The water, I noticed as I ran into the ocean, was as warm as the air. I stumbled and fell face forward, my laughing only interrupted when a wave washed over my head. The beach was a nice change to the cities we had visited and a much needed break from the chaos we had explored the past few days.
Vietnam, with its never-ending traffic and chaos on the streets, can be overwhelming for visitors. Yet, it is a great country to explore, a world of contrasts ranging from giant cities to small beach retreats.
I did not get a chance to go up to Northern Vietnam this year, but here are some of the highlights waiting for you in Southern and Central Vietnam.
Even though Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Min City in 1976, many people still call it by its old name. With a population of 10 million people, it is Vietnam’s largest city and most travellers to the country will come here sooner or later.
From colonial architecture to war reminders and bustling markets, the city has a lot to offer. Don’t rush but leave yourself enough time to take it all in.
To give you an idea of how to spend your time, here are some suggestions:
Hoi An is and will probably always be my favourite city in Vietnam. This is where I celebrated my 26th birthday in 2011, sharing a passionfruit cheese cake with my fellow travellers. This is also where, this year in 2017, I started my blog. Hoi An holds nothing but good memories for me.
And how could anyone not love Hoi An? Lit up with hundreds of lanterns by night, it is one of the most beautiful towns in the country. During the day, you get a chance to explore all those historic houses, walking through courtyards and enjoying the view from balconies. And to make things even better, the ruins of a jungle temple are within reach and make up for an easy day trip.
But let me start from the beginning.
Hue was my first Vietnamnese city during this trip. Even though I had already been here in 2011, I was looking forward to coming back. Last time, I’d only had half a day to explore everything. It had been too short to see the city properly and at the same time long enough to realise there was a lot out there that I was missing out on.
And indeed, as I realised during my most recent stay, Hue is a city in which you can easily keep yourself occupied for a couple of days. These are some of the highlights you should not miss:
I first visited Vientiane in 2011. Back then, we only stayed for one night. “It’s a very sleepy city,” other travelers explained to me. “Nothing to do there, so you better move on quickly.”
When I came back this year, in 2017, I could not recognise Laos‘ capital anymore. What had happened to those empty streets? Where did all the bars, restaurants and hotels come from? Was the Scandinavian bakery, that I had loved so much on my previous visit, still there?
While Vientiane isn’t Laos’ most attractive city, it has come a long way and is well worth a visit. And yes, the Scandinavian bakery is still there, ready to supply you with original Swedish pastries.
It’s hard to choose favourites, but Luang Prabang might be my favourite city in Laos. With a city centre that is easily walkable, a temple at every corner, monks walking through the streets and a huge night market, what is not to love about Luang Prabang?
Prepare to spend at least a couple of days here so you have time to take in the city and its surroundings.
Laos often surprises travellers. Less known than the other countries in Southeast Asia, it has more to offer than people would guess. From golden temples to caves and waterfalls, all lacking the hordes of tourists that you encounter elsewhete in the region, the country does not disappoint. Come quickly before the world discovers this hidden gem.
When people think of China, they often think of the Great Wall, rice terraces and pandas. The Silk Road, stretching from Xian all the way to China’s western border, is mostly overlooked. Too inaccessible, too remote, and why would you travel there if there’s so much to see in the East? But think again. Remote means less tourists and a chance to get off the beaten track. Plus, trains make it easy to travel in between cities.
The Silk Road has a lot to offer, from desert towns to Tibetan monasteries and natural wonders. Not convinced yet? Read on and I will show you the highlights along the Chinese Silk Road, from the Kyrgyz border all the way to Xian.
Xian, China’s former capital in the west, is often considered the end of the Silk Road. It is one of the most interesting Chinese cities we traveled to, with its mix of Chinese and Muslin traditions, old buildings sprinkled throughout the city centre and the famous Terracotta Warriors nearby. It is easy to spend two or three days here, maybe even more, without running out of things to do.
As we got closer to Chengdu, I got more and more excited. Over the past few days, we had talked about what to do in this city and the prospect of what lay ahead of us made me want to get there as quickly as possible. Pandas, the Chinese Opera, how could I not be excited about this city?
Chengdu did not disappoint. But see for yourself why you should visit the Sichuan capital.