We set off to the Land of Dragons for some spectacular scenery and history lessons…
- Day 1 – Land in Ho Chi Minh City. Independence Palace, Notre Dame Basilica and Ben Thanh Market
- Day 2 – War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels and Dong Khai Street in HCM
- Day 3– To Hanoi. Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Complex
- Day 4 – To Halong Bay and board cruise. Kayaking and Swimming on cruise
- Day 5 – On Halong Bay Cruise – Kayaking, Beach, Cave, Swimming
- Day 6 – Fishing village tour and back to Hanoi. Water Puppet Show, Hoan Kiem Lake and Old Quarter
- Day 7 – Trip back home
Click on cities for detailed day wise itineraries…
Halong Bay Cruise:
- Key highlight of this trip was Halong bay cruise. I clearly wanted to spend 2 nights cruising as this is what enticed me to plan a vacation to Vietnam! I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which cruise to book – there are various options based on where they cruise, activities, size of cruise, quality of company, etc.
- We took quotes from company website, travel agent and online websites. We finally booked the cruise directly through the company’s website. This cost us USD 313 pp (50% paid upfront online and 50% in their office one day before the cruise) and was worth it !
- We decided on Dragon Pearl of IndoChina based on Tripadvisor, blogs and online reviews. Key aspect which ruled in its favor was the fact that they cruised to Bai Tu Long (part of Halong bay) which isn’t crowded and offers a peaceful setting. They also had more activities – especially kayaking and swimming which other operators are currently not offering in Halong bay area.
- Travel: We took flights between cities and used Uber within city. Hotels provide option for pick-up and drop at a fee – but Uber vehicles offer better quality at similar (or cheaper) price. Btw, they even have ‘moto’ option where you can book a bike!
- Others: We just booked the Cu Chi Tunnel Tour as its outside the city limits (2 hours ride) on Viator for USD 22 pp. Rest of the attractions can easily be managed on foot
Ho Chi Minh
- We wanted to stay close to the tourist attractions and booked Grand Silverland Hotel, close to Ben Thanh market based on location and reviews. The roof-top pool did help in closing this booking!
- After a short drive from the airport, we were happy to be upgraded! Breakfast was a delicious spread and they introduced us to the traditional Vietnamese coffee (and its iced variant). What was even better was the lovely afternoon tea – range of muffins, waffles and drinks! Location was awesome and was less than 1 km to spots like museum, palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, Dong Khai Street, etc. Do explore street food and souvenirs at Ben Thanh Market (they even have a night market).
- Even if you are not into swimming, do go upstairs to rooftop restaurant to see the city light up at night! SS Tip – check for rooftop pool and afternoon tea while booking
We booked hotels in Old Quarter area which is was convenient for pick-up/ drop for cruise, close to tourist attractions and night market. As we effectively just needed a place to sleep and freshen-up we booked reasonably priced, 4 star hotels. The area is crowded and hotel entrances are narrow. But the rooms look new and spacious with typical comforts.
- Hanoi Marvellous Hotel – This is in centre of the old quarter and close to the cruise office we had to visit. We had booked an airport pick-up from the hotel on email. After the 45 minutes ride, we were happy to get upgraded to a better room and loved the welcome drink set! They provided a map for us to get acquainted with the area and suggested some spots to visit. The breakfast spread was good and Vietnamese coffee was the highlight !
- Hanoi Emerald Waters & Spa – This was very close to lake and made an excellent base for the last day jaunts. Check-in was smooth and the room was very spacious. Even they provided a map to show us route to take to explore the lake and night market. We had a hearty breakfast before setting off to airport next day.
SS tip: Some of the hotels don’t have windows so check in advance if you are fussed about sunlight
- Food: Lot of western and Vietnamese food options. Similar to Japan, you can use Happycow.com to find vegetarian food options. Btw, the cruise had fantastic 7 course meals!
- Currency: While hotels and large stores accept USD, suggest you carry Vietnamese Dong for small purchases, restaurants and shopping. Be careful while accepting change as an exchange rate of 22,000 VND per USD makes it quite complicated!
- Mobile: We bought the SIM for USD 10 with unlimited internet and 20 mins local calling time at the airport (while waiting for visa). This had 4G speed and good network (except Halong Bay cruise)
- Visa: They have a unique system where you apply online for visa letter (charged us USD 17 pp). Scan of an official looking letter is sent in few days. On landing in Vietnam, submit the scanned letter, visa form, passport size picture (size doesn’t matter). Wait for your name to be called and then pay the stamping fee of USD 25 pp. The stamping process took us around 30 mins…