In August I went to Vietnam. It was actually my first time in Asia and it was incredible to see this whole culture I’d heard so much about but never actually experienced. I saw the crazy roads, the mad nightlife and the caring and friendly nature of the locals. I tasted delicious pho for the first time, experienced 15p bia hoi and witnessed the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam during my two-week itinerary. Time was tight but I wanted to see as much as possible, without seeing too much and spending all my time worrying about my next sleep and how I was going to get there.
More than a good few hours of research went into this itinerary. I spoke to my colleagues at gapyear.com, I looked into what the top travel bloggers had done in Vietnam before me, and I consulted too many websites to list.
Here’s my exact two-week Vietnam itinerary, complete with costs, reasoning, hotel recommendations and links to my experiences in more depth. I hope this helps and if you have any questions, just ask in the comments box below.
Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City
We flew into Ho Chi Minh City from London on Saturday to arrive on Sunday for 1pm. The flight had cost £675 each about three months before.
We got a taxi to our hotel from the airport. Our hotel, the Saigon Mini Hotel 5, had already sent us an email detailing precisely how to get there, which was very helpful and reassuring. They told us to only get a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi, which was advice echoed throughout our trip. The other taxi drivers tried to pretend they were from these companies, or that these companies ‘didn’t pick up here anymore’: not true.
The backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City at the intersection of Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham streets was where we were staying. It was about a 30-minute drive away from the airport and cost us 170,000 dong for the taxi (£5). He dropped us right at our door.
The staff at Saigon Mini Hotel 5 were lovely and had our train tickets we’d ordered ready for us. We were shown to our room, all great, all awesome, very tired.
As a quick round up we spent our first afternoon:
- Wandering around
- Cruising the Ben Thanh Market
- Met a friend and had a delicious dinner of pho (approx £2 each)
- Drank cocktails up at the Duc Vuong Hotel (approx £2.50 each x5)
- Relaxed into the Vietnamese way of life
- Little bit of shopping
One night at Saigon Mini Hotel 5 in a private double for two was 532.800 VND (£15.75).
Other attractions we didn’t visit, but you could: Grand Independence Palace, Day trip to Cu Chi, Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho-Chi-Minh Museum, Saigon Square
Day 2: Mekong Delta tour
We pre-booked this with the hotel above at 220,000 dong each (£6.44). The hotel let us leave our bags in their luggage room for free as we were leaving that night and we were picked up at 7:30am for the tour.
The bus took us and around 10 others out to the Mekong Delta where we:
- Rode a lot of different boats wearing the traditional hat
- Ate elephant fish
- Went to a cotton candy factory
- Saw some beekeepers
- Held a snake
- Saw a water buffalo
- Learnt a bit about the area
- Ate fruit
We left the Mekong Delta area at about 5pm and were back at our hotel for 7pm. We had dinner on De Tham Street at Five Oysters and just relaxed after a hard day of sightseeing. It absolutely chucked it down – fun to watch from the safety of our restaurant. The food was yum, and I would definitely recommend.
At 10pm we went and picked up our bags and took a taxi to the train station (70,000 dong/£2). Here we had an ice cream for dessert and got some water for the journey from the shop.
At 11pm the train left the station for Nha Trang. It was $37 each (£23) through Vietnam Impressive for a 4-berth soft bed. Click for more on the trains in Vietnam, but let’s just say for now it was an adventure.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Nha Trang
We arrived in Nha Trang at 5:30am and decided to walk to Sun City Hotel where we were staying. It took about 30 minutes along a straight route, although there were plenty of taxis outside though if you’d rather.
Thankfully, or I may have cried, they let us check in at 6am. We had a shower and a sleep before a delicious hotel breakfast which was included in the price at 9am.
Two nights at Sun City in a private double cost $48 (£30). It was a simple room, but suited us and the view from the breakfast room was incredible.
I hadn’t done much research on Nha Trang so wasn’t sure what to do. We decided to take a walk around and go up to the Long Son Pagoda. I had to break at a coffee shop. I can’t describe how tired I was thanks to my train experience and while my boyfriend drank coffee I actually fell asleep at the table.
One hour later and I was able to continue the journey, just. We walked over the bridge taking photos, and then went up to the pagoda which cost 12,000 dong to get in (40p). We spent just over an hour there, it was so, so hot. Pretty cool to look around though and the temples were, odd.
We then made our way down and had lunch at one of the river-side restaurants. There were quite a few to choose from and we chose the busiest, don’t know the name though, sorry #badblogger.
After lunch we decided we’d go walking in the blistering heat once more. We walked for about an hour trying to find the market. Eventually we did but were too hot to face the stalls so grabbed a beer and sat and watched the goings on for an hour or so.
We made our way back to our hotel to freshen up – a good hour’s walk along the seafront. We popped into the mall there with the aim of getting some cheap earphones: so expensive! It was like shopping at Harrods, not sure how it can sustain itself, but it must do somehow.
We then went for a delicious dinner at Galangal. It was next to a cool art gallery, which was what caught our eye originally. The food was incredible. I wish I could taste it now.
We walked after dinner and stumbled across the Tarantino bar – every single thing in it was based around Tarantino, from the cocktail menu, to the bar names to the films showing on the wall. We drank cocktails and played pool for two hours, then left.
Bed time. So happy.
Day 4: Funky Monkey Snorkelling Tour
We were up early to get our 8:30am bus for the Funky Monkey Snorkelling Tour we’d booked at the front desk at 300,000 dong per person (£9).
We were taken to an aquarium and two different spots to snorkel and jump off the boat. We had a delicious lunch and sang some karaoke. Saw maybe one fish, but had a great time making friends with the rest of the people on the boat and sunning ourselves on the deck. The staff were awesome.
They dropped us back at around 5pm.
We were both tired and hungry and just couldn’t find anywhere decent to eat. It was all burger joints, pizzas or pubs. We wanted something more authentic and ended up at a BBQ grill place where they cook the food in front of you. We didn’t enjoy it. It was cheap, but no taste and we had a woman with us cooking at the table the whole time, which was awkward when we just wanted to chat.
We went to the Why Not? bar afterwards, ultimate backpacker bar in Nha Trang. The PR girl ended up whacking my boyfriend one in the arm and accusing him of pinching her bum. He definitely didn’t. It turned out it was her friend, but we were done there. We went home to dream about owning a boat and riding the ocean waves, not being falsely accused and assaulted in a skanky bar in Nha Trang.
Other attractions: Po Nagar Cham Towers, Monkey Island
Day 5: Nha Trang Egg Baths
We slept until about 11am. Needed it. It meant we missed the delicious Sun City Hotel breakfast though so we decided to go for an egg sandwich/Bhan Thai from the lady at the end of our street. Oh my days. It was incredible. I salivate when I think about it now. Please try one if you’re visiting Nha Trang. Anyway, moving on, this post is getting wordy.
We went for a coffee and a smoothie at the Sailing Club on the seafront. Awesome, delicious, and they had some great toilets, if you need.
We then got a taxi up to the Nha Trang Egg Baths in the mountains and had a great afternoon out. Click the link to find out more.
Back in Nha Trang and we decided to go to the Galangang restaurant we went to on the first night again, it was that good. We ordered loads and sat there and scoffed it with big smiles on our faces.
I randomly decided to just check our train tickets again and realised the train left in an hour, not three, oops. We scoffed up and went back to pick up our bags. We’d paid Sun City Hotel an extra half day so we could keep the room to change in for our return from the Egg Baths, and then left our bags in reception while we went for dinner.
We took a taxi to Nha Trang Train Station, seeing as we were running a bit late. I decided to buy a few beers from the shop, but in my haste and the women’s hurrying she ripped me off big style. I ended up paying about £8 for two beers and a packet of M&Ms, oops. I popped to the shop before we left then and bought two more for a fraction of the price.
We boarded the train to Danang at 8pm and settled ourself down for the night on our overnight train through Vietnam. Strangely this was the same price as the Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang leg at $37/£23. If you want to know more check out my trains in Vietnam post.
Day 6: Arrive in Danang for Hoi An
We arrived in Danang at about 6am and got a taxi to Hoi An. It cost 800,000 dong/£25 and seemed to take ages, or a little over an hour.
We stayed at the Huy Hoang Garden Hotel, which was by far the worst of the trip. Staff were rude, beds were hard and the room was full of bugs. Absolutely full of them. And the breakfast was majorly grim – once you’ve tried that you don’t go back.
Two nights in a private double was $50 (£31). I’d recommend you try somewhere nearer the centre of town though, go for a spot down by the river.
After a little chill out we ventured down to Hoi An to see what was going on.
Hoi An is awesome and needs to be on any Vietnam itinerary, no matter how long you go for. We walked by all the tailor shops, a little intimidated, and went for a coffee along the river. The coffee in Vietnam is absolutely delicious.
We just hung out for the day in Hoi An, lazily walking along the river and still pretty tired from the train journey. We ate more delicious Vietnamese food, including the White Rose that Hoi An is famous for, and more spring rolls.
We went for a boat ride with the lady above, who’s 53 and rows people up and down the river. She took us out to where she lived, and you couldn’t help but feel bad. More on that disturbing story later.
The river in Hoi An is absolutely incredibly by night and a definite must. You’ll find people setting off lanterns along the water and compared to the quietness in the day the town is buzzing with people.
Day 7: Shopping in Hoi An
We tried to recreate the delicious egg sandwich we had in Nha Trang, but it just didn’t hit the spot in the same way from the road sellers here. The roadside coffee though, now wow, that’s a different thing all together. For next to nothing in a shabby looking coffee bar we had the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. Go for it.
Today was another day of wandering around. We went on an epic walk as far as we dared and were rewarded with some great views out to sea. It was also good to see what Hoi An was really like beyond all the buzz around the river and the market.
We finally got stuck into the shopping and got quite carried away with three dresses, three necklaces, a tie, a top, a bag and two pairs of shoes between us, all made bespoke and for great prices. Remember, barter.
When we’d had enough of the shops we walked over the Japanese Covered Bridge and came across a Japanese and Vietnamese Festival, backstage. That night we were invited to Moe’s Bar to meet the martial arts choreographers and stars of Kill Bill who’d been performing at the festival. It was awesome.
Other attractions in Hoi An you could see: My Son, Quang Ngai, Tra Que Village, Hai Van Pass, China Beach, motorbike tour, Marble Mountain, Huyen Khrong Cave, Chua Ong Pagoda, Chinese Assembly Hall, Imperial Citadel, Cua Dai Beach
Day 8: Collect shopping and go to Hanoi
We collected up our shopping and had a final look around Hoi An before getting a taxi to the airport direct from our hotel. Little bit annoyed with them as I repeatedly checked they were booking us a shuttle bus, but it was an expensive taxi that showed up at £30 to Danang. Ah well, at least we go there a bit quicker. Again, I don’t recommend that hotel.
We arrived at the airport to find there was only a Burger King available. Ah well, cheeseburger it is then. One meal off the pho won’t do us any harm.
Our Jetstar flight left at 3:55pm and arrived in Hanoi at 5:10pm. It was $90 (£55). There were cheaper planes but they were too early. The plane was comfy and easy, just another low cost airline. It felt quite luxurious after all the train journeys.
We arrived in Hanoi and got another taxi. I hadn’t done any research on this one and it took ages, maybe 90 minutes to get to the centre of Hanoi where we were staying. We passed some pretty dodgy places and were both getting worried, but it all turned out ok in the end. We later found out it was because we’d hit rush hour, and I just didn’t realise our hotel on Lo Sun was so far away.
We arrived at Gia Bao Grand Hotel at about 8pm and they welcomed us in. Although, they did tell us we had a free upgrade and only had to pay $10 for the pleasure. We said we didn’t need it and they said we could have it anyway. It was very odd. But we got a huge and comfy room for just $40 (£25) per night. The hotel was really nice and in a great location – I’d recommend it.
We went on the search for some food and were directed to the backpacker district near the Old Quarter. We went in the first place we saw – 72 Ma May Restaurant– and were led upstairs to what luckily for us turned out to be our own private balcony overlooking the street. We were soon joined by two backpackers who we ended up having a really good night with, lots of chat and fun and I was sad when they left. You have to find this restaurant if you visit Hanoi.
Then we went and had a few drinks in the are and ended up seeing one of the weirdest things in Hanoi.
Day 9: Sightseeing in Hanoi
Lots of walking today – we must have done a few miles around the city.
- To the Ngoc Son Temple
- Around the Mausoleum
- Around the Hoan Kiem Lake
- Watched the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
- Around the shops
- Through the Old Quarter
- Drank civet coffee at Highlands Coffee
Other attractions in Hanoi: Hoa Lo Prison
Day 10: Off to Halong Bay
We were picked up at 8am from our hotel by the guys from Golden Lotus Tours. It was a 5-hour journey out to beautiful Halong Bay. We had one stop along the way at a disabled centre (more on that later) and other than that we charged forward to get there.
On arrival we were taken out to the junk boat via a smaller one and left to explore the ship for a bit. We then parked up and went to the Cave of Wonders. It was just that.
We then went to a beach which was surrounded by the incredible limestone cliffs, which you could climb up for amazing views.
In the evening we had a cooking class and learned to make spring rolls. I have to say mine were pretty amazing. This was followed by more booze and a karaoke party, which was basically the boat staff and a tone deaf Spanish girl belting out stilted English. I stayed outside and drank vodka and chatted to some crazy Ozzie guy about the import and export business in Sydney.
Day 11: Canoeing and back to Hanoi
We woke up a little hazy from the night before at 7am. Then it was time to go kayaking – neither me nor my boyfriend have ever done this before and let’s just say that it didn’t go well, and when you shout at each other in Halong Bay, it echoes. There were some awesome caves to kayak in though, if you can actual steer the bloody thing.
Back on the boat after an hour and we had a semi-delicious English breakfast – it was the beans on toast that excited me. Then it was a three-hour scenic trip back to the mainland.
When we touched the shore we had lunch at a tasty restaurant on the coast line, which was included in the price. This was to give us the energy for our 5-hour journey to Hanoi, which I pretty much slept through. Again, we stopped once at a different disabled centre and bought and wrote out some postcards to pass the time.
Finally back in Hanoi and the tour company let us store our bags at their office – which was awesome – and we went off gallivanting round Hanoi’s Old Quarter. We actually ended up going back to the 72 Ma May Restaurant for dinner as it was so delicious on the first night, then polished off an awesome time in Hanoi with a few 15p Bia Hois.
We took a taxi to the airport, now, this was another adventure. I’ll write about it at a later date, but this is when we found out that even though the taxis are metered, they’re definitely still negotiable. Thanks to the 10pm time, it took half as long to get to the airport as it had when we arrived.
We stayed at the Avi Airport Hotel which was just ten minutes from the airport. This was an awesome idea, as there was no stress and who knows how long it would’ve taken in the morning rush hour. The Airport Hotel was pretty skanky, but we had a room, and a bathroom. Wi-Fi didn’t work, we had to climb 5 flights of stairs (the poor bell boy carried our bags) and the TV had no English channels, but it did the job and the staff were super friendly. Nothing better to do than sleep, so we were well rested for our early morning flight.
Day 12: Back in Ho Chi Minh City
Woke up at 6am and got our prebooked taxi to the airport – 10 minutes later we were there ready to board our 8:35am-10:40am Jetstar flight back to Ho Chi Minh City. The flight was $70 (£43) each.
Now this is where my two-week Vietnam itinerary will be different to yours, and it’s also what makes this the perfect two-week Vietnam itinerary for you. You now have two days to play with and insert where you like, I had to go back to HCMC for a wedding.
It was refreshing to be back in HCMC, we rode the familiar route into town and got to the Ruby River Hotel where we were to spend our last nights. The hotel was awesome – by far my favourite. The staff treated us like celebrities and nothing was too much trouble. It was in a great location too and turn left and there’s the best pho stall ever. Spicy, especially in the hot sun, but delicious.
We met up with friends who were also going to the wedding and spent the afternoon exploring and drinking and chatting about sex tourists in Vietnam. Then we went to the pre-wedding dinner as a twelvesome. Loved it.
Day 13: And relax
We hung out and explored some more. We went to the designer district, although it was still too pricey for me. It rained and we ended up in the incredible War Museum, but that’s definitely better covered in a separate post. I strongly recommend it though.
We also took a look at Reunification Palace from the outside, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. We ended the day with another big group meal and some bia hoi in the backpacker district afterwards. It was nice to chill out with friends and not rush around like mad dogs trying to look at things as we’d spent the last few days doing.
Ended up doing a lot of shopping and spending quite a few dong on the streets of Saigon too.
Day 14: Wedding day
The big day, the reason we were in Vietnam, the wedding. It started at 8am and went on till 1am, but more on that later.
Day 15: Hang out and buy souvenirs
Today we went for one final pho of a lunch up the Duc Vuong Hotel roof garden where we’d ended up on the first night. Again, the pho was delicious. We said goodbye to our friends and went back to our hotel to pick up our stuff and get a cab to the airport.
And that was it. Two awesome and incredible weeks in Vietnam to break my Asia virginity.
Few tips for your Vietnam itinerary
This itinerary worked perfectly for us. As we travelled we spoke to others and I said to a fair few I was sad to have missed out on Hue and Sapa, not one person made me feel bad about not going. ‘It’s just hiking”, “There’s not much there”. I guess if you were planning your two weeks you could fit one of these in as you wouldn’t need to fly back down, or go to a wedding, but to be honest the feedback didn’t really sound like you needed to.
- We flew in and out of Ho Chi Minh City rather than doing one leg out of Hanoi just because it was cheaper.
- I’d recommend you spend two nights on the junk boat in Halong Bay if possible, rather than just the one so that you can see more of the bay and relax into it.
- Hoi An was beautiful and MUST be on anyone’s Vietnam itinerary.
- Get into the shopping in Hoi An much earlier and go with an idea of what you want, both in cut and in fabric design.
- I’d choose HCMC over Hanoi, if you only had time for one, but that could be because we had longer there and got to know it a little more. I just found the people to be friendlier and there was more to see.
- Haggle and barter on everything.
- Be prepared for the heat.
- Drink lots of coffee.
- Eat the Vietnamese street food.
- Don’t be scared of walking around, but don’t be stupid either.
- Nha Trang was super touristy, but if you’re looking for some rest and relaxation time and you like the beach, it’s well worth a visit.
- On the way back we had a 9-hour stopover in Qatar, which was interesting…
And that’s it for now! Let me know if you have any questions below, and let me know if you go too. If you want to know what I really thought of the trip, check out What Vietnam Was Like, For Me. It’s all in there. I’d love to know if this epic guide has helped you at all…
Where we stayed
- HCMC: Saigon Mini Hotel 5 (awesome)
- Nha Trang: Sun City Hotel(awesome)
- Hanoi: Huy Hoang Garden Hotel (don’t stay here)
- Halong Bay: Golden Lotus Tours (awesome)
- Hanoi Airport: Hanoi Avi Airport Hotel(this was cheap, cheerful and perfect for the airport, but not neccessarily a nice experience)
- HCMC: Ruby River Hotel (super awesome)