Vietnam is a not exactly a small country and offers a lot of things to do and places to see. It’s a country where you can easily find a cheap place to stay but you can certainly afford to spend time in nicer hotels, too. Just pay attention when you want to book a tour. Always ask the hotel/hostel staff and look for credentials. Yes, you might feel ripped off at times and you’ll probably haggle your way pretty much everywhere…but that’s part of Asia’s charm.
The following itinerary is a classic take on visiting Vietnam. You’ll get a chance to see Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang and Saigon.
After you arrive and check into the hotel or hostel, arrange for a walking tour. There is a free one run by a student organization, but you can also do a self-guided tour using Google Maps , for example. Make sure not to miss Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Tran Quoc Pagoda, and the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu). Take a walk in the French Quarter, enjoy the local food and get used to Asia (especially if it’s your first time here).
>>read about the things to do in Hanoi
On Day 3 , plan a day trip to Halong Bay , located about 170 km from the capital. It is popular for the rock formations popping out of the water. The bay is best visited by boat. You can either take a bus or rent a car to get to Halong Bay. Then you can catch one of the boats eagerly awaiting clients. Or you can book a tour (ideally, ask the hotel or hostel staff to recommend a good agency). Overnight tours are available and you’ll be sleeping on a boat, of course.
>>read more about Getting from Hanoi to Halong Bay
Day 4 Hue
From Hanoi, take the Reunification express to Hue . All cars have AC and there are 6 connections per day. Catch an overnight train to save money and time (the travel time is between 13 and 15 h). Tickets range from 442000 dong / US$21.20 (soft seat, AC) to 748000 dong / US$36 (soft sleeper AC).
Hue is the former home of the Vietnam’s emperors offering a lot of interesting places to visit. The Imperial Citadel should not be missed and you can also check out the Tombs of the Emperors. Thien Mu Pagoda is the symbol of the city, overlooking the Perfume River. Tip: don’t forget your camera.
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>>Train Travel in Vietnam
>>Getting from Hanoi to Hue
Hoi An is a lovely city and its Old Town is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoi An doesn’t have a railway station so it’s best to catch a bus (otherwise you need to travel to Da Nang and then catch a bus to Hoi An). A bus ticket between Hue and Hoi An is about US$10 (but depends on the company).
You could look for a walking tour of the Old Town or do a self-guided one . Either way, the Old City is easy to tackle on foot . The sites within the Old Town can be visited by purchasing a ticket (US$5 allows for visiting 5 sites). Don’t miss the Japanese Covered Bridge, visit a museum (such as Hoi An Museum of History and Culture) and check out some old houses .
Also , you can plan a day trip to the Marble Mountains. They are located close to Da Nang. Some Buddhist temples have been built. The views are beautiful.
>>read more about Getting from Hue to Hoi An
Day 8 Da Nang
Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city and can be reached by bus from Hoi An. You can consider spending some time on Cham island (tours are available, but again, ask the hotel staff for guidance).
From Da Nang you can catch a train to Saigon. There are quite a lot of museums to visit especially if you are interested in history (and the war history). Don’t forget to visit Notre Dame Cathedral, located in the city center and some of the pagodas.
You’d also want to check out the Night Market and the War Surplus Market. Prepare to haggle for anything and everything.
>>read more about the Things to do in Saigon
Photo credits: Hanoi , Halong Bay
, Hue , Hoi An , Da Nang , Saigon