Vietnam: 2 week Itinerary
Vietnam is the most cultured country I have visited so far. I asked many backpackers where their favourite location was and those who visited Vietnam declared their love for this country, which is full of diversity. It is a chaotic city surrounded by mountains, bikes, beaches, palm trees and pines. When we arrived in Vietnam from Auckland as we were meeting my parents for my dad’s 60th. Safe to say there were tears at Hanoi airport after being away from them for months.Unable to contain my excitement, we began to explore the bustling streets of Hanoi.
While traveling in Vietnam, we trekked through rice terraces, experienced the locals making their traditional dishes, explored famous caves, looked for land mines near the Chi Chi tunnels, ate everything we set our sights on especially the Vietnamese traditional soup Pho, which was delicious. We cruised around Halong bay, one of the wonders of the world while sipping wine on our balcony and travelled the Vietnamese trains with locals. We also ended up off the beaten path in towns where no other tourists were in sight. Vietnamese people stared at us as they explained they never saw westerners before. We experienced poverty like no other which made us appreciate our trip even more.
The food, the motorbikes, the landscapes and the people made this one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a country that surprised us in every way, and we can’t wait for you to experience its flavours, sounds and warmth for yourself.
Before you travel to Vietnam
Get a Vietnam visa: This process is a bit more complicated than other countries in Southeast Asia. You need to fill out a form online before you go, the website is below. You should take a copy of the acceptance letter with you. Many young tourists didn’t read the small print on this letter and never realised they needed $25 American dollars on arrival to get their visa. Also make sure you have a passport photo or else you will end up paying ten dollars and waiting 30 minutes extra for your photo. The tourists that didn’t have the $25 dollars were really worrying about this during the process. It is better to be prepared for a smooth start to you trip. http://visa.mofa.gov.vn.
Get travel insurance: This isn’t just a smart thing to do – it’s absolutely necessary. From motorbike crashes to stories of theft, we saw quite a few accidents in Vietnam. We even met one young traveler whose friend needed to be airlifted to Bangkok after hurting himself and the local hospitals couldn’t treat his injury. Travel insurance is cheap, and although you hope you never need to use it, you’ll be more at ease knowing you’re covered in case of an emergency. Check out our guide that explains how to choose the best policy for you.
2 week Vietnam Itinerary At a Glance
Hanoi: 2 days
Halong Bay: 2 days
Nha Trang: 1 day
Huế: 1 day (or half-day)
Hoi An: 2/3 days
Da Lat: 2 days
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): 3 days
When you start your journey in the capital city of Hanoi, you may be in for a bit of culture shock. You’ll witness motorbikes flowing chaotically yet synchronously through the crammed streets. It’s a wonderful place to start. Here you will learn quickly how to cross roads in Vietnam. The best advise I got is pretend you own the road and cross confidently. I never did master this until I got to hoi an where the roads were more country like. Don’t believe in the pedestrian crossings in Vietnam because the locals don’t!
What to eat in Hanoi: Bun Cha. Do it. NOW. Originating from Hanoi, this dish consists of grilled pork patties and noodles served with lettuce, herbs and a dipping sauce. We several delicious meals of Bun Cha in Hanoi and it was too hard to choose a winner so I’m sharing our 2 favorites! One was in a small shop on the northeast corner of St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the other was at a restaurant called Bun Cha Ta at 21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân. Try them both to compare and let us know which one you liked better. Bun cha is just one of many dishes to try in Hanoi!
Where to stay in Hanoi: there are many hostels in Vietnam but I was not looking for hostels on this leg of my journey. We stayed in the Golden Sun Palace hotel. The best thing about this hotel was definitely the staff. They were so friendly and helpful, like most Vietnamese people. They booked our Halong Bay trip for us and all our transport. The cruise they booked could not be faulted. It was called the Huong Hai Sealife cruise. They made us feel like royalty, we received welcome drinks and they played music every time we entered the ship from a trip. We could see the sea from our showers and each room had a balcony which is the main reason we choose this particular cruise over the 2nd option. They also offered yoga and tai chee karate in the mornings. Every day we got a breakfast lunch and dinner buffet like I have never seen before. All the staff were delightful and so friendly, in particular Sunny, she sang ‘all of me’ for the whole cruise ship on the last night and it was fantastic. Not one person who left the cruise has a bad word to say. The food staff and cabins were 5 stars. We did pay a lot more for this in comparison to the backpacker cruise. It was 180 US dollars but worth every penny!
How to get to the city from the airport: The Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) for Hanoi is about 30 km away from the main city center and there are many ways to get there. The best option is to take the airport shuttle bus which leaves just outside of the gates. The cost is 40,000 VND ($2 USD) and takes about 40-60 minutes depending on the traffic. If you are one of the first on, you’ll have to wait a bit because they typically leave once they have a full bus. If you arrive during the day you can take the city bus number 7 that terminates at Kim Ma Bus station and number 17 that terminate at Long Bien bus station. The cost is 4,000 VND and take about one hour. The last option is to take a taxi, but they are known to overcharge traveler and typically charge $35 USD one way.
One of the most iconic destinations within Vietnam is the lush island cliffs rising from the still waters of Ha Long Bay. Choosing from the numerous boat cruises is a tough task, especially when there are a lot of scams scattered on the Internet. Make sure to look at reviews and ratings before paying for your trip. It’s a bit of a splurge, but the landscape is incredible and you can’t miss this. There’s a boat tour style for every traveler – from calm sight-seeing tours to foodie cruises to drink-til-you-drop booze cruises. I did explain above the cruise I wholly recommend and I hope you take my advice!
The high-rise, high-energy beach resort of Nha Trang enjoys a stunning setting: ringed by a necklace of hills, with a sweeping crescent beach, the city’s turquoise bay is dotted with tropical islands and is home to many Russians. Some critiques disliked that there were an overload of Russians here but we enjoyed the beach, skyline and 4 island boat trip.
The shoreline has had a huge makeover in recent years, with quiet parks and sculpture gardens spread along the impressive promenade, while the streets inland reveal quirky boutiques and a cosmopolitan array of dining options. As restaurants wind down, nightlife cranks up – central Nha Trang is a party town at heart, like any self-respecting resort should be. Most of it is aimed directly at the many Russian and Chinese tourists. Forget the curfews of the capital; visitors play late in this town.
There are more sedate activities on offer too. The beachfront has quiet, open bars. Or try an old-school spa treatment with a visit to a mud bath or explore centuries-old Cham towers still standing in the town centre. It was nice to visit Nha Trang to unwind for a day. We travelled from Hanoi to Nha Trang by train as we originally booked a bus but it was not as we expected so we went with plan B! Being on a train in Vietnam is a culture experience in itself. We took the ‘first class option’ but in Vietnam it’s more of a novelty option and we laughed so much during this adventure. Trying to get onto the bunk bed was a struggle. They are designed for the Vietnamese as they are all very petite.
The 4 island trip is a must. The islands were like paradise and the staff went all out singing happy birthday to my friend and having a disco on board. Make sure you bring food as it wasn’t very clean.
If you don’t visit Hoi An, Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.
The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here. And yet, down by the market and over on Cam Nam Island, you’ll find life has changed little. Travel a few kilometres further – you’ll find some superb bicycle, motorbike and boat trips – and some of central Vietnam’s most enticingly laid-back scenery and beaches are within easy reach.
Where to stay: when we were in Hoi An our hotel was like a Santorini place and it just so happened to be called Hoi An Garden Palace and Spa. This is the sister hotel to the one we stayed in when we were in Hanoi. It cost £35 a night or 10.7 million Vietnamese dong. There is a free shuttle service to the main part of Hoi An or you can walk it in 20 minutes!
Tailor in Hoi An: The tailor I used in Hoi An was called Yaly Couture. They were absolutely brilliant and seen as I am a semi shopaholic (while I’m at home), this experience was a highlight while in Vietnam. I returned from Vietnam four months ago and I still email them to make me clothes as they have all my details. Other tailor shops in Vietnam will not allow you to contact them online and custom make something without being in the shop. I know this as I enquired with many tailors (Kimmy, being one) about this service before purchasing a coat and a dress. http://www.yalycouture.com/ Is the website. Visit them with a style in mind and then they will show you all the fabrics available. In Hoi An you can get clothes made cheap but as many people said in forums ‘you get what you pay for’. My coat was 90 US dollars but the fit and fabric is impeccable and I know I got value for money.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We stayed here for 2 days and our top excursion was to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels which made for an eye-opening afternoon. Used by the Vietnamese during the war with America, these extraordinary underground tunnels granted whole villages to stay safe. Our tour guide explained that when the American army dogs were sniffing for Vietnamese they could never be found because the Vietnamese army left American scented (clothing) at the top of each tunnel. They were highly intelligent and considered every aspect of possibly being caught. The Vietnamese people even made shoes so that they would not leave footprints.
Visitors can crawl their way through a 100m stretch of tunnel and watch their tour guide demonstrate with ghoulish pleasure the ingenious traps the Vietnamese used to kill or maim US soldiers. Costing from $20 for a half-day tour (8am-2pm or 1-7pm), this trip includes return transfers plus entry to the tunnels. If you look at my Instagram page there is an amusing video which shows me attempting to enter the Chi Chi tunnel.
While you are in Saigon, a prerequisite is to visit the war museum which provides a wealth of information about the history of Saigon and the war.
Where to stay: We stayed in the Alagon Hotel and Spait was reasonably priced and you could have breakfast and afternoon tea included in the price of the hotel.
Drinking Mai Tai in the pool as the sun goes down.