Travel Guide: Vietnam
Whoa, it’s been a minute.
Just about a year ago, Emily and I decided that our big trip would just have to be to Vietnam. She had never been to Asia (and the only Asian country I had been to was Singapore, which is basically “Asia light”), and we wanted a big, two-week trip to push us out of our comfort zones and help us really escape the grind that’s been life in DC.
So we did it. And oh, did Vietnam push our comfort boundaries. To start, we were a little worried about the flight situation — DC to LA is 6 hours, LA to Tokyo was 14, and then Tokyo to Ho Chi Min City was another 7 hours. So to say the least, we were trying to find all the hacks in the world to make this bearable (fwiw — this hack was a game changer for me).
And once we got over that, we started planning what two weeks in Vietnam would look like. There were only a couple of things we’d change (which I’ve noted below), but otherwise, when we weren’t dying of heat stroke — just me — or uncomfortably full from amazing food tours, we were pretty much obsessed with Vietnam.
If you’re thinking about going to Vietnam, well, stop thinking about it and book the damn tickets. It has literally everything you would want in a trip: fantastic food, friendly people, gorgeous cities and and even more beautiful countryside… and my personal favorite: it’s cheap.
And now… some photos.
Day 1 (ish):
Day 2: Explore Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We filled our days with tours from Airbnb Experiences — first a city tour for the best sites, and then a night food tour (it was so good, and way too much food, but we wouldn’t have it any other way).
Day 3: Travel to Hoi An
We learned that getting from one place to another really takes a long time in Vietnam. They do require you to get to the airport 1-2 hours early, so don’t risk rushing it.
We spent the morning exploring the city, and then headed to the airport for our flight to Da Nang. From the Da Nang airport, we hired a taxi to the Hoi An Central hotel, about 45 minutes away.
Day 4: Hoi An
We planned for 2 full days in Hoi An, based on how much we read about it — and while it was quaint and beautiful and lovely, 2 full days was probably too much. We’d recommend just one full day, as it’s a small town and you can hit everything you need to in that time.
We did a biking city tour here via Airbnb (honestly it was one of the more touristy things either of us had done in our lives, but that’s what you do there!) and fell in love with the shopping at the Night Market. The whole town of Hoi An is decorated in paper lanterns, and lights up every night in the walking-only part of town. We bought plenty of silk scarves that ended up being the hit of our Christmas gifts (approx. $6 each!)
Day 5: Hoi An
Since we had exhausted most of the things to do in Hoi An, we opted for a spa day — more on this in another post. But to just show you the value… a 90-minute massage and 90-minute facial will only set you back $50 USD. Total.
Day 6: Travel to Hue
Since the city of Hue wasn’t too far away, we opted for a taxi driver that would take us to a few sites along the way. The Mỹ sơn temple ruins were a must — and so, so incredible to walk through. We also ambled around the Marble Mountain cave temples, which would have been fantastic if it weren’t crawling with tourists. For a better experience, try seeing these first thing in the morning.
Day 7: Exploring Hue
Hue was once the capital city of the Vietnamese empire, and therefore is home to an ancient Imperial walled city, filled with history. Take the day to explore, and check out a few of the local temples by taxi.
We didn’t find a thriving cultural hub in Hue like we thought we would, but we could have just been in the wrong places. We spent our evenings at our lovely (and incredibly affordable) hotel, the Ana Mandara beach resort.
Day 8: Fly to Hanoi
Another long travel day, but well worth it. We flew out of the local airport in Hue (where it’s apparently cool to fly with an open 2-gallon jug of water) and made it to Hanoi, where we actually fell in love with Vietnam. Our hotel accommodations were alright, but the service was on point — and we ended up booking our entire adventure in Sapa through the concierge.
Per usual, we landed at night and explored some seriously cool night markets and binged on banh mi before passing out.
Day 9: Experience Hanoi
The most important part of our day in Hanoi was the food tour (obviously), so we opted for waking up early and doing a self-guided walking tour of historic Hanoi before gorging ourselves with a couple of student tour guides. After some shopping and walking, we made our way to the famous spot where Obama ate bun cha, and ended up meeting a couple of other Americans to drink with on the famous Hanoi Bia Street.
Note: Instead of doing 2 full days in Hoi An, we both wished we had opted to spend an extra day in Hanoi — and we’d recommend you do the same!
Days 11-13: Ha Long Bay Cruise
The part of the trip I most looked forward to: the glorious limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay. We booked a “luxury van” through our hotel which was surprisingly nice — imagine first class airline seats, but in a bus! It took about 2 hours to get to the Ha Long Bay port, where we boarded our junk boat cruise via Bhaya cruises.
The two-night cruise was fantastic, and we highly recommend it. It’s all inclusive, and you get to kayak all over the islands and tour a sleepy floating fishing village.
Day 13: Get to Sapa
We had a long travel day by bus to get to Sapa, where the famous rice fields were — and booked a full day trek from our hotel in town to a village homestay about 6 miles inland. While we’re glad we did the homestay, we’d recommend doing a little more research before you do — there was literally nothing to do at ours besides read, and once the fog rolls in, there’s little to see!
Day 14: Travel back to Ho Chi Min City to depart
One last long travel day: 7 hour bus ride to Hanoi, a 2 hour flight to Ho Chi Min, and then we were off on our flight path to the US.
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