A week in Vietnam

Preparing my trip, I realised that August is not the best period in Vietnam. However, for personal reasons, I couldn’t change the date of my trip. After reading a lot of the best places to go during this month, I decided not to go to lovely Hanoi and focus on central and Southern Vietnam.

As a Belgian, I needed a visa to get in the country. You can check here if you need one too. The procedure was not complicated per se but a bit weird to me:

  • Complete an online form and pay 18$
  • Receive an approval letter (where my name and passport details were visible alongside 14 other travellers applying for a visa)
  • When arriving to the airport in Vietnam, bring the letter, 2 ID pics and 25$ cash (only $ and only cash)

Coming from Singapore, we landed in Da Nang, where somebody from the hotel came to pick us. We straightaway discovered the unusual driving habits in Vietnam: staying on the left lane, overtaking on the right one, and beeping basically non stop. Welcome to Vietnam!

Hoi An

Hoi An is definitely the prettiest city of our trip, although extremely touristic. The main of the action happens in the Old Town around the canal. Lots of pretty shops, bars and restaurants in old French colonial houses. 

Activities:

  • Beach: We rented a scooter (prayed that we would survived and drove for about 15 minutes to the An Bàng beach. I can recommend you a nice cocktail at Soul Kitchen or lunch with a view at La Plage.
  • Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary: we booked a trip for less than 10$ somewhere in an agency in Hai Ba Trung street for half a day in another UNESCO ranked site. We explored the ruins of  ancient Cham temples discovered only about a century ago by French archeologists in the middle of the jungle. The site was unfortunately heavily bombarded during the US-Vietnam war.
  • Boat trip: you won’t be able to miss the hundreds of candles floating on the water every night. I couldn’t resist and also went for a short romantic boat ride to add my red candle too!
  • Shopping: loads of opportunities to buy cheap silk clothes and leather products and shoes. They all advertise the fact that they can do personalised items too.

Check out the restaurants, bars and hotels I recommend here.

Hue

We took a bus with The Sinh Tourist from Hoi An to Hue. The trip lasted only 3 hours (instead of 4) and was very nice. I discovered sleeper busses!

Hue is very different from Hoi An. It’s a big and busy city that feels much less cozy and traditional than central Hoi An. A small shock for us after a charming week-end down there.

Activities :

  • Imperial City: THE visit that you need to do when in Hue. Beware that you may only pay by card. The site is quite big so my best advice is to just take any door or any path you can find and open your eyes wide. There are many imperial temples, houses and gardens to explore. Unfortunately, many buildings have been distroyed during the US-Vietnam war here too.
  • River and temples: we booked a private tour on a boat on the Perfume River to visit Minh Mang royal and Khai Dinh Tombs tombs as well as the Thien Mu pagoda with Hue private tours. The boat trip is lovely (but slightly long) and the sites are beautiful and the lunch was very good but we weren’t completely convinced by the tour. We were forced to pay additional fees for two old men to drive us from the river to the Minh Mang Tombs and for drinks we had on the boat (although the lunch was included and we asked if the drinks were too).

Check out my tips for restaurants, bars and hotels here.

Nha Trang

We took a night train from Hue to Nha Trang. We took the most expensive tickets in a 4-berth air-conditioned cabin to maximise our chances to have a good night sleep. Despite my snoring upstairs neighbour and a bad sleeping history, I managed to sleep quite well.

Nha Trang is a beach town packed with Russian tourists (don’t be surprised to see signs in cyrillic at every crossroad) but with a micro climate that makes the weather particularly good.

Check out my opinion on restaurants, bars and hotels in Nha Trang here.

Activity:

  • Po Nagar/beach: We rented a scooter to drive to Po Nagar, a site featuring 4 Cham towers. The view from up there on the city is really beautiful but unfortunately, the site is too packed to really appreciate the visit. We quickly escaped to go and lie down on Doc Let beach, which is well-known for being nicer and cleaner than the main beach in Nha Trang. We rented a couple of sunbeds for a very reasonable price. The water is transparent and the temperature is perfect for me. Soooooo warm!
  • Snorkeling: We booked half a day snorkeling with The Sinh Tourist (only cash at the agency) to go snorkeling in the Mun Island Marine Reserve. The nice staff picked us at the hotel to take us to the boat. We were only about 7 or 8 on a big boat, that was great! The first snorkeling stop was very nice but the second one, with white patches of sand was just perfect! I enjoyed it so much! Some people on the boat had chosen to dive and were very happy about their experience. We then got lunch on a floating restaurant, fun experience.

Ho Chi Minh

We took a short flight from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh. Beware that the Nha Trang airport is quite far away from the city. It was our first time with VietnamAirlines and it was a convincing one!

Ho Chi Minh (most Vietnamese still call it Saigon) was not my favourite stop on our itinerary but it was necessary to flight back home. And indeed, we felt the city was very busy and noisy and unfortunately not charming but I was still happy to pass by: Ho Chi Minh has a vibrant night life and an interesting history.

Check out my advice for restaurants, bars and hotels here.

Activities:

  • City walk: We visited the main downtown landmarks in one afternoon: the Independence Palace (and its famous portal destroyed by the communists from North Vietnam), the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon (apparently the one in Paris served as an inspiration for this one…), the central post office, the nice city hall, the Nguyen Hue avenue (the Champs Elysées of the city) and it view on the Bitexco tower. Nothing amazing but worth the walk.
  • War Remnants Museum: a very good museum (actually the highest rated attraction in the city according to my travel guide) to finally understand a bit more what was at stake during the war between the US and Vietnam. Lots and lots of photos (a very interesting section dedicated to war journalists) to illustrate this first mediatised war. Some pictures not easy to watch, mainly the ones illustrating the exactions of the soldiers and the effects of the Agent Orange. U.S. military tanks, jets, helicopters are also visible outside the building

After this week in Vietnam, I was really glad to have discovered the country. But I’ll definitely be back to visit Hanoi, Ha Long bay and the Mekong delta!

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