I’ve just come home from the most incredible 2 weeks travelling around Vietnam on my own. I designed the itinerary myself and managed to pack a lot into the short time I was there for but I think I managed to see and experience some of the best parts of the country. I hope you find it useful if you decide to travel there and I honestly urge you to because it is a beautiful place!
Day 1 – Hanoi
I flew from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, and took a connecting flight to Hanoi in the north of the country. I arrived in Hanoi around midday and grabbed a cab to the Hanoi Pearl Hotel, where I was staying. The hotel was pretty basic but suited my budget, and the location was perfect allowing me to explore the city for the evening. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain when I arrived so I spent most of my time hiding in doorways and coffee shops. I stumbled across one cute coffee spot in particular called ‘The Note Coffee’ which was totally covered in post-it notes from visitors all over the world. I left a little note signed The Food Medic so, if you visit, keep an eye out for it!
That evening I went to Jalus vegan kitchen & cafe and grabbed dinner – I recommend the BBQ sweet potato and chickpea burger, yum!
Day 2 – Halong Bay
As part of my hotel package, I booked an overnight cruise around Halong Bay with La Vela cruise. There are SO many cruises to choose from ranging from super luxurious cruises including ensuite rooms, spas, and evening entertainment, to basic cruises which are much more affordable but much smaller, with less included and often sharing rooms. I think the one I had was considered middle-of-the-road but I was really impressed in with my little private cabin and the hospitality of the staff on board.
The itinerary for the overnight trip included a visit to Sung Sot Cave, which involved a little bit of a hike up to a cave filled with limestone formations, a visit to Tung Sau Pearl Farm (with the option to kayak for an additional $15), a cooking class with the onboard chef, and a visit to Titop Island for a scenic view of the bay. All your meals are provided on board and there is a spa service available on request so I obviously booked a cheeky 60 minute Vietnamese massage and they threw in a facial for free as a little bonus and, compared to London prices, at less than £25 it was SO worth the money! The wifi was completely useless so it forced me to go offline for 24 hours which in all honesty, drove me up the walls a little so I 100% needed that reality check.
One major downside to this cruise was that the atmosphere was a bit dead. I was the only single person and the rest of the guests were either older couples or in a family. On my travels I met a young Irish couple who went on a ‘castaway tour around Halong bay which sounded like a lot of fun and more suitable for younger single people and couples.
Day 3-4 – Hoi An
After morning Tai Chi, some more sightseeing, and brunch, we headed back to shore and took a 4 hour shuttle bus back to Hanoi. That evening I flew from Hanoi to Da Nang, just north of my next location Hoi An. I arrived at my Air BnB ‘Emotion Villa’ at midnight that night and headed straight to bed.
My first day in Hoi An and I set off early for my cookery Class at Miss Vy’s cookery school. However, the city had just been hit by Typhoon Damrey and the school had been flooded – like most of the businesses in the area. So as my plans to cook all day were cancelled, I borrowed a bike which was free to rent from my accommodation and spent the day cycling around the city. Many roads were flooded but the sun had thankfully come out so the shop owners were beginning to return to their businesses. It was pretty devastating to see but it didn’t seem to dampen the mood of the locals and I still had a wonderful time. That night I went to the famous Morning Glory restaurant and ordered an array of Vietnamese dishes to try. They have a gorgeous fried aubergine dish on the menu that you 100% have to order if you go there!
Day 5 – Cat Tien National park
I woke up at 4am and caught an early flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh city. When I arrived at the airport I was picked up by a driver who drove me 3 hours north to Cat Then National Park to stay at the Forest Lodge. I had planned this part of the trip specifically just to visit the bear rescue centre where they look after bears (sun bears and moon bears) who have been rescued from poachers and bear bile farms. Here the bears are looked after and rehabilitated with veterinary care, good nutrition, and a lot of love from the staff who work there.
When I arrived to the lodge, it was nothing like I expected. To get to the lodge from the mainland you must take a short ferry which runs a couple of times a day and stops at 7pm at night – so once you’re there, you’re there. I was taken to my hut in the forest, where I would be staying for the night, and was informed that they just removed a snake from my neighbours hut – lovely! The huts were located deep in the forest and we only had electricity between the hours of 6am and 10pm. There is no wi-fi in the rooms but you can connect to the wifi in the main lodge – although I wouldn’t count on it.
After lunch, I was given a pair of knee high socks to prevent leeches from sticking to my legs and taken out on my first hike through the jungle. We hiked for 4 hours through the jungle before visiting the bear rescue centre, and then cycled from the centre to another part of the national park. Throughout the hike we spotted; gibbons, spiders, various birds, snakes, a peacock, wild deer, leeches, and too many bugs to name.
We came back to the lodge, showered and removed any leeches stuck to us (ew!!), then gratefully tucked into dinner before packing up and heading out on a night-time hike in the hope to spot some of the night wildlife. It was a pretty quiet night and we didn’t find much, apart from a family of scorpions which I was less excited about than the guide was!
Sleeping in the jungle was terrifying, I’m not going to lie. Every noise woke me up and I was terrified to think what I was sharing my bed with but it was one hell of an experience!
Day 6 – Ho Chi Min City
I woke up early (too scared to sleep) and headed out on a morning hike before leaving the jungle at midday for How Chi Minh city. I didn’t have time to make it to the crocodile lake but I was told that it is very much worth a visit so if you intend to visit Cat Tien National Park make sure to check it out!
I had one night in the city but decided to take it easy and take myself out for a nice dinner and a glass of wine at The Refinery.
Other restaurants and bars recommended to try out in Saigon:
Day 7 – Ho Chi Min City
I headed out early for breakfast, grabbing an omelette at a local restaurant and headed straight for the War Remnants Museum. I have a keen interest in history and I was recommended by many people to visit this museum, although I was warned to be prepared for an emotional experience – and that it certainly was.
Established by the Vietnamese government on the 9th of September, 1975, the museum was originally called “The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”. Then in 1990, it was renamed to the “Museum of American War Crimes”, and then not until the 4th of July, 1995, did people start to refer to it as the “War Remnants Museum”. The Museum is home to research, collection and storage of historical documentaries, photographs, and artefacts of the Vietnamese army in the war against the hostile forces, along with the evidence of the devastating effects that the war had caused. At present, the museum has 8 regular special exhibitions and many mobile exhibitions to serve the public. One of the most notable section is the Requiem Exhibition which houses a collection of photographs compiled by legendary war photographer Tim Page. This graphic photography illustrates a phase of painful history and reveals unknown stories about war to people, especially to Westerners. I went from exhibition to exhibition with tears in my eyes and a constant feeling of nausea. This exhibition is not for the faint-hearted but I found it incredibly moving, insightful, and eye-opening.
That afternoon I flew to my final destination, Phu Quoc Island for a week of luxury at Sol Beach House.
Day 8-14 – Phu Quoc
I was invited by Sol Beach House to spend my final few days in Vietnam at their resort on Phu Quoc island and it was honestly the perfect way to end my trip. I have visited this chain of hotels in Ibiza and thoroughly enjoyed myself, so I knew I was in for a treat. I didn’t venture far from the hotel very often as it had everything I needed; a choice of three restaurants, a pool, a gym, a spa, and fast wi-fi for catching up on emails.
During my stay at Sol Beach House the hotel arranged a cruise around the islands for guests to enjoy. The ‘Twosie cruise’ is a relatively new startup by a young woman named Charlotte. She initally began designing and selling two-sies, which are essentially tropical matching two pieces, and then dreamt up of the cruise idea alongside this.
All guests were gifted with a floral two-sie when we boarded the boat, which instantly broke the ice amongst the 10 of us who were formerly strangers with one another. The boat has an on-board DJ and a cute little bar where you can purchase drinks, and food was also provided. The cruise lasted 6-7 hours during which we cruised around the island to smaller islands, snorkelled in the sea, visited the Rock Island Club which is a bar/club located on a private island, and danced on the deck until the sun went down. This was an absolute highlight of my trip and something I really hope the hotel continue to include as one of their activities.