Whether it’s the infamous Vietnam War, the world’s cheapest beer, or dramatic coastlines and conical-hat-doning villagers, Vietnam is known for many things.
When you land in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), you’ll be quite content with just taking in the hustle and bustle of the streets but be sure you don’t miss out on the palace, nor the War Remnants Museum. It might be propaganda, but it’s definitely an intriguing feature of this curious city.
Head south to Mekong Delta for up to three relaxing days of just sitting back and enjoying the wondrous landscape - or take on the street markets and start early with your souvenir-hunting and shopping. The candy factories are also popular in tourist itineraries here.
Mui Ne, just north of Saigon, is a sight to behold. Its sand dunes are what brings people here. The Mui Ne Beach is also a popular tropical hotspot if you’re ready for some beach activities.
From there, hop on a bus to Dalat, where you can trek through the rainforest or bathe in the Datanla Falls. Observe and you’ll find out that this “city of a thousands of pine trees” is dominated mostly by French architecture.
Your next stop is Nha Trang, a town well-known for its beaches and diving spots - though they can’t compete with those in Thailand and Malaysia. Here, go on a boat tour on the Cai River and visit the islands off the coast.
Further up north is the city of Hoi An. Hoi An was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 for its preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port up till the 19th century. When you’re here, be sure to check out the great traditional architecture of the place, and maybe bring home a tailor-made suit, dress or shirt.
Halfway through your journey up Vietnam, you’ll visit Hue, which was once an imperial city, destroyed during the Vietnam War. You can also take a day trip to walk through the tunnels at the Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ, as everyone calls it), where the fiercest fighting occurred in the war. The tunnels are interesting not only for war history junkies.
Hanoi is further up north, and here, you are confronted by the many gastronomic delights that will surround you in street stalls and markets. You can easily explore the city on foot and take in the atmosphere, or you rent a motorbike and drive around. Visit the Bia Hoi corner where one beer costs only 50 cents!
From Hanoi, you can easily organize a day trip to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen (well, except you’ve been to Krabi in Thailand, or to Laos, or to… well, you get it.) – mystical and magical, the bay features thousands of limestone karsts of all shapes and sizes. There is also a community of people who live on floating houses in the four fishing villages of the Halong Bay.
Cap off your trip by heading over to Sapa where you can stay with minority families and meet the people of the hill tribes. Otherwise, it is a great way to complete your trip by immersing yourself in the culture and tranquility of this mountainous region.
Vietnam is a country of intense sights, sounds and smells that hit you from every bustling street corner – an experience that’ll stick with you long after you’ve left!
(This itinerary is based on our Vietnam Backpacker CheatSheet, a visual guide available for free download. We offer Backpacker CheatSheets for many more countries.)