Over 2016 and 2017 I solo backpacked in over 30 countries across 4 different continents including my homeland Australia. I often have been asked by my friends to suggest different cities and countries to visit. Therefore I have decided to write a personal travel blog for my friends and family to enjoy! The below travel advise is solely based on my person experience and stories.
For me, my plan was to start in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon, the capital city) located in the south of Vietnam and head north to Hanoi. Most people do a similar route or start at the top and end at the bottom. Personally, I recommend you would go from the south to north for the sole reason that the north is much picturesque , you will definitely be ending on a good note!
This was my route:
Ho Chi Minh Ho Chi Minh is a city definitely worth checking out. It is a crazy, big and busy which I normally hate but there was an intriguing energy about this place. Although, I would say a couple nights there is more than enough. Ho Chi Minh is no different to a lot of places in South East Asia, they experience hot and humid days followed by heavy drop pour of rain. The weather combined with the limited drainage means the streets often flood! It is definitely something to witness, the locals will continue to run their daily errands in calf deep water. They don’t let the overflow get in the way!
Thing to do:
Cù Chi Minh (the war tunnels): Vietnam is rich in history and I have heard that there is some very interesting museums to visit but I opted to go to the tunnels. You will be able to experience first hand the tight and narrow tunnel the Vietnamese used during the war. I am a relevantly small person and I struggled to manage my way through!
·Flouting markets: it’s definitely more expensive to buy things than an ordinary market place but it is interesting to see.
Nha Trang It was suggested by the bus company that I stop in Nha Trang in between night buses from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An as it would be would an extensive journey on a direct bus. The bus was running a few hours earlier into Nha Trang meaning we arrived at 4am, this caused us to be very tired. I found there wasn’t much to do and ended up spending the duration of the stopover on a very average beach with all my belongings. Throughout the day I was constantly asked by ‘local’ Russians to come and eat at their restaurants. It was a really bizarre day and not the most pleasant experience! It is not somewhere I would recommend, I would say it is better to pay a little extra and fly!
Hoi An This city is a must and remains as one of the highlights on my South East Asia trip. Hoi An is usually the city that comes to mind when you think of Vietnam. It’s full of lanterns in the streets and looks like something you see in travel brochures.
This is definitely the best city for getting any clothes made. You are able to take a few photos of a garment you like into a local store and meet with the ladies who work there. They will take note of your measurements and you can expect that your outfit to be made within 2 to 3 days. Personally, I didn’t get anything made but everyone I spoke to was very happy with their custom-made items and recommended it.
Thing to do:
Get made to fit clothing
MI SON temple: Defiently try to do a sunrise tour, it is beautiful and super peaceful - It’s my favourite temple in Asia (and I saw a lot)!
Hai Van pass is a road connecting Hoi An and Hue. Highly recommend hiring scooters for the day, it’s so nice! Scooters will give you the flexibility to stop at waterfalls, lookouts, cafes, make a day out of it! – Well worth it!
Also, worth checking Golden Bridge which I didn’t do but it looks beautiful and now I know it exist, I will definitely be visiting if I return to Vietnam. From what I gather it is in the Bà Nà Hills resort, near Da Nang.
Hue The only thing I saw and recommend seeing was the abandoned water park. I really enjoyed it. We hired bicycles and rode around the park. If you have long enough arms and leg (or in my case, someone who can lift you up) you will be able to claim to the top of dragon head from the inside. There’s have an amazing view from there if you’re not afraid of heights. You only need to spend one night here.
Phong Nha Phong Nha is a national park, again, great to explore on a motorcycle or take a cave tour. Definitely do your research on the cave tours. The one I went one was very average, but I heard from other travellers that there are beautiful caves that you can go swimming in.
Ninh binh Ninh Binh looks like it is amazing. I would definitely add it to my list if I was to go to Vietnam again. Unfortunately, I missed out due to being time pressed to get to Cambodia.
Hanoi I wasn’t a fan of this. Hanoi I found it a bit big and full on. It’s definitely a good hub to travelling out of though. I used it as a base to do over overnight trips and I would highly recommend doing the same.
Places to visit from Hanoi:
· Mai Chau
· Ha Long Bay
· Sa Pa
· Chinese border
Mai Chau My favourite place I visited in the Northern part of Vietnam was Mai Chau. It was there that I did a home stay for two nights in a wooden home organised by the hostel. We stayed with a local family who cooked traditional dished for us. The sleeping arrangement was just mattresses on the floor under a fly net. In all honesty it felt pretty authentic.
Whilst in Mai Chau we did a lot of hiking and river rafting. We rode bicycles through the village and learnt to weave by a local.
Things to do:
· Hiking in the mountains
· River rafting
· Bicycling through the village
· Local markets
· Weaving taught by locals
Sa Pa A lot of other backpackers went to Sa Pa as an alternative to Mai Chau. Personally, decided not to as have heard that although it is more picturesque than Mai Chau because of its proximity to the Chinese border and location within the mountains. Although because of this it is more touristy.
Ha Long I did an overnight trip to Haling bay from Hanoi organised again by the hostel, it was called Castaway. The incentive to party in a beautiful location, without Wi-Fi. If you are considering this for your trip to Vietnam, this is specifically a two-night trip, so party goers cannot come and go as they please. This was a very fun experience but not a cultural one.
Things to do on the island:
In all the big cities, I stayed in Vietnam backpacker hostel. It’s a bit of a party hostel but it’s clean, reliable and they run really good tours. This hostel will provide you with tours to smaller cities, if you don’t have your own means of transport so I highly recommend it.
Vietnam is surprisingly great for getting around
Nights busses - cheap and amazing, there are beds on bunk busses and you actually sleep and they all seem new. Usually they pick you up in a minivan or motorcycle and take you to the bus stop and it’s all included. The hostel or little local travel agencies can organise them for you.
Motorcycles - main form of transportation
When hiring a motorcycle, companies will provide the option of transporting your luggage to your next location. This is a good option because you have less weight on the back of your bike and creating flexibility to do day trips without worrying about your luggage.
Instead of hiring bikes, people might buy motorcycles at Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi with the intention of selling it to another backpacker. This allows you to travel freely without relying on a hire company. This can be a risk because you might buy a dodgy bike or not be able to sell it in time at the other end. From personal experience, the bike that I was travelling on bought from a backpacker, the chain fell off several times. So, I would recommend if you aren’t a motorcycle person to take a different option as there is no external company to call for help. You are on your own!
Trains - again super easy but my preference is definitely the night busses!