My Introduction to Laos & Vietnam
First, a quick word on Singapore: Singapore was amazing and is probably one of the cleanest and most well-organized countries. It’s ideal for first-time visitors and families as there is so much to do and see like Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Zoo, and Sentosa Island… as well as amazing shopping! I would suggest spending at least three full days in Singapore. If you are planning on shopping, then do so at the end of your trip.
Onward to Laos and Vietnam! After a three-hour nonstop flight from Singapore, I arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos. It reminds me more of Cambodia and Myanmar with temples, monks, and pagodas everywhere. The UNESCO World Heritage old town has a lot of French influence in the architecture, food, and signs. Book a guide and take a guided walk around the old town, and you will learn so much. The next day, take a morning river cruise on the Mekong and Ou rivers to the famous Pak Ou Caves with over 4,000 Buddha statues. My favorite two hotels are the Belmond, if you want to be out of town and in a quiet area with amazing view of the mountains, and the Amantaka, if you prefer to stay in town.
Our next flight took us to Hanoi, Vietnam, which is a big and busy city with over eight million people and six million scooters. In the old town, you can see the French influence in the architecture and city planning. Visit the former prison used by the French known as the Hanoi Hilton, which is now a museum. My personal preference for hotels is the Sofitel Legend with its hidden secret tunnels as well as the modern wing.
Just a two-hour drive from Hanoi, we arrived in Hai Phong, the gateway for the cruises to Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay. We boarded the Ginger: a Heritage Line 12-cabin cruise ship for one night. Halong Bay was crowed so we went in the opposite direction to Lan Ha Bay, which did not disappoint. There is amazing scenery with hundreds of granite islands dating back millions of years.
We drove back to Hanoi for our flight to Danang, which is famous for China Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Just a 30-minute drive from the airport, we arrived in Hoi An, another UNESCO World Heritage town, known as the City of Lanterns. The old town starts to become alive in the evening with amazing shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and street food vendors. You can also have clothes made for you in 24 hours! Book a guide for half a day, and try your hand at lantern-making, which is so much fun and not too difficult. For hotels, I would suggest the Four Seasons Nam Hai, which is on the beach and has a shuttle to town, and the Anantara, which is in town and has a shuttle to the beach.
After a one-hour flight, we arrived in Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam and home to over 12 million people. Book a guide and half-day city tour so you know your way around, then explore on your own and take a foodie Vespa tour in the evening.
Just a two-hour drive away from Saigon, we found ourselves in the middle of rice fields and coconut plantations, the largest agricultural area of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta. Experience Vietnamese hospitality with a visit for tea and lunch with local families. We also tried different modes of transportation such as a Sampan cruise on the canals, tuk-tuk or bicycle ride in the local village, and horse and buggy ride through the village. It was hard to believe we are only a two-hour drive from the bustling city of Saigon! My favorite hotels to stay are the Park Hyatt or MGallery.
Overall, I loved what I saw of Laos and Vietnam! They are beautiful, culturally rich areas of Southeast Asia.
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