An idiots guide to a comfortable trip in Vietnam
Having survived a month in Vietnam I thought it might be useful to give people a few tips on safety and comfort. The traffic roulette and especially all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I always timed my crossing the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping. In terms of crime, I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and of course you take the usual precautions, not leaving phones on tables at restaurants or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as my wife did with her purse.
Transport in Vietnam is excellent from the taxis to the trains. We did not do any overnight bus trips so cannot comment. We found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being not turned on and the drivers were all polite. The taxis are in Saigon and Hanoi. Between Hue and Hoi An I hired a car and the guy was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An stopping at several sites along the way.
We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via hotels, you pay a small commission but we got soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue. Take some snacks and water with you on the train. There are, I hesitate to say food trolleys, but there are drinks and food sold during the trip. I had a coffee and it was good. There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue for both of us was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train cost to Saigon was less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.
Where we stayed?
Hotels are good at organising pick ups at train stations. There is something nice about seeing someone waiting for you with your name on a sign after a 13 hour train trip. We did this for Hue and Nha Trang. Saigon we just got a Vinasun taxi to the hotel from the train station. We do not travel with backpacks and have suitcases so a pick up or a taxi is our only option unless we want to drag them through the streets.
Below are the list of hotels with links to my trip advisor reviews that we stayed at in Vietnam. They all had in room safes, air conditioning, clean and comfy beds. I do like a firm mattress. All the hotels were between US$40-50 a night and included breakfast. Aside from the one in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City the hotels all had swimming pools.
We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When we were, a polite no thank you and smile always worked. We also learnt a few Vietnamese phrases such as hello and thank you which always went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.
Food and drink
The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls and restaurants. In the restaurants they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We also carry a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash your hands. Beer is cheap in Vietnam and fruit juices. Depending on where we ate the meals can range from a few dollars up to 30 dollars. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off a street. Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Ho Chi Minh City. My favourite was Noir in Ho Chi Minh City where you are in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause they support brilliant.
Tours we loved doing
There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.
Halong Bay Cruise
There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel. The link is below to my review.
Be ready for a four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back. I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.
Hanoi kids is a charity where young students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guide tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a guide and it is free, yes free. At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis and entrance for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi. Below is my review.
Scooter tour in Saigon
I was a bit wary of this tour which my wife booked. I need not have been. It was a great morning whizzing around Saigon and I never felt unsafe. We had a great time seeing the sights. It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and include a few snacks and drinks along the way.
I hope some of these tips help and good luck on your trip to Vietnam.