Vietnam trip itinerary and travel notes

My cousin, Chelsea, and me in Hue, Vietnam

A couple of weeks ago I returned from a two-week trip to Vietnam with my cousin. We also included a day in Hong Kong on the way there and a day in Singapore on the way back. 

If you're interested in some of the more specific details of the trip, or are interested in planning a trip of your own, read on below.

Day 1: Wednesday, January 28

Itinerary

  • TRAVEL: Austin > Los Angeles > Seattle via Delta Airlines

Notes

  • My cousin lives in Chicago and I live in Austin, so we chose to meet in Seattle before continuing on overseas.

Day 2: Thursday, January 29

Itinerary

Notes

  • My cousin is a flight attendant for Skywest Airlines (a contractor for Delta Airlines) so we were able to get a complementary upgrade to First Class!
  • The public bus ride from the airport to downtown Hong Kong was cheap, easy, and aboard a double-decker bus. A note to riders: you need exact change.
  • Finding Germany Hostel once in downtown Hong Kong was near impossible. We walked around in circles for quite a while. That said, once we found the place, the accommodations were clean and comfortable.

Day 3: Friday, January 30

Itinerary

  • EXPLORE: Hong Kong
  • TRAVEL: Hong Kong > Hanoi via Hong Kong Airlines
  • STAY: Adam Hotel; Old Quarter, Hanoi

Notes

Streets of Hong Kong Island

  • We really wanted to check out Victoria Peak in Hong Kong but the weather was foggy with limited visibility, so we couldn't. Instead we walked the Avenue of Stars, took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, walked around the city, and treated ourselves to what would be the first of many sub-$10 massages.
  • The flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi was only about two hours, but it included a meal.
  • Our cab driver from the airport to Hanoi's Old Quarter (backpackers' area) definitely swindled us. And then, when we didn't have exact change he took 500.000 VND out of my hand and drove away.
  • Adam Hotel was okay, but not great. It wouldn't be my first choice if I did it all over again. That said, it did have a convenient restaurant/bar called Gecko attached to it.

Day 4: Saturday, January 31

Itinerary

  • EXPLORE: Hanoi, Vietnam
  • TRAVEL: Hanoi > Sapa via overnight open-tour bus

Travel Notes

Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake with a view of the bridge to Ngoc Son Temple

  • Sightseeing stops in Hanoi included Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hoa Lo Prison ("Hanoi Hilton"), and the Imperial Citadel. All sites were within walking distance of each other and of the hotel.
  • There was an admission fee to Ngoc Son Temple which was unexpected given that most temples are free to the public. It is located on an island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.
  • St. Joseph's Cathedral was closed because it wasn't Sunday, so we had to admire it from outside the gates.
  • Hoa Lo Prison was home to many American POWs during the Vietnam War (including John McCain) and it was quite interesting to read about those prisoners from the perspective of the jailers.
  • Unbeknownst to us, the Imperial Citadel was closed from 12pm-2pm, so we had to leave and come back. The underground bomb shelter was pretty interesting but the rest of the place was pretty boring (mostly just museum-like exhibitions of old artifacts).

Day 5: Sunday, February 1

Itinerary

  • EXPLORE: Sapa
  • TRAVEL: Sapa > Hanoi
  • STAY: Adam Hotel; Old Quarter, Hanoi

Notes

The weather in Sapa while we were there

  • This was the worst day of our trip by far. Shortly after arriving in Sapa, the power went out in the entire city. The weather was terriblecold, rainy, and foggy. The forecast was looking bleak for the next few days and so we decided to abandon our plans for northern Vietnam (which also included an overnight boat trip in Halong Bay) and try to head south instead.
  • Because of the power outage, no tour agencies were open to purchase bus tickets south. As an alternative, we walked into every hotel we could find to see if they were able to sell us tickets. The last hotel we tried couldn't sell us tickets, but the owner said he was going to drive to Hanoi later that evening and that he would take us with him for $50. We decided to do it.
  • The drive was about six hours when traveling by private vehicle instead of bus. It was quite the adventure and included a marijuana drop-off, a random woman getting into the car with us and then getting out a few blocks later, a market stop for dozens of pounds of rice, an authentic noodle dinner, and an arrival time so late that we missed the last bus out of town.
  • To add insult to injury, Hanoi was also about 50 degrees and our hotel had no hot water.
  • If I ever choose to go back to Southeast Asia, I'd like to try to get back to Sapa and experience it while the weather is sunny. There is supposed to be great hiking in the area.

Day 6: Monday, February 2

Itinerary

Notes

  • We picked up the public bus at Luong Yen bus station (one of three stations in town). The earliest one we could get left at 11am. The ride was about 13 hours.
  • The bus didn't stop for lunch but did stop for dinner, although no one spoke English at the place we stopped.
  • Once in Hue, the bus dropped us off on the side of the road, after midnight. A random man on a motorcycle offered to give us a ride to our hostel (about 5km away) for 100.000 VND. Despite our initial doubts, both of us, our backpacks, and the driver all managed to fit on the bike and make it safely to the hostel.
  • Backpacker Hostel was full of young people and our 2am arrival time made us privy to the drunkest of themincluding the girls sitting on the floor of our dorm room eating peanut butter out of a jar. 

Day 7: Tuesday, February 3

Itinerary

Notes

Bridge over the moat surrounding The Citadel in Hue

  • Backpacker Hostel had free breakfast, which made the lobby really crowded in the morning (go early). The staff was really fantastic and spoke very good English.
  • Backpacker Hostel also offered a laundry service (paid per the kilogram) that we took advantage of as we were about halfway through our trip.
  • We took a cyclo ride around The Citadel and also out to Thien Mu Pagoda. The driver (pedaler?) quoted us a rate, and then, after our tour was over, tried to do a bait-and-switch and tell us that the rate he quoted was an hourly rate. I wasn't having it; I gave him the amount we agreed to and walked away. He threatened to call the police. We kept walking.
  • Our cyclo driver would frequently point at various places and say, "America. Boom!" to let us know the areas where the United States had dropped bombs in Hue during the Vietnam War.
  • To end our day, we got full-body massages at a spa nearly next door to Backpacker Hostel.
  • We opted for a private room vs. shared dorm on the second night of our stay. It was only negligibly more expensive.

Day 8: Wednesday, February 4

Itinerary

  • TRAVEL: Hue > Hoi An via open-tour bus
  • EXPLORE: Hoi An
  • STAY: Sunflower Hotel; Hoi An

Notes

Getting authentic in Hoi An's market

  • The bus ride from Hue to Hoi An was about four hours, putting us into Hoi An around 1pm.
  • We spent the afternoon exploring the city. The map provided by Sunflower Hotel was dreadfully inaccurate, both in terms of scale and in terms of streets (many were omitted). We walked in circles feeling like we had to have already passed the street we were looking for. It turns out that Sunflower Hotel was about 2km from the "ancient town" of Hoi An. Once we found our way, I really enjoyed the downtown area (especially the market).
  • We had dinner at Bale Well, and it was fantastic. It was a fixed menu, which allowed the pleasant bonus of food being served to us almost immediately. There were about five courses and everything was delicious.
  • Before dinner we treated ourselves to another massage.

Day 9: Thursday, February 5

Itinerary

  • EXPLORE: Hoi An
  • TRAVEL: Hoi An > Nha Trang via overnight open-tour bus

Notes

Colorful boats in Hoi An

  • The Sunflower Hotel had an incredible breakfast buffet. Seriously, it was awesome. I'd stay there again just for the breakfast buffet.
  • "Ancient Hoi An" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and purchasing a pass allows you access to five sites. We visited the Japanese Covered Bridge, the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, Quan Cong Temple, Tan Ky House, and one more site whose name escapes me. 
  • Before catching the bus, we got another massage for good measure.
  • Of everywhere that we visited in Vietnam, Hoi An was my favorite. The city was incredibly charming and so full of color.

Day 10: Friday, February 6

Itinerary

  • EXPLORE: Nha Trang
  • TRAVEL: Nha Trang > Saigon via overnight open-tour bus

Travel Notes

Beach in Nha Trang in between rain storms

  • The overnight bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang was about 13 hours. 
  • We booked a private room at Tommy Hotel in Nha Trang before leaving Hoi An and went immediately there after getting off of the bus. Best shower of my entire trip: hot water, strong water pressure, and an actual shower with a shower curtain!
  • We walked to the beach after dropping our stuff off at the hotel, and the moment that we put our toes in the sand it started to rain. Not wanting to lose a day, we decided to forego our night-stay in Nha Trang and book bus tickets on to Saigon.
  • Before getting on the bus we took the liberty of getting another massage (#6 if you're counting).

Day 11: Saturday, February 7

Itinerary

Notes

Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon

  • The bus ride from Nha Trang to Saigon was about 10 hours.
  • After getting breakfast and dropping our backpacks off in our hotel room, we grabbed a cyclo and headed off to see the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. Both were interesting because they represented the European influence still alive in Asia today. As a side note, this cyclo driver also tried to scam us and, just like with the last guy, he quickly learned that I was not worth harassing.
  • My cousin has a friend that is currently teaching English in Saigon, so we met up with her to walk through a local market, visit the "pink church," and get ice cream at Tram Coffee
  • Tram Coffee was one of the coolest coffee shops I've ever been to. It had a fish-filled pond inside that had to be crossed via stepping-stone to get to the dining area, a waterfall, Japanese decor, and a general air of tranquility.
  • We rounded the day out by getting face massages (yes, apparently that's a thing) and having dinner like a local, many thanks to our gracious host.

Day 12: Sunday, February 8

Itinerary

Notes

Decor in Saigon's Reunification Palace

  • We started our morning with a visit to the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace.
  • The War Remnants Museum was a solemn place and really fascinating to me as a visitor from America who did not live through the war. It was clear that the Vietnam War (or, as they referred to it at the museum, the "War Against American Aggression") had a profound effect on the Vietnamese. That said, the museum was also grossly full of pro-Communism propaganda.
  • The decor of the Reunification Palace has not been updated since the 1960s and visiting is like sitting in an episode of Mad Men. The underground bomb shelter and the antique communications equipment it contained was particularly cool.
  • We did a group-tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels in the afternoon. It was roughly an hour's bus ride away. We saw examples of Viet Cong booby traps and crawled through a preserved tunnel. The tour ended with a propaganda video from the 1970s.
  • Then: two-hour massages.

Day 13: Monday, February 9

Itinerary

  • TRAVEL: Saigon > Singapore via Tigerair
  • EXPLORE: Singapore

Notes

Merlion in Singapore

  • I arrived in the airport in Singapore around 6pm and took the MRT into downtown. Note to riders: you can't use credit cards to buy tickets and ticket machines don't accept bills any larger than S$5.
  • Given the time of day, most tourist sights were closed, but I walked around to at least observe the outside of the buildings. All-in-all, I saw War Memorial Park, St. Andrew's Cathedral, The Padang, the Capitol BuildingParliament House, Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade, and Merlion.
  • It was well after midnight when I finished my self-guided tour. My flight left very early in the morning, so I decided just to take a cab back to the airport and forego staying in a hotel for what would amount to only a handful of hours. Plus, I wanted to try to force my body to reject the jet lag that was likely to beset me once I arrived back in the United States (there is a 14-hour time difference between Singapore and Austin).

Day 14: Tuesday, February 10

Itinerary

  • TRAVEL: Singapore > Tokyo > New York (JFK) > Austin via Delta Airlines

Notes

  • The Singapore airport is incredible. Modern, digital, and no shortage of conveniences.
  • Before getting on my flight I changed my clothes, brushed my teeth, and washed my face in the airport bathroom since I had opted not to get a hotel room the night before.
  • Skipping time zones heading east from Asia makes for one very long day! After more than 50 consecutive hours of travel, a hot shower and a good night's sleep in my own bed felt absolutely incredible.


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Posted on March 1, 2015 and filed under Travel.