Three Weeks In Vietnam
Vietnam is emerging as the next big travel destination in South East Asia. Typically destinations like Bali and Phuket attract the bulk of tourists to SEA, especially those travelling from Australia and New Zealand.
Vietnam has so much to offer whether you’re travelling for the culture, food, sunshine or adventure then you’ll find all 4, and if you’re hoping to travel on a budget then look no further. Vietnam is by far one of the cheapest destinations to travel in the world! Vietnam is hot all year round and there is no real bad time to travel here, however be sure to check when the rainy season is.
Travelling to Vietnam is becoming a lot easier and cheaper with airlines increasing frequency to the main points of entry, thereby lowering prices across the board. The main points of entry and exit into Vietnam are Ho Chi Minh City to the south, Da Nang in the middle and the capital Hanoi to the north. International flights operate through these three major points, but primarily from the western world through Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
For most, a visa will be required to enter the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This can be done either on arrival at the airport or by applying through a Vietnamese embassy or consulate prior to travel. In addition to the visa you will need to obtain a pre-approval letter from the Vietnamese Government prior to being granted a visa. Click here for information on pre-approval letters.
Upon arrival in one of the three major points of entry you will need to clear customs and immigration, but prior to this you will need to have the visa in your passport. If you already have one, you can go straight through, if not, join the queue and obtain one on arrival. This will come at a cost of USD25, depending on your nationality.
If you’re looking to stay connected whilst travelling through Vietnam obtaining a SIM card is easy and hassle free, and you’ll be able to purchase one for as little as $10 at the airport. 'Mobifone' is excellent with great coverage across the whole country. The sim card will enable you to have unlimited data.
Vietnam is a long narrow country and to navigate it all you’ll need to weigh up the travel options best suited to you. Domestic flights are cheap. Airlines like Vietnamese Airlines, Vietjet Air and Jetstar Pacific are your best bets offering cheap airfares, sometimes as little as $39 one way! If you’re like me and don’t like going through airports constantly then consider taking the train. Trains in Vietnam pretty much take you to all the major cities, you can do overnight sleepers which save you money on accommodation and give you more time exploring during the day rather then wasting time at airports or travelling. Click here to check out Vietnam Railways and make bookings.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, often referred to by locals as Saigon is a bustling city not for the faint hearted, with a population of 8.4 million, the most populous city in Vietnam. A good amount of time to stay and explore this cultural wonder would be 2-3 days. There are plenty of good places to eat and party. Check out Bùi Viện Street, in District 1, popular among backpackers and tourists alike. The street features bars, restaurants, massage parlours, tour booking agents and shops. For those interested in shopping for cheap goods such as clothing, accessories, souvenirs and anything else you can think of Ben Thanh Markets will not disappoint, located at Phan Bội Châu, Bến Thành, Quận 1.
When in Hi Chi Minh, exploring the deep history of Vietnam is a must with a visit to the Cu Chi tunnels This can be done in a half day or full day depending on how long you want to spend there. Tours and a private driver can be organised through any booking agency. It takes about 1.5 hours to travel to Cu Chi from Ho Chi Minh. Many of us don't really care for museums, however I highly recommend the War Remnants Museum featuring war memorabilia and pictorials which educate those who may not know a great deal about the Vietnam war or provide a moving insight.
Nha Trang is a quarter the way up from the bottom of Vietnam, situated on the coast and is most famous for its beautiful beaches and Vinpearl Island. Relax on Nah Trang beach and treat yourself to a fresh coconut. In the afternoon or evening make your way down to the Sailing Club, situated right on the beach, for a few beers and a meal. At night the Sailing Club turns into a night club where locals and tourist all come together to party the night away.
Vinpearl Island is ideal for a family holiday with the kids or even for a day trip. Take the cable car from Nha Trang over to Vinpearl Island and take in the awesome views over Nha Trang. The island features a large resort, golf course and water park. If water parks or golf is not your thing then the Vinpearl resort is perfect for relaxation in the sun away from the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang City.
Da Lat is a cool Vietnamese town in the hills, about 6 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City. Da Lat is known for its French architecture, check of the French Quarter not far from the city centre. Da Lat boasts a laid back atmosphere often cooler then the typical tropical heat in the rest of Vietnam and is best know for its produce of fresh vegetables and flowers, as well as scenic waterfalls and grasslands. Visitors to Da Lat often get a different feel for Vietnam which has been inspired by it's French style buildings and village. At night head to the markets for some local fresh strawberries and dried fruits.
Hoi An is a laid back town about half way between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The relaxed feel is evident when strolling along the river bank alongside bars and restaurants. The best way to see Hoi An is through hiring scooters and riding around at your own pace, taking in the sights and stopping along the way, alternatively if scooters are not your thing hire some bicycles and ride around town, although it is a long ride to the beach from town. Check out Hoi An central markets for souvenirs, clothing, street food and anything else that takes your fancy, here you will grab a bargain depending how hard you barter for it. Just near the central markets is the Ancient Hoi An town, well worth a stroll where you'll find more shopping goods from handbags to shoes. Hoi An is best accessed by getting a train to Da Nang Station or flying into Da Nang International airport, from their catch a short 20 minute taxi to the city.
Nihn Binh province is located about 1.5 hours by car south of Hanoi. It is a popular province where you'll be blown away with greenery, mountains and the quiet country like feel. Most tourists and guests head into the province for a day trip from Hanoi, however there are hotels and hostels for those choosing to stay in the region longer. A day trip from Hanoi can be booked from any tour booking agent in Hanoi. A typical day trip to Ninh Binh will involve a slow river cruise on a row boat through the mountains with a local at the oars, which on a clear day is truly beautiful. Following the row boat cruise jump on some push bikes and ride along the quiet roads taking in the sites of the vast farmland, be sure to stop for a pho along the way. Most day trips to Ninh Binh will include a hot buffet lunch, traditional Vietnamese food.
Hanoi, the capital City of Vietnam is located to the north and is the second busiest Vietnamese City. The narrow and busy streets are constantly on the move and if you want to cross the road, exercise caution, accidents will happen! Hanoi, like Da Lat, has a French influence which is notable when looking at some of the buildings. Be sure to stay in the French Quarter where you will get a true feel for the busy and hectic way of life.
There are plenty of good restaurants and bars where you can relax, have a beer and watch the world rush by, or treat yourself a traditional Pho soup, Vietnam's famous dish. Sit up at a roof top bar near the main intersection by the Hoen Kiem Lake and you'll be able to get a birds eye prominent view of the organised chaos Hanoi has to offer.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay (one of the more famous sites in the country) is about a 2 hour bus ride from Hanoi and getting there can be organised and booked through the many tour operators found in the streets of Hanoi. Ha Long bay is a beautiful and peaceful location surrounded by mountains. Book a tour for 1 or 2 nights and relax whilst cruising through the bay. At night you'll sleep in your private one or two bedroom room with bathroom. If you're in the mood you can go for a cave tour and even kayak parts of the bay. For the younger ones, jumping off the top of the boat in to the water to cool down is often popular.
Take the overnight train to Sa Pa from Hanoi which takes on average about 8 hours, generally arriving in morning around 6am. From the train station take a bus up into the mountains. You'll notice that Sa Pa is very different from the rest of Vietnam and almost feels like you'e in Tibet. Because you're up in the mountains you may even feel the cold in the morning or evening. Take a walk around town and experience the different way of life here with the locals dressed in colourful hats and clothing. If you haven't pre booked a tour arrange a guide once you arrive. Once the sun comes up find a guide and start your trek through the rice paddies until you reach the villages at the bottom of the mountain for lunch. An average trek takes around 4-5 hours. Take plenty of water and wear good shoes. Once you reach the bottom you can choose to stay with locals in a traditional home stay for the night or get on the bus and head back up into the town of Sa Pa.
So as you can see Vietnam has so much to offer, and this is by no means an exhaustive list of places to go and things to do, but having traveled to Vietnam on a few occasions I can say these are the most appealing and popular. Happy travels and thanks for reading.