Shabbir and I travelled to Vietnam from December 25, 2019 to January 5, 2020 – a total of 12 days.
In this blog I will cover the planning and mapping out of our Vietnam trip.
We started researching about Vietnam two years prior to our trip. Usually, people going through travel agencies in India, go for a Vietnam-Cambodia combined trip. We did not want to go through an agency because we love planning trips on our own and enjoy the flexibility. We knew we had about two weeks available to us, so we started researching on the basis that we could combine Vietnam and Cambodia. We hardly knew anything about Vietnam or Cambodia and no one we knew had done such a trip, so we had to start research from scratch.
Our first reality check came when we looked at the map of Vietnam - It is a huge country! We were never a fan of travelling to two countries together and looking at the size of Vietnam, we decided to drop Cambodia for this trip. After dropping Cambodia, we were still ambitious enough to think that we could do the whole of Vietnam in two weeks.
Our second reality check came when we started building our itinerary. We just could not accommodate only the “popular” places into two weeks. This is when we started doing in depth research and shortlisted the places according to our preferences. We love being close to nature and beaches, so we started looking for places which suited our needs. We also started following the Vietnam forum on TripAdvisor.
After preliminary research, we shortlisted places which were on our “must-visit” list – Halong Bay, Danang and Dong Hoi (the entry to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park). The reasons to choose these places were the limestone karsts of Halong Bay, the golden hands bridge near Danang and the caves near Dong Hoi. Keeping these places in mind, we started our accommodation and shortlisted some great properties.
But, after reading the discussion of past travellers in TripAdvisor forums, we learnt that the weather in North, Central and South Vietnam are not similar. Danang and Dong Hoi are in Central Vietnam and during the months of Dec-Jan, the Central region experiences heavy rainfall. We do not mind a little rain but could not afford a totally washed out trip. Also, if it rained heavily, the caves would not be accessible. Considering all these factors in mind, we decided to skip Central Vietnam this time and come back for it on some other “suitable” month of the year.
So, we had to go for North and South Vietnam. I understand that a lot of you may question that for 12 days, why didn’t we stick to one region. Well the main reason is flights! We thought of flying into Hanoi as we found a suitable flight time for it, but we just could not find a suitable flight back to Kolkata from Hanoi. We had to fly back either from Danang or Saigon. Since Danang was off the list now, our only option of flying out was from Saigon in South Vietnam.
We started researching South Vietnam. Somehow, the Mekong Delta region did not appeal to us. We were also not interested in visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels as Shabbir is claustrophobic. Most of the day trips from Saigon involved a trip to these places and we were not interested. We started looking for a beach destination in the South and this led our search to Phu Quoc. We were very excited about it and shortlisted a beautiful property.
Meanwhile in the North, apart from Hanoi and Halong Bay, we started looking for another place to add to the itinerary. Sapa looked beautiful and an interesting place to be so we started reading up about it. After a preliminary research on Sapa, there were two points which stopped us from going there in end-December – one, the weather was likely to be cold and foggy and two, it was about 7-9 hours train/bus/car ride from Hanoi. We don’t mind long journeys, but it did not seem appealing when we had less time in hand. If we spend half a day reaching a place, we would have liked to stay there for a minimum 3 full days, which was not possible for us this time. For the short time that we had, Sapa seemed very hectic. So, we went back to again looking for a place in the North.
We started reading about day trips from Hanoi. There were a lot of options for day trips from Hanoi – one of the most popular one being Ninh Binh. So, we started reading about Ninh Binh. After seeing the beautiful landscape surrounding Ninh Binh, just out of curiosity, we started looking at accommodation options in Ninh Binh. We came across some gorgeous properties at Tam Coc, which is close to Ninh Binh town. Since, we live in a city, whenever we travel, we look for options to stay as close to nature as possible. So, we decided that we just cannot go to Ninh Binh as a day trip, we had to stay there at least for 2 full days! (This turned out to be the best decision; more about it in our detailed blog on Tam Coc). It was difficult choosing amongst all the scenic properties available in Tam Coc. We landed up booking our stay at the most popular and highest rated property on Booking.com – Tam Coc Horizon Bungalow. Another deciding factor to choose this property was that the bungalow we booked had a private outdoor shower area adjacent to a limestone karst! It seemed quite fascinating.
For Halong Bay, we wanted to go for a 2D/1N cruise and after searching all online platforms, we landed up booking a beautiful room with a private captain’s view terrace on Pelican Halong Cruise through Agoda. We read up on TripAdvisor forums that Halong Bay can get overcrowded and Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay are better, but we still decided to stick to Halong Bay for a couple of reasons. One, we booked a gorgeous room at a price we could afford. Two, since we had a private terrace, our plan was to spend most of the time in the terrace soaking in the views; we were not interested in the activities organised by the cruise (more on this in our detailed blog on Halong Bay).
In Hanoi, we wanted to stay in the Old Quarter as we planned to explore places by foot. Also, the Old Quarter has a lot of accommodation options. We were confused with so many hotel options and again decided to go for the highest rated budget hotel in Agoda, which turned out to be La Beaute De Hanoi. Well, we were lucky with choosing the highest rated in Tam Coc, but this one turned out to be the opposite – the room was great, but the staff were not. Thankfully, it was just a non-continuous 2-night stay and we were out most of the day (more on this experience in our detailed Hanoi Blog).
We were happy with our North Vietnam itinerary that included 3 places – Hanoi, Tam Coc and Halong Bay.
Now, we had to decide on our South Vietnam itinerary. We were already sure by this time that we wanted to go to Phu Quoc. But it was a bit of a hassle since we had to fly from Hanoi to Saigon and then Saigon to Phu Quoc and lastly back to Saigon. I think we also saw a flight option from Hanoi to Phu Quoc, but it was expensive and did not match the timing that we wanted. So, after weighing in all pros and cons, we decided to skip Phu Quoc this time.
After cancelling Phu Quoc, we still wanted to go to a beach destination and thought Mui Ne could be a good alternative. Mui Ne has a lot of good resorts, but by the time we started searching, all the good “affordable” ones got sold out! So, after a thorough search, we landed up on a beautiful Cham style resort in Phan Thiet called Poshanu Resort (more on this in our detailed blog on Phan Thiet).
In Saigon, we wanted to stay near the Nguyen Hue Walking Street and that is where we narrowed down our search. There are many hotel options here too. We stopped our search on a beautiful self-check in apartment just beside the walking street. We were thrilled with our choice and started chatting with the young owner, who is studying Tourism in Saigon (more on this in our detailed blog on Saigon). She explained to us that the apartment is in a heritage building. It has an Indo-Chine architectural influence from France.
The lovely lady also mentioned about a place called Ninh Thuan to us, which is a beautiful rustic destination and popular with locals. It had vineyards, a pottery village and a Champa Temple as well. We were intrigued and started reading about Ninh Thuan. As always, we started our search looking at properties to stay and we landed up on a beautiful seaside resort called Hon Co Ca Na Resort. We found a stunning ocean view suite in that resort (more on this in our detailed blog on Ninh Thuan). This led us to cut short a day each from Phan Thiet and Saigon and fly into Nha Trang instead of Saigon from Hanoi to add 2 days in Ninh Thuan.
So, this ended our search of places in South Vietnam. We decided to visit 3 places in South Vietnam – Ninh Thuan, Phan Thiet and Saigon.
Below you will find our Vietnam trip itinerary in brief. The detailed itinerary with accommodation reviews, transportation, food and sightseeing will be posted in the next set of blogs:
- Day 1: Tam Coc (Fly from Kolkata to Hanoi; Drive from Hanoi to Tam Coc)
- Day 2: Tam Coc
- Day 3: Tam Coc
- Day 4: Hanoi (Drive from Tam Coc to Hanoi)
- Day 5: Halong Bay (Drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay)
- Day 6: Hanoi (Drive from Halong Bay to Hanoi)
- Day 7: Ninh Thuan (Fly from Hanoi to Nha Trang; Drive from Nha Trang to Ninh Thuan)
- Day 8: Ninh Thuan
- Day 9: Phan Thiet (Drive from Ninh Thuan to Phan Thiet)
- Day 10: Phan Thiet
- Day 11: Saigon (Drive from Phan Thiet to Saigon)
- Day 12: Saigon (Fly from Saigon to Kolkata)
What was your experience in planning a trip to Vietnam?
Do let us know in the comments.
If you are visiting Vietnam and need any help booking hotels to stay in, looking for restaurant recommendations or itinerary suggestions, you can get in touch with us and we will help you with the same.
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