Vietnam was on our travel bucket list for a while and we finally decided to go in February 2020. It was one of our best travel experience despite the difficult context (the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak). Vietnam is vibrant and picturesque and will fulfill any adventurer. It’s also a cheap destination, we’ve spent in average 938,910 Vietnamese Dong or £33 a day, as eating out is super cheap, even in bigger cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. Some of the typical (and delicious) dishes to try are the morning glory, pho, noodle Soup, egg fried rice, nems and the strong Vietnamese coffee.
Our holiday wasn’t the cheapest holiday as we stayed in five-star hotels but it’s definitely possible to travel to Vietnam on a budget if you want to. There are plenty of very decent hostels to choose from for less than £10 a night. 5-star hotels in Vietnam are of course expensive, but still way more affordable than accommodations in Europe.
We traveled to Hanoi, Hue, Danang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh and internal flights to travel from a city to another were very affordable (we used Vietnam airline). There are lots of great outdoors activities to do in Vietnam and we’ll let you know which ones we picked.
Five days in Hanoi
We arrive in Hanoi after a 12-hour flight, 2 sleeping pills and 4 hours of rough plane sleep. You could easily spend just three nights in Hanoi, but we booked a couple of extra nights. We wanted extra time for a day-trip to the infamous Ha Long Bay and to explore every inch of this crazy city (while recovering from jet lag).
Coming from Europe, Hanoi was a massive culture shock. We love walkable cities, but Hanoi is not made for pedestrians. Walking the hot pavements, you’ll be side-by-side with a sea of cars, mopeds, scooters and motorbikes, all coughing up thick exhaust fumes. Traffic won’t stop at crossings or red lights, apart from major junctions. So if you want to reach the other side, you have to just start walking and let the buzzing traffic weave around you (yes, seriously!). Hanoi plans to ban ‘powered two wheelers’ by 2030 but this goal seems unlikely considering delivery drivers, commuters in suits, restaurant workers, are all buzzing around the city on two wheels. To visit different sights, we recommend taking a taxi. Do not hire a moped, not unless you’re feeling really brave.
Hanoi is an assault on the senses that no amount of travel guides could prepare us for. The longer we spent in Hanoi, the more we learned to love this hectic, chaotic city as its a truly authentic experience of Vietnamese city life. While in Hanoi, make sure to enjoy an authentic, salty Pho Bo (Beef Noodles) or Pho Ga (Chicken Noodles), with the locals, perched on a plastic stall on a street corner. Hanoi is famous for its Beef Pho, and a meal from a local vendor will cost from 45,000 VND (US$2).
Our favourite activities in Hanoi
Day trip to Ha Long Bay
Going to Ha Long Bay isn’t the cheapest activity to do in Vietnam, but it’s just too amazing to be missed. There are plenty of options at different costs to choose from. We payed £160 ($195) per person for a private 6-hour trip with 2-hour return transfer from our hotel in Hanoi which isn’t bad at all. It was really difficult to pick a tour as you are literally facing hundreds of options. We picked a day tour with Vega Travel and we had a perfect day trip.
Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake at night
The lake looks magical when the lights are switched on at night.
Train street is the ideal spot for your Instagram pictures!
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The citadel is a beautiful sight and it take two to three hours to visit. The place is soaked with interesting history and it was a lovely sunny afternoon spent outdoors.
Hanoi’s French Quarter
Hanoi’s French Quarter hosts most of the city’s foreign embassies, government buildings and affluent residential neighbourhoods. Its beautiful architecture definitely worth to wander around and you’ll find upscale restaurants in the area.
Our favourite places to eat in Hanoi
Located right next to gorgeous St Joseph Cathedral, Chusa cuisine is authentic Vietnamese and a pure delight. We went three times during our stay when we usually try new places every day. The morning glory is to die for and their strong coffee will give you energy for the day. Plan to spend £12 per person for a meal and coffee.
Chestnut restaurant and sky bar
Located at the Delicacy Hotel and Spa, this is the ideal place for drinks or a romantic diner. The sky bar oversees the city and we had here delicious, high-end cocktails. The food was also great and high standing. We ate a three-course meal plus drinks and paid £40 per person when we would have spent twice this in London. We highly recommend this place, maybe take a taxi to get here though as there is a lot of traffic around.
Happy hour at Polite & Co
Don’t miss drinking fancy, good quality (and delicious) cocktails at this upscale speakeasy for an average of £3 during happy hour!
The Oriental Jade Hotel & Spa
We ate a few times at our hotel, The Oriental Jade Hotel & Spa. The food here is really good and we definitely recommend you try the restaurant. They also have an impressive breakfast buffet. Average cost per person £15.
Pizza 4P Hanoi
Craving some European food during your trip? Pizza 4 P is a Vietnamese pizza chain and it’s always busy so make sure to book ahead! Pizza and Pasta are great and you should definitely stop by. Average cost per person £10.
The Note Café
Stop for an iced coffee or a milkshake at Hanoi’s cutest café. The place is literally covered in post-it and you can take here awesome Instagram pictures!
Our Stay In Hanoi
We picked the Oriental Jade Hotel and Spa (a five-star hotel) for its location. The hotel is located 5 minutes walk from Hoàn Kiếm Lake, 30 minutes walk from the French quarters and is at the corner of St Joseph Cathedral.
The hotel is clean and quite modern compared to other hotels in Hanoi. Overall, we had a nice stay but there are a few things we think could be improved in this hotel.
We booked the Oriental Pearl room (The cheapest room in the hotel) which was comfortable. However, there was a stain on the room carpet, and we could hear noise coming from upstairs as the room was located right under the sky bar. It was really noisy when they cleaned the swimming pool and we had to ask for another room. We’ve been upgraded for no additional cost to the Oriental Emerald room which was way more spacious, very quiet and leads to St Joseph Cathedral. This room costs only £15 more a night and we whished we booked this room from the beginning.
Apart from this, our stay at the hotel was nice. We ate well and the breakfast buffet was impressive. You’ll find here French patisseries, freshly baked bread along with local tropical fruits and Vietnamese typical foods. The swimming pool on the roof top is small but you’ll appreciate it on a hot day. You can see the busy streets of Hanoi from here and it’s very relaxing to chill at the sun with a drink.
The staff at the Oriental Jade goes above and beyond to accommodate you and therefore we definitely recommend this hotel. Though we advise you to book the Emerald room as it is a higher standard for a similar price. The hotel is relatively new, and they probably need to do some adjustments, but it’s overall a nice place to stay and it’s relatively cheap for a five-star hotel in Hanoi.
Four days in Lang Co
We booked an internal flight early morning from Hanoi to Danang, and then we jumped in a taxi to our resort (we payed £16). We stayed at the Banyan Tree, a remote 5-star resort in Central Vietnam, located within the peaceful village of Lang Co, nestled at the foothills of the nearby mountains.
We wanted a quiet place to relax and enjoy a full immersion in nature. If you visit, isolation should be part of the appeal. The resort is removed from almost everything, so you won’t find any restaurants, shops or nightlife less than a half-hour drive from the hotel. Banyan Tree is located nearby three UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites: Hoi An Ancient Town, The Imperial Citadel of Hue and My Son Sanctuary. The banyan Tree Lang Co was our best resort experience, everything here was perfectly orchestrated and close to perfection.
Our Favourite Activities in Lang Co
Hike Bach Ma National Park
Bach Ma is a protected area near the city of Huế. It’s a nature lover paradise, ideal if you’re looking for a long walk surrounded by nature. We booked the private tour organised by Banyan Tree. Our guide was very knowledgeable and told us the tales and stories of the area. We were lucky and spotted Red-shanked douc monkeys from afar, a wonderful experience.
Explore Hue’s imperial city
If you like history you’ll want to visit the imperial city. Hue used to be the imperial capital of Vietnam and the place is soaked with history. We spent about 3 hours wandering on our own, but you’ll probably spend more time with a guide as there is a lot of history to uncover.
Relax at Lang Co Beach
This is a beautiful beach with over 10 km of white sand surrounded by blue waters and rainforests. Words are not enough to describe its beauty.
Indulge with a massage at the Banyan Tree Spa
Treatments in 5-star hotels are always dear, but not always as spectacular. There are also plenty of activities to do at the Banyan Tree, such as golf, yoga or cooking class. Our only regret was to not have stayed longer. After Lang Co, we traveled to Hoi An, which is only two hours away by car. Read next about our stay in Hoi An.
3 Days in Hoi An
Hội An is known for its well-preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals. It’s a gorgeous town and the former port city’s melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colourful French colonial buildings. Some people absolutely love staying in Hoi An when others find it too touristy. We fell in the second category unfortunately. We thought Hoi An was beautiful, but it was absolutely packed with tourists, and during the coronavirus outbreak so we can’t imagine how it usually is. If you’ve been to Venice, it’s a similar experience so if you weren’t bothered with the crowd, you’ll probably have a good time here. Hoi An old town is a great place for shopping. You can get here cheap Vietnamese goods like coffee or silk kimonos.
We stayed at a massive resort called the Sunrise. It’s located 45-minute walk from Hoi An old town and 15-minute drive. We had here a poor client experience. The resort looked great on pictures, but our room was really dated. Also, it was featuring a king bed, which ended up being two single beds put together. The hotel staff was cold and not caring at all, and we could literally hear everything in the next room. We stayed two nights instead of four and flew earlier to Saigon city.
You might love Hoi An and some people wouldn’t miss it, it’s just a matter of personality. We don’t like touristy areas, so we enjoyed way more our stay in Hanoi. Looking back, we would have done a daytrip from Lang co to Hoi An, as it’s a two-hour drive.
4 Days in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh)
Saigon is the business and financial hub of Vietnam, with a prominent history going back hundreds of years. It’s a fascinating place, mixing classic French architecture, sleek skyscrapers as well as ornate temples and pagodas. The city is also filled with rooftop bars that overlook Saigon and beyond, while fantastic restaurants offer a combination of French, Chinese, and local Vietnamese cuisine. Saigon is busy and there is a lot of traffic here but probably not as much as Hanoi. People are lovely here and we had a lot of fun.
We stayed at the luxurious Hotel des Arts Saigon, a stunning hotel, blend of French colonial and contemporary Vietnam architecture. It’s ideally located, and we walked everywhere from here. Our room was relaxing and decorated tastefully, the service and the food were excellent.
Saigon is vibrant and really exciting, there are amazing bars and restaurants for all budgets, see next our favourite activities and restaurants in Saigon.
Our favourite activities in Saigon
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The cathedral is a must see if you go to Saigon. Built in the late 1880s by French colonists, it’s one of the few remaining edifices of Catholicism in the largely Buddhist Vietnam.
The Central Post Office
Another beautiful piece of architecture, the post office is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and one of the biggest post office in all of Southeast Asia.
Ben Thanh Market
This market is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art and other souvenirs. Enjoy typical Vietnamese delicacies at the eating stalls inside the market or cool off with a cold Vietnamese coffee.
Just wander in the city
It’s really lovely to have a wonder in the city, discover the beautiful streets and enjoy their architecture.
Trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel
The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense 250 km network dating from the war. There are two big tunnels two explore, Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. Ben Duoc haven’t been enlarged for the most part so you can really get a better sense of what the tunnels were like when they were in use. Though you might feel a bit claustrophobic in there. Ben Dinh tunnels are more popular as they have been reconstructed and significantly expanded. It’s up to you what kind of experience you’d prefer really.
Our favourite restaurants and bars in Saigon
Social Club Above Saigon
Sitting on the rooftop of the Hotel des Arts, Social Club Above Saigon is one of the trendiest places to go out in the city. Evenings here are fun and vibrant. And the cocktails are great. We definitely recommend you go for at least one drink.
Xu restaurant lounge
This cosy restaurant transforms to an animated bar after 6PM. The food is typical Vietnamese and really good. They do a happy hour between 8 and 10PM and the cocktails are high quality and cheap (about £5).
This rooftop garden is the go-to place for authentic, home-cooked Vietnamese food. Secret Garden really is a secret garden–beautifully decorated with central Vietnamese-style lanterns, a lot of greenery and wooden furniture to match.
This trendy little café brings Taiwan-Inspired Cuisine to Saigon. Enjoy a Soy Marinated Tofu Bao and a delicious Baozi milk tea.
This is the place to go to if you’re craving some European food. Namo is a beautifully designed Italian restaurant and the pizza are to die for.
Our Trip To Vietnam, The Bottom Line
Vietnam was one of our favourite trips, Mid-February was a great time to go as the weather was warm but not too hot. We flew with Vietnam airline from London and internally and the cost was reasonable for a high-quality service (we preferred this company to British Airline). We came back from Vietnam with Cathay Pacific as we couldn’t get tickets with Vietnam Airline (we booked a bit last minute) but didn’t think the level of service matched for a similar price so we definitely recommend Vietnam Airline for all flights.
We really liked our itinerary and only regretted not staying longer at the Banyan Tree. Looking back, we would have added a trek in Sapa between Hanoi and Lang co. We were afraid to have too much on our list for this two-weeks holiday but once in Vietnam we felt like we could have squeezed this in.
Anyway, Vietnam is a delightful country, packed with history and interesting culture. The nature here is marvellous and this is a country to add to your travel bucket list. We wanted a luxurious travel experience and stayed in 5-stars hotels, but you can definitely travel to Vietnam on a budget and stay in hostels or homestay for a cheap price. In fact, Vietnam is one of our listed cheapest destinations and was actually one of the best countries at dealing with the Covid-19.