How Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Vietnam Helped Ignite Tourism

The past couple of years have seen a massive increase in tourism to Vietnam, and we cannot help but think that President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain’s 3 day visit to Vietnam in 2016 helped dramatically boost the local tourism industry.

Image sourced via CN traveler

 

Impact of Obama in South East Asia

Few American Presidents have had such a profound, noticeable impact on Vietnam as during the Obama era.

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership deal bringing economic benefits to the region
  • Lifted arms embargo in post-war Vietnam era
  • Renewed diplomatic ties reigned in by the Clinton and then Bush era

His visit in 2016 to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City underscored this new tone, and further brought the idea of Vietnam as a safe and friendly tourist destination. Prior to Obama’s visit to Vietnam, the country’s name was synonymous with its infamous war with the United States.

Perhaps the only other person that may have done more than President Obama to change the perception of Vietnam as a “war-torn” country was the world-renowned chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain. Through books, television, and a significant online presence, he had documented the food scene in Vietnam for years—bringing local specialties like Bun Bo Hue and Bun Cha to the living rooms of Americans everywhere; presenting Vietnam as an amazing destination for rich culture and cuisine. With his popular TV show, “Parts Unknown”, he also helped reintroduce the people of Vietnam to the rest of the world, helping shift the narrative from Vietnam’s past to its incredibly bright present and future. With the recent and tragic passing of Anthony Bourdain—one of this year’s most prominent celebrity news—we cannot help but reflect upon his legacy, especially his impact on bringing Vietnam and Vietnamese cuisine to the world. Bourdain’s death has drawn attention to Vietnam’s equally important impact on him, saying before his death, “My first trip to Vietnam changed my life.”

Image sourced via Tạp chí Công Thương

 

Bourdain’s association with Vietnamese food culture came to a head in 2016, when he took Barack Obama—44th President of the United States—out for noodles in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. How did it happen? During the President’s trip to Vietnam, Bourdain was scheduled to be filming for his Parts Unknown CNN show, and the two men got into contact; Bourdain chose the venue. What happened next is history:

The photo of President Obama and Bourdain eating a simple meal of Bun Cha Noodles and drinking cheap Vietnamese is not an image the world was expecting, but Obama—44th President of the United States—was a very atypical president. It was a meal curated by Bourdain, and the plastic stool dining encounter—televised for the world to see—undoubtedly shed a prominent light on Vietnamese food and the rich culture it symbolizes. The two held a casual conversation, punctuated by the arrival of simple Vietnamese dishes to the table, a couple of cold beers and wide smiles by all in the restaurant.

Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain's visit to Vietnam included eating Bun Cha in Hanoi

Image sourced via Rolling Stone

 

Why were Americans hesitant to visit Vietnam?

Until recently, Americans considering travel to Vietnam was an odd choice for a vacation. Several reasons are usually indicated.

  • The contentious political history between the two countries
  • The idea that Americans as tourists would be looked down upon—or even resented
  • Vietnamese war era population might resent the “Ugly American” stereotype

As many more adventurous travelers have known for almost 20 years, these reasons were quickly dispelled by the friendliness so evident on the President’s visit.

With an average age barely over 30 years old, most of the Vietnamese population was born after the fall of Saigon, so for the majority of the population, there is no memory or resentment from the war. 

The tiny Bun Cha restaurant visited by Obama and Bourdain (Bun Cha Huong Lien) has since attracted something of a cult following, made incredibly popular by their impromptu meal. The presence of such a powerful American figure certainly left its mark on Hanoi, as a highlight of the president’s landmark trip to Vietnam. Visitors to Bun Cha Huong Lien can now order a “Combo Obama”, the same meal savored by Obama, and the restaurant has appeared on a food tour that honors Anthony Bourdain’s legacy.

After his initial stop in Hanoi, former President Obama and Bourdain parted ways, with the President heading to Ho Chi Minh City, the former capital of Vietnam, which is still called “Saigon” by most locals. In Ho Chi Minh City, the former president did a bit of sightseeing by visiting The Jade Emperor Pagoda, a local Taoist temple. Later he even met with a few local tech startups and held a public town hall with students in the city, to discuss globalization and the future of Southeast Asia.

 

Sourced via US Embassy and Consulates in Indonesia

 

Tourism numbers are on the rise in the time since Obama’s visit. Vietnam, rapidly coming into its own on the world stage, has become an incredibly popular destination for travel, and according to the latest statistics, received over 12.9 million foreign visitors in 2017 — nearly a 30% increase over the year before. That number is expected to increase in 2018, continuing a strong trend for new arrivals to the country. Obama’s prominent stops in the nation’s largest cities and the continued normalization between Vietnam and the United States have undoubtedly brought a substantial amount of positive attention to Vietnam as a fascinating place to visit.

Travel Statistics Post Bourdain Obama ‘Summit’

  • Hanoi visitors are growing 15% (year over year)
  • Danang tourist numbers are up 30% (y.o.y)
  • Ho Chi Minh is nearing a landmark metro launch in 2020
  • Ho Chi Minh City is now one of the top 5 global destinations for Digital Nomads

Looking towards the future, Vietnam’s popularity as a tourist destination seems almost assured, as the Vietnamese government has pushed to make tourism a larger contributor to the local GDP. They have relaxed Visa policies for many countries and have invested billions in infrastructure projects hoping to grow Vietnam’s tourism numbers to something comparable to neighboring Thailand.

Both Obama and Bourdain contributed greatly towards giving Vietnam a more prominent position on the world stage. They drew attention towards the most aspiring parts of Vietnam, from its burgeoning food culture to its youthful exuberance—and significantly shifted the image of a country that was often disregarded as a travel destination. It’s difficult to estimate the impact that these men have had on Vietnam’s’s tourism numbers, but it’s likely that they’ll remain as positive symbols of the “New Vietnam” for years to come.

Eating crab claws in District 4

Street food tour with XO Tours

 

Want to embark on your own Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown-style food tour of Ho Chi Minh City? Bourdain loved to explore places that most tourists have never been and eat dishes that the locals eat. When he came to Vietnam, he didn’t limit himself to eat dishes like Pho and Bánh Mi sandwiches—and neither should you! In the spirit of wanting to provide our guests an “off the beaten path” experience, the internationally acclaimed XO “Foodie” tour takes visitors to locations that other Ho Chi Minh City tours do not—to try each dishes that most travelers to Vietnam would never get an opportunity to try. Check out what people have to say about XO tours.

 

How-to-Guide to Travel Vietnam by Air, Land and Water

Vietnam is a long coastal country stretching 1650 kilometers (1,025 miles) from north to south. Dotting its narrow landmass are beautiful cities, beaches, and exotic locations. Getting from place to place can seem overwhelming however because there are so many options to travel Vietnam by air, land, and water.

In this article, we’ve outlined the different ways of traveling around the country: from fastest and most convenient to budget and boutique options, coupled with slower transportation that takes the scenic route or direct and short means of getting to your destination. We hope this comprehensive guide to domestic travel within Vietnam will help you make the most efficient use of your time in this amazing country!

Listed below are all the ways you can travel Vietnam (click on each link to jump straight to the section):

1)   Travel Vietnam by Air

2)   Travel Vietnam by Private Car

3)   Travel Vietnam by Bus

4)   Travel Vietnam by Train

5)   Travel Vietnam by Motorbike

6)  Travel Vietnam by Water

1. Travel Vietnam by Air

Vietnam Airlines plane

Why travel by plane?

The fastest way to get around Vietnam is via direct, domestic flights. It’s a pricier option compared to other modes of transport, but for those seeking to see much of the country with limited time, it’s often the most efficient way to get around. Travel by air is especially recommended for those looking to see major cities on a north-to-south journey, as it allows you to save time and is more comfortable than any other means of transportation.

  1. Vietnam Airlines, which is a full-service, government-owned airline.
  2. Vietjet Air, which is a low-cost carrier.
  3. Jetstar Pacific, also a low-cost carrier.

Vietnam Airlines, being full service, is the only one of the three that include food/refreshments (determined by flight length), and checked baggage inclusive within the ticket price. On the low-cost budget carriers, the ticket price is generally only inclusive of a 7 kilogram (15-pound) carry-on bag, and no meal. Options for meals and checked baggage will cost additional fees.

(We’ve compiled a chart that shows which major airports are served by major Vietnamese airlines below, See official websites for a full list of destinations and flights)

Ho Chi Minh to
Vietnam AirlinesVietjet AirJetstar Pacific
Da LatXXX
Da Nang
XXX
Dong Hoi
XXX
Hanoi
XXX
Hue
XXX
Nha Trang
XXX
Phu Quoc
XXX
Quy NhonXXX

Hanoi to
Vietnam AirlinesVietjet AirJetstar Pacific
Can Tho
XX
Da LatXXX
Da Nang
XXX
Dong Hoi
XX
Ho Chi Minh City
XXX
Hue
XX
Nha Trang
XXX
Phu Quoc
XXX
Quy NhonXXX

Danang to
Vietnam AirlinesVietjet AirJetstar Pacific
Can Tho
X
Da LatX
Ha NoiXXX
Ho Chi Minh City
XXX
Nha Trang
X

If you’re planning on traveling to Vietnam during holidays like Christmas and Tết (early February 2019), you should book flights far in advance to beat the crowds of families returning home for the holidays.

So, where can you fly between?

The three biggest airports in Vietnam are HCMC (Tan Son Nhat) in the south, Hanoi (Noi Bai) in the North, and Danang in the central region. Being the main airports, all three airlines have multiple flights every day between them. There are also several other airports scattered around the country. We won’t list all the airports but will mention the more popular destinations.

In the centre, along with Danang, there is Quy Nhon which is a little further south, Hue, which is North of Danang, and Dong Hoi, which is further North again.

Up North, with Hanoi, are a couple of smaller airports, including Haiphong, which is up near Halong Bay.

It’s important to note that direct flights aren’t always available between all airports, and not all airlines fly the same routes. For example, Vietjet is the only airline that flies direct between Danang and Can Tho, just as Vietnam Airlines is the only one to fly direct between Danang and Nha Trang.

So, apart from the city that the airport is actually in, which airports can you use to get to certain destinations that don’t have their own airports?

  • Danang is used to get to Hoi An. Hoi An is about a 40-minute drive from the airport.
  • Dong Hoi can be used to get Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which is about an hour away.
  • Can Tho, being in the Mekong, is a great way to access that area. It saves considerable time on the road between HCMC and Can Tho.
  • Hanoi can be used to access Sapa and Halong Bay.

So, which airline to choose?

Well, that depends on several factors, including, personal preference, price, flight times and flight availability.

As a matter of general ratings, Vietnam Airlines is the highest quality, followed by Vietjet, and then Jetstar. It’s also important to note that the budget airlines are more prone to flight time changes, delays, and even cancellations. It’s perhaps better to consider those issues as more often the rule, rather than the exception. This leads us to an important point: It’s a very good idea to spend your final night in Vietnam, in the city that you will be flying out of towards your destination the next day.

So, how to book airline tickets?

It’s strongly recommended you use the airline’s official websites:

Vietnam Airlines
VietJet
Jetstar Pacific

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2.
 Travel Vietnam by Private Car 

Travel Vietnam in comfort in a Toyota Innova

Private car with driver for traveling

 

Renting a car in Vietnam generally means that you will rent a car with a local driver. If you want to drive yourself then you will need to obtain a Vietnamese driver’s license which can be complicated if you’re staying in the country for less than 3 months. Please note that international driver’s licenses are not currently recognized here and it is probably not a good idea to drive in Vietnam if you are not accustomed to the chaotic traffic. If you get into an accident you will most likely be found at fault by the police.

Renting a private car with a driver is a great option for travelers looking to explore short distances around their surrounding area comfortably and safety. Renting a car with driver for multiple days is not really feasible unless you are willing to pay for accommodation and meals for the driver also (read the terms of your rental agreement carefully). Additionally, if you book a one way trip over multiple days, then you will have to incur the cost of transporting the car back to the original city in which you rented it. That being said, renting a private car with a driver in Vietnam is relatively inexpensive, and by comparing prices between companies you’ll find that prices range from around $50 to $100 USD per day, depending on the type of car.

If you rent a car with a private driver, be aware that most drivers in Vietnam only speak rudimentary English. Ensure you have a written address of your intended destinations, along with a maps app downloaded on your phone (Google Translate helps as well!).

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3. Travel Vietnam by Bus

 

sleeper buses are another great way to travel Vietnam comfortably

Sleeper bus

 

While we don’t recommend traveling Vietnam by bus, it’s the cheapest means of transport between cities. For instance, to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang (over 400 kilometers) by bus, the ticket will only cost you around $8 USD. Overnight sleeper buses are often cheaper, with berths to lie down and sleep. The bus is the preferred way for Vietnamese to get around the country, so if you’re looking to travel like a local, this is the way to travel!

Risks of traveling by bus

As a disclaimer, traveling via bus comes with inherent risks: Most bus drivers in Vietnam drive very fast and reckless, so injuries and deaths due to accidents are not unheard of. Additionally, travelers often complain about the theft of their personal belongings while they sleep, along with their luggage stored during transit. Few (if any) bus company employees speak English, so if an issue occurs in transit, you will likely be on your own.

Moreover, if you are tall or larger than average Vietnamese, sleeping onboard overnight buses may prove to be an uncomfortably sleepless experience. Bus companies will provide you with blankets, but they are never cleaned. Toilets are quite rare on buses and are often broken, so you will have to wait long periods of time for bathroom break stops. The limited opportunities to get off the bus means passengers don’t have time to take photos or explore outside the bus during transit.

Furthermore, rides may be longer than advertised as many of Vietnam’s roads are in poor condition. Combined with Vietnam’s traffic, it’s better to try and entertain yourself with a book or electronic device than try to count down the time. When you reach your destination, factor in the cost of a taxi, as most bus stations are located on the outskirts of cities (away from central attractions).

How can I book bus tickets?

The easiest way to book a bus journey is to go directly to the bus office and book in person, but you can also reserve seats online. Our recommended companies for comfortability and safety include Futabus, The Sinh Tourist, and Mai Linh. These companies often provide water, blankets, alone with wet wipes for the journey. Futabus’ website is in English, book your tickets here, and to see bus schedules for The Sinh Tourist, you can click here. To compare rates for buses, you can check out this website which gathers information from multiple companies.

Open tour bus

Another option for bus travel is open tour buses—an excellent way of traveling through the country. It’s not much more expensive than regular buses, and they are geared to serve cities for tourism, including the Hanoi-Hue-Hoi An-Nha Trang-Dalat-Ho Chi Minh City itinerary. You buy one ticket for the entire itinerary, but can stay as long as you want at each destination along the way—open tour buses allow more flexibility for travelers who want to get off and explore at stops.

On arrival in each city, the bus drops you in front of the company bus office and you will have to get to your hotel via your own means. To purchase open tour bus tickets, you will have to purchase them at company offices through private companies like The Sinh Tourist. The Sinh Tourist has many offices throughout the country, but ensure you check out the website to find the correct location, as many knock-off tourist agencies try to masquerade as The Sinh Tourist.

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4. Travel Vietnam by Train

Travel Vietnam by train to see the countryside

Train in Vietnam

 

Trains provide an authentic (albeit longer) way to get around Vietnam for incredibly low prices. Trains are safer than buses, along with avoiding the traffic and accidents of Vietnamese highways. They have more comfortable accommodations (including legroom) and provide an unforgettable sightseeing experience.

Risks of traveling by train

As with any means of transport within Vietnam, you should be aware of the risks which come with taking trains to get around. Onboard hygiene is lackluster, as bed sheets and pillows are not often changed (bring your own). Bathrooms may be not clean and toilets may be broken, and there is no toilet tissue provided. Make sure to wear flip-flops or socks, as the floor is often dirty.

For those of you who don’t book a private room, you will be with locals and must pay attention to your belongings under to prevent theft, especially during stops and when you go to the bathroom. Ensure that your door is closed at all times to protect your belongings and reduce noise in the cabin. Earphones and earplugs are also recommended to block out noises. Be sure to bring your own food and drink for the duration of the trip, as many vendors will not speak English.

Onboard, there are 4 classes of seating: hard seat (it’s a wooden seat), soft seat (with cushioning, hard berth (a compartment of 6 berths without a door), and soft berth (a compartment of 4 with a door). The trains categorized as “SE” travel faster than “TN” trains.

How can I book train tickets?

You should book tickets in advance at least a day before your departure, but if you want to choose a sleeping berth it’s recommended to book several days in advance. Make sure to choose arrival and departure times that are convenient (as opposed to midnight arrivals, etc). You can book your tickets on this website in English, and learn more about booking, fares, and timetables from Seat 61.

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5. Travel Vietnam by Motorbike

Many travelers love to travel Vietnam by scooter

Renting a motorbike

 

Traveling by motorbike is the ultimate “local” way to experience a nation where motorbikes far outnumber automobiles. Motorbike travel avoids all the inconveniences related to using buses and trains, with the exception of heavy traffic.

Driving license in Vietnam

Acquiring a legal drivers’ license in Vietnam is certainly a “grey area.” We know for a fact that thousands of foreigners drive across the country every year without a license without issue. But to retain some semblance of legality, look into acquiring an international driving license from your home country, in conjunction with a motorbike license. As the law is somewhat unclear on this matter, you will have to approach it on a case-by-case basis in your own country and hope for the best in Vietnam.

Insurance and security

In preparation for your motorbike journey, you should inquire about insurance through your home country. If you drive without a license, it’s at your own risk as most insurance companies will not cover you. Crashes do happen in Vietnam, and if you are seriously injured and do not have insurance, you may have to deal with expensive medical care and the costs could run you into the hundreds of thousands of dollars if you need to be airlifted out of the country.

If you still wish to rent a bike, it’s important to look for a reputable business like Tigit Motorbikes which operates out of Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hanoi. Tigit is a responsible company which offers their customers western-quality service (unlike its competitors), and they only sell and rent quality Honda motorbikes which are bought new, are regularly serviced and well-maintained. You can book a long-distance travel packet based on the western model of renting cars—it will cost you $250 USD for 1 month or $10 USD day. If you’d prefer a guided tour, there will be all-inclusive packages.

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6. Travel Vietnam by Water

Boat in Halong Bay

Halong bay cruise

 

Some areas of Vietnam—like Halong Bay and parts of the Mekong Delta—are only accessible via boats. Moving around these areas via guided tour boats is the safest way to experience these natural wonders.

Halong Bay tours range from luxurious, overnight cruises for $200+ USD per pax via companies like Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise to $45 USD budget day tours provided by Charming Vietnam Travel. If you’re looking to only spend the day exploring, guided tour boats leave from Tuan Chau Pier and cost around $20 USD. The Mekong Delta hosts an array of boat excursions as well, including Mekong Boat and Experience Travel Group provide extensive options for luxury, mid-range, and budget tours for all travelers.

For either tour, make sure you bring some form of waterproof bag/container to prevent damage to your phones/cameras.

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However you choose to travel Vietnam, we wish you a safe and pleasant journey as you explore this incredible country! If you want to experience some fun and authentic Vietnam Tours while traveling to Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An, please check out XO Tours!

Tips For Capturing Great Photos in Hoi An

Hoi An is a beautiful city that provides tons of amazing photo opportunities! In fact, you can find one of the top photo galleries in Vietnam there! Whether you’re an avid photographer with many years of experience or an amateur enthusiast, this article provides some advice and recommended locations to help you to capture some great photos in Hoi An!

If  you want to grab some great shots, our top tip is to avoid peak tourist hours. In the morning, try arriving between 5-8AM before most visitors enter the old town, or at night after the tour buses have left. Lunch is another favorable time slot if you want to capture more sunlight. Sunset and dusk; on the other hand, possess a certain mystical air in the old town that shouldn’t be missed.

In this article, I will try to list the most photo worthy points of interest in the old town, along with a few places farther out. You won’t be able to cover all of them if you only have one day in Hoi An but this shouldn’t be an issue for most travelers.

Hoi An Photo Slideshow:

Top places to capture great photos in Hoi An (click on a link below to jump straight to the location):

  1. The Japanese covered bridge.
  2. The old town as a city of gold/yellow.
  3. Hoi An Bougainvillea and arbors.
  4. Hoi An relics.
  5. The river roads.
  6. The lantern town.
  7. The French Quarter.
  8. The view from above.
  9. The traditional villages.
  10. Other points of interests and structures.

 


 

1. The Japanese covered bridge

And iconic relic in Hoi An, the Japanese bridge is probably the most photographed structure by both locals and visitors. Lighting plays a big role here as some of the best photos include the early morning sky or the changing artificial lights at night. The early morning really brings out the quaintness of the town in general. Sometimes you can catch a local vendor balancing a shoulder pole on the way to her regular selling spot, or even more rare, see a small boat in the canal. On one such occasion after a flood, I’ve seen some local boaters rowing their boats close to the entrance of the Japanese bridge. For some great photos in Hoi An, try to catch reflections in the water. Also, see if you can get a shot from the Nguyen Phuc Chu pedestrian street on An Hoi Islet across the river.

 

Japanese bridge is the most popular site to get great photos in Hoi An

Morning at the bridge:

 

Some other bridges of note nearby:
The Quang Truong and An Hoi bridges connect the old town with An Hoi Islet to the south. On the islet, you can find the pedestrian street of Nguyen Phuc Chu, the night market on Nguyen Hoang street, and the Nguyen Hoang Pier where the tourist boats dock. Farther to the east is the Cam Nam bridge (at Hoang Dieu street) that leads to the Cam Nam islet. You can get a broader view of the river from here.

morning view of Japanese Covered Bridge

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2. The old town as a city of gold/yellow

The march of time has left some wondrous marks on the old town, most notably on its ochre walls, which are predominantly yellow, with a few others of contrasting blue, green, or simply weather-beaten and covered with moss, mold, and mildew. The aged, bright yellow make for fantastic backgrounds for great photos in Hoi An.

Hoi An Yellow Walls
The Nostalgic Wall at the corner of Hoang Van Thu and Nguyen Thai Hoc (near the Museum of Folklore) is quite popular with Vietnamese tourists from all over the country. The alleyways, on the other hand, are quite underrated by many. There are relatively few of them (in comparison to Hanoi and Saigon) and they are easy to navigate so don’t hesitate to explore these fabulous gems.

Cho Hoi An

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3. Hoi An Bougainvillea and arbors 

 

Bougainvillea plants Hoi An

In contrast to the old walls, the thriving Bougainvillea plants and a variety of arbors and hanging vines bring a different charming element and vibrant feel to the town. You will find them everywhere, the alleys included.

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4. Hoi An relics

 

Old Hoi An House

 

A good number of these ancient buildings line up the main road of Tran Phu while others spill out into the nearby streets.

– The major Chinese assembly halls: Fukian, Chiuchow, Cantonese, Hainan, Trung Hoa.

– Cultural/religious relics: Cam Pho and Minh Huong commune houses, Quan Cong temple (or Ong Pagoda), Van Duc Pagoda, Nam Quang Tu Pagoda, Ngoc Cam and Ngoc Chau monastery.

– Old houses: Tan Ky, Duc An, Phung Hung, Quan Thang, Diep Dong Nguyen, Tran family, Nguyen Tuong family. (Note: The stretch near the Tan Ky house on Nguyen Thai Hoc is quite pretty, no matter the time of day.)

– The Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel on Tran Phu itself is an old house built by a Chinese merchant some two centuries ago — could be an interesting overnight stay for those with a propensity for the past.

– The Ba Le well is a Cham relic. It was drilled at least 700 years ago. These days, the story of The Ba Le Well is one of the delightful old hired hand; he’s near ninety years old and still makes some thirty trips daily, carrying water from the well to various establishments around town. In fact, a photo-hunting trip with him through the alleys can be quite interesting. He’s very much part of the soul of the old town, especially considering how he’s the sole support to his wife and his mentally ill son.

[Back to Hoi An Slideshow]

 


 

5. The river roads

 

 

Hoi An River at dusk

 

Remnants of the past they are, the river roads remain very much a great part of the landscape of the town. With its numerous economic establishments, the banks of the Hoai river revel in both memories of the old days and a vibrant collage of modern images. Among them are eateries, coffee shops, hotels (some are French-Indochina structures), the Hoi An market, the fabric and cloth market, one of the boat docks, the An Hoi sculpture garden, the brand-new Cultural Impression Park (as of March 2018), the Nguyen Phuc Chu walking street that leads to the Nguyen Hoang night market on An Hoi Islet, and the second night market (also brand-new) at Tran Quy Cap on the side of the Hoi An market. Photo ops are plentiful, with more of them when you reach the outer branch of the Thu Bon river at either end of An Hoi Islet. Within the confine of the old town, the little coffee place on the river bank (at the corner of the side street leading toward the Japanese bridge) is a good spot to observe a beehive of activities in the morning. The main Hoi An market at the other end of the town is another location to get some great photos in Hoi An.

boats in Hoi An

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6. The lantern town

 

Silk Lanterns in Hoi An

 

By now you’ve seen plenty lantern images in the old town. They are everywhere, but especially along the main streets that run parallel to the river, and at the Nguyen Hoang night market on An Hoi Islet. The best spots are probably around the area of the An Hoi Bridge. Also, if you can time your arrival to coincide with one of the major festivals, all the better.

You can learn more about the festivals here:

http://hoian-tourism.com/category/what-to-see/local-festivals

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7. The French Quarter

 

Tran Phu street in Hoi An

 

There’s not really a French quarter in Hoi An, but you can find a good number of French-Indochina structures (from the late 19th century going forward) in the south side of the old town. Starting at the east end of the Japanese bridge, head south to the river bank and hang a left. Shortly after the An Hoi Bridge, the road becomes Nguyen Thai Hoc, where you can find some handsome buildings in that mold. Arguably, that’s the most beautiful stretch of road in the old town. Many of these buildings have both a front and a rear entrance, with the latter one on Bach Dang, the street that runs along the Hoai river. The Tan Ky old house (though not a French-Indochina structure) is an example of a merchant house with an entrance on the south side facing the river for the ease of loading and unloading goods. Nguyen Thai Hoc ends at the Hoi An market, but Bach Dang continues on, along the river, until it reaches Hoang Dieu (the Cam Nam Bridge). After that the Hoang Dieu intersection, Bach Dang becomes Phan Boi Chau. The presence of French-influenced architecture continues on and spills out onto the two roads to either side. On Nguyen Duy Hieu, The Hill Station Deli and Cafe is a fine example of such structures as is the Brother’s Cafe Restaurant on Huyen Tran Cong Chua (along the river).

To the north side of the old town, the Hoi An Historic Hotel on Tran Hung Dao was a good example of a French-Indochina structure at one time; however, after several alterations, the ground/courtyard is probably all that remains of the old allure. On the way to the beach, on Cua Dai road, the Indochine Hotel enjoys a great setting (next to a quiet smaller river and among paddy fields) that is truly quintessence French-Indochina charm. At downtime, try the top floor of the dining room (in a separate building) or simply roam the ground. Shortly after the Indochine Hotel, you need to cross the Phuoc Trach Bridge to get to the beaches. This bridge is also a good spot to get some great photos in Hoi An.

Sunset view from the Phuoc Trach bridge

Sunset view from the Phuoc Trach bridge

 

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8. A view from above

 

Hoi An from the rooftops

If you like photography from higher up, a few buildings mentioned above offer some great locations; among them are the Phung Hung old house and the Indochine Hotel.If you want to kick back over a coffee or a drink, The Chef, Faifo, and Bread Break are there for the choosing. The first two situate on Tran Phu, and the last one is on Nguyen Thai Hoc.

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9. The traditional villages

No visit to Hoi An is complete without a trip to the countryside. Here are a few of my favorites:

Thanh Ha is a traditional pottery village on the bank of the Thu Bon river, to the west side of town, reachable by both land and water. It’s also a fishing village, with a market that operates some time between 3:00 A.M. and sunrise. It now also features a very interesting museum/display space called the Terracotta Park where you can find clay replicas of famous edifices from around the world. If you head to the My Son ruins, you will pass by the northern edge of the village.

woman making pottery in Thanh Ha Village

 

The Phuoc Kieu bronze-casting Village is farther west from Thanh Ha, almost to National Highway1. To me, the most intriguing articles here are the gongs that the highly artistic craftsmen have forged for the various ethnic groups from the central highlands over hundreds of years. It’s fascinating how they are able to reproduce the different sounds of a whole set of gongs according to the requirements of dissimilar tribal groups.

The village of “Mi Quang” Phu Chiem: (the noodle specialty of the Quang provinces — administratively, these provinces used to include both Hoi An and Da Nang) is just to the west side of Highway 1 across from the Phuoc Kieu Village. If you get here around three o’clock in the morning, you can watch the whole village in action; well, almost. The local joke is such that if you arrive at the Cau Lau Bridge (which is the old bridge that runs in tandem with the one on Highway 1,) you would meet the entire female population of the village. In actuality, they simply charter a couple of minibusses to take them to the big cities like Da Nang and Tam Ky where they have arranged for a space to set up shop. Some members of this traveling band use their own transportation — the motorbike, or even their own feet. I had learned the story of a middle-aged woman who, up to five years ago, still walks some 30km every day, rain or shine. These scavenger hunts, obviously, are for the hardcore photographers. For others, they are simply trifles to ponder on the road to My Son.

abandoned brick factory in Cam Kim

The Kim Bong woodcarving and carpentry Village lies on Cam Kim Island to the south side of town, which is also just a short bike or boat ride. The Cam Kim Bridge connecting the island with An Hoi Islet is a great spot to marvel at the wide open space of the river; the view at sunset is simply drop-dead gorgeous. Besides wooden handicrafts, the highly skilled craftsmen at Kim Bong have further made a name for themselves from large-scale building projects not just in the old town, but all the way to the royal palaces in the Hue ancient citadel and beyond. On the other hand, Kim Bong traditional boat-building facilities are now just a tiny fraction of its heyday. The Cam Kim Commune is also known rice paper making.

Fishing boat being made in Kim Bong Village

The Triem Tay Village is on the same island of Cam Kim, to the west side (though not under the authority of Hoi An). Not too long ago – at the turn of the last decade, erosion had decimated so much of the land that most of the men were forced to seek jobs elsewhere. Thanks to the effort of a Vietnamese-French architect, Quoc Bui, it’s now a beautiful ecotourist village. On top of that, people were able to grow bamboo and sedge to resurrect their traditional sedge-mat weaving craft. In the village, you can also find a 300-year old home of the Vo family. If you go on a bike ride, a nice lunch spot is BenXua, which I had pinned on this map:
https://goo.gl/maps/wuyXqyQSTS12

 

The Tra Que Village to the east of town grows organic vegetables — don’t forget to visit the water wheel and the gallery nearby. This huge garden in Tra Que is a popular location for tour operators to take guests to for great photos in Hoi An.

 

The Cam Nam Island/Commune is accessible via the Cam Nam Bridge at the end of Hoang Dieu street as mentioned above. It’s known as a corn-growing area and old-fashioned baby clam harvesting.

The Cam Thanh Commune lies to the north of Cam Nam Island and to the east of the old town. It looks like part of the mainland but is actually a group of islets. Known locally as the Mekong of Hoi An, the commune is bound by three rivers, with a number of dissecting canals — all lined with water coconuts. Recently, it was turned into an ecotourist zone where you can experience the traditional basket boats.

 

 

 

– There are also several other fishing villages like An Bang (at An Bang Beach), Thanh Nam (at the Cua Dai Estuary), and Duy Hai (to the other side of the river mouth). Cua Dai bridge connecting the two sides of the river is obviously another great spot for photography.

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10. Other points of interests and structures

the Atlas Hoi An Hotel

the Atlas Hoi An Hotel

 

These last places each has its own traits: from balconies to roof terrace, old structures and artifacts, traditional performances to craft demonstrations:

– The museums (History and Culture, Trading Ceramics, Sa Huynh, Folklore).
– Hoi An Blossom Handicraft Workshop, XQ Hoi An.
– The Hoi An Silk Village.
– The Atlas Hotel, designed by the well-known architect Nghia Vo, made the recent top ten list of Green Buildings as selected by Construction Global:

– The Vinahouse Space (Vinahouse Craft Village), boasts a collection of traditional Vietnamese houses and is located near both the Phuoc Kieu and Phu Chiem Villages. In the same vicinity, you will also find the captivating bamboo bridge of Cam Dong and a series of local bistros/restaurants that specialize in a delicious roasted calf (be thui).

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We hope you enjoyed reading this article, and it helps you capture some great photos in Hoi An! If you want to explore the areas outside of old town and visit areas that most travelers to Hoi An never get to see, you may consider booking a Hoi An scooter tour with XO Tours or their unique evening walking food tour.

The Art of Finding the Best Tailors in Hoi An

With over 400+ tailor shops in Hoi An today, it’s not so easy to find the best tailors in Hoi An. So what is a traveler with limited time to do? 

 

One of the best tailors in Hoi An measuring cloth

 

If we go back in time 15 years, Hoi An was a picturesque coastal town well-known for its needle masters: the quality was no less than exceptional, prices seemed reasonable and options were limited to some extent. The tailoring scene we face when visiting Hoi An today has drastically changed for the worse: being offered discounts from every place you walk in (hotels, restaurants or taxi drivers), commissions are given along the production line which worsens the final output, leaving the end consumer with an inferior product at a price that doesn’t match the value. Let alone the fact that most of the ‘tailor shops’ aren’t doing the actual tailoring; these places are simply showrooms displaying samples and bolts of fabrics, outsourcing the sewing to workshops or needle masters at the markets. Besides the evident disadvantages of going through a middleman, the end result is nowhere near what you thought bespoke clothing would look like. All in all, it is not an easy task getting high quality tailor-made clothes made in Hoi An nowadays. 

In this article, we want to give you a clear picture of what the tailoring maze involves, no sugar coating nor beating around the bush. That being said, we would like to offer some tips on how to choose the best tailors in Hoi An, one that fits your expectations as well as your budget because, after all, there are a rare few shops that deliver what they promise. You just have to do your homework beforehand and know exactly what tailor-made dress, suit or shirt you are craving for.

Watch the video below to learn more about our picks for the top 5 Hoi An tailors:

Tips to finding the best tailors in Hoi An

  1. Know what you want
  2. Take your time
  3. Learn about the process and fabrics
  4. You get what you pay for
  5. Recommended tailor shops in Hoi An

 

  1. Know what you want

Buying bespoke clothes in Hoi An gets overwhelming because the options are endless. You can have absolutely anything you like made: dresses, suits, shirts, shoes, high heels…any color, any style, any size. Be very specific with your tailor. If you have a clear idea about your tailored piece of clothing, spend some time drawing it out to the last detail. If you are not a really good drawer, then consider finding a picture on the internet that looks exactly like the one you want. It might sound contradicting to copy an existing design when you are getting tailor-made clothing, but sometimes sticking with a cut that already works is best for starters. You can add more details or garments later in order to come up with your dreamed couture design, but make sure you know what you want.Back to Contents

  1. Take your time

colorful fabrics in a tailor shop in Hoi An

Following your gut feeling when offered a great discount at the tailor shop across the street from your hotel is tempting, but trust us when we recommend you to take your time on this one. Average stays in Hoi An last for 2-3 days, leaving visitors with only a couple of nights to shop around the streets of the Old Town. If you are planning on getting bespoke clothing and you don’t want to settle for low-quality garments, you should order your designs as soon as you arrive. Ideally, you would like to have three fittings (tailor-made clothes don’t come out perfect the first time) for any item you get, which will put you on a stretch in terms of time. With this in mind, make sure that before you pick your shop, you have talked to a few tailors, compared prices, tested different materials (more about this on the next point) and even bargained a bit.
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  1. Learn about the process and fabrics

A variety of cloth at a tailor shop in Hoi An

As mentioned before, it’s a long road ahead for those who want to get top-quality bespoke clothing in Hoi An. After you have done your primary research, your next decision lies with picking the right fabrics for your design. At the end of the day, it is the material that you use what makes the item falls or not fall as intended. A simple test would be to hold the fabric against you and decide whether or not this style fits your taste. Similarly, make sure you test what is offered to you as they have many flowing silk-like fabrics in Hoi An that are actually synthetic. How to tell the difference? Synthetic material melts while silk burns so ask them to do the burn test if you are hesitant.

Next, you will have to answer many questions from the shop assistant who is doing the measuring in order to decide on the small details. Getting asked the right questions is always a good indication that you have come to an experienced tailor shop.

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  1. You get what you pay for

A tailor in Hoi An sewing

This is what we meant when we talked earlier about expectations meeting final outcome. With such a fierce competition all across Hoi An’s tailor shops, visitors tend to focus on price or even bartering rather than working about the quality and workmanship at stake. The rule of thumb for a successful tailoring experience in Hoi An is that you get what you pay for. If you have a tight budget and don’t especially care about details or fancy designs, you will probably be pleased with just any shop. On top of that, remember that prices are overall lower in Vietnam and this also applies to clothes. Before you know it, you will find yourself indulging on custom-made garments for a much cheaper price than back home.

On the contrary, if you are willing to pay extra for superior bespoke clothing, Bebe Tailor, A Dong Silk, Yaly Couture and Kimmy Tailor are in our opinion the best tailors in Hoi An. We have been told by friends who have tried their services that they are the only shops that employ in-house needle masters, resulting in better service and quality all together. These four shops are probably among the most expensive in Hoi An, but we believe quality comes at a price and they sure deliver it. Even at these top-of-the-line shops, make sure you try to bargain in order to get a 10-20% discount off the quoted price, especially if you are getting several items made.

We’ve reviewed Bebe Tailor, A Dong Silk and Yaly Couture below, listing their strengths and weaknesses so that you can decide which one suits your style and needs best.

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Recommended tailor shops in Hoi An

 

Bebe Tailor

Be Be tailor shop

Trustworthy and quality-driven are two traits that perfectly describe Bebe Tailor. With more than 15 years of experience, they now have three different stores around Old Town area where they can take on one thousand orders a week (all done in-house) easily. Having the tailors on-site for small adjustments during the multiple fittings makes the whole process a lot easier. Above else, clients highlight their friendly and attentive staff who take care of every step of the way the second a potential customer walks in, guiding you through the entire purchase (from material selection to garment delivery). Quick turnaround and impeccable post-purchase customer service are also strong suits at Bebe Tailor.

Our friend Roberto had 2 suits and 5 shirts made here within 48 hours and couldn’t be happier with the final outcome. “Their service is fast and professional. When I got back to my accommodation, I found a small stain on one of the shirts. I called in and they quickly arranged for a replacement. If you are looking for tailors with an eye on detail, this is your go-to shop”, he told us.

Strengths: quick turnaround, post-purchase customer service, extensive catalogue with plenty of styles

Weaknesses: on the expensive side, cheaper fabrics can lead to disappointment, buttons come off for some clothing

 

A Dong Silk

A Dong Silk tailor shop

Back in 2005, A Dong Silk was the first tailoring outlet in Hoi An to register as a company. It now has a staff of 70 employees between their two stores offering a professional and pleasant tailoring experience that woes its customers. Personal sales assistants at A Dong Silk excel at giving personal advice before, during and after the purchase; making clients feel confident about their choices thus avoiding second guesses. All staff members speak great English (some French too) and are very acquainted to foreign fashion trends. They keep measurements for years and go the extra mile to make a client happy, shipping garments internationally if needed. If you already know your measurements, you can order online through their website through a seamless process that allows for countless customisations.

Our friend Maria came to Hoi An with the idea in mind of getting her wedding dress made during her visit. “I knew it had to be made at A Dong Silk due to the previous reviews I had read about their wedding dresses. I showed them a photo of a design I liked back in Spain and they came up with an exact copy of it for half the price. My personal assistant, Hong, made the whole experience very special and that is something I will never forget about my wedding dress nor my trip around Vietnam”.

Strengths: professionalism, eye for detail and very knowledgeable advice by personal assistants, value for money

Weaknesses: pushy to close the sale at times, less catered to Asians, tend to be old style

Yaly Couture

Is Yaly Couture the best tailor in Hoi An?

Born from a small market stall run by Mrs. Quynh, Yaly Couture has grown to be one of the most reputable bespoke shops in Hoi An. Apart from clothing, they set themselves apart from competition by designing bespoke shoes. Yaly takes craftsmanship to the next level by offering luxury couture fashion to a high-end clientele. They claim to stock the finest and the most extensive range of fabrics in Hoi An updated regularly, carrying some difficult to find cashmeres or top-of-the-line wools. Yaly prides themselves in keeping up with the latest fashions trends by providing their team of 300 tailors with the best training programs, assuring exemplary service and ongoing innovation. Their 3D body scan is a clear example of that: they register your measurements with this modern equipment so you can order online even after getting back from your travels in Vietnam. On top of that, customers consider shopping here a breeze since their process seems streamlined and easy for those who have never bought bespoke garments before.

Our friend Mario came to Yaly looking for an unique bespoke suit. “I had this weird design in mind that thought was unachievable in a place like Vietnam. They took all my requests in stride and came up with the suit that I exactly asked for. Later on, I was happy to find out about their international shipping since I will be getting more clothes made after this delightful experience”

Strengths: fashionable, top-of-the-line fabrics, 3D body scan for measurements and recurrent purchases

Weaknesses: small details are off at times, multiple fittings required, high price on certain fabrics

We hope this article helps you with your research before visiting the mecca of bespoke clothing in Vietnam. We couldn’t stress enough the fact that competition is fierce these days, hence the tailoring experience can turn out to be an overwhelming one. When feeling strained by indecision, remember that all this time is spent indoors, away from the sun, instead of enjoying the beauties of the Old Town. We recommend you to stick with reputable tailor shops that carry on their long-standing tradition and satisfied customers for a hassle-free stay in Hoi An.

If you want to fill up the time in between your clothes fittings with some fun activities, consider booking one of our amazing Hoi An day trips. To learn more about our thrilling “Riding with the Nguyens” scooter tour and our belly busting “Dinner with the Nguyens” walking food tour, please visit our XO Tours Hoi An website by clicking HERE!

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How long to stay in Vietnam: The perfect Vietnam itineraries

Vietnam Itinerary

Vietnam Itinerary: How long should you stay at each location in Vietnam?

 

Because of the high cost of airfare from Europe and the USA and the low cost of traveling through Vietnam, travelers often take longer vacations than they would in other parts of the world. Multiple weeks are the norm and stays longer than a month are not uncommon in planning a trip to Vietnam. This leads to a very common question among people planning their Vietnam vacation, “How long should I spend in each place?” This blog post hopes to answer these questions and help you design the perfect Vietnam itinerary!

We’re going to give you a quick breakdown of the major places to visit in Vietnam, what there is to see and do, and how long you might need to budget in your vacation. These are rough estimates based on how much there is to see and do in a place. Be sure to adjust them to your own preferences. If you like peace and quiet and your Vietnam vacation is meant to be relaxing, get out of Saigon or Hanoi and get to Phu Quoc or Cat Ba island. If you’re a foodie with a penchant for adventuring, you’ll have a different itinerary than a beach bum who enjoys the sun and the surf. We’ll tell you which places appeal to which groups and let you make up your mind.

These length estimates are full days, not including travel time. If traveling by train (we recommend it!) or bus (we don’t recommend it!) , always try to book a night trip for anything over 4 hours. Not only will it save you valuable vacation days, it might save you money on a hotel room for the night.

Recommended length of stay for your Vietnam Itinerary:

Click on the links below to jump directly to the Vietnam location :

  1. Hanoi (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  2. Sapa (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  3. Haiphong, Ha Long Bay (1-2 days), Cat Ba Island (3-4 days)
  4. Phong Nha (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days) 
  5. Hue (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  6. Hoi An (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  7. Da Lat (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  8. Mekong Delta (1-2 days)
  9. Nha Trang (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  10. Saigon (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  11. Phu Quoc (depends on your love for beaches)

 


Hanoi (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

What is great about Hanoi?
Shopping, history, food

Who should skip Hanoi?
If you need tranquility. Or if you only have time for one city, visit Hoi An.

Vietnam’s capital city provides plenty of interesting sites, tasty meals and great places to shop. The negative side is the high level of pollution, frenetic traffic and the fact that the narrow streets of the old quarter wasn’t designed to accommodate large crowds. A few days wandering the old quarter, visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and drinking bia hoi by Hoan Kiem Lake are a must for any Vietnam traveler, but you don’t need to budget more than 5 days in Hanoi.

From Hanoi, go to: Sapa, Ha Long Bay

Vietnam Itinerary

Ha Noi street in old quarter

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Sapa (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

Vietnam Itinerary

The terraced hills of Sapa, The Tonkinese Alps

 

What is great about Sapa?
Opportunity to meet ethnic minority tribes, seeing incredible landscapes, shopping for interesting goods

Who should skip Sapa?
If you don’t like high-pressure sales tactics (see alternative suggestions below)

Sapa is a visually stunning town north of Hanoi, famous for terraced rice fields and ethnic minority tribes. Since becoming a major tourist destination, Sapa has become saturated with repetitive gift shops and overly insistent trinket sellers. The sights make up for it, though. Tour operators offer homestay and hiking packages with transportation from Hanoi. Unless you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, you should take this option.

If you want to get off the beaten path and explore, instead of going to Sapa visit the villages of Mai Chau for the Ethnic minorities and Mu Cang Chai for the beautiful landscapes.

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Haiphong, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island (1-2 days, unless you’re going to Cat Ba Island)

Ha Long Bay - the Bay of Descending Dragons Vietnam Itinerary

a fishing house, the beautiful sunset and a cruise from Ha Long Bay

 

What is great about Ha Long Bay?
Beautiful sights, good seafood

Who should skip Ha Long Bay?
If you’re looking for sandy beaches, nightlife or culture

Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s major attractions, but Haiphong and Ha Long City aren’t. The best way to see Ha Long Bay is with a tour package from Hanoi. If you’re making your own way and want to avoid the crowds, visit Bai Tu Long Bay, 30 km to the east. Unless you’re visiting Cat Ba island, the longest you need to spend in the area is the length of your cruise.

Cat Ba island does offer some interesting attractions for visitors. If you like the outdoors, you can budget 3-4 days for boat tours, trekking, kayaking, climbing, national parks and some small caves and beaches.

vietnam itinerary

 

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Phong Nha (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Outdoor adventures and incredible nature from Phong Nha Ke Bang Vietnam itinerary

Phong Nha Ke Bang will bring to you outdoor adventures and incredible caves

 

What is great about Phong Nha – Ke Bang?
Outdoor adventures, incredible caves, interesting Lao/Viet food, friendly locals

Who should Phong Nha – Ke Bang?
If you can’t be without global cuisines or cell phone reception

Phong Nha is the adventure capital of Vietnam. From the world’s biggest caves to motorcycle rides through the park, Phong Nha provides a lot of opportunity for getting your thrills, seeing the sights and making memories that will last a lifetime. A trip to Paradise cave is a must for all visitors, offering spectacular geology, as is the exploration of the surrounding Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park. Local tour operators offer tours that show off many of the other caves in the area, from 1 day trips to 4 or more. Beyond caving, you can also spend time in Phong Nha trekking, bicycling, kayaking, swimming, and camping.

There is a twice-daily bus that connects Hue to Phong Nha. Other buses also run to Hanoi or Hoi An.

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Hue (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

Ancient temples, buildings, compounds and foods to explore in Hue Vietnam itinerary

ancient temples, buildings, compounds and foods to explore in Hue

 

What is great about Hue?
Emperor’s tombs, food fit for a king

Who should skip Hue?
If you have kids, You don’t like history

Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam and the seat of the Nguyen dynasty. There are ancient temples, buildings, compounds and gardens to explore. There is the Perfume river promenade to stroll along in the evening. There isn’t a wealth of modern entertainment here though, beyond wandering the city or taking in a movie. There is the famous imperial cuisine, unique to Hue and some of the best in Vietnam. Hue also has a rich tradition of vegetarian food, a great stop for non-meat-eaters.

hue architecture Vietnam itinerary

Hue Architecture from the Empire

 

If Hoi An is on your itinerary, consider a motorcycle tour between the two as a smart way to travel.

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Hoi An (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Hoi An's lanterns, ancient town street and the famous Cao Lau noodle dish

The Ancient Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site

 

What is great about Hoi An?
Well preserved architecture, pretty sites, family-friendly experiences

Who should skip Hoi An?
If you’re not buying souvenirs or suits, you want nightlife, hate touristy cities

The old Town of Hoi An is UNESCO World Heritage site, a remarkably well-preserved port with examples of Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture. Hoi An is the best place in Vietnam to visit if you have young children, it’s safe, fun and easy to walk around. Unfortunately, it’s also become completely reliant on the tourist trade. Walking down any street in the city, you will be greeted with cries of “Come Inside My Shop! Buy Something!”. Prices for everything from food to transportation are much higher in Hoi An than most places in Vietnam. There is some tasty food, from some of the best banh mi in Vietnam to a regionally unique noodle dish called Cao Lau which can only be made using water from a specific well in the city.

Have you taken the popular Ho Chi Minh to Danang train option (Hoi An is only 30km by bus)? Need to stretch your legs a bit? after that long journey? XO Tours’ offers a fun walking food tour and a thrilling scooter tour that takes guests far away from the touristy ancient town and into the beautiful surrounding countryside! You can learn more about our Hoi An Tours by clicking HERE!

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Da Lat (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

Waterfall, colorful garden adn Dalat nightlife

The Da Lat Highlands is the best way to escape hot weather in Vietnam

What is great about Da Lat?
Pretty architecture, mid-sized city life, cool weather

Who should skip Da Lat?
If you’re short on time.

Da Lat used to be a place for the French rulers to play, relax and escape the weather. It’s been built to feel similar to the French Alps and nowhere is this more visible than walking around the lit up city center at night. Vietnamese tourists in Da Lat leave loaded to the gills with flowers, coffee, fruit, wine and the many other products of the region. There are mountain biking and trekking trips offered, as well as the can’t miss one day canyoning experience, where you’ll get to repel down waterfalls.

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Mekong Delta (1-2 days)

Vietnam itinerary

Floating Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

 

What is great about the Mekong Delta?
River life, tasty food, incredible produce

Who should skip the Mekong Delta?
If you don’t like a slow pace of life

Tourists in the Delta enjoy the relaxed pace, watching local life along the river and trying the specialty dishes and regional produce.The floating markets of Can Tho have become a tourist destination instead of a working market, but, like Hoi An, it can still be fun to see. With the flat land, minimal traffic and lots to see out on the road, this might be the best part of Vietnam to explore by bicycle.

The Delta is often visited as an organized tour from Ho Chi Minh City. For an authentic tour to the Mekong Delta we would recommend booking a private tour with either Drive Vietnam or Water Buffalo Tours if budget is not an issue. Most of the group tours have very touristy itineraries and all visit the exact same places (coconut candy factory, bee farm, picture with a python, pony cart ride, etc.)

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Nha Trang (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

Nha Trang Ocean Activities

 

What is great about Nha Trang?
beaches, scuba diving, waterfalls, nightlife

Who should skip Nha Trang?
If you hate crowded beaches

Nha Trang is Vietnam’s number one resort town. If you like the quiet beach life, go to Phu Quoc, but if you want sand and sun during the day and dancing and drinks at night, come to Nha Trang. Every water sport you could want is available in Nha Trang, along with some of Vietnam’s best beaches. Even if the weather’s bad, there are plenty of other options for entertainment, including cooking classes, theaters and bowling. In recent years, the city has attracted hoards or Chinese and Russian tourists, so much so that many restaurants and hotels have signs and menus written in these languages.

Nha Trang white sand beach

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Saigon (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Saigon's cityscape, Ben Thanh market and City Hall

Saigon’s cityscape, Ben Thanh market and City Hall

 

What is great about Ho Chi Minh City?
Amazing street food, great nightlife, back alley wandering

Who should skip Ho Chi Minh City?
If you hate big cities.

Saigon  has so much to offer, even though it has a limited number of tourist sites. You don’t need to get to the War Remnants Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace and the Cu Chi tunnels but all of them are worth a visit, depending on your interests. Skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh market and make your way to Ba Chieu market in neighboring Binh Thanh district. The food is much better, the sellers are less pushy and the prices are much more reasonable, though communicating can be a bit difficult. Nowhere in Vietnam offers better nightlife than Saigon, ranging from the world-famous club Apocalypse Now (called Apo by locals) to good sky bars such as Chill and amazing alternative venues like Saigon Outcast. During the day, be sure to get out of district 1; the food is the worst in the city and the priciest.

Alternatives to District 1?

Explore Districts 3, 4 and 8 for great food, Phu Nhuan for amazing coffee shops and District 5 (Cho Lon) for Chinese temples and giant markets.

Short on time? Book one of XO Tours’ famous scooter tours and we will show you the best that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer in a few hours. You can learn more about our fun tours by clicking HERE.

Saigon Cityscape with the iconic Bitexco tower

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Phu Quoc (How much do you like beaches?)

See-through water in Phu Quoc and Barrels of Fish Sauce that's in the making

See-through water in Phu Quoc and Barrels of Fish Sauce that’s in the making

 

What is great about Phu Quoc Island?
Sand, sun, surf

Who should skip Phu Quoc Island?
If you’re not a beach bum

Phu Quoc is the place to be in Vietnam for relaxing alone on the beach and it’s one of the most beautiful island in Vietnam. Though it gets more and more developed  every year, it is still much less modern than Nha Trang or Phuket, Thailand. It also may be the best place in Vietnam to rent a scooter, as the traffic is minimal and the island is easy to get around. If you’re a fan of the culinary arts, be sure to visit the local pepper farms and fish sauce makers, both of these products are the best in the world and well worth taking home as souvenirs. Snorkeling, diving and night fishing tours are also fun.

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Final advice:

If you have 2 weeks or less in Vietnam, we would recommend sticking to locations in either north or south Vietnam and not to try to cover the entire country. Vietnam is too big, and there is way too much to do, to try to fit in the entire country into such a short trip. You would spend so much time traveling that you wouldn’t have much time to enjoy each of the unique locations. We recommend only including a maximum of 3-4 locations for a 2 week Vietnam itinerary.

We hope you found this blog post helpful in creating the perfect Vietnam itinerary for your trip!