I was intrigued with the history of Vietnam and steady economic advancement, which almost felt like the rise of a phoenix as an aftermath of the infamous war. I knew I wanted to soak in the legacy of the bravery and witness whatever remains from the days of yore. In my 10 days in Vietnam, I particularly chose to visit places shown frequently in movies attempting to document the war. I knew I had to visit Saigon, erstwhile strong hold of Indo-china regime and extensive parts of the northern Vietnam. With 10 days in Vietnam, I wanted to experience it all and did not want to rush through.
10 DAYS IN VIETNAM: Saigon (Day 1 And 2)
Don’t forget to try the Pho
Then Saigon and now Ho Chi Minh City is a haplessly romantic metropolis. Like every old city, it has certain quarters. A hub for the backpackers (district 1), a hub for budding businesses and sky scrapers, many stretches of residential area where locals indulge in street shopping and old school theatre shows and the streets where old mansions and museums are dotting the neighbourhood. I suggest you spend good time exploring each part of the city. Keep a day to explore many museums (war remnant being a poignant one) where you can spot many people with moist eyes. Trigger warning.
As an Indian, I could spot history from my country in the War Remnant Museum in the poems dedicated by Nehru, the michils (political procession) by then CPM leaders on the streets of Kolkata, the red flag et al. Tag yourself with a day trip operator and visit the Chu Chi tunnel at the outskirt of the city. The narrow tunnels dwindling under the Earth had been instrumental in the liberation of Vietnam. Do visit Fanny’s to have the best ice cream of the world!
10 DAYS IN VIETNAM: Hanoi, The Imperial City! (Day 3-5)
Temple of literature in Hanoi
Satiated with south, it was time to fly to the Vietnamese capital city that has thrived for ages. The ancient city has witnessed many regimes reigning, resisting attacks, collapsing and being rebuilt in the course of time. One of the best decisions I took was to secure a stay in the Old quarter. I suggest you plan your stay in Hanoi during a weekend.
The streets of old quarter are designed as crisscross with each other. Each street specialises in selling a particular product. You will need one whole day to explore the streets of the old city. Weekends are better since the streets sell delicious food and open up to locals and guests alike. On the street, you get myriads offerings: fried frogs, wine bottle with a whole snake or a scorpion in it etc. A French-Vietnamese influenced Fish preparation, fish steak cooked with Dill is speciality of Hanoi.
Wake up a bit early to visit the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was once a horseshoe bend of the Red River. The morning air is fresh, serene and allows many health enthusiasts take a brisk walk. You can save this day to visit the remarkable landmarks of the city, the museums, the mausoleum that houses Ho Chi Minh’ dead body, West lake and more.
A quick chat with your hotel can help arrange for a day trip to Ninh Binh. Also known as the Halong Bay on land, Ninh Binh is far from the maddening crowd, retains a rustic charm and show cases few of the most scenic landscape of Vietnam. During rain, it is all green. I hear Ninh Binh is opening up slowly with homestay options for more and more travellers, especially after the movie Skull Island was shot here. Take some time off to canoe leisurely on the waterbody surrounding the limestone karsts. Mountain Goat meat is a speciality of the place.
10 DAYS IN VIETNAM: Sa Pa (Day 6 To 7)
Handwoven fabric by the Hmong tribes.
A night train from Hanoi will take you to the North Western mountain region of Vietnam. The place had suffered long history of ethnic strife between the neighbours, China and Vietnam. As the conflict receded, tourism started to take place. It is a picturesque hill town by the lap of Fansipan Mountain range, housing the ethnic minority: Hmong. They are distinctive with their darker skin tone and beautiful embroidered skirts. It would be great if you can secure a homestay in a Hmong village.
Sa Pa town houses a church and night market where you can interact with the locals. Take a ride in the legendary Fansipan cable car to reach the summit. The cable car was designed and built by the French colonial government. It is operative till this date. A short hike will take you to the nearby villages. A village named Lao Cai is a calm habitat of ethnic tribes where age-old methods are employed to generate hydropower from the mountain streams, indigo is the hue they make at home. Every house has ducks and bovines as domesticated animals.
10 DAYS IN VIETNAM: Hoi An (Day 8 To 10)
The Hoi An Lantern Market
Another overnight train ride to the capital city shall take you back to the airport from where you need to board the next flight to Da Nang. Situated at the middle curve of the country, Da Nang is a prosperous town, situated near Hoi AN, crowned as a UNESCO world Heritage site. If you are craving for a beach-experience, make a quick stop for a day at Da Nang. Hoi An does have Ang Bang beach at a stone’s throw however the beach is not swimmable.
Hoi An used to be a port city from medieval age. A melting pot of various culture, Hoi An is as pretty as it may feel straight from the books of a fairy tale. Please be advised that the city is very touristy, especially the old town area. The streets are dotted with cafes by the perfume river. To get a feel of real people, I suggest rent a bike and head out. You can also make a day trip to Hue (and enjoy the ethereal views while riding through Hai Van pass en-route). If history is your cup of tea, visit the dilapidated temple of My Son where ancient Champa kingdom had established a few Hindu temples. In Hoi An, do not forget to try the delicious Rose dumplings!
Only ten days trip in Vietnam hardly does justice to the country and I left out many other attractions including Mekong delta, Halong Bay and more. However, you can tweak a little and adjust this itinerary to fit what exactly you need from Vietnam!