We arrived in Vietnam early in the morning and it was a short drive to the centre of the very crazy city of Hanoi! After a quick nap we got an early lunch in the cafe virtually opposite our hotel, the first of many delicious meals we would experience in Vietnam.
Our half day tour began at 2pm and it was excellent value as we had an informative guide. We were all quite tired by then as jet lag had caught up with us but we didn't want to waste a single moment and we wanted to experience as much as we could during our 2-week holiday.
We booked a guide for the first day and he took us to a temple, the history museum and the bridge by the lake and from there, the tour included an electric cart around the highlights of the city and a water puppet theatre. Water puppets, I think, are unique to Vietnam. Several puppeteers stand in a pool of water up to their waists and they manage the puppets on sticks from behind a curtain. It is difficult to follow but it seems to be based on legends and stories of ancient Hanoi, with musicians playing at the sides of the stage and it is spectacular so worth seeing even if you don't understand it.
Hanoi can be very nerve wracking as traffic lights are few and far between and are seemingly arbitrary anyway. You simply step off the kerb and carry on walking while mopeds drive around you. Forget walking on pavements where they exist - they are for parking mopeds and dumping rubbish! Despite this complete and utter chaos, the traffic moves, albeit slowly, so we didn't see any traffic jams during our stay at all and somehow it all works.
We had an early start the next morning as we were going to Halong Bay for our overnight cruise. We were keeping our fingers crossed for good weather as we knew it was the rainy season but as it turned out, the sun shone brightly so we endured the high humidity to enjoy a lovely and well equipped cabin. The food – wow! We had four endless meals, dish after dish of absolutely delicious food came out.
The cruise was amazing. We all went kayaking through the caves, then we got some free time on the beach and time to relax on deck and watch the sun go down over the beautiful world Heritage Site of Halong Bay. We also visited an oyster farm where you can learn all about their breeding facility and purchase pearls.
After another night in Hanoi, we took a flight to Danang where we stayed for three nights in Hoi An. At night it was lit up with lanterns and by day it was lovely to walk around the pretty streets full of tailors and shops. We had a morning on An Bang beach, which was a lovely beach with some beach bar restaurants. This is the place to get suits and I can recommend a specific tailor if you do visit.
After three nights in Hoi An, we then headed to Nha Trang for three nights, which was another short flight. Nha Trang feels very Russian as many Russians visit for their holidays. There are many beach bars and restaurants to choose from and the beach in Nha Trang is sandy. We also visited Vinpearl which is a theme park and water park. It’s not as big as some of the parks in the USA but it’s still an amazing day out and for around £15 for a full day ticket to both parts, it is well worth it. There are some great rides and slides in the sun for the adventure minded!
We then headed to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). This was my favourite part of Vietnam. The streets were much cleaner than Hanoi, with decent pavements and it felt much safer crossing the roads! I recommend visiting the Grand Palace, the prison and also the museum, which has lots of history and is very popular with tourists.
There are many restaurants and bars in Saigon; I recommend the roof top bars in the hotels. My favourite was the Air 360 sky lounge. 22 floors up, with a great atmosphere and music - we had a great night.
Overall, Vietnam was excellent value. The service was great, the people were friendly and curious, there was really good food, and all of our transfer buses were early apart from one and they called to say they were delayed. The guides were all very patient, flexible and knowledgeable, and language was rarely a problem since almost everyone spoke English.