Things Not To Miss In The North Of Vietnam

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Phong Nha

This absolute gem hidden away in the jungles of central Vietnam has so much to offer each traveller who makes the trek out to this destination. It’s easy to access by bus from Hue or a short taxi ride from Dong Hoi train station which will cost you $17 USD. This is such a beautiful place which is so new to tourism and shows a side of Vietnam not many people would ever get the chance to see. Walking or riding a bicycle down the streets everyone seems to have a smile on their faces and wave and scream “Hello!” It’s not to be missed, worth the money and the time.

Phong Nha also has many cave formations, including the world’s largest cave for height, width and volume and for a pretty penny you can partake in a tour which hikes and camps in the jungles of Vietnam for around $3000 USD+. After making it to the other various caves I can only imagine the size of the world’s largest as the smaller ones are spectacular. For anyone looking to stay in Phong Nha you can view my review of the Phong Nha Farmstay as I recommend this accommodation for all travellers.

What not to miss:

Instead of telling you what not to miss this is how you should attack things:

Day 1:

  • Make your way by bicycle to meet with the boat driver who will take you to the ‘Wild Boar Eco Lodge’ also known as the last point of civilization. Here you will experience a true Vietnamese meal and gaze out into the jungles of Vietnam.
  • On the return journey you will stop at ‘The Pub With Cold Beer’ and enjoy a beverage in company of other travellers if they are about.

Day 2:

  1. Jump on a bike and ride to the pay station for the Phong Nha Cave and Tien Son Cave.
  2. Pay for the entrance fees to the cave and boat rental for the duration of the trip ($15 USD Entrance & Boat Rental.) Note: the boat rental maybe a little more if it’s a smaller group of people as you pay a flat rate for the boat to take you to the caves and return.
  3. Arrive via boat at the the Phong Nha Cave and be paddled around 1 kilometer into the wet cave then walk yourself out and up to the Tien Son Cave.
  4. Board the boat and drive back to the port.

Day 3:

  1. Arrive in town and rent a motorbike ($8USD Rental + $5 USD Fuel) from the bike store opposite ‘Easy Tiger Hostel.’ This place is brilliant as they provide you with a map, ‘road side assistance’ if you break down and this even includes them driving out and fixing the bike for no charge at all. We didn’t sign anything; no passport handed over just a verbal agreement and a smile.
  2. Jump onto the bike and ride into the Phong Nha National Park and ride to the ‘Phong Nha Dark Cave’ where you will zipline, swim and explore the dark cave for around 3 hours. For the small cost of $17 USD its well worth the money. NOTE: After rainy period the dark cave may be closed due to the water level so make sure to check before arriving.
  3. Jump back onto your bike and ride to the ‘Paradise Cave’ ($12 USD Entrance Fee). After a short hike you will arrive at an enormous cave that you will walk one kilometer into. The cave could honestly fit skyscrapers inside. It’s something very special to see. We also had our lunch here, which was reasonably priced and decent food!
  4. Jump back onto you bike and complete the loop back to the motorbike rental store. On the ride back there are many photo opportunities. The complete loop is around 65 kilometers and will take you the day to complete.

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Ninh Binh

This area of Vietnam is known for its spectacular rock formations, caves and endless rice paddies. Easily accessible through tours departing daily from Hanoi ($20 USD+.) For those who are travelling by train through Vietnam, it’s easy to stop for a night or two snatching up a home stay online. This way you will experience something different from the rushed day tour.

What not to miss:

  • Tam Coc & the Caves . Arrive at the port and board a small boat to be paddled through the rice fields and three small caves to then return to port. Note to all travellers: be prepared to be hassled by vendors in small boats and almost forced into tipping the boat rower (typically $1 USD per person)

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Hanoi

This city in the North of Vietnam is much more lively than Ho Chi Minh City in the South in my opinion. It’s a fascinating city with streets that are lined with exactly the same sellers. For example, you’ll find an entire street of shoes or an entire street of bags. I am still unsure if this is good business. Anyway if you’re looking to buy shoes, artwork, bags or hang out drinking cheap beer then this is where you need to be.

What not to miss:

  • The Weekend Night Market is an awesome experience to be had with one of the main roads in Hanoi shut down for the evening. Here you can pick up a bargain if your negotiation skills are good, otherwise you may be paying a little bit more than you should.
  • The Beer Hois are located on many corners of Hanoi. These small bars serve the local beer for around $0.20 cents US and for that price you can’t say no.
  • The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is where you can view Ho Chi Minh body. This is open most morning however make sure to check online before arriving as it may be closed to the public.
  • Wander the streets of Hanoi and really take a grasp of their culture and cuisine.

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Halong Bay
This world heritage site has been ventured to by many tourists over the past decade and is now showing the drastic effects of tourism. After touring here since 2000 the amount of pollution in the water is truly a disgrace and something really needs to be done soon otherwise the effects on this destination are going to change Halong Bay forever. It almost looks like people have upturned their rubbish bins into the waters.

The greatest piece of advice I can give to anyone travelling to Halong Bay is to be wise on who you tour with as we had a not so great experience with an operator on our last visit. The rough price for the 2 Day, 1 Night Halong Bay tour is around $89 USD all inclusive. For those who wish to stay on Cat Ba Island as well this is usually another $50 USD.

With that being said once you see past all the mayhem and blatant rip offs of Halong Bay, you will see the beauty that still exists with magical sunrises and sunsets. It’s just a pity nothing has been done to save this ecosystem from destruction.

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Here is a summary of the cost for my travel through the North of Vietnam via Train. NOTE. Always book these at the station directly not online and not with a tour operator. You can always check online for the schedules at https://vietnam-railway.com/

Danang to Dong Hoi (7 hours) – $9 USD Soft Seat

Dong Hoi – Hanoi (12 hours) – $18 USD Soft Seat

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