Vietnam route

Recommendation: Cat Ba Island + Ha Long Bay boat tour and Hoi An are a must

I took 3 weeks to travel from Northern to Southern Vietnam by bus. If you have time, it is a unique way to travel. If you only have 1-2 weeks, the highlights I'd recommend are: Hanoi, Cat Ba/Ha Long Bay, Phong Nha, Hoi An, Mui Ne, and Saigon.

Route overview:

Diem Bien Vue -> Sapa -> Hanoi -> Cat Ba/ Ha Long Bay -> Ninh Binh -> Phong Nah -> Hue -> Hoi An -> Nha Thang -> Dalat -> Mui Ne -> Saigon

Diem Bien Vue (1 night)

6-hour bus ride to Sapa ($12)

Sapa (1 night)

6-hour bus ride to Hanoi ($13)

Hanoi (2 nights)

  • Hoa Lo Prision
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Walked around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Water puppet show
  • Bought a knockoff Northface jacket that kept me really warm ($13)

4-hour bus + ferry ride to Cat Ba Island ($14)

Cat Ba (3 nights)

  • Did an all day boat tour of Ha Long Bay (MUST DO). The tour company I used was called 'Cat Ba Ventures'. It cost $29 and included kayaking through caves, a stop at a fish nursery, and lunch. I was on the fence about doing an overnight boat trip through Ha Long Bay, but opted for the day trip to save money. It would have been awesome to spend a night out there!
  • Ate a great dinner at 'Yummy' restaurant.
  • Rented a scooter to cruise around the whole island. Stopped at Trung Trang cave and Cat Ba National Park where I hiked to the top to enjoy a beautiful view.

4-hour bus ride to Ninh Binh ($10)

Ninh Binh (2 nights)

  • Stayed at Tam Coc Nature lodge. This was one of the coolest hostels I've ever stayed at! The nature surrounding is breathtaking and the free breakfast was 10/10.
  • Rented a scooter and went to Hoa Lu (Ancient capitol) and Bai Dinh Pagoda where I spent two hours walking around admiring the beautiful mountain landscape.
  • Walked to Hang Mua where you can take the 500 steps up to a lookout with a dragon sculpture on top.

8-hour night bus to Phong Nha ($13)

Phong Nha (1 night)

  • Stayed at 'Nguyen Snack' which was a neat spot if you're comfortable with rustic accommodation.
  • Rented a scooter and drove around Phong Nha National Park. The scenery was stunning! There are lots of caves to explore and the botanical gardens are a must see.

4-hour bus ride to Hue ($7)

Hue (1 night)

  • This wasn't my favorite town because there wasn't much to see, but a good place to spot to break up the trip between Phong Nha and Hoi An.
  • Walked around town and went to see the imperial city.

3-hour bus ride to Hoi An.

Hoi An (3 nights)

  • Touristy for all the right reasons. Hoi An is an awesome town with lots to do!
  • Rented bikes for $1 and went to 2 different beaches.
  • Walked around the night market.
  • Ate at “Cay Tre Bamboo”. (Some of the best food I've ever eaten.)
  • Took a cooking class.
  • Rented a scooter to go see 'My Son'. Unfortunately is stared POURING rain so we didn't make it the whole way and went to see the coconuts village instead.

12-hour night bus to Nha Thang ($12)

Nha Thang (1 night)

  • Walked around the fairly large downtown city area.
  • Went to see the big white Buddha statue and Hindu temples.

4-hour bus to Dalat ($7)

Dalat (1 night)

  • I wasn't feeling well while in Dalat so didn't do much besides nap at hang out at the hostel.
  • Stayed at 'Red House' hostel. It was nice, but a little bit far from town.

4-hour bus ride to Mui Ne ($6)

Mui Ne (2 nights)

  • Stayed at 'Mui Ne Xua' Hostel. It was a super cool spot with bamboo style huts.
  • Went on a sunrise tour of the White Sand Dunes, Red Sand Dunes, a fishing port, and fairy creek.
  • TIP: Be careful of scammers at the sand dunes. It was still dark when we arrived at the dunes for sunrise so they tried to convince me that I needed to rent an ATV (for an additional change) to get to the highest sand dune with the best view because the walk would take too long. I opted to walk and as the sun came up, quickly realized it wasn't far at all.

5-hour bus to Saigon ($10)

Saigon (3 nights)

  • Stayed at LaLaLa hostel. The rooms were small, but they had the friendlies staff! It was New Years Eve when I was there. The manager invited me to celebrate with her friends (Tried homemade Vietnamese liquor... all I can say is that a little bit goes a LONG way.
  • Breakfast at 'Little Hanoi egg coffee' - very cute spot! Must try egg coffee while in Vietnam.
  • Remnant museum and tour of Chi Chu tunnels.

Saigon was my last stop in Vietnam. From there, I took a bus an 8-hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I continued my travels through Cambodia.