An idiots guide to a safe and 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 and especially all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I always liked to time my crossing the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping. 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 does with her purse.

Transport

We found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being 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.

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

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.

Silk Queen Hotel Hanoi
Chersh Hotel in Hue
Ancient Resort in Hoi An
VDB Nha Trang Hotel in Nha Trang
Sanouva Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Be polite

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.

Hanoi restaurant we loved
Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Hoi An restaurant
Nha Trang cafe we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

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.

Viola Cruises 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

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.

Hanoi Kids trip advisor 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.

Saigon scooter tour review


I hope some of these tips help and good luck on your trip to Vietnam.

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Why come to Vietnam?

After being in Vietnam for three weeks I thought I would pen a few words to paper about our experiences. It has been a lot easier than we expected. Booking train tickets, nice hotels with hot running water and friendly people. Hanoi was brilliant. I am glad we were delayed getting our Indian visa due to holiday celebrations.

We got to see the fireworks on Reunification Day and explore a lot of the city thanks to Hanoi kids. See my review here on tripadviser:

Hanoi Kids, do the tour you will not regret it

Halong Bay was brilliant and I am glad we paid a bit extra to do a tour that had good reviews. I am also happy that we decided to do the three days and two night cruise. Otherwise after you drive four hours to Halong Bay you get on the boat rush around and get off the boat less than 24 hours later for a long drive back to Hanoi. Below is a link to my review of our Halong Boat trip.

Halong Cruise with Viola Cruises

Train trips are brilliant with it easy to book. The trains are comfortable and have running water for a quick face wash in the morning and they even bring you meals. Our next stop was Hue where we enjoyed our full day tour exploring the Kings and Queens tombs and the Old Citadel. The drive to Hoi An was easy and booking a car and driver who stopped along the way was well worth it. Hoi An we relaxed for a week. Going to the beach or into the old town. Now, we are at Nha Trang the only foreigners staying at a hotel that are not Russian much to the amazement of the staff.

If your concerned about coming to Vietnam and doing it yourself, don’t be. We mostly use trip adviser and are careful on where we stay and so far, fingers crossed have been lucky in our selections. Our last stop is Saigon and hopefully we have made a good choice there. On cost, we are paying around US$750 a week for both of us. This includes 3-4 star hotels, tours, food and transport through Vietnam. I know you can do travel in Vietnam a lot cheaper than this if you stay at guest houses or backpackers accommodation. However, for a few dollars more your enjoyment and memories will probably be better ones.

How we did Halong Bay and a few days in Hanoi

Hanoi

We arrived early in Hanoi after a red-eye flight from Bangkok. Customs was relatively simple with only a short wait till we got our visas. Then we met our driver from the hotel who drove us to our hotel the Silk Queen. Wow, since I was last in Hanoi there is now a new modern airport with a new motorway into the city. What a difference. Last time my driver had to avoid water buffalo on the road. This time no water buffalo and in the Old Quarter of Hanoi in 40 minutes. Our hotel is in the heart of the Old Quarter and only a few minutes walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. We found an ATM close by and for the first time we became millionaires, albeit in Vietnamese Dong.

Halong Bay

We decided to hit the ground running and book a trip to Halong Bay as soon as possible. Before we came to Hanoi we had done some research and decided to spend a bit more that we normally would. This was to avoid some of the horror stories we had read on trip advisor about Halong cruises. Ms Rose a travel organiser at our hotel did all the legwork. We chose Viola Cruises. Excellent choice. The boat was new with 16 cabins. They used a modern mini bus for the four-hour trip to Halong Bay which was still uncomfortable and thank goodness for the half hour break on the way there. I booked the honeymoon cabin it was our 9th wedding anniversary. We got Room 205 with a great balcony to sip some wine and watch the mountains as we glided past them. The food, aside from the first lunch was excellent and there was plenty of it. We loved everything, the caves, floating village, swimming, pearl farm and kayaking.

The scenery is truly magnificent. We got a great view climbing the 427 steps to the top of an Island on the first day for great photos. On the second day we visited fairy lake and a musical cave as well as learn about pearls at a pearl farm. Just wish they had sold oysters to eat. Little things like the welcome drinks of Vietnamese red wine on the first night and snacks, the green jelly cake gift, squid fishing and learning how to make Vietnamese spring rolls on the last day made this a memorable and enjoyable trip. We did pay US$600 for the 3 days and two nights and in my opinion it was well worth it.

If you decide to do a cruise with any of the companies just make sure you bring a cushion for the ride from Hanoi to Halong Bay is 4 hours. Overall I would highly recommend Viola. The staff were friendly, humorous and informative as well as being professional. I wish I had brought binoculars with me and not sure if the boat had any. My wife also enjoyed the Tai Chi in the mornings. If you do the tour take some time on your balcony and enjoy the sunsets.

Back in Hanoi

We returned to the Silk Queen for a further 8 nights as we had to wait for our Indian Visas. For the rest of the first week we ate at various restaurants and explored the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

What did it cost?

Halong Bay Cruise was US$600 for two nights and three days
Silk Queen Hotel was US$275 for five nights
Food, attractions was US$373 or 8,000,000 Vietnamese Dong.

Seven day total was US$1,248 or US$179 per day. We are $30 over budget per day but the cruise was worth it.