Loved the Noble and Swan Boutique Hotel in Hanoi. Spent I think 3-4 days in Hanoi and would highly recommend. Lots to do and see and eat!
This street food tour was super fun. We went with June and she was a blast. It’s also just super fun to zoom around on the back of a motorbike; I would be too afraid to drive myself, so this was the perfect way to get a feel for it.
If you don’t take it, still make sure to try Egg Coffee (literally everybody will tell you this, but it’s super tasty) and Bun Bo Nam Bo (yummy beef noodles).
We really really loved the Women’s Museum. Expected to spend an hour or two here, but ended up staying until they closed and loving every minute of it. Give yourself a few hours!
We did a day trip with Funny Travel to Ninh Binh and it was so much fun. Our main objective was the Hoa Lu Temples which are carved in to the rock and while the place isn’t big, it’s not super touristy and it’s definitely very beautiful and unique. Would definitely recommend. We also rode a boat between the mountains and rice paddies (so pretty) and then rode our bicycles around the rice paddies. We had a private driver and they took us to a lunch spot and we did a little shopping, too. Generally an excellent day trip in an air conditioned car and so much fun, although also swelteringly hot (dripping sweat on the bikes). He also helped us book our flight to Cambodia, which made everything easy and I think we got a deal on the tour for booking the flight as well. I can’t remember exactly, but I think our tour was about $80/person for the driver, temple, bicycles, lunch, and boat ride. It was about a 2-3 hour drive from Hanoi.
Ha Long Bay (Cat Ba Bay)
We did an overnight tour into the bay with IndoChina Junk and their prices are worth the value. Highly recommend: well run, high quality, good accommodations, excellent kayaking and swimming, good food, kind people, and, most important of all, really really fabulous views and isolated spot to dock for the evening. Such a magical spot: definitely get up early for sunrise!
We stayed one night here for a little beach getaway on our way to Hoi An and I would recommend. It was really fun to swim in the ocean and enjoy the beach. Finally a place where the heat was a good thing! We rented chairs with an umbrella for cheap and it was really nice to just chill and enjoy.
This area is by far one of the more expensive places in Vietnam, but for one night we lived it up and enjoyed ourselves. We stayed at the Adamo Hotel which was right on the water and was pretty great. They were fairly new and had some customer service bumps, but in the end we figured they’d probably work them out. In the meantime, we had the rooftop pool to ourselves, which was a blast, and the breakfast buffet was amazing. Rooms were comfy and clean and had an incredible view of the beach.
We went to A La Carte for dinner and sunset drinks, which was an excellent decision. Good drinks, good burgers, excellent views of the city and river and ocean. Downside was they wouldn’t let us swim in the pool with purchase, it’s for hotel guests only (laaaaame).
Hoi An is where I got my fabulous pink coat made and is so nice. It’s a smaller town, but if you want clothing made, you need to spend 4 or 5 days there. You can borrow bikes from your hotel (probably) and cycle around, eat, enjoy sunset on the river. Super super touristy, but in a really enjoyable way.
We stayed at the Lasenta Boutique Hotel and it was the best. I would stay here 100 nights a year if I could. So cute, comfy, great service, etc. Their adorable tile work everywhere is so representative of Hoi An in general. Room rates were around $50/night. We borrowed their bicycles (for free) and used them to get everywhere. You’ll want to spend most of your time in the Hoi An Ancient town, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and super cute, but there are restaurants and fun places to go outside of this tourist heavy area, too.
Got my clothing made at Tony the Tailor’s and I would come here again. They are so nice and accommodating and talented. I do feel like getting more artistic custom clothing is more difficult than getting business suits or more traditional items. The more specific photos you have of exactly what you want and the more clear you are about what you really want, the more you’ll be happy with what you get. They’ll pay for you to get a taxi cab from your hotel, email ahead to make an appointment. Plan on going immediately when you arrive in order to give yourself as much time for them to make the clothing and for you to come back and get it tailored as possible. Sometimes you’ll want to come back a few times to get it right and giving yourself that time is worth it. Downside of this place is that there is no AC and so it’s hot as hell and super hard to try on tighter clothing, but I think all of the places are open like this and they do have ice water and fans so that’s probably the best you can do. If you go, tell them the girl with the custom pink coat from July 2017 sent you; she has an amazing memory for all her customers.
My favorite custom purchases were two pairs of leather sandals at Thang. They did a really great job and I ordered two pairs and my friend ordered some after seeing mine. Reasonably priced (maybe $20-30, depending on what you want and your bargaining abilities) and high quality. My friend also got a great belt here to bring back for her partner.
I had a bad experience with Song Leather. I ordered a purse from them, very careful to select exactly the leather that I wanted. When we came back the next day, they had made it not out of the one I picked, but another very different. From there, I had to fight pretty hard to get them to make me a new one, and even then they charged me for it (I kept both and sold one when I got back to the USA to a friend). After I picked it up, they were pretty pushy about trying to get me to leave a 5 star review on Trip Advisor, which felt icky. My friend ordered shoes from here too, and they were not good quality. They were heels, but the heel slipped out from underneath her foot every time she stepped. She ended up leaving with them for full price and they insisted that they would get better as the glue dried, but it didn’t really happen.
Banh Mi Phuong was my favorite, packed with locals and a crowded line. Get two because they’re only $1 and fairly small and SO DELICIOUS. We came back twice.
We also went to Phi Banh Mi which is more catered towards westerners, but so much fun. The owner is the sweetest and his sandwiches are SO good. We also came back here twice. (I mean, when you’re here…. haha)
I loved our chill afternoon spent in the Lapin Café, which played French music and was run by a French-Vietnamese couple. It felt like coming over to somebody’s hip house and I wanted to be friends with them after we left. No AC, but such good vibes.
The Reaching Out Café might have been my favorite find in Hoi An, run entirely by deaf locals who have the most serene, wonderful spot in the middle of the bustle. Come here! It’s magical.
The Jaya House in Siem Reap is far and away the best hotel I have ever stayed at. Start to finish it was an incredible experience and well worth the pennies we paid to stay here. In July 2017 rooms were $135/night for their basic room, but they ended up upgrading us to a room with a private jacuzzi and it was incredible. Swinging tables, the most amazing food you’ve ever tasted, incredible massages, two amazing pools, lotuses everywhere, a fabulous sunset bar, THE BEST SERVICE ever ever ever. I could go on and on: this place is incredible. We weren’t sure what we could get that was better than the Lasenta Boutique Hotel (for only $50/night), but once we showed up we completely understood. They organized everything for us: our tours through Angker Wat and the others, etc.
The only downside of this place was that we barely saw Cambodia outside of the hotel and the Wats, which is a pretty big bummer to me, although our guide Khemerin was very forthright about how bad the Civil War had been in Cambodia and I got the feeling that maybe there isn’t much besides these places.
We did go to Temple Bar one evening, which was a crazy expat bar experience and pretty fun. Insanely loud, cheap bevvies, tons of people from all around the world, and we danced like crazy. Not sure I would do it again, but it kind of felt like the only thing to do around Siem Reap and it was certainly a memorable club experience.
For Angkor Wat, do make sure you go at sunrise (and go early to make it worth it). We watched it from outside the wall where you can see the whole thing and then headed in to the pool to see from the inside. Not sure, but I might go to the inside instead next time if I was there early enough. We got the two day ticket (well, three day, but we only went two days, but it’s still cheaper than buying two individual tickets) and I was glad we didn’t try and cram everything in to one day. We did do the side trip to Banteay Srei and I am glad we did: it’s different than the others and so fun to see.
Definitely take your time and definitely get some blessings from the monks; it’s a few dollars and you’ll feel like a tourist doing it, but it’s authentic and cool. The monks are the only ones allowed to still live in Angkor Wat and they rely on only donations for their food and clothes. It’s worth asking your guide more about this (and definitely about the modern political landscape and the Civil War and so on).
I would say that while biking around looks picturesque, it’s so hot that you’ll want to save it for another day when you’re not relying on this to get you around. Splurge for the tuk tuk (or stay at our hotel and let them spoil you with cold ice towels and water whenever you get back from a temple).