Vietnam – how to do it

Streets of Hoi An
Streets of Hoi An

I’ve had a few friends want to know how I did it. Airfares, daily costs, accommodation, tips for kids. All the practical stuff.

This is based on just me and my boy – a twin room. Family rooms seem pretty reasonable, as well.

You could do things a little cheaper than I did. Probably. Bargained a bit more. Some battles just weren’t worth the fight for me.

My key piece of advice is research. I’m a bit OCD like that. I get a thrill out it.

I like a plan. I like to be prepared. I looked up how much the taxi was going to cost from the airport to the Hanoi. I read about places to eat. I had a map before I left.

Airfares
Book as far in advance as possible. I booked in February to go in August. I booked out of school holidays. Everything is cheaper. I booked online. I did all one-way flights. I flew with Scoot to Singapore. It cost $208 each. We stayed with family in Singapore for two nights, which was a great stopover and adjustment.

We flew Tiger from Singapore to Hanoi. That cost $123 each. Then we flew Tiger/Scoot home. That cost $677 for BOTH of us. Mind you, Scoot cancelled the flight from Singapore to Sydney without telling us. We had to spend an extra night in Singapore. Total return flights cost $1,339 for both of us. $669.50 each – so doable!

We had internal flights from Hanoi to Da Nang return. Book as far ahead as you can for these, too. I left it too late. Ended up costing a bit more than if I’d done it months in advance. It cost $151 return each. I heard from other travellers that sleep buses are good. You basically get a compartment to sleep in. Though it’s a big short if you’re really tall.

Accommodation
I used agoda.com. It has great discounts. I spent hours reading the reviews. They helped. A lot. I stuffed up on my initial booking in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. I booked a ‘3-star’ place that turned out to be pretty dingy. Nothing worked. It was cramped. No international TV. Breakfast wasn’t nice. Not what I needed for a seven year old.

So I got on agoda.com and found another place that was reduced from $600 a night to $140. And it was five-star heaven. The Apricot Hotel. Not somewhere I would normally stay. Bit too flash for me. But hey, nothing compared to what I’d pay in Sydney. It had a rooftop pool and was opposite the lake. It was still near the great vibes of the Old Quarter. And round the corner from St Joseph’s Square which is a cool place to eat and hang out.

The grand entrance to The Apricot Hotel
The grand entrance to The Apricot Hotel

I got the accommodation right in Hoi An. The Sunshine Hotel. Brilliant. Laid back. Friendly staff. Beautiful pool. Rooms were spacious, clean and fresh. It wasn’t too fancy, but exactly what we needed. Lovely buffet breakfast by the pool. Out of the main bustle. Half way between town and the beach. A shuttle service. Our room had a balcony which overlooked the pool. $43 a night. There was a cute restaurant across the road if we didn’t feel like going into the old town.

The Sunshine Hotel. Our room was the balcony room above the pool. $43 a night.
The Sunshine Hotel. Our room was the balcony room above the pool. $43 a night.

Getting around
We hired a scooter for seven days in Hoi An. Really could have just hired it by the day as we didn’t use it two of the days. It cost US$45 for seven days or US$7 a day. Gave us freedom. It made getting into the town easy. Going to the beach a breeze. Exploring so much fun. Getting lost continually. Maps from the hotel are never to scale. Remember that.

A taxi from the airport to Hanoi was about $20. Same from Da Nang to Hoi An. The Sunshine Hotel has bicycles you can use for free. It’s a great way to get to the beach and in to town. Everyone rides bikes. It feels safe.

Food
What you spend on meals can vary greatly. The first night I was overwhelmed and jet lagged and spent more on a meal in Hanoi than I would in Newtown! Wine is expensive. Drink local beer. Or cocktails.

Street meals vary from $1-5. A small bottle of water is $1. A 450ml beer is about $2. Breakfast is usually included in hotel rates. Some days I’d get baguettes and go to the markets and get some tomatoes and herbs. An average meal for us at a restaurant was $25-28 with drinks. It would probably work out less if there were more of you as you can sample several dishes. I wanted to sample everything.

There’s a cute place in St Joseph’s Square in Hanoi called La Place. Mains are about $6. It’s a Bohemian style café. A bit of Newtown in Hanoi. You can sit upstairs opposite the cathedral and watch the kids play soccer.

St Joseph's Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Turmeric fish - $6 at La Place
Turmeric fish – $6 at La Place

My favourite in Hoi An was Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant. Oh. My. God. I have never tasted food so good. Great atmosphere.

We went to a local mini market and got a few things to keep in the bar fridge. Some juices. Mixers for my bottle of duty-free vodka. Snacks.

Some highlights for kids
Hanoi: It is imperative that you go to the Water Puppet Show. If you have kids or not. It’s brilliant. We went twice. Tickets cost $4.50. A walk around Hoan Kiem Lake is lovely. The Old Quarter is fun and bustling. A cyclo ride is a great way to explore. The Museum of Ethnology is brilliant. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours. There are displays of all the ethnic groups that make up Vietnam. Then you can wander around the garden and see the houses they live in. Climb them. Feel them. Get an insight into how people lived.

Museum of Ethnology
Museum of Ethnology

Hoi An: Do a cooking class. The one we did incorporated a bit more than just cooking. We went to the markets first. An assault for the senses. Thriving. Heaving. So much freshness. Then a boat ride down the river. Tranquil. A ride in a traditional fishing boat. Then the cooking experience by a lake. It’s the best part of a day. We did the Fishing and Farming Cooking Tour. It cost $68 for both of us. Cookingandfishing.com

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A motorbike tour was a highlight for us. First we went to Marble Mountain. Definitely worth a trip even if not doing a tour. We spent several hours exploring the temples and caves. It was cool. Hot. It opened a lot of discussion with my boy about religion.

One of the many statues at Marble Mountain
One of the many statues at Marble Mountain

The tour went over the Hinterland Highways. Spectacular views. Hairy curves. Big trucks full of pigs. Goats herding on the side. It was beautiful. We were taken to a small waterhole. It was gorgeous. Just locals and us. We had lunch there. Then back over the mountains home. It was a full day. It cost $119 for us both. My boy sat at the front, me at the back. Long looked after us. He was great. Hoiannewdaytours.com

Hinterland Highway
Hinterland Highway

An Dang beach is beautiful. If you want a deck chair and umbrella you need to purchase something from the restaurant the chair belongs to. It might only be a drink. A whole coconut costs $2.20. We went and hung out at the restaurant overlooking the beach and had lunch. Then moved to the chairs to laze for the afternoon.

An Dang beach
An Dang beach

Just walking around the old town is a trip in itself. Incredible architecture. Gorgeous lanterns at night. Temples that are like a little oasis in the heat. It was hot when we were there. 35 degrees every day. So it was a struggle to get my boy to pound the pavement with me. We did it in bits.

So there you have it. A run down of how to do Vietnam in 12 days. And that’s only two places. I’m glad we didn’t rush too much. Some days I spent money on a tour, another day we’d just hang by the pool or go to the beach and not spend much. I certainly lived on less than I would in Sydney.

Do it!

Life’s too short not to.

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