Two weeks ago I wrote a pretty scathing review of my time in Vietnam. I stand by what I said, and the fact that I didn't like Vietnam as a traveler.
Two days ago, someone followed up with a question that I'd never been asked.
"Okay, but what parts did you like?"
MY TOP 5 EXPERIENCES IN VIETNAM
1. MOTORBIKE RIDE FROM DA LAT TO MUI NE
Shout out to my true travel soul sista, Pria (who can be found on her blog the Jagged Vacance). We found each other at exactly the right time. Both fresh from the hospital and completely over Vietnam, it took about 5 mins of talking before we were like... wait... did we just become best friends?
We decided to tempt fate and go on a motorbike trip from Da Lat to Mui Ne. These 2 days ended up being my favorite experience in Vietnam.
A lot of people do a motorbike trip from Hue to Hoi An. Yeah, I did that too, and sure, it is fine.... but the Central Highlands? Simply spectacular.
"Easy riders," as they are called in Vietnam, are motorbike drivers for hire. Motorbiking is easily the best and most scenic way to get around Vietnam, but not everyone (*cough* me) feels comfortable operating a motorbike. This is where easy riders come in. It is not difficult to find someone happy to do all of the hard work for you (aka the driving).... you're just going to pay for it.
As always, vet someone before you get on the back of their motorbike. Check TripAdvisor for their reviews, see if they are part of Vietnam Easy-Riders (the OG easy rider company), or book through your hostel.
If you are going to splurge on one motorbike ride while in Vietnam, I suggest Da Lat to Mui Ne. There is so much to see between these cities, including: waterfalls, coffee fields, dragon fruit plantation, tea plantations, incense factory, silk factory, lakes, and much more! We booked through our hostel, Wolf Pack Hostel (in Da Lat). I highly suggest both this hostel and booking the tour through them!
2. TREKING IN SAPA
I ditched my hiking boots many moons ago in Hoi An, but before that, they took me over 40 kilometers across the Hoàng Liên Son mountains in Northwest Vietnam.
The tiered rice terraces of Sapa, chiseled up the side of grassy mountains, disappear into the clouds and look like a staircase to the heavens. Trekking through them was an experience was unlike anything else I've done in Southeast Asia. Winding my way through muddy rice paddies while interacting with local hill tribes was unforgettable.
Bring some sturdy shoes, as the trails are very slippery. Also, rice season is from July-September, and Sapa is the most beautiful at this point. The rest of the year the rice paddies are just mud. Either way, you'll be impressed.
3. SEEING HA LONG BAY
It takes one google image search of Ha Long Bay to be like, "There. I want to go there."
Ha Long Bay is Vietnam at its more touristic, and least authentic..... and yet, its beauty makes up for all of this. It cannot be missed when visiting Vietnam, especially if you are in the north. Ha Long bay literally translates to "dragon descending," and refers to the legend of dragons helping fight off invaders when Vietnam was first formed.
If you REALLY have money, 1: why are you reading my blog, and 2: helicopter ride over Ha Long Bay. That is the way to truly see this fantastical area.
The jury is out, but I think this might be the most beautiful place I've ever visited.
4. DA LAT
By the time I arrived in Da Lat I was fed up. I came from Hoi An where I debated between heading south, or ditching Vietnam completely and going into Cambodia or Laos. At the urging of someone in my hostel in Hoi An, I gave Vietnam one last chance and went south to Da Lat.
Da Lat is unique to any other city I visited in Vietnam: hilly, chilly, and very Swiss looking. Da Lat is tucked up in the Central Highland mountains of Vietnam, and it is a tiny gem. A lot of people use it as a base for adventure sports in the region, but I used it as a base for relaxation and eating good food.
A lot of people skip Da Lat, but I think this is a huge mistake. At the very least, you will be happy to get away from the sweltering heat of the rest of the country for a few days. Plus, the area is beautiful.
5. EATING STREET FOOD (ANYWHERE, AT ANY TIME)
Life is going to be so much less exciting when I actually know what I am ordering.
The street food in Vietnam is the best in the region, hands down. It is everywhere, delicious, and cheap. This should probably be number one because even when I was disappointed in Vietnam, street food was always there for me.
As always: go where all the locals go, get it piping hot, and point at someone else's plate if they don't speak English. If you don't eat meat, good luck. I also suggest learning the words for soup, rice, bread, pork, chicken, and beef. From there, you can figure out what almost anything is.