From the buzzing Ho Chi Minh City streets to spectacular rice paddies of Mai Chau, travel the length of Vietnam; seek adventures, authentic experiences and historical sights. We learned a lot about local tribes and met amazing people on our way. Vietnam has a rich history, it's know for its food, hiking, beaches and its welcoming people. Remember to be open-minded; you never know where your way is leading until you are there.
TRAVEL & TRANSPORTATION -
We decided to travel Vietnam from south to north, just because we got cheaper flights. Vietnam does not really have infrastructure for public transportation like we know it in Europe. Therefore the best way to travel in the city is by taxi bikes or by feet, longer distances by tour buses or night trains/buses.(For example for 7km distance with Grab taxi we paid 2$). When driving by taxi make sure to agree on the price before you get in. Also don´t relay on the taximeter, they will cost you extra, too. In Ho Chi Minh and in Nha Trang taxi drivers tried to overcharged us heavily. Moreover the driver in Ho Chi Minh even toured us around the town and brought us to different address. Be sure with directions and ask your host/hotel regarding taxi prices. Just also ask the hostel/AirBnB which taxi company you can relay on. In most cities you can use Uber or Grab (second is more common). Both offer cars and the cheaper motorbikes, however if you want two or more bikes at the time you need as many smartphones to order.
We were on a time limit therefore we travelled longer distances by domestic flights. Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar both offer cheap and backpacker friendly prices to destinations. We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang and from Nha Trang to Hanoi. Flights start at 20$ plus charges for package etc. Keep in mind in Hanoi Vietnam Airlines offer shuttle bus from airport to Hanoi downtown just for 2$, taxi is around 19$.
We also choose to explore Vietnam by motorbike (7$ a day). With a motorbike, we could cruse around coastline and go cliff jumping in Nha Trang. However traffic in Vietnam is mental. Traffic lights are just for your reference. Motorbikes are using horns to make their way from point A to B, we really don’t know how it works, but it works.
WELCOME TO SAIGON -
Ho Chi Minh City is most Vietnams chaotic, but in the same time charming and full of culture with its pulsating energy. The city has around 9 million motorbikes and it is buzzing all the time.
Vietnamese children are growing up on those motorbikes. We saw full families of four to five people on one scooter cruising trough the busy streets of Saigon. Vietnamese transport everything on their scooters, starting from animals, bulks of food, to washing machine, it does not matter.
When crossing the street take a big breath and walk confidently across the street. Motorbikes will find away around you. The worst thing what could happen, is to stop, nevertheless you should not be jumping under the bus.
Exploring a new culture means going to the people, not with the masses. Look for an amazing street food hiding in the alleys, not always the best is on the main street. We do not suggest eating on the party street Bui Vien. It is just too expensive and not that great.
Street Food in Vietnam looks a bit sketchy, however it is very tasty and highly suggested over the restaurants. The food mostly tastes better and it is much more cheaper. However we would suggest sticking with warm food and during the lunch. Do not take ice cubes, if that’s possible, many people make them from tap water. In average we paid around 40.000 Dong (2$) per meal, but we also eat very centrally. In locations outside the centre, if you are lucky you could even get food for 20.000 Dong per head. Good place to try big variety of food is Ben Thanh Street Food Market.
Vietnamese Coffee is not real coffee. It is sugared drink from soya bean. But still give it a try! If you like Beer, these are the ones we suggest to try; Saigon Red- 14.000 Dong, Hanoi Bia, 11.000 Dong, 333- 12.000 Dong and Halida- 10.500 Dong. Same, same, but different. However best deal is Saigon in a green bottle, since it’s the same price as the others ,but bigger ;)
We truly like to discover new cultures, new countries and a new lifestyle of living. We wanted to see how Vietnamese people are living, therefore in Saigon we choose to stay at the Airbnb. We stayed with Dung in total for 3 nights. The room was nice with view to the Saigon River, as we lived in the 23rd floor. I loved to watch those pearl lights during the night laying over the city. Dung was a lovely host. We talked about different topics; language, traffic and tourism in Vietnam. She suggested us places where to eat and also helped us to book our tour to Mekong Delta. Moreover she even made for us traditional breakfast. We loved it! We had a great pleasure to enjoy hers hospitality, if you ever go to Saigon, we highly suggest to you hers place. That was for sure one of the most enriching experiences for us.
Bargaining is huge part of Vietnamese culture. In the south part of the Vietnam it is more active, in Saigon if you want to buy something you should offer the price which is 50-70% less than the seller offered to you in the first place. They will be mad on you but than again it’s your money. Some vendors will try to screw you other are rather fair, you´ll figure it out. However in the north, Hanoi, the fair price is around 30% less from the original price.
If you are backpacking do not book any tours in advance, on the spot you can get better deals and find better travel organizations. Therefore you are able to enjoy places longer and do not need to run through the plan. As always, ask your host or hostel about good deals. Sometimes you´ll get the same tour for half the price.
WELCOME TO MEKONG DELTA -
Mekong Delta is also known as the “rice bowl” of Vietnam. The Delta is the most fertile region in the country and the main producer of rice and tropical fruits. It´s a maze of waterways, where boats, fisherman houses and floating markets streams traditional river life.
Try to stay in the homestay and go to Mekong Delta at least for two days. Staying in homestay means staying in bamboo hut on Vietnamese matrasses, no air conditioner or shower with warm water.
However you will meet other travellers and will have a chance all together to prepare dinner. Be aware that Mekong Delta can be quite touristic. We went to this tour together with Kim Travels from Saigon. We were very lucky with our guides Larry and Jian (Will Who). Both guides gave us interesting insights about food, local people and development of Mekong Delta.
We had a chance to glimpse into local farmer life, we visited rice cake factory and floating market. Every morning hundreds of boats buy and sell products from local farmers on the river. Many local people live all their life´s on those boats. They wash clothes and throw their garbage directly in to the river. I had an impression that people are trying hard to survive, in this region harsh a lot of poverty.
We also bought some fruits from the locals. We enjoyed a lot milky-titi, aka star fruit and boat rides around islands. If you have chance, you should try rat, frog or snake. Also do not be lazy and take a bike ride around the island and your homestay.
Tourists are very welcome here, however the locals will try to sell you everything and try to get tips for everything.
Friends also suggested us a home stay called Green village, just check it out if you want to spend some time at one place.
WELCOME TO CU CHI TUNNELS -
If you are interested in the war history, we would suggest you to go to Cu Chi tunnels; extremely complex system of underground tunnels. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots, as well as Vietnamese people used to live, cook and work in those tiny tunnels during the civil war. We were in there just for few minutes, but they were living there for more than 10 years.
You will also learn about the different types of booby traps. Vietnamese had harsh methods of attacking US soldiers. There you can also try to shoot with machine guns, like AK47, M16 and M35.
We were at the Ben Dinh site, as we had just a half-day tour. After the tour we eat simple snack of what Viet Cong fighters would have eaten. Our guide was very proud of this revolutionary symbol. This is very touristic site and we suggest going with a group of 20 people. No need to do the private tour.
WELCOME TO NHA TRANG -
Welcome to little Moscow. Be aware that many Russians make holiday here, even in restaurants they will offer you menu in Russian instead of English. This is the pure resort city in the bay. You can find the best restaurants in the allye’s. For instance, Alley Cafe. It has nice flair and ambient. Probably there I had the best Vietnamese coffee.
We suggest you to go to Nha Trang only if you plan to go diving (best time according the locals should be end of March until June). We went diving together with Rainbow Divers; they are a bit expensive than other agencies, however the service is on point.
With Jack, John and Mitch you have great dive instructors, living diving and its rules. But also the team in their shop always gives a hand and answers questions. Especially Thung. I did my Open Water certificate and my boyfriend did his advanced and nitrox certificates.
As we were diving in Vietnam during February, we could enjoy Hòn Mun Island. There we saw clown fish, lionfish, boxfish, trompete fish, nudibranch and beautiful coral formations.
We also saw completely different side of the Nha Trang, kind of had a feeling to get out of the tourist bubble. Nha Trang had for sure wonderful sunrises and sunsets, ocean swells, wind breezes, raw outskirts, genius street food and great diving spots. We made new friends and met great local people.
WELCOME TO HANOI -
Hanoi is a beautiful combination of old meets modern. As the capital of Vietnam for almost a thousand years, it is considered one of the main cultural centres of Vietnam, where city has many interesting and historic monuments.It is a gateway to the incredible mountains and landscape to the North.
The Old Quarter, near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, has the original street layout of flagstone and architecture of old Hanoi. In the heart of the Old Quarter, there is a Bach Ma Temple, it is said to be the oldest temple in the city. Pass through the old wooden doors to see a statue of the legendary white horse. Bach Ma Temple was only Temple we visited. Vietnam Backpackers offer daily tours for free, where locals show you around old town. They start around 10 a.m.
The Hoàn Kiếm Lake is best on the weekends, where traffic is banned and a public takes it over. People are playing, reading and taking walks along the beautiful Lake. We went several times to the Lake to read and just feel the fun weekend vibe passing trough the streets. On the evenings, the Lake is illuminated in colourful lights; it is for sure an eye catcher. We also enjoyed cappuccino (yes, with real coffee) and cake at the terrace restaurant.
On the weekends there is also a night market. Everyone says that you can buy there much more cheap stuff, but there was nothing special to spend on. Instead we enjoyed street BBQ.
You should explore Old Q by feet. It is packed of endless lines of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and cars weave around traders selling fruit and souvenirs.
Perhaps most widely known breakfast/lunch is Phở—a simple rice noodle soup containing chicken or beef. You can get it at the street cafes or restaurants.
During our stay in Hanoi we stayed at the Backpackers Downtown Hostel. Every evening we had parties and we met super nice people from all over the world. Shared our experiences and gave each other tips of what to do and see in and around Hanoi. We also did with them tour through the city.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is an impressive monument in the Centre of Ba Dinh Square and according to Forbes one of the ten ugliest buildings in the world. However be aware, that you might spend on this the whole morning, as this monument is widely visited. You should be there rather before 8 a.m. it is only open in the morning from around 8.30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. As we went there quite late on our last day in Hanoi (9 a.m.), we decided not to go in the Mausoleum, but take a walk around the district. We found this fascinating street with old train sledges, where children were playing.
In Hanoi we bought nice paintings, handmade postcards and Manu decided to get a tailor-made suit. However the capital of tailor-made clothes in Vietnam in Hoian. Hanoi is especially known for it´s culture and art.
WELCOME TO MAI CHAU -
We had fantastic experience doing Mai Chau three-day tour. We stayed two nights at homestay lodges, eat a lot of local food and met ethnic minorities. Besides seeing rice paddies, bamboo forests and banana forests, we also hiked around 15 km trough beautiful Pu Luong nature reserve, had a chance to glimpse into local framer life’s and enjoy beautiful surroundings of rural area. The tour was truly authentic and we barely saw any tourists on our way. We just loved it!
We also visited local bamboo factory, where villagers were producing chopsticks. People were working there without any protection equipment whatsoever. They were basically under open air in around 25 degrees Celsius cutting with Machetes, saws and other very odd/primary looking machines 5-7m long bamboo sticks. Men were working with cutting machines and women were cutting bamboo in pieces with Machetes.
Farmers live here a very simple life. There are no shops, wifi, warm water in the shower everything they need they are growing themselves or buying from neighbours. If you want to have chicken for dinner you cannot just go into the shop and buy one, but you need to go to your neighbour, catch one and then kill it yourself.
My highlight was for sure traditional dances at the evening and rice wine or as they call it happy water. I also enjoyed hiking trough the beautiful landscape of Pu Luong nature reserve. We were doing this tour together with 4 Canadian girls, one American and Australian girl. We were very lucky having great people around us.
At the end of the tour we did bamboo paddling. It was quite funny and nice to enjoy warm sun on your shoulders. If you are truly interested in local people life’s and want to experience authentic Vietnam, we truly suggest you to go to Mai Chau and do the tour together with Vietnam Backpackers hostel.