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Flashpacking Vietnam: Two Week Itinerary

When I booked my trip to Vietnam, I had a 9-5 job that would only allow me to take two consecutive weeks of leave at a time; but I wanted to see Vietnam and I wasn't going to let my small time frame ruin that. I spent months researching the parts that I wanted to see most managed to squeeze 4 stops into two weeks. For a holiday, that was the perfect amount of time but I fell in love with Vietnam when I got there; I could have stayed for months - especially Hanoi. Funnily enough, I got made redundant the day I returned home so maybe that wont be as far off as I thought. 
  I started my trip in the south and moved north although everyone we met along the way did the opposite. My reasoning was that I wanted to start with crazy and relax towards the end and that's exactly how it worked out (like I said, months of research) but this itinerary would work exactly the same doing it the other way around. With more time, I'd suggest trying to work in a few days in Hue and SaPa but for the two weeks I had, this run down was utterly perfect and left me wanting more - hopefully it will do the same for you!

Day 1: Fly
From London Heathrow to Ho Chi Mihn City, it took 12 hours. We got a direct flight with Vietnam Airlines (definitely recommend) to save on precious time.

Days 2, 3 & 4: South Vietnam, Ho Chi Mihn City
We arrived into the city at around 7am, grabbed a map and spent the rest of that day exploring by foot. We did the war museum, the walking street, the wet market and Ben Thanh market before stopping off for our first bowl of pho at a little place full of locals.
Over the next two days, we did some of HCMC’s most famous day trips; the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels. I found both fascinating and with very comfortable transfers from outside our hostel, a tour guide, bottle of water, entrance and lunch with the Mekong tour, they were incredible value for money at $9 each. We booked them both at a travel agents called Hallo Travel on Le Lai street and they were the cheapest we came across – some places wanted as much as $70! The evenings were spent exploring the night markets, drinking at a rooftop bar and of course wandering around the backpacker district.

Starting in the south, we had jumped in at the deep end as it was the warmest of our stops and also the craziest, in my opinion. The roads here were definitely the busiest and we very quickly had to forget everything we had ever been taught about crossing a road and just walk straight out into the incoming traffic to get across. One thing I will say about Ho Chi Mihn City that it was also our cheapest stop, everything cost noticeable less there. We stayed at Townhouse 373 Hostel (full review to come)

Days 5, 6 & 7: Central Vietnam, Hoi An
We were on a tight schedule with only two weeks and you know, flashpacking and all that; so we decided to fly from destination to destination rather than get a night train. We got an early flight to Danang and drove 45 minutes to our next hostel, Vietnam Backpackers in Hoi An (also review to come). After dropping off our bags, the first thing we did was go to explore the old town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rightly so; with colourful lanterns hanging from building to building, Hoi An is a magical place with an almost Disney like vibe. It is pedestrianised so there were no cars or motor bikes to dodge here and instead of horns, we were able to hear Vietnamese music playing quietly in the streets. Hoi An is known for its tailors that can whip up a dress from nothing but a photograph so your first day would be a good time to get your order in so it can be perfected before you leave.
Be sure to sample some of the dishes that can only be found in Hoi An. The White Rose is very popular although my favourite dish had to be a bowl of Cao Lau from the indoor food market. Named  after its chewy yellow noodles, it comes with slices of pork, huge dried noodle croutons and a sweet BBQ sauce.

Whilst Hoi An is beautiful in the daytime, it’s when night falls that it really comes into its own. The lanterns light up the streets and candles float along the river; its pretty magical. We ate in the restaurants but my favourite evening was spent eating street food on tiny stalls on the bank of the river; we couldn't resist a boat ride afterwards!
During our stay here in central Vietnam we took a day to explore the My Son temples - another UENSCO site of ancient Hindu temples similar to Angkor Wat so I was told. It was very busy and of course full of tourists but an incredible place worth visiting. We decided to do the morning tour although they do have sunrise tours as well. On our last day, we took an afternoon ride in a bamboo boat to an eco-village. After our fun on the river, we were taken to our guides home where we cooked a traditional Vietnamese feast with her mum. 

Days 8, 9, 10 & 11: North East Vietnam, Halong Bay
After another early morning flight, we spent one day and night in Hanoi before we left for Halong Bay; that meant that we were able to leave our luggage at the hostel and just take a smaller bag with us for the short trip to the bay. We booked our tour though the hostel a few months prior which I would recommend as they got booked up quite quickly and this incredible place is a must for any trip to Vietnam. Our two night, three day cruise on Cristina Diamond was our priciest expense at $250 (that’s more than we spent on food, accommodation and activity on the other 10 days put together) but a definite highlight of the trip (yes, there is a full post to come don't worry) and you can find it cheaper on a lower quality boat if you are keeping to a budget. Whilst most people only book on to the 1 night cruise, we got to spend our extra day sailing around the limestone islands on an almost a private tour with just one other couple and not another boat in sight, we could have been the only tourist in the whole of the bay for all we knew. Whilst the government had banned any kayaking and swimming in the bay that week, instead we explored caves, took a row boat out and went out with some local fishermen as well as having a BBQ lunch and an afternoon nap in the sunshine. It was just what we needed.

Days 12 & 13: North Vietnam, Hanoi
Hanoi is a wonderful place to get lost in so that's what we did during our first day back there. The things we saw include Hoan Kiem lake, the train street, the temple of literaure, the flag tower and the Ho Chi Mihn complex. After ticking off some of the tourist spots, we spent a lot of time wandering around the Old Quarter. Like I said, I fell totally in love with Hanoi.
By the evening we had mastered the streets went off to explore the amazing weekend night market before finding ourselves on Hanoi's famous beer street. The atmosphere was electric with locals and travelers lining the streets on tiny plastic stools. Another fun thing to try one evening is the water puppet show on the edge of the lake before wandering around that area, it's full of activity in the evenings.
For food, we went back to a new day restaurant again and again for meals that were less than $2. On my last night, we spent the last of our dong on dinner at the lantern lounge which was a much more relaxed and classy affair. Of course there was also lots of street food, pho for breakfast, Che, which I didn't like so much and of course fresh fruit of demand. I bought a freshly chopped pineapple from this lady for 30p.
We did take one day trip out of Hanoi to visit Tam Coc which translates to Three Caves. There we took an hour long row boat along the river and in and out of the three caves. Whilst this trip could have been amazing, it cost us alot more than the others and we had a little bit of an issue with our boat lady demanding money from us once we were away from any other boats so I'm not sure that's a trip that I would recommend.

Day 14: London
Another 12 hours later and I was departing Heathrow airport, bound straight for the office.

More Vietnam Posts:
Townhouse 373 Hostel Review 
Cruising Halong Bay 

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