A Remarkable Journey through Vietnam: Culture, Cuisine, and Scenic Marvels. Read more on our 2 week Vietnam Itinerary and how we travelled from North to South in this time period.
Embarking on a two-week adventure through Vietnam was one we will never forget. This vibrant country offers a rich tapestry of culture, delectable cuisine, and breath-taking landscapes. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the serene beaches of Da Nang, each destination unfolded a unique charm. Here is a detailed account of our journey, from the bustling streets of Hanoi to the modern cityscape of Ho Chi Minh City.
Travel information of our 2 week vietnam itinerary:
To maximize our time, we opted for direct flights with Vietnam Airlines, ensuring a seamless journey. The airline’s impeccable service, delightful meals, and a warm ambiance made our long-haul and short-haul flights comfortable and stress-free.
We booked a custom package by Kuoni facilitated our journey, providing convenience and peace of mind, even if it came at a slightly higher cost. This sorted out internal transfers and hotels out but we were left to explore each stop at our own pace – something that was key for us.
Walking in the streets of Vietnam can be overwhelming due to the sheer amount of motorbikes weaving their way through the smallest gaps. They also pop up from little alley ways. The best way to cross is be confident, do not run and do not stop. Once you commit to cross (raise your hand and just walk). After being a passenger on a bike I can confirm the driver do not go too fast. They are also constantly stopping to let people cross.
Hanoi, our first stop in the mesmerizing land of Vietnam, welcomed us with the chaotic rhythm of motorbikes at 6 a.m. As the city stirred to life, we found ourselves navigating the vibrant streets, a thrilling introduction to Vietnam’s roadways. Our stay at Melia, with its convenient B&B rate, offered a 20-minute respite from the bustling old town, showcasing a delightful breakfast spread with diverse cuisines.
Food & Drink in Hanoi (prices as of Nov 2023):
- Bún Cha Huong Liên: This spot served us the finest Bún Cha. It may be slightly pricier as Obama once dined here, but every dong was worth the flavours. On the 1st floor you can see where Obama ate. They have boarded it with glass. Bun Cha was 50000 VND
- The Note Coffee: Nestled overlooking Hoàn Kiem Lake, this café adorned with post-it notes provides an Instagrammable setting. Savour a delicious vietnamese Coffee here for 40000 VND. The café has several floors, each with a few window seats overlooking the lake
- Moonlight Sky Bar: A captivating rooftop bar offering 2 cocktails for 200000 VND during happy hour. The scenic views and vibrant ambiance make it a must-visit.
- Quan Goc Da Banh Goi: A local gem serving Pillow Cake, Nem Cua Be, Banh Banh Tom, Nem Lui, and more. For 52000 VND along with a couple of beers.
- Beer Street (Ta Hien): In the evening this street transforms into a vibrant are with several restaurants, bars and outdoor seating. Beer starts at 15000 VND.
- Qurn Co Huong Beo: A local recommendation led us to this delightful restaurant serving a delectable bowl of tofu, meatballs, and pork sausage for 40000 VND. Tofu in Vietnam is just really good and I highly recommend it.
- Cafe Giang: The birthplace of Egg Coffee in 1946, offering Cafe Trung for 35000 VND. You can get Rum Trung with cacao for 50000 VND. A unique coffee experience.
- Banh Mi 25: Renowned for its Bánh mì Paté Xá Xíu and Bánh mì Gà Nướng Phô Mai, these sandwiches were delicious. They cost 35000 VND and 40000 VND.
- Night Market Treats: Indulge in Banh Dong Xu Phobia Han Quoc (sweet pancakes filled with cheese) for 35000 VND.
- Phố Ẩm Thực Tống Duy Tân Food Street: Here you can find several restaurants on one strip. We had Bun Cha at Hoa Don Ban Le for 25000 VND
- Thit Xien Nuong: Enjoy barbecued meats on skewers for 10000 VND per skewer or 25000 VND for two skewers. The skewers can be ordered on their own or in a roll with sauce and salad.
- Ignite Sky Bar: A new rooftop bar with 25% off during happy hour. Frozen cocktails for 142500 VND added a refreshing touch.
- So 1 Hang Manh: Relish the Crab & Pork Rolls for a delightful 20000 VND.
Things to Explore in Hanoi:
- Free Walking Tour: Immerse yourself in the Old Town Hanoi walking tour. The three-hour walk involves exploring temples, history, and local dishes.
- Incense Factory: Venture to Moc An, an incense factory 30 minutes from Hanoi. The perfect place to see the intricate process of crafting these vital incense stills. Booking a local guide, like Tinny Travel, is advisable because the local factory workers do not speak English. We also paid a visit to the spot where many take their photos. It is a display by the temple (a little money making set up). The Instagram display is Lang lam huong do. You have to pay for the latter and be prepared for drones and content creators
- Pampering Sessions: Take time to indulge in nail bars, salons, or massage parlors. Century Spa offers a professional and well-rated spa experience.
- Night Markets: Dive into the vibrant night markets in Old Town Hanoi from Friday to Sunday. The markets are filled with stalls offering souvenirs, fake goods, and local delights.
- Water Puppet Show: Experience the unique art of water puppetry at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Puppeteers undergo years of training. Ensure to get English audio for a comprehensive understanding. We bought tickets directly from the theatre the day before. The tickets go fast. Websites like Viator sell them too at a slightly higher price.
- Hoàn Kiem Lake: Enjoy a leisurely walk around Hoàn Kiem Lake, observing locals engaging in their daily stretches and exercises. Proceed to Hanoi Old Quarter and visit the One Pillar Pagoda.
- Train Street: Witness the charm of local life by the train tracks and catch a glimpse of a passing train. You can sit at a cafe on train street or walk along the track when the trains are not running. Like with any train track, barriers are put up when the train is approaching. The cafe owners get customers to get up and stand as far away from the track as possible. Once it passes you sit back down. The trains are not regular and timings on line are not accurate.
- Beer Street Nightlife: Dive into the vibrant nightlife on Beer Street for a chaotic yet fun-filled experience.
Hanoi, with its rich tapestry of history, gastronomy, and vibrant culture, left an indelible mark on our journey through Vietnam. From the labyrinthine streets to the culinary delights, every corner of this city told a tale waiting to be explored.
Halong Bay – A Tranquil Escape
Halong Bay, located approximately 100 miles from Hanoi, is a picturesque haven that beckons travellers seeking tranquillity amidst breath-taking landscapes. In the bustling city of Hanoi, you will come across numerous tour companies offering a variety of trips to Halong Bay, allowing you to tailor your experience, from day trips to more leisurely 3-night stays.
ONE NIGHT ON THE BHAYA PREMIUM JUNK BOAT
Our adventure began with a warm welcome and a hearty lunch as we boarded the boat. The afternoon unfolded as we leisurely sailed through the bay for a couple of hours. We then stopped to explore a cave, engage in kayaking, and enjoy a refreshing dip at a private beach. These activities come as part of the standard fare for most boats navigating the bay. Returning to the boat around 5 pm marked the start of a delightful evening. Happy hour cocktails on the deck with fellow guests set the tone for the night. This followed by a Vietnamese spring roll cooking class and a sumptuous barbecue dinner. The Bhaya cruise excelled in providing an abundance of delectable food, ensuring that guests never went hungry.
After an attempt at calamari fishing, we retired early to rest for the next day’s adventures. The morning commenced with a Tai Chi class on the deck. A light breakfast preceded our visit to Sung Sot Cave, a mesmerizing natural wonder. By 11 am, we returned to the boat for a brunch before embarking on the journey back to the bay and a private taxi ride to Hanoi for one more night.
The Bhaya cruise not only impressed with its culinary offerings but also with its comfortable accommodations. Our room, complete with a small balcony and a bathtub, provided ample space for relaxation. The upper deck offered a sunbathing spot, enhancing the overall experience. The only gripe was the tour guide’s lack of in-depth knowledge. It’s uncertain if this is a common issue across all boats, but on ours, the same person served as host, tour guide, and manager.
From the bustling streets of Hanoi, our journey to Hoi An unfolded with a swift flight via Vietnam Airlines. The hour-and-a-half flight landed us at Da Nang airport, and a 30-minute road journey brought us to the enchanting town of Hoi An.
Nestled in the heart of Hoi An, we chose the Almanity Hoi An Resort & Spa for our stay. Boasting a convenient location and a serene pool area, the resort offered a pleasant retreat. The breakfast spread was delightful, although our loft room wasn’t our top choice, the overall experience was satisfactory.
Food and Drink in Hoi An:
- Thanh Nam Quan: A family-run gem tucked away in Hoi An’s streets, celebrated for its delectable offerings. Many opt for deliveries and takeaways due to its small size. We had a delicious meal that included morning glory, rice, noodles and 3 drinks. It came to 250000 VND.
- Ren Rui: A hidden zen coffee spot, Ren Rui, situated amid houses, offered a divine iced coconut coffee at 39000 VND. It is a perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle.
- November: A fancier café popular both day and night, known for its variety of drinks, including a tempting coconut coffee for 39000 VND.
- Night Market Stalls: Dive into the vibrant night market of Hoi An and savour a banana pancake for 40000 VND. Always request a fresh one for an authentic taste.
- Tiem Che Xiu: A local dessert and milk tea haven, where we indulged in sharing ice cream (Kem Dao Dua Madagasca) for 68000 VND, a delightful treat loved by locals.
- Morning Glory Signature: With three locations by the Thu Bon River, we opted for the rooftop Morning Glory. The views were scenic and it was a perfect rooftop restaurant. We had the shrimp spring rolls, morning glory pork with broken rice, and drinks amounted to 550k. The food was average.
- Banh My Phuong 2: The new location of Anthony Bourdain’s famed Bahn My Sandwich spot. A must-try at 40000 VND, conveniently located in the central market.
- Fresh Fruit Stalls: Dive into the stalls for fresh fruit experiences, bargaining our way to a delightful freshly cut mango for 25k (down from 35k).
Exploring Hoi An:
- Tailormade Clothing at Bong Tailors: Immerse yourself in Hoi An’s renowned tailoring scene. We recommend Bong Tailors. Within 7 hours I got the perfectly made Pink suit I wanted. Always remember to haggle and clarify costs upfront.
- Free Walking Tour: Embark on a free walking tour to explore Hoi An’s temples, culture, and unique offerings. Discover hidden gems and local delicacies while receiving valuable tips to navigate the city.
- Lantern Boat Ride: Witness the enchanting beauty of Hoi An at night with a lantern boat ride. Purchase tickets from the official office to contribute to responsible tourism and avoid river pollution by buying the paper lanterns sold by vendors by the river.
- Hoi An Ancient Town: Stroll through the UNESCO-listed Ancient Town, immersing yourself in colonial architecture, street food, and shopping. A walking and cycling zone, no ticket is needed unless visiting specific temples and sites. There is a little kiosk that sells the tickets which gives you entry to 5 locations of your choice.
- Central Market and Hoi An Market: Delight in the culinary offerings at Central Market, explore the colonial architecture, and visit Hoi An Market, a bustling hub of local life.
- Japanese Covered Bridge: Though under renovation during our visit, the Japanese Covered Bridge is an iconic landmark and a symbol of Hoi An’s rich history.
- Countryside Tour: Book a tour involving cycling through rice fields to a local home, an adventurous coconut boat tour, and a four course Vietnamese cooking class. We chose Viator for a comprehensive experience at £48 for two. Remember to bring mosquito repellent for the countryside adventure especially for the evening. The tour guide did not provide us with any helmets – after cycling on the roads I definitely feel you need one.
Hoi An, with its rich tapestry of culture, cuisine, and tailor-made experiences, left an indelible mark on our journey through Vietnam—a town where time seems to stand still amidst the vibrant colours of history and tradition.
Golden Bridge Excursion from Hoi An:
We had low expectations of the actual park based on reviews we had read. We just went to go on the world’s longest cable car (5km long) and see the golden bridge.
It opened in 2013, after various parts were shipped to Vietnam from Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.
The cable connects the foot of Ba Na Mountain with the peak of neighbouring Vong Nguyet and holds the record for the largest gondola departure station, which also serves as a museum about the history of the area.
Yes, it is a tourist destination and is overpriced. Am I glad we did it – yes! It is fascinating how they made the cable cars especially when you are suspended high up in the middle of nowhere. Also the bridge is a great piece of art.
Our fleeting visit to Da Nang left us yearning for more, as this city seamlessly blends a perfect beach escape with the vibrancy of urban life. With just one night on our hands, we had the pleasure of staying at the TIA Wellness resort, an unexpected gem by the beach.
TIA Wellness resort, the sole choice from Kuoni in Da Nang, exceeded our expectations, proving that sometimes the price tag is justified for an exceptional experience. The Wellness Inclusive stay, with its private villas and a creative wellness program, included an 80-minute massage per person per night—a delightful touch that set the tone for relaxation.
Each room has a private pool and a courtyard garden. The fridge, stocked with a selection of healthy snacks and infused waters. The Wellness Inclusive package also treated us to an all-day breakfast or a beachside A La Carte experience—an indulgence we couldn’t resist. The sound of waves, palm trees swaying, and a delicious breakfast made for a luxury we rarely encounter.
The resort’s infinity pool and various zen spots provided the perfect backdrop for a retreat, fulfilling every expectation of a tranquil escape.
Food in Da Nang
Craving fresh seafood, we got a taxi to MOC Hải sản Mộc quán, a highly recommended restaurant in the centre. Despite a 15-minute queue, their efficient system ensured a quick turnover of tables. Arriving around 8 pm, we were met with a vibrant atmosphere and an enticing display of fresh seafood.
Opting for a crab and tiger prawns, the server’s quick and skilful shell-cracking skills impressed us. Complimentary nuts started our meal, and as our dishes arrived, the flavourful experience unfolded. While the food had the right spice level, it was on the sweet side (we should have checked this before). The bill, including fresh crab, tiger prawns, egg-fried rice, morning glory, and drinks, came to around £30, with the added convenience of Apple Pay.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
As our Vietnam adventure drew to a close, the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), also known as Saigon, became our final destination. A short two-hour plane ride from Da Nang, we were greeted with a city adorned with towering buildings. Our stay at Liberty Central Saigon, strategically located next to Saigon Centre. The rooftop pool, though limited in shaded beds, offered a sunny retreat, and while the breakfast didn’t surpass the standards of our previous hotels, the overall experience was satisfactory. You can see from the prices below, as we heading down south, everything got more expensive.
Food and Drink in HCMC:
- Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street Food Market: A culinary haven resembling a food hall, offering diverse cuisines and beverages. While slightly pricier for tourists, the vibrant atmosphere and delicious food make it a worthwhile visit. Cocktails and beer towers are available at around 150K and 250K, respectively.
- Social Club at Hotel des Arts: Nestled in the hotel, this venue boasts breath-taking city views. Although one of the more expensive bars in Vietnam, the happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm, with half-price cocktails and beers, justifies the experience. With a buzzing atmosphere and rooftop vistas, it’s a noteworthy spot.
- Above Bar at Liberty Central Saigon: Positioned atop our hotel, Above Bar offers great day and night views. The 12 pm to 5 pm happy hour, featuring a buy-one-get-one-free deal on cocktails for 200K, makes it an attractive choice. While relatively quiet, the bar provides a perfect backdrop for relaxation.
- Okkio Coffee: Tucked on the first floor of an apartment opposite the Opera House, Okkio Coffee is a popular spot for its Coconut Coffee priced at 75K. With indoor and outdoor seating, this venue exudes a cozy ambiance complemented by plants, books, and excellent service.
- Cafe Apartment on Nguyen Hue Walking Street: An eight-floor block housing various cafes and shops, each with rustic and bohemian vibes. Enjoy panoramic views of HCMC and savour Coconut Coffee at 68000K from the Good Days cafe. The entrance is on the left hand side where all the motorbikes are parked. It’s not obvious but as you walk in you will see some stairs.
- Walking Streets – Nguyen Hue and Bui Vien: Explore the serene Nguyen Hue Walking Street in the evening, a quiet harbor-side stroll contrasting with the bustling Bui Vien, known for its shops, bars, and cafes.
- Street Food Motorbike: Embark on a thrilling four-hour tour with Saigon Adventure. Priced just under £25 per person, this tour takes you through HCMC’s vibrant streets on the back of a motor bike, sampling 12 local food and drink varieties.
We got to try Grilled banana & sticky rice – (chuối nếp nướng ), Vietnamese pizza ( Bánh tráng nướng) , rice noodle with barbecue pork and deep fried spring roll( bún thịt nướng ) ,Vietnamese crispy pancake: big version ( bánh xèo), coconut cracker with banana and black sesame (bánh phồng) , Grilled oyster with green onion ( hàu nướng mỡ hành) ,Sugar cane juice ( nước mía) ,Barbecue beef with lolot leaf ( bò lá lốt ), Barbecue beef with lemon grass ( bò nướng sả) , corn sweet soup (chè bắp ), Coconut jelly and Banh mi. To start with it it scary how the drivers weave through the traffic but you soon get used to it and they do not go at a high speed.
Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City
- Café Apartments: Explore these multi-functional spaces not just for coffee but to witness innovative businesses maximizing every inch of available space.
- Cu Chi Tunnels: While touristy, these tunnels hold significant historical value. Opt for a guided tour to navigate the complex tunnels, which have been expanded for tourists.It takes 2 hours from HCMC so a long drive too.
- Saigon Central Post Office: A grand French colonial building featuring patterned tiles, high vaulted ceilings, and antique telephone boxes—a unique post office experience.
- Notre Dame Cathedral: Currently undergoing construction, this iconic cathedral is still a landmark with a compelling story, including the statue of Virgin Mary said to have shed a tear.
- Ben Thanh Market: Over 100 years old, this bustling market offers souvenirs, fake goods, handicrafts, and food stalls. Haggle for unique finds and indulge in local treats.
- Thich Quang Duc Monument: A peaceful memorial to a monk who sacrificed himself for religious beliefs, offering a reflective and contemplative spot.
- General Shopping: From high-end shops to market stalls, Saigon caters to every shopper’s needs. Visit Winmart for a one-stop shopping experience, including high street shops and a local supermarket.
- Motorbike Street Food Tour: Dive into HCMC’s street food scene, exploring its diverse culinary offerings (refer to the food section for details). You get to visit the local markets and get to go on a motorbike which alone is a mind blowing experience.
- Rooftop Bars: Enjoy panoramic views of the city from various rooftop bars, providing equally stunning vistas as Bitexco Financial Tower, which now charges for access.
Final Tips to help with a 2 week Vietnam itinerary:
- Book tours whilst you are in Vietnam. They are cheaper, and the variety is much more. If you are still in doubt look at Viator or Get Your Guide and on the tour page, it normally states who the local travel company is. Contact them directly.
- We went on the 1st of November and throughout the 2 weeks we had one day of rain in Hoi An. Every other day was dry. Vietnam weather varies from North to South. I am glad we didn’t go in peak summer because the heat would have been unbearable (even for us). It was about 30 degrees most days and humid. You also have to add climate change in the mix, so weather is not always predictable. The monsoons in Hoi An can be bad but they have not had a proper one for a couple of years
- Cash is still widely used there so make sure you carry some with you. There are many places to exchange it. We found the hotels were competitive with their rates.
- When in Vietnam you will notice the stools used by street vendors and even some cafes are very low. This was fine for me but if you are tall you will struggle. The locals prefer this way and believe they have a closer connection to the ground. In some places it is illegal to trade on the streets and the small plastic seating areas makes it easy for them to pack away their stuff quickly if need be.
Vietnam, with its cultural diversity, culinary delights, and picturesque landscapes, left an indelible mark on our two-week journey. From the chaotic streets of Hanoi to the tranquil beaches of Da Nang, each destination presented a unique facet of this captivating country. Our personalized exploration allowed us to absorb the essence of Vietnam, creating memories that will linger for a lifetime.