Let me say one thing first. The traffic in Vietnam really is CRAZY! I’ve been to ‘many’ busy cities before, e.g. New York and Hongkong, but I’ve never ever been in this craziness as Hanoi before. Some people told me it is comparable to India. Well I don’t know, haven’t been there before. But let me
tell you one thing: the traffic in Vietnam and especially in Hanoi is insane. This picture describes the traffic best:
I wish I had 3 weeks to travel through Vietnam, but unfortunately we only could get 2 weeks off, so this was our itinerary for these two weeks:
- Halong Bay
- Phong Nha
- Hoi An
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Vung Tau
If I had one more week, I definitely would have added Sapa to the list and Phu Quoc or Con Dao islands.
We arrived in the morning in Hanoi and with our ‘letter of approval’, we could get our visa at the airport. You need to pay 45 dollars per person there and make sure you got this before you arrive at the airport. You have to pay by cash and we haven’t noticed an ATM before customs.
To get to the hotel we took a cab. Make sure to negotiate about the price, but better is to get a meter taxi. In Hanoi we stayed in the Crystal Hotel. A 2 stars hotel in the old quarter. When you are a bit afraid already because of the traffic, don’t stay in the old quarter. The streets are small, the ‘restaurants’ are on the sidewalk and motorbikes are parked everywhere. We didn’t expected that the traffic would be something like that, so we booked a Halong Bay cruise (2 days 1 night) for the next days to acclimate a bit. When you take a cab from the airport to the hotel, negotiate about the price!
The Crystal Hotel is cheap, but comfortable and it is including breakfast. The staff is friendly and the manager would love to sell you some trips ;). We got a free upgrade of the room and left most of our lugage there when we did the Halong Bay tour.
In the Lonely Planet (2014 edition), we found a walking tour through the old quarter and it would take us for about two hours, so that was our plan for the first day. The places of interest in Hanoi are mostly smaller than we are used to, so stupidly enough we missed some of the places…
After the old quarter walking tour, we walked to the West Lake to see the Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. Close to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you can find the Ho Chi Minh Museum and a One Pillar Pagoda. After that, we went to the Literature Temple and walked our way back to the hotel. Don’t be afraid to walk in smaller streets, because there you could find some nice places to eat.
You will find streetfood everywhere in Hanoi and don’t be afraid to try. It is delicious and cheap! We tasted delicious Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Pho (noodle soup) and Bun Cha for example.
On another day, we went to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. One word: impressive. We also saw a water puppet show. Although a water puppet show was totally new for me, it was a bit boring because it was in Vietnamese so I couldn’t understand where the stories were about.
Although our first impression of Hanoi was too crazy for us, when we got back from the Halong Bay tour, we actually could esteem Hanoi. The traffic, the streetfood, chickens on the street, women carrying food with bamboo poles and many many more.
We booked a 2 day 1 night tour to Halong Bay via the hotel and got a (free?) upgrade to a deluxe suite. We paid $140 per person for the tour, which is including the transfer to and from the ship, 2x lunch, 1x breakfast and 1x dinner. I really would advise to stay one night at the bay, so you can see the sunset and sunrise. Halong bay is beautiful and I think during high season, very crowded. On the first day, we got picked up by a minibus around 9 o clock at the hotel. From there, it took about 3,5 hours to the harbour. At the ship, we started with a delicious lunch and they also took account with special diets of all the guests. After the lunch, we could enjoy the scenery on the sun deck. We went to a small island where you could walk to the top of the mountain to enjoy the view. It was nice, but not specifically a must see, because the scenery when you are on the ship is stunning as well. Perhaps the mountain was simply not high enough to get that stunning feeling. The beach on the island was small, but beautiful. After that, we had a sunset party without sunset (…?) and went to a fishersman village where we could go on a bamboo boat where a lady will do the work for you, or you could go kayaking. We choosed the last option. Although we couldn’t take pictures because the camera could get wet, we loved to peddle around without any other people around us.
In the evening, we had a lovely dinner and played some games with the other guests. The next day, we went to a cave. It was very crowded there and it seemed like we were in a rush. Although the cave was beautiful to see, it didn’t blew our mind because of that. It simply felt like a very touristic stop.
Back on the ship, we learned how to make spring rolls and again, had a very nice lunch. Around noon we were back at the harbour again where we had to wait for the minibus to take us to the hotel.
Perhaps when you’ve seen rising mountains out of the sea in Phuket or Guilin, Halong Bay wouldn’t be something totally new for you. As soon as I’ve visited those places, I will let you know if Halong Bay is still worthwhile to see ;). But for now, I really think even then you should visit Halong Bay. The area is huge and I simply can’t image you can get bored when looking at a scenery like that.
Yes, we went to this national park as well! Click on the link above to find the post about this. It is absolutely worth to visit. We are glad we went in 2014, because of what I heard it becomes much more touristy.
Son Trach – Hue by sleeper bus
First we planned to get a bus from the Easy Tiger Hostel to Hue with a stop at the DMZ. Unfortunately, the tour just cancelled, so we decided to get the regular bus tickets. There are also public buses going to Hue, but we took a sleeper bus. We bought our tickets just the evening before at the Easy Tiger Hostel and the bus left around 5 A.M. A couple of years ago I traveled in Thailand by bus and really couldn’t imagine a sleeper bus in Vietnam would be something like this. The sleeper bus is from the outside just a regular tour bus, but inside there are all dorm beds kinda seats. You have to take off your shoes before getting in the bus and you can sit in your seat or lay back. At the back of the bus, there is a toilet. The bus doesn’t stop in the meanwhile.
After about 4 hours, we arrived in Hue and didn’t know where we were. Luckily there was a nice guy who traveled with the same bus and have been in Hue more often. We booked a room at the Than Thien Friendly Hotel in Hue and I can tell you one thing: the employees here really are very friendly. Without noticing them beforehand, they made our room ready for an early check-in, because we only booked for one night. The room we had was small and without window, but it was clean and the bed was ok. At the reception we received a map of the town, so by foot we went to the Emperial Enclosure. Be aware that around the Citadel, there are many men who wants to cycle you around the Citadel, because the Citadel is closed. Well, that’s just a trick to get you on the bike.
Compared to the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Citadel in Hue is small and less impressive. But nonetheless it is worthwhile to see it with your own eyes. And although I say it is small, even then we got lost :).
The rest of the day we just walked around in Hue, took a foot massage, drunk some beer and had some good food.
Hue – Hoi An
We booked a taxi at the hotel to get us to Hoi An. When you go by taxi, there are several stops at beaches, the Hai Van pass, which should be very beautiful. Unfortunately the day we left, the weather was bad and we only had a stop at the marble temple. From Hue to Hoi An by taxi, it cost $50. But we also wanted to see some tombs near Hue and for that, we had to pay $25 extra. We visited the Tu Duc tomb and the Khai Dinh tomb. It was interesting to see the difference between the two tombs. We also went to the Marble Mountain in Da Nang. We were quite tired, so we couldn’t really enjoy this stop although it was a nice stop. I wouldn’t really say it is a place you must visit, but when you are already nearby you should go have a look ;).
In the early afternoon we arrived in Hoi An. We stayed at the Than Binh 2 hotel including breakfast, but for the breakfast you have to go to Than Binh 3, which is just 2 doors away. The location of this hotel is great and also the room with balcony was large. But, this was the worst hotel during the whole trip. The staff was rude or they didn’t understand English. One lady was good in English, but was trying very very hard to sell us a cab to the airport, every single moment she saw us. Every single moment.
Ok, besides our hotel stay we really had a great time in Hoi An. The first town where we felt save walking around. When you want to buy some souvenirs, buy those in Hoi An. In the evening, they lighten this town with lanterns. There are some nice cafes and don’t forget to try some Cau Lau. You simply have to go to Hoi An :). We haven’t done so much there, but enjoyed it a lot. It was rainy when we got there and we didn’t went to the beach. Even then it was nice to be there and of what I heard, the beach is there pretty as well.
For $15 we took a taxi from Hoi An to the airport in Da Nang. There we took a flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City
We got the tip to get a VinaSun taxi from the airport to Ho Chi Minh City. So that’s what we did and it cost about $6 to get in the city. In Saigon we stayed at the May Flower hotel. The room was very small without a window and the bed was huge. The location wasn’t bad and the staff was helpful. At the hotel we booked a halfday trip to the Cu Chi tunnels the next day for $20 per person without lunch.
In Saigon we went to the war museum. Very impressive and a must go. We found a local market for clothes and accessories at front of the Galaxy Cinema were we did some good shopping. The Ben Thanh market is much more expensive compared to that and we also liked the fixed prices :).
Cu Chi tunnels
In the morning we got picked up for the Cu Chi tunnels tour. The mini bus was fully booked and the group consisted about 20 people. The area of the tunnels was very crowded and we should have booked a private tour, because the size of our group and other tourists, it was hard to understand what the guide was saying. We had the chance to get in a tunnel (which are made larger for tourists). And it felt strange to be in a tunnel and to image that people stayed in there for months.. At the end of the tour, we had to see a 20 minutes video about the Cu Chi Tunnels.
From the hotel, we took a taxi to the bus stop. The reception of the hotel recommended us to take a cab, because it was hard to find the right bus. And she was right! It wasn’t a main station and didn’t looked like a bus stop at all. Just a small van at a regular street. The bus from Ho Chi Minh city to Vung Tau takes about 2 hours and cost about $4 per person. The bus driver didn’t speak English and was so nice to drop as off at the front of the hotel. We stayed at the Son Ha hotel which is recommended by Lonely Planet. Although often I don’t really like to Lonely Planet hotel recommendations (I don’t know why… maybe my expectations are too high when I read a recommendation by Lonely Planet), but this time I absolutely do. It’s a family hotel and they don’t speak English (yet). Very friendly and you will get some fruit, or self made yoghurt, every afternoon. In the morning the lady will make you some good coffee. It felt like home :). We rented a motorbike to explore Vung Tau. The front beach is very very small without any trees nearby. I don’t really like to lay on the beach in the full sun, so we went to the back beach where you can rent a parasol. Also the beach there is much larger than the front beach. By motorbike you can drive to Long Hai when you would like to. It’s only 15km away from Vung Tau and the signs are quite clear.
In Vung Tau you can see some huge statues and one of those is a giant jesus on a mountain.
The lady from the hotel arranged a pick up for us at the hotel to the main station of Vung Tau. This service is done free by the bus company and once you arrive at the main station, you can buy your bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City there. We left there at 4 p.m. and it didn’t look like it was the last bus.