Vietnam has easily been one of our favourite destinations so far. Here’s everything you need to know to make planning your trip simple and stress free, along with our recommendations on what’s not to be missed.
Vietnam is generally really cheap, but there’s always the option to spend more to get a little more luxury, so depending how tight your budget is and how much you want to do, you can budget anywhere from £10-£30 pounds a day. We averaged around £17 each.
Your rough route
Most people visiting Vietnam will fly into either Hanoi in the north or Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the south, and work their way through the country to the other one, where their flight out will be leaving from. Alternatively you can just stick to one half of the country.
If you’re doing two weeks we’d recommend sticking to just the North as there’s so much to see up there, but if you have 3 weeks or more then you’ll have plenty of time to go from one end to the other.
We spent one month in Vietnam, starting in Ho Chi Minh and working our way up to Hanoi. Here’s our route, which works just as well in reverse if you’re starting in the North. We’ll go into more detail about each place a little further down the page.
Don’t worry about booking your transport from place to place within Vietnam in advance – you can easily book your seats on sleeper busses (or trains) at the last minute from wherever you’re staying, and they run every day between any locations you’ll need.
Being able to stay so flexible by only booking last minute busses really made our trip. We were able to stay so much longer than we planned in places that we had originally known little about, but fell in love with once we were there, and able to move on from places we weren’t so taken by.
Sleeper busses in Vietnam are great – they cost hardly anything and you’ll often make up the money by not paying for the night’s accommodation. They were always clean, really easy to book (just ask wherever you’re staying) and you’ll have your own fully reclining seat/bed. They can be a little snug, but I’m 6″2 and after a bit of adjustment I always managed to get a good sleep.
Another popular option is to buy a used motorbike to travel the country and sell it on at the end of your trip. We met loads of people along the way who were doing this and loved it, from our chats with them the general advice was to only do it this way if you’re going to be super confident on the bike and if you’ll enjoy long days of riding. The views are incredible, but you’ll be spending a lot of time on the bike to get from place to place.
If you’re not so confident with the long bike rides and would like to experience it once without the stress, Vietnam has private bike/driver service known as Easy Rider where they’ll take you from place to place as the passenger on the bike, with plenty of room for your baggage.
Your final option is to fly between some of the further apart places (Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An is a popular one), which can save you some long bus journeys but will cost you a lot more money. This can be a good option if you’re not planning on stopping at certain destinations along the way, leaving you with one long leg of the journey.
Destinations not to be missed along the way
You’ll want to spend at least 2 or 3 days in the incredible national park here. The landscapes are unbelievable and there’s just so much to see and do. While you’re there make sure you do the two amazing river boat tours that take you between the mountains and through the caves of Tam Coc and Trang An.
We Stayed at Nguyen Shack and it was perfect; cabins on the lake hidden between the mountains, with the loveliest staff.
Ha Long / Cat Ba junk boat tour
Ha Long Bay might be Vietnam’s best known attraction but as we worked our way up the country we heard the same thing from every single person who had been; the town itself is overcrowded, too touristy, and generally not that nice.
Following advice we were given we did a 3 day 2 night Junk Boat tour around Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, and it was incredible – there was so much to see, the breathtaking landscape seems to go on forever with the boat stopping in secluded spots where we could jump in the water and kayak through caves into hidden lagoons. The best part might have been waking up early in the morning and opening the cabin door out onto a perfectly tranquil, slightly misty area of Ha Long.. something about it was just so surreal.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park
This one took us by surprise, we had heard there were a few caves that were worth a visit but hadn’t heard much else. It turns out that there are dozens of incredible caves and activities to choose from and all of them are in a beautiful national park. The caves were incredible, but our favourite part was just riding around, exploring the national park on a scooter – the entire place was breathtaking.
There are a lot of caves to choose from, but from what we managed to see we’d recommend making sure you do Paradise cave as it’s incredible. Phong Nha cave is really cool too and the most easily accessible – you take a boat tour from the town which takes you down the river and then through the cave. If you fancy a bit of zip lining and kayaking then head to Dark Cave.
Where to stay in Phong Nha:
Easy Tiger if you want a party hostel vibe. This is a really cool place with a nice pool, good food (western so as not to compete with local businesses) and they offer all the advice you’ll need on what to do in Phong Nha, with a group talk every morning at 9.
Midtown Hotel if you’d prefer your own space. This is a really nice, budget friendly hotel right next door to Easy Tiger so you can head over there to get advice on what to do, join the group talk and hang out at the bar.
Easily the most beautiful Town we’ve ever been to, this place seems like something out of a fairy tale. If the beauty alone isn’t enough, the food is incredible and the beach is lovely too. Make sure you spend at least a few days here relaxing, riding around on bikes, and eating everything you can… especially the Banh Mi! (make sure you try both Madam Kahn and Phi Banh Mi, they might just be the best in the world)
Hoi An is also famous for it’s tailoring – you can get just about anything made to fit from scratch, and with what seems like every other shop being a tailor there’s no shortage of fabrics to choose from.
Mui Ne is mostly known for it’s kite surfing and has become a pretty popular tourist destination. However there are two areas of sand dunes which you can take a tour to, along with an beautiful place called the ‘fairy stream’, which make for a pretty incredible day amongst landscapes we never expected to see in Vietnam.
We also found that you could get really incredible accommodation at super low prices in Mui Ne, so if you’re looking to take a few days relaxing by the pool, this is a good place to do it.
Vietnam is a huge country and there are loads of other places to be explored along the way. If you’re planning a trip, a few other popular places to look into are:
- Sa Pa – Rural area in the north with beautiful rice terraces
- Mai Chau – Similar to Sa Pa but apparently less visited by tourists
- Phu Quoc – Tropical island in the south, closer to Cambodia than Vietnam
- Dalat – Mountain town that tourists often visit for the canyoneering
- Nha Trang – City with a huge beach, very touristy but can be a good stop to break up the journey between Mui Ne and Hoi An
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful, if you’d like more information about anything please get in touch, and if you think we’ve missed anything please add it in the comments!