With mind-blowing cuisine that will awaken your taste buds, enough colour to make you think you’re seeing life through an Instagram filter and locals who make it their personal priority to make you feel right at home; Vietnam is a country that should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.
In my 25 years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 30 countries (including Australia) and as it stands vibrant Vietnam has confidently pushed itself into the top ten. But, before you get too dreamy-eyed about it all, anyone planning to visit this country (or anywhere in South East Asia for that matter) should be prepared for a whirlwind roller coaster adventure with all the implied highs and lows. My number one tip for travellers is to stock up on anti-nausea and diarrhea tablets(!) The ugly reality is that you will be introduced to brand new antigens and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll spend at least one day down and out becoming well acquainted with your hotel’s bathroom.
On a more positive note, thanks to a number of Facebook posts on my behalf I’ve been overwhelmed with friends and family asking me where I stayed, where I went and what I loved – so, to start with I’m going to provide a very condensed version (which still may seem very long but trust me it could be three times the length!) of my one month itinerary including all the places I stayed (most, which were beyond amazing), the destinations I visited as well as the better tours that I encountered. I would like to point out that this holiday was planned on a save and splurge basis – it includes both budget and luxury accommodation. You can see the country a lot cheaper than I did, but on the other hand you could also enjoy a more luxurious encounter.
Day 1: Melbourne to Siem Reap, Cambodia (Vietnam Airlines)
OK, to be honest at first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of flying Vietnam Airlines. Possibly because I’m never thrilled with the prospect of flying with any airline, and secondly I’d never heard of them before. Safe to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The airline was modern, provided in-flight entertainment and had enough space for my 6 foot boyfriend who would have had a harder time with it than me. The only negative was that the food was a little … gross (for a lack of better word). Justin (my boyfriend) seemed to enjoy it but because we had booked some kind of flex seats, they couldn’t guarantee me a vegetarian meal which turned out to be OK considering I slept the majority of the flight. Before you travel I would make sure you have pre-booked something you can eat or bring along some snacks unless you decide to go hungry for 8 hours 45 minutes.
We arrived around 9:30 pm in Ho Chi Minh City (the capital of Vietnam) before catching a connecting flight to Siem Reap , the capital of Cambodia (also with Vietnam Airlines). Our hotel transfer collected us from the airport in a private car and delivered us safely to the accommodation where we were greeted by a glass of bubbly – parfait!
Day 2: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Hotel: Shinta Mani Club, Resort. This hotel is ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor for a very good reason. It is mind-blowingly amazing and located a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from the central hub along the Siem Reap River. It also provided a Tuk Tuk service where they charge less than $5 to go pretty much anywhere. Anyway, more on the hotel facilities in a later post.
Transport: I emailed the hotel in advance to ask whether they could include a transfer in the accommodation price, and they provided us with one way complimentary transfer so it is definitely worth asking.
Activities: Wandered along the Siem Reap River, became acquainted with the vibrant and extremely tourist-friendly pub street precinct, visited local temples and caught a Tuk Tuk to Tonle Sap (lake) where we experienced a boat tour (which was a little bit too touristy for me and at times seemed a little like an elaborate scam). Completed the best cocktail course in the world at a bar called ASANA just outside of pub street area and had a very drunken but enjoyable dinner at the hotel.
Day 3: Siem Reap
Activities: Sunset tour of Ankor Watt and temples – ahhmaazing! For a cheaper alternative, I would recommend hiring a Tuk Tuk instead of a car although the air conditioning was welcome! We spent the afternoon by the pool (the fantabulous pool, that is) at Shinta Mani being served $4 cocktails and dined at a beyond-this-world restaurant called Haven. Haven is a teaching restaurant where they educate and provide skills to young Cambodians to better improve their chances of employment; fantastic place and the local cooks and waiters were great. The restaurant is about a five minute Tuk Tuk ride from the hotel and cost $2 each way.
Day 4: Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Hotel: Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel ( a new hotel with a relaxing roof top pool overlooking the Saigon River and affordable prices! From memory you can pay about $40 per person per room) The hotel was located in District 1 which is a popular spot for tourists as it is close to major sights, including the French Quarter. You can have breakfast included for an additional $10 a day and it’s well worth it for the fantastic views of the river and a great buffet breakfast. I would stay here again in a heart beat.
Transport: All accommodation in District 1 is around a 30-45 minute drive from the airport depending on traffic. We booked the transfer from the airport through Indochina Tours. Unfortunately they didn’t show up to collect us so we had to catch an authorised taxi which was still, both cheap and easy. From memory I think it was about $35 AUD for the taxi.
Activities: Not a whole lot, to be honest. Walked into the old French Quarter to see the Notre Dam Cathedral and other notable sights. Did a little shopping and bought some shoes I haven’t yet worn and then spent the evening by the pool drinking cocktails (yet again) and eating spring rolls. The atmosphere on the rooftop was awesome, there are chairs in the actual pool with fantastic views of the river.
Day 5: Ho Chi Minh City
Activities: Woke early to do a half day booked tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels (very significant to the Vietnam War and a must for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh or Saigon as they call it in the south). In the afternoon we wandered around the city aimlessly (almost getting run over, it’s crazy there). Enjoyed dinner at Lemongrass on the top floor of the Palace Hotel approximately a 15 minute walk from our accommodation.
Day 6: Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta
Homestay: Hung’s Homestay
Activities/Transport: We were picked up bright and early from the hotel by our tour guide and driver from Tonkin Tours (fantastic company and easy to book with online). Enjoyed a scenic four hour drive past rice paddies to our boat on the Mekong Delta and stopped for a break at a touristy but lovely restaurant surrounded by lily pads and serving perhaps the most delicious iced coffee the world has to offer – safe to say my coffee free lifestyle had been corrupted. Floated around for a few hours past shanties lining the river and enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local home-stay – the cat fish was mouth-watering good, went for a bike-ride and visited the local market in the afternoon. Dinner was provided at the basic yet beautiful homestay. Our tour guide did say that there are some nicer homestays that offer better cooking courses as the one we stayed at had more of a backpackers feel. The other option on the tour is to stay in the nearby city where you are more central. The highlight of our homestay was going for a walk to the local village in the afternoon where all the kids waved hello at us and ran after us to shake our hands and practice their English.
Day 7: The Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City
Activities: Visited idyllic and bustling Cai Rang floating market and historic colonial home, di Binh Thuy . Drove back to the capital and once again had dinner at the hotel by the pool as we were tired from the long drive. If you do find yourself in Saigon for a few days, I would high recommend taking two days to go to the Mekong region – it’s amazing!
Day 8: Ho Chi Minh City to Ninh Van Bay, Nha Trang
Hotel: Six Senses Resort Ninh Van Bay. Private butler, water villa with a ladder offering direct access to the bay and an infinity pool. (I will provide a full review on this oasis later as you’re going to want to hear more!)
Travellers Tip: Book 40 days in advance and SAVE 40% off. This definitely made the resort affordable for us and was the only reason we were able to stay there. A lot of people have asked me how I afforded to stay there and this is why.
Transport: Flew Vietnam Airlines to Nha Trang airport (jetstar also offers flights in the morning). The hotel then collected us from the airport and it was about a 45 minute drive to the hotel’s jetty where they have a private boat that transfers guests to and from the resort. You do need to pay $50 for this service, however.
Activities: Lounged by the pool, slept, drank the complimentary champaign – What a life!
Day 9: Ninh Van Bay
Activities: Again, by the pool, snorkeling, romantic boat cruise and dinner in the wine cave. We went all out with the romantic activities here.
Day 10: Ning Van Bay
Activities: Kayaking, snorkeling, swimming and in-house dining on freshly caught lobster (perfect!)
Day 11: Ninh Van Bay to Hoi An
Hotel: Vinh Hung Emerald Resort. This hotel was absoultely amazing. We paid $38 each a night to stay in a suite with a balcony, had a complimentary street food dinner as we stayed 5 nights, had access to the large and heated resort-style pool and were treated to a complimentary boat tour of the river. I am particularly fond of this hotel and I made good friends with a member of the staff called Tam who bought me a dress out of her hard-earned money! I can’t recommend this place enough. It is on An Hoi island and is just a 10 minute walk from the ancient centre and is surrounded by fantastic restaurants.
Transfer: The hotel collected us from the Danang Airport which is around a 30 – 40 minute drive from the ancient town of Hoi An. I wasn’t that impressed with the transfer as they stopped at a marble production place and tried to pressure us into buying touristy things – not really my thing.
Activities: Explored the charming old centre and watched the preparations for the Full Moon Festival (a great time to visit). Unfortunately, I can’t remember where we had dinner because I’m not that great with my memory these days, but, I’m sure it was lovely.
Day 12: Hoi An
Activities: Today we just took it easy as I had a fractured big toe from walking into a cement stone not once but five times, completely sober too. We visited the ancient Japanese Bridge, walked around all the streets (which were fantastic if you like shopping) and had an appointment at a local tailor called BB Silk (THIS is the place to GO! They made me AMAZING clothes that are a fantastic quality, I wear them all the time) where we selected which clothes we wanted made. Hoi An is famous for its tailors and you can, literally, have whatever you like made for incredibly cheap prices. Spent the afternoon by the pool as it was ridiculously hot and humid. In the evening we went for dinner to a delicious restaurant called Morning Glory just a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The food was out of this world good. I really discovered a passion for food in Vietnam based on the amazing flavours and vegetarian-friendly cuisine. The seafood is also some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Travellers Tip: Drink plenty of water. I unfortunately didn’t and ended up passing out on a waiter in the restaurant and being practically carried back to the hotel. Not a smart move by me. Also, you can take your own photos along to the tailor and they can replicate them for you as they usually have similar material in stock. In Hoi An you can choose to stay by the beach or in the town. I would suggest staying in the town as it is easy to go to tailor appointments and it’s just an exciting place to be. You can hire bikes for around $1 US a day to ride to the beach.
Day 13: Hoi An
Activities: Went on a half day tour to My Son temple ruins organised by the hotel. The ruins are approximately 45 minutes from the centre of Hoi An and although they are not nearly as impressive as the ruins in Cambodia, they are still well worth a trip. In the afternoon we went for another fitting at the tailor and on the way back to the hotel we ran into some Aussies we met in Siem Reap who asked us to meet them for dinner at the popular Mango Mango restaurant just a 5 minute walk from the hotel (great fusion food and also very vego friendly). Spent more time by the pool in the arvo as it was extremely hot again.
Day 14: Hoi An
Activities: In the morning we went back to the tailor for more fittings and Justin had another suit made as he is a suit fanatic. In the afternoon we went on perhaps the best tour of my life! It was called Buffalo BMW and was part of Jack Trang’s Eco Tours (the hotel can also book this for you but I had read about it on Trip Advisor). The tour took us on a buffalo ride through the rice paddies to a local farm where we made rice, and rode bare-back on the buffalo in a mud pit. I loved this tour for many reasons with the main being the tour guide was absolutely fantastic, the tour contributes to the sustainability of the local economy which I love and the buffalo was like a weird-looking Golden Retriever. So cute.
Day 15: Hoi An
Activities: Started the day with a tour to Thuang Tinh Island cooking school. To be honest, wasn’t a huge fan of this course to start with as there were a few too many cocky English One Direction like backpackers on it for my liking. It did improve with the boat ride and the cooking course was actually great. I love Vietnamese food so it was fantastic to once again be shown how to cook my favourites. They catered to my vegetarianism which was also lovely. In the afternoon we went for yet another fitting at our tailor.I actually really enjoyed the fittings as the staff seemed to find me extremely fascinating, for a reason I am still unaware of. I have heard that Red Bridge Cooking School is a better alternative to the one I did.
Travellers Tip: Don’t let the hotel staff pressure you into doing a particular tour or going to a certain tailor. They get commission and therefore the places charge you more!
Day 16: Hoi An to Hue
Activities/Transport: We were collected from the hotel by Tour from Hue to do the extremely popular Top Gear route over the Hai Van Pass. It really was a beautiful drive with plenty of stops along the way at points of interest. We arrived in Hue in the afternoon, had dinner at a local pub that served rather average food and went for a walk along the waterfront to see the local bridge lit up.
Day 17: Hue to Hanoi
Activities: Extremely rushed day. Saw the popular tombs of Hue as well as the Imperial Palace. In the afternoon we caught a Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi. The flight is approximately 45 minutes. Arrived in Hanoi and were collected from the airport by the hotel transfer. It is about one hour’s drive from the airport to the city centre.
Day 18: Hanoi
Hotel: Serene Palace Hotel Hanoi – The staff here were absolutely fantastic. It is also ranked as Number 1 on Trip Advisor for Hanoi. They also leave gorgeous towel-art on your bed. I wouldn’t have stayed anywhere else in the city.
Activities: Big walking day. Visited the Temple of Literature, Jail, Women’s Museum and wandered around the lake. Stopped at a bar called Avalon for a drink – it has FANTASTIC views and was the first of many visits for us. Don’t miss it! Had dinner at a place not too far from our hotel called Green Mango. Great fusion food. Highly recommended.
Day 19: Hanoi
Activities: Walked around the shopping district for hours, stopping for an iced coffee on the way. Visited the temple over the iconic red bridge. Did an amazing Street Food Tour ironically called Hanoi Street Food Tour (also high on Trip Advisor’s list) which gave us a taste of all local delicacies. It was amazing. We were so stuffed that we couldn’t eat dinner. I highly recommend the local egg coffee – delish!
Day 19: Hanoi to Sapa
Transport: Tulico Train (organised by our accommodation just outside of Sapa, Topas EcoLodge)
Activities: Wandered around Hanoi before the train. Took it easy. The train left around 9 pm – make sure you know which station the train leaves from so you can tell the taxi driver! We got dropped off at the wrong station and had to walk to the other which was a tad scary. Our train was comfortable, had a very safe lock on the door and some snacks. The toilet was also pretty clean! I heard that now you can drive to Sapa in just three hours thanks to a new highway development. The train certainly is an experience though and a great way to make the most of your time!
Day 20: Sapa
Hotel: Topas EcoLodge – for views that will momentarily take your breath away! Absolutely STUNNING!
Activities: Arrived in Sapa bright and early (trains usually roll in about 6 or 7 am). The train arrives in Lao Cai and our transportation then drove us one hour to Sapa where our trekking tour began. Spent the first day trekking among the villages of the Black Hmong tribes. Rice paddies were amazing. Enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant. In the evening we had a romantic dinner which was part of our accommodation package.
Day 21: Sapa
Activities: Trekked around our accommodation to the villages of the Yao people. Beautiful walk offering spectacular views of Topas Eco Lodge. Dined at the onsite restaurant as there are no other nearby options due to the isolation of the accommodation.
Day 22: Sapa to Hanoi
Transport: Tulico Train
Activities: After breakfast the hotel shuttle drove us back to Sapa, approximately a 40 minute drive from Topas EcoLodge. We spent the day wandering around Sapa and visiting the local market. We were then transferred to the train station by Topas and our train left at 9 pm.
Day 23: Hanoi
Hotel: Serene Hotel
Activities: Arrived at 6 am into Hanoi and caught a taxi to our hotel. We booked another hotel up the road from our hotel for just $10 as Serene informed us we couldn’t yet check in. Went shopping and recovered from a rough night on the train. Went to Essence Restaurant for dinner and walked along the night market.
Day 24: Hanoi
Activities: Took a day trip to Ninh Bin which is the land equivalent of Halong Bay and is approximately 3 hours from the accommodation in Hanoi. Took a boat tour along one of the rivers. To be honest I wasn’t overly impressed with this activity as it was a little too touristic for me. For dinner, we went just around the corner from our hotel to Hanoi Garden Restaurant where we had delicious calamari. Seafood is too good in Vietnam. Meanwhile our trip to Halong Bay was cancelled due to a typhoon so we were forced to change our travel plans and book a Vietnam Airlines flight back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 25: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Hotel: Grand Silverland Hotel and Spa – Much prefered the first hotel we stayed at – this one lacked atmosphere.
Activities: Caught an international flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (a little weird but anyway). Went to the market in the afternoon to buy presents for our family. Had dinner at the rooftop bar which, in my opinion, was nowhere near as good as our first hotel in Saigon.
Day 26: Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao Island
Hotel: Six Senses Con Dao – Amazing, even better than the Six Senses on Ninh Van Bay. The ultimate secluded getaway that more than made up for having to miss out on our boat cruise of Halong Bay.
Transport: Flew on a Vietnam Airlines plane to Con Dao Island. Only takes about 30 minutes.
Activities: Spent the afternoon in the pool, splashing around. Had dinner at the resort restaurant.
Day 27: Con Dao Island
Activities: The entire day was again spent by the pool with cocktails. We had dinner at the onsite restaurant again and pre-dinner drinks at the bar that served any cocktail you liked.
Day 28: Con Dao Island
Activities: Pool, free clam hunting on the beach, free couple’s massage, another massage and dinner at the chef’s table in a room off the cellar where we watched our delicious degustation being prepared by the UK chef.
Day 29: Con Dao Island to Ho Chi Minh and back to Melbourne
Transport: Caught a teeny tiny terrifying plane back to Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines (it was about the size of my palm). Went to the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh, stopped by the Zoo (which I hated because it seemed so cruel that they should be shut down) and had a quick dinner before heading to the international airport for our flight back to Melbourne and then on to Hobart.
That’s it! If anyone would like me to provide more information I am more than happy to do so as I love talking travel, love planning travel and overall, look for any excuse to talk travel. One might indeed say that I’m obsessed.