Vietnam: our 2-week itinerary, including all highlights

When my dad and I decided to travel to Vietnam, we soon realized that (due to our limited days off) the maximum length of our trip would be 2 weeks. As Vietnam is a large country and there is so much to see, I started puzzling and came up with a 2-week (13 days excluding the flights) itinerary that includes most highlights of Vietnam.

A few notes upfront:

  • This itinerary is based on our interests. As we both aren’t interested in nightlife and spending full days at the beach, we quickly decided to skip some places that might be interesting to others.
  • The itinerary could of course also be followed the other way around. We started in HCMC based on the plane ticket price, but you could just as well start in Hanoi.
  • We chose to travel long distances by plane rather than night train, as these flights were cheap (€30 – €50), and convenient: they saved us a lot of time. Of course you could take a night train, but we did not see the added value as prices were similar.

Okay, so here we go. I will not get into too much detail, as this will already be a long post. More detailed information will follow in another post, or feel free to send me a message if you have any questions.

Day 1: Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

We arrived late in the afternoon, and took a taxi to our hostel in Saigon’s backpacker district. This drive was our first introduction to the Saigon traffic system (read: none). We arrived shaking and covered in sweat. Upon arrival, we quickly changed clothes and decided to treat ourselves to a big, cold beer at a terrace. We then visited the post office, town hall and the Notre-Dame cathedral.

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Small impression of HCMC traffic

Day 2: Saigon

After a good night of sleep, we explored the area around our hostel. After lunch, we went on a scooter tour with Saigon Lovers, that turned out to be one of the absolute highlights of our trip! Two (English speaking) students picked us up and drove us around Saigon, showing us some off-the-beaten track places. The first few minutes I was absolutely terrified, as I had never been on the back of a scooter, let alone in the chaos of Saigon. However, I quickly came to appreciate the cold breeze and started to enjoy the ride.

Anyway, the tour took us to a district far from the backpacker’s area. We were led through the backyard of a house (with chickens walking around) and arrived at a dock, where we boarded a small boat. After a short boat ride we arrived at Mieu Noi Phu Chau, a floating temple located in the middle of the river. We were the only tourists there! We enjoyed some coconut juice there while the guides answered all our questions. Then we went to a restaurant where the guides ordered a variety of local dishes for us to try.

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The floating temple: Mieu Noi Phu Chau
 

Day 3: Saigon – Mekong Delta

After arriving at Cai Be harbour, we were transfered by boat to our accommodation for the night: the Mekong Lodge. The moment you get off the boat, you feel like you’ve arrived in a different world: flowers and fruit trees everwhere, a nice breeze and so quiet!

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The lush gardens of the Mekong Lodge, and on the right our bungalow
After a quick swim in the pool, we left for a boat ride through the delta (yes, wearing conical hats of course!), followed by a bike tour and a visit to a brick factory.

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Day 4: Mekong Delta – Saigon

In the morning, we visited the ‘floating market’ of Cai Be, which we soon found out nowadays only consists of 2 or 3 boats. Luckily, the ‘land’ market in Cai Be was much more lively (and there were no other tourists).

mekong-delta

We arrived back in Saigon late in the afternoon, after which weimg_2653 walked to the Bitexco tower and went to the Heli bar on the 52nd floor. Finding this bar is a bit difficult, ask me about it if you’re interested. We were lucky enough to get a table on the window and enjoyed a wonderful sunset whilst drinking a cocktail.

Day 5: Saigon – Hoi An

From Saigon, we took the 12:00 flight to Da Nang, close to Hoi An. As the flight time is just over one hour, we arrived at our hotel early in the afternoon. Using our hotel’s free bikes, we immediately left to explore the town, and we absolutely loved it. Yes, it is very touristy, but for good reason. Such wonderful old buildings, the lanterns everywhere, and last but definitely not least: the entire old center is free of scooters. A nice change from the chaos in Saigon.

hoi-an-nightDay 6: Hoi An

We bought an old town ticket, with which you can enter 5 (if I remember correctly) places of your choice in the old center. We especially liked the Fujian Assembly Hall (left picture) and the Cantonese Assembly Hall (middle picture). In the afternoon we biked over to An Bang Beach for a swim. After sunset, we visited the night market and walked around in the old center, admiring all the lanterns once again.

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Day 7: Hoi An

Day trip to My Son Sanctuary, a complex of old Hindu temples in the middle of the jungle. Some of the temples date back to around the 4th century. Even though most temples are partially or mostly ruined, you still get a sense of how wonderful this place must once have been, and you can still see what good builders the Champa were.

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Upon our return in Hoi An, we found out the monthly full moon festival would take place that evening. After dinner, we went into town to find the river scattered with floating candles. It was truly magical! Unfortunately, our cameras proved incapable of capturing this nighttime spectacle…

Day 8: Hoi An – Hue

We booked a car with driver to take us from Hoi An to Hue over the Hai Van Pass. Along the way, we stopped at the Marble Mountains. In the 5 mountains you’ll find lots of caves, tunnels and buddhist sanctuaries.

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Day 9: Hue

After a delicious breakfast (my father claims the ‘pho’ at our hotel was the best he ever tasted), we rented bikes and went to the imperial citadel. This is a huge complex right in the center of Hue, consisting of palaces, courtyards, gates and even a forbidden city. Strangely, it was very quiet here: we heard cigales and birds all around us. As this place was so beautiful and so large, we spent the morning and most of the afternoon here. We bought iced coffee and lunch (‘banh mi’) at a stall inside the complex, and enjoyed it in the shade whilst listening to the birds. This day is one of my favorite Vietnam memories 🙂

hue

Day 10: Hue – Hanoi

From Hue airport, we took the 10:00 flight to Hanoi. We spent the afternoon exploring the center, and in the evening we went to a waterpuppet show. We ended the evening on a rooftop bar overlooking the Hoan Kiem lake, drinking a mojito.

Day 11: Hanoi – Halong Bay

We left early in the morning for our 2-day cruise in Halong Bay. Around noon, we embark our junk and lunch is served, whilst we start our cruise. Quickly, the landscape changes and we see the numerous rock mountains Halong Bay is so famous for. We go kayaking and then visit ‘Sung Sot cave’, which I did not find very impressive. However, the view from this island is wonderful.

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We then watch a magical sunset from the boat that takes us back to our junk.

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Day 12: Halong Bay – Hanoi

This morning, we left early to visit Titop Island. We are the first group to arrive at the island, even before it opens. After the gate opens, we quickly climb the 427 steps to reach the top and admire the view, before the other groups catch up with us.

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Day 13: Hanoi (and flight home)

On our last day, we decide to visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where typical Vietnamese houses and towns have been built life-sized. Not a ‘must-visit’, but it was interesting. In the afternoon, after an extensive lunch and enjoying our last glass of passionfruit juice, we go to the airport to catch our flight home.

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