Vietnam is the jewel of Southeast Asia, a country thousands of years old. Its official name is "The Socialist Republic of Vietnam". Vietnam has been invaded and colonized many times throughout history. Americans will receive little animosity in Vietnam despite the Vietnam War. The only political party in Vietnam is the Communist Party. Vietnam has a 5% return rate on tourists visiting the country. There is a sizable Chinese population living in Vietnam. Buddhism is the major religion. Tet is Vietnam's biggest holiday, kind of like if you rolled Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all into one. Tet occurs between late January and March. Fortunately, almost all of Vietnam's major tourist attractions can be visited by traveling south from the capital, Hanoi, to the largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, (commonly called by its old name, Saigon).
This itinerary can actually be started from either Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city, or Ho Chi Minh City, its largest city.
Hanoi's major airport is Noi Bai International Airport, 35 km north of the city. 25 airlines have direct flights to Hanoi. Taxis, public buses, shuttle buses, and hotel pickups can all get you into Hanoi's city centre.
The trains from Nanning and Beijing, China arrive in Gia Lam station. (All others arrive in Hanoi station). The train from Nanning departs at 18:20 daily and arrives in Hanoi at 04:45 the next day. An overnight bus+train combo runs from Kunming, China.
Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat airport is Vietnam's largest. It has two terminals: a rundown domestic one and a shiny new international one. Taxis and minibuses run from the airport to Ho Chi Minh City's city centre.
The Reunification Express runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, with five daily departures from Hanoi. The trip takes about 30 hours and ends at Ho Chi Minh City's Ga Sài Gòn train station, northwest of the city centre.
Several bus companies run buses from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to Saigon. However, a Vietnamese visa 'cannot be obtained at the border, so you must arrane one in advance. Buses also depart from most major cities in Vietnam, arriving at one of these four stations:
Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station. This is right in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, within walking distance of accommodation options and tourist sights.
Mien Dong Bus Station. Buses heading north arrive and leave from here. You can take bus No. 19 from Cho Ben Thanh Bus station to this station.
Mien Tay Bus Station. Take bus No. 139 from Tran Hung Dao Street to get here.
Cholon Bus Station.
Citizens of the following countries can obtain a visa on arrival and stay for the number of days listed:
15 days: Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Russia
21 days: Philippines
30 days: Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand
Residents of all other countries must have a visa arranged beforehand OR can secure a visa on arrival with a letter of recommendation from a travel agency.
Arrange a 3 day/2 night cruise of Ha Long Bay. Several companies offer various cruises, ranging from $75-$600. 2 nights is enough time to see Ha Long Bay and several of its sites, most of which the cruises stop at.
Ground transportation from Hanoi is included in the purchase price of most cruises, usually by means of a private bus departing Hanoi at around 07:30. If not, a bus from Hanoi to Ha Long City costs about $10.
Spend the night on your cruise boat.
Spend the night on your cruise boat.
Most Ha Long Bay cruises arrive back in Ha Long City at about 12:00.
Take the 13:00 bus to Haiphong, departing from Mien Tay bus station.
Arrive in Haiphong at 14:30. Cost: $2
Spend the night in Haiphong.
Take the 09:00 bus to Ninh Binh, departing from the Niem Nghia bus station.
Arrive in Ninh Binh at 11:30. Cost: $8
Hire a taxi driver for the rest of the day. It will be about $10. First, tell him to drive the 30-minute journey to Van Long Nature Reserve.
Arrive at Van Long Nature Reserve at 12:30.
The entrance fee to the reserve is $1.
Rent a sampan (bamboo boat) for a 90-minute journey through the reserve, often described as "Ha Long Bay on land". Cost: $3
Next, have your driver take you to Bai Dinh, an old Buddhist temple.
Arrive in Bai Dinh at 14:40.
After exploring the temple, ask your driver to go to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam.
Arrive at the Hoa Lu complex at 15:30.
After viewing the ancient ruins, drive to the Hang Mua pagoda for a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.
Arrive at Hang Mua at 16:40.
Head back to Ninh Binh after taking in the view at Hang Mua.
You will enter Ninh Binh at about 17:15.
Spend the night in Ninh Binh.
Take the sleeper train to Hué, departing at 21:39.
Arrive in Hué at 09:55. Cost: $34 for an air-conditioned lower-berth soft sleeper.