In 2014 my little brother George stepped into my footprints on a big South East Asia adventure and his favourite place was Vietnam. While I drank my way through the country back in 2010 and fell for a boy (wink wink), George and his friends did, quite literally, EVERYTHING. And then he wrote it all down for me so I could be the proud big sister and put it up on the blog!
Over to George…
There are two ways to travel Vietnam, starting in either Ho Chi Minh in the south or Hanoi in the north. They have been divided at times in history but the country is now united. This is great because it means we can travel safely and be looked after by very kind people throughout the south and north! After choosing your starting point, you simply follow the highways up or down, stopping off along the way.
On my trip I started in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and hit up the following 10 amazing stops.
I would say a must do in Saigon is the Chu Chi tunnels. We booked a minibus tour and our tour guide turned out to be amazing. He was 65 years old and had actually lived in the tunnels during in the war. He even had a gun shot wound which he showed us.
Another related must do is to go to the War Remnants museum which is brilliant to find out the complete history of Vietnam and everything they have gone through. You really see the pain they have suffered and yet when you speak to the locals there is no animosity towards anyone. They just seem to love the fact they have their beautiful country back and will be so kind to you, as tourism is their biggest source of income.
There are loads of other historic things to see, including the Central Post Office, Independence Place, Saigon Notre-dame Basilica and the Municipal Theatre. The best way to see them is to just walk round the city and take it all in.
While walking around you have to eat the street food. Find one of the places were you eat on the pavement, sitting on tiny plastic chairs and tables- it’s such a strange but brilliant experience. You will be facing the opposite side of the street, which will have the exact same thing, and probably someone staring back at you too, thinking ‘where am I’?
But don’t think, just order. Whatever they have on the menu. And of course order a Saigon beer and let the atmosphere take you in. I let the atmosphere take me to lots of bars and a big hangover in the morning…
The next place after Saigon is Mui Ne. This place is good just to get out of the crazy city and onto the beach!
I only spent a couple of days here which involved one day relaxing on the beach, and the other quad biking on the sand dunes- they complemented each other perfectly.
For the quad biking we were picked up by an army style jeep and were first taken to the fairy river. We got in the river itself, not knowing what to expect but we followed the river to the red sand dunes which we then climbed up. This proved to be hard work but the views from the top were worth it!
Along the river we were also offered to ride on an ostrich (only in South East Asia!) but it was quite expensive and they didn’t look like they were treated well at all.
After this we were back in the jeep and on the way to the white sand dunes. We stopped at a cool little fishing market on the way, where you can buy fish straight off the boat.
Once we got to the sand dunes we rented 125 cc quad bikes and let rip on the sand dunes. This was one of the best things I have ever done!
The dunes are massive and you have to try get to the top. Trust me you will get stuck at some point but the locals will come help you with a little bump start and get you back on your way. The experience isn’t for the faint hearted because, let’s face it, health and safety isn’t the best in these sort of places but this to me makes it even more exciting!
After this day you will be buzzing to get out and tell everyone about your day- the bars along the beach are really good and, yes, I had another hangover…
After the beach break of Mui ne, we headed inland to the mountainous area and a little place called Dalat.
This place is really cold for South East Asia, so a great break from 30 degree heat.
When here you have to try and stay at Dalat Family Hostel. This is by far the best hotel I have ever been to and you will be greeted personally by one of the family; a mother and 3 daughters called the cute one, the sexy one and the pretty one! They will be loud and give you a massive hug and tell you to put your bag down and will straight away make you food and offer you a drink! Serious hospitality.
The rooms are basically loads of mattresses thrown on the floor with about 15 people in each but this is great because you all get to know each other really well. In the evening you all have dinner together and for us there was probably about 50 people on our first night. The dinner is all included for the ridiculous price of like £2 and to stay at the hostel is only £4 so you really can’t go wrong.
The thing not to miss with this place is booking a canyoning trip. Everyone you have spent the night with will be going and the day is unreal!
You get given all the gear and no idea and with just 5 minutes of training you will be abseiling down waterfalls!
You start off with a small one to get the hang of it and after this you will just want more. There is one big one which you can’t see over the edge of and you will have to let go and jump the last 5 meters. Another one is the called the washing machine…
You abseil down until you hit the water, then you let go and are thrown round and sent down the river rapids before shooting out into the open water! It all sounds scary but just do it and you will love it. You will also be pushed down rock slides and have the chance to jump off 10 meter high rocks into the water.
I don’t think anything could top quad biking the sand dunes but this day did!
The next place to go is Nha Trang which offers something very different.
It’s the Russians favourite holiday destination so it’s a bit like Benidorm is for the Brits, which I loved!
You can eat a lot of western food here, which is a treat after eating rice and noodles and who knows what! We had burgers, sausage and mash and ice cream.
There is another big reason to go here though which a lot of people miss.
Vin Pearl Water Park, is a little island you can see from the Nha Trang beach reached by cable car over the water. Spending the day here is only about £10 and you can do so much. There are really amazing water slides and rides as good as anywhere else I have been, as well as an Aquarium included and even mermaids swimming and dancing underwater.
Now onto Hoi an, about halfway up Vietnam.
The main thing to do here is to get tailor made clothes. I didn’t but the girls we were traveling with spent a lot of money…
What we did do was rent push bikes and explore the town and even ride to the beach. It’s a bit of a trek, taking about an hour and half but only 5 minutes in a tuk tuk!
At night you should go to the river where it is all lit up and there are amazing restaurants which all compete to offer deals on cheap wine and meals. On the bridges over the river you can buy Chinese lanterns to send floating down the river. This looks beautiful.
There is also a really good hostel here called Sunflower which is good value for money and even has a pool.
The best thing about stopping in Hoi An was renting a moped to get to the next destination of Hue. You have to do this!
Editors note: I’m stealing this section of the post to go into a separate one with a video as the boys got such great footage! Keep reading the blog to catch up with the ride.
Next up is Dong Hoi.
The only thing to do here is go to Phong Nha caves which are crazy to explore as you can walk for what feels like a mile and still not reach the end. You can also take a boat down the river through another cave and it’s a really fun and lazy way to see them. There is also a dark cave which we didn’t make it to where you have to climb through and get very wet and muddy. Everyone said it was really good.
After Dong Hoi go straight to Hanoi and you have finally reached the capital.
Just like Ho Chi Minh, the best thing to do is explore by walking the streets and finding all the historic buildings. There are a lot of crazy markets here. From the outside they look like small buildings but then you get inside and it’s like a tardis, full of different stalls. Funnily enough they are usually all selling the same thing! Again Hanoi Backpackers is the place to stay and they have really good night life here.
From Hanoi make sure you take a trip to Halong bay.
This is probably the most beautiful place in Vietnam, full of massive rocks in the sea and secret little islands and even floating houses!
We booked a booze cruise trip through Hanoi backpackers which was expensive but really worth it. We did 3 days, 2 nights.
The first day we were taken on the boat and given lunch and, of course, the beers started. We were taken right out into the bay and given kayaks to explore where the boat couldn’t get to. It was amazing to see in and around these thousands of mini islands and rocks.
We spent the night on the boat and this is when the booze part of the cruise really came into it. The next day, nursing a hangover, we were taken to a private island with it’s own beach and we spent the day rock climbing, kayaking and speedboating. It had a giant tube on the back, which took people out really fast as they tried to hold on. It’s impossible to stay on!
We then spent our second night in the island sleeping in little huts and drinking a lot!
This was the way we did Halong Bay but there are so many different ways. You can get dressed up to the nines and have a 5 course meal experience, or just explore on your own if you can afford a boat. Whichever way you do it you will be blown away by the views!
The last major place that everyone sees is Sapa which sadly we didn’t do. I have heard so many good things though and people’s photos look amazing. The best way to get there is a train from Hanoi.
So, there you have it. In 2,000+ words, how to see the best of Vietnam in 10 amazing stops.
-Thanks little brother for taking the time to write this and editing it has made me super excited to go back myself!
Have you been to Vietnam? Which direction did you head and where did you stop? Did every trip just keep getting better like it did for George?