Arrive in Ho Chi Minh and set up your things (we arrived late at night as it took us the whole day to arrive from Cambodia).
Hotel: Hoang Minh Hotel is in the ‘backpaker’s area’ of Saigon, and it offers a fairly good value for money – a double is $15 with AC and free wifi.
Day 2, 3 & 4
Leave on day 4 for Mui Ne after the Tunnels, a 4 hours bus ride for $6 (leaves at 3pm).
Hire a scooter in Mui Ne ($8 automatic, $5 manual) and visit some of its beautiful surroundings, from the White and Red Dunes to the fishing village. There’s a beach pretty much everywhere, but don’t expect much from it, besides a lot of litter.
Beware: Mui Ne is yet another place taken over by Russians – so if you stick to the ‘tourist’ area you’ll only learn about their culture, not the Vietnamese one.
Hotel: Ve Tam Hotel, just at the end of the road of where your bus leaves you, have nice and clean rooms for $10 (one double bed) and $12 (two single beds).
Take the 1:30pm bus to Hoi An – a very looong journey as you get there on Day 7, 7:30am. If you want to break it down and have time to waste you can stop in Nah Trang, but I’ve heard it’s not much more than a party town.
Bus fare: Mui Ne – Hoi An $16.
Arrive in beautiful Hoi An early in the morning, and head straight away to Hoang Trinh Hotel, where you’ll find the best hotel service you’ll ever receive!
What to do: Hire a bike for $1 and cycle around town, getting absorbed by the wonderful settings of this UNESCO town site. If you fancy going the extra mile, there are a couple of beaches few km away, and the ride to them is beautiful.
At night, don’t forget to walk along the river and witness the magic of all the lanterns lit up in the dark…
Today it’s time to walk around the town, and get an even deeper feeling of it.
What to do: We took a class at Lifestart Foundation on Lantern Making that was super cool, but if you fancy some cooking you won’t have trouble finding it here – there’s loads of cooking classes offered, all around $20 each person.
Eat: there’s a great food stall market opened at night on the other side of the bridge, where you’ll find some tasty streeet food at a very reasonable price. During the day, have some Cau Lao or Wanton on a boat by the river.
Take the 7:30am bus to Hue, arriving at 11:30.
Walk (or bike) around town to the citadel.
Hotel: We stayed at New Life Hotel, $10 a double including (a very small) breakfast.
Eat: Family Home Restaurant – literally, you eat in their livingroom!
Hire a scooter ($8) and see Hue’s beautiful countryside – there’s loads of tombs and ancient sites to be seen, as well as villages and (another) Japanese bridge.
Day 11 & 12
Today we made a mistake and basically wasted two whole days for nothing. We took a bus at 5pm to Dong Hoi, which we wanted to keep as a base to see the Phong Na National Park. The bus left us in the middle of the road in Dong Hoi at 9:30pm (1h and a half late) and we took the first hotel we found. The day after we tried to hire a motorbike to go to the park, but no one spoke english nor was interested in helping us.
There’s a bus at 2pm that goes there, but as we didn’t have much time (and frustrated by the whole process), we decided to skip it and move to Hanoi that evening- a night bus costs $12 and leaves at 6:30pm.
Now, I suggest you two options: either go to Hanoi straight from Hue (same bus at 5pm but arriving in the morning), or take the train from Hue to Dong Hoi, which arrives in the afternoon and leaves you time to arrange the visit to the park. From what I heard it is really worth a visit!!
Day 12, 13, & 14
Arrive at 6:30am and go straight to the Old Quarter to find a place – there’s loads of choice there.
Hotel: We stayed at Camel City Hotel and had an incredible service, paying $15 for a double including breakfast.
Day 15, 16 & 17
We organized a cruise from Hanoi, the options are:
1 day (I highly suggest you NOT to take this one, as it’s 4 hours there and back);
2 days 1 night – again, not much time spent on the boat but better than nothing;
3 days 2 nights – what we did, and we had a great time.
We spent $130 each, you can definitely find cheaper ones, but with all the stories we heard, we decided to spend a bit more and be safe. Everything is included but drinks, and you will spend one night on the boat and one in either a hotel on Cat Ba or a Bungalow in the middle of the sea (what we did, amazing!!). There’s loads of cruises you can chose from too, we had Cristina and it was perfect. Also the guide Huy was fantastic and very very helpful with anything we needed.
Day 18, 19 & 20
Again, more options to chose from.
Being it our last week (not only in Vietnam, but in Asia after months of travelling) we decided to take it slow and spend it relaxing in Halong Bay.
However, rushing it a little, it is possible to see both Halong Bay AND Sapa, which is supposedly beautiful.
So after the cruise, you can go back to Hanoi (arrive at 4:30pm) and take another of the organized tours to Sapa, a 3 nights (2 of which on a train) and 2 days. The costs vary between $150-$250 each.
Otherwise, what we did was to stop on Cat Ba for two more nights, seeing more of the island and the nearby ones, and went back to Hanoi on Day 20.
Spend the last day in Hanoi, and fly out on Day 22!