Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City
Our Australian adventure was over and it was time to head home with a little pit stop in Vietnam. We flew from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) the following morning.
Once you arrive in Vietnam you have to go to a separate desk to get your visa stamp before seeing immigration officers. You have to fill in a quick information sheet and give 1 passport photo and also pay USD$45 for a single entry 30 day visa, longer stays incur a larger fee.
After we passed through HCMC immigration and got our bags we headed outside to catch a taxi to our hotel. Some advice, don’t pay at the desks inside and outside the airport for pre arranged taxis they look to charge you 300,000 VND (€10) which is a hugely inflated price to what you can actually pay. Head straight to the taxi rank it’s on the left as you leave the airport building. Look out for two companies, MaiLinh (Green taxis) or Vinasun Taxi (white taxis) they seem to be the best and most reputable. These taxis are legitimate and they only use the meter. Our taxi took about 30 minutes to reach our hotel in the city centre and it came to 140,000 VND (less than €5) but our driver didn’t have change of 100,000 so he let us off with paying 134,000 VND.
He dropped us to the door of our hotel where we were met by a friendly and welcoming front desk. We were staying in Saigon Sports 3 Hotel, which is situated on Pham Ngu Lao right in the heart of District 1. We got a private room for two nights and it cost us €38 (USD$50). Paying €9.50 a night each is a huge difference from Australia prices and one that we welcomed with open arms. The hotel is good value for money and the staff is very helpful.
Mimi at the travel desk had organised our train tickets and helped us book some trips, which was great.
The location of the hotel is brilliant as it’s within walking distance to most of the city attractions such as the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Ben Than Market and Notre Dame church and also the main backpacker area with lots of bars and restaurants.
After a quick shower to freshen up we headed out to explore HCMC. We got our first beef and chicken pho in a place called Phuong Mai art and cafe, which is beside the Ben Thanh market. The service was great and they even showed Síofra how to use her chopsticks. We got two bowls of pho, an orange juice and a beer and it cost us €9.
We walked around the crazy Ben Thanh Market and strolled around for a while before making our way to the War Remnants Museum, which was open again at 1.30pm. It closes everyday for lunch from 12-1.30pm so make sure you plan around it. The museum is well worth a visit and only costs 15,000 VND (50c).
There’s lots of US Army tanks, choppers and planes in the courtyard before you enter the museum where there is lots to read about the Vietnam War. There are also lots of very powerful photographs of events throughout the war and the after effects it has had on the Vietnamese people and country.
On the walk home it was an adventure in itself. Crossing the roads in HCMC is not for the faint hearted. Thousands of motorbikes drive the streets in what can only be described as a free for all and you just have to put the head down and go for it.
After a well needed lie down we went out for some food. We ended up in a Mexican restaurant called La Casa but ordered Vietnamese food. Again our whole meal came to around €9 and was pretty good.
We took a stroll up the busy Bui Vien Street in District 1 and went into The Hideaway bar for some 80c beers and cocktails.
We didn’t stay out too long, but on the way home we decided to get foot massages. We went to a place called 881 Massage and got neck and foot massages for 60 minutes for 180,000 VND (€6). It was a great way to unwind after a long day.
Day 2 – HCMC
We were up early enough as we were going on a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We booked with a travel company around the corner from the hotel called An Travel. The full day trip cost us 168,000 VND (€6) but entry to the tunnels wasn’t included, this was an extra 90,000 VND (€3). Also not included is the price of lunch or the option of shooting guns.
We arrived at the Cao Dai Temple at 12pm and saw a ceremony. It was strange but cool to see. I would however recommend just doing the half-day tour and skip the temple, as it is another 4 hours on a bus.
After the temple we stopped for lunch. Lunch cost us 155,000 VND (€5) and wasn’t that bad.
After lunch we made our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. When we arrived we watched a video of the war and the people of Cu Chi and how the tunnel network worked. It was very interesting to see how they worked and how they were beneficial during the war. As we walked through the jungle we were shown various different traps and bunkers and went to the shooting range. If you wish to try shooting the guns you can choose which weapon you want and shoot targets in the range. The prices start from 25,000 to 45,000 VND per bullet and you have to buy a minimum of 10 bullets. I shot an M60 from an army car which was pretty cool and came to roughly €10.
The tour ended with us entering the tunnel network and making our way through the dark underground. You can exit the tunnels every 10 meter’s or so but if you brave it till the end you will go through 110m in a tight dark space. The tunnels are so humid and being a little claustrophobic I didn’t last too long.
I would definitely recommend the tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, as it gives you a good insight into life in Vietnam during the war, especially for the communist guerrillas who designed and lived in the tunnel network.
We arrived back in HCMC at 6.30pm and showered before getting some food. We went to a place just off the Main Street, I can’t remember the name of it but it was pretty nice. We tried some Fried Noodles with beef and got some cheap beers and again our bill came to like 150,000 VND (€5). We went to a pop up bar on the side of the road that had plastic chairs and tables and it cost us 12,000 VND for a beer. We spent a while sitting and talking to fellow travellers before making our way back to the hotel.
Day 3 – HCMC
Check out wasn’t till midday so we took our time checking out, as we knew we weren’t catching a train till 11pm so would have the whole day to do stuff. We missed our free breakfast so we left our bags in the hotel and went searching for some food. We tried some bread egg from one of the street vendors, which was pretty tasty. Síofra wasn’t the biggest fan though so we went to Allez Boo where we got some eggs and fruit shakes.
We went to the Reunification Palace at 1pm when it reopened after lunch. It cost 30,000 VND (€1) and took us just over an hour to get through it. This is where the presidents of the Republic of Vietnam used to live. The palace has replica tanks to the ones that crashed through its gates when the north overpowered the south. They also have a replica of the fighter jet that bombed the Reunification Palace too. It was an interesting tour especially if you have any interest in the history of Vietnam.
After this we went for a drink in the Ben Thanh market and had a proper look around for some presents and souvenirs. We bought a few t-shirts and bags and it was ridiculously cheap. We didn’t buy too much as we didn’t want to be carrying stuff for the duration of our travelling.
After enduring the blistering heat amongst the markets it was time for a well-deserved drink. We went to the Spotted Cow and caught the Super 15 Rugby Final, which was an added bonus.
After building up an appetite again we decided to get some dinner. We went to a place called 5 Oysters, which we heard so much about from people we know and fellow bloggers. Siof’s something new for the day was Saigon fried noodles and we also tried some pork and shrimp spring rolls. All were very tasty and again it was another cheap meal so was well worth it.
We strolled up the busy Bui Vien Street one last time before picking our bags up and heading to the train station.
Mimi and co at the Saigon Sports 3 Hotel were extremely kind and helpful throughout our stay and I couldn’t recommend staying here anymore. It’s value for money and location alone are enough to be satisfied but the cleanliness of the rooms and kindness of the staff really made our stay more enjoyable.
We got to Saigon train station and boarded our overnight train to Nha Trang. We were in a 6-bed berth and luckily we got the bottom bunks. Also luckily for us we had a nice berth with no “dodgy” characters in it.
Day 4 – Nha Trang
We arrived into Nha Trang station at 5.35am and jumped into a taxi to our hotel. We were staying in Sun City Hotel, which was only about a km away and cost 35,000 VND in a taxi. The hotel is located just a two minute walk from the beach and has great views from the breakfast room. We got a private room for one night and it only cost us €18. Unfortunately when we arrived we were told that we couldn’t check in till 2pm however after getting a quick breakfast and sitting at reception for a bit they allowed us to check in just after 7am when the reception staff arrived for work. Our room was brilliant it had a huge queen size bed and an extra single bed, a big bathroom, a flat screen TV and it looked very new and clean.
Since we only had two days in Nha Trang we decided not to go for a sleep and make the most of our time, so we jumped in a taxi to the Po Nagar Cham Towers. A defining attraction of Nha Trang, these Cham ruins are the best kept in Vietnam. Set on a hill with views overlooking the river crowded with fishing trawlers, the whole complex is quite impressive. The Chams started to build the towers in the seventh century to honor Yang Ino Po Nagar, Mother of the Kingdom. Of the original ten edifices, three now remain. The entrance fee is 30,000 VND (€1) and the site opens from 7am to 7pm.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Thap Ba Hot springs, famous for its mineral mud baths. There are various different packages to choose from and they all vary in price. We chose option 3 “Hot mineral mud bath privately” and we paid 500,000 VND (€17) for a 20-minute private mud bath, a 30-minute natural hot mineral water bath and unlimited time in the various other swimming pools.
It was a strange experience but one I’d recommend doing whilst in Nha Trang. By the time we got back to the hotel we were ready for bed, so we took a quick nap before heading out. After sleeping through several alarms we eventually got up. After reading several blogs recommending a place called “Galangal” we decided to check it out. It is a traditional Vietnamese & street food restaurant. Their ethos is to produce quality Vietnamese food the way it should be without changing them to suit Western tastes. We decided to go all out and ordered a few different dishes to share. We got the stir-fried chicken with pineapple, vegetables and cashew nuts, BBQ pork skewers served with rice paper and vegetables and charcoal grilled swordfish steak in a spicy sauce served with steamed rice and salad. All three dishes were amazing and it didn’t cost too much (€14 I think). I’d highly recommend going to Galangal, as it didn’t disappoint to all the good reviews we heard.
Being so full we had to walk off our dinner before getting a few drinks, so we wandered through the night markets and down the beach. As we strolled down the beach we made our way to the Sailing Club Bar where we tried some of their specialties, the Jam Jars. It was a great beach bar with good tunes and if you didn’t want to go crazy on the dance floor you could chill on one of the many beanbags on the beach.
We managed to stay out past 1am before we got tired again, however apparently once the Sailing Club ends people head to the backpacker bar Why Not.
Day 5 – Nha Trang
We got up early (8am) to head to the beach before the blistering heat. On the way I tried some more egg bread from the street vendor at the top of our road, and we walked for a bit until we found somewhere that did fresh smoothies/juices. Trying both of these things is something I’d recommend when in Nha Trang.
It was about 9am by the time we got to the beach and it was already pretty hot so we decided to rent sun loungers to stay out of the sun. All along the beach there are sun loungers and they charge different prices, we went near the Sailing Club, which cost us 35,000 VND each.
After a couple of hours at the beach we had to head back to the hotel to check out. It was lucky because it was so hot and we would have been scalded alive. We were a bit hungry after checking out so we went to Olivia Pizza And More and got a couple of sandwiches. After this we jumped in a taxi to the Dam Markets, as it was too far to walk in the blistering heat. It wasn’t as good as the Ben Thanh market in HCMC which was disappointing as we put off buying more in HCMC. It was still too hot to be out in the sun so we decided the air conditioned Nha Trang Center was a good place to go to see if we could pick up anything. Unfortunately the prices were very similar to home so we said we’d wait till Hoi An and Hanoi to buy our presents.
Eventually after a couple of hours the temperature dropped so we went back to the beach for one last swim to cool down. When we got back to the hotel they allowed us to have showers before we caught our overnight bus to Hoi An. This was great as they offer people a late check out up to 5pm to do the same thing but you have to pay for half a night’s accommodation.
We had booked our bus with the travel desk in our hotel and it cost 220,000 VND (€7.50). The bus was meant to be picking us up at 6.30pm but due to monsoon rainfall it was delayed by 45mins. Within this 45mins so much rain had fallen that there was a stream outside the hotel about a foot deep. What happened next was just comical and you couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. I slipped on the wet hotel steps with two bags on and cracked my head off a wall at the bottom, and then we had to walk to the end of the road with no umbrellas or jackets on and had to trudge through a foot of water. Needless to say our first overnight bus experience in Vietnam was going well.
Once we got on the bus we were shown our seats/beds. They are reasonably comfy but if you’re a tall person then you could be in trouble. I’m only 5ft10 and it was quite a struggle to find a way to fall asleep. It was just for one night and all part of our Vietnam experience so we didn’t mind too much.
Day 6 – Hoi An
We eventually arrived in Hoi An at 8am 2hrs late, this was due to the monsoon in Nha Trang which delayed us.
We were meant to be collected by the hotel but they thought we were in at 6am so they had left. A taxi there didn’t cost much though so it was all good. We stayed in Sunshine Hotel and got a private room for €42 for two nights.
When we arrived we were able to check into our room thankfully, which was great, as we had spent the last 12hrs on a cramped bus. It was a big room with a nice bathroom and was very clean.
We got some breakfast from the hotel and then made our way into the town. The town is about a 20-30 minute walk from the hotel however the hotel provides a FREE shuttle bus service and also offers FREE bicycles. As we didn’t know where we were going we took the shuttle.
We began walking around the old town and got some linen dresses made for presents for 450,000 VND (€15) in total.
We continued venturing through the streets admiring all the tailors and shops. As we were walking past the local market Síofra got roped into a manicure and eyebrow threading by the craziest Vietnamese woman, who insisted she get one. She tried roping me into getting them too but I resisted and settled for a beer instead.
As we continued to stroll around it was getting very warm so we went back to chill by the pool and got some food.
We got ready and caught the shuttle bus back to town for dinner. We ended up in a place called Lowland’s restaurant, which was right on the river. Síofra started to feel unwell so we didn’t stay out for long. We put some lanterns into the river for good luck and watched them float down. After this we went over the bridge to the night market for a quick look. It’s not much of a market; it’s more souvenirs and novelty gifts but was still nice to see.
Day 7 – Hoi An
We woke up and took advantage of the FREE buffet breakfast the hotel offers before we got bikes out and cycled into the town. We looked in many shops to see if we could pick up presents and I got a dress made for my sister who sent me an image of what it looked like. The dress cost me $30 and was going to be ready later that evening.
I wasn’t feeling great and we were set to do a cooking class so we headed back to the hotel. We were picked up by the cooking school at 11.30am and brought to the local market. Here we got shown various different things, which we would use for cooking later in the day.
I was starting to feel seriously unwell so we left the cookery class to recover. We rescheduled our cooking class for following day as we thought we’d be feeling better. The rest of the day was spent trying to recover by sleeping and drinking lots of water.
After a couple of hours sleep we got bikes out again and cycled into town. Síofra was feeling better so she got food while I picked up Naoise’s dress. It turned out brilliantly and looked exactly like the picture.
Day 8 – Hoi An
After a good nights sleep and lots of water we both felt a bit better. We checked out, left our bags in the hotel and cycled into town one last time.
We stopped for a drink in Fusion cafe, which is on the other side of the river and after spent time roaming the streets looking for some last minute presents.
We got back to the hotel and chilled by the pool till our taxi to the airport came. We paid 300,000 VND for it and took 30 minutes to get to Da Nang Airport. We had to get a private car as the travel agent we booked with didn’t have a shuttle bus that would have got us to the airport for the time we wanted. Upon further viewing in other travel agents we found out that they offered a shuttle for a time we wanted, so make sure you look around before booking like us.
When we got through security there wasn’t much shops or restaurants so I’d strongly advise not getting there too early. As we hadn’t been feeling well and hadn’t eaten in quite some time, we were over the moon to find a Burger King because we needed some familiar food.
Our flight to Hanoi took just over an hour and we were met by someone who was dropping us to our accommodation. I think the hostel charged us AUD$23 to be picked up. Taxis will cost something similar and there is also a shuttle bus that costs a little less too, but takes a little bit longer.
We decided to stay in Hanoi Backpackers (Downtown), which is situated, in the old quarter of Hanoi. We chose to stay here over a hotel as we had booked our Ha long Bay trip with them and thought it would give us an opportunity to meet people before going.
It took us a good 45 minutes to get to the hostel from the airport; from there we checked in and were shown our room. We got a double bed dorm which only cost us €9 a night so we saved a bit.
Once we got settled in we wandered the busy streets of the old quarter taking in all the action. We made our way up to the night market for a look before heading back to the hostel.
Day 9 – Hanoi
We got up early and took advantage of the FREE breakfast on offer and went out exploring Hanoi again. We walked down the side of Hoan Kiem Lake and decided to head to the famous Hoa Lo Prison, which is also referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by American POW’s. The entrance fee was 20,000 Dong and it again gave insights into how much the Vietnamese suffered over the years. It was interesting to see and again if you like dabbling in a bit of history it’s something you should see. Unfortunately a lot of the other museums were closed for the day as it was Friday so make sure you double check the opening times to any of the others such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum before you get to them.
After a quick refreshment stop we made our way to the north of the old quarter to the Dong Xuan Market. It was pretty big and well worth a visit if your still looking to pick up some last minute presents or souvenirs. However, after visiting other cities I’d strongly recommend you to buy your knock offs and tailored clothes in HCMC and Hoi An. There are some really good shops that sell products too so make sure to keep an eye out for them.
It was very warm and we were hungry so we stopped by the hostel for some lunch. Surprisingly enough it was really good western food.
After lunch it was time for more shopping. This time we found a shop that sold what genuinely seemed like legitimate Converse, Vans, Toms and Nike Runners. We took full advantage of this and bought in bulk and received a hefty discount.
After a long day of walking around in the humid sun we stopped to get a drink and some well needed AC to cool down.
We headed back to the hostel to freshen up before making our way to Green pepper bar where we kicked back on our small plastic chairs and make shift table with some Bia Hanoi. This beer is locally produced everyday, has no preservatives and is sold until it runs out so make sure you head out early.
Day 10 – Ha Long Bay
We were up early for our trip to Ha long Bay and Castaway island.
After some breakfast and a quick roll call we got on a bus that took us about 4 hours to get from Hanoi to Ha long Bay port.
When we arrived at the port we were split up and put onto two different boats, Hanks boat and Mamas boat.
We were put on Hanks boat, which was a little smaller, but it didn’t make much difference, as the two boats would be attached for the evening and night. Once we got onboard we were all brought to the top deck for an introduction and a welcome shotgun of beer.
Afterwards we went back downstairs for some lunch where we were treated to a mix of seafood, beef and breaded pork, which was pretty good. We continued to cruise through the bay having a few more beers and getting to know one another until we got to an inlet where we got in kayaks and paddled through caves and took in the amazing scenery. After a while we made our way back to the boat where we were allowed jump off the top.
After swimming it was time for a quick shower before dinner was served at 7pm. Dinner was again a mix of seafood, beef and chicken and again was pretty good. As we ate we cruised on to the inlet where we would be mooring for the night.
After dinner the drinking games started and “happy hour” began with a buy 2 get one free offer. Beers cost 30,000 VND and spirits 35,000 VND.
As the boats were attached we were able to cross-boats for a massive game of kings cup where cross-dressing, forfeits and dance offs were in full swing. One of the tour guides was only doing his second trip so he had to do 6days of initiation, which included a danger shotgun (flaming toilet roll), which was for our amusement. We retreated back to our boat for AC and to cool down but it turned into another drinking game. The tunes fizzled out at about 1.30am and people began to tire after a long day.
Day 11 – Ha Long Bay
We were woken at 7am for breakfast where there were a few sore heads.
By 8am it was already sweltering and we were all chilling on the top deck, some braved the sun while others hid in the shade.
A few brave souls began to shotgun cans at 9am and rum was passed around until it ran out.
Just after 10am we transferred boat to a smaller one that would bring us to the Castaway Island.
Eventually after a while we made it to the Castaway Island. It was nestled between the sea stacks and looked like paradise. It had amazing views from the huts; it had a volleyball net, rock climbing, kayaks and a bar. We settled into our dorm huts and had a nice lunch of sandwiches and noodles. After lunch we went swimming and began the activities of rock climbing and tubing. The tubing was great fun so make sure you do it.
As it cooled down we took kayaks out to explore some of the other islands in Ha Long Bay. The scenery was unbelievable and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
When we arrived back we were greeted to another shotgun before dinner. The dinner was great and again was a mix of everything.
The drinking got into full swing shortly after dinner and we began playing another big drinking game with crazy rules. The tables turned into a dance floor and the party continued before EVERYONE went swimming to see the plankton. It was a super moon so we didn’t see anything because it was so bright but it was still good all the same. The partying continued into the early hours of the morning before people headed to bed.
Day 12 – Hanoi
For those who were heading back to Hanoi we were up at 7am. There were LOTS of sore heads bracing themselves for the long trip back to Hanoi. Some chose to stay another night on the island whilst the rest got on the boat home. Once we made it back to Mamas boat the food was served to try help cure the hangovers.
We finally made it to the port and faced a 4hr bus journey back to Hanoi. After a torturous day travelling we arrived back to Hanoi at 5pm. We picked our bags up from the hostel and moved to a new hotel for the last night. We decided to go all out on our last night and stayed in the Tirant Hotel, which is a 4 star hotel not far from the hostel. We paid €45 for one night in a private room. Upon check-in we were upgraded to a bigger room as they were undergoing renovations to the rooftop area and compensated us with a bigger room. The room was huge and was a great way to finish our trip. We freshened up and went for food in Thai Express. It was good Thai food and reasonably priced. We wandered the night market before heading back to the hotel as we were wrecked after our Ha Long Bay trip.
Day 13 – Hanoi
After a great nights sleep we got up at 9am to catch our free breakfast, which was really good. We took advantage of our room and chilled in it until we checked out at 12.
We were staying near the airport that night so we left our bags in storage while we went shopping for the day.
For lunch we went to a place called Gecko, which had really nice sandwiches and has a few restaurants all close to the hotel.
We continued shopping for the last few things before stopping for some drinks, as it was just too hot.
We needed to kill some more time and had money to use so we decided to get one last massage in a place just around the corner from our hotel. We haggled with them and got foot, neck and head massages for 200,000 VND each.
We got reception to book us a taxi from the hotel for after 7pm, but a private car arrived and it cost us the same as a taxi would have, 330,000 VND (€12).
We arrived to our airport hotel and how it was a difference from our nice 4 star hotel in Hanoi. We got a private room for €11 but it was the most basic room I’ve ever seen. It was in what seemed like a dodgy area and had nothing around it except a cafe or two. If you decide to do something similar to this make sure you eat before you leave Hanoi and arrive as late as possible as there is nothing to do and there’s not even any English TV channels in the rooms. There is however FREE Wi-Fi so that was at least something.
I had read some reviews that no taxis would drop you to the airport as it is too short a journey so you are forced to use the service the hotel provides which costs $4 which in the scheme of things doesn’t sound that expensive but in Hanoi or anywhere in Vietnam a journey that short would never cost that much.
Day 14 – Travel Day
In the airport at 7am as we faced 34hours of travel till we got home.
After spending the guts of two weeks in Vietnam I can now say that it is a beautiful country with great food, people and lots of interesting things to see and do. Our biggest concern prior to travelling was the amount of time we had. We thought 13days wouldn’t be enough time to see and do everything we wanted to, but we made the most of our time by getting up early and travelling at night.
We did miss out on a few things and would have liked to stay in some places longer but this gives us an excuse to return.
Ideally you should have longer to explore Vietnam as the pure size of the country takes time to get around. However saying that it most certainly can be done in as little as 13days.