What to know about Vietnam before you visit

Four things we loved (and didn’t) after two months of travel

Over two months, Daniela and I fell in love with Vietnam and its people. It’s a phenomenal, complicated place, filled with spectacular scenery, a rich and complex history, and no shortage of unique places to visit. I’d never spent that much time in a single country (apart from the US, of course), and that gave us plenty of opportunities to reflect on what made it such a fantastic place for us. Here are eight things anyone considering traveling to Vietnam should know before you visit this wonderful country.


Pu Luong Nature Reserve: a remote oasis amid Vietnam’s rice terraces

Pu Luong is a refreshingly secluded option for exploring Vietnam’s beautiful countryside

If you’re looking to get away from tourists and crowds in Vietnam, Pu Luong nature reserve is a perfect, low-key escape. With its lush green rice terraces and untouched natural setting, you’ll feel like you’re the only visitor around for miles. Pu Luong is more remote and much less well-known than the more famous Sapa, and therefore can make a great alternative to that tourist-heavy area. That does mean, however, that it’s a little harder to get to, and food/accommodations are more rustic. We viewed this as a plus, though, and would recommend this little enclave of Northern Vietnam to anyone looking for some quiet relaxation.


A peaceful week in Ba Be National Park

Home of Vietnam’s largest lake and blissfully remote from any major cities, it was a wonderful break from our weeks of chaotic travel.

After taking motorcycles across much of Vietnam’s northern border, Daniela and I were a bit desperate for quiet. We kept repeating the mantra: once we get to Ba Be, we can pause. On this trip we have struggled to turn our brains off. We still keep up with domestic news and politics. We respond to emails. We still do many of the things that at times overwhelmed our lives in the States. But for this week, at least, we saw a glimpse of life (mostly) away from the grid in one of the most remote places in Vietnam.


Reflections: Six Weeks into Our Life Sabbatical

It’s been about six weeks since we left the comfortable confines of DC for the exciting, exotic, and unpredictable world of our life sabbatical. In that time, we’ve traveled through much of northern Vietnam—including Hanoi, Sapa, and the Ha Giang Loop—and are now heading through the southern part of the country. We’ve eaten strange foods, most of which we’d eat again. We’ve met a number of people doing similar things (most from Europe and Australia). And Daniela and I have learned a good deal about each other and how we travel.


The Ha Giang Loop: The most stunning motorbike ride in Vietnam

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

Ha Giang, the northernmost province of Vietnam, is known for some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Southeast Asia. The “final frontier” of Vietnam is famous among travelers for its Ha Giang Loop, a several-hundred kilometer collection of winding, mountainous roads best explored by motorbike. The roads, carved high into the mountains with switchback curves and sheer drops, are both exceedingly dangerous and breathtakingly beautiful. When we heard about it, we knew we’d have to see it for ourselves.

We decided to do an extended trip that would include Ha Giang Province as well as Cao Bang, where Vietnam’s most famous waterfall is located. Here’s how we explored this area.


Three Days Trekking in Sapa

What we enjoyed most (and least) on our three-day, two-night trek in Sapa

After a week in bustling Hanoi, we decided to leave the exhaust fumes, heat, and intensity of Vietnam’s capital for the relative idyllic comforts of Sapa—a popular vacation destination for the French during their colonial rule—and home to some of the most amazing scenery Vietnam has to offer. While we found the town of Sapa a bit underwhelming, three days trekking through the surrounding countryside was a phenomenal experience with some of the most breathtaking scenery either of us had ever encountered.


7 Days Off the Beaten Path in Hanoi, Vietnam

How to travel like a local in Vietnam’s capital city

Hanoi is one of those cities where you can immediately feel the pulsing energy. When you step out into the city air, it assaults your senses. The sights, smells, sounds, and feel of the air around you come together to create a wonderful rush of excitement. After a week spent immersing ourselves in Hanoi, we think the best way to experience this city is to venture off the beaten path.

Hanoi is a city full of tourists with a thriving hostel culture, so if you wanted, you could spend a week only hanging out with Westerners and eating hamburgers and French fries the whole time. Don’t get us wrong–sometimes we definitely want our creature comforts! But for this trip, we wanted to experience local Hanoi to the greatest extent possible. Here are some ideas to help unlock the richness that Hanoi has to offer.