8 PLACES YOU CANNOT MISS WHEN IN VIETNAM
Vietnam is an essential stop on any South East Asian itinerary. Although you will be splashing out on a rather expensive VISA to enter the country, and must do this beforehand, it will be worth it’s weight in gold! From the busy roads of Hanoi, the Dragon bridge in Danang, The picturesque Hoi An, the countryside of Dalat and the bustling Ho Chi Minh – there are plenty of places to choose to spend your time.
Aside from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, most of their top locations are on the coast which is a welcome break from the rest of land locked Asia and means one thing – BEACH! Not only that it has a wonderful culture and the locals want to welcome you with a “Xin Cao” everywhere you go!
So without a further ado, here are the essential stops to include when travelling in ‘Nam.
(I travelled clockwise and so I’m going to start in the North, but if you’re travelling anticlockwise, not a problem – scroll to the bottom and make your way to the top!)
If you’re a flashpacker, you can easily fly into Vietnam’s main airports and save yourself a lot of time. If you’re on a budget, this is not the case! Travelling by bus is the most cost effective options but it does seem to take forever;
- From Laos to Hanoi – You can get the bus from Luang Prabang or Ventienne and they will take around the same time of 26 hours!! Yes, you’re reading that right a whole day spent on a bus. But, my experience was a pleasant one and I liked having the excuse to just sit and look out the window! I’m also pretty short so I fit into the seats fine but if you’re taller you may struggle a bit. You will stop in the middle for border control and will have to pay $1 stamp duty.
- From Cambodia’s Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh – It will take around 7 hours and is a much easier ride. This includes a border control stop and the $1 stamp duty too.
Despite the length of the journey, the coaches are good quality and stop regularly for breaks.
The recognised currency is Vietnamese Duong and when you go to get cash out of the ATM you will be surprised to learn that you are a millionaire! £50 is around 1,467,651.98 Duong, so you’ll definitely need a currency converter app to keep up with the amount of zero’s!
Vietnamese is a difficult language to grasp as there are so many different words for different people you speak to. For example, you wouldn’t speak to an old person, the same you would to a young person and so if you’re unsure of ages – things can get messy. There are also different tones (low, high etc.) which can transform a word to something else. Although speaking fluent Vietnamese isn’t expected, it will be appreciated that you’ve made the effort with a couple of phrases under your belt;
Xin Cao (Zin Chow) = Hello
Cam On (Gam Un) = Thank You
Lam On (Lam Un) = Please
Tam Byet (Tam Biet) = Good Bye
There are plenty of ways to make your way through Vietnam, it all depends on your budget. The country is huge and so it may take you more than a few hours to get to your destination depending on how many stops you’re planning down the coast:
- Air – You can fly from stop to stop if you choose.
- Train – There are train lines that run the whole way through Vietnam (with the exception of Hoi An). The good news is that prices are fixed and so you won’t be ripped off. The bad news is that you have to book tickets a long time in advance to get a good time/seat and go directly to the station.
- Bus – a popular way for backpackers as it’s the cheapest way through, but the prices are not fixed and so you will need to negotiate a good deal with the tour offices. For long rides such as Hanoi to Hue, you will be getting the bus at night. These are actually a really good option for solo backpackers as you have your own allotted space/bed. When I was travelling through Vietnam our schedule landed on Chinese New Year or Têt and the bus prices went up three fold so watch out when you travel over public holidays!
This is most likely the first stop you will find yourself in the North of Vietnam, unless you’re heading directly to Sapa. It is a thriving city with what seems like more scooters than people, but it is so exciting that way! You’ll see a family of five riding, or a roll of carpet and 50 egg boxes straddling the seat – there’s nothing that get’s in the way of their scooters. Here, you will play chicken on the roads and you’ll have to be quite firm about crossing – don’t hesitate, the scooters will move around you!
Hanoi has a wealth of attractions in store for visitors including a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and palace and to the famous Hoa Lo Prison. The Hoan Kiem lake, which translates to ‘The Lake of the returned sword’, is beautifully located in the centre of the city. In the middle lies the mysterious turtle tower and you can cross the Huc Bridge to the the Jade Mountain temple on Jade Island.
In the evening most locals take to the streets and you will see them lined with plastic stools, draught beer for 15 cents and BBQ’s where you can grill your own meat. It has a lively nightlife and plenty of bars including Hanoi Rocks where they provide free beer for backpackers at 6pm!
2. Ha Long Bay
Another essential stop to tick off your bucket list is a trip to Ha Long Bay. If you’re travelling from Hanoi, you can book a pick up which takes you to Ha Long City harbour and you will be on your way! I bought an organised tour or ‘party boat’ and I had such an amazing time and met so many people. You will get your own cabin and meals are provided throughout your trip. On the tour, aside from the partying, you will see some magnificent places. You will tour through caves, go kayaking and jump off the top of the boat into the sea! There are plenty of tours available so make sure you shop around.
If you prefer to go it alone or would like to save money, you can get the bus to Ha Long City and from here get the public ferry to Cat Ba Island and stay there for the night.
Hue really highlights Vietnam’s colourful past and brings some of the Indo-China heritage to life. Although mostly destroyed during World War II, what remains of the citadel is still an architectural masterpiece! You can immerse yourself in their amazing fort, stroll along the lake or get a boat ride across it and see their bridge light up at night.
Tip: If you’re on a budget and can’t afford to go in the citadel, you can still wander around outside and see their amazing gates!
Danang has an amazing beach and will be the first main stop to do have one, so make sure you check that out when you land in the city. The highlight for me was their interesting Dragon bridge which lights up at night – on the weekend, it even spits fire! It’s worth taking a stroll on their riverfront, it reminded me of Canary Wharf in London. Here, you can eat ice cream in a coconut with the locals!
5. Hoi An
Another essential stop in Vietnam and if you do nothing else, stop here! It is such a beautiful place and there is tonnes to do. Hire a bike and wander through their many alley ways and streets selling all sorts of souvenirs. Get a boat ride along their amazing river and sip coffee from the rooftop bars while basking in the sunshine. My absolute favourite thing was seeing the river light up at night with hundreds of lanterns!
This is also a popular place for tailor made shoes, dresses and suits and pretty much anything else you want made.
6. Da Lat
My absolute favourite!! I celebrated my birthday while I was here and it was definitely one to remember. As it is cooler in the Da Lat mountains and one of the only places which wasn’t affected by Agent Orange during the Vietnam war period, this is where the majority of their flowers and produce grow. Perfect for a countryside tour and this is exactly what I did. Here, you can see waterfalls, temples and try some of their famous Weasel coffee which is one of the most expensive in the world.
7. Crazy Canyoning
Although not essential by any means, Canyoning in Da Lat is something I would highly recommend if you’re an adrenaline junkie or want to face your fears. I didn’t think I would ever say this at the time (It was one of THE scariest things I’ve ever done and I almost cried) I felt so good afterwards for making it through. On the tour, you will spend the day in the canyon and abseil through waterfalls, jump off cliffs, try out natural waterslides and finish off in the washing machine!
Tip: Book through a recognised tour operator with an experienced guide!
8. Ho Chi Minh City
Ah, old Saigon. Ho Chi Minh is another city which is swarming with scooters and super busy but it’s beautiful chaos! Here, you can visit the moving War remnants museum, shop in the markets and visit Bui Ven Street for bars and food. This is also a great connection for tours to both the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta. I’m a huge fan of Apocalypse now and, for me, floating down the Mekong was surreal!
And that’s the 8 essentials that you must try to fit in your manic Vietnamese itinerary. There are tonnes of other places to visit along the way like Nah Trang, which has a super cool theme park Vin Pearl Land and Mui Ne to visit the sand dunes! Whatever locations you choose to visit in ‘Nam, it will be a wild ride and will surely create memories for a life time.
Over to you! Are there any other stops you would put on the list? Comment below!
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