• Jocelyn L


Jocelyn L. is an Urban Explorer, Foodie, and Music Lover. She loves architecture, history, music, art, fashion, and food. If you are into these, her travel diary will help you decide where to stay, eat, hang out, and play.

Hoa Lu Tam Coc

A few weeks ago, I traveled from the north of Vietnam to the south in 8 days. 8 days may seem long, but in reality, it's not and I wish I'd had more time to explore -- next time, Sa Pa is top of my list. This was my second ever solo trip, but a close friend joined me for the second half. My route: Hanoi, Hoa Lu Tam Coc, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Lang Co, and Saigon.

My first stop was Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. I was impressed with its infrastructure -- I wasn't expecting much as I was coming from Laos, which was very rural. Hanoi reminded me of Taiwan.

Vietnam is perfect if you are into eco-tourism, nature, food, hiking, or budget travel. If you're a vegetarian, it's great too! There are many types of veggies you can order.

Facts about Vietnam

  • It's a truly resilient country. It was invaded by China (for centuries), France, Japan, and America before it gained its independence. Some good did come from all these invasions, though.

French-influenced buildings in Hanoi
  • From its time as a French colony, Vietnam still has noticeable French influences on its architecture and food.

  • Vietnamese is a combination of Chinese and Portuguese.

  • Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world, behind Brazil.

  • It is a communist country.

  • The Vietnamese eat everything... even dogs and cats... so traveling to rural parts can be a bit much (I saw some things that could not be unseen).

  • The majority of Vietnam is still untouched and it's really nice to enjoy the clear water, nature, air, and fresh produce.

  • An amazing pho costs only US$2! Talk about budget traveling.

  • Prostitution is legal.

Useful Tips

  • The Vietnamese celebrate the Lunar New Year, Tết, for about 8 days. (In contrast, the Chinese celebrate it for 3 days.) I would avoid traveling there around this time -- usually between the end of January and the first week of February -- since everything is closed.

  • The weather in Vietnam is very humid in the summer, so if you're sensitive to that, it's best to avoid that period.

  • Best time to travel to Hanoi: February to April and September to November

  • Best time to travel to Hue: February to April

  • Best time to travel to Ho Chi Minh City: December to March

  • Be sure to only drink bottled water! That said, the water is clean enough to brush your teeth.

  • They accept USD.

  • Be sure to use a guide, since they don't speak English at most places. (Ask your hotel concierge to book trips or restaurants, they are super helpful.)

  • Download Grab to order taxis. They're the Uber/Lyft of South-East Asia.

  • The traffic in Vietnam is "organized chaos" at best. No one obeys traffic rules so crossing the road is nerve-racking. Just remember to walk and not run; drivers will avoid you but if you run, you might get hit.


Where to Stay

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel
  • Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel (best customer service ever)

  • Intercontinental

Where & What to Eat

Hanoi is known for its pho and bun cha (grilled pork belly with noodle and dipping sauce).

Home cooked meal in a small village

I recommend arranging a home-cooked meal at a traditional home in the village. This was probably my favorite meal in Hanoi. And you must try some French/Vietnamese food. Here are some spots worth checking out:

  • Pho 10 -- Go early to avoid the line

  • Red Bean

  • La Badiane

  • Spices Garden

  • Ly Club Hanoi

  • Green Tangerine

  • Au Lac House

  • Home Hanoi

  • Grandma's Restaurant

  • Bun Cha Ta

  • Banh Mi 25

Must Visit

Ha Long Bay

Temple of Literature
  • Take an overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay -- one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. I recommend booking a good quality cruise; it makes a big difference in terms of experience and comfort.

  • The Temple of Literature - This is the place where people pay their respects to Confucius and where they announce the top scholars after the imperial exams. This system is very similar to China's back in the day, in that the top scholars become government officials. You can read more about it here.

  • Thăng Long Imperial Citadel

  • Hoan Kiem Lake

  • St. Joseph's Cathedral

  • Hanoi Opera House

  • Turtle Tower

  • Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

  • Day trip to Hoa Lu Tam Coc to see the 3 caves

Where to Shop

The best shopping I found in Vietnam was definitely in Hanoi:

  • Indigo -- Great for organic dye clothes, fabric, and indigenous people's (Yao) fabric arts and clothes

  • Coco Silk -- The best áo dài in Vietnam in my opinion. The design and quality are phenomenal.


Banyan Tree Lang Co

Where to Stay

  • Banyan Tree Lang Co -- This was my paradise, for sure. You can meditate, practice yoga, do any type of water sports, hiking and ATV.

  • The Four Seasons

Where & What to Eat

Hue is known for its spices and flavorful food. Here are some must-try dishes:

  • Banh Loc Goi -- Tapioca flour-based dough stuffed with dried shrimp

  • Crisy Banh Khoai -- Pan-fried crepe typically stuffed with shrimp and pork belly

  • Nem Lui -- Minced meat or shrimp on sugar cane skewer

  • Bun Bo Hue -- Soup containing rice vermicelli and beef (a bit spicy)

  • Banh Beo -- steamed rice cake with dried shrimp

Must Visit

Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King

Imperial City
  • Royal Tomb of Khai Dinh King -- i.e. probably the most extravagant tomb deco ever

  • Imperial City -- notice the Chinese-influenced architecture

  • Thein Mu Pagoda

  • Tomb of Tu Duc


Where to Stay

  • Park Hyatt

  • The Four Seasons

  • An Lam Retreats Saigon River

Where & What to Eat

Two of my fave restaurants in the world came from this trip to Ho Chi Minh City: Quan Bui and Cuc Gach Quan.

  • Quan Bui

  • Cuc Gach Quan

  • Secret Garden

  • Mountain Retreat

Safe travels, ICBRKRs!

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