The A-Z of Vietnamese Cities

Asia, Travel

Or ‘How to plan your holiday around Vietnam’.

I’ve already lied. This is not an A to Z guide. It’s more like a ‘H’ guide. Since every major city in Vietnam has a H as it’s capital – Hue, Hanoi, Hoi An, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh. I wonder if H is an imperial or just overused letter in Vietnamese. With names like these, it can be confusing to work out what actually differentiates Vietnam’s cities. For example, what’s the difference between Hanoi and Hoi An, other than the way 5 letters are scrambled together.

We’ve spent just over two weeks in Vietnam. There are some cities I would return to, and some I wouldn’t. This is a beginner’s guide to the cities of Vietnam.

First, a map.

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Thank-you Google. 

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

Vibe: Imagine a bikie gang riding on a highway. Now imagine that bikie gang never ends and fills every street of your suburb. That is how I would describe the traffic in Vietnam.

Number of days required to see the main sites: 2

Sites to see:

  • Vietnam War Museum
  • Day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Day trip to the floating markets in the Mekong Delta

Emma’s thoughts: Ho Chi Minh is a largest/busiest city we visited in Vietnam. When the motorcycle riders are sick of waiting in the traffic, they cut off pedestrians and drive in a long tail along the footpath. It’s the perfect place to start your holiday with a great bout of culture shock. Other than the war museum, sites to see require full day trips out of the city. Once was enough – I don’t need to go again.

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Nha Trang

Vibe: Beach holiday for Russian tourists.

Number of days required to see the main sites: 2

Sites to see

  • Nha Trang Beach
  • Mud baths
  • Long son Pagoda
  • Chem Tower / Po Nagar
  • 360 Sky Deck and Rooftop bar

Emma’s thoughts:

The weirdest thing we saw here was when a huge Russian man was causing commotion over who knows what in the restaurant where we were eating dinner. Eventually after lots of verbal arguments, he took a swing at the tiny Vietnamese waiter. It was barbaric that such a huge man would try to assault someone half his size and strength. The waiter however sprang to action and launched himself in the kitchen area, in an attempt to grab a huge knife. His waiter colleagues restrained him as he tried to hurl himself back at the Russian. Five minutes later, the waiter and the Russian were shaking hands before bidding each other farewell. It was awesome and now I understand how the Vietnamese won the war.

Nha Trang has a lovely beach. It’s an exceedingly hot day if you don’t find a spot to take regular break in air conditioning. The area is very, very populated with tourists who are enjoying lobster and cocktails on the beach. It could be a nice place to return to in the future but I have a lot of other places to get to.

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Hoi An

Vibe: I don’t know. I lay in bed thinking I was dying (thank-you Malaria tablets) however, this was the favourite city for lots of other people I travelled with.

Number of days required to see the main sites: 2-3

Sites to see:

  • Be na hill
  • Marble mountain and caves
  • Linh ung pagoda
  • Son tra peninsula
  • Old city of Hoi An
  • Lanterns in the city by night

Emma’s thoughts: Malaria sucks but so do hallucinations. If you only visit one city in Vietnam, this is probably the one that has it all. I need to go back here.

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Hue

Vibe: Business city – not a tourist one.

Number of days required to see the main sites: 1/2 day

Sites to see:

  • The Imperial Palace

Emma’s Thoughts: Other than the Imperial Palace, Hue is pretty empty. Fortunately, the locals have recognised they don’t have a lot to offer in the way of tourism and make up for it by running motorcycle rides to the local rice fields. You could do this anywhere, but since the distance between Hoi An and Hanoi is a long one, it’s a nice point to spend the night and keep yourself entertained during the journey.

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Halong Bay

Vibe: Construction Zone

Number of days required to see the main sites: 1

Sites to see:

  • Halong Bay including it’s limestone formations and cave sites

Emma’s thoughts: The limestone formations in the bay are considered a natural wonder. Josh and I were so looking forward to seeing the beauty of Halong Bay that we were considering booking an additional night here. Halong Bay is a popular tourist attraction and the area is currently undergoing extensive development to increase accommodation sites, build a theme park and even recreate the Dubai palm. There is so much construction though, it means that the mainland is undesirable, and the only attraction is the boat ride out to the limestone islands. On the limestone islands, they are beautiful but there was very grey weather the day we arrived despite a lack of clouds. I think it’s smog. The internet thinks so too.

To sum it up:

Here’s the poster.

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And here are my pictures.

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Hanoi

Vibe: Bustling.

Number of days required to see the main sites: 2

Sites to see:

  • Water Puppet Show
  • Cycle through the banana fields and past the floating houses
  • World’s longest mural wall
  • Hoam Kiem Lake (or Turtle Lake)

Emma’s thoughts: If you stay in the centre of the old city, it’s very easy to access all of the tourist areas of Hanoi. Hanoi has awesome food – from ice cream buffets to mousse cakes to bahn mi. Use Trip Advisor to help you find the best spots. Yum yum yum.

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 If I had to plan my trip to Vietnam again:

I’d also go to Sapa. Unfortunately it was raining continuously in the area when we visited, so we didn’t make the trip but during Summer (June-July), Sapa have amazing terraced rice fields. They would be an incredible site. Allow 2 nights and 1 full day.

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Follow my adventures!

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