In 2015 I went to Vietnam during summer to do volunteering work. I lived in vivid Hanoi for a month and worked in different places. During the weekends we tried to escape the ear-splitting liveliness of Hanoi by dripping off to quiet remote areas like the northern parts of Vietnam. If you’re planning a trip or backpacking Vietnam make sure to check out these things not to miss in Vietnam for an unforgettable experience.
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1. The vivid Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
The Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi is the heart of the city. It’s a stunning piece of silence right in the middle of the chaotic city. The lake is always nice to do an afternoon stroll, but the best time to visit the lake is during the morning. Around 5 am people start to gather around the lake to do physical activities. There are a dozen of people jogging laps around the lake, a dozen of women joining urban Zumba lessons and many men working out on different communal gym hotspots. Around 6-7 am the heat and humidity starts to blow in and all the sportive Vietnamese people start to depart from the lake to start their working day.
2. The stunning landscapes of Sa Pa
This must be my number-one on this list of things not to miss in Vietnam. We went to Sa Pa for the weekend and hiked through these marvelous mountains for two days. Our tour guides were the traditional dressed up women of the Hmong people. They were very nice and helped us through the slippery small paths and showed us stunning pieces of landscapes created by mother earth. We slept in a home stay accompanied by an international group of Spanish, German, Polish, Welsh and Belgian people and got introduced to the locals favorite alcoholic drink called rice whine.
3. Colorful Ethnic markets in Bac Ha
We visited this market during our weekend in Sa Pa in the Northern part of Vietnam. This big market draws your attention for a couple of hours. Stroll around the market and see the women dressed up in their traditional clothes, buy liters of rice whine, enjoy the stunning colors around the market, witness a business deal between a farmer and a market vendor for some cows, taste a few traditional food snacks or enjoy a slice of fresh mango. This is a very nice way to spend your afternoon.
4. Exquisite Streetfood in Hanoi
Not every tourist enjoys to eat in the streets, but for most people who dare to try street food, it’s one of the most pleasant things about their journey to Vietnam. We were lucky enough to have some Vietnamese friends due to our volunteering network who could show us the best places to go to. Note this: mostly the quality of the food of street food restaurants is better than normal restaurants. It’s also much cheaper and more pleasant than a normal restaurant. The main advantage of street food restaurants is that you can see what and how they are making the food. If you don’t like the hygienic circumstances in one street food restaurant, go to another one where you feel more comfortable. But definitely check this one out one you list of things not to miss in Vietnam!
5. Experiencing the romantic atmosphere in Hoi An
What I liked most about the small town Hoi An, was the laid back, romantic atmosphere. That’s why you can never skip this town on your itinerary through Vietnam. There are a lot of good restaurants offering cheap Vietnamese and Western dishes. Hoi An is also known for the large amount of cheap tailor shops, who make tailored clothing for you in no time.
6. Volunteering in Hanoi
This is the main reason that brought me to Vietnam. I worked in a hospital for child acupuncture. We tried to give these kids a good time in the hospital by horsing around with them, by giving them toys and most of all: by giving them attention. Doing social volunteering work in a community overseas really gives you the opportunity to get to know the locals and their community. You get introduced to their way of living and that’s really an added value to your trip.
Also looking for a volunteering experience abroad? Check out this website to find a project.
7. Traditional music
You’ll get the biggest chance to bump into a traditional music group at most of the touristic attractions like temples and museums. I always sat down for a couple of minutes to enjoy the calming sound of Vietnam whenever I bumped into a group of music players.
8. Fishers village
You can find the fishers village on the more remote part of Hanoi on the Red river near the Long Bien bridge. As part of our volunteering project, we visited this village to get a glimpse of the poor side of Hanoi. The people living here try to sell food and crafts on the market and most of them don’t have enough money to send all their kids to school to get a descend schooling. SJ Vietnam sends volunteers to this village to teach children for a couple of years now. As a tourist it’s important to see all the parts of the country and not only the tourist attractions. This is the real life over there and it’s important to think off and care about these people. You should add the visits to poor sides of the country too on your list of things not to miss in Vietnam, if you are the conscious type of tourist.