Day one: Arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam
- Walked around Ho Hoam Kiem Lake
- Explored night market: try street food!
- Stayed at hostel: Generally $22 for private room, ~$8-10 for dorm
- Old Quarter Hostel (32 Hang Vai, Hoem Kien, Hanoi): very clean, free bottled water and snacks all day, great free breakfast, helpful staff planned our bus to Sapa and a cruise in Ha Long Bay
Day two: Explore Hanoi
- Sunrise at Ho Hoem Kien Lake, watch/join in local morning exercise classes (literally every where around the lake)
- Visited the Hoa Lo Prison Museum: 30,000vnd or ~$1 to enter
- Visited the Temple of Literature
- Overnight bus to Sapa: 6 hour ride, $18 for sleeper bus with bathroom
Day three - day four: Trekking in Sapa
- Sapa Sisters: $82 per person, 2 day trek with private guide, 1 night at home stay in local village. I couldn't recommend Sapa Sisters more highly. Though on the more expensive side for Vietnam standards, we were able to legally trek through all the villages, enjoyed incredible local foods, and learned so much about Hmong culture through our guide.
- Tip: there are tons of local ladies that offer cheaper prices for a trek/homestay (~$25 per night), but they often do not get the proper permits so will take you on alternative, more dangerous paths. A French guy died falling down a waterfall only two days before we got there. National services couldn't help rescue him because he wasn't registered as a tourist hiker. Also, the groups are larger, food isn't great, and you could be sleeping on your guides floor with 20 other people rather than having your own, clean bed!
- Spent our second night at hostel: $15-40 for private room, $5-10 for dorm
- Paradise View Hotel: $38, one of the nicest hotels in Sapa (and one of the most expensive)- incredible breakfast, phenomenal service, kindest staff! Most backpackers wouldn't spend half this much on a hostel but we were tired from our trek and wanted to spoil ourselves.
Day five: Explore Sapa
- Explore shops and restaurants: it's such an adorable town with such amazing views, we could never get sick of walking around here.
- Tip: It's significantly cooler than Hanoi, so make sure to bring a jacket
- Private motor bike tour through mountains to water falls: $6 each, organized by Paradise View Hotel concierge. We rode behind guides as we weren't comfortable enough to find the waterfalls alone.
- Thac Bac (Silver waterfall)
- Thac Tinh Yeu (Love waterfall)
- Dinner at Little Sapa: $1-4 per person, our favorite restaurant in Vietnam, also extremely cheap!
- Over night bus back to Hanoi: 6 hour ride, $18 for sleeper bus with bathroom
Day six - seven: Ha Long Bay
- Cruise in Ha Long Bay: Generally three levels $65, $85 and $100 for 2 day 1 night. Prices are double for 3 day 2 night cruises
- Golden Bay Cruise: $85 per person, 2 day 1 night cruise, organized through Old Quarter Hostel. We went kayaking, visited the largest cave in Ha Long Bay, visited an oyster farm, and had a cooking class (if rolling spring rolls with prepared filling counts as cooking).
- Tip: If you can afford it, I would recommend a tour in Bai Tu Long Bay, a less touristy bay with the same beauty (starting at $135 for 2 days 1 night). There were too many boats in Ha Long Bay and the water was dirty. Visiting the caves in Ha Long Bay was not fun as it was too crowded. I would also recommend a 3 day 2 night tour as we were only actually on the boat for 24 hours.
- Spend second night in Hanoi
- Hanoi Central Backpacker Hostel: $22 private room, fairly dirty compared to Old Quarter Hostel, much louder environment, great place to meet people, great happy hour/free drinks, good complimentary breakfast. We would have enjoyed this place more if we weren't so tired, but we were rather annoyed with drunk kids knocking on our door all night.
Day eight - : day eleven: Hoi An
- Spent three consecutive nights at Blue Clouds Home stay Hostel: $15 per night for private room, only minute walk from Old Town, exceptional staff! Absolutely my favorite place we stayed in Vietnam. The most wonderful family runs this hostel and went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable in Hoi An. They helped us organize all our day trips, served fantastic breakfast, and had excellent recommendations for restaurants. Transportation to and from the airport was 330,000 or $15 each way for one hour drive.
- A few examples of their over-the-top hospitality: I knew I was getting significantly ripped off when I tried to buy after sun lotion for my sunburn, so I didn't buy it (being white and not speaking Vietnamese = getting ripped off). Kim, the daughter of the owner, went back to the pharmacy and got a great price for the same item! I also forgot an outfit in the shower (is anyone surprised?) and Kim mailed it to my hostel in Ho Chi Minh.
- Visited An Bang Beach: Rent a bike (20,000vnd or ~$1) beautiful beach with lots of places to eat and drink right on the water. If you pay to eat, you get a cushioned beach chair for free. Otherwise, they are (50,000vnd or $2). Bike parking is 10,000vnd but some restaurants let you park for free if you buy food.
- Tip: crazy ladies yell "STOP STOP" to get you to park and pay in their parking lot. Just keep going until you at least see the beach before you park. They make you believe it isn't allowed to bike farther, but it totally is.
- Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Class: $33 per person, 8:30am-2:30pm, small group of six people. We started our tour in the market and bought fresh herbs, vegetables, meat that we would be using in our class- it was an amazing experience. We took a boat down the river to Coconut Island, the rowed through coconut trees to the local village where our class took place. We cooked four fantastic courses- the best food I ate in Vietnam. Cooking was surprisingly technical, but staff was helping us every step of the way basically making it impossible to mess up. They cleaned up dishes as we used them, so the cooking space was totally uncluttered and simple. This cooking class is a must for anyone in Hoi An
- Motor bike tour around Hoi An and to My Son: $30 per person, 9am-3:30pm, private tour. Blue Clouds hostel organized a guide to take us all around Hoi An, then to My Son, which are ancient ruins about an hour from Hoi An.
- Morning Glory: $7-10 per person. One of the most renowned restaurants in Hoi An- the owner is soon opening a restaurant in Las Vegas! Exceptional local food cooked right in front of you. It is also the most [relatively] expensive restaurant in Hoi An.
- Night Market: super fun market and night scene across the river. They have gorgeous lanterns that I would have bought a dozen of if I didn't have to carry them for the rest of my trip!
- Tip: Hoi An is also the place for men to get custom made suits! It costs about $200 for a suit that would cost over $1000 in the US. Prices vary, but the quality does too, so ask your hostel for recommendations for tailors and prices quotes.
Day twelve - fourteen: Ho Chi Minh
- Spent two nights at the Hello House: $22 for private room, great staff, really great common area for hanging out, exceptionally clean rooms, reasonably priced laundry (35,000/kg or ~$6 for a load), great complimentary breakfast. Picked us up at the airport for 300,000vnd or $13.50.
- Spent two nights at Ngoc Thau Homestay: $15 for private room, helped us organize day trips, great location- quiet, but short walk from backpacker party strip, not as clean as other hostels, sub-par complimentary breakfast, cheap transportation back to airport (190,000vnd or $9).
- Visited Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple: $7 per person for bus, 8:30am-6:30pm, entrance to Cu Chi Tunnels not included (110,000vnd or $5)
- Tip: I would highly recommend visiting both the temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels, but not in one day. We spent the majority of the day riding on the bus.
- Visited the War Museum: 15,000 entrance fee (less than $1)
- Royal Siagon restaurant: best food in Ho Chi Minh for the best price. I had the bun thit bo- an amazing beef, rice noodle, spring roll, vegetable dish with fish sauce.