A few weeks ago I was one lucky Travelette to be invited to Northern Vietnam by
Never having visited before I was beyond excited to experience all the things I’ve read and heard for myself. And even more important: Those I did not know of yet, all the new impressions you need to see, smell and hear hear in real life to (somewhat) understand your destination. The true magic of traveling, no? And as I’m not a Travelette for no reason I’m obviously sharing it all with you. So here are some things you might not know about Vietnam yet. And that is just the beginning, I’m sure you’ll find so much more if you get the chance to go…
(Enjoying the dramatic skies and beautiful view in Sapa)
(Golden Hour in Mai Chau)
(Modern vs. traditional)
(Girl at a temple)
(Ho Chi Minh merchandise)
(Coffee with a view in Hanoi)
1. Getting there can be a real breeze
First of all (and I know that this part often is the hardest part) you have to get there and yes, for many of us a journey to Vietnam will take quite a while, so it’s important to be prepared, choose wisely and make the best out of every part of your journey. Traveling with Vietnam Airlines enabled me to fly direct from Frankfurt to Hanoi, a super smooth experience I can only recommend.
(Fruit platter and a glimpse at the most beautiful airline uniform)
Granted, I got extra lucky, because we were treated with business class and my inner camping girl with dirty feet really enjoyed turning princess mode on, sipping champagne and eating local fruit in the most comfy chairs. You only live once, no? So Thanks again for this special experience and the most perfect service in the most beautiful uniforms, I had a great time and time literally flew by (haha, sorry!)
(Having a really good day)
However, even if you “just” travel Economy your Vietnam Airlines flight will be a great experience with tasty food and excellent service. And apart from that…
2. Hanoi may be one of the most exciting places in the world
During the last months I’ve been lucky to experience quite a few different parts of Asia and the world in general and despite the fact that I’ve only scratched the surface of what is out there I’ll be blunt enough to say that Hanoi might be one of the most exciting places on earth. Or at least of the parts I’ve seen so far. The buzzing capital of Vietnam is a place where old history meats modern culture and you will never be done exploring all the different things happening in this noisy, colourful maze of people, cars and bikes, magically heading from A to B without clashing into each other.
Every street is a market and while the gorgeous, crumbling, colonial facades are telling you stories about ancient times, the city is also constantly reinventing itself, catering to a growing, global audience.
Going with the flow, while staying true to itself? Well who doesn’t want that?
(Franzi and the Long Bien bridge)
3. People have a 6th sense for traffic
Talking about Hanoi, one of the first things we were told when arriving and trying to deal with crossing a street is that it is better not to look and just walk over the street slowly and in total ease. Well, turns out it doesn’t sound easy and surprisingly… isn’t easy. While people in Berlin already start freaking out when a bike and pedestrian are trying to cross a street together the traffic in Hanoi looks like some kind of magical anthill where everyone is following a secret choreography an outsider doesn’t understand. And might be a bit afraid of at first. But in a weirdly admiring way.
4. Kumquat trees equal good luck
Despite its unique history Vietnamese culture is deeply embedded in the South Asian culture, so all the holidays and festivals are celebrated according to the solar calendar. Lunar New Year thus is the most important holiday of the year and there are many special Vietnamese ways to celebrate it, that vary depending on the region.
What applies for everyone is, that people return to their hometowns to reconnect with their origin and have big and merry celebrations with families and friends. One of the oldest and most important traditions surrounding those celebrations is a live kumquat tree, that every family has to have and gather around for good luck. Such a beautiful tradition, right? And a tasty one.
As it is such a vital part of the festivities, but hard to realize for modern people with tiny apartments people came up with purchasing or renting small bonsai versions of the kumquat trees, that are extra cute and come in various shapes, like dragons or waterfalls – a trend that is especially happening Northern Vietnam. When visiting Hanoi we participated in an insiders tour to Vietnam on a Vespa, where we also stopped
(Mr Mang in his garden)
5. The Vietnamese coffee culture is next level
While many countries only grow coffee for others, the Vietnamese don’t only produce amazing coffee but have a next level coffee culture themselves. Derived from the French, but adapted to their own taste, local, coarsely ground beans go into a French drip filter (phin), directly sitting on top of a cup or glass. The special preparation process is fun to watch and the coffee strong and flavourful with notes of chocolate and vanilla – quite heavenly! Traditionally enjoyed in the morning and afternoon (there’s always time for a coffee, no?) Vietnamese coffee comes in a huge variety, mixed with yoghurt, fruit or topped with whipped egg yolk (ca phe trung) go try for yourself.
6. …and so is the street food
I knew that a lot of the “Vietnamese” stuff I love to eat back home in Berlin is a mix of different Asian cuisines all merged into something, to please Western taste buds and even though I like eating that way and think there are qualities to this kind of fusion, I know that it’s all far from Traditional. And that the real deal would be way different. Yet I was surprised by how different the food turnt out to be. And how many different dishes are to find in Vietnam, depending on the region, season, time of the day, mood of the chef, family recipe that has been passed along…
Needless to say that Vietnamese people take huge pride into their food and they surely should – it is fresh, creative and mostly only uses local ingredients. Especially Hanoi is famous for its street food and if you are open to the unknown you should go for anything that is offered to you to try it all out.
We participated in a street food tour
(Banh Cuon are paper thin rice flour pancake with different fillings and home made dressing)
7. A night train ride from Hanoi to Sapa can take you back in time
One of my favourite parts of our journey was the train ride we took from Hanoi to Sapa (https://www.victoriahotels.asia/en/victoria-train.html). The trains’ rustling sound and hard-wooden interior will take you back to old times and your journey will be more than a way to get a around, a real experience. I’m a sucker for train rides and adventures anyways and this one made me feel like in a Wes Anderson movie. The train is equipped with tiny but comfy cabins with elegant bunk beds and a huge window. My favourite moment was waking up after a (admittedly short) night and seeing the lush landscape rush by, while sipping on a cup of Vietnamese coffee the staff will deliver you into your cabin. Unforgettable.
8. There are many great places to hike in Vietnam
Something you might not be thinking about immediately when you think about Vietnam is, how great it is for hiking and trekking. Especially the region of Sapa with its lush valleys and iconic rice terraces are a hikers dream with plenty of beautiful plateaus to pause and enjoy the view, wild waterfalls and secluded mountain villages with lodges and home stays to give you shelter in a familiar setting.
There are plenty of routes, easier ones you can do for a few hours and by yourself or ones that you might want to turn into an overnight trek. If you are looking for a guide there are a lot of local organizations, run by people from the area, sharing local insights and inviting you into their culture. However once in Sapa the benefit of hiking wear finally occurred to me. While the rice terraces admittedly look dreamy and beautiful when it is raining and foggy you might get wet if you are not equipped well, the weather here is quite moody, real, gorgeous, dramatic mountain weather.
(Friendly faces along the way in Sapa)
Another great area to choose as your hiking base is
9. …a boat tour will give you new insights
If you don’t want to walk by yourself you should consider traveling via boat as it always is a good way to get around and help you understand your destination out of a different perspective. Due to the many rivers, connecting the Asian countries with each other traveling on the water was one of the most important ways to get around in the older days to exchange goods, but also look for better places to live. A real Vietnam experience.
10. You might be making some new friends along the way
…Last but definitely not least: You’ll be making some new friends along the way. And that is quite beautiful.
Who of you has been to Vietnam? Curious to hear about your experiences!