Two-week travel itinerary in Vietnam: All you need to know

Vietnam is a surprising country by its people, its culture, its landscapes but especially by its way of living: at its own pace and with its own rules. It’s a journey you may have been planning for months, it quickly becomes a great adventure full of surprises.
For me, Vietnam turned out to be an unexpected journey, a journey of wonderful encounters, smiles, confrontations but also unexpected moments that transformed these two weeks in Vietnam in an incredible journey !

Two weeks is not a lot for globetrotters, but it is an excellent compromise to see many things and have time to immerse yourself in a totally different culture. You don’t go to Vietnam for being on “holidays”. Visiting Vietnam (from the north or south – or both) in two weeks is a rather difficult task. I didn’t have time to rest during my trip. Waking up at dawn and spending the nights on the bus or train…

 

I spent 12 days in Vietnam (with me boyfriend – not a solo trip this time…)
On this map you can see the places we’ve been and how many days we spent at each stop and how we moved from one place to another. 

 

In this article, I will describe every places we visited in Vietnam and I will share some tips to prepare your itinerary and trip, including 

• Practical infos
• Tips before leaving
• Tips when in Vietnam
• Some useful links…

To prepare our itinerary, we had to make choices. It is not possible to see and do EVERYTHING in two weeks.
It’s no big deal. On the contrary, I would say, it is better to take your time to enjoy the places you visit rather than to be just passing everywhere and nowhere at the same time… 

 

12 day itinerary in Viêt Nam 

 

Hanoi (Day 1)

After 16 hours of travel from Brussels, we disembarked in the Vietnamese capital.  Hundreds of scooters are buzzing in the streets and the horns are ringing from all sides, the sidewalks are filled with merchants of all kinds… That’s it, we’re in Hanoi !  Vietnamese are sitting to taste a Pho (soup with noodles) for 30.000 dông (a little more than 1€). I love this atmosphere !

 

Where to sleep: in the Old Quarter (we slept here)
✦ Not to miss: street food : taste Vietnamese food in the street for few dông… And make a tour to the covered market (during the day) and the night market to find souvenirs

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Ninh Binh – Tam Coc (Day 2 – 3 – 4)

The next day, we were already back on the road as we were heading to Ninh Binh – the countryside 150 km south of Hanoi. Ou train departed at 9:00 am and arrived at 11:18 am. Two hours later we arrived in a totally different setting: the rice fields, the karstic rocks (the same ones that are in Halong Bay), nature, the small streets and, finally, far fewer people. The Vietnamese dolce vita that we were discovering freely on a bike…
I am very glad that we spent two nights here, in a fabulous place amidst splendid landscapes: a real coup de coeur. I tell you about it in my article “Tam Coc, the Halong Bay On Land“.

 

✦ Where to sleep: out of Ninh Binh or Tam Coc center, better sleep in the middle of the nature  (we slept here)
Not to miss: le tour en barque, se balader en vélo ou scooter dans la région, la vue depuis Mua Cave

For more info, see my article on Tam Coc

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Sa Pa (Day 5 – 6 – 7)

After spending three days in Tam Coc (Ninh Binh), we left for a very long trip: the one that took us to the north of the country, only a few kilometers from the border with China. Our next destination was the mountainous region of Sa Pa (Sapa). To get there, we took a first train back to Hanoi and then boarded a sleeper train (where we slept in a cabin for 4 people). The journey took 8 hours, the distance is a little less than 300 kilometers. For me, the night was short – it moves a lot on this train – but the experience was unique and unforgettable.
At first, the city of Sa Pa disappointed me, but as soon as we left the city centre to discover the nature, I understood the enthusiasm that travellers have for the region: a hilly landscape where rice fields are endless. Here, we went hiking for two days in the middle of rice fields with Chan. It is for me, one of the most beautiful experiences of our trip. Apart from the beautiful landscapes, I mainly loved meeting the people, the local people and discovering their traditions and cultures.

✦ Where to sleep: sleep at a local’s house in the small mountain villages (we slept at Chan’s parents, our tour guide who launched her small family tour agency called Hmong Family)
Not to missvisiting Sapa villages and the rice fields with a local tour guide to live and exchange with the minorities Black Hmong.

I’ll tell you more in my article on “Sapa and its rice fields

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Cat Ba – Lan Ha Bay (Day 8 – 9)

Cat Ba is an island located right next to the well-known (and touristic) Halong Bay. It si, I think, the best (and most accessible) alternative to Halong.
We arrived on the island after an interminable night on a sleeper bus (11 hours of journey from Sapa in a bus more filled than the number of seats available). We got off the bus at 07am in the center of Cat Ba Island. In front of us, the CatBa Ventures agency suggested us to explore Lan Ha Bay on a boat for two days. Even if we were tired, we decided to change our plans and boarded this two-day and one night cruise. These two days spent on a junk are quite similar… We went swimming, we went kayaking, probably the same activities that most of the tours in Cat Ba offer. I do not regret our choice to spend a quiet night in the middle of the Bay. Especially because seeing the sunrise has been one of my favorite moment of my trip.

Where to sleep: on a small boat in the middle of Halong Bay (we went on a boat tour with Cat Ba Ventures)
Not to miss: floating fishers villages, kayaking at the Bay and waking up early to see the beautiful sunrise  ♡

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Hoi An (Day 10 – 11 – 12)

Hoi An was on our “to do list” but it had seemed to us far and difficult to access from Cat Ba. In the end, we decided to book flight tickets to reach Hoi An: the city with lanterns. Hoi An could not be better named; this small town in central Vietnam is unique and so different from other cities in the north of the country.  As soon as we arrived, we went for a bike ride: the sun and the smell of sand gave me the impression of being on holiday (for the first time since the beginning of the trip). We decided to rest the first afternoon at the beach.  In the evening we went to the historical center of Hoi An where we walked through dozens of small shopping streets, illuminated by lanterns (It is the ideal place to make custom clothes!). The setting is romantic but there are people (many people)! I clearly have the impression that Hoi An is a victim of his success and it’s a pity…

✦ Where to sleep: out of the historical center, in between the beach and the city centre (we slept here)
Not to miss: Hoi An city centre with all its boutiques, the streets at night with all the lancers (close at 10pm), to make yourself a suit or a dress for less than US$100 and ride a bike…

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How to prepare your trip to Viêt Nam

 

Capital: Hanoi
Number of inhabitants: 93 687 410 (in 2017)
☐ Main religion: le bouddhisme
Currency: Dông >> 1€ = 26.000 dông
➳ Good to know : it is only possible to withdraw 2 millions dông (+-70€) per transaction at ATM and 3 millions at HSBC bank

Time difference: +6 hours in winter and +5 hours in summer from Brussels/Paris.

Passport & Visa : Passport is mandatory and it needs to be valid at least 6 months after you enter in Vietnam.
Visa is mandatory too. (To request at the Vietnamese Embassy)
➳ Good to know: some European nationalities  (France, Italy, for example) do not need a Visa for less than 15 days trip. 
Check it here https://www.vietnam-visa.com/vietnam-visa-exemption/ 

Useful numbers

☎ Pro call in Vietnam use: +84
☎ Police: 113
☎ Ambulance: 115

Travel tips
before going…

✔ To prepare your trip: make a list of all the places you wish to visit and draw up an itinerary – which can remain modifiable

✔ Make choices according to the number of days you have: you cannot do everything and see everything and the best moments are those when you take the time to discover

✔ Take mosquito repellent, a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen with you (they will be useful).

✔ Any questions about VietJetair, the Vietnamese low cost company?  I was afraid to travel with Vietjetair because of the many negative opinions I had read on the internet. From my experience, everything went very well, the flight Haiphong (Cat Ba) > Da Nang (Hoi An) was on time and cost half the price of the same flight with Vietnam Airlines.

when in Vietnam…

Buy your train tickets directly at a train station ticket office, not via the internet: to avoid unpleasant surprises like “there has been a problem with your online booking”.

Don’t wait until the last minute to buy your train tickets ☝(especially for night trains to SaPa) because they fill up quickly: try to go to a train station ticket office several days in advance.

►  The timetables announced  for trains and buses (departure and arrival times) seemed always respected – Night buses are, however, not very comfortable and travel time is longer than announced

► Don’t rely too much on the weather ☀☁☂: It can be a beautiful day even if the weather forecasts rain… And the opposite is also true !

► Beware of travel times announced by Google Maps: they are often underestimated, especially because real-time traffic is not taken into account.

► If you wish to pay your accommodation by card, the majority of accommodation (large and small) charge “3% fee for card payment” – and your bank will also charge you exchange rate taxes – so we are winners to withdraw money and pay in cash…

► We found a lot of fake reviews and comments on Booking or TripAdvisor for accommodations: some accommodations have ratings of 9.5/10 but have many fake reviews to get this rating… ☹ This was the case of almost all hotels in Cat Ba!

Some useful website

 

 

Do you have any question ?
Share your experience with us !

 

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