A Journey Through Southeast Asia: Vietnam

May 9, 2024

Eleven planes, one big boat, two medium-sized boats, about five long boats, one high speed train, countless van transfers, one 1940’s army Jeep and two tuk-tuks/cyclos. 

Note: Vietnam and Laos were a combo trip

That’s just the major transportation for a 16-day trip (not counting all the hiking and biking) starting in Vietnam, heading to Laos, and ending in Vietnam. 

To connect the dots: MSP-ICN-HAN, a few days in Hanoi, one night on a boat in Ha Long Bay, float plane to HAN, flight to Luang Prabang-Laos, a few days in Luang Prabang, a train to the north of Laos, (several nights complete with bikes, feet, boats) then back to Luang Prabang for three nights. A flight to BKK – SGN, last minute charter flight to CXR and transport to hotel for four nights on the Vinh Hy Bay, Vietnam.

In case you missed the point, getting to and around these two countries takes patience (which we don’t have), flexibility (even though we change plans at the very last minute, I wouldn’t use the word flexible for us) and alcohol (which we did have, thankfully).

It could have been worse; we had 14 planes booked. One mysteriously changed by 7 hours, and one we missed (thanks to immigration lines in Saigon).

But was it worth it?  Undoubtedly, yes.

Let’s start with Vietnam (and you can read the recap of Laos here).

We’ve been to Vietnam a few times before, including a bicycling trip from Hanoi to Hue to Da Nang to Hoi An to Saigon (yes, I know it’s been renamed as Ho Chi Minh City).  It was a treat to come back again and not be in a hurry to hit the high points, and really get to know the people and countryside.




For brevity, we’ve done a Q&A using most of the questions we usually get:

Is it hard to get to?

Actually, the above aside, getting to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh is fairly simple. There are many direct flights from the US to Seoul and direct flights to either city from there. Be prepared for very long flights and a gnarly time difference of 13 hours. 

What’s not to miss?

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, the cities of Hue and Hoi An, and equal parts seeing the countryside – filled with rice patties and farms, and the dramatic coastline – especially around Nha Trang. If you visit Ha Long Bay, the ideal way is go with a more private boat that takes you away from the rest of the tourists, and spend the night. The peace, beauty and serenity of waking up there was spectacular. Equally memorable was the float plane ride over this dramatically beautiful place.

You can easily skip Saigon or limit it to a night.


Ha Long Bay

Vinh Hy Bay

Is it safe? (Submitted repeatedly by my mother.)


Any ill will toward Americans?

None whatsoever. Vietnam has fought against and been taken over by almost everyone in the world.  They welcome tourists with warmth and smiles.

The food?

Is incredible. Flavorful, fresh, nothing like Vietnamese food in the US (with some exceptions). The musts are Vietnamese egg rolls, Banh Mi (sandwiches… try Bánh Mỳ Trâm in Hanoi), Pho (try Pho Hang Trong in Hanoi), Bun Cha (Bun Cha 74 in Hanoi), which is smoked meat and vermicelli noodles, and Cha Ca (the uber popular Cha Ca Thang Long in Hanoi), which is marinated fried fish with sauteed veggies and herbs, service with vermicelli and peanuts and cooked at your table.  

How do you plan a trip to Vietnam?

An operator/guide is almost necessary in SE Asia and certainly makes the trip more enjoyable. You can easily get to Hanoi and organize travel and tours through your hotel, including a trip to Ha Long Bay. But, to really see and enjoy the cities and countryside, a good local guide is key. Trails of Indochina specializes in this area, or if you want to be more active, go through Backroads for one of their organized trips, or use Butterfield for either an organized trip or to plan a private (like we did).

Best hotels:

  • In Hanoi, Capella or Hotel Metropole (across the street from each other).
  • In Saigon, the Park Hyatt is the best located and known, although it’s big and there’s nothing terribly unique.

Best splurge hotels/memorable experiences:



Hike near Amanoi

Most memorable moments:

  • The first (and second and third) time on the streets in Hanoi, walking through the markets, and navigating the traffic with no traffic lights or crosswalks.
  • Waking up in the complete quiet and seclusion of Ha Long Bay. (A close second is kayaking in on the completely still water).
  • Hiking up the peak near Amanoi to have a commanding view of the dramatic coastline and the fishing villages.
  • The sunrises from the Amanoi.


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