culture,

E. Phuc kien assembly hall,

3. Learn about the ethnic minority’s that still live in Vietnam today at the Precious Heritage Art Gallery and Museum. Entrance is free and it’s really worth a visit, the artwork there is so good that I even bough a copy to frame when we get home (and I’ve never done that before in my life).

4. Take a 30 minute boat ride down the river and release a lantern to make a wish. Prices depend on how busy they are.

5. Go back to the old town at night to see all the lights and lanterns that make HoiAn so beautiful.

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to read Part 2 and Part 3 of our HoiAn trilogy 🙂

Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (or HCMC for short) previously known as Saigon is the biggest city in Vietnam. It’s loud, busy, and hectic but we absolutely love it.

After 3 weeks in Australia we arrived in HCMC and found the nearest cafe, as we sat outside and watched the utter chaos of the morning rush our we said to each other “it’s nice to be home”.

Things To Do:

Like all of Vietnam, it’s cheap to treat your self. Massages start at 150K per hour and a Manicure and Pedicure combined is around 120K. Go to Bui Vien road where there are lots of places to chose from.

You can also treat yourself to something new at the day and night markets at Ben Thanh Market, or in our case, practically a whole new backpack worth of stuff. It is tourist central and prices reflect this, make sure you haggle to avoid getting ripped off, only pay what you think it’s worth.

HCMC is full of old French architecture, visit the central post office and then the Notre Dame cathedral next door for some great examples of this. (A postcard to Europe will take around 10 days to arrive.)

The Saigon Skydeck ads a bit glamour to the city skyline, you can ride the elevator to the top floor for some amazing night time views over the city. Entrance cost 200K.

Independence Palace is it the heart of the city, entrance costs 40K, it only takes around 45 minutes to see everything, the view from the central balcony is beautiful.

Where To Eat:

Vietnamese – Ben Thanh Market, Đường Lê Lợi, Bến Thành, Quận 1. Inside during the day then spills outside for an even bigger night market.

Mexican – La Fiesta, 33 Đặng Thị Nhu, Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1. Visit during the day for lunchtime specials, (Closed Mondays).

Indian – Spice India, 1B Bùi Viện, Phạm Ngũ Lão. Also do takeaways.

Healthy – Terrisa, 255 Lý Tự Trọng, Bến Thành, Quận 1. Good smoothie shop for when your regretting all that cheap Saigon beer the night before.

Getting There:

We were tired and jet lagged when we arrived at HCMC international airport, we made the mistake of going to the taxi counter and paying 220K for a taxi at 3am.

On our way back to the airport we took an Uber which only cost is 87K.

Where To Stay:

We’ve been to HCMC twice, in 2016 we stayed in a tiny dirty room that cost over £40 per night. This time we stayed in the beautiful Little Brick Hotel, which only cost £19 per night on Hotels.com (including an upgrade to a king room).

Rooms were massive and spotless, breakfast was perfect and the hotel was within walking distance to everything.

Phu Quoc – Vietnam (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Phu Quoc guide. There was so many cool things to see and do in Phu Quoc that I’ve separated them out to a separate post. To read Part 1, beaches, hotels and transport, click HERE.

Things To Do:

1. Our absolute favourite thing to see in Phu Quoc, and probably our favourite part of our whole trip so far was the see Bioluminescent Plankton. Chemicals inside the plankton are released when it is disturbed or threatened, the chemicals glow in the dark and distract any predators while the plankton swims away. They are absolutely tiny and can only be seen in the darkest areas of the beach. The photo below shoes a few we managed to catch in an empty water bottle. Please return them back to the wild when you have finished. 🙂

2. There are a couple of different Pearl farms on the island, they are free to enter and will give you a demonstration of the shell being opened and the pearl being extracted. It takes 2 to 10 years for the pearl to develop. You will then have a chance to visit their gift shop where prices are much lower than in Europe. Sean bought me these earrings for just 300K.

3. The Tranh Stream Waterfall is in the centre of the island, tickets cost 10K and go towards the upkeep of the toilets etc in the area. The water at the base of the waterfall is safe to swim in and the walk there is a little bumpy but you should be fine with flip flops. The area is popular with local families on weekends and if your lucky enough you will be invited to join in with their picnic.

4. The Coconut Prison, a horrific reminder of the Vietnam war with America. I found this upsetting but war museums are never really my thing. The prison is free to enter.

5. Ham Ninh Fishing Village, on the east cost. If you’ve never eaten on a floating restaurant before then make sure you visit the fishing village for lunch. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful things on the menus. We just stuck to our favourite, the simple red snapper.

6. The national park takes up about a third of the island, driving through seemed to take forever. The thick canopy provides hikers with some welcomed shade. Pack plenty of water and bug spray.

7. The Phu Quoc Bee Farm is free to enter and there are regular guided tours. Try out some of their honey related treats in the cafe and take home a jar or two from the gift shop.

8. Coi Nguon Museum is spread out over 5 floors, it shows Phu Quoc from before man kind walked the earth right up to the modern day. Tickets are 20K.

9. Pepper is a huge industry in Phu Quoc, driving through the countryside you will see row after row of pepper plants, they look like and army, all lined up perfectly, all the same width and height. Some farms have gift shops where you can sample the different kinds of pepper that they produce for free.

10. Dinh Nguyen Trung Truc temple is next to Ong Long beach, a beautiful temple that’s free to enter, stop here for 10 minutes on your way to beach.

11. Long Beach is perfectly located on the west coast and has a perfect sunset every single night.

Hire A Driver:

You can hire a driver for a full day for around, 900K at Green Travel. We did this twice, the first time we traveled around the south of the island and the second time we did the north. If you want to join a group tour the prices start at around $15 (USD).

Phu Quoc – Vietnam (Part 1) 

So far on our travels we have seen some pretty amazing places, but Phu Quoc is the best yet, I’ve split this post into two parts, this one is everything you need to know to plan a great trip to Phu Quoc, don’t forget to read Part 2 which lists everything you can do on this perfect little island, click HERE to read.

The Beaches:

Long Beach is the main beach on the island, located on the west coast, there are so many hotels, bars and restaurants dotted about that you will be spoiled for choice, but you will also have to contend with crowds during the peak season.

Sao Beach is the most beautiful beach (in my opinion) on the island, it’s on the south east coast and the sand there is a perfect white, though the sea is too rough to swim and there is a threat from jellyfish in the winter. (Dec – Feb)

One Lang Beach is on the north west tip of the island, it’s a perfect lookout spot and you can see as far as Cambodia on a clear day. There are a couple of local restaurants on the sea front and not much else.

Where To Eat:

The rich waters surrounding Phu Quoc make it a seafood lovers paradise, we were sitting at one beachfront restaurant when they suddenly ran out of squid, the owners sent their 12 year old son out to catch some more, it took him less than 10 minutes to come back with about 6 in a bucket.

We really loved the BBQ at Nhat Lan Restaurant towards the south end of Long Beach, a Red Snapper with rice and veggies was only 80 to 100K.

Getting There:

The flight from HCMC is only 40 minutes and there are over 10 flights per day. Check out skyscanner.net for the best deals at the time, we visited during the start of high season and managed to get return flights for £60 per person. (Would have been much cheaper during low season.)

A taxi from the airport to town will cost around 90 to 150K depending on where your staying plus a 20K toll road fee which is unavoidable.

Where To Stay:

We booked the Sun & Sea hotel for £24 per night including breakfast. It was just a few minutes walk from Long Beach and close to a few beach bars and BBQ restaurants, but still far enough away from Duong Dong town centre to avoid the tourist trap feeling.

For cheaper accommodation and hostels try looking closer to the town centre and for something a bit more fancy, there are dozens of beautiful resorts lining the beachfront.

2 weeks in Vietnam

August 2016

This really wasn’t a budget holiday at all, we used the money we were given as a gift from our family and friends for our wedding, as well as some of our savings. Saying that, if you don’t take into account the luxury hotels and international flights, we spent only around £200/pp on food, drinks, souvenirs, entrance tickets, taxis etc. during our 2 week trip. 

Night 1 – Hanoi 

We arrived in Vietnam early on Saturday Morning, we had arranged a pick up through the hotel but it was too early to check in so we had a lovely 1.5 hour massage while we were waiting for our room. Once we checked in we dumped the bags and went for a stroll around the streets.

There wasn’t much I specifically wanted to see in Hanoi, it was more just about taking in the culture and mainly people watching. We got completely lost (on purpose) in the old quarter, then we found a nice bar and watched the wold go by while we tried to adjust to the temperature and humidity.


Night 2 – Ha Long Bay

We were picked up at 8am and driven to Ha Long Bay, it takes about 3 hour including a little break half way. I’ve written a separate post on our amazing trip, click here to read it.

Night 3 to 5 – Da Nang

This was Sean’s favourite place on the planet, our room in the Novotel was on the 27th floor and had an amazing view of the river. There was also a rooftop infinity pool and a rooftop night club. We struggled to hire a bike in Da Nang and everything was quite spaced out, we did a lot of wandering around and we went to a local market, which wasn’t aimed towards tourists at all but it was an experience.

We took a taxi to the Marble Mountains which is about 25 minutes away. The marble mountains are when most of the marble in Vietnam is extracted and sculpted. The main mountain has some stunning temples ranging from a few different eras, and one cave in particular was so much fun to climb through. You do need to be quite fit for parts of it and I wouldn’t recommend flip flops. There is a small admission fee of a few dollars. At the base of the mountain is the sculpting village where you can see work in progress and buy some souvenirs.

It was only £8/pp for a night time river cruise which was about an hour long and took you under all the bridges. Buy tickets at the pier about 5 minutes walk north of the Novotel. The boats all sail at about 8pm every night.

Night 6 to 12 – Hoi An

My favourite place in Vietnam, it has a small village type feel to it, we stayed in a stunning beach front resort which was a shirt bike ride into the town centre. It was really easy to get a bike here, our hotel offered them for free but there was loads of places in the town centre where you could pay to hire them, the roads weren’t too busy and we felt really safe.


There were so many places to eat and drink really cheap, and a lot of the places are catered towards foreign tourists, it’s a backpacker’s paradise. I could easily spend a month in Hoi An.

 
I booked a few different tours for while we were in Hoi An using www.vmtravel.com.vn, the service was really good and the prices were the best I could find online.

Tour 1: Mỹ Sơn, 
I really recommend this tour if your into ruins and beautiful countryside, its al long drive form Hoi An so take plenty of water with you. Coming home we only drove half way then stopped at a local fishing village and jumped on a boat for the final leg of the journey.

Tour 2: Cham Island, it’s a shame to see the island become littered and busy, we were on a snorkelling trip, but there were so many other boats in the bay that the fish had all been scared away, and you had to be very careful not to be hit by another boat while you were swimming.

Tour 3: Farm tour and cooking class, the farm was only a short bike ride away from our hotel and it was a really informative day. We got to help the farmer pick ingredients for our meal then his wife showed us how to cook a traditional dish. The tour guide spoke fantastic English.


 

Night 13 to 14 – Ho Chi Minh

 
We only really had 1 day here because we arrived late and left early. Things not to miss are:
 
The day time indoor market (Bing Tay Market) and the outdoor night market
– we did all of our souvenir shopping here, it’s really well catered to tourists but be prepared to haggle. The night time market is out on the street right next to the daytime market.

Saigon Sky Deck – for a stunning view over the city at night, we got there at sun set and it was practically empty, there were only a handful of people at the top. There is also free bottled water and a museum at the top.

AO Show – I booked this online before we travelled, the show involved traditional dancing. There was a strict no photography rule but I managed to sneak this one photo.

We didn’t have time to get to the Mekong Delta but it’s on the bucket list for next time.
 
Essential Info


Visa: 
UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter Vietnam providing that you are staying less than 15 nights.


Vaccinations: 
At the time of writing we only needed a tetanus, Hep A and Hep B vaccination. No malaria medication is required unless you travel into the mountains. 


Money: 
As of today, (March 2017) the exchange rate is:

1 GBP = 27,904 VND
1 USD = 22,805 VND
1 EUR = 24,271 VND

It was really easy to find a cashpoint (or ATM), if you can’t find one on the street then pop into any large hotel complex, they usually have one in the lobby.

When buying anything of value many vendors will agree a price in USD, but they require payment in VND.
 
Would we do anything differently?

If I could change anything, I would have liked to stay one more night in Hanoi to get used to the climate before we travelled to Ha Long Bay and one less night in Da Nang.

I think we could have fit a trip to Hue and Sapa if we really tried, but we only had 2 weeks and we still wanted to fit in a bit of relaxation time. We are going back to Vietnam as part of our around the world trip and I plan to spend at least a month there this time.


TOURS:

For Hoi-An use: www.vmtravel.com.vn 
For Ha Long Bay use: www.bestpricevn.com
 
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment and we will do our best to get back to you.

Thanks for reading xx

Image

HaLong Bay

HaLong Bay – July 2016

Vietnams number 1 tourist attraction, and for good reason! the scenery is absolutely breath taking, and if you can drag yourself out of bed at 5:30AM, sunrise over HaLong Bay is not something you will easily forget.

Prices can be high to cruise HaLong Bay, but usually local pick up / drop off is included as well as all meals and excursions when on board.

We booked onto the Aphrodite Supreme Cruise through bestprice.com and we would fully recommend the service, it was one of the more luxurious of ships and couldn’t be faulted. The staff at bestprice.com organised everything, including our visa’s into Vietnam. Once on board, the food was amongst the best we have ever tasted (and that’s saying something!), and when our flight to DaNang was unexpectedly pulled forward by 2 hours, the staff on board did everything they could to get us to the airport on time, including a private speedboat ride to get us back to shore on time.


Different tour operators offer different excursions, ours included 3 main activities:

  • A guided tour into caves inside one of the islands, we had the option to wander off on our own if we wanted but Mary was really interesting.

  • Kayaking through a cave, which then opened up to a massive private lake. The battery died on our GoPro here so we didn’t get any photos, Typical!
  • A climb to the summit of Ti Top island followed by a swim to cool off, which was defiantly needed after all those steps.

Cons: Being Vietnams number 1 tourist attraction means crowds! There are dozens of ships out in the bay at any one time, and as Vietnams tourism industry grows, HaLong Bay is at risk of becoming completely over run with tourists. Our advice is don’t wait, get there as soon as possible!

I would recommend HaLong bay to anyone visiting Vietnam, it’s not a sight to be missed and is up there as one of my best experiences ever.