Vietnam is a convenient country to travel through because both major cities, Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), are located at opposite ends of the country. This will make your travel plan simple, as these are natural places to start and end the journey.
Whether you choose a bus route, biker trail or other mode of transport, here’s a little guide to what you could stop and see on the way up or down.
Hanoi is the Vietnamese capital, and at its heart is the crazy old quarter.
The day to day life of the old quarter.
If you can appreciate a little chaos, you will love these narrow streets full of traders, hotels, bars and restaurants. To immediately get that genuine Vietnamese feel, start here. Although there are minimal tourist attractions to see, this is the perfect place for feeling like you are in a completely foreign land.
It’s unbelievably cheap, and you can just about find anything you want to eat and drink. If you are a coffee drinker, we recommend trying a famous Vietnamese egg coffee. It sounds a little strange, but it’s smooth and sweet, not tasting a bit like egg.
Hovering around Hanoi.
Before heading south it might be worth heading in two other directions first.
Sapa is a stunning location 8 hours northwest of Hanoi by sleeper train. This mountainous dream is right on the Chinese border. With rice terraces everywhere, you won’t struggle to find plenty of photo opportunities. We never made the journey on our trip, and it’s our one regret from Vietnam. What’s 8 hours in exchange for the beauty as seen below?
Don’t miss this beauty like us.
HA LONG BAY
Before making your way south, head four hours east and visit Vietnam’s most famous landmark, Ha Long Bay. Get your first glimpses of the bay by staying the night on Cat Ba Island, where you can wake up early the next morning and take a boat tour around the limestone karsts.
Spend the night on Cat Ba Island.
The limestone islands vary in shapes and sizes and make for a once in a lifetime experience. Boat tours go out for one day or overnight. We opted for the day trip.
Be sure to get a free lunch and take a kayak to get up close and personal. It’s a truly breathtaking place that simply can’t be missed.
Get up close and personal to the limestone islands.
This hilariously odd stop off town is worth a look before the long ride to Hue. It’s classic Vietnamese and has an olden creepy vibe to it.
The creepy Hai Phong.
Hue is 15 hours south of Hai Phong. We went straight there, but looking back we recommend that you stop off somewhere inbetween.
Hue is a historical city surrounded by stone walls, palaces and shrines. The imperial city is a main attraction worth visiting. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a different century.
While it’s a great place to soak up the Vietnamese culture, it will only keep you busy for a day or two, so plan your trip accordingly.
The historical vibes of Hue.
DaNang is the third biggest city in Vietnam and the hub of central Vietnam. Situated on the South China Sea and surrounded by mountains, it is the ideal location for a photo or two.
Since it is a big town, there are many things to keep you entertained. A few recommendations include a visit up a cable car in the Ba Na Mountains or a treck through the cliffs and tunnels of the Marble Mountains.
Cable car up the Ba Na Mountains.
Hoi An is a calm, feel-good ancient town in central Vietnam. It’s found just an hour south of Da Nang and it’s well worth a stopover.
Traffic and noise pollution are non-existent, and it’s early days on the tourist trail, making it cheap and friendly. This laidback town is perfect for a relaxing stop off in what is otherwise a hectic country.
The calming town of Hoi An.
Once you’re relaxed and feeling good, hit the road again and head south to Nha Trang, a coastal town full of energy. This is the place to hit the beaches and enjoy the party. Unlike the main cities, this town doesn’t have a bedtime.
The beach life of Nha Trang.
When waking with a hangover, there is no better cure than a trip to Thap Ba spa where you can enjoy a wide range of mud baths.
Relax in the mud of Thap Ba spa.
Next stop is Da Lat, a sky town with refreshing clean air and cool temperatures. Your journey there will take you deep into the mountains and passed waterfalls raging down thousands of feet.
We definitely recommend a trip to the crazy house and the Elephant Falls during your visit, a setting which reminded me of the one in Disney’s Jungle Book.
The Jungle Book comparison is clear to see at the Elephant Falls.
Mui Ne is a quickly growing tourist town. Stretching along the coast line, the whole town mostly sits in a straight line on one road.
The sand dunes are the big attraction of this town, making you feel as if you are in a desert. Once out of the dunes, head to the beach, where the wind and waves are powerful if you’d like to do some surfing. Rest up here, because your next and final stop will be mad.
Get that desert feel in the sand dunes of Mui Ne.
SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)
Saigon is crazy. Motorbikes and scooters are everywhere, and most travelers find themselves caught up in the chaotic city vibe.
Motorbikes and scooters are everywhere is Ho Chi Minh City.
The main recommendation in Ho Chi Minh is a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – an eye-opening insight into the Vietnam war that will even interest those who usually skip the historical sites.
Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s most built up area, so if you’re ready to return to a bit of normalcy, a nice western meal, and a fun night out, then this is a great place to spend the end of journey.
Getting deep into the Cu Chi tunnels.
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