Traveled by Liz:
- Budget friendly trip
- Flexible travel agenda
- Visa required
Hanoi – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). June-July 2013.
You need a visa prior to arrival to travel Vietnam. You will need to surrender your passport to a Vietnamese embassy to obtain this.
Hanoi – Sapa/Lao Cai – Halong Bay – Hanoi – Hue – Hoi Ann – Da Lat – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
This is the route that I did, but there are many other places along the ‘trail’ that could be substituted.
I took an overnight train from Nanning, China into Hanoi and started from there. Vietnam is easy to travel starting either in Hanoi or in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Everywhere I stayed in Vietnam I could book buses to the next place I wanted to go. I never needed to book anything in advance by more than a day or two. Overnight buses have reclining seats that aren’t too bad to sleep in. I never used any other form of transport, but trains are another option, with transfers from most all cities.
Hanoi is a hectic and bustling city. Vietnamese cuisine is great for people who aren’t into spicy food as most of it is quite mild. Hanoi has some of the best street food I’ve ever had. Everywhere you go there will be street vendors selling Pho (beef and noodles in broth) and various noodles. Spring rolls (clear wraps with a wide variety of fillings) are another common food in Hanoi. Sugar cane juice was another thing I was fond of. It’s super cheap (about 25cents USD) and common.
Sapa/Lao Cai was my favourite part of the north. Seriously beautiful. This was the only place that I did an overnight tour on this trip. My hostel had many to choose from, and like everything else, I booked it the day before I went. If you’re into hiking and mountains, Sapa is a must. Also, cooler climate than Hanoi, but still pleasant.
(I went back to Hanoi for one night after spending a few in Sapa and hiking through Lao Cai with a local guide.)
The only way you should see Halong Bay is on a ‘junk boat’. Not actually junk, just fun. I booked this tour literally a half hour before I left, for myself and for my travel companion at the time. There is no way to go out into the bay without a tour, and any accommodation in Hanoi will be able to help you get on to one. Do a two night boat tour! I only did one and should have done two! Halong Bay is beautiful, truly stunning.
(Again, back to Hanoi after Halong Bay. I didn’t spend the night, just hopped on an overnight bus with my travel companion because we were meeting her family in the morning.)
Hue is usually a one night stop, two at most. There is only one hostel in Hue (as of July 2013) so this one you might want to book in advance by a few days or a week if possible. We ended up staying in a little hotel for $10USD a night. I spent four days here because I was traveling with a girl I’d met who had family here. The Imperial City is very much worth seeing. It’s a lot of history, which I enjoyed, but if that’s not your thing make this a short stop or skip it and go to Hoi Ann.
*I took a motorbike from Hue to Hoi Ann. If you’re a Top Gear fan, this is the best part of the Vietnam Special and I was very pumped about it. Me and another girl hired two drivers for this so we weren’t driving the whole time and could enjoy the views. Hiring a driver and renting a bike for yourself to drive are similar cost.*
Hoi Ann is a party stop for backpackers more often than not. Super cheap nightclubs are my memories, and lack thereof, in Hoi Ann. There’s also a beautiful town area and beaches. I stayed in a hostel called the Sunflower Hotel here, which I loved. (I did not go to Na Trang, but it’s a similar stop that could be added here or substituted for Hoi Ann). Took a bus overnight from Hoi Ann to Da Lat.
Da Lat was a wonderful break from the heat. Did a motorbike tour one day that allowed me to see a lot of the countryside, but I’d suggest just renting bikes yourself. I rented my own for a couple days and drove all over the place. There’s beautiful waterfalls, mountains, etc. Just driving is an experience. There’s a neat place called Crazy House that’s worth checking out. I stayed in a hostel called Enjoy Da Lat, which was great. Pod style beds and the owner took a group of us out to dinner one night. I ate cow brain in Da Lat. Would not recommend, but it was an experience. Otherwise the food in Da Lat has a lot of French influence. Baguette sandwiches, mmm. Another overnight bus from Da Lat to Saigon.
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is wild and bustling. I only had a day and a half here and I wish I’d had a couple more. I spent my day seeing the tunnels from the war and the War Museum. This was a tour easily booked from my hostel. I also managed to get a motorbike taxi to the airport from the hostel. This isn’t advertised generally, but if you ask and your stuff can fit on a motorbike it’s half the price of a regular taxi.
I ended in Saigon, but The Mekong Delta is the next thing many people do and I’d love to revisit Vietnam to see it one day 😊
[ Pictures coming soon! ]