Most foreign teachers in China get the entire month of July off to go on holiday. We’re spending most of this time in Vietnam! I have become somewhat of an expert at trip planning and I’m also obsessed at trying to see a little bit of everything in a short amount of time. While this was easy in Thailand – we saw Phuket, Bangkok, Krabi and several islands leisurely in just 10 days – Vietnam is not as simple.
When we first bought tickets to spend 19 days in Vietnam, I thought that it would give us enough time to see Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos too! I was hoping to take a 6-hour bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, then another 6-hour bus to Siem Reap. From there I hoped to fly to Luang Prabang in Laos and then take an overnight bus or another plane to Hanoi.
Although this sounds great on paper, the reality is that we’d be spending precious hours on inconveniently timed buses that wasted entire days of exploration. Then there’s the visa costs… $20 per person to Cambodia and $15 – $40 depending on nationality to Laos. Then there’s the fact that Vietnam is huge and we’d barely be seeing any of it in exchange for spending a day or two in the neighboring countries.
I spent hours trying to find a way to manage to see everything that wouldn’t bankrupt us, have us spending days on buses and still giving us enough time to see everything. It wasn’t possible. Plan B was to plan a trip that skipped Laos and had us spend just 2 days in Cambodia. But even this wasn’t worth it because it turned out that 19 days is barely enough time to just see Vietnam.
Ignoring my disappointment, I focused on planning a city hopping trip in Vietnam and in just a few hours I came up with a great route. Since we live in China, we’re not that excited about spending too much time in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. Instead we want to see all the natural wonders and spend time on the beach. This is the itinerary that I came up with:
Day 1: Arrive in Ho Chi Minh in the evening, check into hostel and sleep
Day 2: Explore Ho Chi Minh all day, visit markets and eat delicious Vietnamese food. If we find a cheap place, we’ll rent a motorcycle. We also want to see the colorful Hindu temple and mostly our plan is to just soak up Vietnamese culture.
Day 3: Take a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne. We bought tickets on a comfortable and reliable bus that we booked on www.vietnambustickets.com. The tickets were cheap, I was able to pay with PayPal and I got the confirmation within 24 hours. It was a huge relief to find an alternative option to a public bus! The bus will take 6-7 hours and will drop us off close to our tent-hostel right on the beach.
We originally wanted to take the ferry down to Vung Tao and then a bus from Vung Tao to Mui Ne. Although Vung Tau isn’t of particular interest to us, the ferry ride would take us past floating villages and would be a great way to see a lot in just 90 minutes. After reading up on it, I discovered that a lot of ferry companies keep shutting down and early July is still dry season and there are only public buses that go from Vung Tao to Mui Ne. From what I read, public buses are cheap and crowded and extremely uncomfortable and unreliable…
Day 4: Wake up to the sound of crashing waves and the buzzing of mosquitoes and take a leisurely stroll/swim down to the Fairy Stream. Hike and enjoy the day.
Day 5: Have another relaxing day in Mui Ne, maybe explore Phan Thiet and spend one last night on the beach.
Day 6: Take a 3 hour bus (again with www.vietnambustickets.com) from Mui Ne to Dalat. Check into our cozy, cheap and wonderfully named: Yolo Camping Hostel.
Day 7: Go to the famous Elephant waterfalls and spend the day there.
Day 8: Explore the national park/rain forests in Dalat and spend one last night at Yolo Camping Hostel.
Day 9: Take a 7 hour bus (one last time with www.vietnambustickets.com) from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh and check into hostel.
Day 10: Spend the day in Ho Chi Minh and take a very late flight to Hanoi. Check into hostel at Hanoi.
Day 11: Spend the day exploring Hanoi, it’ll be our only full day here.
Day 12: Go on a two night trip to Sapa – booked through Viator.
Day 13: Sapa trip.
Day 14: Sapa trip and late return to Hanoi.
Day 15: Relax after trip and make our way to Halong Bay.
Day 16: Spend day exploring Halong Bay.
Day 17: Kayaking/island hopping in Halong Bay.
Day 18: Last full day in Halong Bay.
Day 19: Fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh on a super late flight that gets in at 2 AM the next day.
Day 20: Sleep in the airport, backpacker style, and fly home at 8 AM from Ho Chi Minh.
Voila! My ideal Vietnam trip with lots of traveling around but still enough time to relax and feel like we’re on holiday. Perhaps on the actual trip, I’ll find out that I could have done some things differently that would have been better… we’ll see! Feel free to share your tips or perfect Vietnam itineraries in the comments below 🙂