Top 10 Tips for Vietnam

Ha Long Bay at Sunset
We just got back from two weeks in Vietnam and with it fresh in our mind thought we’d share with you our top ten 10 tips for travelling this beautiful South East Asian country.
1. Most hostels/hotels in Vietnam will email you once you book and offer to send someone to pick you up. Unless you’re on a super budget and are prepared to faff around with public shuttle buses, this will almost certainly be cheaper than a cab, even on the meter, as they will have negotiated a rate with a reliable local firm.
Central Backpackers in Hanoi
Central Backpackers in Hanoi

2. We did our Ha Long Bay trip (1 night) through our hostel, Central Backpackers in Hanoi and found it to be pretty good value and a nice level. Somewhere between the madness of Castaway and the more low key likes of Imperial Cruises. There are also smarter cruise companies that have things like a jacuzzi on their prow, if that sounds more up your street…

Ha Long Bay at Sunset
Ha Long Bay at Sunset

3. If you’re going to Hoi An, you’ve probably got one thing on your mind and it’s almost certainly shopping. On the recommendation of both the guide book and our hotel, we went to Kimmy’s and found them to have an excellent range of patterns and materials, a quick, but quality, turnaround and a pretty professional service. We were served by Phuong and Lou, who did a great job, particularly with Pete’s suit.

Hoi An's Beautiful Streets
Hoi An’s Beautiful Streets

4. In retrospect, we would give Nha Trang a miss. Think Vietnam’s Costa del Sol, or a Surfer’s Paradise without the nice beach. Unless you’re looking for a crazy night out, it’s probably not with the time and money you’ll spend there. We also found it difficult to find decent accommodation for a sensible price.

Mui Ne Beach at Sunset
Mui Ne Beach at Sunset

5. If, however, you’re looking for a nice beach and a much more chilled vibe,  along the lines of Byron Bay, Mui Ne is the place for you. It’s got a huge range of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets and a vast stretch of beach with some good winds if you’re into wind surfing and kitesurfing. Plus there isn’t a high rise building in sight. We stayed at the lovely Cat Sen Auberge, close to the beach and run by the supremely friendly and helpful Thang (Tung).

Cat Sen Auberge
Cat Sen Auberge

6. If you head up into the mountains to Da Lat, and we recommend you do (more on why in our two week Vietnam itinerary piece here), check out BeePub for its incredible live band Undercover and generally very cool ambiance. They cranked out covers of everything from Adele to Evanesence. Escape Bar was also recommended for you blues lovers, but sadly we didn’t get there.

Da Lat's Xuan Huong Lake
Da Lat’s Xuan Huong Lake

7. Getting about in Vietnam can involve some very long overland journeys. Of the methods available, the trains are by far the most comfortable and most enjoyable form, but admittedly not the speediest. We took the train from Hanoi to Da Nang and although it took 17 hours, it was well worth it. We awoke to the sun rising over the paddy fields after a comfortable night’s sleep and beautiful scenery for the rest of the morning.

8. On the subject of transport, if you’re a bit pushed for time there are good, cheap internal flights in Vietnam between most major destinations. We flew from Da Nang to Nha Trang and from Da Lat to Saigon for about £20 per person, per flight. Thereby saving ourselves a couple of very long and pretty uncomfortable bus journeys.

The Sleeper Bus Between Nha Trang and Mui Ne
The Sleeper Bus Between Nha Trang and Mui Ne

9. The Mekong River is a tricky one. If you only have a day to spend there, we would suggest giving it a miss. You’ll end up in congested and overly touristy locations probably paying over the odds, and get hassled for tips while you’re about it. If you have more time, however, a two or even three day trip might well be worth it to get away from the masses and actually get to see some more interesting and off the beaten path parts. We also heard of people who had done it themselves, rather than through a tour company, so probably worth investigating too.

Boatmen on the Mekong
Boatmen on the Mekong

10. If you’ve ever seen the Top Gear Vietnam special, you’ll have some idea of what the roads are like in Vietnam. To say they are chaotic would be doing them a disservice. The traffic comes from all directions, on both sides of the road and from side streets too. When it comes to crossing them, you really have to throw caution to the wind and just trust that they will be trying to avoid you as much as you are trying to avoid getting hit by them.

Hanoi Old Town by Night
Hanoi Old Town by Night

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