Vietnam is a beautiful blend of nature and culture. It is a perfect place to go awe at many a natural wonder and to experience untainted local culture and people. This post gives a summary review of the places I visited in Vietnam to help you with your itinerary. 3 to 4 weeks would be ideal to cover the entire length of Vietnam. Plan a minimum of 15 days to cover the places I have listed.
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SA PA RICE TERRACE
Sa Pa is in the northern part of Vietnam. It’s a nice hill station tucked in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful rice terraces. There are day hikes from Sa Pa to the villages through scenic trails offering you stunning views of the rice terraces. I highly recommend visiting Sa Pa. If you are not a hiker, there are smaller walks from where you can still get good views of the rice terraces. 2 days are ideal, if you are tight on time then one day with an overnight stay will also suffice.
HOAN KIEM LAKE
This is a city of lakes, completely crowded and attractive at the same time. The old quarter area and the Hoan Kiem lake is the best area to hang out. You can get access to food, cafes, night market, puppet show theaters and lots of locals, all in the same area. Hanoi is also a point from where you can book your tour to Ha Long Bay. Hanoi night market was really a long one, second biggest after Vientiane (Laos). 2 days, split before and after your Ha Long experience should suffice.
HA LONG BAY
Ha Long Bay is one of the 7 wonders of Nature, marked a UNESCO world heritage site. It has numerous limestone pillars rising out of the water and standing in different sizes and shapes. Even though there are tons of other ships sailing alongside, the view is magnanimous and this nature’s marvel left me spellbound. Add Ha Long Bay to your itinerary, it’s a must do! Take a2 NIGHT cruise if possible. The one night package does not give you enough time on the beach, which is also very beautiful. You need not book the cruise online, would recommend to book it at Hanoi for the following day.
PHONG NHA-KE BANG
Phong Nha (pronounced Phong nya) is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. It is noted for its numerous caves, with the latest one discovered in 2009 – The Son Doong caves. This is the most beautiful of it all (from the pictures) and needs advanced bookings (months before). And also a lot of time and money because the expedition needs to be done with professionals. If you are a Caving enthusiast, then you should plan in advance for the Son Doong caves. Paradise caves, Dark caves and Phong Nha caves can be done on your own or via day trip package tours.
Would recommend at least 2 full days for this place.
HOI AN OLD TOWN
After Sa Pa, Ha Long and then Phong Nha, I wasn’t sure what more Vietnam could offer. And then I came to Hoi An! Lantern lit old town, the big ‘signature Vietnamese hat’ clad people, and the beautiful fields on the way to My Son. The brown old heritage buildings and inviting wide streets. These are a few things that sum up Hoi An. It is truly called the heritage town. And thankfully it is not filled with backpackers, you get to see more locals here.
My Son (pronounced Mi Saw) is 40 kilometers from the town. It is completely in ruins, although the ride to this place is stunningly beautiful and is worth going. 3 days should suffice for Hoi An, add a fourth day if you want to spend a more relaxed time. Plan to be in Hoi An on a full moon day, to be more specific, on the 14th day of the lunar calendar month and you will see a different and even more beautiful old town.
Da Nang – This is like a proper city, offering structures like the dragon bridge and the hanging bridge for sight-seeing. They do have an average beach too. You could use this as a transition point (like I did, for my flight to Ho Chi Minh), avoid staying in this place if you can!
HO CHI MINH CITY
Imagine, that you are a sheep and you are on a mountain full of a big herd that you cannot ever count. That’s the feeling you will get in Ho Chi Minh! One repetitive scene I enjoyed though, was that of a train of motorbikes flowing through at green traffic lights, for more than 90 seconds each time! It was like watching ants, and was kind of relaxing to see the herd move!
The Norte Dame is nothing like its name (wonder why it has the same name as the Paris one). Cu Chi tunnels day trip is something that is quite popular (and of course touristy too).
I am not a city person, so did not enjoy Ho Chi Minh city. If you like cities and it’s crowd or want to get a feel of it, spend a couple of days here. Else skip this and go on to Mui Ne (I haven’t gone there but heard that its beautiful). You can take direct buses to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh city.
Mui Ne (beach and white dunes), Hue (comparable to and some say it’s better than Hoi An) are other places to add to your plan if you have more than a fortnight.
Vietnam Loop: Land travel from Laos-> Sa Pa -> Ha Noi -> Ha Long Bay -> Phong Nha-Ke Bang -> Hoi An -> Da Nang -> Ho Chi Minh -> Land travel to Cambodia
Duration : 15 days.
The article was originally published in Trails and Frames - trailsandframes.com