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Vietnam Travel Guide: The Ultimate Two-Week Itinerary

 


 

One of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, Vietnam is a hotspot for nature lovers, thrill seekers and foodies. The picture-perfect landscape, friendly locals and culture make for an incredible experience. Its capital, Hanoi has an old-style feel to it unlike the rest of the country and its winding roads are easy to get lost in. Whereas Ho Chi Minh City is the polar opposite with skyscrapers and modern architecture. Vietnam has so much to offer with delicious food as well as natural wonders like Ha Long Bay. This two-week itinerary will help guide you through the must-visit sights of Vietnam.

 

Three Days in Ho Chi Minh City

 


 

Dive into Vietnamese culture and life by starting your incredible two-week journey in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike any other place, Ho Chi Minh helps immerse you in the culture and offers some great sightseeing experiences. After trying out your first cup of Vietnamese coffee, definitely visit the Ben Than market and the War Remnants Museum. From Ho Chi Minh City you can also take day trips to both the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels. Whether you’re on a budget or can splurge on accommodation, there’s plenty of options. Pham Ngu Lao Street is a well-known backpackers street where you can find lots of hostels, bars and cafes.

 

Two Days in Hoi An & Da Nang

 


 

From Ho Chi Minh City fly to Da Nang to reduce time spent travelling and make the most out of the two weeks you have available. Internal flights within Vietnam are usually very good value and can be booked in advance or last minute. As Da Nang is so close to Hoi An, you can spend a morning or afternoon exploring the city before heading to Hoi An. The Marble Mountains in Da Nang are worth a visit and offer incredible views of the area.

 


 

Take a bus or taxi 30km to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An. An extremely popular designation due to its beauty and array of Chinese lanterns that come to life at night. Wander through the streets, visit the Japanese bridge and try out some delicious street food.

 

Two Days in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

 

 

You can either travel by bus or train to reach the national park. Buses leave Hoi An regularly and take the better part of a day to reach their destination. The other option is to take the train from Da Nang to Dong Hoi, then take a bus or private car from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha. If you can it’s best to travel at night so that you can utilise the time you have as much as possible and save on accommodation as well. Phong Nha has three public caves which can be visited. A tour to the Dark Cave includes swimming, zip lining and kayaking through the cave. If you’re looking for something a bit calmer, the Paradise Cave tour includes a boat ride and a chance to explore the cave.

 

Three Days in Hanoi

 


 

Hanoi is not only the capital but also the northern hub and connects many popular destinations together. Both journeys to Ha Long Bay and Sapa will leave from Hanoi so you will be coming and going through the popular city a few times. Explore and get lost in the old streets of Hanoi. Navigate through alleys in the Old Quarter with markets, street food stalls and shops. Take a wander around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning and try out some Hanoi delicacies such as an egg coffee, which is surprisingly tasty.

 

Two Days in Ha Long Bay

 


 

Most visitors to Ha Long Bay book a tour from Hanoi. There are several options available and many hostels and hotels throughout Hanoi can arrange them for you. Spending a night in Ha Long Bay is an amazing experience and the natural beauty of the area is astounding. You’ll be picked up directly from your hotel and taken by bus to the harbour. Then you’ll board a boat and spend the night in the bay. The majority of trips include swimming and kayaking. For those looking to party, the three-day and two-night Castaway tour is for you.


Two Days in Sapa

 


 

Sapa is a beautiful destination to finish off your journey. The mountainous region is breathtaking and renowned for its rice paddies, trekking and minority villages. You can reach Sapa by train, bus or private car hire from Hanoi. While visiting, there a number of hiking options ranging from easy to hard, so make sure you have the energy and the ability to carry it out. If you’ve got the time, the hike up Fansipan mountain leads to spectacular views but it is very physically challenging. If that’s not for you, take the cable car up the mountain to get the rewards of the view without the hard work.

Cat Cat Village is great to explore in Sapa and leads to a waterfall. The mountain town’s relaxing atmosphere and unique culture are truly wonderful. Next head back to Hanoi to catch your plane home and start planning your next adventure.

Must See UNESCO Sites in Vietnam Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 - 5:33 PM

 

Must See UNESCO Sites in Vietnam

From north to south, Vietnam surprises with its beauty and impresses with its complex history. If you don’t have time to visit all the World Heritage sites, don’t worry. Just follow our guide below to discover the five UNESCO sites you can’t leave Vietnam without seeing:

 

1. Halong Bay

 


 

The number one must-see sight in the north and possibly the whole country is Halong Bay. You simply cannot leave Vietnam without experiencing it. Declared a UNESCO site in 1994, it’s been stated that this area is the world’s most extensive and best example of marine-encompassed limestone karsts. It even beat out Thailand for this title - quite a feat considering these rock formations are one of the most iconic images in The Land of Smiles!

Located in Quang Ninh province, 165 kilometers from Hanoi, Halong Bay is composed of 1,600 islands -  almost all of which are uninhabited and untampered with by humans. This spectacular seascape can be enjoyed from cruise boats which take tourists out on day trips or overnight trips. Usually you’ll have a chance to swim and kayak as well, allowing you to get up close and personal with one of nature’s finest creations.

 

2. Phong Nha Key Bang National Park

 

 

In 2003, this National Park in Quang Binh province joined the list of UNESCO sites in Vietnam. With over 100 kilometers of cave systems and underground rivers, this protected area is one of the most amazing limestone karst ecosystems on the planet. The caves that can be seen inside this park are some of the oldest in Asia and the Hang Son Doong cave has been declared the largest in the world.  

Get below the surface with cave exploration tours that let you swim, hike, and spelunk to your heart’s content. If you prefer to stay above ground, the dense jungle growing on top of the cave systems is a treat for hikers seeking some remote trekking. Those who just want to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings should hit the Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail for some swimming, kayaking, and lounging at the small lake.

 

3. Hoi An Ancient Town

 


 

This city’s ancient town in the central Quang Nam province was honored as a Heritage Site in 1999 due to the excellent preservation of the ancient trading port. In fact, it remains as one of the best examples in the world of a South East trading port and commerce center. At its height of operation between the 15th -19th century, this port was one of South East Asia’s most important ports.

It’s the architecture in Hoi An Ancient Town that really makes this area so special. The cultural fusion between Chinese, Japanese, and European influence is obvious among the homes, shop fronts, and bridges. It also retains its original street plan and location, and still currently operates as a local port. Located on the Thu Ban River, another charming part of this city are the crisscrossing canals running through it.

Today, Hoi An charms travelers from far and wide with its historic waterfront now functioning as a riverside tourist attraction.

 

4. My Son Sanctuary

 

 

Also located in the central Quang Nam province and just over an hour’s drive west from Hoi An is My Son Sanctuary. This is the site of the ancient civilization of Champa, an independent country from the 4th to the 13th century before it became a part of Vietnam.

The ancient temples left behind show the Champa’s strong affiliation to Hinduismwith their specific style, sculptures, and structures. This area was not only the religious and political capital of the ancient Kingdom, but also a royal burial ground.

The remote jungle setting and shrubbery growth on the roughly 70 temples adds to the enchanting vibes felt as soon as this spiritual site is entered.  

 

5. Complex of Hue Monuments

 


 

The city of Hue, located in the Thua Thien-Hue province, served as Vietnam’s political, cultural, and religious capital from 1802 to 1945. Framed by the Ngu Binh Mountains and dissected by the Perfume River, Hue is a very picturesque city in addition to being extraordinarily significant to the country’s history.

Hue houses many of Vietnam’s significant historical monuments. The Complex of Hue Monuments, named a UNESCO site in 1993, is highlighted by the Hue Citadel. This impressive building was the administrative center of southern Vietnam in the 17th and 18th centuries. Within the walls of the citadel also lies the Imperial Residence, Imperial City, and the Forbidden Purple City.

In addition to this central attraction, there are several other temples, pagodas, and fortresses scattered around Hue that are included in The Complex.

******

The aforementioned World Heritage sites showcase the various aspects of Vietnam’s wonders. Travelers can visit Halong Bay for seascape, Hoi An for culture, My Son Sanctuary and Hue for history, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang for nature.

Of course, if you have the time, all of Vietnam’s UNESCO sites are worth visiting. However, if you’re keeping to a tight schedule, then these four sites will allow you to get the most diversity out of your trip.

The Charms of Hoi An Monday, May 21st, 2018 - 4:23 PM

 

 

 

The Charms of Hoi An

 

To this day, Hoi An still retains its Old World feel thanks to the extremely well-preserved area around the port. The original 17th and 18th century buildings show perfectly the fusion between Chinese, Japanese, French, and Vietnamese culture for which Hoi An is famous. It’s even earned itself an UNESCO World Heritage title.

Hoi An is a Vietnamese town that should be explored, appreciated, and savored. Read on to find out the must-see-and-do Hoi An highlights:

 

1) Peddle around Old Town

 


 

Set aside one day in Hoi An to rent a bicycle and get lost in the city’s Old Town. Cycle along the canals while admiring the French-colonial homes, Chinese temples, Japanese-style bridge, pagodas, and the old wooden store fronts. This section of Hoi An draws tourists and travelers from all over the world hopping to glimpse what life was like centuries before.

At night, the Thu Bon riverside is the most popular place for travelers to eat, drink, and hang out. Post up at an elegant bistro or laid-back local restaurant and watch the boat traffic on the river. This is definitely the most charming time and place for Old Town. Chock full of restaurants, bars, and set all aglow by hundreds of old-fashioned lanterns, you’ll find it hard to pull yourself away.

 

2) Visit the tailor

 


 

Hoi An is renowned for the number of tailors that operate in the city and the low price at which travelers can have anything they want tailor-made. This is the result of it being a trading port located on the Silk Road in its former life. Fast-forward to present-day and Hoi An has one of the densest population of tailors per capita in the world! This sounds cool until you actually go and try to pick a shop to produce the garment of your dreams. Then it becomes extremely overwhelming.

There is one important thing you should know about the tailors in Hoi An: not all of them are reputable. Many shops that advertise themselves as tailors are simply sales office. Once you’ve selected your fabric and been measured, the work is completed at an off-site location by someone else who may or may not be as skilled as you were led to believe. Also, working with a middle man results in many of the details of your future-garment being lost in translation.

In order to avoid the disappoint of a poorly made item, here are a few recommended Hoi An tailors: Be Be (known for their precision and promptness), Yaly (known for fancy and intricate detailing), Kimmy Tailor (in business nearly 50 years), and A Dong Silk (one of the best rated, professional shops in Hoi An).

 

3) Lounge on peaceful beaches

 


 

Escape the masses and head to Cua Dai Beach where you can snag your own piece of white-sand paradise with uninterrupted views of Cham Island in the distance. The 3km long beach is a considered one of the most beautiful coasts in the country. The beach remains relatively uncrowded during the week, making it feel like you’re one of the few to have made its discovery. Sunbeds and umbrellas are available to rent and hawkers patrol the beach selling refreshments and freshly-cut fruits. There’s also several seafood restaurants lining the beachfront. Although it’s only located 3km from Old Town, Cua Dai Beach feels like a million miles away from the hustle-bustle of the city.

An Bang Beach is another popular beach just a few kilometers further along from Cua Dai. An Bang is relatively undeveloped and therefore remains unspoiled when compared to many other beaches in Vietnam. There are a few water activities, including surfboard rentals if your visit falls between the surf season of September and March. There are various accommodation and dining options nearby and a few beach bars serving cold drinks and playing lively music well into the night.

 

4) Browse Hoi An Central Market

 


 

No trip to Vietnam is complete without a friendly haggle at the local market.  Hoi An Central Market is located on the banks of the Thu Bon River in the Ancient Town, just 600 meters from the iconic Japanese Bridge. The market is a daily occurrence, starting at 6:30am and running all day. Get there early and witness the fish arriving at the docks, fresh off the boats.

Once you step inside the market and your senses will immediately kick into overdrive. The smells of herbs and spices, salty seafood, and sweet exotic fruits combine to create an intoxicating scent you won’t soon forget. The energy from the vendors is electric as they try their best to push their products on passer-byers. There’s also a tailoring section within the market offering some of the best deals on fabric and labor - just remember to heed our prior warning!

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Even though these are the top four things to see and do in Hoi An, you’ll merely be scratching the surface of Vietnam’s most charismatic city. Travelers visiting Hoi An should spend a little extra time and effort uncovering its secrets as there’s a certain magic here not found anywhere else in the country.

The Weird and Wonderful Dalat city Saturday, May 19th, 2018 - 3:11 PM

 

 

 

The Weird and Wonderful Dalat city, Vietnam

 

This mindset results in one of the best reasons to go to Dalat in the first place! The obvious lack of young backpackers here makes it feel a lot more authentic than the other heavily trafficked places in Vietnam. Combine this with the city’s naturally beautiful surroundings and some kooky attractions, and Dalat is high on the list of must-see cities in Vietnam.

Here are some of the best things you can see and do in Dalat:

 

1. Get lost in the Crazy House (Hang Nga) Guesthouse and Gallery

Entrance Fee: $1 USD

 

 

This is definitely Dalat’s most interesting attraction. Commonly referred to by its nickname “Crazy House”, this bizarre building is an iconic sight in Dalat. The design and architecture are the brainchild of the Soviet-trained, Vietnamese architect named Dang Viet Nga. Built in 1990, this oddly constructed guest house boasts around twelve rooms on multiple lopsided stories. Resembling a massive tree house, the rooms are connected by twisting tunnels and winding staircases.

Even if you’re not staying in the guesthouse, you can still enter for a self-tour around the property - and you totally should!

 

2. Swim and picnic at Pongour Falls

 Entrance Fee: $0.50 USD

 

 

Lying on the outskirts of the city, this waterfall’s location in the middle of nowhere adds to its mystic. As one of the largest falls in Vietnam, Pongour is roughly 20 meters high and 100 meters wide. The multiple tiers of rocks create dozens of asymmetrical cascades makes for a really impressive sight. You can even climb up these tiers to paddle your feet or swim in one of the small pools.

Pongour fall is also a popular picnic spot for the locals - grab a drink or a snack at one of the small stalls nearby and join in.

 

3. Go canyoning

 Price: $50 USD

 

 

There’s no better place to rappel off the side of a waterfall than Dalat! With plenty of cliffs, canyons, and falls to explore, a canyoning day-trip is a one of a kind way for the more adventurous travelers to discover Dalat’s natural beauty. Most day-trips include transportation to Datanla Waterfall, light trekking, several opportunities for dry abseiling, swimming, cliff jumping, and experiencing a “natural” water slide. The grand finale is rappelling off a 14-meter waterfall.

 

4. Stroll around Xuan Huong Lake

 Price: Free

 

 

The Dalat city center is definitely claimed by Xuan Huong Lake. Many locals and tourists come to walk, jog, and bike the 7-kilometer path that traces the outline of the peaceful, man-made body of water. It’s also a very popular spot for honeymooners!

Around its perimeter you’ll find hotels, markets, gardens, and a golf club. There are also paddle-boats and swan boat rides available for those who just can’t resist getting out on the water. Stop in at one of the nice cafes for a leisurely drink and lakeside views. However you choose to enjoy it, this is a truly peaceful place in Vietnam where time stands still.

 

5. Explore the Dalat Night Market

 Price: Free

 

 

Also dubbed the Night Walking Town due to its sprawling size and plentiful options, Dalat’s Night Market is a lively and atmospheric place in which to wander. Located in the Hoa Binh Zone - the city’s only functioning market area - the market comprises multiple streets near the Hoa Binh Theater including Tang Bat Ho, Truong Cong Dinh, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, a part of Nguyen Chi Thanh and all of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.

The shops and stalls are lit with neon lights, setting the whole area aglow every weekend evening from 5:00pm-10:00pm. In one section, handmade woolen goods are displayed and sold from large pieces of canvas spread on the ground. Tourists can trust the genuity of the ethnic fabrics found here.

Another section is all about the food. One of the best ways to enjoy a cool or rainy evening in Dalat is to post up under an umbrella on plastic chairs and order a steaming hot-pot while the madness of the market swirls all around you.

That’s not all - you’ll also stumble across street performers, new and second-hand clothing stalls, souvenirs, and fresh produce. There’s literally nothing the Dalat Night Market lacks.

 

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These are just a few of Dalat’s many highlights. If you take the time to explore further, you’ll easily find dozens of other reasons to love the weird and wonderful Dalat.

Backpacking Vietnam Travel Guide Friday, May 18th, 2018 - 7:37 AM

 

 

 

Backpacking Vietnam Travel Guide

Are you backpacking in Vietnam soon? If so, then you’re making the right decision. With striking nature landscapes, long stretches of gorgeous coastlines, cheap accommodation, and vibrant local culture, Vietnam is definitely a perfect backpacker destination.

When To Go Backpacking in Vietnam

The best time to go backpacking in Vietnam is in spring, which is between the months of February and April, and in autumn, from August until October. In spring, the months of March and April enjoy the lowest rainfall, although the temperature across all destinations during this time of the year is pleasant.

Where to Go Backpacking in Vietnam

Vietnam is divided into two regions, the south (Ho Chi Minh City) and the north (Hanoi). If your time in Vietnam is limited, you can simply focus on one region. Otherwise, if you have a month for your trip, then you can explore from the north to south or the other way around.

If you want to visit the southern part of Vietnam, your trip will most likely begin in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Aside from Ho Chi Minh, here are the other places you can visit in the southern part of Vietnam:

  • Cat Tien National Park - a tropical forest complex with more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife.
  • Dalat - a charming town dotted with colonial architecture amidst a gorgeous natural backdrop.
  • Mekong Delta - miles of interconnecting rivers and canals, with a buzzing floating market.
  • Phu Quoc Island - this island is known for its gorgeous beaches, lush forest, and beautiful waterfalls. 

 

If you want to focus your Vietnam trip in the North, then your trip should begin at Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city. In the north, here are the other places you can visit:

  • Halong Bay - this place consists of more than 3,000 islands in varying shapes and sizes that sits gorgeously in crystal clear waters.
  • Sapa - this is a hilly countryside with spectacular mountain views, offering plenty of nature activities, such as trekking and cycling.
  • Dien Bien Phu is - located in the most scenic part of the country, this small town plays a significant role in the history of Vietnam as this is where Vietnam’s victory over France took place in 1954.

Where to Stay When Backpacking in Vietnam

There are plenty of affordable backpacker accommodations in Vietnam. The standard accommodation in most of the tourist areas in the country is excellent. There are plenty of accommodations that cater to budget travelers and backpackers, especially in the main tourist hubs of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Prices are slightly less expensive in Southeast Asian standards, however the quality is definitely much better. Competition is stiff and with construction boom currently going on in the country, now is the best time to visit, as the cost of accommodation is generally low and the standards of service remain high.

Staying Safe in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the safest countries to visit for all kinds of travelers, including solo backpackers. However, in major cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, pickpocketing incidences is still an occurrence, so you have to be mindful of your belongings when walking the busy streets. Moreover, the streets of Vietnam are pretty chaotic, so you have to be careful when walking the streets, as there are plenty of motorcycles zooming around.

The motorcycle is a big part of the tourism of Vietnam, but you have to exercise extreme caution when riding or driving. Always wear your helmet and make sure you have a driving license, or you could get penalized with a hefty fine.

Backpacking in Vietnam is really cheap, but you could end up spending more if you don’t come prepared. Hopefully, this guide can help you in planning your backpacking adventure in this beautiful Southeast Asian nation.

 

 

 

Vietnam Guide: How to Spend 48 Hours in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

 

A UNESCO World Heritage site and national park, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is riddled with caves and is home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia. Located on the north central coast region of Vietnam, the national park was originally created to protect one of the world’s two largest karst regions, consisting of 300 caves and grottos.

Son Trach town is the main centre for accommodation and restaurants. With a population of just 3000, the small town is becoming much more popular with hostels and hotels opening. The caves are the absolute highlight of the national park and tourists flock to see one of the many caves in the area. Two days spent in the national park is a perfect amount of time to soak up the sights, history and culture.

 

 

Day 1: Morning

 

A day trip to Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave is a brilliant way to spend your time. Phong Nha has three public caves in total and they are much more affordable options than Hang Son Doong cave which costs $3000 and is not easy to get to.

Phong Nha Cave will take around three hours in total to see and includes a boat trip there and back. A very beautiful and serene journey and you have the option to see Then Song Cave whilst there. Unlike Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave can easily be reached by motorbike. The journey offers spectacular views throughout and gives you a chance to go at your own speed.

 

Evening

 

Delicious food and a great atmosphere, head over to D-Arts Zone in Son Trach town in the evening. The menu includes fried spring rolls and smoked sausage from the restaurant’s barbecue grill. Sit out on the wooden table and chairs and enjoy your evening after a long day of exploring.

 

Day 2 : Morning

 

On day two, head to the Dark Cave for an adventure. While visiting the Dark Caves, you have the opportunity to swim, kayak and zip line in the cave. A completely different experience from Phong Nha and Paradise Cave. Although it only takes a couple hours to visit the cave, there are some hot springs nearby that are well worth a dip.

 

Afternoon

 

Next head off to the botanical gardens which offer fantastic treks. You can find the entrance to the gardens right by the Phong Nha park entrance. There are three hikes available, all leading to a waterfall at the end. The shortest trek is only 1km and heads straight to the waterfall. Depending on your capability and energy levels, you can decide which hike is more suited for you.

 

Evening

 

After two days back to back exploring caves and jungle, take some time to relax, have a drink and meet some fellow travellers. Easy Tiger Hostel is a lively, social hub of activity for visitors. As well as a great place to have a drink, they can also arrange tours and shuttle buses. The hostel regularly has entertainment and has 104 rooms available if you’re looking for a place to stay.

If you’re serious about visiting the more restricted caves such as Son Doong Cave and Hang En, Oxalis Adventure Tours are the only official company allowed to operate commercial expeditions in the caves. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park offers up breathtaking scenery and a unique landscape perfect for exploring. Make the most of the time you have and enjoy every minute.