As you, my lovely readers, will be able to tell from the title of this post … I was suffering from a bout of total indecision today about which location to write about. So, I’m doing a brief outline of all three of these wonderful Vietnamese cities. In reality, I could’ve been writing about four Vietnamese cities but I already did Hanoi for the 2016 A-Z Challenge (in case you’re keen to check out Vietnam’s capital city Snapshot – Hanoi). I absolutely love Vietnam, it’s history and culture, the incredible food and the welcoming people, the beautiful and varied landscapes. I could rave all day about it. So, let’s get straight into it!
HO CHI MINH CITY
Formerly known as Saigon, this city was the capital of southern Vietnam until it fell in 1975 at the conclusion of the Vietnam War. It is the largest of Vietnam’s cities and is a busy, bustling, modern metropolis. I don’t really like to use the term “western” as a description but it would be fair to say it is the most western of Vietnam’s cities. Located in the southern part of the country, on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, it has a tropical climate and it’s typically more humid than Hanoi in the north. There are a wealth of restaurants and cafes, shops and markets (I’ll talk about the floating markets later in the week), and other assorted tourist delights. Once settling in to your hotel, you may like to take a stroll down Le Loi street (pretty much every Vietnamese city has a Le Loi – it’s basically the main street) to the Cho Ben Thanh markets for some shopping or perhaps head to the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel on Dong Khoi street for a cocktail and to watch the sunset before taking in a local Water Puppets theatre performance. A few blocks walk from Le Loi you will come across the Independence Palace, former residence of the president of southern Vietnam during the war. For a small fee you can enter the time warp that is the palace and step back into the 1960’s (the decor has to be seen to be believed!). For those who either remember the 1970’s or are history buffs, you would recognise the palace as the same one that the North Vietnamese Army drove a tank through the gates of at the end of the war. About a block further along is the War Remnants Museum, a must see if you’re in HCMC, it offers an interesting and different insight into the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s been called over there). Word to the wise, some of the images and exhibits there are not for the fainthearted. And even though it’s not strictly in HCMC, I’d recommend taking the drive (a little over an hour in length) to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This tunnel system was used by the Viet Cong during the war, you can try your hand at some of the weaponry, check out the simple and deadly effective pits and traps, or test your nerve with a walk through the very confined underground tunnels.
Located in central Vietnam, along the banks of the Perfume River, the UNESCO world heritage listed city of Hue was the former Imperial capital of Vietnam and as such has quite a lot of old historical sites well worth the visit. The most notable of these is the Imperial City and it’s citadel, built in the 1300’s – the architecture and colourful palaces and buildings are truly spectacular. When you’re done wandering around there, why not hop on a dragon boat and head off down the Perfume River to historic, seven tiered Buddhist temple – Thien Mu Pagoda. As you can imagine, being the former home of some of Vietnamese emperors, there are a number of tombs in the surrounding area. Two in particular stood out to me: the picturesque tomb of Tu Duc and it’s lakeside location (although in fairness he was never buried there and the location of his remains are unknown) and the tomb of Khai Dinh which is situated on the top of a hill, with the 109 steps flanked by impressive statues. Now, I know you’re all tired after a big day of exploring Hue and so I’d suggest heading down to La Carambole restaurant, my favourite in Hue, for a delicious dinner. Perhaps afterwards, if you’re game, we can wander passed the various shops and head a block away to Brown Eyes Bar for some good music and a couple of drinks?
Oh yes, beautiful Hoi An. The name alone puts a smile on my face and peace in my heart. Not just my favourite place in all of Vietnam but one of my favourite anywhere in the world. The town dates back to the 16th century but settlement in the area goes back as far as the 4th century to the Champa people, and if ancient history is of interest you might want to take a little day trip out to the ruined Hindu temples of My Son. In comparison to the other cities, Hoi An Ancient Town is quiet and laid back. And an oasis from the manic traffic! There are no vehicles in the heart of Ancient Town, so walking becomes a pleasure again. In fact, I would recommend doing a walking tour of Hoi An to take in all the beautiful old homes and tea houses, the assembly halls and the stunningly ornate Japanese Bridge. And you must stop for lunch at Hai Scout Cafe (Or Hai Cafe as I believe it’s now called) or perhaps at a local market to try one of the town’s specialty dishes – Cao Lau (a kind of broth with pork, various greens and noodles). Something else Hoi An is known for are its tailors. You can have pretty much anything your heart desires made, and it’ll be done in a day or two. I had quite a few items of clothing made by Yaly Couture on Nguyen Thai Hoc street in the old town. Hoi An is located both on the river and the sea, giving visitors a couple of options for sightseeing and accommodation. I’ve stayed there a few times and to date my first pick is the Hoi An Ancient House Resort & Spa (it’s a good 20 minute walk from the Old Town). I would suggest borrowing a bicycle from your hotel and cycling out to the beach for the day – you can take the easy ride along the main road or for a more scenic route, go through the paddy fields. Later that night, when you’re looking for somewhere to eat, may I suggest the Mango Rooms? The chef here is amazing, the food is a fusion of tastes and styles from all over the world. I celebrated my birthday there back in 2009 :).
This post is part of my contribution to the April 2017 A-Z Challenge
For a list and links to all my challenge post click here
And for those interested in revisiting my 2016 challenge post for H, here’s the link: Snapshot – Hanoi