The third country on our itinerary was Vietnam and other than having seen the musical Miss Saigon over 100 times (no exaggeration), I didn’t know much about it to start with. As I read and researched, I got really excited to visit. Let’s see if I can inspire your travel plans and help you plan your backpacking trip with this little ‘here’s-what-we-did’ Vietnam travel guide.
Where: Hanoi, Ha Long, Thanh Hoa, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc
Duration: One Month
Time of Year: August/September (hot and sunny – very humid, not much rain)
Hotel Budget: £40per night
Food Budget: £8pp per day
Rating: I would love to go back. Particularly to Hanoi and Hue.
Though we intended to travel from the North to the South, we did a fair bit of bouncing around…
Hanoi is loud, busy and exudes excitement. Though it may be a struggle to cross the road (SO MANY MOTORBIKES) we loved wandering around and exploring the city.
Getting here: We flew directly into Hanoi.
Where to eat
With a lot of cafes and street stalls on the go, you’re spoiled for choice, really. You can pick up essentials at 7-Eleven or you could head to the markets and haggle over the price of some meat skewers. I love a big night market and Hanoi certainly didn’t disappoint!
My stand out favourite was Banh Mi 25. Before landing in Vietnam, I’d looked up a list of ‘must try’ foods for the country, to ensure we didn’t miss anything. Banh mi sandwiches made that list and quickly became our regular dinner – not to mention they were cheap at just £1!!! While you’ll want to try Pho and other Vietnamese dishes, sometimes the thought of boiling hot liquids in the crippling heat isn’t too appealing.
Get your butt down to Banh Mi 25 and see what all the fuss is about. The toasted subs have a long list of fillings to choose from, and all come with carrot, cucumber, coriander, and chili sauce as standard. You can customise your sandwich to your taste by adding or taking away ingredients or drenching it in hot sauce (just me?). If you like hot sauce, you’re in for a treat! I was pouring it on my banh mi like there was no tomorrow!
Ha Long Bay is probably one of the most well-known tourist spots. Known for stunning views and beautiful scenery, you might take a day trip or spend a couple of nights here. I didn’t love it. And here’s why…
There is a mountain you can climb to get a better view of the bay – instagrammable as it gets. Except, you can’t climb it anymore and no-one tells you that. So, you follow online guides to where the entrance is and you ready yourself for a climb. FYI the guides describe it as a steep walk around the mountain – easy enough.
When you get there, the regular entrance is closed so you have to walk through someone’s house and climb the steps through to the foot of the mountain where you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. After you pay, the little old con artist escorts you to the locked gate which has a sign saying ‘no entry’. Turns out you can’t climb anymore, but she suggests you try and climb over the gate or squeeze through the gaps. We saw some people giving it a shot but they eventually gave up. When we requested a refund, she gave us most of the money back but naturally took a cut for herself. We’d just paid an old woman to climb the stairs of her house and leave. Stellar.
There aren’t many food options, and the limited options aren’t very good quality. If you must go, just take a boat trip for the day and then make a swift escape.
Getting here: we took a bus (4hours) from Hanoi.
Such a random spot, chosen because of its location on the way down towards Hue and Hoi An. We checked into a beautiful luxury hotel (at a fraction of the price because of the random location) and took some days to relax.
Getting here: We took the bus back to Hanoi after the disappointment that was Ha Long Bay, and then took a train (4hours).
There are some sights to see, and extensive karaoke options, but it’s by no means a party scene or an exciting place. Nevertheless, we loved the local restaurants and chilled vibe. A serene space to unwind after the hectic cities and towns.
We stopped off in Hue as a means to travel to Hoi An, but after five minutes in the area, we instantly wished we’d left more time free to stay here.
I’d describe it as the Ibiza of Vietnam except I’ve never actually been to Ibiza so it’s probably not very accurate. Streets lined with sports bars and restaurants, plenty of happy hours and good deals. During the day, lots of places to visit – beautiful photo ops, markets galore, shopping malls, and plenty of sunshine.
Hue is also the place famous for making those iconic conical hats, so if you want one or want to learn to make one, it’s the perfect spot. (Spoiler: you can actually buy those hats EVERYWHERE and Nick totally wouldn’t let me buy one.)
The Golden Hands Bridge (you may have spotted on my Instagram) is in Da Nang, which is halfway between Hue and Hoi An.
Getting here: Take a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang.
I’d love to go back and stay a bit longer next time.
Hoi An was small and cute, filled with market stalls, and SO MANY tailors. If you want to have a suit or dress made for you, here’s the place!
You can also take lantern making classes or buy a lantern to bring home. The restaurants and shops didn’t make much of an impression on me so I probably wouldn’t rush back for a bite to eat, but I’d pass through and have some dresses made if I was in the area again.
Getting here: The best way from Hue is to get to Da Nang – whether that is by train/bus, and then take a bus or car from there.
Ho Chi Minh City & Phu Quoc
As our time in Vietnam drew to a close, we passed through Ho Chi Minh City and also checked ourselves into a luxurious resort in Phu Quoc. It was one of those resorts where you feel like royalty or a celebrity. We often spent our time by the pool reading or in the gym working off the ginormous breakfast we’d devoured that morning. Not all travelling is seeing sights and taking photographs… you have to schedule in the relaxation and down time.
I’d love to go back to Vietnam and head back to some of my favourite spots. Have you ever been, or is it on your list? If you need any further recommendations or want to chat and plan your trip, ask away in the comments below – I’d love to help!