Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Vietnam: Do's and Don'ts!

Rather than spending a longer period of time at a few key parts of a country as we usually do on holiday, in Vietnam we travelled from the south to the north, hitting more towns for a few days at a time and utilising the great night train system to enable us to see more. Although I feel that we were able to experience more of the diversity of the country this way, moving from place to place could be very tiring at times. However, Vietnam is a great place, with plenty to keep a traveller occupied, and here are the usual do's and don'ts...


- Spend a night on a junk in Halong Bay. By far one the highlights of the trip, my fears that the bay would be crammed with boats was immediately dispelled after appreciating first hand the sheer vastness of the area. With steep cliffs soaring out of the water at every turn, it is easy to round a corner and lose sight of anyone else. Absolute bliss, just don't forget your swimsuit and miss the chance to take a dip after a hot day!

- Catch the water puppet show in Hanoi. Another experience that far exceeded my expectations, the skill and coordination involved in pulling it all off left me in awe. The spectacular puppets and beautiful soft music didn't hurt either.

- Use the great train system for cheap trips between the main hot spots. Travel in Vietnam seems to follow a similar route - most people we met had come from the same places and were heading forward in the same direction, most likely influenced by the easy availability and cost of train, particularly overnight. We found the whole system simple to use and comfortable, although book at least a couple of days ahead if you want a bed, otherwise only the upright 3rd class seats will be free, and 12 hours on those doesn't really bear thinking about...


- Expect Vietnam to be quiet. Next to Bangkok, it was the most touristy country we've visited in SE Asia, firmly on the backpackers trail. There were some quieter areas, such as the Mekong Delta, but the bigger cities were pretty packed, both with foreign and Vietnamese tourists. There were some positives to this too - we met some lovely fellow travellers there from all over the planet, and enjoyed some fantastic days out with our new companions.

- Forget to plan your future wardrobe. Hoi An is a treasure trove of tailors, and if you come armed with pictures or ideas, within 48 hours you can walk away with a suitcaseful of perfectly fitting clothes with only a small dent in your finances. Get recommendations on arrival though - we did hear a couple of stories of shoddy work from the very cheapest workshops - the key to quality seemed to be offers of multiple fittings, a good examination of the materials and taking a cutting to compare to the final product.

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