If you are seeking unique experiences, yummy food and ancient historical sights, Vietnam is the next travel destination for you. Once seen as a war-torn country, Vietnam is now one of Asia’s top travel destinations.
Vietnam has one big advantage for travellers while trying to work out an itinerary…it’s long and narrow. Which pretty much means you either choose to go up or down the country. While most sites would recommend taking at least 2 weeks to see the country, time-strapped Singaporeans might appreciate a shorter holiday that takes in across most of the highlights of the country.
Here, DirectAsia brings you an itinerary for Vietnam that gives you the essential Vietnamese experience – beautiful beaches, enormous caves, charming towns and cultural experience. Not forgetting lots of exceptional food of course.
Best time to visit Vietnam
Vietnam is over 1,000 km in length and has some difference in temperature across different regions. However, if you are looking to go to Halong Bay, spring and autumn would provide your best bet of clear skies though. For our itinerary, End of May to June would probably make the most sense since you’ll most likely experience good, sunny weather. Perhaps a good excuse for bringing the kids during the June holidays?
Start your trip at Hanoi – Day 1
Let’s get straight into some sightseeing in Hanoi. Vietnam’s capital can easily be covered in a day or two. We’ll suggest taking it easy for the first day, taking your time to work around the busy city, savour street food and people-watch while having a sip of the famous Vietnamese coffee. Here are some suggestions for visiting Hanoi:
1. Wander Around The Old Quarters
The Old Quarters is a prominent spot among tourists. Here, you’d see the typical scene in Hanoi streets with sidewalks teeming with bicycles and scooters and where you’ll find yourself constantly trying to dodge them. The streets will be crowded with people bartering loudly with street vendors; but that’s the charm of Hanoi as well.
2. See the “Notre Dame” of Hanoi
The Catholic church’s actual name is St Joseph’s Cathedral but bears some resemblance to the Notre Dame in Paris due to its gothic style and design. It was built around 120 years ago and was completed in 1886 after the French army conquered Hanoi.
3. Visit Hoàn Kiếm Lake at night
The Hoan Kiem Lake is very popular among the locals as a gathering place for families, friends and couples. The best time to visit is from Fridays to Sundays because the roads are closed to traffic from 7pm to midnight, which means you can walk around without the worry of having to dodge scooters and bikes! Another advantage of visiting on a weekend night is you can join in the ‘retro games’. All around the lake, people mingle and play games like tug of war and other “board games” drawn on the streets.
4. Savour awesome Vietnamese food
Not forgetting to fill your tummy, do make time to savour some cheap and good Vietnamese food in Hanoi. Some of the “must-try” dishes include simple delicious pho, Bún chả (Vermicelli with Pork), egg coffee, Banh mi, spring rolls and Vietnamese sticky rice.
Halong Bay – Day 2 & 3
The best and easiest way to experience Halong Bay is via one of the many cruise providers. Many offer either a 2D1N stay or 3D2N stay with various activities. They also offer free pickups from central Hanoi or from your hotel, which makes the journey super convenient. Some activities that you might want to look out for while choosing the cruise operator are:
- Squid fishing
- Cooking class
- Visiting Sung Sot cave
- Visiting Cat Ba Island
The cruises come in different classes so depending on your budget, you might go for a luxury cruise with bathtubs in rooms. Do remember to check out the inclusions so that you do not get a price shock. Some cruise operators do not provide free bottled water on board, for example.
Danang – Day 4 & 5
The easiest way to reach Danang from Hanoi is by plane. There are a number of flights available and flight time is just about 1.5 hours.
Many people rush through Danang and prefer to spend more time in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh but really, it’s a venue not to be overlooked! If you have more time, do try to spend at least 3 days to properly take in the sights.
A few things to do in Danang- suntan at one of the white sand beaches, visit the Marble mountains and drop by one of the many caves and temples around, ride a bike to explore the Son Tra Peninsula, and take the cable car up to Ba Na hill.
Hoi An – Day 6 & 7
Many travellers who go to Danang will often make a trip to the ancient city of Hoi An. You can easily get a taxi from Danang to bring you there, since it isn’t accessible by plane or train.
Hoi An Town is an exceptionally well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th century. Its infrastructure and architecture reflect both indigenous and foreign influences, which have combined to produce this UNESCO heritage town.
Exploring the old town is a must -pretty ancient houses that line the streets make for a good photography session. And don’t miss the Japanese bridge – it’s one of the most photographed bridges in Asia! The Japanese Bridge is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple, and was built in the 16th century as a symbol of goodwill between Chinese and Japanese merchant communities.
If time permits, do take a day trip to visit My Son. This is a collection of 4th to 13th century Hindu temples west of Hoi An that have been abandoned. The site is however, remarkably well preserved and visitors will get to explore over 140 hectares of ruins, learning about the influence of Hinduism on early Vietnamese culture.
Spending your evening by the Hoi An riverside is no doubt one of the best ways to spend your night here. The view is pretty – lanterns light up the street with the colourful ancient buildings in the background. Here is also where you can sample fresh seafood, coffee, cake, local, as well as international food. The views across the Thu Bon River, with boats cruising past, are just like the old days and the elegant lamps illuminated at night will charm just about anyone.
Hue – Day 8 to 10
From Hoi an, take a car back to Danang before making your way to Hue as it is nearer. From Da Nang, Hue is about 2 hours away by bus. Hue is one of the most charming towns in Vietnam. This part of Vietnam has a long and illustrious history as it used to be one of the royal capitals of the country. History lovers will definitely enjoy the ancient architecture, old temples and interesting museums.
As an ancient royal capital, a visit to the imperial city and tombs of the ancient emperor is almost mandatory.
As this is a riverfront town, you will be able to spend time enjoying the cool breezes as you stroll along the Perfume River. In the evening, you’ll find little shops and restaurants open here.
A visit to the famous Phong Nha Cave, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site should also be high on your priority list. Phong Nha has been voted as one of the most wonderful caves in the world for its beautiful underground lake, its highest and widest entrance and having the most beautiful sandbank and reef.
For something more relaxing, take a stroll at the Dong Ba Market. The market has an authentic flavour and is a haven for some local cuisine as well. This spot was made famous when celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain came and filmed an episode of his show ‘No Reservations’. Bourdain sampled the Bun Bo here – you will not be disappointed with your food finds here for sure!
From Hue, you can take a connecting flight from Ho Chi Minh back to Singapore.
Vietnam is an amazing country that has lots to discover and this itinerary is just the tip of the iceberg. It does give quite a good overview though, and will probably make sense for someone who’s new to the country.
Since there are many transfers along the way, it’s always best to take up travel insurance to ensure you’ve got yourself covered! Travel in a group of at least 3 and take 10% off when you buy your travel insurance as a group!