13 Things You Must Do in Vietnam – Vietnam Bucket List

From exploring the depths of a mysterious subterranean world to bargaining in a Mekong market, from sleeping under a bamboo roof in the mountains to scaling waterfalls in the Central Highlands, Vietnam is bursting with exciting things to do. In this XO blog post, we outline the most amazing activities across the country – from the thrilling to the serene – in order to create your ultimate Vietnam bucket list and perfect Vietnam itineraries.

Vietnam bucket list

Vietnam bucket list

TOP THINGS TO ADD TO YOUR VIETNAM BUCKET LIST

Click on the links below to jump directly to the activity :


1. CANYONING 

Scaling waterfalls in Dalat

Dalat might be famous as a former French colonial hill station in the Central Highlands, but these days it’s becoming the extreme sports capital of Vietnam. The rugged, mountainous terrain, forested hillsides, and mild temperatures make it perfect for outdoor activities: in particular, canyoning. Regular rainfall creates dozens of rivers and waterfalls in the area: canyoning essentially involves following the course of a river: clambering over boulders, climbing up rock faces, being taken along by the current, and – most thrillingly of all – abseiling down waterfalls.

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

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2. STREET EATS

Take a food tour in Saigon

Street food is a highlight of Vietnam, and Saigon is the street food capital of the country. Every night, thousands of informal eateries, serving hundreds of dishes, grace the city’s streets. The variety and choice are dizzying. But don’t worry, street food tours do all the hard work for you, and XO’s Foodie Tour is the original and voted the best Vietnam food tour by Forbes magazine! As the neon lights of the city flicker on, we roll our guests out on the backs of our motorbikes, and head to the lesser-known districts, where all the best street snacks are found. From the classic to the unusual, our all-female staff will guide you through a culinary adventure of Vietnamese flavours, textures and colours.

XO Food Tour

Street Eats with XO Tours

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3. HIGHLAND HOMESTAY

Spend the night in a stilt house 

A night in a traditional wood, bamboo, and palm-thatched stilt house, perched on a mountainside or in a verdant valley of rice fields, is unquestionably the most romantic accommodation in Vietnam. Nestled in the Tonkinese Alps of northern Vietnam, homestays offer a genuine glimpse of rural life, and the chance to interact with Vietnam’s significant population of ethnic minorities. Prices are typically around $10 per person and include delicious home-cooked meals. Sapa and Mai Chau are famous homestay hotspots, but for a bit more authenticity, we recommend branching out into nearby Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

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4. SKY COCKTAIL

Drink at a rooftop bar in Saigon

Saigon is Vietnam’s biggest, busiest, most intense city: a cauldron of noise, food, construction, people, and pollution. But seen from the top of a multi-storey building – with a Martini in hand – the city is beautiful and serene. Many new high-rise buildings host uber-cool bars on their rooftop. Take advantage of sunset happy hours and sample a slice of the high-life. We recommend Glow Skybar and OMG Bar.

Highlife: enjoy a 'sky cocktail' in Saigon

Highlife: enjoy a ‘sky cocktail’ in Saigon

In case you are done for the night, you can always use a massage to recover and get ready for the next day. Make sure you spend few minutes to read XO Tours guide to massages in Vietnam before you go to any massage parlor. Once your energy is replenished consider adding some of these exciting, day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.

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5. GO UNDERGROUND

Explore the Phong Nha-Ke Bang Cave Systems

In central Vietnam, a spectacular landscape of limestone mountains covered in jungle, straddles the border with Laos. In 2009, led by a Vietnamese farmer, named Ho Khanh, a British expedition discovered the largest cave system in the world here. Son Doong Cave is on a biblical scale: great hangers carved out of the limestone by underground rivers. Inside there’s a remarkable subterranean world of strange rock formations. Extremely exclusive tours spend days trekking through the cave. If this doesn’t suit your budget, the area boasts many more extraordinary caverns: trek to Hang En, an equally impressive cave with its very own beach and turquoise water; take a subterranean boat ride through Phong Nha, the Cave of Teeth; walk along the plank-way and admire the sparkling stalactites of Thien Duong, Paradise Cave. Oxalis and Phong Nha Farmstay offer excellent tours.

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6. MASTER CHEF

Take a cooking course in Hoi An

Increasingly famous throughout the world, Vietnamese cuisine owes much to the freshness of its ingredients, but don’t underestimate the obsessive attention to presentation, and the sophistication of preparation, involved in rustling up some of the country’s most popular dishes. Cooking courses in Hoi An give you a chance to try your hand at making a classic Vietnamese meal. Starting early in the morning at the local market to find the best ingredients, you’ll learn plenty of culinary tricks to take back home with you. Check out Green Bamboo Cooking School for more details.

If cooking Vietnamese food gives you a craving for more excitement in Hoi An, look to our Hoi An Custom Itineraries for a day for additional ideas for your itinerary. For travelers who only have time for a short trip in Vietnam, we also offer advice for spending 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City and/or 2 days in Ha Noi.

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

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7. HIT THE ROAD

Take a motorbike road trip

An icon of Vietnam, the motorbike is the nation’s preferred mode of transport. With over 40 million and counting, motorbikes are one of the first things that any visitor to Vietnam notices. Get involved and get in the saddle: take a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) in the middle of Hanoi rush hour to experience the impossible jigsaw puzzle that is Vietnam’s urban commuter traffic; hop on the back of an Easy Rider for a tour of the Central Highlands; or go solo and hit the road on your own set of wheels, venturing into the spectacular scenery of the northern mountains. Check out Tigit Motorbikes for bike rental and tours.

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

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8. A NIGHT AT SEA

Spend a night on a junk in Halong Bay

As one of Vietnam’s most popular attractions, Halong Bay can get crowded with tourists during the day. But at night, it’s peaceful and calm. Avoid the booze cruises, and spend a night aboard one of the elegant wooden vessels, known as junks, floating among the limestone islands in the moonlight. In the morning, watch the sunrise from the deck with coffee and breakfast. Check out Indochina Junk and Bhaya Cruises for cruise information.

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

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9. TOMB RIDER

Cycling the Royal Tombs in Hue:

The last royal dynasty of Vietnam ruled from the imperial capital of Hue. After their deaths, the emperors were laid to rest in extravagant mausoleums on the outskirts of the city. Set in beautifully landscaped gardens along the Perfume River, the royal tombs are strewn over a large and scenic area, best explored by bicycle. Pedal your way through history as you ride from one emperor’s resting place to the next. The most elaborate is Minh Mang’s mausoleum, but the most mysterious is Emperor Gia Long’s forgotten tomb, reached via a wooden boat across the Perfume River.

Royal grandeur: Tour the emperors' tombs by bicycle

Royal grandeur: tour the emperors’ tombs by bicycle

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10. SHOP LIKE A LOCAL

Bargain in a Mekong market

Local markets still play a central role in most Vietnamese people’s daily lives. The Mekong Delta is home to the most colourful, bountiful, frenzied markets in the country. Prices are rarely fixed so bargaining is a rule, and this is a great chance to really act like a local. Learn a few numbers – it’s not that difficult – and try your hand at bartering. Pick up some exotic-looking fruit, ask how much it is, and let the contest begin. Be polite and keep a smile on your face – bargaining is expected so there’s nothing rude about it: in fact, it’s great fun! Our tip: settle for roughly 60% of the original price offered, and keep it friendly and good-natured.

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

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11: MAKE A SPLASH:

Swim in the East Sea

With a coastline stretching over 3,000km, you’re never far from the beach in Vietnam. The East Sea is balmy and blue year-round. Fine sand beaches, rocky coves, rugged islands, and hedonistic beach towns abound: pick a spot, and take a plunge. We recommend the white sand and cobalt blue waters of Doc Let, just north of Nha Trang.

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beach to go around

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beaches to go around

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12. INTOXICATION

Ride the high with locals

Whether it’s caffeine or alcohol, getting your fix in Vietnam is easy, and it’s a great way to meet local people. Coffee is typically strong and sweet, and cafe culture is thriving in Saigon. Pop into one of the many cool local cafés to get your buzz; or join locals for cà phê bệt – essentially street coffee, where students sit in public parks, socializing in the cool hours of evening: try the park near Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Beer is cheap and plentiful. In Hanoi, bia hơi (fresh beer) is served in small glasses for a fraction of a dollar, and it’s the fuel behind many a great night out: try Hanoi’s ‘Bia Hơi Corner’. Rượu (rice liquor) is especially popular in highland areas, where locals say it keeps you warm. Like a fire in the throat, rice liquor is potent stuff: it’s offered to foreigners as a prelude to socializing, especially during homestays with ethnic minorities.

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are plentiful

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are excellent social lubricants

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13. TRAIN IT

Ride the railroad along the coast

The train has always been a romantic way to travel, and in Vietnam, it’s no different. Stretching north to south – Hanoi to Saigon – the Reunification Express is a great way to travel between destinations on the coast, and it’s an experience in itself. The trains are in decent condition, clattering along at a leisurely speed, allowing time for passengers to watch Vietnam rattle by through the windows. It’s far more scenic and comfortable than the buses, and you’ll get the opportunity to interact with Vietnamese passengers. In the Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux travels the world by train, and Vietnam makes a deep impression: “Of all the places the railway had taken me since London, this was the loveliest.”  Check schedules and fares at vietnam-railway.com

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

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We hope this bucket list of the top 13 things to do in Vietnam helps add some fun and excitement to your Vietnam itinerary. If you travel to Saigon, and you find yourself looking for something fun to do, please check out our 4 acclaimed scooter tours.

Why choose XO Tours?

*1st motorbike food tour in Vietnam and still most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam. Voted 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine. Listed in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Fodors.
*1st motorbike tour with all female drivers, providing Vietnamese women with previously unafforded opportunities to work in tourism
* 1st motorbike tour in Vietnam to provide accident insurance for all guests
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam with security/support staff following every tour
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam to provide free tour photos to every guest

To learn more about all our fun tours in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, please visit our Travel tips blog.

 

How To Spend Two Days in Hanoi – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Beware! XO Tours DOES NOT operate in Hanoi. If you book with a tour operator in Hanoi that claims to be XO Tours, you are being defrauded! But don’t you worry, we have a list of things to do in Vietnam and in Hanoi for you to make it up!

things to do in Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is an intriguing city for many reasons.  Though Hanoi is the second largest city in the country after Ho Chi Minh City, it is far less cosmopolitan and traditional Vietnamese culture is much more apparent there.  In fact, aside from a recent construction boom in Hanoi, much of the colonial and post-War era infrastructure is still in use. The wear and tear on old buildings and streets are what gives Hanoi its rustic and quaint character, and the relaxed lifestyle of the people there almost feels like you are stepping back in time. That, coupled with Hanoi’s rich history, makes a trip to Hanoi a multi-faceted experience.

Hanoi is also the travel gateway to Northern Vietnam. There are many day trips from Hanoi and if you plan on visiting the northern rice fields near Sapa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh province, it is convenient to travel through Hanoi.  Although many travelers simply think of Hanoi as a quick transit city, we urge you to stop in Hanoi for at least two days in order to truly appreciate all the cultural things that this city has to offer.  Here are our things to do in Hanoi suggestions for what to do and see if you have two days in Hanoi as part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series.

Here are our suggestions:

Day 1:

  1. Explore the Old Quarter
  2. Enjoy some Bun Bo Nam Bo
  3. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
  4. Sip on (Egg) Coffee
  5. Eat at BBQ Chicken Street
  6. Explore Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi

Day 2:

  1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  2. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison
  3. Eat Lunch at Cha Ca La Vong
  4. Go Souvenir Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
  5. See the Long Bien Bridge

 


 

DAY 1

A - The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B - The infamous Egg Coffee; C - Bia Hoi Corner; D - Bun Bo Nam Bo; E - The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F - BBQ Chicken Street

A – The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B – The infamous Egg Coffee; C – Bia Hoi Corner on Ta Hien street; D – Bun Bo Nam Bo; E – The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F – BBQ Chicken Street

1. Explore the Old Quarter

things to do in Hanoi

Old Quarter map

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is one of the most popular destinations in Hanoi.  It is an old merchant area of the city where the layout and many of the streets have been preserved over decades.  This part of Hanoi is what gives Hanoi the charming, old world feel.  It is a mish-mash of French colonial and ancient Vietnamese architecture, manic streets with thousands of motorbikes, power lines above the head that resemble giant birds nests, narrow merchant streets with shops selling the most random things, and other unique characteristics that make this area so lovable.

One of the best ways to see as much of it as possible is to simply walk around.  In fact, staying in this area gives you an opportunity to experience the Old Quarter fully.  One particular remnant of old Vietnam that you should take notice of is the street names.  Many of the streets in this part of town are named “Hang _____”, “hang” meaning something pertaining to selling.  Because this area was an important trading centre, the streets were named according to what was sold there.  For instance, “Hang duong” was sugar street, “Hang vai” was fabric street, and so on.  Some streets have kept on selling the same thing while others have transformed to meet today’s consumer needs… of course, they wouldn’t change a street’s name to “Metal household racks street” or “Imported toys from China” street, but these streets exist!! 🙂

Besides Ha Noi, Hoi An ancient town is a place will blow your mind with its beauty. One-day Custom Itineraries for Hoi An will be perfect for you if you’d like to visit Hoi An but on a tight schedule

things to do in Hanoi

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2. Enjoy some Bun Bo Nam Bo

things to do in Hanoi

When it comes time for lunch, a great way to continue your Things to do in Hanoi experience is to eat something that is true blue Hanoian.  This dish, Bun Bo Nam Bo, is said to have originated in Hanoi.  It consists of perfectly marinated beef in a sweet and salty concoction, round and thin noodles that don’t get soggy, crunchy peanuts and fried onions and a few other things that make this dish absolutely delicious!  Now, this dish can be found throughout Vietnam, though we can tell you with fair certainty that it tastes different in the North.  A must try!

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3. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

things to do in Hanoi

Legend has it that the Golden Turtle God claimed a magic sword from an ancient emperor, an important symbol of his fight against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.  This emperor named the lake “Hoan Kiem” meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” and a small tower was erected on an island within the lake (Turtle Tower) to commemorate this event.  Today, large and rare turtles inhabit the lake, though there seems to be a controversy as to how many specimens there are in the lake.  One giant turtle, in particular, is said to be the direct descendant of the original turtle that claimed the sword and is affectionately called Cu Rua (great-grandfather turtle).  What’s more, if we follow the current understanding of this giant turtle’s biological classification, then it is one of 4 remaining specimens of its kind in the world!

things to do in Hanoi

Many activities in Hoan Kiem Lake

 

Around the lake, you’ll have an opportunity to see many vendors, small shops, people walking or running, and kids playing.  It will give you a different perspective on life in Hanoi, one that is a stark juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle in the rest of Hoan Kiem district.  A walk around this lake is a perfect escape from some of that chaos in Hanoi.  While you’re there, make sure to check out the red bridge around some of the small statues and temples around the lake.  The red bridge, in particular, makes for a great photo-op.   And remember to look out for giant turtles! 🙂

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4. Sip on (Egg) Coffee

things to do in Hanoi

After making a round of the lake, we recommend that you take a quick break and enjoy one of Vietnam’s most profitable exports: coffee!  We have mentioned before on our blog that Vietnamese people love their unique take on coffee, and coffee culture has always been a huge phenomenon here.  In the north, Hanoians take coffee to another level altogether.  A particular type of coffee you must try while in Hanoi is Egg Coffee.  No, ‘egg’ is not the codename for milk or sugar… it’s actually ‘egg’!  Egg coffee is a unique blend of chicken egg yolk, coffee, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.   Mr. Giang, the creator of the infamous egg coffee, developed it due to the scarcity of milk decades ago.  The tempered egg yolk acts as a substitute for milk because of its ability to thicken and add creaminess to the concoction.  Mr.Giang’s son now runs a small cafe called Cafe Giang in the Old Quarter where they serve authentic Egg Coffee.  As strange as it may sound, we urge you to give it a try!

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5. Eat at BBQ Chicken Street

things to do in Hanoi

People always say that Vietnam has a specific street for everything, and for the most part this is very true!  Case in point – barbecue chicken street!  That’s right.  This street specializes in one thing and that is barbecued chicken.  A great dinner option, you can go there and specify exactly which part of the chicken you want and they’ll grill it up with an amazingly sweet, salty and sticky coating.  You can also order the most delicious flattened and grilled bread and some roasted sweet potatoes to round out your meal.  A few beers and some great food is the perfect way to start your Hanoi nightlife trip!

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6. Explore Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi

things to do in Hanoi

The Hanoi street beer scene is infamous!  A trip to Hanoi, or Vietnam rather, would be incomplete without spending some time sitting on small plastic stools and drinking the cheapest beer in the world (we’re not joking… a glass of beer will cost you about $0.15). The beer is quite light, about 3-4% alcohol, and light in colour as well.  This beer is made of 50% rice to keep it nice and clear, and best of all it is preservative free.  Throughout the night, you will see trucks pulling up to each beer establishment and delivering barrels of beer.  Not surprisingly, this beer is usually finished by the end of the night.  Otherwise, it has to be disposed of since it doesn’t contain preservatives to help it last past 24 hours.  Although these small beer ‘shops’ can be found throughout the city, the liveliest place to witness this interesting beer culture is at the corner of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets, also known as Bia Hoi corner.

Don’t forget to check the weather of Ha Noi prior to your visit. We have a chart for this in this post Best time to visit Vietnam so you know what to prepare for a wonderful Vietnam Trip

Day 1 Hanoi - Bun BO Nam Bo - Hoan Kiem Lake - Cafe Giang - BBQ Chicken Street - Bia Hoi Corner

Day 1 Hanoi – Bun BO Nam Bo – Hoan Kiem Lake – Cafe Giang – BBQ Chicken Street – Bia Hoi Corner

 

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Day 2

A - Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B - Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C - Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D - Dong Xuan Market; E - Cha Ca La Vong

A – Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B – Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C – Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D – Dong Xuan Market; E – Cha Ca La Vong

1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

things to do in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

 

Vietnam has a vast and elaborate history, and there are plenty of museums and monuments in Hanoi to learn all about it.  With limited time, you wouldn’t be able to see every historical place but one place we recommend visiting is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.  The embalmed body of the infamous leader Ho Chi Minh is on display here.  If you visit here, you have to abide by the rules, of which the most is to be respectful – no shorts, no tank tops, no drinking, no smoking, no hands in pockets, and no photography.  You will be ushered in by the guards in two straight lines and will only be allowed to see him from the moving line.  You cannot stop and see the embalmed body.  Though it seems like a tedious procedure to go through for a few seconds of viewing, it is still nonetheless an interesting experience.

If you travel to Ho Chi Minh, the economic city of Vietnam, we have a guide for you to spend 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City

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2. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison

things to do in Hanoi visit the hoa prison

Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

 

The Hoa Lo Prison is another historical sight worth visiting if you are trying to find things to do in Hanoi.  This prison was first built during the French occupation in Vietnam and then later used for American prisoners during the Vietnam War.  Over the years, it gained the nickname “Hanoi Hilton”, named by the American POWs held there.  Although there isn’t much to see at this prison now, it held a very relevant role during the war so it offers a unique perspective and feeling in comparison to a museum.  An interesting fact is that US Senator John McCain was held at this prison for sometime when he was an American POW during the war.

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3. Eat Lunch at Cha Ca La Vong

things to do in Hanoi eat

Cha Ca La Vong

 

After a heavy morning full of learning and reflecting, you will be just about ready for lunch.  Close by, you will find “Cha Ca” street, which is a street named for a famous dish invented there.  About a hundred years ago, a restaurant was established here that served up a unique type of fish dish, which featured fish marinated in turmeric and pepper and fried with dill, green onions, and other greens, all served over rice noodles.  Seems simple enough but this particular dish is so famous that it was even featured in the New York Times!  Many restaurants serve this special dish now, especially on “Cha Ca” street, but the original restaurant is still there.  Keep in mind that they are well aware of the appeal of eating this dish at the original spot and therefore charge 3-4x as much than the other restaurants on the street.  However, there is a certain charm to eating at the original spot if you can look past the occasional mouse or rat crawling around your tables.  It is, after all, an incredibly old building which has seen very little in the way of restoration over the years!  And if you think you can go there just to take a look and maybe order something small, think again – there is only one item on the menu and sharing one portion is not allowed! 🙂

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4. Go Souvenir Shopping at Dong Xuan Market

things to do in Hanoi

 

Dong Xuan Market is the biggest and most central market in Hanoi.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with Asian markets, it can be a unique experience.  It’s chaotic, hot, sweaty, loud and full of people.  This market sells everything under the sun – anything you need you’ll find it there.  Unlike Ben Thanh market in Saigon or other markets throughout Vietnam, Dong Xuan market doesn’t pander as much to tourists so souvenir stalls make up a very small portion of the market.  You may find a souvenir to take home there but if you don’t, you’ll still walk away with a unique experience.  If you don’t have any luck with souvenirs at the market, take a look down Hang Gai or Hang Hom streets.  For a detailed list of what to buy in Northern Vietnam, check out our previous shopping guide blogpost.  Remember to bargain!

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5. See the Long Bien Bridge

things to do in Hanoi

 

After a short afternoon stroll through the market, we recommend that you take a trip to Long Bien bridge before sunset.  Just a short taxi ride away from Hoan Kiem, this bridge connects two parts of Hanoi and goes over the Red River.  This bridge has a very interesting history – it was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) and built by Dayde & Pille of Paris during the French occupation of Indochina.  It was at that point one of the longest bridges in Indochina and an architectural marvel.  Many parts of the bridge were destroyed during the Vietnam War and some of that damage can still be seen today.  Restoration efforts have been ongoing for many years, but the bridge has remained in use almost the entire time for small vehicles and pedestrians.

What’s more interesting about this bridge is that the surrounding area is one of the poorest areas of Hanoi.  Impoverished people live on boats underneath the bridge.  Many of these people come from other parts of Northern Vietnam looking for work in this urban capital.  The lifestyle is unique and completely different from what you see in the centre of Hanoi or even elsewhere in Vietnam.  The best time to visit the bridge is just before sunset and then stay for sunset before heading back.  That way, you get to see some of the surroundings in daylight and then get some beautiful pictures of the sunset over the Red River.  It is a breathtaking sight in more ways than one, and a perfect way to round out your Hanoi experience.

 


 

Day 2 in Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - Hoa Lo Prison - Cha Ca La Vong - Dong Xuan Market - Long Bien Bridge

Day 2 in Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – Hoa Lo Prison – Cha Ca La Vong – Dong Xuan Market – Long Bien Bridge

I hope you enjoyed this Vietnam travel guide by XO Tours.  We currently do not offer any tours in Hanoi, however, if you are in Ho Chi Minh City and would like to go on fun and unique city tour, please check out our “Sights” city tour.

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Breaking Down the Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwich)

As a traveller in Vietnam, Banh Mi is one of the safer street foods you can enjoy (take a look at our previous blog post for more tips on food safety).  Most of the fillings are cooked, cured or pickled and there is no water involved.  Banh Mi, which is the name for both the bread and the sandwich, is also the quintessential fusion Vietnamese dish – the ingredients have roots in old Vietnam, French colonial Vietnam, and New World cuisine.  Banh Mi is the perfect street food when you are visiting Vietnam. We encourage you to try this sandwich concoction in Vietnam, at least once. 🙂

banh mi,sandwich, vietnamese

The infamous banh mi sandwich

That being said, many people find the Banh Mi a little daunting because the fillings and condiments are often things that foreigners can’t find in the food truck back home.  Vietnam is definitely a land of exotic foods and Banh Mi fillings are no different, but we want to explain all of the intricacies of the sandwich so that you know exactly what you’re ordering!

It’s All About the Bread

Banh mi Bread

Banh mi Bread

Although they call it a baguette, it’s not your traditional French baguette.  The Vietnamese baguette is a combination of French baking and Asian baking.  The bread is baked using the classic technique, making the baguette crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  To throw in a bit of Asian flair, the Banh Mi bread is made with half wheat and half rice flour to give it that light and airy feel.  The bread is really the vessel that brings all the flavours of this sandwich together so make sure you notice and appreciate the bread when you bite into your Banh Mi!

What’s In It?

all the fillings in Banh Mi

A guide to recognizing all the fillings in Banh Mi

Here is an explanation of all the fillings you are most likely to see at the Banh Mi cart:

Cha or Cha Lua (Pork Roll) – Ground pork is rolled and packed into a banana leaf and then steamed or boiled.  The roll is then sliced before adding to the sandwich.  This is probably one of the most common Banh Mi fillings.

Thit Nguoi (Cured Cold Cuts) – The literal translation is ‘cold meat’ and that’s exactly what it is.  This is a composition of cured pork and fat and cut into class cold cut-type slices.

Gio Thu (Headcheese) – You may have noticed that pork is an extremely popular meat choice but this particular product might be very unfamiliar to you.  Headcheese is a processed product made from tendons, pig ears, skin and other pork head products.

Thit Nuong (Grilled Meat, usually Pork) – More pork!  Marinated pork is grilled and sliced thin.

Xa Xiu (BBQ Pork) – Small pieces of barbecued pork having a distinct coal smoke flavour.  The particular cut of pork varies.

Bi (Shredded Pork Skin) – This filling can be a bit dry because it’s thinly sliced pork skin.  This filling is usually combined with another product.

Xiu Mai (Meatballs) – Once again, pork. 🙂 These are spiced, ground pork meatballs and have a distinct tomato flavour.

Nem Nuong (Pork Patties) – These are also ground pork, but shaped into a patty with infused garlic flavours.

Ga Nuong (Grilled Chicken) – For those who are not a fan of pork, don’t worry – there are other options!  This is marinated and grilled chicken, usually chicken thigh.

Ca Moi (Packed Sardines) – You may notice little red coloured cans at your nearest Banh Mi stand.  These are packed sardines in a tomato sauce.  They make for a great sandwich filling but they are definitely just out of the can.

Pate – Pate is extremely popular as a Banh Mi filling and is often combined with other fillings.  It can be made from pork, duck or chicken liver.

Trung Chien or Op La (Fried Eggs) – You will see eggs at a Banh Mi stand quite often.  Banh Mi Op La is an extremely popular breakfast snack in Vietnam.

The Filler

A sandwich isn’t a sandwich without the little something extra that makes all the flavours pop!  Here is a list of classic Banh Mi condiments –

Pate – Yes, pate is also used as a condiment to moisten the sandwich.

‘Mayo’ – We put mayo in quotation marks because this isn’t Hellmann’s Mayo out of a jar (although sometimes it is, which is unfortunate).  Traditionally, the mayo used in Banh Mi is actually cut with butter to add that melty feel and nutty flavour.

Fresh Herbs – Most often, it is sprigs of cilantro but other herbs are common as well.

Pickled Vegetables – Finely shredded or julienned daikon and/or carrots are pickled in a vinegar concoction and add the perfect amount of sour punch to brighten the flavours of the sandwich.

Chillies – The slices of chillies may be thin but they are quite spicy here!

Cucumber – Self explanatory. 🙂

Soy Sauce – a little dash of it, although some drier fillings like pork skin require a bit more.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think it needs it!

Bon Appetit!

We hope you enjoyed this tip on Vietnamese food!  To learn more about how you can enjoy Vietnamese delicacies with XO Tours, check out our Foodie Tour!

How to use a mobile phone in Vietnam in 5 easy steps!

Use a mobile phone in Vietnam

Use a mobile phone in Vietnam

Cell phones are an essential part of international inter-connected travel nowadays.  Whether it be for calling home, calling hotels, planning travel logistics, map surfing, navigating, or Facebook-ing, your cell phone is the one-stop resource for it all and mobile phone will be really helpful during your Vietnam trip .  Of course, every country has their own system, we have put together a simple 5-step process in understanding the ins and outs of how to use a mobile phone in Vietnam.

5 steps to use a mobile phone in Vietnam

5 steps to use a mobile phone in Vietnam

Check out 5 steps to use a mobile phone in Vietnam:

  1. Think about your phone
  2. Find a sim card
  3. Set up 3G/4G
  4. Understand the Usage Rules
  5. Understand the Phone Numbers

1.  THINK ABOUT YOUR PHONE

You have three options: bring a locked phone with you, bring an unlocked phone with you, or buy a relatively cheap phone here.  If you bring a locked phone, make sure you understand the terms for international roaming (this can expensive depends on your service provider; for example, T-mobile charges several dollars a minute and does not offer mobile data here).  With an unlocked phone or a phone that you buy here, you can simply purchase a SIM card and have a local number.  Keep in mind that the unlocked phone that you bring must be a GSM phone, but most phones are these days.  Smartphones are beneficial here because you can have access to the 3G network via 3G sim card.

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2.  FIND A SIM CARD

SIM card stalls at the airport

There are stalls, stores, booths, carts and even bicycles that will sell SIM cards the minute that you land in Vietnam (we are not exaggerating… there are establishments in and around the airport!).  If you can wait a bit, ask the staff at your hotel or hostel to point you towards the nearest telecommunications store.  The associates at the store will provide a SIM card for you, cut the card according to your phone and install it for you.  For the best coverage, ensure that the SIM card you get is either on the Viettel, Mobifone or Vinafone networks.  These three companies control 90% of the mobile market in Vietnam and offer great coverage throughout the country.  Before you walk out of the store, make sure you check that the phone works. Don’t forget to bring Vietnamese money to pay your SIM card.

Alternatively, check out this service – www.simcardasia.com.  They will send you a SIM Card in the mail before your trip so that you can pass on your temporary number to family and friends before embarking on your journey.  For Vietnam, the SIM Card they provide to you is on the Viettel network.

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3.  SET UP 3G/4G

Sim 4G Viettel

Fortunately, the three top mobile companies also provide decent 3G/4G service in Vietnam.  Having 3G can be extremely beneficial to navigate around, especially since Google Maps works very well in the cities.  More importantly, you can be in constant touch with the outside world via the internet, Facebook, Twitter, or social outlet of your choice!  And if you find yourself in a bind, you can access our XO Tours blog for travel advice on the go!  The set up is a little bit tricky but not difficult.  The basic procedure is the same for all companies but the details might differ.  In general, you will have to send a text message along the lines of “3G ON” to a special network number (eg. *888) and then configure your phone’s settings, but many mobile stores will do it for you.  If not, they will give you the detailed procedure so you can do it on your own.

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4.  UNDERSTAND THE USAGE RULES

There are very few differences between the companies as to how much for local calls, international calls and text messages cost, and they are quite low.  To give you an idea, on Mobifone, a phone call to a cell phone on another network is 1800VND/min and an international text message is 2500VND/text.  The exact details can be found on their respective websites.

The initial SIM Card that you purchase will come with pre-paid minutes in a denomination that you choose.  It will also come with an expiration so choose wisely.  For instance, the 100,000 VND card may expire in 7 days and the 200,000 VND card may expire in 30 days.  If you plan on being in Vietnam for around 1 month, it might be beneficial to choose the option that spans the entire time you will be here.  Topping up your minutes is also quite easy.  In order to top up, you can purchase a minutes card that looks like a ‘scratch-n-win’ card in any denomination that you want.  When you scratch the card, it will reveal a 12 digit activation card.  Then, simply enter *100*code# and ‘Send’.  You will get a message instantly saying that your minutes have been topped up.  Dial *101# to check your balance as you go.

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5.  UNDERSTAND THE PHONE NUMBERS

Once you have your phone ready to go, you will need to know how to dial phone numbers here as it may be different than what you are used to.  Here are the basics –

Country Code: + 84

Trunk Prefix: 0

International Prefix: 00

Land Line format:  Area Code (1 to 3 digits) + Phone Number (5 to 8 digits)

Cell Phone format: 09y xxx-xxxx or 01yy xxx-xxxx

FROM: Land Line  TO: Local Land Line

Area Code + Phone Number

FROM: Land Line  TO: Cell Phone

09y xxx-xxxx or 01yy xxx-xxxx

FROM: Cell Phone  TO: Land Line

0 + Area Code + Phone Number

FROM: Cell Phone  TO: Cell Phone

09y xxx-xxxx or 01yy xxx-xxxx

FROM: Anything  TO: International Phone Number

00 + Country Code + (Area Code + Phone Number) or (Cell Phone format)

Please have a look at the list below for Vietnam Area Code:

No.ProvinceArea code
1Ha Noi24
2Ho Chi Minh28
3Thua Thien-Hue234
4Da Nang236
5Dong Nai251
6Ba Ria - Vung Tau254
7Lam Dong- Da Lat263
8Hai Phong225
9Can Tho292
10Son La212
11Lai Chau213
12Lao Cai214
13Dien Bien215
14Yen Bai216
15Quang Binh232
16Quang Tri233
17Quang Nam235
18Thanh Hoa237
19Nghe An238
20Ha Tinh239
21Quang Ninh203
22Bac Giang204
23Lang Son205
24Cao Bang206
25Tuyen Quang207
26Thai Nguyen208
27Bac Can209
28Hai Duong220
29Hung Yen221
30Bac Ninh222
31Ha Nam226
32Thai Binh227
33Nam Dinh228
34Ninh Binh 229
35Ca Mau290
36Bac Lieu291
37Hau Giang293
38Tra Vinh294
39An Giang296
40Kien Giang297
41Soc Trang299
42Binh Thuan252
43Quang Ngai255
44Binh Dinh256
45Phu Yen257
46Khanh Hoa258
47Ninh Thuan259
48Kon Tum260
49Dak Nong261
50Dak Lak262
51Gia Lai269
52Vinh Long270
53Binh Phuoc271
54Long An272
55Tien Giang273
56Binh Duong274
57Ben Tre275
58Tay Ninh276
59Dong Thap277
60Vinh Phuc211
61Phu Tho21
62Hoa Binh18
63Ha Giang 19

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We hope you found this Vietnam travel tip useful!  To find more useful information about XO Tours and Vietnam, take a look at our FAQ section!

The Best places for Great Photos in Saigon!

The best places for great photos in Saigon

The best places for great photos in Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City is a unique city in that it is rapidly growing but has yet to develop into a massive skyscraper filled concrete jungle.  While it is transforming into a cosmopolitan world city, it still retains some of its old world charm.  The city is rich with nooks and crannies, alleyways and narrow motorbike-filled roads, and areas unexplored by the majority of tourists, making it a very different type of place to explore.  These features of Ho Chi Minh City make it a veritable playground for photography enthusiasts because you can take pictures here that will be distinctly unique.  The irony is that this also makes it difficult to find the perfect spots to capture those exotic moments.  We have compiled a simple guide to finding the best vantage points in Ho Chi Minh City to inspire your urban photography.

THE BEST PLACES FOR GREAT PHOTOS IN SAIGON

  1. LANDSCAPE
  2. ARCHITECTURE
  3. CITY LIFE

LANDSCAPE

Even though the city has little to offer in terms of mountains and oceans, the topography is unique enough to create a beautiful silhouette.  The Saigon River offers an interesting perspective for photographers because there are many spots along the river where one can look back and see the skyline or simply appreciate the sunrise and sunset.

Vantage Point:  For a great shot of the complete skyline, go to either the Kinh Te or Thu Thiem bridge.  Sunset is usually around 6 pm in the evening so try and catch the sun setting on the city!  Note that the Bitexco Tower is the tallest building in the city and although it has a viewing deck on one of it’s upper floors, the skyline seems underwhelming from this perspective.

The Saigon Sunset

The Saigon Sunset

If you are more a fan of greener landscapes, you will have to venture a bit outside of the city but fortunately not too far away.  One of the most popular places for wedding photographs around the city is a theme park of sorts, called Binh Quoi 1.  The Binh Quoi Village is lush and green, and it has waterways with traditional boats and boatsmen.  If you go at the right time, you may even see couples taking wedding shots.

Vantage point:  Find the pond with lilies and a water wheel or look for a spot along the water with huts and parked rowboats for a more authentic look in a fabricated paradise.

Lily pads at Binh Quoi Village

Lily pads at Binh Quoi Village

The scenery at Binh Quoi Village

The scenery at Binh Quoi Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ARCHITECTURE

Ho Chi Minh City has some very interesting buildings.  Sure, they are not the sky reaching structures that you see elsewhere, but they are marvelous nonetheless.  The city has its fair share of old buildings that have been maintained pristinely since the French Colonial Era in Vietnam.  They hold such history and meaning, you can feel the aura of years gone by.

Vantage point:  The Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most beautiful colonial era buildings.  Walk to the side of the building to the massive doors – they make for a cool backdrop for portrait shots!  If it happens to rain one evening, go to the City Hall in Saigon.  The way the blue lights shine off the wet pavement and reflects onto the building makes it looks mystical!  And if you go to the historical Post Office, look up!  The ceiling is an architectural masterpiece.

The stunning view of the City Hall at night

The stunning view of the City Hall at night

The majestic ceiling of the main Post Office.

The majestic ceiling of the main Post Office.

The city is filled with juxtapositions, especially the old with the new.  But there isn’t just one kind of old.  Next to the colonial buildings are the ages old pagodas and temples.  They offer a history of their own.  Many of them have been there since before the war, and some of them even damaged and then subsequently restored.

Vantage point: Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most impressive pagodas, architecturally.  But the Thien Hau Pagoda has a ceiling full of cone shaped incense burners that make for a very interesting photograph.  The many pagodas around the city also look the most magical under a haze of incense smoke – find out at what time of the day most people visit the pagoda to maximize the amount of smoke in the air!

Cone-shaped incense burners on the ceiling of the Pagoda.

Cone-shaped incense burners on the ceiling of the Pagoda.

Incense burning outside the Jade Emperor Pagoda

Incense burning outside the Jade Emperor Pagoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CITY LIFE

The one thing that this city most definitely does not lack is the ever-moving, awe-inspiring, and at times hair-raising activity.  The people, the food and the culture are so vibrant that it is a privilege to be able to capture it on camera.  The most well known feature of Ho Chi Minh City is the traffic.  The streets are jam-packed with motorbikes – in fact, the cities in Vietnam have the highest number of motorbikes per capita in the world!

Vantage point:  Early in the morning, take a trip out to District 5 near Cho Lon.  This is where you see the motorbikes carrying the craziest things, like washing machines or giant panes of glass!  In the evening, go up to the Chill Skybar rooftop restaurant and look down onto the circle intersection below in front of Ben Thanh market.  A time lapse photo of the motorbikes zipping around the circle will capture the chaos on the roads at night!

The Colorful Saigon at Night

Colorful Saigon at Night

You cannot come to Vietnam and be absolutely enamoured by the people.  Vietnamese people work hard but still take time to relax and enjoy themselves.  One of the most charming sights is seeing a Vietnamese woman dressed in an Ao Dai and sauntering down the street or and elderly person finding some shade under a conical hat.  In the evenings, locals come out in full force to spend time with friends at the local watering holes or the coffee shops (yes, coffee joints were cool here long before they became popular in the rest of the world)!

Vantage point: As you’re walking around the city, take a look inside the alleyways.  They are more than just a narrow passing.  You’ll see food stalls, parked bikes, people lounging, and more!  If you’re taking a picture of a person though, ask their permission first.  Most people don’t mind but be sure to show them the photo afterwards to put a smile on their face. 🙂

An alley riddled with flags of Vietnam.

An alley riddled with flags of Vietnam.

Quiet alley with beautiful doors on either side.

Quiet alley with beautiful doors on either side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We hope you enjoyed this Vietnam Travel Tip from XO Tours, offering the most unique city and food tours in Saigon!