Vietnam is an incredibly beautiful, culture rich, action-filled, foodie friendly country. It is a great place to visit if you want to be active and get out of your comfort zone! While there are many great places to visit in Vietnam, I’d like to walk you through a few of my must-see spots. Start your trip by flying straight into Ho Chi Mihn…
Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon), Vietnam
To get to your hotel, you’ll want to catch a taxi. If taxis are going to be your main means of transportation, you need to always use an official cab company like Vinasun (white taxi) or Mailinh (green taxi). Other taxis will be inconsistent in their charges and come up with “extra fees”. You can also catch a ride on the back of a motor bike if you are feeling courageous. These are relatively safe…just be prepared for an exciting ride! Negotiate the price in advance before getting on to the bike, don’t pay until you have arrived at the correct location.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay in the party, aka, the “backpackers district” stay at Vietnam Inn Saigon. If you want a more low key stay but still want the opportunity to mingle with other travelers try the Della Boutique Hostel.
What to Do
- Củ Chi Tunnels: You can book this day trip through your hostel. The tunnels of Củ Chi are an incredible sight you can visit with just a short drive from Ho Chi Minh. These tunnels are a small part of the even bigger network of tunnels across Vietnam. Historically, they were used for hiding spots, communication, supply routes, etc. The tour includes transportation, guidance of the grounds and traps, and the opportunity to crawl through a tunnel (if you dare).
- War Remnants Museum: The museum covers how the Vietnamese people experienced the Vietnam/American war. There are short films, documents, pictures, artifacts and more. Tip: They close for lunch from 12-1pm. Your ticket is good for all day but you will have to leave during those hours. I made the mistake of showing up at 11:30pm, so if you do happen to run into the lunch hour, just a 5 minute walk away is an adorable café called Milk Bar. Here you can get a huge array of cold drinks to help with that Vietnamese heat. There's even a swing on the porch that you can enjoy until the museum opens back up. Plan to spend half a day at the museum.
- Ben Thanh Market: Great place to do some cheap shopping. Everything from food, clothes, shoes, bags, etc. Prepare to bargain! Do not accept the first price. Must-buy: A couple of hand fans. The heat never gets easier and AC is limited. Believe me, this is one purchase you will never regret.
There is a never-ending list of things to do in Ho Chi Mihn. Everything from street food tours, a motorbike ride tour of the city, temples, art museums, outdoor fairs, and more! Hostels typically have the best advice on what to do and the best prices. They cater more to people looking for authentic experiences rather than the typical tourist tour you get from a travel agency or hotel concierge.
Da Lat, Vietnam
Where to stay: MUST stay at Cozy Nook Hostel
Cozy Nook makes my top three list for favorite places I have stayed in over 30 countries. The kindest owners, the best family meal, and THE most comfortable beds in all of Asia! Every night there is a family dinner. For $5, the owner of the hostel and his wife cook you the most delicious authentic Vietnamese meal. Beer, water, and food are available at the hostel based on an honor system. You just put a mark next to your name on the chalk board and pay when you check out!
What to do
- Canyoning: Book this through the hostel! It is $40 and in exchange, you get a day that you will remember for the rest of your life. Experienced tour guides that will take you rappelling down 80ft waterfalls, floating through a river in the jungle, jumping off cliffs and a beautiful hike. Worth every penny and more.
- After eating a delicious meal at the hostel, go to Cave Bar: Cave Bar is exactly that, a bar that has been placed within a series caves! You and your friends simply wander around, find cool places to sit, drink, and chat. I met two Norwegians in this cave that I ended up traveling with for 2 weeks!
Tip: Buy a drink before you go exploring, it will take you some time to find the bar again! Also, take a flashlight or make sure your phone is charged, it can get dark!
Note: The hostel offers several tours, including to Elephant waterfall and Weasel Coffee Farm.
Where to stay: Hanoi Rocks Hostel
What to do
Hanoi is the capitol of Vietnam. It is a great city to get lost in! Take a right out of the hostel, then your first left onto Hàng Buồm street. Start here and spend the day walking around, trying street food, checking out the shops and chatting with locals.
- Tam Coc Day Trip: Book the Tam Coc day tour through the hostel. It includes transportation, a guided tour of the Hoa Lu Temples, a buffet lunch, an hour long boat ride down the Ngô Đồng River through limestone karsts, and a bike ride through the rice fields to an ancient tiered pagoda nestled into the mountainside in 3 caves.
- Café 13 Dihn: Go to this café and order the Egg Coffee. It is a local favorite and this place does it the best! This is not an easy café to find, it’s meant more for locals so they have it tucked away in an entrance you could walk by several times before seeing. It’s on the second floor so you’ll need to take a staircase up, the café is facing Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
- Bo Nuong Xuan Xuan: Two words... Vietnamese. BBQ. This restaurant has small grills set up where you can cook your own food. You order what meats and/or vegetables you want off their menu and they bring them out pre-seasoned and set up the grill for you.
- Everything is negotiable: Clothing, rides, food, drinks, etc. The only places you won’t negotiate is restaurants with fixed prices on their menu or if using one of the cab companies mentioned above.
- Learn to say hello, goodbye and thank you in Vietnamese: Do this for any country you go to that is not native English speaking. Locals are far more likely to help you out when you inevitably need it.
- Flights and Buses: Overnight buses are a great option! The buses are individual reclining chairs with space blocked off for personal leg space (comfortable for someone up to 6ft tall, then it might start getting a little tight). Your hotel/hostel can set up a bus for you. Use skyscanner.com to find cheap flights!
- Watch out for menus without prices: Confirm the price before you order, and make sure you get what you ordered! I often was charged the “tourist tax”. Meaning they charged me double what they would a local because I didn’t pay attention when ordering.
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