Vietnam rises as one of the popular destinations in South East Asia. With several budget airlines expanding their network to Vietnam cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, along with the streamlined online visa application procedures, Hong Kongers are free to explore the coastal country with flight time of two hours.
The capital of Vietnam and her outlying provinces welcomes tourists with endless options to indulge in the Vietnamese culture, ranging from the vibrant Old Quarter to the tranquil rice fields in the mountains.
Egg Coffee please
With Vietnam priding herself as the world’s second largest coffee producer, Vietnamese people surely know how to brew great coffee. Stemming from the French legacy, cafés are literally everywhere in central Hanoi, serving traditional Vietnamese coffee, and also a variety of Asian drinks.
Walking under the scorching summer sun can be suffocating, and when the weather is slightly cooler, it would usually be raining, so grabbing a glass of iced coffee while experiencing the Vietnamese way of life is definitely an excellent indoor activity.
Speaking of coffee, the traditional Vietnamese coffee is served with condensed milk, giving a slightly sweeter taste than its western counterparts. Egg coffee is another masterpiece in Vietnamese café culture, traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar and of course coffee. I personally adore egg coffee, but some may find it too sweet and too cheesecake-like.
Ramble around the Old Quarter
During the day, the Old Quarter is a busy and congested district where locals commute and carry on businesses. When night falls, the Old Quarter turns into a vibrant centre of night life. The tourists and locals rush to the Old Quarter to dine outdoor, and interestingly with their tables facing the road. Different types of street food are found at night, and most restaurants are crowded with people who crave for Vietnamese cuisine or people who just wish to chill on a clear night. On some nights, there are also night markets along the streets of the Old Quarter.
Night vibes at Old Quarter Hanoi
For party lovers, Hanoi also offers a wide range of pubs and clubs, so while coffee dominates the day time Hanoi, booze is the divine option at night.
If you are not into alcohol or coffee, why don’t you join one of the many cooking classes in Hanoi? With a variety of Vietnamese feasts to choose from, half a day can be well spent on learning the basics of making beef noodle (pho bo), pomelo salad, traditional spring rolls and the one and only egg coffee. Bon appetit!
Trekking in Sapa
If you are sick of the traffic and air pollution in Hanoi, Sapa is an ideal area to explore the rural parts of Vietnam. While Vietnam is all about coffee and rice, Sapa is all about rice fields. With an altitude of 1500 m above sea level, Sapa is much cooler than the blazing Hanoi in summer time, and was embraced by the French colonists as a summer resort.
Ladder rice fields in Sapa
But what makes Sapa intriguing is the vast population of ethnic minorities living among the valleys and mountains. With close proximity to Sapa city centre, Cat Cat Village is a must-go for tourists who wish to have a glimpse of the locals’ way of life while staying close to the tourist centres. If tourists opt for a more in-depth tour into the ethnic minority villages, homestay at villages near Sapa, such as Lao Chai Village is also a popular option. Trekking along the valleys and different villages give one a panoramic view of the ladder rice fields and also a great opportunity to interact with locals.
Sapa is around a 5 to 6 hours drive from Hanoi, but taking an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, followed by a short car ride to Sapa is a more popular option.
Cruise at Ha Long Bay
A visit to North Vietnam is incomplete without cruising along the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Ha Long Bay, also famed as the New Seven Wonders of the World. There are day tours departing from Hanoi every day, and a single trip from Hanoi to the pier takes around 3 to 4 hours. After boarding the cruise, tourists are often served with traditional Vietnamese cuisine on board, while the ferry slowly sails through Ha Long Bay. The tour guide would guide you through the many islands and mountains of various sizes and shapes which together make up the astonishing “Bay of Descending Dragons”.
During the tour, tourists can go on kayaking or bamboo boat ride to explore the gorgeous yet mysterious landscapes of the isles and caves. One can also hop on some of the many islands in Ha Long Bay to explore the marble caves.
Personally, I would prefer going on a two-day cruise to fully enjoy the Ha Long Bay experience, otherwise, a day tour would spend around 6 to 7 hours on bus with only 3 to 4 hours on the cruise.
Jonathan Chan, a law graduate from the University of Hong Kong, is obsessed with everything British. Because of his adventurous and peculiar way of exploring cliché and sometimes off the beaten path locales, his journeys almost always end chaotically.