VIETNAM: A 14 DAY CULTURAL ITINERARY
Vietnam, in my opinion, is one of the jewels of South East Asia and I completely fell in love with the country. It’s a country with a pretty turbulent communist past but for me the romanticism lies in the unknown. An incredibly spectacular country, Vietnam is a cultural immersive destination boasting awe inspiring scenery, architecture steeped in history, friendly, inspiring locals, mouth-watering food and some incredible boutique residences and abodes.
This 14 day itinerary aims to cover the breadth of the country and some well-known spots such as Halong Bay, Hanoi, Hue, Da’Nang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Min City. Additionally I’m sharing my hand-picked abodes, experiences and dining options.
We used a local travel agency in Vietnam, Viet Vision who assisted with transfers, private tour guides, internal flights, train reservations and visa entry documentation. Dr C and I crafted the itinerary ourselves using the expert knowledge of our travel adviser.
SHORT VIETNAM ITINERARY
DAY 1 ARRIVE HANOI
DAY 2 HANOI/HALONG BAY
DAY 3 HALONG BAY
DAY 4 HALONG BAY/HANOI
DAY 5 HANOI/HUE
DAY 6 HUE
DAY 7 HUE/DA’NANG/HOI AN
DAY 8 HOI AN
DAY 9 HOI AN
DAY 10 HOI AN
DAY 11 HOI AN/HO CH MINH (SAIGON)
DAY 12 HO CH MINH (SAIGON)
DAY 13 HO CH MINH (SAIGON)
DAY 14 HO CHI MINH/RETURN (SAIGON)
DAY 1 – ARRIVE IN HANOI
Hotel de L’opera. Deluxe Room. Bed and Breakfast Basis
29 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District Hanoi 10000 Tel +84 24 6282 5555 Website
An M Gallery hotel, centrally located five star boutique hotel incorporating colonial French architecture, fantastic service and beautifully designed glamorous rooms.
THINGS TO DO
Use the day to get your bearings by having a walk around the Old French Quarter and taking in the European vibe of the French Quarter.
Take a leisurely stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake is a large lake located in the centre of Hanoi and is a great place to reprieve the chaos of the city and is home to some of Hanoi’s well known temples, bridges and statues.
Strolling the streets of the Old Quarter
One of my main highlights in Hanoi was wandering through the streets, admiring the colonial French architecture, dodging the motorcycles trying to cross roads, taking in the local scene, street food stalls and shop vendors sprawling into the streets. No where else have I seen the sights, sounds and flavours transpiring through the streets, as I have in Hanoi.
A private full day tour
See day Five
DAY 2-4 – HANOI/HALONG BAY
Early morning transfer by private car to Tuan Chau Island to start the two night Halong Bay Cruise. We booked a two night, three day cruise with paradise cruises who have a private departure lounge at Tuan Chau island.
Paradise Luxury (11 cabins and 4 suites)
Deluxe Cabin with balcony
Deluxe cabin is located on the upper deck with a private balcony and is furnished in dark wood and traditional fabrics with an en suite bathroom.
ON BOARD ITINERARY
You are met on board by the Paradise crew and Cruise Manager and the whole team and a list of the plans for the time on board is presented to you.
Over the next couple of days prepared to be waited on with delicious food and drink, breakfast, lunch, High Tea and dinner are served on board at set time slots in the elegant dining room.
Additionally there are Vietnamese cookery classes on board top deck prior to dinner as well as Tai Chi at 6 am for early risers on the deck with stunning views of the sun coming up over the bay and limestone formations.
Places visited during the cruise: Halong Bay, Sung Sot cave, Ti Top Island, Tung Sau Pearl Farm, Cua Van Village and Trong cave.
Evenings on board can be spent relaxing with movie nights or using the spa and massage service.
DAY 4 HALONG BAY/HANOI
The cruise ends at midday with transfers back to Hanoi arriving mid afternoon.
DAY 5 HANOI/HUE
A private full day city tour to include:
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature or Temple of Culture is a Temple of Confucius in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. The temple hosts the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of Emperor Lý Thánh Tông
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a museum in Hanoi, Vietnam, which focuses on the 54 officially recognised ethnic groups in Vietnam. It is located in the Cầu Giấy District, about 8 km from the city centre
Nguyễn Văn Huyên, Quan Hoa, Cầu Giấy, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam Tel. +84 24 3756 2193
Thang Long Water Puppet Show
The Thank Long puppet show dates back to the 11th century and is entirely in Vietnamese. Although it was a little difficult to know what was going on, there are programmes in English, which are complimentary and circulated around to help you follow the acts. The puppetry and musical instruments are pretty interesting and set the scene for a traditional experience.
57B Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam. Tel +84 24 3824 9494
Prior to leaving Hanoi, our guide recommended dinner at Red House Restaurant (NhA Do). It was a real authentic Vietnamese affair and they cater well to vegetarians. Definitely one for your list and the service is pretty friendly too.
6 Hàm Long, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam. Tel: ++84 24 3944 9668
We transferred to Hanoi railway station to board the overnight sleeper train bound for Hue for 19:00, known as the SE1
BE-LAVIE TIP: Each cabin comes with four beds (bunks) and we ended up hiring the whole cabin so we could store our luggage with us. It’s good to note that conveniences are limited on the sleeper train and you’re travelling with locals who may try and convince you to use your cabin free of charge. Additionally we found it was difficult to sleep due to the station calls and general passenger noise.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN HANOI
Visit Hỏa Lò Prison in the French Quarter, Grab a beer at Bia Hoi Corner, or Shop at Dong Xuan Market.
DAY 6-7 HUE
Arrival via the overnight sleeper train in Hue is around 08:00 and we transferred straight to our hotel to freshen up and grab a coffee.
Hotel la Residence & Spa. Deluxe Room. Bed and Breakfast Basis.
5 Lê Lợi, Vĩnh Ninh, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế 530000, Vietnam. Tel. +84 234 3837 475
A colonial style luxury boutique hotel with impeccable gardens and a beautiful spa facility.
THINGS TO DO
Take a Private Cruise along the Perfume River
The Perfume River crosses Huế, in the autumn flowers from orchards up river from Huế fall into the water, giving the river a perfume-like aroma, hence the name.
Athien Mu pagoda (the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady)
This iconic seven-story pagoda is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city of Hue and the temple has often been the subject of many folk rhymes and sits high on the Hà Khê hill
En route to King Tu Duc’s tomb, there are many opportunities to stop and watch how the skilled incense makers make these beautiful coloured and lovely smelling worship aids. We bought some as I’m a Hindu and also use incense for ceremonial purposes. It’s also great to be giving back to the community of trades people out in the country side.
King Tu Duc tomb (Nguyen Dynasty)
Tu Duc Tomb is located on the outskirts of the former Imperial Capital and was built between 1864 and 1867. Tu Duc Tomb was designed as a tribute to the fourth Nguyen Emperor’s long and somewhat sad life.
The Imperial City of Hue was once an enormous complex full of all the executive and bureaucracy you would expect from a country’s capital. It was enclosed within a square fortress (also known as the Hue Citadel), with each of the four walls about two kilometres long and a wide moat on the outside. When in Hue it is a must do, as the citadel is still owned by the countries Royal family.
A traditional brunch of the area at Mandarin café, where the owner Mr Cut, is a keen photographer and will definitely have you eyeing up his beautiful images, which can be purchased!
24 Trần Cao Vân, Phú Hội, Thành phố Huế, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam. Tel. +84 93 536 93 03
Within the grounds of the citadel is a lovely restaurant named Yhao Garden. As the name suggests its set in lush gardens and serves a lovely three course set menu of traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
DAY 7 HUE/DA’NANG/HOI AN
We decided to spend some beach relaxation time in the middle of our itinerary in central Vietnam, more specifically in Hoi An and hired a private driver and guide to accompany us on our journey to the coastal town. We made a number of suggested stops en route to learn more about the Vietnamese culture and traditions.
The drive started down the incredibly scenic highway A1 where we stopped to admire views north of Lang Co Beach before driving South to Da’Nang. We also saw some amazing sites on our way to Da’nang, such as villages and a peaceful shrimp farm.
THINGS TO DO IN DA’NANAG
One of the most interesting people who lived in Vietnam were the Chams. They were Hindu and the museum houses the most complete collection of Chan Artefacts anywhere in the world.
During the Vietnam war, the Americans named this beach China Beach and used it as a base for their rest and relaxation periods. It’s a 20 mile long white sand beach and worth a visit if you have some free time. It was rather windy when we arrived!
Marble Mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located in Ngũ Hành Sơn District, south of Da Nang city in Vietnam. The five mountains are named after the five elements: Kim, Thuy, Moc, Hoa and Tho. In English these elements are water, wood, air, fire and earth. It’s a bit of an up hill trek but you will be rewarded with great views and many stunning Pagodas.
Arrival in Hoi An is early afternoon
Palm Garden Beach Resort. Beach side Bungalow
Lạc Long Quân, Hội An, Quảng Nam 560000, Vietnam. Tel. +84 235 3927 927
Traditional Vietnamese décor with a stunning beach side setting complete with private beach view/side bungalows. An abode for relaxation complete with great spa facilities.
DAY 8-10 HOI AN
THINGS TO DO
Walking tour around the ancient town of Hoi An
The best way to get to know anywhere and especially the beautiful colonial city of Hoi An is by just wandering the streets and getting lost up the small alley ways and winding paths. You may even come across some fantastic street scenes.
Hoi An centre is a UNESCO World heritage site therefore you won’t see any high rises or over developed areas. Hoi An has a very much traditional Vietnamese town feel, almost like time has slowed down.
Don’t forget to walk the beautiful lantern covered streets of Hoi An. Especially in the evenings when the lanterns are lit, the place looks magical with a technicolor illumination above you.
Japanese Covered Bridge
This bridge was built by the Japanese in the 1500s to join two parts of the city together and allow pedestrians to walk through easily. It’s beautifully decorated and maintained and well worth a visit.
The Pottery Museum
Built in 1859, the Pottery Museum is a great example of Vietnamese ceramic craftsmanship.
Tan Ky (The Old House)
A traditional old 18th century house, which has been beautifully preserved with artefacts and traditional Vietnamese artefacts. It’s one of those places that everyone goes to when in Hoi An.
101 Nguyễn Thái Học, Phường Minh An, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam. Tel +84 235 3861 474
Founded in 1786, this assembly hall has a tall, airy entrance, which opens on to a splendidly over-the-top mosaic statue of a dragon and a carp. The main altar is dedicated to Quan Cong. The garden behind has an even more incredible dragon statue. The goat statue at the rear is a symbol of Canton (Guangzhou), China.
Hoi An Silk Street
One of my most memorable and interesting experiences in Hoi An was visiting the Hoi An Silk Village where we were shown the process of making silk with silk worms and eventually very skilfully made into items of clothing. I can’t recommend this experience enough if you have an interest in silk. You can also support the silk farm by purchasing hand woven items from here.
28 Nguyễn Tất Thành, Tân An, Vietnam, Quảng Nam, Vietnam. Tel +84 235 3921 144
There are many pagodas around Hoi An, which you can go and admire or even light some incense at but generally you will see many from just walking around the old town.
There is an abundance of tailor in Vietnam and if your looking for the likes of suits, dresses or any other garments, all you need is a photo or style in mind and you can collect your item within 48 hours! Prices are also pretty competitive but the quality and workmanship is second to none.
We went to the very friendly Quóc Huy Tailors who made Dr C a number of suits, shirts and ties!
39 Tran Phu Str, Hoi An Town, Quang Nam Province, Hoi An 51000, Vietnam
There are a couple of different markets in Hoi An that are definitely worth some time spent wandering around. Central Market is known for its delicious breakfast of Vietnamese pancakes and Cau Lau, a dish made of noodles.
If you love fish, then you’ll want to check out the fish market. The fish are delivered daily on the river next to the market!
We took a couple of days, spending time on the beach and enjoyed the stunning beach side bungalow and spa facilities
Miss Ly in old town Hoi An is a lovely little cafe/restaurant to sit and watch the world go by. Miss Ly and her husband run the place serving up delicious Vietnamese street food favourites as well as some Western dishes. We sat outside and watched the Hoi An scenes unfold as the day went on.
Old Town, Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. Tel. +84 90 523 48 64
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CHARITIES
Reaching out Vietnam
Reaching out is a social enterprise created to provide people with disabilities the chance to learn skills and give them meaningful employment opportunities. The people working here make amazing goods and crafts that you will most certainly cherish as a souvenir. They also hold workshops where you can learn how to perform a traditional tea making meditation ceremony as well as how to make Vietnamese lanterns.
Karma waters is a family owned charity that runs two Vegan restaurants. They also offer vegan cooking classes and many different types of tours & homestays. All money goes towards their different charity programs such as their nutritional lunch program, (offers low-cost lunch to the needy & homeless) and their ethnic support program (they deliver food, clothes, books and more to ethnic minority families in Vietnam).
DAY 11-14 HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)
We got an internal flight from Da’nang airport to Ho Chi Minh City where we met by our guide to be taken to our hotel for the next three nights. We arrived in the city early morning so had the whole day to relax.
Hotel Grand Saigon three nights in a Deluxe Room
8 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam. Tel. +84 28 3915 Website
Housed in a restored colonial building the Grand Hotel Saigon has a fabulous location in District 1 and is in easy walking distance to most attractions within the city. Rooms are spacious and come in a variety of comfort levels.
THINGS TO DO DAY 11
The Opera House
The Saigon Opera House in Ho Chi Minh is an elegant colonial building at the intersection of Le Loi and Dong Khoi Street in District 1, very close to the famous Notre Dame Cathedral and the classic Central Post Office. The restored three-storey 800-seat Opera House was built in 1897 and is used for staging not only opera but also a wide range of performing arts including ballet, musical concerts, Vietnamese traditional dance and plays. Performances are advertised around the building and information can be found in the state-operated tourist information centre close by.
Công Trường Lam Sơn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam. Tel +84 28 3829 9976
Intercontinental Hotel Siagon
Dating back to 1880, this hotel lies on one of the oldest streets in Ho Chi Minh City and is a beautiful luxury hotel. It has a pretty cool rooftop bar for when the twinkly city lights go on following golden hour!
Corner Hai Ba Trung St. & Le Duan Bl, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam Tel.+84 28 3520 9999
The Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace was the base of Vietnamese General Ngo Dinh Diem until his death in 1963. It made its name in global history in 1975. A tank belonging to the North Vietnamese Army crashed through its main gate, ending the Vietnam War. Today, it’s a must-visit for tourists in Ho Chi Minh City. The palace is like a time capsule frozen in 1975. You can see two of the original tanks used in the capture of the palace parked in the grounds. Reunification Palace was the home and workplace of the French Governor of Cochin-China. It has lush gardens, secret rooms, antique furniture and a command bunker. It’s still in use to host important occasions in Ho Chi Minh, including APEC summits.
Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam.
Tel +84 28 3822 3652
The Post Office
The Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia. Located next door to Notre Dame Cathedral, the two cultural sites can be visited together and offers visitors a chance to imagine life in Vietnam during the times of the Indochinese Empire. The building was designed by Alfred Foulhoux and features arched windows and wooden shutters, just as it would have in its heyday in the late 19th Century.
2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 710009, Vietnam. Tel +84 28 3822 1677
Notre Dame cathedral
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1880s by French colonists, is one of the few remaining strongholds of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam. Located in Paris Square, the name Notre Dame was given after the installation of the statue ‘Peaceful Notre Dame’ in 1959. In 1962, the Vatican conferred the Cathedral status as a basilica and gave it the official name of Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. Measuring almost 60 metres in height, the cathedral’s distinctive neo-Romanesque features include the all-red brick façade (which were imported from Marseille), stained glass windows, two bell towers containing six bronze bells that still ring to this day and a peaceful garden setting in the middle of downtown Ho Chi Minh City District 1
01 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Here, you’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste of hawker-style Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes too much. The market is big, difficult to navigate at times and certainly best avoided during the hottest part of the day but all the same its well worth a look. When night falls, restaurants around the perimeter of the market open their doors creating a vibrant street side scene filling the air with the scents of wok-fried noodles, barbecued fish and meats. One of Saigon’s oldest landmarks, Ben Thanh offers a great atmosphere that is absolutely authentically Vietnamese.
Chợ, Lê Lợi, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam. Tel. +84 28 3829 9274
THINGS TO DO DAY 13
A Day on The Mekong Delta
No trip to Ho Chi Minh or southern Vietnam is complete without spending time on the Mekong Delta. This day trip starts with an early morning transfer to Cai Bé to board a private fishing boat and cruise the colourful floating market, amongst local barges full of fruit and veg. We decided to get more of an authentic experience by stopping at local workshops on the delta where we saw how products such as rice pastes, coconut candy and pop-rice popcorn is produced to be sold all over Vietnam. It’s a delicious snack and we bought some to take away with us and support the local economy.
Following our tea and rice pops with a local family we got on a small rowing boat and glided further and deeper into the Mekong Delta, into the countryside through the smaller side canals to enjoy some peaceful time. It’s really fascinating to see the small traditional houses constructed of wood and palm tree leaves and additionally see how local fishing is done by the farmers on the delta.
We pulled up to a local house where a traditional lunch was served and enjoyed a dessert of tropical fruit whilst we listened to a traditional Vietnamese group perform some folk songs for us.
We decided to walk off our lunch by biking down the village paths to get a feel for the area, passing local farms, houses and ancestral sites before we headed back to the city.
THINGS TO DO DAY 14
Cu Chi Tunnels
No visit to this region is complete without stopping off at The Cu Chi Tunnels, otherwise known as ‘Irin Triangle or ‘Iron Land’. The drive to the tunnels is through countryside, rubber plantations and rice paddies.
Once at the tunnels, there is a short video on the history of the Vietnam war and then you can access the tunnel the army used to hide as well as see mantraps and the remains of an Americal tank, numerous bomb craters made by 500lb bombs dropped by B52 bombers.
Transfer to Ho Chi Minh airport in the early evening.
Here are two of our favourite dining spots in Ho Chi Minh City…
Le Chateau de Saigon
A beautiful French/Vietnamese restaurant located in a well pruned park. Food is beautifully presented and usually the menu is foxed. Ensure to call ahead if you’re vegetarian and going for the fixed price menu option.
45a Le Quy Don Street, District 3, Ward 7, Ho Chi Minh City, 70000, Vietnam. Tel. +84 8 3932 6777
Vietnam House Restaurant
This fancy Vietnamese restaurant located in an old French colonial building serves up some delicious traditional cuisine in fancy surroundings. Great place to try a number of fusion dishes and cocktails.
93-95, 97 Đồng Khởi, Street, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam. Tel. +84 28 3822 2226
BE-LAVIE’S VIETNAM TIPS
1. Getting a VISA can be quite daunting so my advice is use a good travel agent like we did to organise the paperwork so you can sail through immigration with ease. We used Viet Vision based in Hanoi as mentioned previously.
2. Ensure taxi rates are negotiated well before you get in and drive away to avoid any scamming.
3. The traffic situation is manic and driving can seem very kamikaze so just wait until there is a break in the road, be patient and you will get to the other side in one piece. You actually just need to worry about the cars and lorries as motorbike drivers will weave around you. It may seem very scary but you will get used to it.
4. Cash is king in Vietnam for sure but getting money out of a ATM is quite pricey so plan accordingly. Try and pay for as much as you can in advance and organise your itinerary so most things are paid for before leaving.
5. As with many other countries in the world, English is not spoken as widely as in other South East Asian countries but then again why would they? Therefore I used the Lonely Planet Vietnam Guide for basic phrases to help show appreciation when we were out and about.
Hello = Xin Chào (sin chow)
How are you? = Ban Khoe Khong (Ban Kwe Khom)
Thank you = Cam on (kahm uhn)
Sorry = Xin Loi (Sin Loy)
Goodbye = Tam Biet (Tarm Byeet)
Yes / No = Dạ / Không (yah / comb)
How much? = Bao nhiêu? (bow nyew
Too expensive! = Mắc quá (mack wha)
6. Packing right for Vietnam is key and its noteworthy that different parts of the country can experience differing climates. So always keep a rain coat or waterproofs with you as well as light clothing for sunny days. Ensure you have good footwear too as well, flip flops will be good for the beach; roads are muddy, cobble stoned and unfinished so covered comfortable shoes are a must. Many temples require modest dress, so long skirts/trousers are a must.
There you have it folks. 14 days in Vietnam, north to south! If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam I do hope you find my guide useful and as always feel free to drop me some comments or questions below.
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