Vietnam is outrageously exciting. It’s vivid, it’s immersive, and the culture will keep you thirsting for more after a few days there. If you read my last post on Vietnam, you heard about some of the more shocking aspects about traveling in Vietnam from the traffic to the dirty streets, but don’t let that stop you.
Vietnam invites travelers who are craving for more of an “off-the-beaten-path” experience. Personally after spending one week in Vietnam and two weeks in Thailand, I can easily say Vietnam trumps Thailand in almost every category except beaches. Vietnam’s food especially is one category that you can’t compare to most other SE Asian countries. Not to mention the stunning rice paddies of Sapa or the alluring waters of Ha Long Bay, the scenery in Vietnam is organic, and ever so adventurous.
There’s a lot of uncertainty when going to Vietnam. How to book your excursions on ground, where to stay, how to avoid questionable meats, and a lot more — I think this is the best part about it. Even with all of the planning beforehand, arriving in Vietnam and figuring out the travel is the best part. I surely agree you should arrange the majority of what you would like to do, but leave room. Leave room to be pleasantly surprised, leave room to let the road take you where it wants (some of the time), and leave room to be flexible.
Here’s how to spend one week in Vietnam.
Know this before hand….
+ Visa, it’s pretty stinkin’ important if you’re an U.S citizen. You will not get in without one. The process is easy, but must be done ahead of time and don’t push it to the wire. Often if you book with a local travel agency like Buffalo Tours, it can be arranged for what they call a “Visa On Arrival.” If not, the embassy online can help you arrange. Do not, do not, show up without one.
+ Crossing the streets are mayhem, they will weave around you, just don’t stop walking.
+ Always make sure the soup is boiling. The street food is delicious (and cheap), but always make sure the water is boiling.
+ The currency is confusing. The “Dong” has many different bills, and be sure not to confuse the 5,000 for 500,000.
+ For more tips, read 10 Things to Know before Traveling to Vietnam
Best time of Year to visit Vietnam: For Sapa, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay, March to June and September – October.
7 Nights: Hanoi – Sapa – Ha Long Bay – Hanoi
Day 1: Hanoi
Land in Hanoi, get acquainted. This incredible city is bustling with food shops, markets, and history. You’re probably going to be exhausted, so be sure to load up on sleep this night.
Budget Hotel: Art Boutique Hotel in Old Quarter (prime location)
Luxury Hotel: Sofitel Metrepole (great hotel, not the best location)
Day 2: Half day Hanoi / Overnight train to Sa Pa
I’d suggest spending the morning on a walking tour. We chose Buffalo Tours’ “Hidden Hanoi Walking Tour” as the itinerary gave a great in-depth look of the local history and markets with a local guide. Take an overnight train to Sapa — can book direct at the train office, or have Buffalo Tours book for you.
Day 3: Sapa
With a guide, take an adventure down to explore the rice paddy fields and get introduced to the local villages to understand the way of life. This destination is great to hike and get to do homestays.
Hotel: The Victoria Sapa
Day 4: Half day Sapa / Overnight train to Hanoi
On a second day in Sapa, you can spend time in the local village though there is not much to see, or go hiking again. The nature is stunning, and I’d suggest getting a local guide to take you through. Many hotels offer this and can arrange a local guide for you.
Day 5: Journey to Ha Long Bay
After getting back to Hanoi, it’s around a four hour bus ride to Ha Long Bay. Usually the boat you’ve booked with to stay on provides the transfer. For the overnight cruise, be sure to choose a reputable company as there has been issues in the past concerning cleanliness and safety. We chose Buffalo Tours and the boat itself met expectations though I wish we stayed one more night, as there was not enough time on the water. Ha Long Bay is incredibly stunning, though filled with many boats, it’s still all the same beautiful.
Day 6: Ha Long Bay
Stay one more night on the water — be sure the company you book with is detailed in their itinerary so that you know what you will be doing exactly while on board. Kayaking the waters is a definite not miss.
Day 7: Journey to Hanoi
Make the journey back to Hanoi, and now it’s time to go back to your favorite food spots.