In this guide, we put together how we traveled from south to north Vietnam, and what you can do to maximise your time in the country of exquisite coffee and green backdrops.
First Stop: Ho Chi Minh City, AKA Saigon
We made it to HCMC through Cambodia – Vietnam border. Entering via land meant waiting after groups of tourists at the border, but in the end it was a pretty smooth process. We spent 4 nights in total in Saigon.
- Bui Vien – famous street for night clubs
- Cu Chi tunnels
- War remnants museum
- Mekong Delta
Transport in HCMC, Vietnam
We didn’t need a motor bike to go round HCMC. Our Airbnb was very conveniently placed, pretty much in the centre of it all. Our main mode of transport was the bus. The routes for the buses can be conveniently viewed by downloading the app called BusMap – XeBuyt thanh pho.
Data in Vietnam (in general)
We bought a Vietnamese sim card from a local service provider store in HCMC. Vietnamobile was our data provider, and we paid around €3 for a month’s worth of data. Everywhere we went we had reception and it was one of the best deals we got.
Second Stop: Da Nang
A flight from HCMC took us to our next destination, Da Nang. From the airport, we got a Grab and headed to the main public bus station in Da Nang, to catch the next bus to Hoi An. This is step by step how to do it:
- Insert this address in Google maps:
đd 84 Hùng Vương, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng 550000, Vietnam
- The point on the map should be ‘Vietnam Post’. This is because the bus station is very close to the post office. This is also the same address we inputted for Grab.
- Take bus number 1 to Hoi An.
- The bus should cost 25,000 Dong, equivalent to 1 dollar.
- We stopped at the last stop, in Hoi An’s bus terminus.
Top Tip 1: When we were there we asked locals regarding the bus. “Good bus terminus for Hoi An?” Most of them responded that we should get a taxi, because there is no bus for Hoi An. Sam was convinced that we should wait for the next bus. A very nice local man tried to tell us (through broken English and sign language) that we should go to the next bus stop. We were determined, and stayed on the same bus stop. Sure enough, after around 10 minutes the bus picked us up from our location.
Top Tip 2: Get the money ready, and present the exact amount to the conductor. You won’t need to ask “How much?” and they won’t try to cheat you. If they ask for more money, say that you know the price and won’t pay more.
In Hoi An, we spent a total of 2 nights. Visit:
- Old town
- Open market on the street (lantern market is awesome at night)
- Hai Van Pass
- Bahn Mi Phuong (baguette place with amaaaazing bahn mi)
We didn’t rent a motor bike to go round Hoi An, because we found a central accommodation close by the local market. However, we did rent a motor bike for one day to ride the Hai Van Pass. It was well worth it!
Top Tip: On the way back to Hoi An from the Hai Van pass, we took a detour to visit the Marble mountains, and the dragon bridge in Da Nang.
Third Stop: Hue
From Hoi An we booked a Sinh Tourist bus to Hue. The service was okay, and the bus journey was smooth.
Top Tip: When I was trying to book the journey online, I couldn’t see a map of the bus to choose the seats I wanted to. Because of this we decided to drop by their office in Hoi An, and book the seats there. In this case, this was the best way to do it (and also a bit cheaper). We travelled a bit slower in Hue, and spent four nights here.
- Old imperial city
- Abandoned water park
- Thien Mu Pagoda
- Khai Ding tomb
- Literature temple
In Hue we rented a motor bike and visited all the attractions with it. Motor bike rental is normally between 1,000 to 1,500 Vietnamese Dong.
Fourth Stop: Phong Nha
We got a train taking us from Hue’s railway station, to Phong Nha’s. The closest city to Phong Nha is Dong Hoi. We recommend staying in Phong Nha, because the village is situated adjacent to its natural park – Ke Bang. Ke Bang is the reason why you want to visit this area. We spent two nights here.
- Phong Nha cave
- Dark cave
Motor bike rental was essential this time, because the area is huge. We drove to Phong Nha cave, and to the entrance of dark cave. It was exhilarating driving amongst boulders and forests.
Fifth Stop: Ninh Binh
This was the longest journey we did in Vietnam. We took a 10 hour night sleeper train from Phong Nha railway, to Ninh Binh’s railway. We booked two days before, and all the hard beds (cheapest option) were taken. We opted for two soft beds on the 00:50 train, arriving in Ninh Binh at 09:30 the next morning. The journey was smooth, and the cabin was clean.
- Boat ride in Trang An (known as Ha Long bay on land) – picture below.
- Bich Dong pagoda
- Thung Nham bird park
- Tam Coc village (and boat tour)
- Hang Mua temple
We rented a bike to visit the attractions around Ninh Binh.
Sixth Stop: Hanoi
We went from Ninh Binh to Hanoi with a train ride. The train leaves from Ninh Binh to Hanoi on these times, daily –
- @09:24am – 11:45
- @13:12am – 15:30
- @16:51 – 19:12
What to visit in Hanoi:
- Old quarter
- Narrow train road in old quarter
- Temple of literature
- Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc square
Conclusion – Vietnam
We definitely recommend a visit to Vietnam to anyone. Vietnam is travel-friendly, and is a great start to travellers visiting Asia for the first time. Due to the large amount of tourists, Vietnam feels quite westernised, and I dare say that because of this, it is also family-friendly. Vietnam offers stellar views and awesome greenery and hiking opportunities. It’s a great hub for adventures, but also for retreats and relaxing holidays.
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