Politics and war will be present in most part of this trip. Vietnam was a communist country after the war in 1976, but it opened to the world economy in 1986. Travel in the history from north to south with a mix of activities like rice fields and desert walks, abandoned water-parks, world heritage sites and uncountable rides in a scooter. Let yourself dive in a great cuisine world which even vegetarians love. Enjoy it!

  1. Vietnam Route
  2. Transport

Vietnam Route

Day 1-3: Hanoi

The first hours in the capital of Vietnam are intense. Hundreds of motorbikes cross the street at the same time with no compassion for pedestrians.

What to do
The first day is a good day to explore the center. Remember to pay attention with 1000 eyes before crossing any street.

Some things to do:

  • Pagoda
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Palace
  • Egg Coffee
  • Railroad or Train Street

For the second day, take the Hanoi Free Walking Tour. Organized by students of the University, this tour is a good way to support young Vietnamese with their studies. The tour is based on tips, meaning that you pay at the end of the tour whatever you think is worth it. The visit lasts 3 hours and gets you into the heart of Vietnam political and religious history. It will be a good way to get the background information you need for the rest of your trip in Vietnam.

Woman in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

One of the things Christa liked the most in Hanoi was Egg Coffee. As the name says, egg in the coffee. In war times, Vietnam didn’t have milk or any cream to mix with the coffee, so they took what they had. It’s sweet, creamy and very potent. Give it a try!

Another popular spot is the train street. The train runs along the center of the city, stopping for some minutes all the activity. There are several places to take good pictures and observe the train pass only a few centimeters of you.

How to get around
Download Grab to order a taxi. There is even an option to go by Grab motorbike.

Grab moto

Where to eat (vegetarian restaurants)

Where to stay
The hostel Little Charm Hanoi Hostel is a great stay for backpackers. The dorms are new and have curtains for more privacy. The hostel also has a little pool to cool down after a hot day. The breakfast is served from a menu.

Day 4-6: Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a popular destination since it got the UNESCO World Heritage in 2000.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

What to do
There are 3 options to visit Halong Bay.

  1. A cruise for 2 days/1 night with hundreds of other tourists. It’s the most crowded and popular option. All the cruises stop on the same beaches, caves, and oyster factories at almost the same time. To us, it was an unpleasant experience and we would skip it if we had known. Instead, try option number 2.
  2. Explore the bay from Cat Ba Island. Many backpackers told us that is a better option than the cruise. Spent 2 nights relaxing at the beach or hiking the hill for sunset.
  3. Hike in Halong City. If you are eager for a little hike, go to the Poem Mountain in Halong City. This is what we enjoyed the most in Halong Bay.

Read: How to Hike the Poem Mountain in Halong Bay

Poem Mountain, Vietnam

How to get around
Take a bus from Hanoi to Halong for around 3 hours. From there, take a boat to Cat Ba Island. It’s possible to get around by Grab.

Where to stay
There are several guesthouse and hotels in Cat Ba Island to spend 1 or 2 nights. Another option is to take a boat cruise for 1 night.

Day 7-9: Sapa

Get a bus to Sapa, in the North of Vietnam. This place is very well known for the green rice fields and stunning scenery. It’s totally enough to explore it in two days but depending if you take a night or day bus you will need more or less time.

Rice Fields in Lao Cai, Sapa, Vietnam

If the weather is excellent, consider going to the Fansipan Mountain, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia.

How to get around
It is great to go around by bike, but just if you are a really experienced motorbike driver. The roads are curvy and dusty. Not recommended in the wet season when it gets very muddy. We decided to arrive by Grab to our accommodation and from there, everything on foot.

Tour in the rice fields of Sapa, Vietnam

Where to stay
For a full experience, try to avoid staying in Sapa town since it can get quite busy. Instead, go to a small village in the countryside of Sapa like Lào Cai and stay in a homestay. We stayed in Hoa Homestay, right in the middle of the rice fields. Hoa cooks every night a delicious “family dinner” and can organize treks in the rice fields with locals.
Family Dinner in Hoa's Homestay in Sapa, Vietnam

Day 10-12: Ninh Binh

The landscape of Ninh Binh is extremely beautiful. You will get the feeling of taking pictures for National Geographic. Get ready to enjoy the slow life of Vietnam.

Bich Dong Pagoda, Vietnam

What to do
Read: 7 Awesome Things to Do in Ninh Binh

How to get around
If you stay in Tam Coc or nearby it’s great to rent a bicycle to cruise around. There are many rental stations. We rented a motorbike at our hotel because our accommodation was located further away.

Riding a Scooter in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Where to stay
The Phuong Linh Hotel is next to the train station. The owner rents motorbikes for a fair price. If you want to stay right in nature, we would recommend the Hoalu Eco homestay.

Day 13-15: Hue

The huge impact of China’s empire in Vietnam is palpable in Hue, where it used to be the capital until 1945.

What to do
We visited the citadel and the tombs, with the shining and colorful inside. An alternative activity to add to your list is the abandoned Water Park.

Read: Visit the Abandoned Water Park of Hue

Don’t forget to eat at the Cafe on the Wheels which belongs to Ly Le’s family and a super ice-cream at The One Coffee & Bakery.

Coffee cup in Hue, Vietnam

How to get around
Either you take a tour or you rent a motorbike and do the sightseeing by yourself.

Where to stay
Bon Ami Hostel offers quadruple or double rooms. They take care that everything is clean. The breakfast is really good with a choice from a menu. The staff is very helpful in renting motorbikes or booking tours for you.

Day 16-19: Hoi An

Only 3 hours by bus from Hue there is Hoi An, what Vietnamese call “the most romantic city in Vietnam”. Yellow streets during the day that transforms into a charming place with colorful lanterns at night.

Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

What to do
There are plenty of activities to fill during 2 or 3 days like cooking class, lantern workshop, tailored clothes, cycling to the beach, or just roaming around to some hidden cafes.

How to get around
We walked everything. But it’s possible to rent a bicycle if you want to go to the beach.

Where to eat (vegetarian restaurants)

Hoi An, Vietnam

Where to stay
The Back Home Hotel offers daily activities for free like cooking classes. The buffet breakfast is the best we had in Vietnam with eggs, noodles, pancakes, real milk, cereals, etc. There is a poster saying “eat until you get fat”, so a good place for backpackers. It’s possible to stay here in dorms or in private rooms.

Day 20-22: Dalat

Dalat is a city surrounded by waterfalls, hills, and forests. The highlight is to rent a scooter and chase waterfalls all day long.

Elephant Waterfall in Dalat, Vietnam

What to do:

  • Thác Pongour Waterfall
  • Elephant Waterfall
  • Datanla Waterfalls (optional: take a rollercoaster to go down/up)
  • Prenn Waterfall
  • Coffee Plantation
  • Silk Factory
  • Crazy House
  • Crazy Bar

In between waterfalls, there is the option to visit a silk farm and a coffee plantation, famous for the weasel coffee.

Pongour Waterfall, Vietnam

Tip for animal lovers: In fact, we didn’t want to see how they have the weasels in cages, and preferred to stay at the flower field next to it. The silk farm is also quite disturbing, innocent us we didn’t know they froze and boil the caterpillars alive. Another lesson on how bad animals are treated by humans.

Take some extra time to visit the “Crazy House”, officially called Hằng Nga. As the name indicates, it’s completely crazy. It’s located in the city center and everybody knows is as “the crazy house”. The architect got inspired by Gaudí, the Catalan architect, and Walt Disney. The house is an insane labyrinth divided into several theme buildings connected with stairs to different levels with nonsense, what should bring you to level 4 is suddenly level 5 and vice versa. We lost track of how many times we got lost. The craziest thing is that is a guesthouse with 7 rooms. The cheapest costs $30 per night.

The same architect has also a “Crazy Bar”! Of course, why not! It’s lots of fun to have some drinks here as well.

How to get around
We booked a scooter in our hostel. The best way to chase waterfalls. Also, stop by the hundreds of little shops along the way and buy the tastiest pineapples we ever tried.

Dalat gang, Vietnam

Where to stay
At the Tigon Dalat Hostel, there is the option between a double or single bed in a dormitory. We like a lot the double bed option which had a little curtain for more privacy, ideally for backpacker couples. This hostel did the best laundry we had. It didn’t cost much and the rose smell lasted for a long time. The breakfast was very good and the hostel was cheap.

Day 23-25: Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a beach spot with many resorts, offers and activities. However, sunbathing is not really something you can do. It’s way too windy. Although, it’s a kitesurfer and windsurfer paradise.

Mui Ne Sand Dunes, Vietnam

What to do
Kitesurfing, windsurfing and any aquatic sport that you can imagine. Alternatively, there are other things to do. Our favorite was visiting the white and red sand dunes. Although the white dunes are bigger and with more space to get lost, the red dunes can be quite crowded, especially for sunset.

The fairy stream is a short 20 minutes walk that leads you to a small waterfall. The beginning can be crowded, but as soon as you walk for a few minutes the people start to decrease. It’s pretty cool to walk on the fluffy sand.

Another way to spend the sunset is on the beach or in the fisherman’s village.

How to get around
Many locals told us the police often stops tourists with scooters and asks for silent money to continue. Therefore, an organized tour seems to be a safer option if you don’t want to risk to get into police business. There are many tour agencies on the street. Otherwise, it’s always possible to book it at your hotel.

Where to stay
The Tropic Hostel offers good service and the food is good. It’s possible to stay in dorms or private rooms. The atmosphere is chill and there are hammocks to relax.

Another option is to camp at LongSon MuiNe Beach Campground Resort. It’s cheap and right next to the beach. Many friends recommended us this place to stay.

Day 26-28: Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh is a modern city that will cover any necessities for any traveler. With plenty of western food and shops all around the city, the south of Vietnam is cosmopolitan.

Street of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

What to do
First, plan a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, one of the best places to remember how communists had to hide from the US military for more than 20 years. You will get the chance to “walk” inside one of the tunnels and learn all the techniques and traps hidden in the jungle.

Note: there is a shooting range at the end of the tour where tourists can choose a weapon and shoot like in the war. We didn’t like that end of the tour. However, it’s not possible to skip it.

After that, continue your visit trying the famous Ho Chi Minh Sandwich in any of the thousand stands on the street. It’s a mix of tomatoes, salad, egg, mayonnaise and ketchup (meat lovers can get chicken or beef as well).

Stop by in the Coffee Apartment House. There are 9 floors of small coffee business facing the city, in the same building!

Next day, prepare yourself for an intense visit to the War Remnants Museum. The museum leads you to the Vietnamese war from 1955 to 1975 in 3 floors. It’s very well documented and with plenty of memories. Especial mention to Isa’s favorite photographer: Robert Capa, who died in the Vietnam war when stepping on a land mine. His photos are an absolute gem for the history of WWII and the Vietnam war.

Recover yourself with a walk to the Notre Dame, built in 1863 after the French colonization. Also, it is worth checking the beautiful Post building, right on the left side of the church, with its gothic interior.

How to get around
Hardcore people can choose to take a motorbike around the city. Otherwise, Grab is cheap and fast to arrive anywhere.

Where to stay
Check well the security of the accommodation. For instance, if the lockers are really safe. We heard many travelers got stolen in their hostel in Ho Chi Minh. There are many options in Booking, we liked to stay in Kiki’s House Saigon. It’s a good and secure hostel, with the option of double bunk beds, ideal for couples.

Day 29-30: Chau Doc or Can Tho

If you plan to visit Cambodia on the same trip, choose Chau Doc as your last destination, as it’s located next to the border with Cambodia. Most tourists go to the more popular Can Tho, which is quite the same, but more crowded.

Tra Su Cajuput forest in Chau Doc, Vietnam

What to do
Like in Can Tho, there is a smaller version of a fisher village to visit in the morning.

Experience the Tra Su Cajuput Forest, an impressive ecological diversity and wild natural beauty full or flora and fauna like in a fairytale. The day we visited found only a few locals, the rest was all for ourselves.

Tra Su Cajuput Forest in Chau Doc, Vietnam

How to get around
The hostel can provide you with a scooter motorbike to drive along the beautiful countryside of Vietnam. The streets are good to drive.

Driving a moto in Chau Doc, Vietnam

Where to stay
We stayed at Bao Thy Hotel. It has clean and spacious rooms. The owner helped us with the motorbike rental and organizing our journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The breakfast is like everywhere in Vietnam: very good.


Transport

Vietnam has the most comfortable night buses we have ever been to. For that reason, we took several night buses to arrive at our next destination. So, our transport choices were the following:

  • Hanoi to Halong Bay > 🚐 Minivan (3 hours)
  • Hanoi to Sapa > 🚌 Overnight Bus
  • Hanoi to Ninh Binh > 🚂 Train (3 hours)
  • Ninh Binh to Hue > 🚌 Overnight Bus
  • Hoi An to Dalat > 🚌 Overnight Bus
  • Dalat to Mui Ne > 🚐 Local Bus (5 hours)
  • Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh > 🚍 Tourist Day Bus (4 hours)
  • Ho Chi Minh to Chao Doc > 🚌 Overnight Bus

Overnight Bus in Vietnam

Tip: If you are a couple and consider the overnight bus, the two sits at the end of the bus are like two beds together, which means more space 😙.

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