Last week I got home from a whirlwind trip to South East Asia with my friend, Anna. We spent 8 days in Vietnam and then headed to Singapore, where Anna lives, for another 4 days. The whole trip was incredible and was totally the change in perspective I’ve needed after a long bought of anxiety and depression.
I shared some snapshots of the trip on Instagram, but I wanted to go a little more in-depth about what we did and what I recommend here on the blog. We basically created our whole itinerary based on a series of recommendations so I thought I’d pay it forward to anyone else looking for an adventure. I’ll just be covering Vietnam in this post since it was 8 days, but keep your eyes peeled for info on our Singapore trip soon.
Our time in Vietnam was split up into three major parts: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and a motorbike tour through the country. Each part of our trip felt really distinct and we got to see a different facet of the country on each part. Here’s what we did…
The first part of our trip was a 2-day tour on motorbikes through the Northern countryside. Anna is a lot more adventurous than I am so this is totally not something I would have booked on my own, but I’m so glad we did it! We booked through Freebird Adventures and had a guide, Minh, provided the motorbikes, route, food, and lodging so it was pretty all-inclusive.
On Sunday, Minh came and picked us up at our hotel (the concierge was incredibly skeptical that we were getting into some guy’s van lol) and drove us about an hour outside of Hanoi. He has a garage out of the city where he keeps his motorbikes and vintage 4×4 jeeps (you can also go on jeep trips) and uses it as a starting point. This was a big plus because we could take our time to play around with the bikes and didn’t have to drive in Hanoi traffic, which is INSANE.
So, not going to lie – I don’t really recommend this trip to folks who have never ridden a motorbike before. The bikes aren’t fully manual, but you still need to shift gears pretty regularly and there’s a level of comfort that we lacked on the bikes. Minh was able to teach us the basics, but I think we all would have had a better time (and avoided an unfortunate shouting match in the Vietnamese forest) if we had a little bit of experience on bikes beforehand.
Our first day, we drove through the country and up into the mountains where we did a homestay at a house next to a waterfall. They served us homemade dinner and totally conked out from the day of driving. It was an early morning for me on account of the roosters, but it was beautiful seeing the sun come up over the mountains. We had a bowl of ramen and egg for breakfast and were off on our second day of riding.
Day two was much more relaxed – our guide was a lot more used to our riding level and was able to tailor the day to include more stops fewer crazy roads. There were still a few stressful moments (including one where I almost drove my bike into a river), but overall it was a lot more chill. By the end of everything, though, I was ready to take a long hot shower, drink a cold adult beverage, and sleep for a solid 12 hours, which is exactly what we did.
After our motorbike adventure, we headed back to Hanoi for a couple of days to explore and experience the city. We ate and drank our way through the city and I was not mad about it one bit. The street food was amazing and cheap and we even did our own little speakeasy crawl one night and it was sooo fun.
We mostly relied on recommendations from family and friends for places to eat and I’m really glad we had a list of places of work through. There are so many street food shops that I think we would have found it really overwhelming otherwise. Here are some of the best places we went for food in Hanoi:
- Take Eat Easy Ice Cream & Cafe (over the top ice cream spot)
- Nê Cocktail Bar (delicious cocktails)
- The Note Coffee (super cute coffee place covered in colorful notes)
- Porte D’annam (fancier sit down french fusion restaurant)
- Bee’znees (speakeasy where you have to find a certain book to get in)
- Kumqwat Tree (another speakeasy, message them for a code to get in)
- Banh Mi 25 (banh mi so good we went here twice)
- Gallery Bespoke Cocktail Bar (fancy cocktail joint, probably my favorite place)
- Bun Bo Nahm Bo (traditional street food, super cheap and delicious)
We went to other street food place and grabbed small things from vendors on the street, but unfortunately I didn’t note those as closely. Don’t be afraid to eat the street food, though! Your stomach is going to be upset no matter what so you might as well make the most of it.
The rest of our time in Hanoi was spent exploring the sights like the Vietnam War Museum and the Temple of Literature. The War Museum was pretty wild because it completely reframes the Vietnam War from a non-American perspective. The war was referred to ‘the War of American Aggression’ among other similar adages and showcased the international support for Vietnam at the time. It was so interesting to see history from a totally different perspective!
Other things we did in Hanoi: the night markets, vintage shopping (my favorite), got massages, saw the train street, took photos with the murals, and did lots of walking around. Hanoi is such a cool, high-energy place to just explore so I highly recommend letting yourself wander a little bit.
Ha Long Bay
The last big part of our trip was a 3-day cruise through Ha Long Bay, an incredibly beautiful and unique series of islands on the coast. The landscape is absolutely stunning and just seems to never end. I thought a 3-day cruise might be a bit much, but we were sooo happy we did it over the 2-day one. The first and last day are pretty truncated as a result of travel so you really only get an afternoon and a morning on a 2-day cruise. It’s still stunning, but we felt like we had a more complete experience with a full day in the middle.
We booked the La Pandora cruise through our motorbike guide and had a great experience! Our room was beautiful, the food was generic but good, and the excursions we went on were well executed – just make sure to double check whether or not you’ll be returning to the main boat because we went out for a 2-hour bike ride on our full day only to find out on the boat it was a full-day excursion that included swimming lol.
We did a lot of outdoorsy stuff like bike, kayak, and partake in sunrise Kung Fu, all of which I actually enjoyed, but my favorite part was our downtime – Anna and I read our books on the deck with our cocktails and watched the sun go down over the water and if that isn’t what a vacation is for I don’t know what is.
I totally recommend doing a cruise of Ha Long Bay, if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam. My brother recommended it and I’m so glad it was on our radar from the start. We did a cruise on the more expensive end, but it was pretty worth it considering it was all we did for three days and that includes food and excursions. We liked the La Pandora Cruise we did, but honestly I imagine most of them are pretty much the same so take your pick.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend Vietnam enough. We had such an incredible time and really had three trips in one – it’s amazing that you can have so many different kinds of experiences there. So whether you’re looking for a crazy adventure, a cosmopolitan experience, or a super chill vacation you can totally have it all there. And for pretty darn cheap.
Also, I wanted to quickly address a lot of the worries I had before going! I was super anxious about the water and what I could eat and the mosquitos and getting sick, etc. I feel like you tell people you’re going to Vietnam and everyone drags out their horror stories of someone who got Dengue Fever or Malaria. I was careful the first few days with the food, only drank bottled water, and wore bug spray when we were in the country and I was totally fine. I don’t even think I saw a mosquito when I was there and, in fact, I got food poisoning back here in Madison this week after making it my entire trip in Vietnam without getting it. Obviously be careful, but don’t let it stop you from doing stuff because I would have felt really robbed of my experience there if I let my fear control me.
Anyway, that was our incredible trip to Vietnam! Huge, HUGE thank you to Anna for inviting me to come along. It was honestly a trip of a lifetime and I was so lucky to share it with such a fun, fearless person.