DALAT | A REFRESHING CITY IN THE CENTER OF VIETNAM

Called by the locals “city of poetry”, “city of love”, “city of eternal spring”, or “city of thousands of pines”, the Dalat Valley is a well preserved jewel of Vietnam. It was discovered in 1893 by the Franco-Swiss doctor Alexandre Yersin, and is located in the center of the Lang Bian plateau in southern Vietnam. Perched on the mountains and almost touching the stars, its view is breathtaking. Dalat is a must destination for all nature lovers.

On its winding roads surrounded by pines and cherry blossoms, Dalat mesmerizes through its waterfalls, lush forests and fairy gardens. The atmosphere overlooking the valley is foggy, adding to the charm of the place, a magical and mysterious air.

As stated, the Dalat Valley is not lacking in charm and offers a host of warm places. The summer season is undoubtedly the best time to enjoy the mild temperate climate of the valley.

Step 1: Relax and letting go

Around a glass of herbal tea or a freshly made local coffee, we marvel at the breathtaking view over the valley. The fresh air and the beauty of the place are conducive to meditation, reading or writing. After breakfast, we take the cable car that connects Robin Hall to Truc Lam Pagoda (Buddhist temple), to erase all traces of sleep under the mild sunlight.

The scenic landscapes of the Dalat Valley offers deep moments of well-being and allows to escape gently the routine of everyday life. Without going far, it is possible to stroll along sumptuous flower gardens, the emblem of the valley. Every two years, between the end of December and the beginning of January, the Festival of Flowers takes place in Dalat where floral species from all over the world are showcased.

Calm and serenity are in the spotlight and allows us to take a calm moment sipping a cup of Nước Mía (refreshing local drink made from sugar cane).

WHERE TO STAY IN DALAT

DOI MOT NGUOI (HOMESTAY)

 

Appreciated by its spectacular view, peaceful garden, and its independent coffee shop, this homestay is excellent for lounging and letting his mind wander around a cappuccino. You can book the small cozy greenhouse in the middle of the garden, for a private dinner surrounded by water and the nature.

LALALAND HILL LODGE (HOMESTAY)

10A Triệu Việt Vương | F3  Đà Lạt

 

This family-friendly, trendy, vintage-style homestay is endowed with a wonderful environment where life is good. What strikes during the first visit is the omnipresence of the plants, inside and outside. A huge garden allows the relax and the kids enough space to play.

ZEN VALLEY DALAT RESORT ★★★★

38 Khe Sanh | Ward 10 | Đà Lạt

 

 

This Zen Valley resort draws its inspiration from Swiss chalets and offers all kind of activities. Take a deep dive In the infinity pool before the sun goes down to contemplate the breathtaking view of the green hills. After a good night, grab your towel and spend some time in the sauna. On the program: detox massage. 

IN THE PINES (HOMESTAY)

86 Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh | 084  Đà Lạt

 

 

Sleeping in a small wooden cabane in the middle of a pine tree forest? Waking up with an amazing view over the valley while listening to the birds singing?

The Hill House is situated in the middle of a pine forest and combines modernity and comfort with a look worthy of the most opulent wooden chalets. Once installed and settle in comfortably, it becomes almost too difficult to go out on an adventure.

A haven of timeless peace, this chic and graceful villa looks like a lost castle in the forest. However, when you enter, we discover a welcoming place. It contains a nice terrace and an outdoor pool nestled between a multitude of trees. On the menu: well-being and relaxation.

Located at the corner of Hao Hong Road, Dalat Wonder Resort is one of the most popular resorts due to its proximity to Lake Tuyen Lam where you can rent a boats and spend some quality moments . One of the best choices is to opt for one of the private chalet located directly in front of the lake.

Step 2: Take a cup of energy

In Vietnam, the coffee culture has become a huge business. Today, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee beans in the world. Moreover, strongly supported by the government, many families grow their own coffee and make their business. With its worldwide recognition, the coffee shops in Dalat serve many flavor, from drip coffees to classic lattes. It’s almost a must to go there and taste the different variants and coffee preparation. One of the most famous and expensive coffees in the world is the “Weasel Coffee”. This speciality coffee is produced through a long and time-taking process. Here is a link to a very good coffee website which explains in detail this unique process. But what about the price? For 1 kg of Weasel coffee, you pay nearly $ 500 !!

In the north of Dalat, 10 km from the center, the coffee plantation K’ho opens daily its doors to coffee lovers and all those who like to deepen their general culture. This flavorful excursion puts all the senses on alert. In addition to a tour of the plantation, you can learn about the process of coffee making and taste different freshly roasted coffee .

DALAT’S COFFEE SHOPS

In contrast to the big cities where people swallow their coffee quickly, because time is money, Dalat preach the slow coffee tasting. It is a national art and many come to the valley to enjoy it. Most of the local coffee shops are tastefully decorated: wooden tables mixed with vintage furnitures or a minimalistic Japanese interior, your can find a large range of great coffee shops. Most of them also serves healthy lunch prepared with products from the local farms and tasty pastries. 

It is extremely difficult to choose which café to chose. Moreover, once the place is chosen, there is another Cornelian choice: what to drink? So here are several addresses of hip cafes in the valley:

STILL CAFE 59 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường 9, Thành phố Đà Lạt

A warm and comforting Chalet between pine trees. The garden invites to relax and taste a nice capuccino. They have nice and freshly pressed fruit juices.

LE CHALET 6 Đường Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, Phường 4, Thành phố Đà Lạt

The large garden with its different flowers and plants let you feel like in the middle of the jungle. It’s a special place to have lunch or just enjoy a local coffee.

TiêM CAFE THÁNG 3 số 4 Đống Đa phường 3 | 66000 Da Lat

This coffee is our secret address and not known by lot of travelers. The baristas are just world class and the location is amazing, especially the view over the city and the valley.

KOKORO CAFE | WFH2+CV Thành phố Đà Lạt

Another special location you won’t find in any tourist guide. Kokoro Café is a Japanese café with a large garden and huge fish pond where you can spot koi fishes. It’s located in the north of Dalat but well worth the detour.

Step 3: Immortalize the moment

Dalat is a sweet paradise for photographers and it becomes irresistible not to snap or post on Instagram. Posing in front of the waterfall, in the middle of a flower field or in front of a hipster cafe is an obsession for many local tourist which we observe with a little smile on our face.

In view of a wonderful day ahead, you probably looking for an outdoor activity. Hiking, canoeing, bike riding, boat tour, etc. but what to do ?

Here is a list of places we can recommend:

Lang Biang Peak

Lang Biang is located 12 km from Da Lat centre and is within an easy reach by car, or a local bus. The Lang Biang Peak is the roof of Dalat, sitting at a height of 2,167 meters above sea level.  You need to buy a ticket at the checkpoint (around 1 Euro) to enter to Lang Biang. You will first walk through strawberry fields, veg greenhouses and coffee plantation and then entering the forest. Once in the forest the path is getting steep until the 2nd Checkpoint. The trek, depending on you and your families level, takes approximately 2-3 hours. Here is a link to great blog post with many useful infos.

Samson Mountain

Ba Mountain is a great spot for trekking, camping, bird watching, also exploring the culture of ethnic groups, the K’ho people. Climbing to the top of this 1,700-meter-high mountain and you will be able to observe the entirety of the majestic scenery of Dalat and Tuyen Lam Lake.

Pongour Waterfall

This waterfall is also known as the greatest waterfall in Central Vietnam, and it totally deserves this honorable name! The height of cascades is nearly 40 meters and stretches more 100m through terraced stones.

Read here for more info about the Pongour Waterfall.

Prenn Waterfall

This waterfall is located at the foot of Prenn Pass, which is 10 kilometres from Dalat. The Prenn Waterfall has a height of 9 meter and a width of 20 meter and you can actually walk under the waterfall. The area near the waterfall has been refurbished and features now a suspension bridge, cable cars, houses on stilts, tree houses, souvenir shops and restaurants.

Along with trekking, Dalat welcomes the tourists to pay homage at the famous Buddhist Temples also called as Pagoda. Here is a list of a few who are on top of our list:

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Constructed in 1950s, this temple is the Disneyland of pagodas – in a good way. It crams so many  gorgeous sights in one area that you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. The pagoda has several large altars, a huge tower, and many other record-setting features like the biggest bell in Vietnam. Linh Phuoc hosts some truly amazing and inspirational works of Buddhist art. The most eye-popping feature remains the broken pottery and glass used to coat the majority of the temple.

♥ Truc Lam Temple and Monastery

Truc Lam is Vietnam’s largest Zen Monastery located just outside Dalat on a mountaintop with a great view on the Tuyen Lam Lake and the surrounding highlands. A cable car from Robin Hill brings you to the top for around 70,000VND ($3USD). There are nice walking paths around the monastery and you can even walk further to the Tuyen Lam Lake and enjoying the lake or have a nice boat ride.

The legacy of french colonialisme

The Valley of Dalat was discovered by the french doctor Alexandre Yersin. He created a resort center in the highlands during French Indochina and became a retreat area for the soldats to recover from the hot climate. The French colonial style still dominates Dalat and is today mixed with some brutalist apartment blocks, grand colonial villas and pretty wooden cottages.

The uncommon and laissez-faire approach of town planning will not only interest architecture lovers. You can learn more about the history of colonialism and the fascinating history of certain buildings through guided tours organized by the valley. Dalat is definitely a treat for architecture lovers. Here are some of the building worth a stop:

♥ DOMAINE DE MARIE

1 Ngô Quyền, Phường 6, Thành phố Đà Lạt

Catholic convent open to the public. The church is located atop a hill in Da Lat. It is built in a style reminiscent of 17th Century French architecture. 

 

DALAT RAILWAY STATION 

Đường Quang Trung, Phường 10, Tp. Đà Lạt

 The station was designed in Art Deco style which is perfectly in harmony with local characteristics and culture. Since 1991, Dalat railway station provided tourists with the 7km route from Dalat to Trai Mat station.

 

THE PASTEUR INSTITUTE

18 Đường Lê Hồng Phong, Phường 4, Thành phố Đà Lạt

Vaccine Research and Production Center. It was designed by the French architect Paul Veysseyre.

 

TEACHER’S COLLEGE (LYCÉE YERSIN)

29 Yersin Street Dalat

The Lycée Yersin was a school founded in 1927 in Da Lat, Vietnam, to educate the children of French colonialists and upper class Vietnamese. The French architect Paul Moncet designed the building and supervised its construction.

 

DALAT’S night market

Dalat’s night market is huge and the stalls are spread over a wide area. The selection ranges from warm clothing, suitable for Dalat’s chilled temperature, to delicious vegetable, fruits, flowers, and handmade wooden articles. Dalat night market also features an area dedicated to street performance. Youth groups practice and perform hip-hop dancing, roller skating and other sporty pastimes.

A trip to Dalat is full of unique memories. Difficult to forget the sweet scent of pine trees or the sublime vision of the valley and its highlands. To prepare your trip to Dalat, we added all addresses to the map, including the places indicated above:

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DALAT | A REFRESHING CITY IN THE CENTER OF VIETNAM

Hanoi | A chaotic uniquely wonderful city

When you first visit Hanoi you will be overwhelmed by its buzzing streets, pungent smells, and often deafening sounds. Thousands of motorbikes stream through the streets daily. Pavements packed with food stalls serving local food on plastic tables and chairs. But no matter how noisy the traffic is nor how precarious crossing the road can feel, Hanoi manages to give the impression of a very peaceful city where the quality of life is good. Take a first walk through the old quater to dive straight into the exciting city life of Hanoi.

The thousand year old capital city of Vietnam shines with both modernity and age old tradition and has endured Chinese and French occupation, as well as the chaos of the American War. But this recent history doesn’t seem to permeate much of modern Hanoi’s daily life. The Hanoi of today is not short on class with recent introductions of top-end restaurants, designer boutiques and art galleries.

Hanoi is an exiting city to discover for both old and young and most probably the best starting point for your Vietnam trip.

THE OLD QUARTER IN HANOI

It’s the Old Town and its street life which is Hanoi’s biggest attraction: honking scooters transporting entire families, street food stalls where you can enjoy delicious food and many shops and cool cafes lining up along the busy streets. This is pure Hanoi where you can walk around for hours.

The Old Quarter is a place where you can find the fusion of the past and the modern life as well as the history and culture of Vietnam’s capital. Each street’s name corresponds to the wares in its shops. But many of the historic houses have deteriorated and are in need of restoration.

Another relic of French Colonial rule is situated right in the heart of the Old Quarter. The St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Nha Tho Street) was built in 1886 and is a fine example of neo-Gothic architectural style. You will probably cross this church many times when you stroll through the Old Town.

A STREET FOOD TOUR WITH GIANG

A highlight of our stay in Hanoi was the guided street food tour with Giang. She is a local guide who just gave up her office job, decided to change her life for something more exciting. A part from starting her own fashion collection, she shows visitors her hometown Hanoi and explains the local food. We met her in the Old Quarter where she led us to seven different food places where we tried different kind of local food.

Here is a list of our favorites:

Pho (Vietnamese Noodle soup):

One of the most famous dishes in Vietnam is Pho. And it’s in Hanoi, you probably eat the best. Pho is very popular among locals and who eat Pho also for breakfast.

Bánh Mì (Vietnames Sandwich):

The Bánh Mì is delicious and you can truly fall in love with. It’s a kind of baguette made with a combination of wheat and rice flours and it has a thin crispy crust. Bánh Mì is stuffed with pork, pâté, cured ham, a mix of Vietnamese herbs and vegetables like coriander, cucumber, carrot, slices, radish and more, depending on what part of the country you are in.

Xoi Xeo (Sweet Sticky Rice):

Xoi xeo usually comes with staple toppings of green mung bean paste, soy sauce, and dried shallots, but you can opt for a variety of add-ins such as pate, boiled chicken, cha lua (Vietnamese ham), marinated pork belly, or preserved eggs for a more substantial meal.

Cà Phê Trung (Egg Coffee):

Egg coffee or Cà Phê Trung is the most famous coffee in the north of Vietnam. It is a thick dark coffee topped with egg yolk whipped with condensed milk into an airy froth. A lot of sugar is added and it is very very rich in taste.

Train Street 

Train Street is one of those places which has become incredibly popular on Instagram. When you search it on the web, you can find hundreds of similar photos.  But anyway, it is unique to see the locals rush around and put away all the seats and small table before the impressive train rolls right between the houses.

The train will only pass through this tiny street 2 times per day. It is at 3:15 pm and 7:30 pm.

Hoan Kiem Lake on weekends

The Hoan Kiem Lake – meaning Lake of the Restored Sword- is centrally located in Hanoi and is only minutes away from the Old Quarter. On weekends, some roads around the Lake are closed and the lakeside promenade becomes a peaceful and  car free place. The greatest fun here is people watching, from retired folks doing tai chi to youngsters performing their hip street dance. Many locals come here to socialize or just take a few moments to escape the busy city life. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and enjoy a nice walk around the lake.

At the south end of the lake, you can visit the Ngoc Son Temple. This temple is built on a small island linked with a red wooden bridge, the Huc Bridge. On the north end of the lake, you might spot the Tortoise Pagoda (Thap Rua), often hidden by a thin layer of dust and not accessible for visits.

Visit a traditional water puppet show

The tradition of water puppet show in Vietnam goes back to the 11th century. It is said that in the past, these secrets were passed down from father to son because they feared daughters would divulge the secrets when they marry outside the villages. It is incredible to watch how those talented puppeteers make their puppets move so flawlessly and on top of the water while seeming blind from behind a screen. The typical themes that surround a water puppet show are still deeply rooted in rural Vietnamese traditions that include fishing, planting and harvesting of rice as well as village folklore.

A show typically features 7 to 11 puppeteers working in harmony with one another to create magic on stage. The music plays a huge part in the theater. The show takes about an hour and is by far one of the most entertaining attractions in Hanoi to do with kids.

The most famous show in Hanoi is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre located near the Hoan Kiem Lake.

Knock down some pins

An unabashed tribute to the bowling alleys that once dominated Western culture, The Cosmos Bowling Centre has the lanes, the tunes and the decor to transport you back to the land of the strikes.

Prices are cheap (around $1 per game) making it easy to while away a few hours.

Cosmos Bowling Centre168 Ngoc Khanh Street, Ba Dinh District

Visit Hanoi’s monuments & traditional buildings

Most of Hanoi’s attractions are located within walking distance of one another, in the Old and French Quarter.

The Temple of Literature:

Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this temple is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. The admission was exclusively for those from noble families. After 1442 it became more egalitarian and gifted students from all over Vietnam came to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry.

West Lake

Probably, you going to spend most of your time in or around the Old Quarter. But if you seeking respite from the busy streets of the Old Quater, you can spend some time at the West Lake. In the Tay Ho District, you can visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda which was built in the 6th century. It’s Vietnam’s oldest temple. 

West Lake is also a beautiful place to while away an afternoon: you can hire boats and have lunch on a floating restaurant.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese people who come to pay tribute to “Uncle Ho”, the man who led the fight for an independent, unified Vietnam. Locals line up to pay respect to the great leader and this includes some rules. You need to dress neatly so short skirts or tank tops are not allowed and turn out all your devices. Paying respect and no noises are required.

The French Quarter

Situated to the south and east of Lake Hoan Kiem, the French Quarter has a different feel from the rest of Hanoi due to its broad avenues, wide sidewalks, and colonial french architecture. The highlights include the luxury hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole, with its distinctive white facade and the iconic Hanoi Opera House, modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris. 

OUTSIDE HANOI:

When you have enough of the traffic and smog, leave the city behind and get out into the countryside on a day trip. There are many beautiful landscapes to explore on a day trip.  One of them is the incredible hilly landscape of Hoa Lu Tam Coc. It’s a spectacular limestone karst landscape, 100 km southeast from Hanoi. If you prefer handmade art, you should definitely visit the Ceramic Villages Bat Trang, situated only 1 hour outside of Hanoi.

We recommend to book a local guide, which can explain you the art of ceramic and show you an atelier where you can try the pottery wheel.

WHERE TO EAT IN HANOI:

♥MADAME HIEN

Located in a beautiful antic french building with garden in the Old Quarter. Madam Hien is the latest venture of the most celebrated French chef in Vietnam – Didier Corlou. He also owns the restaurants, La Vertical and Porte D’Annam

MUŌI TIÊU – SALT N’ PEPPER

5 Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

A nice cosy place for a healthy brunch with relaxing outdoor seats. The menu is inspired by Australian brunch culture from a chef who lived in Sydney more than 10 years.

CAFE NOLA

Designed and built based on the culture of New Orleans, Cafe Nola serves simple, creative dishes & excellent coffee.

ESSIE TEAROOM & BISTRO

86 Tô Ngọc Vân, Quảng An, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội

Inspired by the love of nature and the love of the wilderness, ESSIE is a perfect blend of contemporary and classic. You will find ardent passion and creativity in every little corner arranged with inexplicable delicacy and soul.

NHÀ SÀN ART CAFE

Ngõ 6 Vĩnh Phúc (5,938.26 mi), Hanoi

This cafe is not easy to find, as it’s apart from all the common touristic spots. But it is 100% worth the way. It’s a contemporary art space in an old traditional house where you can listen to concerts from local artists.

GREEN TANGERINE RESTAURANT

48 Hàng Bè, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

Green Tangerine is housed in an idyllic refurbished 1920s French villa that’s fitted with rustic décor, bare bricked walls, and antique furnishing. The French chef creates a variations of classic French dishes with a distinct Vietnamese touch.

WHERE TO STAY IN HANOI:

Maison d’Orient has been elegantly furnished and decorated in Hanoian style. The staff is incredibly welcoming and make you forget the be housing in a 2 Star Hotel. The Hotel is just perfectly situated in the heart of the Old Quarter.

Situated in the Hanoi’s Old Quarter Area and only a 2 minute walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s part of a small local chain that prides itself on maintaining a consistently high level of service and comfort across its properties. They also offer high class tours around Vietnam.

Sofitel Legend Metropole has long been a celebrity magnet, welcoming presidents, ambassadors, and literary and cinematic royalty into its marble lobby. The historic Metropole section has beautiful decor shaped by French architecture and Vietnamese culture. 

La Terrasse has the feel of a Parisian café, while Le Beaulieu restaurant serves classic French fare and a decadent Sunday brunch. 

A small cosy hotel with a contemporary, oriental inspired decoration. On the ground floor, the restaurant serves delicious dim sum. The rooftop terrasse has one of the few bars overlooking the city.

The hotel’s design recalls a theatrical grandeur with clear references to the Belle Époque with a mix of  contemporary artwork and modern furnishing, such as Kartell chairs and lamps by Moooi.  The sundeck offers a fabulous view of the Opera building, which is especially pretty when it lights up beautifully after the sun has set. There are interconnecting rooms and space for extra beds on all floors.

Hanoi E Central Hotel is placed in the heart of Old Quarter. It’s a good starting point to explore the city and you’re not far from the lake and shopping ear. The penthouse has a large deck outside with great views at night!

We hope you enjoyed reading and wish you a nice trip to Hanoi. Don’t forget to send us your best addresses in the comments section.

See you soon for new adventures!

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Climbing up Marble Mountains | Vietnam

When your trip through Vietnam leads you to Da Nang or Hoi An, then you can’t get around a visit to the amazing sight of Marble Mountains.

Marble Mountains are a group of five marble and limestone hills located about 10 km south of Da Nang and known for its holy Buddhist temples, pagodas and natural beautiful caves.

The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). All of the mountains have cave entrances and numerous tunnels, but the only Marble Mountain accessible to visitors is Thuy Son (Water Mountain). There are lots of small “trails” to explore, caves to climb through, plenty of pagodas and statues to admire.

The entrance fee is 40,000 VND and you can then access a stairway of 156 steps leading to the summit of Thuy Son (Water Mountain). If you travel with smaller kids you can take the elevator (for another 40,000 VND) which brings you to the Gate one where the Xa Loi Tower is located.

Whenever you can, take rather the stairs. The view is fantastic and some of caves  are only accessible from the stairway path. We recommended to wear at least some good sneakers because the stairs are very uneven, steep and slippery. With flip flops, sandals or high heels you will have a hard time to climb up all the stairs.

After you make it to the top of the mountain from Gate one, there are three main avenues you can explore. All lead to different caves, view point or pagodas. You can find a “relaxation” area, which is a collection of small stands, vendors and the restrooms just before the Tam Thai Pagoda. This 400-year-old pagoda was built in the 17th century and has been destroyed, rebuilt, and renovated many times.

Behind the relaxation area, is a narrow footpath leading up to the summit of Mt. Thuy. From here you have a beautiful view to the north and over the seaside.

Buddha & Pagodas on top of the mountain

There are several incredible caves naturally built in the mountain. The Hoa Nghiem & Huyen Khong Caves which are linked together, are probably the most famous ones. When you pass through the entrance gate, you step directly into the Hoa Nghiem Cave. The huge standing Bodhisattva, carved out the caves wall, is very imposing. Go your way through the passageway and you will enter the larger cave Huyen Khong. Lighten up by five openings in the ceiling, this cave contains a sitting Buddha statue built out of the wall, a temple construction and several altars. It’s all very impressive and unexpected. And the light which shines through the large openings in the ceiling and falls on the different altars and statues gives the place a mystic mood.

The area is still known for stone sculpture making and stone-cutting crafts and you can visit the ateliers in the village.

The sacred stone hills even supplied the building material for Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi. Today, the direct extraction from the mountains was banned recently and the marble is now imported from China.

Tip: Marble Mountains is an incredible place to visit with your family but also a very popular one. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about the overload of tourists and arrived at 11 am and the place was already packed with people . Some of the caves were so crowded that it was difficult to enter.

We recommend to come in the morning at around 8 am. I promise you want regret to get up early!

Opening hours: Marble Mountains is open year-round from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Time to spend: About 2 – 3 hours

Entry price: 40,000 VND + another 40,000 VND for the elevator (recommended when you visit with small kids)

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A FAMILY TRIP TO HALONG BAY

A boat cruise in Halong Bay is an absolute must on your first trip to Vietnam. Words can do little justice to the scenery that awaits you during a cruise to Halong Bay. Almost 2,000 limestone rocks, some of them more than hundred meters high, jut out of the water. It’s an unforgettable family adventure to sleep a night on a typical wooden cruise boats, waking up in the morning to the sight of the mist-shrouded peaks.

But you need to chose your tour operator wisely which leads you outside the touristic tracks. A wrong pick can ruin the whole experience. Good cruise operators who provide a nice luxury cruise boat are obviously more expensive but it is worth the money. However, it is not only about the price but you should also get informed about the different activities, the accommodation, the food and the current boat itinerary.

Most of the cruise boats stay in the crowded Halong Bay. More than 10 million visitors a year arrive aboard day or overnight cruises. Concerned about overcrowding, water pollution and litter, the Vietnamese government has imposed strict regulations concerning boat routes. Swimming is only allowed on a few designated beaches.

If you don’t mind the Halong bay “brand” but care about the experience, you can follow our track and take a cruise to the Lan Ha Bay. Not many visitors are aware that the limestones karsts and islands go beyond the actual “Halong bay park”.

We had the chance to discover a part of the Lan Ha Bay, lying south and east of Cát Bà Town. The islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha Bay are just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay and have the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches.

Kajaking, Swimming, Fishing

On our first day, the cruise boat stopped at a small peaceful bay where we had some time to swim, jump from the boat in the emerald-green water or take a kayaking tour.

Kayaking in the middle of the bay was a magical moment! Our guide showed us around the small islets. It is spectacular when you paddle around the impressive limestone rocks and see them up close. You can feel the grandeur of the bay, spot animals and stop at tiny white beaches.

TIP: Not all of the activities are suitable for the younger ones. We opted for a bike tour instead of the cave visit which many of the operator have included in their tour. Get informed about all the activities during the trip before you book the cruise, especially when you travel with kids.

A bike cruise through the jungle

On our second day, when we arrived at the East end of Cát Bà Island, the bikes were already prepared for us (Kid bikes and baby seats were available).  The ride led us through the impressive jungle with a loud background sound of insects, birds and other jungle inhabitants. If you are lucky, you can spot Squirrels, snakes, frogs and huge butterflies. It’s a 30 minutes ride to the small fishing village Viet Hai.

Many houses were built or reconstructed since the village decided to welcome tourist and tour operator. All houses are open day and night and you can visit some of them and learn more about the daily life, work and the culture of the inhabitants. The village is quiet and very peaceful and you won’t see any tourist buses or cars. Only bikes are allowed….what a great example of eco-tourisme!

We booked our cruise through the Hotel Maison d’Orient. They work together with Perla Dawn Sails and Garden Bay Legend Cruises. We can recommend both tour operator. The prices depend on the number of nights you plan to stay on the boat and the type of cabin.

We opted for a the middle range at 140 Euro/person for 1 night/2 days. The boat had only 4 cabins which was a perfect size.

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A family trip to Vietnam | A two week itinerary

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A family trip to Vietnam | A two week itinerary

Vietnam is a country that will quickly captivate you. Because of its special geography, the long and narrow S-shape, the climate in Vietnam varies from the north to the south with three distinct climatic zones. Vietnam has also an incredibly diverse landscape, ranging from pristine beaches and untouched islets to towering mountains and tropical forests housing thousands of rare wildlife species.

Many people around the world still see images of war when they think about Vietnam, even if the war has ended over 40 years ago. The Vietnamese are proud of their hard-fought independence and rather prosper in peace. The people we met were all incredibly positive and friendly and happy to give information about their country. You can be sure you will keep a firm memory of the country: eating street food in Hanoi, sailing along the incredible Halong Bay, making your own lanterns in Hoi An…those are just a few of many activities we have experienced in Vietnam.

You can read in different articles about every step of our trip from Hanoi to the Mekong Delta. Due to the length of the country and the long distances between the main cities, we decided to take in-bound flights. If you have more time to travel we recommend the train which connects Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. You will travel through some of the nicest landscapes in Vietnam and along the beautiful coastline of Vietnam.

#1  Hanoi  (3 nights)

Hanoi is chaotic and noisy, but has an unforgettable charm! When you first visit Hanoi you will be overwhelmed by the traffic and certainly need a few hours to get used to it. Start your journey by a walk through the old quarter to dive straight into the exciting city life of Hanoi.

The biggest attraction is the Old Quarter and its street life: honking scooters transporting entire families, street food stalls are all over the place where you can enjoy delicious food and many shops and lot’s of cool cafes lining up along the busy streets. This is pure Hanoi where you can walk around for hours and always discover something new.

On weekends, some roads around the Hoan Kiem Lake are closed and the lakeside promenade becomes a nice car free place, where young street dancers, local families and tourists are enjoying their free time. Do it like the locals and enjoy a peaceful walk around the lake.

We stayed 3 nights in Hanoi which gave us enough time to explore the city and adapt to the climate and time difference. If you have more time to spend in Hanoi, we recommend a visit to the Ceramic Villages Bat Trang or a day trip to the incredible hilly landscape of Tam Coc.

You can find more info about Hanoi in our article about Hanoi.

On our fourth day, we took the bus from Hanoi to Cát Bà (Departure point for Halong Bay cruises) to explore the famous Halong Bay. Most tour operators include the bus ride from Hanoi to the cruise ship. The ride takes about 3.5 hours and you’re ready to board the cruise ship at around 12 am.

#2  Halong Bay  (1 night)

A boat cruise in Halong Bay is an absolute must on your first trip to Vietnam. Almost 2,000 limestone rocks, some of them more than hundred meters high, jut out of the water. It’s an unforgettable adventure  to stay and to sleep a night on a typical wooden junk. What a great adventure to sail around the many small islands, in the middle of the bay, surrounded by water, and having no connection to the land for days.

Most of the cruise boats stay in the very crowded Halong Bay while we had the chance to discover a part of the Lan Ha Bay, lying south and east of Cát Bà Town. The islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha are just as beautiful as those of Halong Bay and have the additional attraction of numerous small white sand beaches. We recommend highly to book a trip to this still untouched part of the Bay.

You can read more about our trip to Lan Ha Bay in this dedicated article.

The cruise boats get back to Cát Bà Island around 12 am. From there you can take a taxi to the airport Hai Phong (about 1 1/2 hours drive). Hai Phong Airport offers affordable in-bound flights to the largest cities in Vietnam. We flew with Vietjet to Da Nang to reach our next destination Hoi An.  (Flight time: 1h15min | Taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An about 30min).

#3  Hoi An  (3 nights)

Hoi An has long been an insider tip in central Vietnam. Instagram and the rapid growth of the local tourisme have made this small port town a very popular tourist attraction. It makes you feel a bit like in Disneyland when you stroll through the colorful bright houses and temples in the old town. But when the sun goes down and all the lanterns illuminate the city, you will succumb to the charm of Hoi An.

The small charming village is a mix of different historical eras: You will find Chinese temples in between French colonial buildings and the emblematic Japanese pagoda bridge, built in the 16th century.

The center is car-free and packed with shops, restaurants and bars to explore. The city is constantly alive and full of activities to try out. Hoi An has a vibrant gastronomic scene with over 600 restaurant and a night market with food stalls where you can try out the local food.

Hoi An is a small city and in one full day you have seen the principal sights. But there are many places to visit outside Hoi An, which makes it worth to stay a couple of days longer. You can book a day trip to visit Marble Mountains or the My Son Sanctuary or take a bike tour through the rice fields outside the city. Our highlight was Gioan’s cooking class.

You can read our detailed article about Hoi An with many useful tips and addresses here (coming soon).

Our next stop is Dalat, a city in the southern parts of Central Vietnam. The flight from Da Nang to Dalat takes 1 1/2h. Then you can grab a taxi to the center of Dalat which takes around 60 minutes.

#4  DA LAT  (3 nights)

Surrounded by mountains, Dalat is known to be the perfect destination for nature lovers. Dalat is considered a recreational area for many Vietnamese, mainly because of the pleasant and mild climate and the unique nature of the Valley. It is located in the southern part of the central Vietnam at around 1500m above sea level.

Dalat Valley is an absolute must visit place for coffee lovers. The visit of a coffee farm was one of the highlight of our Vietnam trip. You get to learn everything about the process from tree to cup.

We invite you to read our whole Dalat article with many tips and addresses. I can only mention that Dalat is worth a stay. Dalat gets often overlooked by the fist time travelers. But it was one of our highlights and completely different compared to the other places we visited in Vietnam.

From Dalat we took a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s about 50 minutes flight time. You can find very competitive prices around 30 Euro/person.

#5  HOI CHI MINH CITY | MEKONG DELTA  (3 NIGHTS)

This is the last stop on our journey. After a quiet and restful stay in Dalat, we are catapulted back into the big city life in Ho Chi Minh (called Saigon during the French occupation). Ho Chi Minh is the driving economic force of the country. It is loud, hectic and very western oriented. For tourists, there is an incredible amount of history to admire, including many colonial buildings and many relics from the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh is also the starting point for day trips to the Mekong Delta. It’s the longest river in Southeast Asia, originates in the Himalayas and passes through China, Thailand, and Laos before entering Cambodia and heading toward the delta of southern Vietnam. It offers a breathtaking variety of flora and fauna. Tons of rice, fish, tropical fruits, vegetables, sugarcane and coconuts are produced and traded around the Mekong. You will need to stay at least one night in the area (in Can Tho) to explore the unique landscape and discover the beauty of this place.

Read more about our trip to the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh in the following detailed article (coming soon).

THE BASICS:

Check out if you need a Visa on the website of your Vietnam Embassy in your country or on the official Visa Application site . Your travel document must be valid for six months beyond the validity of the visa.

At your arrival at the International Airport you can buy a Viettel SIM card, so you can use your mobile phone during your stay. It is very useful, especially to check all the itineraries and addresses on Google Maps. We took a card for $10 which was enough for our two weeks trip.

The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (1 Euro = 26 000 Dong). You can pay in almost all restaurants and hotels with credit card. It is common that you pay a 3% credit card commission. ATMs are widely used in all cities and provinces.

GETTING AROUND:

BY AIR: The local airlines are Jetair, Vietair or Vietnam Airlines. An In-bound flight tickets is not very expensive (f.e. 29 Euro/person from Hai Phong – Da Nang) and easy to buy online.

BY TRAIN: Vietnam has one long train railway which goes from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and has various stops along the track. You can check out the details on Website of Vietnam Railway.

https://www.vietnamrailwaycorp.com

IN THE CITY: Be sure to download the Grab app on your phone! It works exactly the same as Uber, except that Uber is no longer available in Southeast Asia. Most taxis have taximeters, if not, you should discuss the price in advance. In the countryside, you can rent bikes to get around. Most of the hotels and homestays provide bicycles free of charge.

WEATHER:

The best time to visit Vietnam is spring (February to April) and autumn (August to October). The temperature are pleasant and not too hot and there is only little rainfall.

A detailed weather overview is available on this following website https://www.insider-journeys.com/blog/best-time-to-visit-vietnam

COSTS:

ACCOMMODATION: In most of the cities and touristic places in Vietnam you can find a wide range of accommodation, from the typical homestay to luxury resorts. All depends if you want to spend a more authentic or more luxury relaxed vacation. Personally, I like to try out different accommodation with a preference for the homestay which are really very nice in Vietnam. You can get a nice family room at a homestay around 40 Euros. 

FOOD: All depends if you want to try Street Food or go for one of the top rated restaurants in the city! But let’s be clear, it’s on the Street we have found the best and cheapest food. F.e. a bowl of authentic chicken Phở cost about Euro 1.50 on a sidewalk restaurant.

SOUVENIRS: You can find all kind of handmade items, from ceramics, weaved straw bags, beautiful silk fabrics. Be aware that you need to pay the price for a handmade high quality product. Unfortunately, you can find many copies of bags and garments from different luxury and outdoor brands.

SECURITY:

When traveling with children, the biggest security problem is the chaotic traffic. Often, there are no sidewalks and small children can easily be overlooked. You should be very careful and always keep the little ones by the hand.

Obviously, there are always people who want to profit in a bad way from tourists or foreigner who don’t know the country rules and habits. But if you are well informed and do not trust everyone on the street, you should not have any problems with scams and tourist traps.

We hope you will enjoy your trip to Vietnam. And don’t forget to send us your best tips and addresses.

See you soon for new adventures!

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