From Hanoi to Hoi An
A lot of backpackers who don’t have enough time in Vietnam travel straight from Hanoi and Hoi An without making stops in between. At first, I wanted to do that same thing, but then I thought: if I’m going to travel to Vietnam I might as well see one part of Vietnam ‘good’. I had no idea where to start in between Hanoi and Hoi An. Because, to be honest, mostly when you hear people talk about Vietnam they mostly talk about Hanoi and Hoi An.
Still, after some research and especially after booking a stay at the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi I got to visit the most amazing places in between Hanoi and Hoi An. Places I would have never visited or heard from otherwise. Places that made me learn a lot about the Vietnam War, the history of Vietnam, the country, the climate and the nature!
Today I wanted to share the stops that I made in between Hanoi and Hoi An for your inspiration and perhaps for your next Vietnam itinerary.
Cuc Phuong National Park
My first stop was the Cuc Phuong National Park, one of the biggest national parks of Vietnam, just a little over three hours driving distance of Hanoi. Cuc Phuong is a dense jungle where you can be lucky enough to spot a monkey or two, enter (read:climb in) a cave or get active and do a mountainbike tour or hike for a bit. You can also visit the Primate Rescue Center and the Turtle Center where lovely Vietnamese people save endangered primates and turtles that were rescued from illegal trades.
Trang An is what they call ‘Halong Bay on land’. I couldn’t agree more. Trang An is beautiful. Here you’ll find high rocks, clear water and caves. At Trang An you can take a boat tour in one of the small, traditional Vietnamese boats, that will take you through the waters and through various caves to see the beauty of this Halong Bay on land.
Phong Na National Park
Phong Na probably sounds a bit more familiar for those who have researched into Vietnam a bit more. Phong Na is the home of the biggest caves (like Paradise Cave) of the world and there for you to explore. After a recent discovery in that same national park Paradise Cave no longer is the biggest cave in the world, but still – visiting the worlds second largest cave is pretty impressive too, right?
So, how big is big? Let’s just say the Empire State Building could fit in there whenever the USA needs to get rid of it.
In this same national park you can also find the 8 Womens’ Cave. A small cave where 8 young Vietnamese war militants hid during the war. A piece of important history!
Hue is a very alive, and cool city to visit when you are on your way to Hoi An. Just like in Hoi An you can get your clothes tailor made, dine in awesome restaurants, go out or do karaoke OR you can go to the beach (I recommend the small, local Hue Beach Bar for a chill, relaxed atmosphere without too many people). Hue also is situated very strategically whenever you want to visit Phong Na, Elephant Springs, Vinh Moc, Thien Mu or the Hai Van Pass.
I loved the ambiance of Hue, even though it is a very small. Definitely visit Hue, whether for the city itself or the surroundings!
What a wonderful piece of Vietnam this is. The Elephant Springs is a small spring with clear blue water and a great atmosphere. Here you can relax, swim and lunch. We visited the Elephant Springs at the same day we rented our motorbikes to cross over the Hai Van Pass. I couldn’t have imagined a better place for lunch and a quick cool off.
If you thought Ho Chi Minh is the only place in Vietnam to explore the tunnels that were being used during the Vietnam war, you’re wrong. Vinh Moc is a village that’s completely build underground. Here you’ll find meters and meters of tunnels and here you’ll see how the people of this village lived underground for many years during the war.
At Vinh Moc you also find a small visitors center with information about the war and you can see a bunch of bombs that were dropped during the war. Very impressive.. definitely a must see!
The Tien Mu pagoda is tallest and one of the oldest pagodas of Vietnam. Not only the pagoda itself is impressive, but also the gardens surrounding it. At Thien Mu you can also pat a turtle for luck (don’t worry, it’s a statue) and see the old car from one of the most important monks of the history of Vietnam.
If you choose to only see one religious site in Vietnam it’s gotta be Thien Mu!
The Hai Van Pass
I told you before about the Hai Van Pass in one of my previous articles. The Hai Van Pass is one of the most famous roads of Vietnam and one of the most beautiful scenic routes of Vietnam. Definitely make sure you see this one. Better yet: rent a motorbike and cross over the Hai Van Pass yourself!