Vietnam, like a few South East Asian countries, is a rather long country but not very wide. In fact it gets pretty thin in the middle, but is such a long country from Ho Chi Minh City in the South to Hanoi in the north is over 1200, and that’s not the extremities of the place. Vietnam borders Cambodia, Laos and China, and so can be used to connect through to those countries if you are in the region.
I had originally planned to connect to Laos via land but in the end bought a flight as that was what my trip required as I made changes to my plan.
So, my itinerary would probably work both as a fly in and out sort of thing as well as across land, because I did what many do and that is fly into Ho Chi Minh City and out of Hanoi. Of course, many do the reverse. Jetstar arrived in Vietnam a few years back too so it’s now pretty affordable to fly internally if you don’t have the time as transport is not rocket-fast in Vietnam, but the country is gorgeous and taking a bus and especially a train is a great way to get around.
I started with mad, fun, strangely friendly and always dazzling Ho Chi Minh City. The former Saigon is really a great city to start in, if you go to the parks you’ll meet heaps of locals wanting to practice their English, it’s full of decent and inexpensive places to stay (as is the whole country) and the food’s pretty good here too. Loads of temples and pagodas, a wonderful old post office, day trips a plenty to places like the Cu Chi tunnels, the confronting and a little propaganda-ry Remnants of War Museum AND the place to grab a tour to the Mekong Delta.
I then shuffled off a few hours by bus to Da Lat in the hills. Much cooler, an awesome toy train ride at hand, I did a tour of the region as well (one day) which was a lot of fun too, a great little escape.
Then I went on to Nha Trang. It’s ok, if you like beaches. The weather was rainy whilst I was there so I didn’t get to see what it’s like when the sun is out, but I did see there a loads of bars and restaurants for the foreigners. It’s also, to be fair, a bit seedy but you can avoid that with a bit of common sense.
From there I took a train to Hue. It’s an awesome town where I took a tour down the river and saw temples and an ancient city in ruins and more. The city itself has a wonderful old citadel and the alleys are great to explore, the people are extremely friendly.
I back-tracked a little from there to Hoi An. There is no train station (from memory) in Hoi An, so instead of taking the train to Da Nang and then going to Hoi An, I went to Hue first, a little further down the line.
Hoi An has a wonderful old city you need a couple of days at least to explore, and I did a day trip to the ruins of My Son, not quite Angkor but nevertheless worth visiting in the jungle.
From Hoi An it was an overnight bus to Hanoi. This city is different from the others I visited, a bit greyer but with lots to see and do. Parks, temples, old city, museums, an old jail and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh himself!
Also, from here I took a tour to Halong Bay – three days and two nights. You can do longer, you can do shorter, but to go to Vietnam and not visit this amazing place would be a pity. The waters are calm and deep, there are amazing caves but nothing beats just being on a boat looking at the amazing rocks – mini mountains – that pop out of the sea.
From there I went back to Hanoi and flew out to Laos. Had I more time (this itinerary was 3 weeks) I would have loved to take in the Vietnamese highlands near Sapa. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the villages up there. There is still more to Vietnam of course, but with a full month you’ll really get a good taste of the place.
The north can be cold in the winter months, the south is warm to hot to steaming all year round. It was unseasonably cold when I was there in Feb/March (the north) but that was unusual to say the least.
Vietnam is a brilliant BRILLIANT place to travel, perfect for backpackers. I can’t recommend the place enough, so please do consider it! Thanks for reading, and May the Journey Never End!