I backpacked with my friends in the summer holidays, from the Southern to the Northern part of Vietnam, which took us a total of 17 days. Flew budget via Jetstar and I remember my expenditure was an amazing total of SGD 600, I would say the most cost effective trip I’ve been on. Meals were a average of 1 to 2 dollars (street food is the best), and accommodation were mostly cheap hotels and shared amongst the 6 of us.
The whole itinerary was as such: Singapore- Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Da lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa, Hanoi-Singapore. On average, we spent about 1-3 days in each location. Across the various towns, we took buses and overnight trains(Which actually lowered our accommodation costs as a result). To summarise in a gist, this country is for travellers who love a little bit of everything. Whether you are looking to immerse yourself in authentic cultural experiences(homestays), nature, adventure trekking(Sapa, Mt Fansipan), or just really really good Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnam can definitely offer something you wouldn’t want to miss. Even if you’re seeking a relaxing resort getaway, you can easily book yourself one of the many resorts Da Nang has to offer. And I almost forgot to mention, for avid photographers, you definitely have to visit this place! For me, it was quite rewarding to capture some really beautiful landscapes as well as to document the day- to day lives of the Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh City
For foodies, starting your Vietnam adventure right at Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, will definitely not disappoint. Even after so long, the taste of a barbecued pork rice still lingers in my memory. With the signature sweet fish sauce that is usually served along most Vietnamese dishes, this dish alone transports me back into the heart of the bustling city, and kind of what the culture represents – Simplicity, hard work, and making the most out of what you have. The taste of this dish is simple yet complex. I’m no michelin star food connoisseur, but really, it is that good.
Delicious, authentic food:
Da Lat, Little Paris of Vietnam
We spent a couple of days in HCM, and took a few hours bus ride to the neighbouring city of Phnom Penh. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and a local street food market at night. Next morning, we took a bus to Da Lat, also known as “Little Paris” due to its French architecture inspired villas and an Eiffel Tower replica structure built by the telephone company. The unique thing about Da Lat is it’s cooling temperature (ave 15-20 deg cel) all year round, quite different compared to the other major cities in Vietnam.
After spending a night in Da Lat, we went to Nha Trang, that lies on the coast along Southern Vietnam. I must say that this is one highlight of the entire trip, as I had a chance to capture one of my favourite sunrise photos up to date.
At 5am everyday, you can see troops of locals marching to the beach. There, they would swim, exercise, do tai chi, play in the water, play badminton or simply soak their feet into the sea. It was an amazing phenomenon to witness.
Right after Nha Trang, were on our way to Hoi An, a recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Personally, I really liked the peaceful vibes of this place. It is charming in the day, and even more so at night.
On that very night when we were there, we realised it was also the 14th day of the lunar month, where the old own would be transformed into a magical place, one filled with lots of flickering candlelight and coloured lanterns. Along the river, children were selling little paper lotus flowers, with a small candle placed within. It is said that setting them off into the river will bring one love, happiness and luck. And if you like to soak in the atmosphere, sampan rides along the river are available at about 100,000 Dongs each.
There were several street food stalls lined up along the streets, if you are hungry for a really good bite. One local dish you have to try when in Hoi An is Cao lầu, a noodle dish served with pork and greens. This dish is only available in Hoi An, and what makes it so special, is that the noodles are handmade, using water from an undisclosed ancient well. It was, needless to say, truly authentic and delicious. After having some food, we strolled along the streets, as local music filled the air.
The next day, we explored more of Hoi An, and found several shophouses selling unique handmade products, such as woven hats, shoes, lanterns and paintings by local artists. There were also shops offering tailor services, for bespoke suits or dresses.
And yes, we found really amazing local food along the way too! Handmade dumplings, Hoi An ‘Pizza’, local version of the famed Bánh mì, Black Sesame Paste, fruit shakes, and of course, more Cao lầu…
We also went on a relaxing boat ride out along the river. It was pretty therapeutic, just looking out into the skies.
After spending a really good couple of days in Hoi An, we went up North, to the city of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Ha Long Bay
On the day of our arrival in Hanoi, we booked ourselves on a Ha Long Bay overnight tour, to catch the magnificent limestone formations in the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sunset that evening, was golden.
Near midnight, we went to the top deck of our boat to chill, and here is an amateur star trail I got:
After a night on the boat, we returned back to the city, and did some exploring. Hanoi bustles with energy, and reminds me of Ho Chi Minh quite a bit (Well, traffic kinda seemed more forgiving in Hanoi).
Food wise, we noticed several cafes around, selling the famous Vietnamese drip coffee. Fragrant and really really potent, some of us also took the chance to grab some drip filters and powder home! These can also be easily found in the local supermarkets.
Our last stop was Sapa, a mountainous town in Northern Vietnam, where we did a day trek as well as a homestay with a local family. If I had to pick, I think this leg of the trip was my favourite of all. It was also there that I got to photograph really adorable children and see how the locals and Hmong people live.
One night during our home stay, the rain poured so heavily that the village electricity went out. We lit the entire house with candles and dined in true candlelight style. And it was so memorable. My friends and I went to the back kitchen and saw how dinner was prepared – fresh, homecooked and authentic. It was an experience I’ll never forget!
The next day when the weather was bright and sunny again, we hiked around the village, and did some random exploration around the terraces by foot. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really communicate as the locals only spoke in the Hmong dialect. The trip pretty much concluded in Sapa, as we went back to Hanoi and took our flight home. I’d definitely hope to be back soon again!