Updated: Dec 10, 2019
With its gripping history, mesmerizing landscapes, yummy food, and vibrant energy, Vietnam will awaken all your senses and pull you in from all angles. Visiting Vietnam feels like a trip you’ve never taken before—the best is to expect nothing and enjoy the thrill, serenity, and relaxation of it all.
Before you to go through the itinerary, have a look at the places from an Aerial perspective so that you can visualize and make sure you won't plan for another place :D
It was my first international trip of 2019 and I was fascinated by it all– the millions of scooters, the crowds in Hanoi, the delicious food, the majestic rice fields, Vietnamese coffee, ‘Happy Water’ and the friendly locals.
There’s no good or bad time to visit Vietnam! It all depends on what you want to experience while in the country.
My trip to the beautiful country was planned without any tour packages except for one place and the places that were chosen were mostly unexplored and unpopular making the trip even more exciting.
Do read the whole blog especially the foot notes.
So here is how you can plan your trip. Note that my 12 day trip was to the Northern part of Vietnam which is more vibrant, with a lot of Nature and rich culture.
DAY 1& 2 : Bangalore to Hanoi
There are many flights from Bangalore and from other major Airports to Hanoi. The preferred airlines is AirAsia. If you book the tickets 2-3 months prior to the trip, you can get the tickets for as cheap as INR 15,000 for a round trip.
After you land in Hanoi, check-in to your accommodation (the accommodation during the entire journey was booked via AirBnB and the experience was truly amazing). It is preferable to get a property near Old Quarter as it is the most happening place in Hanoi.
After you relax, head over to Old Quarter for some shopping, street walk etc.
Things to Do :
1. Go To Hanoi Train Street: This places is the best of all the places I liked. You can find small little coffee shops along the railway track. Grab a coffee or beer and chill around for a while.
2. Vietnam War Museum : If you love history, this is a must visit place. The museum showcases the weapons, aircrafts, tanks etc, which were used during the Vietnam war.
3. Try Egg Coffee : Vietnam is famous for Egg Coffee. You heard it right. Long ago, Vietnam had to face scarcity of Milk, hence, they substituted it with Egg. Nowadays, they make it with condensed milk but the tradition continues and you can get egg coffee in most Cafes in Old Quarter. Also, try the Coconut coffee which is my favorite.
Apart from these, there are some cultural centric places that can be visited around Old quarter.
Day 3 to 5 : TT Sa Pa
After exploring Hanoi for 2 days, head over to Sa Pa, Lao Cai. It is about 40 kms from Hanoi and the best way to go there is by train over night. I should emphasize on the cleanliness and the way the trains are maintained. It is impeccable.
You will reach Sa Pa the next day around 5 :00 AM. As mentioned, we booked out homestays through AIrBnB so they owner arranged for a cab for a reasonable price.
Sa Pa is a beautiful hill station close to Chinese Border. The bet part of this place is the Terrace rice fields that looks stunning. When I visited Sa Pa in march, it wasn't the cultivation season so the fields were filled with water. Nevertheless, even that looks really beautiful.
What to do in Sa Pa:
The most popular and the main activity that tourists do here is go trekking for 3 days from one village to another. Throughout the trek, you get to witness stunning landscapes and come across different culture and food of each of the villages.
You can go on a trek either by booking it through Airbnb or just by going to o the village. The Hmong villagers will come and offer you trek by themselves.
In my case, since I had to visit other places, I just took a 1 day trek for around VND150,000/- equivalent to Rs. 500/- Then the next day, I hired a bike and went to the other villages by Road.
On the 5th day, you can take a train Back to Hanoi overnight and reach Hanoi by 5 AM. The same day, you can go to Cat Ba Islands.
Day 6 & 7 : Cat Ba Island Cruise
Cat Ba Islands is the Largest islands among the 360 islands in Ha Long Bay. Moreover, this is one of the best islands to be in for some amazing adventures.
You can pre book a Tour Package for a Cruise for 1 night 2 Days or you can simply ask the Hotel where you are staying to arrange for a cruise.
Most of the tourist operators are based out of Old Quarter, Hanoi. The cruise package costs around Rs. 10,000/- per person which includes Pick up and drop from Hanoi, English speaking Guide, stay on the cruise over night, Kayaking, Swimming, Snorkeling, Cycling through a village, jungle trek and a lot of beautiful memories.
Day 8 to Day 10 : Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is my most favorite of all the places I visited. This is a hidden gem in North Vietnam. It is around 40 Kms south of Hanoi and you can easily reach here by Bus that takes around 2 hours.
As soon as you get down, you can hire a Cab which will take you to the hotel or homestay you've booked. They go by Meter charges so they won't overcharge you.
The best part of Ninh Binh is the place itself. In fact, I spent an entire day just staying in the homestay itself for it was so calm and relaxing to lie down on the hammock and look at the green rice fields and mountains surround it.
The next day. I hired a bike and roamed around.
What to Do in Ninh Binh:
1. Tam Coc Boat Ride :
This is the most popular activity most people do when in Nih Binh. The place is perfect to spend time rowing a Boat in Tran An, which lasts for around 3 hours.
The boat ride takes you through some of the most stunning natural landscapes. You get to ride through Caves, bridges, jungle etc which gives you a feel that you're living a dream.
The famous movie Kong :Skull Island was shot here.
2. Bai Dinh Pagoda :
Bai Dinh Pagoda is Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist complex and the biggest temple in Vietnam. It consists of many temples and over 500 intricately carved statues of Buddha.
3. Mua Cave:
Mua caves is an ideal place for a short trek. After a climb of around 500 steps, the panoramic view this place offers is worth the effort
Points to be noted :
VISA : The process for getting VISA is fairly easy for Indians. First, you have to get an Approval letter. I applied for the same through http://www.vietnamvisa.govt.vn which was $17 per person. You'll get it within 3 working days. Take a printout of the same and once you land in an Airport in Vietnam, fill out the immigration form and submit it with the approval letter along with $25 VISA fee. That is it.
Nearest Airport : Hanoi Airport. All the above mentioned places are closer from here.
Food : Vietnamese cuisine majorly consists of Non vegetarian dishes. It would be kind of hard to find pure vegetarian restaurants. However, most homestays will provide vegetarian food on request.
Transportation : The best and the cheapest mode of transportation is by hiring a motorbike to commute within a city. It costs around INR 500 per day. It will be arranged by the people at the place you stay. You may have to surrender your Passport to hire one.
The next best option is GRAB TAXI. It is the Uber of Southeast Asia. Link your Debit/Credit card and it will be hassle free. Drivers don't cheat you.
Language : Vietnamese people do not know English. Google Translate will be the best option for you to interact with locals
SIM Card : It is easy to get SIM Card at the Airport by producing your Passport. It typically costs around $15 for Data and for call for a period of 10 days.
Accommodation : AirBnB is the best option. Homestays are available at very reasonable rates. Go by the reviews posted by other travelers.
Currency exchange: I exchanged the currency at the airport itself. Otherwise, you can also withdraw cash from ATMs at a nominal charge. The Visa fee is USD 25 Per person. Carry some USD for initial expenses. Once at the airport, you can withdraw money using your Indian ATM at a nominal charge.
Etiquette : Vietnam is a peace loving country with super friendly locals. Be polite with them. Also, cleanliness is highly followed. Please do not litter be it in Vietnam or anywhere else.
That being said, Vietnam is a country I'll definitely suggest anyone who asks me where to plan a vacation to, next.
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