We planned a 14 days trip to Vietnam. We leave Barcelona on Saturday 29th, July, 2017. After a 16 hours trip, we arrived in Hanoi. We red in different guides that money exchange was good in the city but not at the airport, but it was almost the same. We had 26000 dongs for each euro and the agency keeps a 2%. The first thing I bought was a sim card for my iPhone and for 11€ I had 6gb 4g, enough for the 14 days of my travel. In Barcelona the same sim card doubles this price.
The airport at Hanoi has not a lot of traffic. We made a stop in Dubai and this airport was full at 1:00 am! Hanoi seems a regional airport in comparision to other big cities airports. Advantage: in 20 minutes you have your luggage and the passport control done. 25 minutes later we were at the Golden Art Hotel, a little hotel very comfortable at the old quarter. Highly recommendable because your close to everything you must see in Hanoi. You can walk to all the main attractions. A shower and… to the streets!
In Barcelona (where I live), we have problems with mass tourism. But Hanoi is 10 times worse. Lots of people everywhere. And of course, there’s a lot of motorcycles and a complete disorder in traffic terms. Crossing a street is an adventure. But after 5 minutes you will handle it. It’s easy to understand. They honk for everything and that makes the streets very noisy.
Street food, on every corner or at a market (Nikon D800, Sigma 35mm, 1/30, f/2.2, ISO 800)
It’s very hot. You will love to have a shower every 5 minutes! Your best friend will be a bottle of water. By night, 36º C (97º F) and a lot of humidity. I can’t imagine in a hotel without air conditioner.
The first night we walked around a little lake called Ho Hoàn Kiếm. It has a good illumination system and the trees around the lake make a perfect set with the city. A classic asiatic bridge will let you get into the lake to a little island where you will find the Ngoc Son Temple. It’s worth the euro they will charge for crossing the bridge. If you plan to go there, check times and dates, because on Monday it was closed at 7 pm.
If you want to have dinner with an awesome view of the city, you can go to Cau Go, on a fifth floor. Expensive if you think other places are much cheaper, but if you compare to Barcelona, it’s a regular price (40€).
Then we get into a “night market”, a good place to buy very cheap clothes of famous brands (not originals, of course). There are a lot of gadgets of almost every color, and Asian people get crazy about them. For me, they’re a little bit “kitsch”.
If you want t-shirts for the hot days, you can buy them for 2€ each. I bought a couple of t-shirts for this trip but bought a lot at the local markets to use them and throw them away.
As you can see on the next photo, people lives on the streets: they eat, sleep, sell and do everything in the streets of Hanoi.
Hanoi – Street Life (Fujifilm x100s, 1/30, f/4, ISO 800)A local attraction is the water puppet show. 45 minutes where they explain life in the countryside. It’s a tourist attraction, but it’s worth the 4€. All prices there are in “Dongs”, and everything will cost you thousands of Dongs! But if you quit some zeroes, it’s easier: 100000 Dongs are 100k, and 100k were around 4€… Easy!
Sa Pa (or Sapa)
At 6:30 am we were ready to go to Sapa on a luxury van. 20€ per person and in 6 hours you arrive to Sapa. In Vietnam, you know when you leave a place but you can never know at what time you will arrive to your destination. The van driver didn’t know how to open the gas deposit of the Van, and we stopped for almost 40 minutes at the gas station for this problem.
When we arrived at Sapa, the people from our Homestay came for us. We were at the city of Sapa, and the first thing you think it seems a lot like Hanoi. But once you leave the city and get into the mountains and the rice fields, it gets much better.
The path is full of surprises. Oxen, waterfalls, and a lot of green.
Sa Pa – The path to our homestay: waterfalls, oxen and motos. (Nikon D800, Sigma 35mm, 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 100)
The Tavan Homestay is an ecological awesome place. Surrounded by rice fields, surrounded by wildlife, oxen, ducks, dogs and others… the cabins were very spacious.
But for me the best was the sound of water of a near river, and hundreds of different noises from the insects, birds, etc. The bed was huge and with a mosquito net. Despite being a humid site I was not bitten by a single mosquito. I had a mosquito repellent bracelet and a lot of Relec (a famous repellent in Spain) but for me the mosquitos were not a problem.
Now… the view was completly amazing!
Sapa was for me the best of Vietnam. Colors, odor, rain, animal sounds and the calm of the mountain, makes this place unique.
I was worried by food… but in one word… Spectacular! Duck with peanuts, delicious. Weep potatoes with sesame and soja…Omg!!! Eating for 2€ to 4€.
We rented a moto for 5€ per day and surprise… they didn’t ask me any document to rent it… An adventure to drive into this paths, with no rear brake (didn’t work at all), no mirrors… Motorcycles are the main transportation method of Vietnamese. They´re capable of carrying a complete family or a couple of pigs on the moto! They drive looking to their mobile phones… Very dangerous!
Warning: if you’re not in good shape, don’t try this! If you don’t have the correct shoes, the same. We hire a local guide with a strange English and she shows us the mountain like a pro. It was very hot and I don’t remember to had sweated so much in my entire life. Luckily, it was cloudy. On a sunny day, I would have died in the middle of the excursion! And carrying a pro camera was a little problem too because it’s heavy and it’s not comfortable. But I didn’t miss a photo:
Advice: if you go to Sapa, go to a Homestay in the middle of the mountain, don’t go to the city.
Ha Long Bay
When you’re in Hanoi, you will find a lot of offers for a round trip to Ha Long Bay. There are many different prices. But if you are here, Ha Long Bay is “the classic visit” you HAVE to do. And of course, the photo everyone loves to come with from a trip like this. Don’t buy the 50 bucks offer, because it’s a single day round trip, and that is 8 hours of a bus ride. But the main reason is that the best you can do is to spend at least one night in any of the ships that cross the Ha Long Bay. Sunset and sunrise are unique here. And please, be careful with the election of the ship: the cheapest are very old. Choose a mid-range option (between 150/200U$s). You can have other more expensive but this is a good price to have a good and decent service, a tour for a cave, a cooking class, a kayak adventure, a Tai Chi class, a beach stay by the morning… and a good cabin with air conditioner. And all are included in the option of 2 days (1 night). If you have 2 nights, of course, you will have more activities.
Ha Long Bay is impressive. We had no luck, it was cloudy. It’s impressive anyway, but if you can see the sunset or the sunrise, it should be amazing.
After Ha Long, we had to go back to Hanoi, then train to Hue… 13 hours! It’s not a problem and it’s a good option. If you can avoid going to the bathroom… do it! It’s not clean at all…
Hue has just one thing: amazing architecture. One day is enough. The imperial palace is a must.
Try not to go between 10 am and 3 pm, because the sun is very strong. Rent a moto (3€, 1€ of gas) and get into the infernal traffic. It’s a chaos, but in a couple of minutes you will be one of them. It’s like a blood fluid, where everyone goes at the same rhythm and you will be safe.
We were at a luxury hotel with a pool at the rooftop and an excellent restaurant with very nice views. Dinner for two, 50€. Midtown hotel. Highly recommended.
Le family riders
We took a moto ride from Hue to Hoi An (58U$s dollars per person) and took almost 9 hours for 150 km. 9 hours!!! But… don’t even think about it… Just do it! Amazing ride, awesome landscapes and a lot of stops in incredible spots. You will not pay anything else, you can eat a lot and drink all the water and soft drinks or bear you want. Very important: don’t forget the sun protector!
Le Family Riders, Vietnam (iPhone 6s)I don’t know why they are fully dressed, but they’re locals and know very well what they do. A stop on Elephant Waterfalls is a classic. Then you can eat with an amazing view in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains. Very fresh food.
This place is an awesome spot for photography:
A couple stops more, an ice cream and the visit to Marble Mountain. With Le Family Riders you will have an adventure ride plenty of excursions, spectacular landscapes, good food and fresh air. They are in every detail. If you look for them in TripAdvisor, you will find a lot of 5 stars reviews.
The streets are full of paper lanterns… it’s like a fairy tale.
There’s an awesome bridge that crosses the river, and you can rent a boat to navigate a little bit. You can make a wish and leave a candle in the river, a visually amazing photo.
Hoi An has a good beach too, with good places to eat.
The best for us was a boat ride! We were heading to the beach at sunset when we saw a river. We left the moto and ask a local if he can give us a boat trip… he said yes! An opportunity to take some great photos.
We saw the sunset but at the same time, the moon came up between the palm trees. One of the best days of our trip in Vietnam.
So we ask a local fisherman to take a boat trip!
Ho Chi Minh
This is the biggest city in Vietnam, the old Saigón. I prefer Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh has big buildings, big shopping malls, but is not Singapur or other big Asian cities (but is cheaper). You have many markets to visit and French colonial boulevards. The council building is impressive. The Museum of war is a must visit. You will find some classic photos from Vietnam war, like the Napalm nude girl or the execution of a Vietcong soldier. Warning: it can hurt your sensibility.
Again, it’s a moto jungle!
You can eat very good (and cheap) sushi:
And if you want Pizza: Pizza 4P’s Ben Thanh
A lot of people depends on Mekong. It’s full of life for both sides and you can find a lot of markets, including a “floating market”: Cai Be. If you want to be a classic tourist… a boat tour by the river with locals! The river is pretty dirty. And local people though away everything to the river. If you are worried about ecology, this is not the best place to visit.
My advice is that if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, start by Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong, and then “go up” (in the map) and finish in Sa Pa and Hanoi.
The reason: I prefer to have the best at the end, and for me the Mekong and Ho Chi Minh were good, but the north is better.
14 days are perfect, and you can have time to go to Angkor Wat temples (Cambodia).
For street photography, nothing better than my Fujifilm x100s. Easy to use, small, high quality.
The Nikon D800 was my election for landscape, portraits, and everything else. With 3 lenses. An old, 30 years old 24mm manual 2.8 that I love, the 35 mm Sigma Art 1.4 and the 85mm 1.8 from Nikon (I almost didn’t use it). One GoPro and the iPhone 6s.
Everything was edited using Capture One 11.
Hope this helps!
If you have any comment, please feel free to leave a message!
And sorry for my basic english! 😉