Vietnam. Besides overcrowded Thailand, wild Cambodia and exciting Indonesia some easily forgets about beautiful Vietnam. This at least happened to us when my boyfriend and I planned our South East Asia trip last year. We first didn’t think about traveling Vietnam until we realized that everyone is going to Thailand so we have chosen the path less traveled by. And it was the best decision we could have possibly made for our first backpacking experience.
For 3 weeks we traveled though beautiful, exciting, friendly Vietnam and explored every part of the country along the coast line. All in all we had 8 major stops from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Here is our entire travel rout with some travel tipps, you probably won’t find in a travel guide (at least we didn’t 🙂 ).
Vietnam Backpacking Tour
Ho Chi Minh City
Oh Ho Chi Minh City, you buzzing, crazy hell of a city. We landed in Vietnam in the early evening and straight for our hotel for a little fresh up. Then we started with our 4 days of exploring one of the two major cities of Vietnam. As every asian mega-city Ho Chi Minh isn’t much to look at but it is colorful, different and backed with friendly people. We stayed at a hotel in the backpacker district were many young people from all over the world meet up but also locals like to go there for sone cheap bear and nice Vietnamese Street Food. But be aware of pickpockets around here.
The city center is marked by the big european style town house and the square in front of it. On both sides of the square and the alleys you gonna finde nice restaurants and really good coffee places. Coffee is a big deal in Vietnam and so is the culture around it. There are coffee shops all over the city serving great robusta coffee with sweetened condensed milk. At first we didn’t liked it but soon this sweet coffee grow on us and I’m still keeping a pack of robusta coffee for days when my wanderlust kicks in.
Still this stop is one of my absolute favorites. It has been my first time standing on a sand dune at the brick of dawn. Mui Ne is a part of the communal district of Phan Thiet and is quite hard to find on a map. But it is definitely worth it. Simply take the train from Ho Chi Minh City and after about 2hours and a 30 minutes taxi drive you gonna find yourself in paradise.
We stayed at a great hotel which is pretty famous among backpackers in Vietnam. It’s the Mui Ne Hills Hotel and we had a lot of fun there. Don’t miss the 3.30 am tour to the Sand Dunes. It only costs 4$ per person and included the white and red dunes, plus a river hiking tour to sand stone canyon.
Traveling Tip: You’ll (normally) arrive at Ga Phan Thiết but as it’s a terminal station you need to get to Ga Mương Mán to travel on to Nha Trang. For more infos check out this railway travel blog – it truly saved us lots of trouble!
They call it the Beach Capital of Vietnam and there is nothing that describes Nha Trang better. Even though the city has more than 500 000 inhabitants the beach and the water is extremely clean. Enjoy your time at the mostly deserted city beach as Asians normally don’t care for sunbathing. In the evening the party get started. A true party animal shouldn’t leave out on the occasion to dance the night away in Nha Trang’s club scene.
Travel Tip: if you plan to head to Hoi An next then take a sleeper bus in the evening to arrive around 6am in beautiful Hoi An. But be sure to book it at the official booking site online or at an official booking office. There are many fake offices by SaigonTourist for example. Keep that in mind for you entire time in Vietnam!
This small city is definitely the most beautiful one I’ve seen on my Vietnam tour. Also known as Little Venice of Asia this city is a true charmer. Old buildings and carefully renovated bridges from another century. Moreover, Hoi An is the heart of Vietnamese Cuisine and there are tones of cooking schools that offer courses on how to make the best Phó in the world? and Vietnamese “Handrolls”. So if you’ve got time then check one out. We sadly didn’t – but we had time for popping by one of the few hundred tailors and had a suit made for my boyfriend. Within 12h the suit was ready to go, including 2 fittings and shipment. Quality, you ask? I haven’t seen a suit with a equally good quality in Europe in a long time – and these had been tailor-made suits too and very expensive.
Historic Hoi An is a car and motorbike free zone so it is great to stroll along the alleys. Visit the countless pagodas (some are free entry) and enjoy great coffee at the Cocobox.
Travel Tip: try Tony the Tailor – it’s a little outside of central Hoi An, offers high quality at fair prices. Also rent a bike to explore the city.
From Hoi An to Hué we had a private driver, who took us through a major typhoon. We actually wanted to go over the Hai Van Pass but it was to dangerous. In Hué we explored the city but it was always raining. Not like in Europe, where the rain eventually stops a few minutes after it started. No – it poured like hell – and at some point we didn’t care anymore if we where wet or not.
In Hué one definitely has to check out the Imperial City. Because Hué once was the capital city of Vietnam, when it was still an Empire. So another main attraction are the thombs of the different emperors. We visited Tu Duc and where amazed by the beautiful Pagodas and Thombs.
From Hué we flew to Hanoi and then took the sleeper train to Lai Cai, which is close to the Chinese Boarder. From there we took a minibus to Sa Pa and found ourselves in heavy rain. Not really equipped for a hiking tour we rented a motorbike and drove up the mountain roads and down to the valleys. This is how we escaped the bad weather and finally got a glimpse at the beautiful rice terraces that Sa Pa is so famous for.
We drove through villages of the H’mong people and many other minorities and got to know Vietnam from a whole knew perspective – the saddle of a motorbike. After a very intense day we enjoyed a delicious dinner at The Hill Station Signature Restaurant which was absolutely amazing and only uses products from their own farm near Sa Pa.
Travel Tip: A minibus ticket costs 50.000 VND (1,5€) but they want to sell it for 300.000 VND each. What’s more is that you pay at the end of the ride.
Lan Ha Bay
You don’t know Vietnam without having seen its most precious natural heritage: Ha Long Bay. Thousand of rocky islands and a breathtaking panoramic view. Picture perfect – if you use photoshop and get rid of all the people. Every day thousands of tourists pilgrimage to Ha Long Bay. We didn’t want that and were a little shocked by the prices for a one day ship cruise. As we have been traveling through Vietnam about 18 days by then we know what is a fair price and what is simply a rip-off. After careful studies we found out about Lan Ha Bay – which is actually part of Ha Long bay but because it is in another province doesn’t have the same name and isn’t part of the UNESCO natural heritage. So it’s not that famous.
But Lan Ha Bay is a national park and much more accessible than than Ha Long Bay. There is a train connection from Hanoi to Hai Phong from which one can take a water taxi to Cat Ba – the biggest island in Lan Ha Bay. In Cat Ba town we managed to book a private tour cruising through the breathtakingly beautiful bay. Our guide didn’t speak any English so we had lot’s of fun expressing ourselves. But we didn’t need many word to tell him how beautiful this part of Vietnam is. We stopped at deserted beaches and explored swimming villages – all on our own. There were no tourits at all and we really enjoyed that calming quietness in Lan Ha Bay.
So don’t be afraid to do things on your own and organize your own day trip to Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. Moreover, Lan Ha Bay looks exactly the same as famous Ha Long Bay and there are hardly any tourists.
Our last stop and a beauty in its own right. Vietnam’s capital city overwhelmed us in every which way. Too many people to many motorbikes, too little space and no sign of fresh air. But this colorful chaos had a very special charm. People are more open than in Ho Chi Minh and as the city center is much more compact it is easy to explore.
Our favorite sight has been the Temple of Literatur where we spent for a long time exploring and discussing how advanced this Vietnamese empire had been. Also the Hoan-Kiem-Lake had been beautiful to walk around and especially the old quater had a lot to offer on great coffee places and nice/fun places to enjoy a cold Bia hơi. This is a freshly brewed beer which Vietnamese like to drink in the early evening.
Travel Tip: Pop by The Hanoi Social Club for getting a glimpse at the international society living in Hanoi. It’s a very cosmopolitan restaurant by young Vietnamese offering great modern Vietnamese food.
This had been our stops in beautiful Vietnam. If you have any questions and thoughts, please let me know in the comments or write us an email for more detailed information 🙂