Jet lag is a real thing. I just returned from a two-week adventure in Vietnam and it’s tough adjusting to the time here in San Francisco, especially after crossing the international date line. The whole “going back in time” thing boggles my mind, but alas, more insomnia to write about the journey while the memories are fresh. Similar to my trip to Roatan, Honduras, I didn’t know much about my destination before buying my plane ticket. I love bánh mì sandwiches and pho soup, so I was sold on the promises of cheap, delicious food alone.
While a lot of folks explore Vietnam from South (Ho Chi Minh City) to North (Hanoi), it worked out cheaper for me to do it the other way around. I’ve heard that if you are traveling solo, you have a better chance of making friends in Ho Chi Minh City (so you may find some folks to share the journey with), but I actually met tons of folks at my hostel in Hanoi too, so whatever way works best for you; go for it.
Keep in mind, we flew from spot to spot, to maximize time. This wouldn’t work on train or bus in this time frame.
Days 1-3 Hanoi
I’d heard from some people that Hanoi isn’t worth spending much time in, but I’m really happy I stayed a solid chunk of time there. You already know I love to eat, and I enjoyed the Hanoi street food scene so much!
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, so it’s really the heart of all the political happenings. My first impression was that it was crazy busy, full of motorcycle chaos, which I later found out was nothing compared to Ho Chi Minh City! It was a good training ground for “how to cross the road in Vietnam.” Pro tip: Walk slow & steady and the traffic will magically veer around you. I almost felt like even with my eyes closed I might have been okay… but don’t try that.
Where I stayed: Hanoi’s Backpacker’s Hostel- Downtown. I’m not much of a hostel gal myself, mostly because I have outgrown a lot of the “party” side of it, but I loved this spot. They offered free breakfast (eggs) each morning, and free-beer-o’clock at 5PMs each day, which was a nice way to meet fellow travelers.
- FOOD TOUR, FOOD TOUR, FOOD TOUR. There are plenty of food tours to choose from, but I went with the top-rated one on Trip Advisor, Hanoi Street Food Tour. Our tour guide was sweet and the food was on point. One of the highlights of the entire trip.
- Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Hanoi just a few hours drive from my top spot on the entire journey, up next….!
Days 3-5 Halong Bay
Yes, this UNESCO World Heritage site lives up to the hype. I almost didn’t book this because it was December, and I thought it would be cold. We lucked out; it was wonderful, but even if it had been freezing, it would have been a total fail not to come and see this. Just do it!
Where I stayed: There are many tour operators that offer “cruises” in Halong Bay, mostly 1 or 2 night options. We chose the Glory Cruise, for 1 night only, and it was awesome. Just do your research on this one; check reviews and don’t skimp out on the cheapest one. You get what you pay for in this case.
One more night in Hanoi. This was a day of transition; driving back from Halong Bay to Hanoi (our tour operator did the driving). We got one more night to rest up before our flight the next morning.
Days 6-10 Hoi An
This dreamy coastal town is romantic to the max. It’s slower paced and we were lucky enough to visit during the lantern festival. I wasn’t expecting to love the beach here, but An Bang was relaxing and warm in December!
Where I stayed: La Residencia. The most expensive splurge this trip; but worth it for the upgrades and perfect location.
- Walk around the Old Town.
- Lucked out and went during the Lantern Festival.
- Signed up for a cooking class! We choose My Grandmother’s home cooking, out of town and in a little village, to get a different look.
Days 10-13 Phu Quoc
I found this place by searching for “warm places in Vietnam in December.” I knew we were going in winter, and that the further south, the warmer it would get. Well, I got to live out my beach bum dream here in the warm turquoise waters in the Gulf of Thailand.
Where I stayed: Bauhina Resort. Wow, wow, wow; we loved it. It was luxury on a budget.
Highlight: Sao Beach. It made me sad to see the garbage; it’s true that there is rubbish all around, but it’s mostly kept to the corners. I still loved it here; the water was warm and clear.
Days 13-15 Ho Chi Minh City
We finished the trip off in the busy city. The traffic was like nothing I had ever seen before. I got the worst allergies of my life here (with all the smog) but props to my killer charades skills for getting me some medicine. I just acted out a sneeze, to the pharmacist. Thank you “Heads up” for training me well.
Where I stayed: An Airbnb room in the heart of District 1; walking distance or a quick taxi to most sights.
- War Remnants Museum.
- Cu Chi Tunnels.
- Bringing in 2016 on the rooftop of OMG Rooftop Bar; got an incredible view of the fireworks!
Have more time?
Some other options include Nha Trang (which I hear is paradise), Hue, and the Mekong Delta.