When it comes to Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam is easily my favorite pick. Once a lesser-known destination, it has become more and more popular among tourists in recent years. With its beautiful nature and cultural diversity, Vietnam attracted 10 million visitors in 2016, an increase of 26.0% from 2015.
From the peaceful rice valleys of Sapa in Northern Vietnam stretching to the bustling city of the Ho Chi Minh in the South, Vietnam is home to a wealth of attractions and amazing cuisine that will attract both budget and luxury-seeking travelers. Here’s your complete travel guide for your 1 week trip to Vietnam.
- Currency: Vietnam Dong (click here for current conversion rates)
- Visa: Many countries enjoy a visa exemption status for a visit between 15-30 days. You can check out whether you’re one of the lucky ones here. If you need to apply for a visa, the best method is to apply online.
- Safety: It’s generally very safe to travel in Northern and Central Vietnam. However, as you go further south, things become trickier and people are more cunning. Be careful of thieves in Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh.
- Climate: Depends on the region. Summer is extremely hot and humid, while winter is rather cool.
- Best SIM cards: There are four Telco companies in Vietnam and all of them offer similar services and prices. A 5GB/30-day package cost 100,000 VND (around $5 USD). However, I still recommend Viettel as it has the largest network and most customers, closely followed by Vinaphone. Avoid Mobifone and Vietnamobile if you’re heading off the beaten track.
Day 1: Hanoi
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. At its heart is the chaotic Old Quarter. Here there are so many local food options and restaurants for you choose from. Very often, travelers find themselves lost in choices. Luckily, when we visited Hanoi this time, our local friend Ha Linh brought us around to eat at the best local food in Hanoi.
Must-eat local delights recommended by the locals:
1. Pho (10 Ly Quoc Su)
Address: 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
2. Square Cake (Bánh Chưng)
Address: Along the street of the Old Quarter
3. Egg coffee (Fragrance Café & Restaurant)
Address: 35 Gia Ngu Street, Hang Bac Ward, Hoan Kiem District
Days 2-3: Halong Bay
Hạlong Bay, in northeast Vietnam, is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Many travelers face the same question when they are considering a trip to Halong Bay: “Should I do a Halong Bay overnight cruise?” The answer is a definite “YES”!
Must-do Activities in Halong Bay
1. Enjoy the sunset and sunrise while kayaking
Halong Bay is the most beautiful during sunrise and sunset. And you only get to see them if you do the overnight cruise. During these moments, the beauty of Halong Bay truly reveals itself. What’s more, you get to go kayaking in the quiet and serene bay as the sun sets. Truly amazing indeed!
2. Visit Sung Sot or “Surprise Cave”
Situated in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage area, Sung Sot or “Surprise Cave” is on Bo Hòn Island, and is one of the most spectacular and largest grottoes of Ha Long Bay. The cave is beautifully lit by different colors of lights. One of the best advantages of choosing an overnight cruise is that you get to visit the cave during the earliest hours, as soon as it opens.
3) Make your own spring rolls on the cruise
The cruise caters all the meals you need and light refreshment such as fruits. To be frank, I didn’t have high expectation of the food but to my surprise, everything tasted fantastic and fresh! What’s more, there’s a Vietnamese-spring-rolls-making session. It is very easy to do and pretty fun making your own spring rolls!
Days 4-6: Sapa
Located 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) above sea level in Vietnam’s remote northwest mountains, Sapa is famous for both its fine, rugged scenery and also its rich cultural diversity. It is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples.
Must-do activities in Sapa:
There’s no better way to explore Sapa than trekking. Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. You’ll find yourself being surrounded by cascading rice terraces, endless greenery, and amazing fresh air. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields, you’ll understand the area’s real charm.
2. Animal Watching
While you are trekking in the field, you’re bound to encounter a lot of animals. On the hill, you’ll see a buffalo sitting in the paddy fields. Along the road, you’ll see horses passing by. Out of the blue moon, you may see domesticated pigs looking for food. The animals are gentle and won’t attack unless you provoke them. So just watch them quietly and enjoy the peace together.
3. Visit Cat Cat Village
Nestled in a beautiful valley about three kilometers from Sapa Town, Cat Cat, the old village of ethnic groups, attracts tourists from all over the world for its distinctive customs and practices which have been lost in most ethnic villages.
Days 7-8: Ninh Binh
Located on the Southern end of the Red River Delta, Ninh Binh is around a 2-hour drive from Hanoi. It is blessed with a diverse topography of both mountainous and coastal areas. It can be said that the province contains all the scenic quintessence of whole Vietnam within its relatively small size.
Top 3 Attractions in Ninh Binh:
1) Hang Mua Pagoda (Mua Cave)
Down a sleepy road between rice paddies, this cave is truly impressive at the peak. It offers panoramic views of the rice paddies as you climb up the zigzags stairs. There are 450 steps in total, but the height of the cave looks a lot more than that.
2. Trang An Boat Ride
If you’ve heard of the beauty of Halong Bay, Trang An is the Halong Bay of the land. It has a spectacular landscape of limestone-karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. And – best of all – there are very few tourists, so you can really enjoy the serenity of nature.
3) Bai Dinh Pagoda
Bai Dinh Pagoda is a religious complex covering a total area of 539 hectares, a size of more than 800 football fields combined! Located in the mountainous area, the peak of the pagoda offers breathtaking views. When you finally reach the top, you’ll be able to see a beautiful temple with gorgeous scenery as a backdrop.
As Vietnam is a really cheap country to travel around, I spent around $450 USD for my entire 1-week trip. Such a budget really allows you to sleep in a comfortable and beautiful hotel, eat a hearty meal 3 times a day, and pack your days with awesome activities!
- Hanoi: $50 USD
- Halong Bay Tour: $120 USD
- Sapa Tour: $180 USD
- Ninh Binh: $100 USD
- Total: $450
If you have more time to spare, you can go further north to Dalat, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh. Personally, I really recommend Dalat. Happy Travels!
Guest BloggerGoGo Budget Travel is an investment & travel blog geared towards the adventurous, off-the-beaten-path-loving travelers. Most importantly, it’s for people who want to learn investing to fund their travel. The founder, Chloe, is a Singaporean value investor who has a passion to travel the world in the most genuine and budget-smart way. Whether you’re looking for investment knowledge, wealth management ideas, latest market news, to travel tips & tricks, Chloe will share with you her investment and travel experience so you can get on the road quicker, longer and better. Explore the world with GoGo Budget Travel.
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