Vietnam in 3 Weeks: Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hue – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Da Lat – Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam was one of the places I most excited about visiting during our trip. I’d heard such good things about the country and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. From the craziness of Ho Chi Minh city to the lantern lit streets of Hoi An to the beautiful scenery of Da Lat, Vietnam has something for everyone and with each city contrasting from the last, it’s a place where you can never get bored. We started our 3 week Vietnamese adventure in Hanoi where we began to work our way down from North to South.
As well as being a base for a trip to the famous Halong Bay, Hanoi is definitely worth investing a few days of your time. The city has so much to offer with it’s history, lively streets, markets and amazing cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s a crazy place. There appears to be more motorbikes here than actual people and crossing the road will probably be your hardest task of the day whilst hearing the beep of horns will be a sound that haunts you whilst you try to sleep. The traffic here can only be described as organised chaos. It’s absolute madness but fun to watch. When you pluck up enough courage to cross the roads, do not hesitate, walk across with confidence and you’ll make it the other side alive! Whilst you’re in Hanoi, be sure to take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, wander the narrow busy streets of the Old Quarter and stumble across the Hanoi Train Street, learn about the sad Vietnamese history at Hoa Lo Prison, visit the final resting place of the leader Ho Chi Minh at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and study one of Hanoi’s oldest monuments and first national university, The Temple of Literature. If you happen to be in Hanoi on a Saturday or Sunday too, the Weekend Night Market is a must for some serious shopping. At night, the only place to be is the plastic stool lined streets of the old quarter. Yep it’s touristy and full of backpackers but take a seat, listen to the music from the bars, sip a ridiculously cheap beer or seven and watch as the streets get busier by the second. When the police turn up, the locals run around gathering all the plastic stools on the street inside until the police have left! The food is also good on these streets and they have little outdoor BBQ’s and hot pots where you can cook your food yourself.
You HAVE to try egg coffee whilst you’re in Hanoi and the best place for it is Giang Cafe. A friend recommended it to me so I made sure we stopped by. I’d never even heard of egg coffee before but it’s absolutely delicious! Also, The Note Coffee is by far the best coffee shop I’ve ever been to. It’s a cafe with walls covered in post-it notes scribbled with messages from people all over the world who have made a visit to the cute little haven. You could literally spend hours just sitting there reading all the inspiring and often funny notes people have left. As well as a lovely atmosphere to spend an hour or two, the drinks are also amazing – you will not regret ordering the cookie frappuccino.
No visit to Vietnam is complete without a trip to Halong Bay. As one of Vietnam’s main attractions, Halong Bay may make a dent in your wallet but I promise you it’s worth every single penny. The hardest part about the trip will without a doubt be which cruise to go with. There are so many options and if you’re as indecisive as me then be prepared to spend a long time weighing up the pros and cons of each one. We were torn between doing a party boat or a more relaxing one but we eventually opted for the latter in the hope to really appreciate the beauty of Halong Bay and not be throwing up on the side of the boat! We booked our cruise through our hostel in Hanoi which was Luxury Backpackers. The staff there were amazing and so helpful. After looking at a few brochures and seeing reviews, we chose to go with A Class Cruises on their 4 star Stellar cruise. The price at approximately £115 wasn’t too much different to their 2 star cruise yet it sounded a million times better so we treated ourselves despite not being able to eat for the week following! Would I recommend doing your Halong Bay trip with A Class Cruises? 100%. If you’re after a totally chilled experience, to thoroughly enjoy the beauty of the bay, indulge in delicious food and stay in a lovely room with incredible views, this is absolutely ideal. If you have any questions about this cruise or want anymore information about it then just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be more than happy to help!
After spending 13 hours on a night train from Hanoi, our time in Hue was mainly spent feeling exhausted and wanting to catch up on sleep. However, despite our tiredness and the fact it literally did NOT stop raining for the whole 2 days we spent here, we powered through and tried to make the most of it. Hue is a great place for history lovers with the Imperial City being one of it’s biggest attractions and a place you can while away hours learning about the Vietnamese history. At night the Truong Tien bridge lights up in different colours making a pretty photograph and although the nightlife here isn’t crazy, head to Brown Eyes bar if you’re after a late one as it’s the one bar that apparently stays open until ‘the last man is standing’. Oh and the drinks are very cheap too. Food wise, we had one of the best meals in the whole of Vietnam in Hue at Hanh restaurant. If you’re looking for traditional Vietnamese food then you have to go here. It’s 120,000 Vietnamese dong for a set course meal which includes several different delicious Vietnamese dishes. For Western food, Nook Cafe is also a must. We loved Nook Cafe so much we actually went twice both for breakfast and lunch! Accommodation wise, Poetic Hue is the nicest and most modern hostel I’ve ever stayed in. If you’re looking for a luxury at a very cheap price then stay here.
Hoi An was hands down my favourite place in the whole of Vietnam. It’s beautiful and has taken up the majority of my iphone storage as I just couldn’t stop snapping at every opportunity and trust me there are many photo opportunities here! The streets are lined with lanterns, the cafes and restaurants look so inviting with their wooden exteriors and the Japanese bridge which lights up at night over the lantern filled river makes the place look magical.
We spent 5 nights in Hoi An and I could easily have spent more there. As well as having the prettiest town, An Bang Beach, a short ride from the centre is a lovely sandy beach lined with a few restaurants too. Hoi An is also known for it’s tailors. If you’ve always dreamed of having a particular outfit or a suit made for you, this is your place. There are tailors everywhere so make sure you do your research to find a good one. It’s not cheap as in super cheap but it’s very cheap compared to how much this service would cost you in England. If you don’t want to get anything tailor made however, Hoi An also has many shops selling pretty clothing too – I managed to spend a lot of time in these! Food wise, if you’re wanting cheap street food, head for the street food market hall. We ate in one of the first stalls on the right and it was delicious! Always look for the most popular ones. Cargo Club was delicious for a Western style breakfast and Morning Glory did incredible Vietnamese food – it’s not cheap but for a treat it’s totally worth it. For the best rice you’ve ever tasted, head to Bamboo Chicken restaurant and order their sizzling rice. As you can tell, the food options are very good in Hoi An! If you’re after a very sociable hostel vibe, Sunflower Hotel is ideal. The bar area is lively at night with everyone playing beer pong and pool and it has a swimming pool too. I would go back to Hoi An in a heartbeat!
A place primarily known for it’s beaches, Nha Trang was a bit hit and miss for us. It didn’t get off to the best of starts after our sleeper bus dropped us in the middle of the city at 4am. Tiredness, pitch blackness and not knowing where or how to get to our hostel led us to being conned by someone who claimed he worked for our hostel when in reality he was about to charge us an arm and a leg for a journey that should have cost us a few pennies. You live and learn from your mistakes ey but watch out for scammers and don’t trust anyone! Another slight downside to our time in Nha Trang was that the weather also wasn’t the greatest and when there’s not much to do other than lay on a beach, it’s not ideal. If you have good weather however, there’s a long wide strip of golden sand filled with plenty of sun loungers along with a few fancy looking bars and restaurants along the front, most notably The Sailing Club which is great for a drink or two. The sea was very rough whilst we were in Nha Trang so it wasn’t the best place for a swim.
Said to have more Russians than in Russia, Nha Trang also didn’t quite feel like traditional Vietnam. With Russian menus and Russian signs, you could sit in one of the cafes here and question which country you were in! However, we did have some amazing food here. That being said, none of it was Vietnamese but if you fancy a break from the traditional cuisine, you literally have to go to Pita Gr for the best Greek food we’d tried outside of Greece. For Italian food, Good Morning Vietnam is an absolute MUST for pizzas. It was that good we went back twice…Oh and if you fancy a massage, the full body one at Phong Lan Spa was the most relaxing experience and the perfect way to shelter from the rain. Nha Trang is a good stop to break up your journey to Southern Vietnam but I personally wouldn’t recommend spending more than a couple of nights here unless you’ve got good weather and are happy to laze on a beach all day long.
Sitting up in the mountains in Southern Vietnam, the beautiful city of Da Lat felt far from touristy compared to the other places we’d visited in Vietnam. We had ummed and ahhed about whether to visit Sapa or Da Lat as they sounded quite similar but seeing as Da Lat was more on our route, we opted for the latter. It’s about a 4 hour bus journey high up from Nha Trang which although meant the temperature significantly dropped and my hoodie got it’s first official outing of the trip, it also meant picture worthy scenery was a given.
Da Lat is known for it’s canyoning and outdoor activities and the perfect place for thrill-seekers. If that kind of thing doesn’t float your boat though, be sure to visit one of Da Lat’s many interesting Pagoda’s, most notably Linh Phuoc and Thien Vien Truc Lam, take a stroll around the Valley of Love, Da Lat’s most instagrammable place set in beautiful surroundings, get lost in the night market whilst browsing the various clothing, souvenirs and foods on offer and have a drink at 100 Roofs Cafe (also known as Maze Bar) for a quirky night. Order a drink and get lost climbing up and down stairs in the darkness and trying to find your way outside to the rooftop for amazing views of the city. For a good Western breakfast, head to One More Cafe and if you’re a fan of Indian food, the Vietnamese chain Ganesh was very nice and that’s coming from someone who isn’t that keen on Indian food!
Ho Chi Minh City
Another crazy Vietnamese city full of life, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as the locals still know it, is so much fun. Walking up and down Bui Vien Walking Street at night is a sight in itself as the streets fill up with people, the music gets louder and bar workers compete with each other to get you into their bars. We were there at Halloween and I’ve never been somewhere as busy as this. There were times when you couldn’t even move your body let alone walk down the street! Halloween is big in Vietnam with everyone dressing up in crazy costumes and if you’re lucky enough to visit around this time of year, it’s a cool experience! We even witnessed a group of people walking a real live ostrich down the street…
As well as getting drunk in one of the many bars though, Ho Chi Minh also has history too. The War Museum to learn about the Vietnamese War is an interesting stop to educate us on what happened so recently and a day trip to the Chu Chi tunnels is also a must. Though do not enter the tunnels if you are claustrophobic in any way, trust me!
After a bit of culture, treat yourself to some shopping. Whether it’s designer or just a browse in H&M or Zara, Ho Chi Minh has it all. For something a bit cheaper though, head to Ben Thanh market for knock of goods and make sure you barter! I got a pair of Raybans down from 600,000 Vietnamese Dong to 150,000. If they don’t accept the price you’re willing to pay then walk away as more often than not they’ll call you back and accept it. Food wise, Royal Saigon Restaurant Bui Vien is amazing for traditional Vietnamese food. Get the Welcome to Vietnam sharing platter to start (the quail eggs are incredible!) and the rice and chicken served in bamboo is delicious for a main.
For more traditional Vietnamese, try the beef pho at street food stall Quinn located just off the main walking street. It was recommended to us by the owner of our hostel. It’s cheap and delicious! For Western food, Journeys Sandwich Cafe is perfect for lunch for incredible sandwiches and amazing large salads although slightly pricey. For a cheap place to stay in the perfect location in Ho Chi Minh, Vy Khanh Guesthouse is ideal and the staff are incredible!
Vietnam is one of the best places I’ve ever visited and if you get the opportunity, I’d highly recommend going. The Vietnamese people are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met, the food is so fresh and delicious, it’s a cheap country and perfect for a traveller’s budget and the places are beautiful and will stay in your mind long after you’ve left.