When our wanderlust overcame us & we decided that traveling would be a part of our life's mission together, one of the first places we knew we had to explore was our parents' motherland of Vietnam in 2013. Then we took to more of SE Asia in 2014 that included Thailand, Laos, & Cambodia along with visiting Vietnam again.
Asia is such an exciting & beautiful place to be not only because of the amazing food, dirt cheap prices, jungles, beaches, mountains, culture, motorbikes & more, but because it's the most rapidly changing place in the whole world right now. No other place is growing economically & culturally quite as much as Asia. Tourism is doubling year by year. Westernization will soon rid of the authentic traditional Asian cultures with hotels & other foreign commercial endeavors quickly developing. The Asia you would have seen 5 years ago is likely not the Asia you'll see today which will be different than what you see in the next 5 years. So hopefully this little glimpse into Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia & Thailand will give you a bit of the adventurous wanderlust that will inspire your next exploration!
We'll start are journey in our 2nd favorite city of Vietnam, Hanoi. The only way to see Vietnam is on the seat of a motorbike, truly. The traffic may look intimidating (or even terrifying at times) but once you get the hang of riding, you'll see why this is the most exciting and surprisingly safe way to make your way through Vietnam & the rest of SE Asia for that matter.
Vietnamese coffee, always & forever.
Vietnamese street food & night life is where it's at. In the bigger cities like Hanoi, the middle class is growing & the young people are starting to shed their traditional & oppressive histories, making the nightlife such a fun thing to be apart of. Hanoi is also the only city left in Vietnam where you can get Bia Hoi, fresh unpasteurized beer, on the streets for around .10 - .15 cents!
Hanoi is also the city you go to in order to take a bumpy 8 hour round-trip bus ride to 1 of the 7 wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay could be really beautiful, but tourism has already done its part in somewhat trashing the Bay. They also have these wonderful large caves, but have unfortunately installed really distracting colorful lights in them... Though I think Ha Long is really special, I also felt it was underwhelming on a gloomy day & would likely not go again.
Hanoi is also the only city near Sapa that you can fly into... But when I say close, I mean Hanoi is an 8-9 hour train ride to Sapa... Sapa is an incredibly gorgeous rural farming community of tribal Hmong mountain people. The nature, sights & culture here can not be missed, but the trains are not comfortable & the food is pretty bad... I can't decide if I will make that treacherous ride back here again, but I most likely will suck it up & do it, I just don't want to think about it...
The 8-9 hour bumpy overnight train ride w/bad air circulation is not nearly as glamorous as we may appear...
You're in the mountains, so the waterfall, hiking & trekking opportunities are endless.
Hmong ladies & their hemp indigo batik crafts <3
Moving down to mid-Vietnam is our most favorite city ever, Hoi An. This city used to be the a trading canal for Japan & Europe giving this city a lot of charming people & architecture. This is the city where you want to meet the nicest people, eat some great food, go to the beach & get some clothing or shoes handmade!
Banh Mi Phuong is definitely the world's best banh mi
So much amazing street food that will run you only about $1 <3
Though Hoi An does not have the nicest beaches in SE Asia, they have a very lovely & quaint beach where you can jet ski, parasail, eat seafood & buy souvenirs which is a pretty sweet deal that the most charming city in Vietnam would also have a beach just a lovely 15 minute motorbike ride away from town!
Also in mid-Vietnam is the ancient imperial city, Hue, where they are known for many things, but Banh Beo being one of the best!
Should you ever run into a Nuoc Mia stand anywhere in Vietnam, you must quench your thirsts & escape the humidity with a sugar cane drink!
& moving down, we have Vietnam's southern capitol, Saigon. The busiest city in Vietnam where you would go for nightlife, the largest collection of Vietnamese cuisines from all the regions, the most traffic & quite a bit of history slowly being lost in the outrageous amount of hustle & bustle.
By far my favorite thing to do in Saigon is eat. Eating shellfish & snails particularly. Saigon boasts some of the best & biggest variety of street food & the ốc / snail stands are a local favorite. All kindsa seafood in all kinds of super yummy sauces <3 Can not miss this!
& finally, for the island life, you can go past Vietnam's most southern tip to the island of Phu Quoc. The beaches are still very beautiful & peaceful, but this is surely to change in the next few years as tourism is definitely making it's mark as it is.
There's not much to do on the island other than laying on the beach with a cocktail & eating some fresh seafood, but be careful as a lot of the 'locals' there are implants from other cities just trying to make a quick buck. The best seafood we had was when we took a snorkeling tour & ate freshly caught uni. Snorkeling was way fun too & we got to visit the floating fishing villages along with some fishing ourselves!
Until next time Vietnam <3
We'll explore Cambodia, Laos & Thailand in Part II w/ some overall tips for discovering SE Asia <3 <3 <3