During my time in South East Asia I spent two weeks exploring Vietnam. We travelled from the south to the north and had the time of our lives discovering this vibrant, varied nation. Here’s how we did it.
Saigon (2 days)
From the Bavet/Moc Bai border with Vietnam we travelled to Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon, home of the world’s busiest traffic (probably) and instantly more western than Cambodia. The Re-Unification Palace and War Remnants Museum are a must. Forget all that road safety crap you learnt at school, you just have to walk out in front of all the mopeds and hope for the best!
Accommodation – Vinh Hostel/Guesthouse (2 nights) – a nice respite from breathless Ho Chi Minh City. Perfectly adequate and well located for the markets and museums. 3*
Nha Trang (3 days)
We got a bus to Nha Trang via Mui Ne and the road into town was one of my favourite roads in the world. It was a bit touristy but the snorkelling trip we took was fantastic and chilling in sun beds after some hectic travel was a great respite – especially as we took a cramped overnight bumpy bus up the coast after!
Accommodation – Truong Giang Hotel (2 nights) – a lovely hotel with friendly, helpful staff – the best we had stayed at in Asia thus far. 4*
Overnight sleeper bus (2 nights) – designed for dwarves or those practised in the art of self-origami. No comfort but saves paying for transport and accommodation. 1*
Hoi An (3 days)
It’s hard not to marvel at the quaintness of Hoi An, a beautiful town with lanterns and skilled tailors where I bought a suit, took a photography course and celebrated Vietnam Day.
Accommodation – Sunflower Hotel (3 nights) – Very helpful and friendly. The food was gorgeous. 4*
Huế (2 days)
Huế was a pleasant surprise as we only really stopped there to break up the journey. We had a great motorbike tour around Tu Hieu Pagoda, Tu Duc Tomb and the Citadel within a Citadel within a Citadel (this video explains it!) and a great meal at Les Gardens where the waitress taught us Vietnamese and played Jenga with us!
Accommodation – Binh Duong Hotel (1 night) – Lovely hotel; helpful staff. 4*
Hanoi (2 days)
I didn’t really warm to Hanoi as it didn’t seem to have the heart of the rural towns in Vietnam nor the excitement of Saigon.
Accommodation – Bluebell Hotel (2 nights) – Lots of stairs but otherwise pretty great. The guys here were helpful wirth arranging and recommending a Halong Bay trip. 3*
Halong Bay (2 days)
We had a brilliant time in Halong Bay aboard the Luxury Imperial Cruise. We stayed on the boat the first night and in a bungalow the next night. Our bike tour of Cat Ba island in Lan Ha Bay was a highlight, as was kayaking, stargazing and exploring amongst the magnificent limestone karsts.
Accommodation – Luxury Imperial Cruise (1 night) – A nice, romantic room on a splendid vessel. The food was superb and they looked after us well, with a drink and rolled up flannel on arrival (even though I did think the latter was a spring roll!) There was more complimentary wine and free kayaking, too. You have to book the whole trip to stay here, but I’d highly recommend it. 4*
Nam Cat Island – Cat Ba Sandy Beach Resort (1 night) – The closest you’ll get to staying in Jurassic Park (well a flooded Jurassic Park). Breathtaking location, basic but adequate accommodation. 3*
Currency = Vietnamese Dong
Capital City = Hanoi
Best place = Halong Bay
Best beer = Saigon Green, Saigon Red and Hanoi
Best food = Bacon fried rice, wait for it, in a pineapple!
Travel = we spent $40 on a Sinh Tourist bus ticket (you can use the train but it’s pricier) from Saigon to Hanoi. They used to be called Sinh Cafe but changed due to so many fakers ruining the brand. Scams are common, especially in Hanoi for Halong Bay trips. There’s no tuk-tuks but bikes everywhere; all taxis are metered.
Visas = get your visa in advance! We went to the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville and it took under an hour. We could have done it through a hostel but didn’t want to lose possession of our passports for a few days so did it ourselves.