Planning started two months ago in August. It took me a few weeks of research online and offline to come up with an optimal itinerary to cover Vietnam from South to North. I started off with a budget of INR 50,000 ( ~750 USD) for a 12 day trip.
Plan was to reach Ho Chi Minh City (south of Vietnam) and then move up towards Ha Noi (north). I booked a flight through flyscoot which had a layover at Singapore.
Flight from Bangalore to Singapore took around 4 hrs and 30mins.
Changi Airport Transit Terminal in itself is huge and there are lots and lots of thing to keep you occupied like Playstation, Movie Screenings, Duty free shopping and what not.
We reached Ho Chi Minh City at evening 4pm and went to complete the visa formalities. For Indians, the process is quite straightforward. You need to get a E-visa approval letter and on producing the letter at arrival airport, you will be provided the visa. A $25 visa fee needs to be deposited for a single month single entry Visa. From the airport, you can get Sim cards for $10 of following brands: Mobifone and Viettel. Both the brands are good and you get 4G in almost all the places.
Our hostel was in the Pham Ngu Lao street and we got the Shuttle bus to that place for 20,000 VND (~$1).
Near to Pham Ngu Lao there is a Bui Vien walking Street, a lively pub Street in the heart of the city. Enjoy the night life and do pub hopping.
Next morning our first stop was Cu Chi Tunnels. This is 30km from Saigon and takes about an hour to reach by bus/car. We booked a 100,000 VND (~$5) half-day tour from our Hostel. Bus picked us from our Hostel at 8 am.
Before reaching Cu Chi we stopped at a local handicrafts workshop where we learnt the techniques of local art forms like using egg shells and sea shells to create designs. It was quite amazing.
After spending like half an hour at this place we moved towards Cu Chi Tunnels. Our guide gave us a brief history lesson on why these tunnels were created.
Major highlights of this place are
Go inside a tunnel, crawl in for about 50 mtrs Firing/ Shooting area: You can try your hands on AK 47
It took us 2-3 hours to cover the tunnels and then we came back to HCM city and the bus dropped us off near the War Remnant Museum. If you are a history buff, this is the right place for you. You can see some the instruments of the American Vietnamese war.
At a walking distance from this place, is the Note Dame Cathedral and Central Post office. We went there to mail a few postcards to friends and family. The post office closes at 5:30pm so make sure you go before that to get your postcard stamped and posted.
If you have time and want to see the Nightscape of Ho Chi Minh City, go to Bitexco skydeck. Entry fee is 200,000 (~$9). The view from 49th floor of the city is just breathtaking.
We took the night flight to Danang. It took us about an hour and it was a totally different city than HCM. Very organized and less crowded. We were staying at Funtastic Beach Hostel. After checking in we went out to check out the Da Nang Beach. It was a good start to the long Vietnam trip.
We took motorbikes for rent (100,000 VND) from our Hostel to roam around the city. There are a few things to cover in Danang
Son Tra peninsula: There is huge Buddha statue and a pagoda. It is really beautiful and you can spend a lot of time up here on the mountains. Marble Mountains: Vietnam is the land of caves and this one is quite unique. There is a concept of heaven and hell here. You go up the cave and reach the heave with all angels and gods and down you go to the hell to meet the demons. Once you are done exploring the cave, do visit the pagoda and enjoy the stunning view of the beach and the mountains from top there.
Dragon Bridge: Evening seems to be magical in Danang as the city shines. Dragon bridge is one of the major attractions here. One weekends at 9pm there is firework show here. Don't miss it.
Hoi An, the heritage town was our next stop. This town has rich history and situated 30km from Da Nang along riverside. You can get the best tailor-made silk suits here.
You can rent cycles here (30,000 VND) and explore the old town and nearby villages.
You can visit the following places in Hoi An:
Japanese Bridge Cantonese Assembly Hall Rehahn's Art Studio Traditional Art Performance Theatre Cam Kim Island (Carpentry Village) Thanh Ha Pottery Village
Don't forget to spend the evening near the riverside. The whole town lit up with lanterns, making it a delight to watch and cherish the moments. Take a boat ride and enjoy the evening. Once you are done with that, do explore the lantern lanes and cafes.
Our next destination was Phong Nha, the land of caves in central Vietnam. We decided to cover the leg of journey in train. It took about 6 hours to reach Dong Hoi and from there took a taxi to reach Phong Nha. ( One can also take the bus from Dong Hoi Bus Station. But, the last bus operates at 5:30 pm)
We reached Phong Nha by 7 pm and checked in to Rose Hotel, which is situated at the centre of the town near to Phong Nha National Park centre. Mr. Trung, our host was very welcoming and helped us in fixing the itinerary for the next day. All of us had different plans to cover this area.
Lets see how we explored Phong Nha and rest of Vietnam in the next chapter.
To Be Continued....