Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018

Tripoto
3rd Aug 2018
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

"Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever."

Anthony Bourdain

I have always wanted to visit South East Asia, and when we finally planned a 2-week trip this year my husband immediately said: “Let’s do Vietnam.”

Anthony Bourdain’s enticing depiction of Vietnamese cuisine drew him to the country. For me, it was a book, called Saigon which had been on our bookshelves since I could read. When I grew up, and finally read the book, it took me to a place both familiar and exotic.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 1/3 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
The joy of pouring over maps and sketching them!

The maps were pulled up on our laptops and we started planning our journey. Vietnam is a thin narrow strip of land, like Kerala – so it made sense to do a cross-country trip.

We chose to travel from North to South (as most travelers do it the other way). This also made it easier to procure bus and train tickets.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 2/3 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 3/3 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 1

Our Awesome Two-Week Itinerary for Vietnam

Reach Hanoi early in the morning. Explore the city. Night stay at Hanoi.

Photo of Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

The Temple of Literature

Photo of Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Where to stay in Hanoi : We stayed at See You at Lily’s, a budget accommodation for backpackers.

Day 2

Leave for Ha Long Bay cruise. Night stay at Ha Long Bay.

Which cruise to book for Ha Long Bay: We booked a Bellezza cruise.

Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hạ Long Bay, Thành phố Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Movies and travel websites have made this iconic bay with Karst formations jutting out the symbol of Vietnam. Though extremely touristy, it’s still worth every minute you spend amongst those magical rock formations in the sea. Most tours include activities such as swimming, kayaking, cave exploration, fishing, cooking lessons, and tai chi(!)

Kayaking in this surreal landscape is one of my most beautiful travel experiences. The ships parked in the gulf feel like an open-air theatre where the performers are Karst formations and the majestic sea.

Day 3

Return from Ha Long Bay cruise. Explore the Old Quarter night market. Night stay at Hanoi.

Photo of Old Quarter, Lương Ngọc Quyến, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Old Quarter, Lương Ngọc Quyến, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

The French Old Quarters is the heart of Hanoi. It feels straight out of Arabian Nights, with old buildings, temples, pagodas, and markets. Most travelers stay here. It is close by popular destinations, such as the Temple of Literature, Hanoi opera house, National Museum of Vietnamese History, and many temples and pagodas. The best way to see this area is on foot with frequent stops for iced coffee, banh mi1, and bun cha2.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

1 The Vietnamese version of a sandwich made with baguette filled with a mix of meats, vegetables, and condiments.

2 A dish comprising grilled pork, rice noodles, herbs, broth, and a dipping sauce.

Photo of St. Joseph's Cathedral, Nhà Chung, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Hoàn Kiếm district is a popular spot for portraits. Newlyweds and couples are often found posing for carefully composed photographs.

Other popular attractions are the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is free but with a lot of security checks (I skipped this) and the West Lake. It’s the city’s biggest lake with a small island called the Tran Quoc pagoda. Around the lake are several cafes and restaurants. We even saw some local eateries with makeshift hammocks.

Photo of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 4

Hoa Lu - Trang An – Mua cave trip (day trip morning 7 to evening 8). Night stay at Hanoi.

From Hanoi, there are several day trips to the nearby Ninh Binh district. During this tour, we had some fun experiences:

Visiting the ancient capital of Vietnam at Hoa Lu. The unique architecture is a fine example of Feng Shui principles in architecture.

Photo of Hoa Lư District, Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hoa Lư District, Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Climbing up 500 steps to the top of a Mua caves mountain. After the arduous climb, we saw a panoramic view of rivers, fields, and mountains, and a magical Dragon statue, which inspired us to climb even in the intense heat.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

After all this exercise, we relaxed on a boat trip post lunch. We sailed through fascinating caves and grottoes.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 5

Explore Hanoi. Leave by 5:30 pm for a bus to Phong Nha. Travel overnight.

Day 6

Reach Phong Nha at 4.00 am in the morning. Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave. Night stay at Phong Nha.

Where to stay at Phong Nha: We stayed at the Song Que homestay which was just by the river. Great location, clean rooms, good food, and a super friendly family. I loved it! Price is INR 1200.

Photo of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park Headquarter, Phong Natural Heritage Area, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 7

Bong Lai Village. Night stay at Phong Nha.

Phong Nha is the entry point for Phong Nha Ke Bang national park, famous for its caves.

There are four caves open to the public –

Paradise cave (largest and a must visit),

Photo of Paradise Cave, Đường Hồ Chí Minh, Nhánh Tây, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Paradise Cave, Đường Hồ Chí Minh, Nhánh Tây, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Paradise Cave, Đường Hồ Chí Minh, Nhánh Tây, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Paradise Cave, Đường Hồ Chí Minh, Nhánh Tây, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Paradise Cave, Đường Hồ Chí Minh, Nhánh Tây, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Dark cave (you have zipline to its entrance),

Phong Nha cave (which was once a hospital), and

The Cave of Eight Ladies (which also has a temple nearby).

Paradise cave, a guide boasted, is big enough to park a plane in!! The fascinating formations, some of which are around 400 million years old, made me feel like I am in a space adventure movie. I saw alien hands and spaceships everywhere. An animator could get inspiration for a dozen characters here, quite the ideal Pixar field trip!

While there are many tours to visit these caves, it is easiest to hire bikes and explore them yourself. If you want to opt for more adventurous cave treks and tours, you’ll have to go with a tour operator and a higher price of course

Day 8

Early morning bus to Hue. Reach Hue by 10.30 am. Hue Walk of Revolution tour by BeeBee tours. Enjoy nightlife with some pub hopping. Night stay at Hue.

Hue is famous for the Imperial Citadel with a Forbidden City, modeled after the one in China.

Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 9

A day tour of Hue. (Touristy, but well organized. You get enough time for each place.) Night stay at Hue.

On our second day in the city, we went on a typical 8 dollar tourist bus that took us to all the major destinations around Hue:

Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

Tomb of Khai Dinh

Tomb of Tu Duc

Thai Hoa Palace

Cung Dien Tho

Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hue, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

We started at 7.30 am and ended at 3 pm at the Imperial City, which gave us plenty of time to explore the sprawling royal complex. Though the ticket counters close at 5 pm, those inside the citadel can stay till 7 pm. Most of the visitors left at 5. We lingered on and got to witness some breath-taking sunset views. The citadel tops were silhouetted making me feel like a thousand dragons were about to take flight from the rooftops.

A young couple had also stayed back right till the end. And, when the place was lit up they broke into a waltz. The romance in unexpected moments.

Day 10

Drive from Hue to Hoi An via the scenic Hai Van pass. Night stay at Hoi An.

Photo of Hải Vân Pass, tt. Lăng Cô, Phú Lộc, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hải Vân Pass, tt. Lăng Cô, Phú Lộc, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hải Vân Pass, tt. Lăng Cô, Phú Lộc, Thua Thien Hue, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

The journey from Hue to Hoi An is a scenic one, with roads and railway lines just beside the beach. On the way, we also saw some lovely lakes, lagoons, pagodas, and bridges.

Day 11

My Son Temple. Explore Hoi An ancient city. Night stay at Hoi An.

Photo of My Son Temple, Duy Phú, Duy Xuyên District, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of My Son Temple, Duy Phú, Duy Xuyên District, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of My Son Temple, Duy Phú, Duy Xuyên District, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 12

Explore Hoi An city. Night stay at Hoi An.

Hoi An is steeped in history – an old port perfectly preserved. Days are spent wandering amidst yellow buildings and nights on a river lit by many, many lanterns. It is pure romance.

Photo of Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 13

Take a train from Da Nang to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh city. Night travel in train. (The most non-touristy bit of our travel!)

Photo of Da Nang, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

We had an 18-hour train journey, from central Vietnam to Saigon.

Our coach had sleeper seats (like the ones in Indian buses) and huge windows. We were the only tourists in the coach.

Even though we had language limitations, we made friends with the people sitting around us. And the attendants who would bring the food and refreshments.

Though hard on our backs and little harsh on our beer-fed bellies, this travel was one of the most authentic moments of my trip, as we got treated to fabulous views of the countryside, beaches, mountain valleys, and more importantly life in the villages and farms from up and close.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Reach Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon early in the morning. Night stay at Saigon.

The very last bit of our journey was at the fast and furious Saigon.

Photo of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

This huge city is a world of its own and comprises of many districts, each with its own attractions.

We stayed and shopped at District 1 (Quan 1) and spent a few hours in the chinatown of District 5 (chosen based on the iconic book, The Quiet American).

District 1 has the famous museums, where you can learn about the American War, the French imperial rule, and Vietnamese art and culture.

In the evening, the lights and high rises are a lovely backdrop for the eat streets and party culture. It’s also a commercial hub with the popular Ben Thanh market providing hours of fun times if you like getting lost in noisy vendors selling everything from coffee beans to exotic foods to souvenir T-shirts.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Cu Chi tunnels day tour. Night stay at Ho Chi Min.

Day 15

Almost everyone has heard of the guerrilla warfare techniques of the Viet Cong soldiers – you can get a first-hand experience at the Cu Chi tunnels.

Photo of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

As you step underground into this vast tunnel system, you’ll see how people survived in the harshest of conditions. These tunnels had beds, hospitals, schools, training units, booby traps, and kitchens for the Viet Cong. And were central to the Viet Cong’s victory in the American war.

There are two entry points to the tunnel, Ben Dinh (50km from Saigon) and Ben Duoc (70km from Saigon). The latter has fewer tourists as most group tours avoid it.

I would suggest hiring a car and going to Ben Duoc – it’s worth a full day exploration instead of clubbing it with other destinations.

Day 16

Ho Chi Min sightseeing. Take a bus to Can Tho in the afternoon. Spend the night in Can Tho.

Photo of Cần Thơ, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Day 17

See Cai Rang Floating Market (Mekong Delta) in the morning and return to Ho Chi Minh city. Night stay at Ho Chi Min.

Photo of Cai Rang Floating Market, Cái Răng, Cần Thơ, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
Photo of Cai Rang Floating Market, Cái Răng, Cần Thơ, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

This floating market is at its best early in the morning. From Can Tho pier, take a wooden boat at 4 am and go to the floating market.

It is best if you fix one the day before, to save time. You will be greeted with boats of all sizes, selling a variety of items – from fruits to fuel to clothes.

Breakfast boats hand out steaming bowls of photo travelers. The sunlight falls in golden ripples on the water. It is a moment of calm amidst chaos. The few hours I stayed on the Mekong river enthralled me and I can’t wait to explore it again.

Day 18

Return flight from Ho Chi Minh city.

Photo of Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

Should you visit Vietnam & Cambodia together or not?

When I told friends I’m planning for a 2 week long Vietnam trip, the most common question was “What will you do there for so long?” or “Why don’t you club it with Cambodia.”

However, I found so much to see, and explore, and enjoy in Vietnam that I plan to go back for more.

So my personal recommendation would be not to club the two and enjoy the beauty of each independently.

Here are Some Awesome Tips for Travelling in Vietnam

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel

It is difficult to exchange Rupees in Vietnam. So it is better to carry Dollars or Vietnamese Dong. Where ever possible, make online payments. You can also withdraw money from ATMs though it is a good idea to compare transaction fees before your trip so you can choose the best option.

I booked all my bus tickets through See you at Lily’s travel agent, Snowy. This saved a lot of time and she helped me with some valuable tips.

When in Vietnam bargain on everything – even if you are buying wine from a convenience store!

While visiting Pagodas, wear something that covers your shoulders and knees. I noticed many travelers who wouldn’t follow these rules, but I feel it’s good to respect the local customs.

Local eateries often have only chopsticks, so practice using one before your trip.

If you are traveling with kids, look for good workshops and classes. For example, the Temple of Literature at Hanoi conducts art activities such as bamboo dragonfly making and decorating, kite making, writing calligraphy, and other activities. Cooking classes are also popular and can be found in all cities.

P.S. All pictures clicked by Tushar Shukla and are not meant for commercial use. Artwork and content by Seema Misra.

Photo of Starting my Sabbatical With an Awesome Two-Weeks in Vietnam #bestof2018 by LonelyCanopy_Art&Travel
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