My boyfriend and I recently got back from a 2 week (ish) trip to Vietnam. I thought I’d share my thoughts and our exact itinerary incase anyone is interested or wants any advice of where’s good to go!
I have condensed the trip itinerary into 2 weeks as I feel you could do this trip in this time frame, so here goes…
Day 1 and 2- Arrive in Hanoi and SIGHTSEE!
We seemed to use Hanoi as a base to be able to travel in and out from. We did however spend a night there. We found the old quarter stressful as it was our first experience of Vietnam and the lack of pavements, fast pace streets and the heat was unlike anything we have experienced before. Onto top of this we were lost with our big ruck sacks.
Once you get over these points and you are wondering around without a pack on your back, the city is fascinating to mooch around. You could easily do the sight seeing over two days;
- Hoa Lo Prison
- Hoàn Kiếm Lake
- old quarter
- coffee shops
- Temple of Literature
- Ho Chi Minh museum
After a long second day we then got a night sleeper train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa). We boarded SP1 @ 9.40pm. I was very sceptical about this part of the adventure, however I soon realised I had wasted my time worrying. It was fantastic. There are 4 soft beds to a cabin (2 sets of bunks), air con and a toilet down the corridor in the carriage. This was the means of travel and one nights accommodation for a price of 17 US dollars for both of us.
Day 3 – Sapa and the roof of Indochina
We woke up and got off the train at 5.30am….Arriving early means you have the whole day! We got a taxi/bus from the train station in Lao Cai to the town of Sapa (45 minute journey) for 50,000 VND per person. Something to keep a heads up on, it is a very windy road and the drivers, well lets just say they haven’t read their highway code recently!
Hotels and hostels are very accommodating, arriving this early we knew we wouldn’t be able to check in, however they still let us leave our bags and use their shower facilities, very helpful! We walked around the town and secured a trekking tour for the following day.
We caught a local bus (number 5 from the main square) to Fansipan mountain. We took the cable car right to the top of the mountain. This seemed to be a very popular tourist attraction for domestic tourists and note; queueing is not their strong point. Fansipan is the highest mountain in Indochina at 3,143 metres (10,312 ft). To reach “the roof of Indochina” by foot can take a 2 to 3 day hike but with little sleep and time against us the 20 minute worlds largest 3 rope cable car system had the upper hand.
Day 4 – Trekking in beautiful Sapa
We used Vietnam Nomad trails for our day trekking trip to Ta Van and Lao Chai Villages. The trek was amazing, fantastic views, you make your way around the valley, enabling you to see the rice fields and the farming up close. Something to note; it rains a lot in Sapa, the paths become mud slides. It had rained the night before we went, and some paths were still treacherous under foot. The minority people were used to the paths, were very kind and helpful in making sure you were okay including giving you a helping hand along the way.
The trek was around 11km, not too hot and was the perfect way to explore the beautiful countryside.
When speaking to other travellers the main attraction in Sapa seemed to be a couple of days trekking with a homestay. This would be a recommendation if you have more time!
That evening we then took the sleeper train from Lao Cai back to Hanoi. We took SP4 @9.10pm. Again a great way to travel without wasting any day time.
Day 5 – off to Halong Bay
We arrived in Hanoi @ 5.10am, weary and tired we managed to get a taxi to Fantasea. This was the company we had booked with for a trip around Halong Bay for the next 2 days. Luckily there offices were within a hostel, again able to use their shower at around 6.30/7am before we departed on our Halong Bay tour.
The bus ride to the Bay was 3 and a half hours (don’t be put off, it’s a must) and then we boarded our boat. Impressed and surprised with how lovely it was. We went straight to the middle of the bay and had lunch. The afternoon comprised of a trip to Dau Go Cave and kayaking. We watched the sunset over the beautifully silent islands as we ate our evening meal.
Day 6 – Halong Bay: Cat Ba island
We woke up on the boat and headed to Ti Top island for a swift stop with a small hike to a view point and a quick swim (watch out for jellyfish!). Back on the boat and pressed on to Cat Ba island. We went a shore and to Cat Ba National Park, here we trekked through the jungle, my gosh it was hot! However there is a well deserved spectacular view once you reach the top.
After our sweaty hiking experience we boarded the bus with the group and went to the hotel in Cat Ba town. TIME FOR A RELAXING AFTERNOON ON THE BEACH!
Recommendations from other travellers; hire a motobike and head to the Hospital cave whilst on Cat Ba island.
Day 7 -A day of travelling
We left Cat Ba island for our 5 hour return journey to Hanoi with a great experience behind us. Once in Hanoi we unfortunately had no real time to explore again, grabbed a coffee and headed to the airport for our internal flight to Da Nang.
It felt a little bit wasted this day but it is a must to be able to see Halong Bay and becomes 100% worth it.
Day 8 – Entered paradise in Hoi an
We arrived late due to our internal flight been delayed. 3 am we got to our hotel in Hoi an. We arranged an airport transfer through the hotel, that picked us up from the airport in Da Nang and dropped us on the doorstep in Hoi an.
We realised in the day light that morning where we had come to, beautiful, peaceful and slow moving village. The hotel was situated on a small island (vegetable village) between the beach and the town.
After the chaotic week travelling around it felt so good to slow it down and relax. We spent the morning around the pool. Then grabbed a bike and headed to the ‘Baby Mustard’ for lunch and into Hoi an town. The ancient part of Hoi an is like no where I have been before, it is pedestrianised, old quaint buildings and lanterns everywhere.
The food here is great, better quality and a wider variety. Hoi an is a must on any length trip to Vietnam!
Day 9 – A day of learning in Hoi an
We attended a cooking class at the Tra Que water wheel around the corner from our hotel. Again; a great thing to do when in Hoi an, the markets are incredible with fresh produce and great herbs. We learnt a lot that day from the vegetable village, the markets, the way of life and the old traditional methods of cooking that have been passed down the generations. We cooked 5 traditional Vietnamese dishes and had a fantastic time.
Day 10 – First and only beach day in Hoi an
We strolled to the beach from the hotel. The beach nearest was An Bang Beach, great beach clubs, all with umbrellas and sun beds. It is a stunning place, scorching hot with clear blue sea.
That evening was the Full moon lantern festival. On the 14th day of every lunar month, the old town switches off its lights and closes to motorised traffic, the old town is transformed by flickering candlelight, multi-coloured lanterns and hoards of visitors. It was a truly magical and romantic evening.
A must do; light a candle, make a wish and float the lantern down the river.
Day 11 – Travelling a bit backwards to Hue
We found out the night before (bad planning) that an internal flight from Da Nang to Nha Trang was ridiculously priced. We then did something a little backwards, rather than keep travelling south we went a couple of hours drive North. The drive was spectacular, the Hai van pass; the scenic route from Da Nang to Hue is a must. The views are amazing all the along the pass and finishing it off with a view of Long Chi Beach. Stop as many times as you can on the pass and take it all in!
Day 12 – Getting lost in the Imperial Citadel
One of the most famous and popular attractions in Hue is the Imperial City (the citadel), we spent all day there wondering around and learning about the history. you could spend longer if you want to do a tour too. The Imperial city is untouched since the war and has a strange aura about the place. It is a walled palace and fortress of the city of Hue which was once the imperial capital of Vietnam.
We then fly internally from Hue to Ho Chi Minh city, however the train would have been the next option if we had more time.
Recommendations from other travellers; take a trip to the abandoned water park!
Day 13 – Ho Chi Minh City and over coming claustrophobia
We used a highly recommended tour company called TNK tours and booked on to their day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels. 8 am pick up, a full day of history and amazing facts. We had a great guide and a group size of around 12. Try to get on a tour with low amounts of people booked on, this way you can hear the guide and don’t get left behind the other 40 odd people in your group. The tunnels themselves are very well hidden in the jungle and the guides make them known too you. I won’t give too much away but you have the option of doing a route underground through the tunnels to get a feel of what life was like. However this is impossible to comprehend, you are down there for 30 minutes, some people spent 8 years of their life in these tunnels!
Make sure you take enough spending money with you on this trip as they do a stop over at the shooting range.
On our return we visited the War Remanent Museum, adding to our day of history was the amazing exhibitions of the war photos, agent orange and the prisoner of war camps.
Day 14 – Mekong delta and time to leave.
On our second day in Ho Chi Minh City we decided to take another day tour but this time further south to the Mekong Delta. We used the same company as the day before, had an even smaller group and again a great guide. There was a 2 hour drive to the port where we took a boat to some of the islands within the delta. The canal boat ride was the highlight of the day, using traditional boats still the ladies paddled us around the canals to reach our lunch stop. In the afternoon we wondered around local gardens, visited big buddha and a pagoda on the way back into the city. Coming back to the city then meant only one thing, going to the airport for our return flight home.
Other sightseeing ideas in HCMC;
- Saigon central post office
- Independence Palace
- Saigon Zoo
- Notre Damn
- And a ridiculous amount of pagodas!
Unfortunately 2 weeks on the move this much makes the trip go rather fast… take lots of photos, speak to people, eat the food, haggle for everything, make a crazy amount of memories and have an amazing time!!
Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or would like any advice about Vietnam.