When we started planing our trip to Asia, we were considering Sri Lanka, Philippines or Vietnam. Somehow Vietnam won the competition and once we’ve settled on a destination, next thing was to find a reasonably priced flights from Europe.
We found several options available with flights to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang and with number of a different airlines.
I wanted to fly with some good airline and made a stop over either in Doha or Dubai. So we decided to try Qatar Airlines and their Dreamliner and booked the flight to Ho Chi Minh City with 18h stop over in Doha on the way back.
Our flight was departing from Prague Airport, and our check-in was smooth and plane was fairly new. I can imagine better entertainment system though. Anyway, food was good enough for plane food and cabin crew was lovely and helpful.
We had just two hours in Doha before we got to our second flight to HCMC, so not a much time. Smoking lounge at Doha Airport was tiny, smelly and disgusting room but at least I could inhale some nicotine there.
Prices and currency exchange rates
100K VND = 4.3USD or 3.80EUR or 100CZK
Prices: Water from 3.5K VND per 0.5l bottle, Fresh Coconut Water from 15K VND, coffee from 15K VND, meal in restaurant from 30K VND, box of Marlboro from 28K VND, motorbike rent for a day 150K VND
Our plan was to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for day or two and the move slowly to the north towards the city Da Nang. We only had two weeks so unfortunately Hanoi and the rest of the north Vietnam was impossible to make this time.
This time of the year in south Vietnam, weather is pretty consistent, sunny with around 35C and very humid. Simply perfect weather for me :)
Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon
Our flight landed at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City at the afternoon. Once we pass through the security and got our luggage collected, while still connected on Free Airport WiFi, I’ve used Grab app (iOS or Android) and booked a car to get us to our accommodation.
This is a must have app when you are in Vietnam. If you travel solo, you can book a motorbike with driver for very cheap. If you are a couple or group and need a car ride, usually the price is half of normal taxi price for that distance. On the top of that you can order a food delivery through the app and also a normal taxi, and way more. Pretty much it is an Asian Uber on steroids.
They even have a benefits system and I have received a two free rides worth a 100k VND each but I couldn't figure out how to use them. It was still pointing me to the T&C which had like two lines and no value.
Our accommodation for first two nights in Ho Chi Minh City was Apartment in Icon 56 Building in Quán 4 just over the river from the city centre. We have booked this accomodation through Booking.com in advance and the price seems to be reasonable. Apartment owner was waiting for us at the lobby when we arrived. The apartment was clean, with working AC and little balcony. It had included in price access to a rooftop swimming pool with great views around the city.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is a crazy buzzing city, it has 14,5M citizens and 7.5M motorbikes, so you can imagine the noise and smell on the streets. It took us a while to figure out how to cross the street but once you realise that you just need to keep walking and don’t stop under any circumstances, you’re gonna be fine :)
Vietnamese cuisine is famous and we have found a few lovely restaurants, best one was Ngoc Chau Garden with “home like” food and lovely staff. First day we have wandered around the Quán 1 (City Centre), visited famous Ben Thanh Market and spend some time at the end of the day in our rooftop pool too.
Almost everywhere you going Vietnam, you will find a working WiFi network, however for maps, swarm check-ins instagram, long journeys etc. a permanent mobile data connection is a must have.
We found a little corner shop that sold me a local (VietnaMobile) SIM card for 150K VND with unlimited 3G valid for a month what sounded like a reasonable price to me. After a day of usage, I’ve realised that I may need something more faster than 3G and I bought another SIM card from another random street vendor for 250K VND that had 4GB of LTE per day for a month.
Have to say that both SIM cards worked as advertised and with Kate using the 3G and myself with LTE one, the had no issues to get connected anywhere.. Mobile coverage was pretty good even in countryside and for most of the train journey we had a working mobile network too.
On the second day we’ve decided to move on and purchased a bus ticket for one of the sleeper buses to the place called Mui Ne, Phan Thiet , north of the Ho Chi Minh City.
You have two companies that operate sleeper buses and we did go for the Sinh Tourist, second option is Hanh Cafe. Don’t ask me why the second bus operator have a cafe in the name, it is certainly a bit confusing.
Price was slightly higher as it was a public holiday that day in Vietnam so we paid 399 VND pp. I think that was a double, normally it should be around 200 pp. Always check local holidays when you travel :)
Sleeper buses are pretty cool, unfortunately they are made for Asian people so with my 185cm I couldn't properly sit and I had to be in kinda weird position. It was also too short to stretch my legs when I was in sleeping position. Kate had literally no issue with her 155cm :) I think that those 200km was my maximum that I could handle in that position.
Our bus was scheduled to depart from Sinh Tourist office in city centre (Quán 1) at 7am but it was late for almost an hour. The 215km journey to Phan Thiet took us around 5 hours including a 30min stop for toilet.
We have arrived at Mui Ne around 1:30pm at the afternoon, over an hour later than it was scheduled. From the place where bus stopped it was about 2km to our hotel so we obviously called a Grab :)
Phan Thiet - Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a totally different world, coconut palm trees, rowing fishing boats, fisherman and warm sea. This is how I was picturing south Vietnam. Wonderful Pink sunset was just a cherry on the cake :)
We had booked accommodation in La Marina Boutique Hotel & Spa, and it was really a great choice. Hotel is located just a few meters from the beach, with lovely swimming pool and restaurant serving local food. Our room was wonderful and spacious with lovely sea facing balcony.
After check-in we had a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant and later went to stroll around the beach. As it was off the main season, it was almost empty, just a few local people and plenty of Vietnamese rounded rowing boats.
Next day we have decided to try a tour to the famous Red Sand dunes. I’ve done some research online but then we have asked on reception and they’ve booked for us a Sunrise private Jeep tour for 25 USD for both of us. (Half price of what I have found online, so its worth to ask for sure)
The tour started early, driver picked us up at 5am at the hotel and we drove for about 45min towards the place with dunes. From there we could either take a quad bike for 300k VND pp to get on the top of the Red Dunes or we could also walk to the top which should take about 30min.
As the sun was quickly rising, we have decided to pay extra and go for quad bikes to get to the top faster and obviously the same thing did the other tens of tourists that were arriving in another jeeps. Soon there was about 30 people on the top but the view was totally worth it.
Some people paid extra few bucks for sand sledging but I’ve rather took some shots with my drone and then enjoyed watching the rest of the sunrise with Kate.
It all took slightly over an hour and we jumped back to the jeep and they drove us to the White Sand dunes that were slightly smaller and even more crowded. We didn't stay there for long as it was staring to be unbearably hot so we moved towards the Fairy Stream.
A popular photography hotspot in located 18km northeast of Phan Thiet with dramatic landscape of reds, whites, oranges sand dunes on one side while the other is an expansive field of verdant trees, blossoming flowers, and coconut palms.
The stream is about ankle-deep for the most part and the water is flowing from Ham Tien’s Dinh Mountains. Entrance fee is just 15K VND and it was certainly a lovely and refreshing experience.
Our last stop on the tour was at the Mui Ne Fishing Village and then the Jeep returned us back to the hotel.
We spend the rest of the day at the Mui Ne beach and hotel pool relaxing and planning the next few following days of our trip. I could certainly imagine to stay in Mui Ne for longer but we had to go.
As our next stop was around 235km far city Nha Trang, we have booked again a ride in a sleeper bus. This time with the second company Hanh Cafe, their bus was a little bit different but still sized for Asian people :)
We spend the morning at the hotel pool as the scheduled departure was at 1pm from the stop next to our Hotel. We paid 149K VND pp for a 5h journey this time non stop and finally slightly after 6:30pm we arrived at Nha Trang.
We had booked room at V Hotel and when we arrived and got to our room, it was smelly room without balcony. After my complaint at the reception they offered a free cancellation as they have no other rooms available. That wasn't a big deal and after a quick search we found another hotel that based on the description was similar to one we picked at first.
When we arrived to the Boss Hotel, they tried to give us again a small room without the balcony first but after my another complaint they had changed the room and we were finally happy :)
Nah Trang is a completely different story compared to Mui Ne, pure party town, full of pubs, bars and restaurants buzzing all night long and beyond. As we are not party animals, drinking with Russian and Chinese tourists wasn't on the plan.
At the morning we tried to give a chance to the hotel breakfast as it was included in the price. Breakfast room for about 20 pax was tight packed with huge queue outside and the breakfast didn’t look very appealing, so we decided to find another place to eat.
After a long stroll around, we finally found Alpaca Homestyle Cafe that serve us a lovely breakfast. Then we rented a motorbike at the hotel and drove around to explore the city.
Nha Trang Bay
We have grabbed lunch and then decided to go to the port where we booked a boat trip to explore the islands of Nha Trang Bay. We had option for Speedboat 700K VND per person or fishing boat for 400K VND per person. Speedboat was like waste of money and old fishing boat sounds like more fun. As it was of season, we were the only one on the boat and it took about 45 min to reach the first stop that was Mun Island.
Not sure what to think about this island. Entrance fee was 25K VND per person and there was nothing except sun beds and rocky beach. I’ve expected some snorkelling activities or something but there was literally nothing on the island except one shop with water and some souvenirs. When we arrived the island was fully packed with Chinese tourists, luckily they started to leaving and within 30 min we were almost alone. This island didn't impressed me much though, rocks were sharp and water was clean but nothing special. After an hour the boat came back and took us towards next island.
Our next stop meant to be tiny Mot Island however our driver just passed by and we stopped at next one called Mieu Island. Entrance to the beach was 100K VND per person but the beach was pretty good. We were there almost alone and the boat returned after 3 hours and brought us back to the port.
Next day we spend on the Nha Trang beach and at the evening we went to the Nha Trang Train Station and book a train tickets for train SE8 Vietnam Railways. We didn't know what to expect from Vietnamese trains, so instead of the whole over 500km journey to Da Nang, we split it in to two parts. First would be to the city called Quy Nhon, stay there overnight and move to Da Nang next day..
Our train arrived on time and it was actually pretty comfortable, way better than the bus before and also quite clean for Asia. Train ticket was 236K VND pp on for the 219km journey to Diêu Tri and it took about 4 and half hours. From there it was about 15km to Quy Nhon and we used Grab app to get a ride (30K VND).
Quy Nhon - Diêu Tri
This was just our sleep stop over, so we haven’t really seen much from the city. We stayed in Hung Gia Hotel, small but clean Hotel with working AC and early at the morning we called Grab again and returned back to Diêu Tri train station.
We tried to book the train tickets to Da Nang through the reception at our hotel but as it was last minute, we somehow couldn’t do so without Vietnamese Credit Card. We have decided to get them at the train station and when we arrived, obviously the only way to pay was in cash and we didn’t have enough.
I’ve called Grab motorbike that drove me to the nearest ATM and back to the station, paid for the tickets 425K VND pp for a Vietnam Railways SE2 train and we still had a bit of time left to grab a coffee at before the departure. Train journey took slightly over 6 hours and again it was fun and great experience to see the passing country through the window.
We arrived to Da Nang train station around noon and we took a Grab ride from the train station to the hotel. We had booked two nights in Aria Grand Hotel close to the beach. This Hotel was fantastic, clean and spacious with lovely balcony.
Staff was super friendly and helped us rent a motorbike (160k a day) so we went to explore the city.
Called city of bridges for a reason, Da Nang is wonderful with all the spectacular bridges over the river Hàn, about 1M of citizens, lovely chilled down atmosphere and wonderful beaches. Easily my favourite city in Vietnam. I loved the Dragon Bridge (Cầu Rồng) and the Night Market with delicious food right next to it, little peninsula with Buddha statue overlooking the bay and pretty much anything here.
Hội An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast known for its well-preserved Ancient Town. It’s obviously a tourist trap but still worth a see. So as it was just a short motorbike ride from Da Nang we went to see it. The Old town is packed with merchants selling everything you need and don’t need with plenty of little cafes and restaurants to grab a coffee or beer. It was roasting hot and full of tourists so after and hour or so we have decided to come back to Da Nang.
Spend the rest of the day on the city beach and planned the trip to the Bà Nà Hills Park for the next early morning.
Bà Nà Hills - Golden Bridge
We get up early, sit on motorbike and stopped along the way for breakfast by the road. It was over an hour long ride and when we arrived at Sun World it was about 30 min before official opening time.
Golden bridge, the main attraction was build and finished last year and it quickly become an internet sensation. It is actually part of the Fun Park and the only way to get there is to pay entrance to a park and then get a 5.5km cable car to the top of the Bà Nà Hills.
Entrance fee is 750K VND and I do suggest to be there as early as you can to not only avoid the masses of tourist coming later but also to get a chance to experience a sunrise or at least the morning light :)
It was fun to but after two hours it started to be unbearably hot and the park filled with millions of people so we get back to the cable car and then jumped on our motorbike and drove back to Da Nang.
City beach in Da Nang isn’t that bad but there is a little peninsula in Da Nang that we knew must have a way better beaches so we decided to explore it further. After driving around for about an hour around the military bases and radars we have finally found a wonderful private beach where we spend the rest of the day.
We really liked this city a lot so we have decided to fly back to Saigon instead of the long train journey and save some time so we could stay longer in Da Nang.
I found flights with Jetstar Pacific for 70Euro pp (including seats and luggage) so we book them and extended stay for extra night in our lovely Aria Grand Hotel.
Next morning we went to visit the Mÿ Son, Ancient Hindu City build between 4th and 14th Century by the kings of Champa about 70Km from Da Nang. Spectacular abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples in a valley roughly two kilometres wide that is surrounded by two mountain ranges. I do recommend you to get there as early as you can as it can be really hot there not to mention the loads of tourist too. Entrance fee is 150K VND pp and there is also a little museum and few shops with refreshments.
After another hour and half ride on motorbike and little stop for the coffee, we have arrived back at our hotel, packed our luggage, check-out and spend the time waiting for the flight at the rooftop hotel pool.
Our plan was to return to Saigon for last couple of nights, get to day trip to Mekong delta and do some souvenir shopping, so I’ve booked for our next place a lovely apartment in Ho Chi Minh City for three nights.
Two hours later after the booking was made, property have cancelled it and stated that they were overbooked. Booking.com promptly offered another apartment that seems to be fairly similar to one we chosen originally, so I’ve confirmed that.
JetStar Pacific flight was scheduled at 4pm from Da Nang Airport and unfortunately it was over two hours delayed. Da Nang is probably the worst airport I’ve ever been to. No Informations, No Airline reps, No Informations at all. Very frustrating. It was almost 8pm when we arrived at Ho Chi Minh City airport. Again Grab saved the time and money and within 30min we were at the apartment location.
Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon
Now the booking trouble part.. When we arrived, I’ve tried to call the owner of the apartment with no response. The SIM card we purchased for data had some allowance for local calls too. I keep trying calling for about 30in and when we still had no response, I’ve send message to booking support. The reply was, “we will contact you in 48h”. I nearly exploded, I kept trying to contact booking over the chat or email, bit with no response. I found UK customer care number but the Vietnamese SIM card in my phone did’t allow international calls and using my Czech SIM card fro calling Uk number from Vietnam would be too expensive.
So I’ve continued to try to contact booking through chat with no response. It was 11pm when a lady that saw us sitting in the lobby of the apartment and offered to stay for a night in her room. As we still didn't hear from booking yet and had booked place that we couldn’t get in to (I couldn’t cancel the booking either as there was a fee) we agreed and stay for a night. Around 1am booking finally responded and offered another place, as it was too late already, we decided to sleep where we were and move to another place next day. The place offered from booking.com wasn't the same category as the one we booked so I’ve asked them to find another one. They couldn't find comparable place in the city centre so they offered place in Vinhomes Central park slightly further away. As we had our plans completely ruined for two days, I’ve agreed and we moved to our new apartment.
It was slightly after 11:30am when we arrived at Landmark 4 Apartment in Vinhomes Central Park. Check in time was at 2pm but the owner agreed that we can drop the bags to the apartment earlier than that. We met with the owner and at noon and she gave us the key and we could leave our stuff in the apartment. She asked for payment in cash but the booking meant to be paid with the card. She asked for extra 2% charge for credit card payments which I’ve denied and advised her to contact booking.
We went to the city centre to get some food and to Ben Thanh Market for some souvenir and presents shopping. When we arrived back to the apartment, owner was fine with the card payment without the fee :). I’ve mentioned that we booked also a breakfast and she didn't know what I’m talking about but agreed to drop us some food at the morning. (it was pho soup with piece of bread)
Mekong Delta - My Tho and Bén Tre
Next morning was time to go to Mekong Delta. We booked a tour organised by Get Your Guide and for the price 400K VND it was totally worth it. We met at 8am at the location in city centre near Ben Than Market as our Apartment was slightly far away from the centre. (they do a hotel pickup too within certain area) and with small bus we went towards My Tho. It took about hour and half and at My Tho we jumped to the boats and went down the river towards the Unicorn Island. There we got to the small rowing boats for a ride through the Mekong canals surrounded with the coconut palm trees towards Coconut Island.
We stopped at the coconut sweets factory, did some sweets shopping and had lunch at the restaurant before a boat ride back to the My Tho.
After a short bus ride we stopped at Vĩnh Tràng Temple, visited the Pagoda and then the bus drove us back to Saigon.
We spend our last day shopping and then got a Grab ride back to our Apartment, packed all our stuff and went to sleep as we had early morning flight from the Ho Chi Minh City Airport.
When we arrived at the Airport, we were already checked-in online so I was just looking for Qatar Airways Baggage drop.
With the bag on the belt, lady at the check-in counter told us that we wouldn't be able to access our bags in Doha. When I stated that we booked a separate flight with 18h layover and that we need the bags, she called Qatar Aiways representative to sort it out.
Lady from Qatar Airways pretty much just repeated that we cannot get our bags with our tickets and if we want them in Doha, we need to purchase a two new tickets. That doesn't make sense, so I’ve asked her for her name what she denied to tell and when I took my iPhone to snapped a photo of her, she called a security on me.
Later on at the Airport I found on Qatar Airways web page that they should gave us our bags in Doha when we asked and it was later confirmed on board by the cabin crew.
When we arrived in Doha, I found the Qatar Airways office and tried to get our bags. First lady at the counter almost agreed but then a man jumped in and asked for 30USD per bag to get them. When I was comparing that there is nothing about fee stated on their website, he decline to talking to me.
We pass the security and as I didn't want to give up, I went to another Qatar Airways office and tired to asked for the luggage again. This time the guy was calling somewhere and after like 30 min he said the same, we had to pay for the bags or they will go directly to Prague. I was tired and almost agreed to pay when he told me it will take another hour at least to get them.
We were already for almost two hours at the airport and I didn't wanted to cut more time from our stop in Doha, I’ve finally gave up.
Except those two little issues, one with Booking.com that let us down and the later with Qatar Airways leaving us in Doha only with shorts and camera, it was an amazing trip to a wonderful country.
We definitely need to come back to see the north of the Vietnam one day. Hanoi and Halong Bay I’m looking at you. :)