From 1st July 2015 to 30th June 2016 UK nationals are permitted to enter Vietnam without a visa for a maximum of 15 days. We therefore planned a 2 week itinerary to allow us to experience some of the highlights of Vietnam within this time and without the need for a visa.
Day 1: arrive in Hanoi
Day 2: explore Hanoi
Day 3: check out of Hanoi hotel and leave bulk of luggage in hotels left luggage. Bus transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay (excursion booked with booking.com) and start cruise at lunchtime
Day 4: cruise around Halong Bay
Day 5: depart cruise at lunchtime and bus transfer back to Hanoi. Check back into hotel and collect case
Day 6: fly from Hanoi to Danang. Transfer (by pre-arranged car) to Hoi An. Arrive in Hoi An by 10:00 am and explore Hoi An for the rest of the day
Day 7: explore more of Hoi An, hire a bike and cycle to An Bang beach
Day 8: cooking class in the morning. Hire moped and drive to Marble Mountain in the afternoon
Day 9: all day train from Da Nang to Nha Trang
Day 10: Nha Trang
Day 11: Nha Trang
Day 12: fly to Ho Chi Minh City and explore
Day 13: day visit to Mekong Delta
Day 14: half day visit to Cu Chi tunnels and explore Ho Chi Minh City in afternoon
Day 15: depart for Phnom Penh
For us Hanoi had an almost Italian feel and reminded us of being in Rome… probably because of the traffic, narrow streets and small Italian type cafes and restaurants. We stayed in the Legacy Hotel on Hang Bac street which was fabulous and also decorated in an ornate Italian kind of style. It was great to stay in a decent city centre hotel for around £30 per night.
Hoi An is south of Hanoi and is easily accessible from Da Nang airport/train station. It is a gorgeous colourful town with lanterns, many ancient buildings and a huge array of craft shops.
We had a lovely ‘local’ experience in Hoi An, staying at the spotless and new Snow Pearl homestay with a helpful and kind family and participating in an authentic Vietnamese cooking class.
While in Hoi An we hired bikes and cycled out of the old town and through paddy fields and a small village to the nearby An Bang beach which is about 3 km’s away. The beach is lined with several bars and restaurants overlooking the sea which also provides a refreshing breeze as you cool down with a beer. Some restaurants allow you to park your bike for free if you buy a drink. Otherwise there is a bike park where you pay around £1.50 to park two bikes.
We also hired a moped in Hoi An and visited Marble Mountain which is just outside Danang. There were caves within the mountain which contained numerous temples. For a small cost you can take a lift to the top of the mountain which offers good views of the Danang to Hoi An coastline. Whilst we had an enjoyable afternoon we didn’t feel this was too much of a ‘wow’ factor and wasn’t a real ‘must see’ attraction. (Maybe we’ve seen one or two too many temples recently…)
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s largest coastal resort which is popular with Russian tourists. For a city-by-the-sea we found Nha Trang to be clean and well maintained. For example we walked for 2-3 km’s along Nha Trang’s pleasant beach front promenade. This was clear of rubbish and even on a Sunday morning workers were tending to the plants and watering the grass. Families were gathered on the beach and in the park areas having picnics and generally relaxing.
The other high spot for us in Nha Trang was literally a high spot… you can buy tickets for the Premier Best Western sky bar which is 40 stories high and offers fantastic views of the crescent bay of Nha Trang. The bar isn’t open during the day but you can buy a ticket just to go and see the 360 degree view. From 4 pm this turns into a skybar.
There is a range of activities available in Nha Trang including a spa mud bath, a theme park on Vinpearl island and numerous boat trips to some of the islands dotted in the bay.
We took train SE1 a daytime train from Danang to Nha Trang. Not quite the bone shaker experience we had between Bangkok and Phitsanulok in Thailand but nevertheless this was a long 10 hours… Many people book carriages on night trains which saves the cost of accommodation and saves a long daytime journey. However we were able to find low cost flights so flew between Hanoi and Danang and again from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vietnamese people were warm and friendly and in some ways Vietnam seemed more advanced than other SE Asian countries. For example, we were almost always able to get reasonably fast internet access; transfers, cars and trains ran on time and city centres were clean and well maintained.
If visiting SE Asia for the first time we would recommend Vietnam to be a good place to start. The main culture shock for many Westerners is probably the traffic and pedestrians come last in the traffic pecking order. Locals negotiate the busy traffic by just stepping into the road and walking confidently across expecting the many mopeds to steer past. This doesn’t always work and there are many accidents each year.
Another highlight we particularly enjoyed was the coffee… Vietnamese coffee is made in a variety of different ways but the standard Vietnamese coffee as filtered from a metal container straight into your cup is strong, sweet and delicious.
Overall we were pleased with our itinerary and were fortunate to see and experience so many wonderful places as well as gain a deeper level of understanding of some of Vietnams turbulent history.