Vietnam Awakening

Sample Itinerary: Two Weeks
The River Runs Through: Plying the lazy waters of the Thu Bon River in old Hoi An (Alistair Wearmouth)
Access & Resources
Getting There:
All international air travel from the U.S. to Vietnam will require a stopover of some sort at an Asian hub like Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Bangkok. United operates code-sharing services to Ho Chi Minh City with Japan’s All Nippon Airways and Thai Airways, departing from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Sample roundtrip fares cost approximately $1,100 to $1,500 ( )

Malaysian Airlines flies to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, via Kuala Lumpur, from New York’s Newark or Los Angeles, with sample fares from $1,000 to $1,400 ( ).

Flights to and from Europe are more frequent, particularly through the major travel hubs of London, Paris, or Frankfurt. Consider also multi-stop round-the-world tickets that will allow you to combine travel to Vietnam via Europe, Southeast Asia, and beyond.

In-Country Travel:
Traveler’s cafés in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are excellent places to organize day tours and longer trips throughout Vietnam, as well as overland excursions into Cambodia, Laos, and beyond. Both Kim Café ( ) and Sinh Café ( ) operate out of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

More Information:
Visit or for useful information on visa requirements, weather, festivals, and more.

DAYS 1-3
Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and spend some time getting to grips with the chaos that is downtown. But, your first task: get out of the famously muddled Tan Son Nhat Airport, Vietnam's southerly international gateway. Central Ho Chi Minh is broken up into easily navigable districts, much like the Parisian arrondissements; District 1 and nearby Pham Ngu Lao offer the best selection of hotels and hostels. Spend the next several days exploring neighborhoods like Cholon and the Colonial Quarter while absorbing the old (pagodas, temples) and new (War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace) of this fascinating city.

DAYS 4-5
Join one of the many day trips out of the city, including a full-day outing to the Mekong Delta and a combo full-day tour of Vietnam's weirdly cult-like Cao Dai temple and the humbling Cu Chi tunnels, used by the Viet Cong to strike at the Saigon suburbs and supply lines during the war.

DAYS 6-7
Depart Ho Chi Minh by private minibus (book tickets from Kim Café or Sinh Café on Pham Ngu Lao Street) to the hill station of Dalat, 185 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh. Centered around Xuan Huong Lake and sitting at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, Dalat was developed by Vietnam's former French colonial masters as a hill resort for escaping the oppressive heat in the Delta. Popular today amongst Vietnamese honeymooners, Dalat is a somewhat tawdry relic of the country's colonial past, though it's certainly worth a detour just for the highland scenery and a taste of Vietnamese café culture while sipping java by the lake.

DAYS 8-10
Travel the relatively short 130 miles toward the coast and the resort town of Nha Trang. Spend one day lounging on the four-mile-long beach and exploring the Cham Ponagar Temple, an overgrown temple complex built between 7 and 12 A.D. that was once the epicenter of Vietnam's powerful Cham Kingdom. Escape several miles south to the quaint fishing hamlet of Cau Da, where you'll also find the villa of former Emperor Bao Dai—now a hotel popular with government apparatchiks. Spend one day cruising the islands and hidden coves of Nha Trang Bay in the uproarious company of Mama Hahn, if not for the liquid refreshment, then for the snorkeling and delectable seafood lunches.

DAYS 10-12
Back on the road for a bumpy 12-hour minibus ride to Hoi An, an ancient trading port settled by 16th-century traders carrying silk, spices, and tea to and from China. A laid-back, unpretentious town, spend your time getting fitted for a cheap tailor-made suit and sniffing out the best seafood restaurants. Rent a motorbike for a day and brave the area's roads to visit peaceful Cua Dai Beach or the ruins of My Son temple, set amidst beautifully lush countryside about two hours southwest from Hoi An. While the ride along heavily potholed roads is itself an adventure, the temple ruins, crumbling and grazed by wandering cattle, evoke an ancient past as well as memories of the Vietnam War (bullet holes are still visible from an attack by U.S. helicopter gunships).

DAY 13
Catch a taxi to nearby Danang (20 miles), the staging post for the U.S. war effort and bridgehead to the northerly DMZ, scene of the fiercest fighting in the Vietnam War. If time permits, swing by China Beach (of G.I. R&R fame) and Marble Mountain, a strategic outcrop used by the Viet Cong to harry the nearby American airbase. Fly back to Ho Chi Minh for your return trip home, or a final chance to utilize your now-perfect haggling skills in the city's markets and bazaars.

Published: 4 Oct 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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