Vietnam is a diverse country; you can spend a quiet morning drifting down the Mekong or an evening watching Hanoi’s horn-honking rush-hour traffic from a Bia Hoi corner. It is a country with a long history, but still recovering from it’s recent struggles with Japan and the United States. There are chances for you to see a little bit of everything, from it’s Emperor’s Forbidden city in Hue, to getting clothes tailored in the ancient trading hub of Hoi An, to indigenous hill tribes of Sapa and the gorgeous topography of Halong Bay and Da Lat. While seeing these things you can enjoy the delicious foods from street-side stalls and end your day with ridiculously cheap beer. Combining the contrasts of a diverse country with plenty to see, great foods to eat, and comfortable accommodations with the light-on-the-wallet costs makes Vietnam a country that should be on every travelers itinerary.
DON’T MISS: Halong Bay
MUST SEE: Sapa, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. See the Vietnam Top 10.
MUST TASTE: Pho (noodle soup), bun bo nam bo (savory beef noodle dish), bia hoi (beer, $0.25 a cup). See this for more information on the delicious food of Vietnam.
TRIP PLANNING: The major sights can be seen in two weeks by flying into Hanoi and taking tours from there to Sapa, Halong Bay and Hoi An. If you want to see the whole country, plan for 30 days, traveling by an “open tour” bus ticket. This will allow you to travel between HCMC and Hanoi (or vice versa), stopping at all the major cities for as long as you like, for less than $50.
GETTING AROUND: “Open Tour” bus ticket (see above). In cities be wary of taxis, some have fake meters that will charge obscene rates, ask your hotel how much a taxi should cost and negotiate with drivers to pay a fixed price.
OUR COST PER DAY (2 ppl): $42.80
COST OF A BEER: $0.10-1.50 USD at convenience stores and street vendors. $0.10 a glass at a Bia Hoi in Hanoi.
KEY MONEY-SAVING TIP: Eat at street vendors. The food is substantially cheaper than restaurants and is what the locals eat.
YOU NEED TO KNOW: A visa for Vietnam must be obtained prior to entering the country. If you are flying in it is easy to apply for a “visa on arrival” via myvietnamvisa.com. Otherwise you will need to visit a Vietnam embassy. The process is quick and easy with the fastest visas issued in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW: We wouldn’t try to do tours ourselves. We thought going to the Mekong Delta from HCMC would be cheaper than a tour, it isn’t. This is the same for other major trips such as Sapa and Halong Bay, the tours are generally cheaper in Vietnam than going there yourself and trying to do it, so save yourself the trouble.
HELPFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE: Travelfish, Wikitravel. Please send us any sites you found useful and we’ll add them!
WE WERE THERE FOR: 5 weeks
OUR HIGHLIGHT: Bac Ha Market, near Sapa, an incredible indigenous market.
WHERE WE WENT: We traveled from Can Tho in the Mekong Delta (far south), through HCMC for New Years to Da Lat, Mui Ne, Nah Trang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay.
WE REGRET MISSING: Da Lat Easy Riders motorcycle tours.
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Ho Chi Minh City, more commonly known to Americans as Saigon due to the Vietnam War was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1975. In 1976, Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Hồ Chí Minh City. The city of 9 million people is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 37 miles from the South China Sea and 1,094 miles south of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is also the economic capital of Vietnam accounting for more than 20% of the country's GDP. We were impressed with the city considering just 35 years ago it was the center of a war-torn country.
The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: đồng bằng sông Cửu Long “Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of tributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam where life revolves around the water.
Mui Ne is a coastal resort town in the Binh Thuan Province of southeastern Vietnam, located on an arm of the South China Sea. Strong sea breezes make it very popular for kite surfing and windsurfing. The tourist season is from December to May and attracts many Russians, so much so many signs and menus are in Russian. The average temperature is 27°C, and the climate is hot and dry for most of the year.
Located on an arm of the South China Sea, Phan Thiết is one of Vietnam's most important fishing areas. Its population is roughly 205,333 (as of 2004). Located on an arm of the South China Sea, Phan Thiết is one of Vietnam's most important fishing areas. Its population is roughly 205,333 (as of 2004). During the Vietnam War, Phan Thiết was the site of the U.S. military base known as Landing Zone Betty, which was located at the now closed airfield southwest of the city. In recent years, Phan Thiết, the former kingdom of Champa, has been transformed into a resort destination.
Da Lat is the capital of Lâm Đồng Province in Vietnam. The city is located 4,900 feet above sea level on the Langbiang Plateau in the southern part of the Central Highlands. The gorgeous backdrop of Da Lat featuring hills and valleys was where much of the Vietnam War was fought. The entire region was sprayed with Agent Orange and so all of the growth is fairly new along with the coffee plantations. The climate is much cooler than the otherwise tropical temperatures of Vietnam, which we appreciated.
Hoi An had one of Asia's largest ports in the first century AD, leaving behind a stunning historical city built over centuries by different cultures. The "Old Town" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Modern day Hoi An is known for tailors and attracts tourists around the world to the hundreds of tailors in the city able to custom make any garment or a pair of shoes.
Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyễn Dynasty 1802 and 1945. Many of the historic monuments, temples, and buildings remain from this period, the most important being the Imperial City, modeled after China's forbidden city. Hue currently has 340,000 residents in and around the historical, walled, city.
Ha Long Bay (literally: "Descending Dragon Bay") has an area of around 1,553 km2, including 1,960 islets, most of which are limestone. Legend has it that the isles were formed by dragons protecting the natives from Chinese invaders. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most visited places in Vietnam.
Sapa is a small town and capital of Sa Pa District in the Lào Cai province in northwest Vietnam. It is one of the main market towns in the area, where many ethnic minority groups such as H'mong, Dao and Tay live. The Hoang Lien Son range of mountains dominates the district, which is at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. The small villages are all made up of rice farmers and the rice paddies when in view are stunning.