“Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.”
I have always wanted to visit South East Asia, and when we finally planned a 2-week trip this year my husband immediately said: “Let’s do Vietnam.” Anthony Bourdain’s enticing depiction of Vietnamese cuisine drew him to the country.
For me, it was a book, called Saigon which had been on our bookshelves since I could read. When I grew up, and finally read the book, it took me to a place both familiar and exotic.
The maps were pulled up on our laptops and we started planning our journey. Vietnam is a thin narrow strip of land, like Kerala – so it made sense to do a cross-country trip.
We chose to travel from North to South (as most travelers do it the other way). This also made it easier to procure bus and train tickets.
Our Awesome Two-Week Itinerary for Vietnam
Day 1 – Reach Hanoi early in the morning. Explore the city. Night stay at Hanoi.
Where to stay in Hanoi
We stayed at See You at Lily’s, budget accommodation for backpackers. They also have some bigger rooms for families. Snowy, their in-house travel guru, is the best person to untangle any international travel snafu – she’ll get you sorted on tours, currency conversions, and local SIM, and even give you some friendly opinion on Water Puppet Theatre shows.
Day 2 – Leave for Ha Long Bay cruise. Night stay at Ha Long Bay.
Which cruise to book for Ha Long Bay
We booked a Bellezza cruise through Snowy. So we got to keep our luggage for free in the hotel and some discount on the rooms. It is good to reach Hanoi and then book the cruise as you will have plenty of options. Don’t forget to bargain hard!
Day 3 – Return from Ha Long Bay cruise. Explore the Old Quarter night market. Night stay at Hanoi.
Day 4 – Hoa Lu- Trang An – Mua cave trip (day trip morning 7 to evening 8). Night stay at Hanoi.
Day 5 – Explore Hanoi. Leave by 5:30 pm for a bus to Phong Nha. Travel overnight.
Day 6 – Reach Phong Nha at 4.00 am in the morning. Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave. Night stay at Phong Nha.
Where to stay at Phong Nha
We stayed at the Song Que homestay which was just by the river. Great location, clean rooms, good food, and a super friendly family. I loved it! Price is INR 1200.
Day 7 – Bong Lai Village. Night stay at Phong Nha.
Day 8 – Early morning bus to Hue. Reach Hue by 10.30 am. Hue Walk of Revolution tour by BeeBee tours. Enjoy nightlife with some pub hopping. Night stay at Hue.
Where to stay at Hue
Thai Binh II hotel for its stunning views of the Huong river. From here you can walk to the Imperial Citadel in 10-15 minutes. The rooms are squeaky clean, air conditioners top notch, and breakfast is included. You also have access to computers, few English books, some on the house tea, and a water refilling station (which I loved).
Most tours and restaurants use plastic water bottles. It is heart-breaking each time I’m forced to buy one. So I was really glad to see the water filling station.
Day 9 – A day tour of Hue. (Touristy, but well organized. You get enough time for each place.) Night stay at Hue.
Day 10 – Drive from Hue to Hoi An via the scenic Hai Van pass. Night stay at Hoi An.
Where to stay Hoi An
Dong Nguyen Riverside Homestay which is a relaxed homestay by the river.
Day 11 – My Son Temple. Explore Hoi An ancient city. Night stay at Hoi An.
Day 12 – Explore Hoi An city. Night stay at Hoi An.
Day 13 – Take a train from Da Nang to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh city. Night travel in train. (The most non-touristy bit of our travel!)
Day 14 – Reach Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon early in the morning. Night stay at Saigon.
Where to stay at Saigon
Thanh Ha Guest House
Day 15 – Cu Chi tunnels day tour. Night stay at Ho Chi Min.
Day 16 – Ho Chi Min sightseeing. Take a bus to Can Tho in the afternoon. Spend the night in Can Tho.
Where to stay in Can Tho
Thanh Ha Guesthouse run by the remarkable Mrs. Ho. It’s a functional hotel in the city. The pier, night market and other attractions are all close by.
Day 17 – See Cai Rang Floating Market (Mekong Delta) in the morning and return to Ho Chi Minh city. Night stay at Ho Chi Min.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Min
For our last day in Vietnam, we splurged a bit and stayed at the Avanti hotel.
Day 18 – Return flight from Ho Chi Minh city.
Should you visit Vietnam & Cambodia together or not?
When I told friends I’m planning for a 2 week long Vietnam trip, the most common question was “What will you do there for so long?” or “Why don’t you club it with Cambodia.”
However, I found so much to see, and explore, and enjoy in Vietnam that I plan to go back for more.
So my personal recommendation would be not to club the two and enjoy the beauty of each independently.