Vietnam: the rough plan

Vietnam is be my first destination. Since Vietnam is narrow, there are two popular travel routes: north-to-south and south-to-north. I’ll be doing the north-to-south route, starting in Hanoi. My visa is good for 1 month, so I’d like to spend at least a couple of nights in a few cities.

Listed below are the cities I’d like to visit, along with bullets for places and activities I’ve looked into.


Although Hanoi is my first stop, I don’t have much of a concrete agenda. My travel M.O. is to do a mix of day tours and self-guided walking, so I’ll probably do both in Hanoi.

Things I’ve considered:

  • The Old Quarter. My hostel is located here. Apparently it’s the main tourist district with lots of shopping options. I’m not much of a shopper when I travel, so I don’t expect to buy anything. I do love people-watching though, and there should be plenty of things to see. I tend to space out when walking, but I won’t be able to get away with that here since motorbikes rule the road.
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Apparently the lines can be insane (a couple of hours or more) and there are strict rules to follow. If I can handle the line, it will be interesting to see Ho Chi Minh in the flesh.
  • A street food tour. I joined a fabulous food tour when I visited Athens last fall (shout out to Alternative Athens). I’d like to do more food tours on this trip, especially since street food is king in Southeast Asia.
  • Ha Long Bay/Bai Tu Long Bay cruise. I love beautiful scenery (who doesn’t?), so I thought a cruise in Ha Long Bay was a must. However, detractors say Ha Long Bay is overcrowded with tourists and polluted. The sheer number of Ha Long Bay cruises is overwhelming, and many of them are either too expensive or of questionable quality. Ideally, I’d like to pick a cruise company that will avoid crowds as much as possible. Another option is to take a cruise around Bai Tu Long Bay, which is supposedly similar to Ha Long Bay but a lot less crowded.


I’m thinking about taking an overnight train from Hanoi to Hue, a former imperial capital. That itself might be an adventure, but the train seems to be better than a bus.

Things I’ve considered (assuming all goes well with the train):

  • The citadel, an imperial complex.
  • The royal tombs. Three of the tombs seem to be the most popular for travelers, including the Tomb of Minh Mang.
  • The DMZ. I can’t visit Vietnam without learning more about the war. I’m especially interested in the Vinh Moc tunnels, where families lived to shelter themselves from bombing.

Hoi An

Friends and travel sites hype up Hoi An, so I’m trying to keep my expectations in check. I hope it’s as lovely as everyone says.

Things I’ve considered:

  • A cooking class. I’m not a great cook, but I’ll happily eat a ton of Vietnamese food. Hoi An is reportedly a good place for cooking classes.
  • My Son. A lot of the temples were bombed in the Vietnam War, but they still look fascinating.
  • A tour around the countryside. I might do a bike tour. I hear “exercise” is supposed to be good for you.

Nha Trang

I’m on the fence about Nha Trang. It has a reputation for partying, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’d like more activities/sights beyond that. It does have a beach, but that’s not a big draw for me since I plan to visit more scenic beaches in other countries. I might use Nha Trang as an excuse to plan my next destinations and take it easy for a couple of days.

Things I’ve considered:

  • Po Nagar Cham Towers and Long Son Pagoda. My culture fix in Nha Trang.
  • Get a massage. Why not?
  • Mud baths. There are a few in Nha Trang, and I’m sure my skin will need some TLC at this point.

Da Lat

First, I need to figure out if it’s spelled Da Lat or Dalat – I’ve seen both spellings.

Things I’ve considered:

  • Canyoning. Rappelling and abseiling through waterfalls? I’m in.
  • Linh Phuoc Pagoda. The pagoda is covered in intricate mosaic work. For lack of a better description, it just looks cool.

Mui Ne

Another beach town. The main reason I want to go here is for the:

  • Sand dunes. These dunes seem a lot smaller than those you’d find in a desert, but I’d like to see them at sunrise.

Ho Chi Minh City

I think this will be my last stop in Vietnam. A popular tour option is to cruise down the Mekong Delta. I’ve done a similar Mekong cruise in Laos, so I don’t think I’ll do it again, but I could be persuaded.

Things I’ve considered:

  • War Remnants Museum. I’m sure this will be a thought-provoking and serious visit.
  • Cu Chi Tunnels. Supposedly similar to the Vinh Moc tunnels outside of Hue but used by soldiers rather than civilians.

I’m also considering Sapa and the Phong Nha caves, both of which would likely be toward the beginning of my time in Vietnam.

A few people have suggested that I rent a motorbike since they’re so prevalent in Vietnam. I’m not a particularly competent driver (here’s an Office season 2 throwback for you), so I’m hesitant to do this, even in quieter locations. Instead, I might take advantage of “easy rider” companies, such as this one based in Hue. The idea is that travelers can hire motorbike drivers for tours or transit between cities. I’d rather clutch onto a driver for dear life than navigate crazy Vietnamese traffic. Also, this might be a better option than a bus or train when going from Hue to Hoi An. The scenery on this route is supposed to be gorgeous, so it would be nice to be able to stop and take photos.

We’ll see how this list compares with what I actually end up doing!

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