Are just 2 weeks in Vietnam enough to see everything?
Well, in a nutshell, I would say no.
I’ve visited Vietnam a few times in the past as a solo traveller and have always preferred to stay longer.
However, 2 weeks in Vietnam is still enough time to see many of the countries highlights and best attractions. It’s also the perfect amount of time to stay for British passport holders like myself, as up until June 30, 2018, it’s possible to enter Vietnam as a tourist for up to 15 days without needing to pay for a visa.
I recently returned with my girlfriend and here’s how we spent our 2 weeks in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City
The first place we visited was Ho Chi Minh City, which is the largest city in Vietnam by population. The metropolitan area is home to around 10 million people.
The current name was adopted in 1976 and is named Hồ Chí Minh, after the first leader of North Vietnam. Before this HCMC was known as Saigon, which some people still call it today.
A cities go, Ho Chí Minh City is busy, noisy and in your face. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it’s an exciting place to explore with plenty of slights and buildings to see from Vietnams French colonial past.
Most of the top spots are in District 1 and are within walking distance of each other.
We stayed at a hostel called Memoires de Saigon which was within walking distance to most of the main attractions.
Some notable places we managed to see are:
- The Reunification Palace
- City Hall
- Municipal Theatre
- City Post Office
- State Bank Office
- City People’s Court
- Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Ho Chi Minh City Museum
- The War Remnants Museum
Getting to Ho Chi Minh
Our budget airline Scoot flight arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport from Melbourne via a stopover at Singapore Airport.
There’s also plenty of other airlines that fly internationally in and out of Hoi Ch Minh including Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar, Vietjet, Air Asia, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Etihad and so on. As the airport is close to the city we jumped on the airport bus at a cost 5000 VND (AUD 0.28) which is incredibly cheap, but an experience in itself.
It’s also possible to arrive in Ho Chi Minh overland via Cambodia.
Although nowhere as busy as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, Da Nang is the largest city in Central Vietnam, as well as the commercial centre of the area.
Being within 100 km of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Imperial City of Hue, the Old Town of Hoi An, and the My Son ruins, for a long time, Da Nang was considered just a stop off place for travellers on their way.
However, a recent development boom over the last few years has seen many high-rise apartments and luxury hotels popping up around the beach area. Da Nang is slowly turning into a popular holiday destination attracting those looking for sun and sand.
We stayed at the fancy sounding but reasonably priced Palazzo hotel & Apartment near to My Khe Beach.
Some places we managed to see around Da Nang are:
- Monkey Mountain & Lady Buddha
- Marble mountains
- Non Nuoc & My Khe Beach
- Dragon bridge
- Da Nang Cathedral
- Da Nang Museum
- Avatar hotel (they have an 18th-floor bar/restaurant with a 360-degree view of Da Nang)
Getting to Da Nang
Da Nang International Airport is located in the city and its just short Uber ride to most of the hotels and hostel in Da Nang.
With just 2 weeks in Vietnam time was short so we flew domestically from Ho Chi Minh City using Jetsar. There’s also flights from Hai Phong, Vinh, Buon Ma Thuot, Da Lat, Nha Trang, and Pleiku, as well as international connections to Guangzhou, Siem Reap, Singapore, Taipei and Kuala Lumper.
For those with more time to spare the Reunification Express train is an option. It runs from HCMC and Hanoi, with plenty of stops, including Da Nang.
With around 120,000 people the population of Hội An is relatively small compared to the other cities we visited in Vietnam.
However, since it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, Hội An has been attracting an increasing number of travellers and tourists ever since.
The Old Town is well-preserved and has many buildings from the 15th to the 19th century. It’s a well-known stop off for those looking for tailor-made clothing.
As it gets busier with tourists the Old Town is starting getting a bad reputation of becoming almost fake in a Disney Land way. Yet every time I have visited Hội An I’ve always enjoyed myself and do recommend visiting at least once.
Some things we did during our visit to Hội An are:
- Stay in a homestay
- Ride around the old town on bicycles
- See the Japanese Bridge
- Check out the night market
- My Son Sanctuary
- Eat Cau Lai (Hoi An local dish)
- Ang bang beach
- Work out at Toan’s gym
Getting To Hội An
There’s no airport, so the easiest way to Hội An is via Taxi or shuttle bus from Da Nang city/airport. If you’re not travelling during peak hours I found Uber to be slightly cheaper than a taxi.
There is also a public bus departing daily from Da Nang to Hoi An, but we didn’t try it.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam but slightly smaller than Ho Chi Minh Cty in terms of population. It has the same mix of French and Vietnamese buildings as its southern friend HCMC, and of course. the crazy traffic to match.
The city is rated as one of Asia’s top destinations by TripAdvisor so is very popular with travellers. It was our first time in Hanoi, and I’m glad we got to explore the city. However, I’m not sure if it was because of the number tourists or just the way the city is, but it was hard to ignore the number of people on the scam.
I’m sure the same applies to both Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, but two things we learnt are:
- Nearly every price is negotiable (excluding supermarkets, upmarket restaurants etc.)
- Always check your change
Sadly, it wasn’t just the once and on a few occasions, local vendors tried to overcharge or short change us. It’s not all bad, and we did meet some extremely friendly locals. But when so many people tried to pull a fast one over you, it does tend to ruin your overall impression of a city.
If you don’t know Hanoi, then the Old Quarter is an excellent place to start. We stayed in the An Family Homestay with was central to most of the main attractions
Apart from the usual city wandering and eating local food some places we visited are:
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- West Lake
- Hanoi Hilton (Ho Lo prison)
- Joseph’s Cathedral
- Thong Nhat Park (Lenin Park)
- Vietnam Military History Museum
- Read Bean Restaurant (I had my birthday dinner here)
Getting to Hanoi
We arrived Noi Bai International Airport via Jetstar, which is 35km is around 45-60min to the north of the city.
There’s plenty of public and private buses as well as overpriced taxis from the airport to the city. Smaller minibuses run by the airlines cost around 40 – 50,000 VND.
As we weren’t in a rush, we ended up taking the bus from the airport to the Old quarter which cost 10,000 VND and took about one hour.
Halong Bay has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
Everyone who visits Halong Bay loves taking Instagram worthy photos and what brings people here is the thousands of interesting limestone island and rock formations. With a 120 km long coastline that covers 1500 +square km and 1900+ islands, there’s plenty to see.
Exploring by water the best way to navigate this huge area, and on a mini cruise, you can stay one or two nights, or sometimes longer.
Many of the islands are still uninhabited with some the lower parts and caves can be below sea level. While many are shallow, the depths of others are still yet to be measured.
Getting to Halong Bay
Halong Bay is 3 hours and 35 minutes by road from Hanoi.
There are various taxis, minibuses, and coaches making the 182 km journey. These can be booked independently or through a Halong Bay Cruise operator as ours included all the transport, food and activities during our Halong Bay Trip.
Getting Around Vietnam in General
Although there’s still room for improvement, we found the transport system in Vietnam to be better than expected, plus the big bonus is, it doesn’t cost a lot to get around.
The most common options for travellers are:
If you only have 2 weeks in Vietnam then travelling around the by air is going to be the quickest option, allowing you to see the most in the least amount of time.
Travelling domestically in Vietnam is cheap enough, and the three airlines to choose from are Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet and Jetstar. Vietnam Airlines tend to be the more expensive option, with Vietjet and Jetstar being very similar in price.
We found during our 2 weeks in Vietnam that Jetstar turned out to be the cheapest of them all.
The Reunification Express (tàu Thống Nhất) is another option and a great way to explore Vietnam. The train departs from Saigon Railway Station in District 3 and goes all the way to Hanoi (and vice versa) as well as stopping at other cities like Hue and Da Nang.
I’m a big fan of travelling by train and it a great way to see the country if not restricted by time. We didn’t use the train in Vietnam this time, but from my past experiences, I will say don’t let the name of the mislead you. There not much express about the train!
It’s surprising how easy to book a coach in Vietnam and this usually the best option for shorter to medium length journeys, or to places where flying or train is less convenient.
The buses are cheap as chips, and we used local buses in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn. The bus ride can be jerky especially in Hoi Chin Minh City, where you can also expect lots of beeping and hard braking.
Although considering how cheap buses are you can’t complain much.
As with other parts of Asia Uber and Grab are very popular in Vietnam. Both require you to download the app, which is easy enough. From there it will provide a fair estimate before booking the ride.
We did find that Grab does offer more options, such as GrabCar (private car), GrabTaxi (metered taxis using the Grab app) and GrabBike (back of a motorbike with helmet provided).
It’s possible to wave down a taxi, and they can be found in most cities. But they do tend to be more expensive than Uber/Grab. Apart from a sharing a cab with another couple to Hanoi airport we didn’t use them much
The weather varies ‘s from each region and in Hanoi, May to October tends to be hot and humid with high rainfall. While November to April are the cooler months and preferred by those, who don’t like the heat as much.
In central Vietnam, places like Da Nang and Hội An have hot, dry weather between January & August with the temperatures hitting the mid-30°C’s. I’ve visited in the rainy season (September, October & November) which can be cool but wet.
Southern Vietnam and Hoi Chin Minh City can be dry and hot from November to April, and warm and wet between May & October.
What to Pack
Every time I’ve visited Vietnam, the weather has been either sweaty hot, rainy, or both. The heat can be unforgivable at times, but it does have its advantages. You can certainly get away with packing lighter clothing.
For our 2 weeks in Vietnam, I only brought along a carry-on bag. I can’t speak for my girlfriend, but this lasted me for all my Vietnam trip, plus Indonesia and Taiwan.
Some things that I would recommend in Vietnam are:
- A comfortable day bag
- Lightweight clothing
- A hat, sunglasses, & sunscreen
- Rain jacket
- Comfortable walking shoes and flip flops
- Travel adaptor
- Local SIM card (can be picked up at the airport)
- Grab and Uber apps
Costs Involved for 2 Weeks in Vietnam
The total cost of spending 2 weeks in Vietnam can vary a lot depending on how you get there and how you travel around once you are there.
The good thing is the cost of accommodation in Vietnam is very reasonable compared to western countries. Every place we stayed at it was possible to pick up a double aircon room (sometimes with breakfast) for between $20 – 35 AUD a night. Its possible to go higher (or lower) in price depending on where your standards are, what location and how big a room you want.
We do like to travel on our version of a budget but I openly admit we are both hopeless when it comes to record keeping. When travelling the last thing we want to do at the end of each day is tallying up the daily expenses.
To give you and a rough idea of the costs involved for 2 weeks in Vietnam, Webjet offers a 14 day Vietnam tour very similar to our trip, seeing significant places such as Hanoi, Halong Bay, Da naga, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Mihn City.
The price is $1999 AUD per person with return airfares from Melbourne, transfers, accommodation and breakfast included
The only main difference is you get spending the final days at Nha Trang, which we didn’t get to see.
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