One Week In Vietnam: Where To Go, What To Do, And Most Importantly Where To Eat

Kristen Konvitz
One Week In Vietnam: Where To Go, What To Do, And Most Importantly Where To Eat
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Forget what you might think you know about Vietnam. Today the country doesn’t resemble how it was depicted in “Apocalypse Now”, “The Deer Hunter”, and “Full Metal Jacket.” This is the Vietnam on the cusp of becoming the jewel of Southeast Asia.
This skinny sliver of land is about two-thirds the size of California and has everything and anything the experienced world traveler’s heart desires. It’s simply intoxicating—complete with two diverse and bustling metropolises, some of the most breathtaking and unusual natural wonders, picture perfect beaches, tons of cultural goodness, and above all, the most tantalizing culinary delights the world has to offer.
Scroll through our guide above on how to spend a week in Vietnam spending time in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City (with a quick cheat sheet below on what you absolutely shouldn’t miss). We’ll forgive you if you never want to come home.
VIETNAM TRAVEL CHEAT-SHEET
Top 5 Hanoi
1. Get lost in the Old Quarter: Explore the “36 Streets” where each street is named for a specific trade like silk.
2. Food tour with bloggers: Let Van Cong Tu and Mark Lowerson, Hanoi experts, show you how to eat like a local.
3. Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi: Even if you don’t stay here, it’s a perfectly preserved piece of Hanoi history that needs to be seen.
4. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum: For a window into Vietnam’s Communist past and a view of the beloved leader’s body, make a stop here.
5. Gallery hop: Get a glimpse into the crux of Vietnam’s emerging art scene.
Top 5 Hoi An
1. Visit the Ancient Town: A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a plethora of inspired architecture.
2. Taste of Hoi An food tour: A half day immersive experience with Austrian expat Neville Dean will have you falling in love with Hoi An’s food and culture.
3. Experience the Full Moon Festival: Release paper lanterns into the river during this traditional festival when the streets go dark and are devoid of cars.
4. Relax on the beach: Laze out on one of Hoi An’s beaches, Cua Dai or An Bang, and enjoy the fresh seafood being cooked up seaside.
5. Get a suit custom tailored: Have a custom suit (or many suits!) made to order in as little as 24 hours.
Top 5 Ho Chi Minh City
1. Vespa food tour: The perfect way to experience HCMC on the transport method of choice.
2. Cu Chi Tunnels: An eerie step back in time to the Vietnam War.
3. Reunification Palace: Untouched since it was attacked in 1975, this government building is a time capsule of history.
4. Experience café culture: Plop down at one of the city’s thousands of cafes, have a Vietnamese coffee, and take in the atmosphere.
5. War Remnants Museum: See the American War (Vietnam War) through the eyes of the Vietnamese and gain a whole new perspective on how things happened.

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HANOI

There are a number of luxury hotels in Hanoi, but the place to stay is the Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (15 Ngo Quyen Street, sofitel.com). Since 1901, its old world luxury and charm has played host to the world's most powerful and famous. The hotel exudes elegance, immediately obvious from the main driveway where a pair of vintage Citroens greets guests. If possible, stay in the old wing of the original building in one of the rooms styled in old colonial décor.

Hanoi is a mostly walkable city, but every now and again, it’s nice to enlist a cyclo driver, a timeless experience in every sense. A quick taxi ride will bring you to the city’s top destinations, the Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (pictured, corner of Hung Vuong and Le Hong Phong Streets).

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Ultimately, the best way to see this town is to get yourself lost in the Old Quarter’s “36 Streets” where each of the many streets are named after a specific trade (examples include silk, lacquerware, bamboo, and silver).   

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Forget about the mostly mediocre restaurants in Hanoi, because there is no better way to experience the city than through its street food. Take a tour with two of Hanoi’s most prominent food bloggers, Van Cong Tu and Mark Lowerson.

All street stalls specialize in one dish (advertised on their cart or awning) and contrary to logic, the best stalls are the ones with the most garbage on the ground. These stalls have such high turnover that they are left with no time to take out the trash.

Some local specialties we recommend trying include Bún Riêu Cha (barbequed pork belly served over a soup of crab, pork, tomato, herbs, and noodles), Banh Tom (fried shrimp fritters complete with their eyeballs), and Bun Bo Nam Bo (beef noodles). 

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Hanoi is the crux of Vietnam’s art scene. With a host of contemporary galleries, the Old Quarter is a veritable smorgasbord for art lovers on the hunt for something unique. Around the corner from the Metropole on Tràng Tiền street there is a cluster of galleries that provide a solid introduction to the burgeoning art scene and its key players. Check out the Green Palm gallery (110 Hang Gai Street, greenpalmgallery.com), the Hanoi Studio gallery (13 Tràng Tiền Street, arthanoistudio.com.vn) and the Red River art gallery (7 Hang Khay).

Not far away is Hàng Bông street which houses some of the most famous galleries in the city including the Mai Gallery (pictured, 113 Hàng Bông Street, maigallery-vietnam.com), largely responsible for bringing Vietnamese art to the world stage, and Apricot (40 Hàng Bông Street, apricot gallery.com.vn). 

HALONG BAY

A three-hour drive away from Hanoi lays the majestic UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. Although a tourist magnet, Halong Bay is a paradise of natural wonders. The best way to experience this majestic place is on an overnight boat cruise in the bay aboard one of the “junk” boats. 

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Both Bhaya Cruises and their luxury line Auco Cruises offer an authentic and jam-packed entertaining experience complete with world-class service. Take a Vietnamese cooking class, get a massage, or go out for sunset kayak trips in between cave hikes and canoe rides through local fishing villages.

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

HOI AN

Take a short flight on the stellar Vietnam Airlines to Da Nang, drive past the seemingly endless stream of wedding halls, and you will find yourself in the charming beachside town of Hoi An.

Try to time the trip so it coincides with the monthly Full Moon Festival (pictured). During this festival, the quaint town turns into a bona fide wonderland. Cars are banned from the Old Town streets, revelers line the sidewalks, and the city is illuminated with silk and paper lanterns.

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Hoi An is a perfect combination of beach town and culture center. Most of the luxury hotels dot the picturesque seashore, the premiere of these being The Nam Hai (Hamlet 1, Dien Duong Village, ghmhotels.com), designed according to feng shui principles and modeled on the Tu Doc royal tombs in nearby Hue.

While it may be difficult to tear yourself away from the five-star treatment, rent a scooter, and drive inland toward the Ancient Town, which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old trading port with heavy Chinese and Japanese influence, oozes history and has miraculously remained intact despite the multiple wars that were fought on Vietnamese soil. 

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

As Hoi An is generally a quick stop in most itineraries, it is highly recommended to partake in the Taste of Hoi An Food Tour, run by Neville Dean, a jolly expat Aussie who left his corporate life behind when he fell in love with Vietnam. The tour insights into Hoi An's food scene and the local culture by giving a tour of the off-the-beaten-path markets, where you are able to converse with locals and sample over 40 central Vietnamese dishes. Afterwards, head to a small café on the waterfront called Thuan Y (94 Bạch Đằng) which has local beer on tap for 10 cents a pint. 

Hoi An happens to be a great place to have just about anything custom tailored. The crème de la crème is A Dong Silk (62 Trần Hưng Đạo, adongsilk.com). A dizzying experience, you can get a perfectly tailored suit for $150.

HO CHI MINH CITY

Ho Chi Minh City is its official name, but the locals still call it by its more bewitching (albeit imperial) name, Saigon, which seems to be a much more fitting moniker for this wildly cosmopolitan city. In a country that usually starts shutting down about the time the sun goes down, Ho Chi Minh City is an outlier with hip restaurants, weird dive bars featuring American cover bands, and a pervasive youthful spirit.  

Step out of your hotel ready to be assaulted by suffocating humidity (even in December) and the rumble of thousands of motorbikes. An ideal home base is the Park Hyatt Saigon (2 Lam Son Square, saigon-park.hyatt.com) right smack in the middle of District 1 (this is where you want to be).

A lovely mirage in a sea of chaos, the hotel is steps from all the main tourist attractions: the Saigon Opera House, the Notre Dame Basillica, the Reunification Palace (pictured) and the Bến Thành Market.

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

This city does not dwell on its wartime past, but if you want an authentic taste of what the Vietnam War was like, take an excursion to the Củ Chi tunnels, a complex maze of underground tunnels where thousands of Vietcong lived and fought the resistance against the American army. As visitors walk through the thick and sticky jungle and crawl through the claustrophobic and stifling tunnels, it’s sobering to think what it must have been like during wartime. 

Photograph By Kristen Konvitz

Onto a less somber subject—food. Every visitor to Saigon must participate in the unforgettable vintage Vespa food tour. Before embarking on the tour, you'll be plied with alcohol in an obvious attempt to distract you from the harrowing ride ahead on the back of a Vespa amidst psychotic Saigon traffic. Alas, it really works, you'll get to experience the backstreets of Saigon to eat the local delicacies. At the end of the night they dump you at a local dive bar (as if you weren’t fully inebriated) with a Vietnamese cover band singing American tunes. It's the perfect way to end your Vietnam adventure.

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