Vietnam - North to South (3.5 week itinerary)
Here is how our trip panned out:
10 September - Arrive in Hanoi
11 September - 13 September - Ha Long Bay (Bai Tu Long)
14 September - 17 September - Sapa (overnight train from Hanoi)
18 September - 19 September - Hanoi
20 September - 21 September - Da Nang
22 September - 24 September - Hue
25 September - 27 September - Hoi An (and My Son)
28 September - 29 September - Nha Trang
30 September - 3 October - Dalat
4 October - Fly back to Seoul from Saigon
It was with some trepidation that we decided on Vietnam for a destination for an extended period of travel. Everything I had heard had either frightened the living daylights out of me or piqued my interest.I had been told that from the moment I stepped of the plane I should be on my guard as people we try to swindle me out of my money or failing that just rob me.
Even up until the moment I stepped off the plane I was still nervous about the stories I had heard, but I needn't have been for now having finished my journey through the wonderful country I know the people are some of the friendliest about. Of course there will always be a scammy taxi driver or a stall owner that will try and extract a higher price from you, but the general people were nothing short of wonderful, generous and extraordinarily friendly.
Not to mention the scenery. Being fortunate enough to be born into one of the world's most picturesque places, I have often felt spoilt in the vista department. Vietnam really blew me away with its varied landscapes; from its famous limestone karsts, beautiful ocean, rolling hills and everything in between it really is one of the most stunning countries I have seen. I recall sitting on the junk on Bai Tu Long Bay and thinking, this is the most amazing thing my eyes have ever seen. And it still holds true.
We decided to go from North to the South of the country as most of locations we really wanted to see were situated in the North. We began in Hanoi and, after one night, went straight out onto Ha Long Bay for 2 nights. It was a great way to start the trip, as our job has been rather busy of late.
The night we finished our cruise we were conveyed directly to the train station for our overnight train to Sapa. It all sounded like good fun, in reality I slept very little and sweated a great deal. I am not sure what the bed in the soft sleepers are made of but it felt like plastic. I wouldn’t say that I ‘slept’ during the journey it was more like napping as I was woken up every time the train stopped, which felt like every 20 minutes. Still it was an experience I am glad to have had.
Once we arrived in Sapa we stayed at Go Sapa Hostel, just up the hill from the main part of the city and far away from the noise and dust of ongoing construction. We hiked for 2 days and 1 night with Sapa sisters and our guide Ker. She shared lots of information about her culture, Black Hmong, and about the region. It was a great workout - do try and do the difficult path if you are physically active it pays off to test yourself!
I really enjoyed hiking through Sapa and learning about life in the mountains. It is a hard life and there are some things that people may find hard to understand such as the practice of eating dog meat. While we were hiking we encountered a farm. As we walked through we saw a group of little piglets huddled together snoozing in the sun and between them were little puppies doing the same.
It’s a necessity of life in Sapa, which unlike more wealthy cities in Vietnam, do not come with the luxuries of picky eating.
After another overnight train from Sapa we spent a few days in Hanoi exploring the city. I would recommend; Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature, and Hanoi prison. They were all informative, beautiful, and mercifully offered shade from the unbearably hot sun.
From Hanoi we flew to Danang, originally it was only going to be a fly in point for Hue and Hoi An, after an already jam packed 10 days we needed a break. So we decided to set up camp in Danang at Funtastic Beach Hostel and got ourselves a scooter to explore. The hostel was great and we spent a lot of time just chilling out and talking to people. From Danang we explored the Marble Mountains which were an impressive site and easy to access by bike. We also visited the Cham sculpture museum which houses the largest collection of Cham sculptures in the world.
We then headed onto Hue where we stayed at Home Hotel, an old style hotel overlooking the river. It also had the biggest bed we slept in during the entire trip. There was only one reason we visited Hue and that was the Imperial Citadel. As a history buff this was a highlight of our trip. We spent the best part of an entire day wandering around the walls and exploring the inner sanctum. Some of the buildings are currently being restored whilst some are just a crumbling remain of their former glory.
Also whilst in Hue you can try some of the royal cuisine. I, personally, was not fond of these as I am not a fan of the fermented shrimp flavours but the texture of the rice cakes that encased said fermented foods was interesting and a novel experience.
From Hue we took a 5 hour bus ride to Hoi An where we had decided to camp out for 4 days. We love to eat so that was a main priority of our stay as we had heard that Hoi An was the place to fill ones belly. Boy, did we eat. We ate Cao Lau, crispy wontons and pierogies - who’d have thunk that?
Here we also rented a bike for the entire duration of our stay. We did a couple of self guided day trips; one to My Son and one to China Beach, more specifically An Bang Beach.
My Son was an early rise to get out there before the crowds, happy to report we were the first to arrive on site. It was the home of the Cham Dynasty and an impressive work of stone buildings and sculpture.
An Bang Beach was a welcome day of relaxation, and full of Australians. As expats who miss our own ilk it was fantastic to spend the day hearing familiar accents. It helped that the weather really turned out a wonderful day for us.
After Hoi An we headed back to Danang for a flight to Nha Trang, which I would recommend avoiding unless you have a particular love for Russian Tourists and pushy vendors. We had decided to stay here to rest and relax on the beach but we quickly discovered this was a resort town we could not afford to stay long in. Neither were the beaches particularly nice. We much prefered An Bang Beach and would suggest staying there if you want some beach time. We found everything quite pricey especially the beach chairs and the food and drink along the beach strip was priced like any first world major city. Nor was it a highlight that everything was written in Cyrillic. I have no issue with things being written in another language - i.e. Vietnamese in Vietnam but when entire shops are solely tailored to Russians, it’s not for me.
Next was Dalat, now I won't lie, I had been looking forward to Dalat ever since I hear about it. I think it’s because I am attracted to the highlands of any Southeast Asian country. The climate is great, there is usually something fun to do, and the tea and coffee is divine. I wasn’t disappointed. In Dalat we went to the ‘Dalat Crazy House’ a gaudi-esque set of rambling buildings, we also went white water rafting and jumped off a 12 metre waterfall. We drank lots of tea and coffee, and we enjoyed the cooler break from the hot vietnamese climate.
That is where we finished our trip as we flew from Dalat to Saigon where we then transited on back to Seoul.
*Note: We did not preplan this trip, aside from the cruise, we went where we felt like going at the time and tended to book 2 days before arriving*
If you want to read more about our Ha Long Bay cruise, check out our blog piece on that.