Our Vietnam Trip In A Nutshell
In This post we want to share all the details of our Vietnam trip, including, where we stayed, what we did, and where we had amazing food. It’s so hard to put into words (especially when you are not such a great writer like me) the experiences we have had, not only living in Thailand, but traveling to the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. Nevertheless, I will attempt to share with you our adventures that took 11 days and 8 flights, visiting 5 cities in 2 countries. There will be two separate blog posts so don’t miss the other on Cambodia.
Ho Chi Minh City
Our first stop, Ho Chi Minh City, proved to be a bit of a culture shock. Going from the quiet, calm city of Chiang Mai to the bustling capital of Vietnam really jolted all of our senses. We stayed in Long Hostel ($18USD/night), located in a tight alleyway, right in the heart of backpacker territory. The hostel itself was OK as far as being clean and providing a roof over our head for two nights. They provided a good breakfast and the staff was extremely helpful and friendly.
We spent our first evening upon arrival wandering the streets and exploring. Our first stop was, of course, trying the noodle soup at Pho Quynh ($2USD/bowl). This is a small place on the corner of the street with a couple of tables squished inside and a few outside on the sidewalk. They run a tight operation, cranking that Pho out non-stop. We loved it and went back for breakfast and lunch the following day!
Our second day, we went on a half day tour to the outskirts of the city where the Củ Chi Tunnels are located. The tour was arranged for us by the hotel staff and cost $20USD for each of us. The bus trip out there took about two hours, including a stop midway at an artisan market where the items were very expensive but nice to look at. Once at the Củ Chi tunnels, our guide told us how the tunnels were used for escaping/storing/hiding/cooking during the Vietnam War. Some of the tunnels are very long, but we decided to only enter one that was 10 meters long. It was hot and tight. Not a place I really enjoyed being for too long, but very interesting to experience.
We were also shown various traps that were used during the war to capture Americans. This, coupled with the description of the destruction and devastation caused by Agent Orange really proved the brutality of war.
The tour ended in the afternoon and we were returned back to the city. They gave us the option to try out Vietnamese pancake at a restaurant that specializes in them. So, at the end of our tour we were dropped off at the restaurant and gave it a try. This special Vietnamese dish had to be ordered in advance because it takes about 15 minutes to prepare (usually enjoyed on the weekends when they have time to make it). This dish is nothing like the pancakes we are used to back in the U.S.. It is made of rice flour, pork/shrimp, and onion. The plate is accompanied by a side of basil , lettuce leaves, and bean spouts. The way to eat this is to wrap the pancake into the lettuce leaf and include the sprouts and basil, like a burrito. Delish!
After lunch, it was time for more exploring of Ho Chi Minh City. We set out on foot towards the market and did some shopping. This market is like an indoor bazaar. A maze of stalls selling everything from shoes and clothing to souvenirs and food. You can haggle for a better price than what they initially quote you. The only difference here is that they do not take the price down very low like they would in Thailand and Cambodia. Still, things are not that expensive if you are spending dollars. I purchased beaded shoes and Vietnamese coffee. It’s such a huge place that it can take a few hours to see. However, we didn’t spend much time there since we wanted to see some of the city while we had the afternoon.
We continued to the Catholic Cathedral and the post office. They are located across the street from each other. It was convenient that we were able to send out some post cards that we had just purchased from a street vendor. After all that walking, we agreed to take a taxi back to the hotel instead of walking another 20 minutes. This proved to be a bad idea. It was a metered taxi, but the meter had several numbers so it was difficult to decipher which was the amount. The driver took us in circles through traffic and acted like he didn’t understand us when we tried to tell him which way to go. In the end, he cheated us out of $50USD and left a bad taste in our mouth that took the rest of our time to get rid of.
After dinner, we walked around the popular streets in District 1 lined with restaurants and bars. Hoping to change our bitter mood, we popped into one of the bars and ordered hooka (shisha). Being scared of getting ripped off again we asked the waiter twice how much it would costs just to be sure. In the end, they still brought us a receipt with a higher amount on it. When we disputed it, they pretended that they didn’t understand us again and gave a 5% discount. Tip for traveling in Ho Chi Minh: be weary of deals to lure you into the shops and restaurants! Also, count your change back and look at receipts carefully. On several occasions, we were given less change back than we should have and charged for things we never ordered.
Ha Noi/Ha Long Bay
Admittedly, we were not in the best of moods when we first arrived in Ha Noi. The taxi driver cheating us and the crazy motorbike drivers and their honking in Ho Chi Minh City had really annoyed us. Upon check-in at the Hanoi 3B Hotel ($22USD/night)we were cheerfully greeted by the front desk and served hot coffee. The room at this hotel was very cute and they had made swans from the towels and placed rose petals on the bed, which was a nice touch. The hot coffee and greeting was a nice change.
The hotel is located in the Old Quarter of Ha Noi. It is a small area with old French architecture and narrow streets that wind and turn into each other. It is quite busy, with it’s many food stalls and hostels sprinkled in between the souvenir stores and street vendors. The never-ending stream of motorbikes was reminiscent of Ho Chi Minh city, but a bit tamer and quieter.
Hanoi 3B Hotel
99 Ma May, Hoan Kiem District
Old Quarter, Hanoi, VietnamCheck Availability
Walking along it’s narrow, meandering streets, one might even think they were strolling through the streets of Paris if it were not for the iconic Vietnamese hat wearing women carrying a long stick on their shoulder with items for sale hanging from each end. We were constantly approached and asked to purchase from these vendors. At one point, I was forced to carry one of their sticks on my shoulder as the vendor asked for my camera to take a picture of me. Refusing politely on a consistent basis takes some getting used to but can be helpful in allowing ones attention to be placed on taking in the sites of the city.
One such site is the lake situated on one corner of the Old Quarter. It provides a great place to walk and take in the beautiful scenery. We found a very nice restaurant on an upper floor that had excellent views of the lake. We finally stopped eating Pho for once and had the French baguette sandwiches that are popular in Vietnam along with fresh spring rolls.
Our second day in Ha Noi had an early start that included a four hour drive to Ha Long Bay. We were taken on van along with 6 other passengers who would also be on the cruise with us. The Paloma Cruise was most memorable for us. It took us out of the hustle and bustle of the cities and into the serene waters of the bay that are peppered with over 1,000 limestone cliffs.
We chose the 2 day, 1 night cruise, which turned out to be perfect ($19oUSD/person, all inclusive with transportation). During the day we participated in activities such as learning to cook Vietnamese food and exploring the huge limestone caves. The food in itself was worth the trip. We were served a plethora of Vietnamese dished prepared by the chef on board. Every meal was delicious!
Our boat was one of many that sailed past the floating villages in which many live all of their life. We tried squid fishing one night, but had no luck in catching any. The option to kayak or swim around the boat was available, however the temperature was too cold to try it at this time of year. We truly enjoyed this relaxing experience of getting fed and pampered on the waters of this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site.Check Availability
Halong Paloma Cruise
Vinashin Wharf, No 6A Le Thanh Tong
Hon Gai Port, Halong, Vietnam 200000
Once again we had a four hour ride back to Ha Noi at the end of our Ha Long Bay cruise. We had booked the same hotel in Ha Noi again so it was nice to come back to familiar faces. For the evening back in Ha Noi, we decided to attend a water puppet show. These shows are well known in Ha Noi and draw a huge crowd. The theater we went to is located across the street from the lake and cost around $5 per person for a 45-minute show. It was a great experience since neither of us had ever seen a water puppet show. The live Vietnamese traditional music that accompanied the show was an added nice touch as well as the pyrotechnics used. The skill and talent used for these puppet shows were surprising, not to mention that they perform worldwide.
We enjoyed some Pho on the streets and purchased some souvenirs on our last night in Ha Noi. Overall, it was a fun place with lots to see. I highly recommend this full itinerary of things to do in Hanoi if you have a few days there. The weather this time of year is very much like San Francisco, with its fog and drizzle (Ha Noi is located in northern Vietnam). This only made the Pho taste better!
Da Nang/Hoi An
Our final two nights in Vietnam were spent in the south-central coastal cities of Da Nang and Hoi An. We stayed at the Grand Mango hotel in a room with an awesome view of the East Vietnam Sea and beach ($38USD/night).Check Availability
60 An Thuong 1 Street
My Khe, Phuoc My
Da Nang, Vietnam
The weather here was windy and a bit cool on the night we arrived. The following day it was much warmer and partially cloudy, allowing us a half day at the beach. In the afternoon, we hired a private car for the day for $36. The driver took us to see the Lady Buddha statue before taking us to Hoi An.
The Lady Buddha statue is located on a hill overlooking the city and the sea. It is a magnificent place to visit and see all of Da Nang. There is no entrance fee and you can stay as long as you want. It was really hard to leave this peaceful place with such a wonderful view, but we had to get going in order to see Hoi An.
Only a half hour drive from Da Nang, Hoi An is an ancient little town. It was a trading port in the 15th century and has maintained it’s beauty throughout time. We spent the evening strolling the town, purchasing souvenirs and stopping in a cafe for a cool drink. This UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site is truly an experience on the history of the area. It has a unique beauty that can only be developed from the character of the people who had originated it. It has been very well preserved and is a must see in Vietnam.
The channel of water that runs through provides a peaceful and romantic setting. Along it’s edges are restaurants and shops. We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant just across from the water near one of the bridges and really enjoyed the view. After dinner, along with many other tourists, we partook in the activity of sending a floating lantern down the river. It was magical end to our stay in Vietnam!
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!