Are you planning a trip to Vietnam? This Travel Guide will provide you with the best places to see, the best foods to try, where to stay and how to get around in only 2 weeks.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We startet off in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). This city is famous for being the most crowded place in the entire country. Motorbikes are literally everywhere, they ride on the sidewalks if the streets are too busy (which they always are) and traffic lights are mostly ignored. This is intimidating at first, but just be brave and cross the roads without any hesitation and the bikes will find a way around you. My Boyfriend and I spend a full day in this city and it was more than enough time to experience its vibrating charm. For sightseeing: this city is full of museums. We have been to the War Museum where you are bombarded with the horrors that happened here during one of biggest wars this world has ever seen. It is important to inform yourself about at least a little of the countries history when you are visiting but beware (!): don’t get too caught up in the War Museum, it is hard to digest (you might also share a tear or two) so be prepared.
It might be better to focus on the more positive vibes of this city so let go and get on with that.
When it is your first time in Vietnam, make sure to try some typical Vietnamese (street) foods such as Pho (usually with meat). A noodle soup that is mostly eaten for breakfast or lunch. For the best Pho head on over to the Phở Quỳnh or to the Lunch Lady (but that one is only open during lunchtime). When you are ready for a small break make sure you try the ‘Egg Coffee‘ (creamy coffee where instead of milk they use egg whites – originally implemented during the war when milk was a rare good) the best egg coffee we found is in the Runam Bistro. Another very cute coffee house is The Note Coffee.
This little place is close to the beach (don’t expect too much of tit) where you can enjoy fresh coconuts, cocktails and Vietnamese beer (Bia Saigon, Bia Ha Noi, 333) at affordable prices. We took a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne (takes you 4:30 hours) and spend the night in a hotel next to the beach for only 11 bucks. In the early morning we arranged a pickup to take us on a tour to the White Sand Dunes to see the sunrise there. I never imagined that Vietnam would have a place that looks similar to the Sahara! It was a beautiful experience but we are spoiled by memories of the sunrises in Wadi Rum (Jordan) and frankly; if you have been to sandy places then this will probably not impress you very much. The White Sand Dunes where filled with tourists and the whole place smelled like gasoline because of the many quad and jeep transports that they basically force you to take. We decided to take a walk since the scenery was nice and the sand incredibly soft. I would advise you to do the same but be careful that you don’t get run over by one of those quads/jeeps. This place is beautiful for taking pictures but not as spectacular as you would expect from the magical looking place depicted in the tour brochures. Next on the tour where the Red Sand Dunes. Not as spectacular as the White Sand Dunes and the sand is actually more orange than red. Leaving the dunes behind, you should go to a picturesque place that is called the Fairy Stream. Take your shoes off and walk through the water that seeps right next to some incredible limestone cliffs. The last place on the tour is another hit for photography lovers ; the Fishing Village.
Day 3 -5:
We took another bus from Mui Ne to Nha Trang (4:30 hours) and then a night bus to Hoi An (11:00 hours), it is quite the journey to get there by land! We got told that the beaches in Nha Trang are nicer than the one in Mui Ne, but we still decided to skip Nha Trang and directly go to Hoi An. Unfortunately, the beaches in Hoi An aren’t any better (apart from the tiny well maintained strip that belonged to our luxury hotel that we ended spending just a few hours on to take pictures and relax from the long bus ride) but we wanted to have more time in the idyllic and romantic old town of Hoi An and I am happy we made that choice. The old town of Hoi An was my favourite part of all of Vietnam. It is this charming little place where the streets and the houses are decorated with lanterns and one of the few places you can still enjoy strolling through, without having to worry about the motorbikes. Yes! motorbikes and cars are not allowed to drive through the city centre. This place is so well preserved that it gives you a little glimpse into the past and what it must have been like to be there hundreds of years ago. It is a place to relax and enjoy food and drinks. I had a delicious tofu that was grilled in banana leaves at the Café 43 where you also get the cheapest beer in all of Vietnam (10cent). Right across the street is another great Vegetarian Restaurant that looks like a little bookshop and also serves great dishes. Finally, for the best coffee and delicious smoothies; go to the Coco Box and don’ forget to try their coconut iced latte. For the best view over the city you should check out the rooftop of the Faifo Coffee House. When you are staying in Hoi An you should absolutely check out the temples of Mỹ Sơn. For the most spiritual experience go as early as you can because it tends to get crowded later in the day.
We once again took took the bus, this time from Hoi An to Hue and only spend remaining evening and next morning there, which is more than enough in my opinion. Hue is the former Royal Capital and is filled with history. We walked through the Imperial City (similar but not quite as large or nice as the Forbidden City in Beijing) and had food and drinks with the locals in the Tavet Bar. Hue is full of backpacker- bars and pubs and probably a great place to meet new people. For the best coffee go to the Gecko Pub and order a iced Mocha Latte. Very close to it is also The Rustic Kitchen where you can sit on a swing while having food and drinks. The place is beautiful, but the food we had wasn’t that great so you might be better of just getting some drinks. After our morning of exploring the sights we took a domestic flight to Hanoi for just 23$ per person. (By bus you could go via Ninh Binh (11:00 hours) and then to Hanoi (2:30 hours) but beware of scam busses, we heard some stories of people being dropped of at random places just to offer hotels and taxis a chance to make some extra bucks)
The capital city of Vietnam simply has to be on your itinerary (right next to Halong Bay and Sapa). Hanoi is a city filled with vitality and is probably the best place to get to know all kinds of new and exciting people. An absolute must sees are the Train Street near the city centre and, if you are up for some more history, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Train Street is a very narrow street that actually still has a train running through it (2 times a day) that soars astonishingly close past the houses build right next to it. Locals don’t seem to be bothered by it and have their shops and restaurants right next to it. The residents of some areas can’t even sit or step outside when the train comes by, since it is just to close to their doors. The railway definitely makes for a great picture opportunity, but please don’t forget to be careful. My favourite coffee place was the Café Pho Co, a coffee house that has the creamiest egg coffee (in case you haven’t tried one yet) and a beautiful view over the city and the lake. The entrance hidden away half through a silk shop. Another great coffeehouse is the Cong Café located at the city centre, where you have a nice view from the balcony and can enjoy a iced coconut latte while watching all the people getting on with their lives. When it comes to food you should try the typical Vietnamese Banh Mi, which is a baguette filled with veggies and grilled meat. For the best Pho in Vietnam you should visit the Pho 10 on the Lý Quốc Sư road number 10.
From Hanoi you can book a trekking tour to Sapa. Sapa is a little city up in the mountains quite close to the Chinese boarder. This place persuades with its scenery alone. Here you will find the most incredible views over rice fields and explore cute little villages while walking through bamboo forests and past little streams and waterfalls. You can book home stays where you will get to try some truly typical Vietnamese foods and take trekking tours with traditionally dressed locals who will guide you to the best places. The most beautiful village was the Cat Cat Village. A village hidden between the trees in a narrow valley right next to a waterfall. Beware that the trekking can be rough, slippery and wet… so don’t forget to bring some good footwear. (best time to travel is from March – May
One limestone cliff after another rises up from the clear blue water that make its way through the bay out to the ocean. These emerald green islands and rocks are what make Halong Bay so unique and magical. Halong Bay is a protected UNESCO’s World Heritage sight and probably the most popular tourist attraction in Vietnam. You can go Kayaking, climbing, cycling and swimming. When you book a tour you usually spend one night on the boat and one on the island, visit the Monkey Island and go trekking in the National Park on Cat Ba Island. We booked a tour for three days/two nights (you can also do two days/one night) in a hostel in Hanoi for around 80$ per person. Before you book your tour make sure to shop around and ask for a detailed itinerary, there are some scam agencies trying to make a quick buck)
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