Vietnam Itinerary, Ideas and Travel Tips

Vietnam, an expansive, stunning, country in South East Asia has recently become a popular tourist destination. There are good reasons for Vietnam’s newfound popularity. On your trip here, you will discover unique landscapes, delicious food, reasonable prices and welcoming people. Its possible you may have some preconceived notions about Vietnam. On this trip, you may find that many things you’ve read are no longer true. Planning your trip to Vietnam does not need to be complicated. Arrange a visa, choose a region, and pick from a long list of things to do in Vietnam.

Before we get started, I’d like to say a huge thank you to my friends at Vero Social Network for sponsoring this trip. Follow me on Vero (@ Traveltipster) for a lot more exclusive content on Vietnam, including video, travel tips, and photographs. Vero is a new kind of social network, build from the ground up to create a real community and genuine interaction. I am proud to be a part of the network that’s changing social for the better.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

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Things to Do Before You Arrive in Vietnam

Arrange for Vietnam visa

To visit Vietnam as an American, you will need to obtain a visa prior to arrival. The e-visa system is easy and fast. If you google “e visa Vietnam” you’ll find dozens of websites that offer the service. However, I encourage you to use the link from the State Department Website. Do not go to Vietnam until you receive and print out the Visa – you will be turned away at the border. My application for e-visa took less than 24 hours to process, but its best to apply at least 1 week before you travel.

Pick the Regions You Want to Visit in Vietnam

Vietnam is a surprisingly large country – it takes about a week to transverse from North to South by train. Due to Vietnam’s size, many visitors chose to explore just one region. However, during my trip, I visited all 3 (north, middle, and south territories) in one week. In this itinerary, I’ll be covering all three regions in 7 days. If you want to focus on one region, I hope this itinerary will help you decide which region appeals to you the most.

Decide How You Will Get Around Vietnam

Vietnam is an inexpensive country, so you will discover many affordable ways to get around. The least expensive and the least convenient way to travel around Vietnam is via bus. You do not need to make bus reservations in advance. Once you arrive, just ask your hostel where you can buy bus tickets. By bus, many trips between regions take 12 hours or more, and even sleeper buses aren’t very comfortable. However, you’ll find a fun crowd traveling with you by bus. Many travelers believe a bus trip is the most authentic way to expereince Vietnam.

Trains are a romantic, albeit a slower than air, way to get around Vietnam. Trains are a good choice if you have a decent budget and plenty of time. Arrange train tickets in advance from home – or buy once you arrive in Vietnam. In addition to the public train system, you can travel via a private train company to certain destinations – an expensive but luxurious option. Check out the world famous Orient Express and Livitrains.

Finally, the fastest and most efficient way to get around Vietnam is by air. Due to limited time, this is the option I chose. It takes only a couple of hours to travel by air between any two cities in Vietnam. The cost of plane tickets is very compatible with theh cost of train tickets. Several discount and traditional airlines fly routes between the major Vietnam cities, including JetStar, Vietjet and Vietnam Airlines. When comparing prices consider the cost of baggage and to save money, pay baggage fees when you book the tickets. To get the best deals book plane tickets a few weeks before you arrive in Vietnam. In a jam, you can buy tickets in the airport, but expect to pay more.

Things to do in South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon as many still call it) is the kind of city you either love or hate – depending on your expectations. Saigon is at times dirty, dangerous and to me – always delightful. In this city, built for locals, not tourists, you will find an air authenticity and grit. If you like big Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok, then you will enjoy the new Saigon.

At times a visit to Ho Chi Minh feels like you’ve stepped on a movie set. Even a simple walk in Saigon is an adventure of its own. The streets are heavy with moving vehicles and air with the sound of horn. There seem to be no rules – or nobody follows them. Even the sidewalk isn’t safe, as scooters randomly jump on and off, and can appear from behind you at any time.

The city boasts only a few attractions – ranging from fascinating to the bazaar. Let’s take a look at some things to do in Saigon.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Ben Thanh Market

Saigon’s Ben Thanh Market is both an assault and a treat for the senses. It is also my hands down favorite attraction in the city, probably because it is not intended to be one.

In Ben Thanh, you’ll find stall after stall of colorful goods and foodstuffs. Many of the hundreds of shop keepers will greet you – overwhelming you with invitations and offers. As you enter the market you’ll work your way from non-edible goods by the entrance into the middle of the market. Here you’ll find an exotic variety of foods. Many of the menus are in English, testifying to the changing nature of the market. For the most authentic experience come around 10 am when the shopkeepers just finished setting up and the tourists have not yet arrived.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Saigon Skydeck

The new Ho Chi Minh city effortlessly combines tradition and future, and the best place in the city to witness this contrast is at Saigon Skydeck. Located on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, visit the Skydeck in the afternoon and watch the sun set slowly over the skyrises. The entry fee is a reasonable $10 and there are no lines to get in.

Some people suggest that you can get the same view for free from a coffee shop one floor above the Skydeck. I visited the coffee shop but found it crowded, some of the views were blocked. Additionally, I was pressured to buy something and didn’t find a place to sit down and relax. I think in this case you are better off paying the entry fee and really enjoy the experience.

You can set up a tripod in the Skydeck – a great benefit for photographers.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - the view from Saigon Skydeck
The view from Saigon Skydeck, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – War Remnants Museum

A memorial to the American – Vietnam war, the museum is a popular Saigon attraction. Here, you’ll find artifacts and historical photographs. Some of the photography can be especially jarring.

Expect to be presented with only one viewpoint and some propaganda. The War Museum is especially interesting if you learned about the war in history classes.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – Cu Chi Tunnels

To get to the tunnels, you’ll need to travel several hours from the center of Saigon. The best way to get here is on a rental scooter or with a tour group.

The Tunnels, another artifact of the war, is the place where Vietnamese soldiers fought and lived. On your visit, you’ll have a chance to crawl through the tunnels and learn more about their history.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – The Masoleum

After many hours of waiting in line, you can make your way into the Mausoleum where you will find the mummified body of one of Vietnam’s most famous leaders – Ho Chi Minh himself. If you enjoy the macabre add a Mausoleum visit to your bucket list. The Mausoleum is closed on Friday, and closes at 11:30 am most other days. Be sure to get in line early or you may miss your chance.

Alternatively, by pass the lines and tour the outside area. Be sure to wear “appropriate” clothing including covered shoulders and knees. The area is full of propaganda posters and can make for an interesting cultural experience.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh – The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Another well-known attraction is the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. This is only a minor Church the likes of which you can find in any small Latin American City by the dozen.

This church is notable because it is one of the last remaining strongholds of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Things to do in Central Vietnam – Da Nang

Da Nang, noticeably smaller than the capital city, is no less exciting. Many people who visit the central region focus on two towns – Da Nang and Hoi An. Hoi An, Vietnam’s answer to Venice, is a floating village located a few hours outside of Da Nang.

When you plan your visit here, be sure to consider the weather. Rainy season in central Vietnam lasts well into December, and Hoi An can be flooded at any time.

Things to do in Da Nang – Ba Na Hills

You’ve probably seen it on social media. Two hands carved out of rock lift a golden bridge into the sky. Since its opening 6 months ago, many tourists visit Da Nang in hopes of getting a picture here. However, what most bloggers won’t tell you is that the bridge, located an hour outside of Da Nang, is inside a theme park – called Ba Na Hills.

The park’s theme is France, and here you’ll find “all things french” including a replication french village, “street actors” who are actually employees of the park, and of course for some unexplainable reason a large gelato stand.

The park is also very crowded and expensive to get into – almost $40. Unless you absolutely must have a picture on the Golden Hands bridge I think this is one place you can safely skip on your visit to Vietnam.

The Golden Hands Bridge in Da Nang Vietnam.

Things to do in Da Nang – Marble Mountain

The mountain is a network of caves and pagodas used in religious services and to hide troops during the Vietnam war. Far more than just another temple, this place is worth a visit. Wander through the caves, as a faint aroma of candles and music envelopes you. Try to come early, the place gets pretty full by mid-day.

Wear good shoes (hiking are best). You’ll find many caves with very limited access, as well as areas to climb and crawl through. A headlamp is helpful in some places. It’s easy to spend 5 to 6 hours exploring Marble Mountain.

A Pagoda at Marble Mountain.

Things to do in Central Vietnam – Hoi An

Many call Hoi An “The Venice of Vietnam,” and for good reasons. Located a few hours away from Da Nang, the village is a network of waterways known for its unique beauty. If you are visiting after rainy season (central region has a late rainy season that ends in mid-December) book a night or two in the village. To get here, fly into Da Nang and take a bus or a cab to Hoi An.

Things to do in Northern Vietnam – Hanoi

Hanoi is one of the largest cities in Northern Vietnam and makes a great base for exploring the area. The city is smaller and more quaint than Ho Chi Ming and Da Nang. The streets in Old Town Hanoi are surprisingly narrow, and initially, its a shock to watch the way pedestrians, vehicles and buses negotiate the pathways.

Things to do in Hanoi – Ha Long Bay

Arguably the most famous area in Vietnam, The UNESCO site of Ha Long Bay located a few hours from Hanoi. The most popular way to explore Ha Long Bay is via cruise, most of which are booked in Hanoi. Once you make your way to Old Town you’ll spot hundreds of tourist shops each offering their own version of the cruise to Ha Long Bay. Prices start at $50 for a day trip and several hundred for the 2 day, 3 night version.

If you chose to cruise Ha Long Bay, it’s important to remember that in Ha Long Bay, low rates are often the result of a company cutting corners. It is unfortunate, but many cruise companies use less than sound environmental practices in order to charge the cheapest prices. For this reason, I suggest you do a bit of research and book with a company that has a solid environmental track record.

I booked with Indochina Junk Tours, a high end, environmentally friendly. company. Although the cruise was a bit more expensive than other options, I was very happy with my choice. The company makes an effort to lower the impact of your trip. For instance, they minimize plastic use, provide paper straws, use salt water in bathtubs, and much more.

In addition to Ha Long Bay, Indochina Junk is one of few companies that received a permit to visit the less visited Ba Tu Long Bay. This area is cleaner than Ha Long and is ideal for water activities. You’ll also find much fewer boats in Ba Tu Long Bay. Most Indochina cruises combine a visit to both Ba Tu Long and Ha Long Bays, which are located next to each other. Most discount companies do not have a permit to visit Ba Tu Long Bay.

Things to do in Hanoi – Street Food

Vietnam is famous for great food, and arguably, you can find some of the best food in the country in Hanoi. Many tourists discover that they prefer street food in Vietnam to higher-end options. Street vendors often specialize in one or two dishes, use the ingredients they caught or raised themselves and cook according to ancient family recipes.

As you walk around the old town Hanoi, you’ll notice many make-shift restaurants. Pull up a tiny chair to a plastic table and join in on the meal. You don’t need to speak Vietnamese and there are usually no menus. Just use your fingers to show the vendor how many portions you’d like – and enjoy the food.

If you’d like to delve deeper, try many different types of food, and learn more about what you are eating, book a food tour. I booked mine on tours by locals – but you can also ask your hotel for recommendations. Especially if you are selective about food or have food restrictions, a guided tour is a great option.

Hanoi’s answer to “Umbrella Streets.”

Things to do in Hanoi – Night Market

During the weekend, much of old town is transformed into a thriving, loud street market. Here, you can wander the streets of old town as vendors occupy narrow streets with stalls that feature everything from fruits to clothing. Each block has its own unique theme. You’ll find many food blocks, but also fish blocks, kids products, even toilet paper blocks. Most of the vendors on the same block are probably from the same village. The market stretches well into the morning hours.

Also, take a look at North Vietnam in 5 days itinerary.

Vietnam – Sample One Week Itinerary

I hope you have enjoyed this article. This is, of course, only a small part of what you will discover in Vietnam. Depending on your preferences you can chose to cover the entire country, or just a small region in one week. Here is the itinerary I created for myself:

  • First Day: Arrive in Ho Chi Ming, visit the Ben Thahn Market.
  • Second Day: A day in Ho Chi Ming, visit the War Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Skydeck.
  • Third Day: Fly to Danang
  • Fourth Day: A day in Danang, visit Ba Na Hills, Marble Mountain.
  • Fifth Day: Fly to Hanoi, stay in the old town, visit the night market in Hanoi.
  • Sixth Day: Early morning pick up for the cruise to Ha Long Bay
  • Seventh Day: Spend the day in Ha Long Bay, arrive back in Hanoi in the evening, food tour in Hanoi.
  • Eighth Day: Fly to Ho Chi Ming and back home.

Thank you again for reading this article, please don’t forget to share on social and to follow me on Vero!

See you on the road,

Viktoria aka Traveltipster.

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2 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Miran
    June 24, 2019 at 10:48 pm

    Your photos are amazing! Thank you for sharing! Wish my trip to Vietnam would be smooth and I will able to take a lot of pretty pictures!

    • TravelTipster
      Reply
      TravelTipster
      June 26, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks so much, I appreciate it! Enjoy the trip!

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