With its fascinating history, Vietnam has been on my list of destinations I want to travel to since I first started reading about it in high school.
And after experiencing it for myself in November I can now say this country has a lot to offer travellers.
From the hustle of the cities to the natural beauty of Halong Bay, to the incredible man-made temples and pagodas, to the cultural highlights and celebrated cuisine, it provided a holiday full of memorable moments, those crazy and serene. I’m so glad I chose it for my first foray into South-East Asia.
If you’re traveling to Vietnam or wanting to soon, check out my itinerary and tips below for some trip planning inspiration.
Ho Chi Minh City
Stayed 5 nights/4 days – consider this an ideal amount of time to see the city and also head on a day tour
Renamed after the Vietnam War in honour of the North Vietnamese leader, but still often called Saigon (by locals too), this is Vietnam’s largest city, and boy is it bustling. And hot…very hot!
I stayed in the backpacker district – Pham Ngy Lao – and it was incredibly convenient for walking to the city’s attractions. Tour groups also pick up from hotels in this region.
I went on one day tour through the Mekong Delta, and loved seeing the houseboats and local culture, plus on a half day tour to Cu Chi Tunnels.
The biggest draw cards in Ho Chi Minh itself in my opinion would be the War Remnants Museum, which shows the country’s war history through Vietnamese eyes, and the Reunification Palace, once the headquarters for the south Vietnamese government, but not used since tanks drove through its gates to officially end the war in 1975.
Ho Chi Minh City also boasts a mix of architecture, with plenty from the French period, and epic food.
Exploring the chaotic streets from the back seat of a scooter is an exhilarating way to get a feel for the sprawling city (many tourists don’t head to the other districts). I would highly recommend jumping on an organised foodie tour – the one I did with Xo Tours was a definite city highlight.
Stayed 2 nights/3 days – this was a great amount of time, but could have stayed another night as it is such a lovely place.
With ancient houses and temples in the Old Town and other quintessential glimpses of Vietnamese life, this picturesque riverside city is a tourist hot spot, and for good reason.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a short journey from Da Nang (where there’s an airport), it’s both easy to visit and a must-see, especially for lovers of food and fashion.
The tailors are renowned (I brought along a work dress and jacket to get copied), the lanterns strewn throughout the streets are a delight and the night market is wonderful to stroll around.
Stayed 2 nights/3 days (incl. some airport time) – could have stayed less or visited for the day instead.
Da Nang marks the halfway point between the capital in the north, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and was definitely the city with the least amount of tourists we encountered.
Marble Mountain, consisting of five craggy marble outcrops topped with pagodas, was a definite highlight and I’d highly recommend visiting.
The Museum of Cham Sculpture is also not to be missed, boasting an incredible and vast collection of artefacts from the Champa kingdom.
Bach Dang Street is also worth a walk, especially to take a snap of the Dragon Bridge.
Many other tourists seemed to enjoy the beach, but as a Queenslander spoilt with pristine beaches, it wasn’t a huge draw point. Although you can’t beat having a drink while looking over the water on a humid day!
Ha Long Bay
Stayed 2 nights/3 days – definitely recommend going for this length of time or three nights if you can
With emerald green waters, limestone islands and mystical caves, it’s easy to see why Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You definitely have to experience this beautiful part of the world by junk boat.
Cruising along, doing day visits to floating villages, kayaking and jumping into the water for a refreshing swim is so relaxing, plus it provides the opportunity to see nature’s beauty up close.
Stayed 3 days/3 nights – a great amount of time to explore the city, but stay longer if you want to go on day trips (a lot of people I chatted to were headed to Hue)
Hanoi is very compact and the city’s most interesting places for tourists are all relatively close to each other, which makes it easy to enjoy the best parts of the city on foot.
One of the focal points of Hanoi and a wonderful place to stroll around and relax is Hoan Kiem lake (lake of the restored sword).
I soaked up a lot of history while in Hanoi, visiting plenty of museums and pagodas – my favourites were Hoa Lo Prison Museum (nicknamed Hanoi Hilton), Temple of Literature, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum (it’s quite different) and surrounding complex.
The cuisine varies by region in Vietnam and no trip to Hanoi would be complete without sampling its famous food delights such as a Banh Mi sandwich and egg coffee.
- Get familiar with the local currency. Many places price in USD, rather than VND, so get familiar with the conversion rates for both.
- Always keep an eye on your belongings especially on crowded streets. It’s a good idea to become familiar with common scams before leaving too.
- On the topic of scams, when it comes to transport, make sure you become familiar with what taxis are recommended for tourists in the areas you’re visiting. Try comparing pricing to the offers your hotel will provide for private pick up – sometime private pick up was cheaper. Also, Uber has reached Vietnam!
- Bargaining is expected, so make sure you have a price you want to pay in mind.
- Crossing the road is an adventure and nobody is going to stop, so you just get used to picking your time and weaving between moving vehicles. Scooters will avoid you, so watch out the most for cars.
- Everything is very easy to arrange on the ground and you can sometimes get better deals for tours through booking via your hotel, rather than online.
- For accommodation I booked everything through Booking.com, which made things very easy.
- Have a look at flights if you have a limited amount of time. I was able to get very cheap internal flights, from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang to Hanoi.
If you’ve got any questions ahead of your own trip, please ask in the comments! Or if you’ve been to Vietnam already I’d love to hear your own highlight or favourite town/city.
Thanks for reading!
My Eclectic Muse.