Hanoi is a chaotic whirlwind of motorbikes, travellers and hawkers, while Hue and Hoi An are laid-back towns in central Vietnam with incredible street-food scenes. Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon) didn’t feel as vibrant as Hanoi, but both cities overflowed with markets selling local snacks, ceramics, trinkets and everything in between. Try the egg and coconut coffee – unlike anything you will have tasted before.
Visit Cat Ba instead of Halong Bay as it’s less touristy and then head to Ninh Binh, described as “Halong Bay on land” with gigantic limestone karsts that jut out of rice paddies instead of the sea. Don’t miss a scenic boat ride through Ninh Binh, with Vietnamese women steering the way using their legs – much easier said than done.
Everywhere I looked, there was something interesting happening: women on motorbikes driving around with their babies in their laps, men wheeling around cartons of eggs in the busiest traffic you’ll ever encounter, cars honking and food being fried.
You’ll find all of the stereotypes in Vietnam: young couples traveling together, English lads on the quest for cheap booze and big nights out, solo travellers on a quest for enlightenment, gap year millennials and soul-searching hippies. One thing’s for sure: no matter who you meet, you’ll feel like a different person when you leave.