Having heard nothing else about Vietnam from colleagues and friends, I knew it would be my husband and I’s next trip. We had been dreaming of this trip for years and were thrilled when the opportunity finally presented itself to us. For this trip, we planned to travel through Vietnam from south to north, hoping to catch the best possible weather in early February. We spent three nights at each of our stops, which was the perfect amount of time to explore each location and proved the perfect introduction to Vietnam.
Hoi Chi Minh (Saigon)
The first stop on our two week adventure was Hoi Chi Minh City. Formerly known as Saigon, it was renamed in 1975 after the end of the Vietnam War. If you’re interested in history, this is the city for you. One particular highlight was a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels (pronounced Cu Chi). They are about an hour away by boat from the city, which was fun in itself and a great way to escape to the countryside and see the city from a different perspective. The tunnels played a huge role for the Viet Cong during the war and what a sight to see in person.
One thing we would change if it was our first stop to “do” would be to not plan so many activities. Be sure to allow yourself a chance to acclimate during the first two days of your arrival. Remember: you’ve just flown around the world, timed out, and spent more than 24 hours in the air. We definitely tried to fit too much into one day, so I would suggest only doing a half-day tour on your first full day to give yourself plenty of time to recover from your travels.
After a few busy days in the city, we were ready to settle in and relax when we arrived in Cam Ranh. The views of the beach and mountains were stunning or as I like to say “chef’s kiss”. Our routine consisted of going to the gym/yoga, having breakfast (at one of the five on-site restaurants), lounging by our private pool (complete with ocean views), and reading, napping, and walking on the beach before dinner. Being on vacation can be hard work, so be sure to plan some beach time during your trip to Vietnam.
Next up was Hoi An, one of our favorite stops and another must stop for first timers. This city is truly magical, like the night markets, the colorful lanterns and the river that flows right through the old city. The most memorable part of the trip was getting custom made clothes and shoes right there in Hoi An. Our private tour guide was able to direct us to several places because with over 500 tailor shops we didn’t even know where to start. Don’t forget you can haggle your way around town.
When we bought our new wardrobe, we realized another mistake we made. we packed way too much for the trip and didn’t have much room for extra purchases. If I had my way, I would have brought less clothes to have more room for all the new souvenirs we would be bringing home. Hoi An is extremely affordable (even nice dinners can cost $20 in total), which made it extremely tempting to buy a lot of new things. Instead we tried to get experiences like my husband getting his first pedicure.
After an unforgettable few days in Hoi An, we left for Hanoi. “Yesmeans river andNot meI mean, inside, Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and here you can really immerse yourself in Vietnamese food culture. We explored the local markets by vespa and on foot, sampled all kinds of delicious street food including Bun Cha, Banh Mi and even egg coffee.
Ha Long Bay
There are two ways to get to Ha Long Bay, either by seaplane (30 minute ride) or by car. We chose the route that was just a little over two hours from Hanoi. I would recommend the seaplane during the summer as you will get some incredible views of the geological formations below.
No matter how you arrive, a visit to Ha Long Bay is a MUST stop for any first timer to Vietnam and was the highlight of our trip. With over 1,000 islands, all made of limestone and in various shapes and sizes, the scenery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We were able to explore the islands by both kayaking and cave exploration.
Most guests who stay for more than one day prefer to spend the night at A garbage, or a traditional wooden sailboat. If you have the chance, arranging a private boat is the way to go. We were treated to an eight course meal, comfortable accommodations (not to mention an incredible view) and some much needed time, just the two of us. It was the perfect way to end the trip.
Throughout the trip, I realized that what makes Vietnam so special are the people, the history, the culture, the huge variety of activities and the landscapes. With a coastline longer than California, local and fresh cuisine, thousands of years of history and the incredible kindness of the locals, Vietnam is truly unique.