I was determined to experience as much of Vietnam as possible during my 1 month of travel through the country. My journey started in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, and over the course of my 4 weeks there, I slowly worked my way north to Hanoi via buses and trains.
Covering a total of 7 destinations, this was definitely one of my busiest months of travel in Southeast Asia, however, I also feel that this pace allowed me to thoroughly experience Vietnam as a whole.
For anyone planning a similar trip across the length of the country, here’s a look at how I structured my month of travel in Vietnam:
Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon
– 3 days –
Saigon is a city for foodies! When I wasn’t sightseeing, I was eating my way around town and one of the food highlights turned out to be pho. I had tried pho before and I always thought it was such a bland dish without very much flavour, but as it turns out, I just needed to eat it in Vietnam to enjoy the dish in all its glory. The combination of cilantro, chilli peppers, lime, Asian basil and bean sprouts was amazing!
In terms of sightseeing, since my time was limited, I decided to sign up for a 1 day tour of the city and I then spent the rest of the time wandering around on my own. (There are plenty of tour agencies across the city, so you won’t be short of options!)
My tour took me to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum for a sobering look at the lasting effects of the Vietnam War; the Reunification Palace, where the North Vietnamese crashed through the gates officially putting an end to the war; the Thien Hau Pagoda, which is a temple dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea; the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, which is a cathedral that was established by the French colonists; and lastly the Saigon Central Post Office, which was based on a design by Gustave Eiffel!
– 3 days –
The Mekong Delta is a region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River empties out into the ocean. The delta is made up of a vast network of streams and rivers, and the wildlife found in the region is truly astonishing. While I may have ended up on the nightmare tour of the Mekong Delta, this region of Vietnam is full of lush vegetation and natural beauty. In short, it is not to be missed!
My one tip is that you do your research when it comes to the company you’re going to be booking your tour with. I took a tour that looked great on paper – we were going to be visiting a lot of places – however, what we weren’t told is that most of our time would be spent sitting on a bus and that our stops would be extremely short.
“Uhh, you’re giving me 30 minutes to climb 400 steps, visit a temple, and come running back down those 400 steps?” This could be a problem…
– 4 days –
I wanted to squeeze in some beach time while I was in Vietnam, so a little stop in Nha Trang offered a nice seaside break. While this destination may pale in comparison to some of the lesser known islands in Southern Thailand, I thought it was a good enough spot – the waters were warm, the sand was clean, and because the beach is so spread out, sometimes I had the whole place to myself.
I will say that the town of Nha Trang doesn’t offer much in terms of culture. There are a few side trips you can take – there’s the local fishing village, the Long Son Pagoda which is home to a massive reclining Buddha, and the Po Nagar Cham Towers which were built by the Cham civilization – however, this is predominantly a beach town.
– 9 days –
I rave about Hoi An anytime people mention travel in Vietnam. This was one of those standout destinations that I’m still thinking about a year later.
Most of the historic sites in Hoi An work on a coupon system – you pay $6 and this grants you admission to a number of temples, assembly halls, and workshops. While the Old Town of Hoi An is quite small, I managed to see something new every day I was there.
If you want to get crafty and take a unique souvenir home with you, there are classes where you can learn to make lanterns and conical hats. Not only do you pick up a rather unusual skill, but it also makes your souvenir all the more special.
There were also plenty of places to visit outside of the city, like the Tra Que Herb Village, Cua Dai Beach, and An Bang Beach.
Of course, you can’t come to Hoi An and not go shopping. Despite its size, the city of Hoi An is known for the hundreds of tailor shops scattered across the city. Travellers come from far and wide to have their clothes perfectly tailored and it doesn’t cost a fortune. When it comes to picking out clothes, you can either choose a model you like in the store, or you can bring in a picture from a magazine and the tailors will recreate that look for you. I managed to walk away from my time in Hoi An with 3 new dresses!
– 3 days –
Hanoi was the one city in Vietnam that I didn’t really click with. I think it was the combination of mad traffic, incessant honking, and the fact that I’d had a very busy month of travel through the country. While I didn’t feel very inspired to go out and explore, I did manage to visit Hoan Kiem Lake in the historic centre of town, and attend a water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.
– 2 days –
I couldn’t imagine coming to Vietnam and not witnessing the natural marvel that is Halong Bay. Also known as The Bay of Descending Dragons, Halong Bay is home to some of the most fascinating topography in the world. Rocky karst formations covered in lush vegetation rise out of the waters giving the bay an other-worldly feel.
I knew a one day tour would not be enough time to soak in this magical landscape, so I signed up for a 3 day – 2 night boat tour. The next 3 days were spent sailing the harbour aboard the junk boat (that’s just the name, the boats are not junky!), and taking part in a number of activities like kayaking in the bay, visiting caves, and hiking around some of the islands.
I can’t recommend this experience enough!
When it comes to choosing a tour of Halong Bay, you’ll want to do your research. From wild party cruises where young twenty-somethings get deserted on an island ‘Castaway-style’ to high-end luxury cruises, there is something for every type of traveller and every budget.
Also, consider what time of year you’re travelling in. I went to Halong Bay in May when it was jelly-fish season! This meant no swimming or jumping off the ship unless you wanted to get seriously stung.
– 6 days –
The mountainside town of Sapa was another favourite of mine. This frontier town which is only a few kilometres away from the border with China, was a much welcomed retreat after a whole month of travel in the country. The cooler temperatures made it very pleasant to spend the days walking outdoors.
My time in Sapa was spent visiting the local markets, hiking to nearby villages like Cat Cat, and also doing a 2 day trek through the hill tribes with a local guide. The scenery we saw was truly breathtaking.
If my Vietnamese visa had not been about to expire, I would have gladly spent weeks here. I mean, just look at those mountains!
What would I change in my Vietnam travel itinerary?
- There were a few destinations that I’ve heard many travellers rave about, that I simply didn’t have enough time to visit. The sand dunes in Mui Ne and the beaches of Phu Quoc Island are the two places I wish I’d made it to.
- When it came to travelling the Mekong Delta, I wish I had chosen a more relaxed tour. The tour I took spent too much time rushing around from one destination to the next aboard a bus, when all I wanted to do was sail the Mekong.
- I really enjoyed hiking through Sapa and if I’d had more time I think I would have signed up for a longer trek through the mountains. The 2 days flew by!
- I really can’t complain about the weather in Halong Bay; while the mornings started out misty, the fog would soon clear to reveal spectacular landscapes, however, my tip for travellers is to try to avoid jelly-fish season! If you’re looking forward to a lot of water-based activities, this could put a bit of a damper on the trip.
- More train travel. My travels in Vietnam were made up of a combination of buses and trains. The buses were probably one of the most terrifying aspects of travelling in Vietnam – imagine kamikaze-style drivers who are not afraid to swerve onto oncoming traffic in order to pass vehicles. This aggressive driving style coupled with ceaseless honking and very few bathroom breaks, made the overnight bus journeys torturous. I would suggest you take the train.
Have you been to Vietnam?
What destinations would you add to this Vietnam travel itinerary?