Vietnam is growing in popularity among tourists that admire its natural beauty and mountainous scenery but more so because it is one destination where tourism is quite affordable. It is easily reachable from the South East Asian hotspots such as Thailand so a trip here is a great choice for the low budget traveller and is definitely worth a visit while you are touring this part of the world.
To help you see the best of Vietnam in such a short space of time all while travelling on a budget, we have put together our tried and tested travel itinerary that we recently followed while visiting Vietnam. It will take you on a whirlwind stop to experience some of the best bits this country has to offer all in under ten days.
Overview of the Route:
Ho Chi Minh City – Nha Trang Bay – Hanoi
You could arrive by flight to Ho Chi Minh city (SGN) airport in the south and head north, or you can begin in the capital city of Hanoi (HAN) in the north and head south and do the trip in reverse.
If you arrive at Ho Chi Minh City like us, spend a couple of days here before moving on to Nha Trang and finally on to the capital city of Hanoi and the nearby stunning Ha Long Bay. If you have more time, be sure to hit up the delightful ancient town of Hoi An from here.
2 NIGHTS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in the country and has many historic and cultural locations to explore. The city alone is a wonder to behold given its French colonial structures and would require more than two days to see the whole of it but you can really catch the best bits in this short time. Plus, if it’s your first time here you might be a little overwhelmed by the chaos of the traffic, motorbikes on pavements, and the intense heat.
After resting the morning of your first day, spend the remaining time touring the city. A few great places to see are the Independence Palace, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon and City Hall. The best means of transportation within the city is by taxi and it’s often best to arrange with your hotel to make sure you get the best price.
For a cultural experience you can catch a cyclo, which is a cycling rickshaw. Cyclo drivers are abundant in the city and often hang out near major hotels and markets ready to offer tourists a tour of the top attraction via cyclo. Fares are often around 12,000d to 25,000d for short trips and 25,000d to 40,000d for longer trips and trips at night, however, bargaining for the price is essential and should be agreed prior.
It’s also not uncommon for local people to offer you a ride on a motorbike for a small fee. This isn’t the safest option as they usually cram as many people as possible on one motorbike so we suggest avoiding it all costs.
On the second day, round up your Ho Chi Minh tour by visiting Bên Thành market where you can experience local food and pick up souvenirs. Here, you can bargain with the locals for a discount as much as 50% off the initial price.
3-4 NIGHTS IN NHA TRANG
The next stop is the coastal city of Nha Trang, located in the south central of Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh you can reach Nha Trang by the overnight sleeper train or bus but be sure to book in advance on 12go as they often sell out. If you are short on time it’s best to book a flight to Nha Trang Cam Ranh (CXR) as they are much quicker and easily affordable and you can spend four nights instead of three in Nha Trang. That way, you can really make the most your time at this stunning location that is characterized by scenic beaches and islands, and the perfect destination for a great adventure of water sports, nature tours, lazy beach days, and crazy nightlife.
Also, after booking the overnight sleeper train we were very disappointed as a travelling couple to find that our two ‘beds’ were very small, on the back row of the bus, and in between a family of international travellers. We couldn’t even sit up on the bed and the aisles on the coach were narrow. Given that it was over a ten hour trip and the coach was fully booked, we decided to opt out and take a direct flight the next morning. If you are an easy sleeper and don’t mind being cramped for a length of time then the coach trip shouldn’t bother you and is the more economic option.
After settling into Nha Trang, take to the water and explore the bay on a kayaking or rafting tour. This is a great way to explore the islands nearby including the popular Monkey Island, Bamboo Island and Ebony Island.
Later, take your pick from the other attractions the city has to offer such as the biennial sea festival, scuba diving, beaches, resorts, spas and water park.
By night, don’t miss your chance to party at the exclusive rooftop Skylight Bar that is often home to famous DJ’s. You can party all night while admiring the skyline from the 360-degree skydeck. You could even arrive early and enjoy dinner with a view at the clubs on-site restaurant, Chefs Club, which serves international asian fusion cuisine and overlooks the bay’s coastline from 43 floors up.
3 NIGHTS IN HANOI
After a three-four day stay at Nha Trang, make your way to the capital city of Hanoi. There is a train route from Nha Trang to Hanoi or you can easily book a flight for as little as £30 depending on the time of year and time of your booking.
In Hanoi, begin your tour by visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a popular attraction in the city that doesn’t cost a penny. At the Mausoleum you will see the remains of the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh preserved in glass. Make sure you wear appropriate dress because shorts, short skirts or sleeveless blouses are not allowed in the Ho Chi Minh complex, nor are cameras inside the mausoleum.
Next, head on to other attractions such as the One Pillar Pagoda, the Presidential Palace, the Fine Arts Museum, and Hoàn Kiên Lake. If you are keen on tasting foreign cuisines then a tour of the food streets will expose you to the various Hanoi dishes.
The final destination on this trip is from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. Simply book on an excursion with one of the local tour operators a day or two before you plan to go. Trips range in price depending on the coach facilities and the tour operator you choose so make sure you shop around before booking.
It will take around three and a half hour hours to reach Ha Long Bay from Hanoi so make sure you take plenty of water, snacks, and a hand held fan wouldn’t go a miss as great air con on the bus is never guaranteed.
The tour includes a boat ride to Tit Top island where you can view the bay from a summit, sunbathe, kayak, raft, and interact with the locals. Aboard the cruise you will be served an authentic vietnamese buffet style dinner where you can expect fried tofu, rice, fish, and vegetables.
During this trip you will see the boat village where whole families are permanent residents on small fishing boats in the Ha Long Bay area. The scenery here is truly stunning and we highly recommend kayaking through the caves. For photographic insights into this excursion, see A Photo Journey Sailing Through Ha Long Bay by Boat and Kayak.