“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently.” – Henry Rollins
Good morning Vietnam! Looking to get started on that backpacking adventure of yours, then I highly recommend Vietnam. Lush green landscapes, the friendliest people in Asia, yummy & healthy food – what are you waiting for?
We started this leg of our trip in Cambodia and came into Vietnam via a city called Rach Gia. Where we were the only guests in a 500+ room hotel, but we had a massive circular bed, so we forgot about the creepiness of the scenario pretty quickly. Our first real stop was in Ho Chi Minh city (or Saigon as it’s more commonly known). Over the course of 1 month we worked our way through 7 destinations ending the trip in Hanoi.
As I said, for anyone thinking of joining the world of backpacking – you HAVE to check out Vietnam, I think it’s a fantastic country to find your travelling groove in because a) it’s really cheap b)the people are really friendly & it’s relatively safe and c) it looks, smells and sounds foreign enough to feel like a challenge for us westernized folks. Here’s how we planned our trip, & jam-packed 7 stops into a month. I hope it helps 🙂
Ho Chi Minh city (5 nights)
The biggest city in Vietnam & so so different to any city I’d ever been to. Firstly, there isn’t much footpath for you to walk on because market stalls have taken them, so you have to walk on the road – which is an experience in itself. There are motorbikes & mopeds zooming past you in every direction, honking horns & screeching brakes. If you’ve ever been to Vietnam or any Southeast Asian country you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Crossing the road in Vietnam is asking for a death wish. But besides the lack of footpaths and dangerous road-crossing experiences, Ho Chi Minh is actually an exciting & bustling city full of excellent restaurants, quirky coffee shops, great shopping (they have a Topshop hello?!) & lots of other like-minded backpackers for you to hang with.
Our stay in Ho Chi Minh included a visit to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum, which gives an in-depth look at the Vietnam War. A day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which was essentially an underground city built during the Vietnam war. It was fascinating! You can even crawl through some of the tunnels (not recommended if you’re claustrophobic though). I got to shoot a real gun, which was terrifying. And lastly we popped by Saigon Central Post Office, which was built by the man who constructed the Eiffel Tower.
Mui Ne (3 nights)
A little town in the desert. A big contrast to the hustle & bustle of Ho Chi Minh city. Mui Ne is very laid-back and most of the hotels and restaurants line the town’s beach (which is very popular for kitesurfing).
We only had 3 nights here, so we packed as much as we possibly could into such a short time frame. First on the list was a day-trip to the Fairy Falls just outside of town, the scenery is outstanding and it does feel pretty magical, hence the name ‘Fairy Falls’. We also took a trip to the Red and White deserts of Mui Ne, where you can climb massive sand dunes and slide down them on your bum, or pay a little extra $$ for a quad bike and drive yourself around the desert really fast.
Dalat (3 nights)
High up in Vietnam’s central highlands lies the town of Dalat. So very different to the rest of Vietnam, to me it felt more like being in the mountains of Nepal. But it’s well worth the bumpy bus journey up, the food and people are uniquely different to other parts of Vietnam. It’s colder up here too, especially at night so make sure to pack a jumper and jeans. We didn’t 😦
We booked a one day tour of Dalat and its surrounding areas because we were limited to time. The tour included stops at Bao Dai’s Summer Palace (the former Emperors’ summer home), Crémaillère Railway Station (a wonderdul art-deco train station where you can ride a quirky little train to the next town), Dalat Flower Gardens, Datanla Falls (the waterfall ain’t much to write home about, but the luge ride is. With a lever, you are able to control your own speed completely).
Nha Trang (5 nights)
The Costa del Sol of Vietnam. A super-touristy beach resort, very popular with holidaying Russians. It’s a great place to stop and get rested before the madness of backpacking begins again. It felt very familiar and not very Asian because it’s been so westernized but nonetheless we really enjoyed our time here. There are lots of Italian & Greek restaurants to get your food fix from home but our favourite restaurant was a local one called Yen’s. It was right next to our hotel and it was some of the best Vietnamese food we’ve ever eaten.
The boyfriend just HAD to visit VinPearl Land (a massive theme park/water park which is only reachable by ferry or cable car). It was such a fun day out. He was extremely happy, if you have kids or a ‘big kid’ like I do it’s definitely worth the trip and the $$$. We also booked a snorkelling tour and even though it was a great day out, the underwater sightings are nowhere near as impressive as the Great Barrier Reef or the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize. We also paid a visit to the Thap Ba Hot Springs, which has become a quintessential Nha Trang experience. You sit in your own mud bath for about 15 minutes and then rinse off in a mineral shower. Your skin is sooo soft after!
Hoi An (4 nights)
My favourite stop in Vietnam! A UNESCO world heritage site that is both incredibly beautiful & unforgettable. If you want to get some clothes made, make sure to pay Hoi An a visit. Heaps of Tailors line the streets of this small town. We got lots of beautiful things made that are of top-notch quality & cost next-to-nothing.
We spent our days here wandering the cobble-stoned streets of the old town & eating amazing amazing food. Hoi An’s a foodie’s heaven. The ‘Banh Mi Queen’ is here – a little old lady who makes the best Vietnamese rolls in the world for £1. We spent a full day cycling the surrounding area, through rice paddies filled with water buffalo and down to the mile-long beach.
Most of the historic sites in Hoi An work on a coupon system – you pay a small fee and this gives you admission to a number of temples & other historic sites.
Hue (3 nights)
This was pretty much a stopover to break up the long journey between Hoi An and Hanoi. You will find lots of other backpackers here doing the same thing, as a result there are lots of backpacker-friendly bars. The party is definitely in Hue 🙂
We filled our days here visiting To Mieu Temple Complex (a beautiful walled complex which houses shrines to past Emperors), wandering across the city’s beautiful bridges, and shopping at the local stalls.
One thing we didn’t get to do in Hue that I now regret is DMZ or Vinh Moc Tunnels. A larger version of the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh city. It’s supposed to be a great experience (the boyfriend tells me so – he’s done it before) but it’s a couple hours travel from Hue and we were coming to the end of our trip & so so exhausted. Next time!
Hanoi (6 nights)
The capital city of Vietnam. I actually preferred Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, most people don’t. I loved the rustic feel of the city (some of the buildings here look very French) and the craziness of the traffic there (we had become pro’s at navigating the traffic in Vietnam at this stage by the way). It feels more like a big town than a city and I guess that’s why I liked it so much, being a small town girl myself. Plus, our favourite restaurant in the country is in Hanoi – Minh Thuy’s Family Restaurant. The Chef/Owner was a contestant on Masterchef Vietnam & it’s delicious & super-cheap too.
What did we get up to Hanoi? I’m glad you asked 🙂 We spent hours walking around Hoan Kiem Lake. (Fun fact: every morning at 6am a big group of locals practice Tai Chi on the shore). Went to the National Museum of Vietnamese History (pretty self-explanatory huh?!) & visited the Ho Chi Minh Masoleum Complex. (Ho Chi Minh (former President of Vietnam) is buried here & it’s considered a pilgrimage site to the local people. They come from all over Vietnam every day to pay their respects, so as a result expect long queues.) And finally we attended a Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Such fun!
Halong Bay (0 nights)
Yep, 0 nights in Halong Bay! One of the natural wonders of the world, majestic, beautiful, like something from a James Bond movie and we only got to spend a couple of hours there. We booked a 2 day 1 night cruise on a Junk Boat (yep, that’s what they’re called) and only ended up staying on the boat a couple of hours as there was a massive storm coming. Queue some very disappointed faces. But we did get to kayak in the bay, had a champagne lunch and got a quick glimpse at our would-be bedroom onboard.
When it comes to choosing a tour of Halong Bay, you’ll want to do your research. From wild party cruises where young twenty-somethings get deserted on an island ‘Castaway-style’ to high-end luxury cruises, there is something for every type of traveller and every budget.
What to bring with you:
- Lonely Planet guide ‘Southeast Asia on a shoestring’;
- A decent pair of walking shoes (crossing Vietnam’s notorious roads in flip-flops is not recommended);
- A cute shawl (in a lot of museums & temples you have to cover your shoulders so this will come in handy);
- A good book to read or playlist to listen to on those long bus journeys;
- Patience (for crossing the road & for bus journey’s that take 5 hours longer than you were told).
Thanks for reading,