Vietnam has progressed greatly since the war and is now one of the top tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Travelling and experiencing the best of this country can be done if you have a lot of time, say maybe two weeks, but what if you only have 7 days to spend here? Fear not, it’s possible. With some careful planning, you can enjoy a 7-day getaway that will expose you to the country’s major culture and entertainment destinations.
If you’re coming from another country, expect that your adventure will begin in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, since this is where you’ll be arriving. Upon exiting the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, you’ll be greeted by the warm climate and the friendly smiles of the locals, and you just know that you’re going to have an awesome time.
Ready? Grab your backpack, and let’s go on a Vietnam adventure!
Day 1 (morning)- The Cu Chi Tunnels just outside Saigon
Wear comfortable shoes and some cotton clothing and head to Cu Chi Tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels is about an hour’s drive away from the city, and not far from these tunnels are the jungles surrounding Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels play a big role in the history of Vietnam. During the time of the Vietnam War, just before Saigon fell to the communists, these tunnels were used as staging areas for Viet Cong raids. Nowadays the Cu Chi Tunnels showcase the bravery of the Vietnamese people, and there’s also a museum that can be found in the tunnels.
You can tour the Cu Chi Tunnels in one morning, then head back to the city for a nice lunch of pho, a noodle dish with broth and meat. Pho stalls are everywhere in the city, and it’s a filling lunch to be had at a very cheap price.
Day 1 (afternoon)- A Tour of the City of Saigon
It’s a good thing that the tourist spots in the city are close to one other, so you can visit them all in the space of one afternoon.
Your first stop is the War Remnants Museum which displays relics from the Vietnam War. Next, go to the Reunification Palace, which used to be the official residence of the President of South Vietnam.
Next stop is the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s consecrated as a Catholic house of worship, and many Catholics still attend Sunday mass here. Then, just across the street from the church is the Saigon Central Post Office. It’s a working post office that retains traces of French colonial power.
Not far is the Saigon Town Hall. At present, it is a government building and is closed to visitors. However, one may admire the French colonial architecture from the outside and pay respects to the iconic statue of Ho Chi Minh that is standing right outside the building.
After a whole day exploring and knowing the historical aspect of Saigon, your next stop is Hanoi. You can take an evening flight or an early morning flight to get there.
Day 2- Hanoi, the Capital of Vietnam
Upon arrival, take your pick among the luxurious accommodations that Hanoi has to offer. If you’re on a budget, you can choose to stay in one of the more affordable but charming lodgings at the Old Quarter.
Visit the Temple of Literature, an ancient university campus that is now a museum and temple. And it really is ancient—it’s almost a millennium old, just a dozen years younger than Hanoi itself. The temple is actually a number of compounds linked together by picturesque gates and pathways, culminating in an ornate Buddhist temple. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8AM to 5PM, so plan on going early.
Next up is the Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is rich in history, and it’s interesting to note that the origin myth of the Vietnamese nation took place here. According to the local legend, this is where the future emperor Le Loi received a sword from a magic turtle, then Le Loi used that sword to drive away the Chinese that were threatening to invade Vietnam.
From the lake, you won’t be far from Hanoi’s pubs, bars and live entertainment, so enjoy the nightlife before you go to your next destination on the following day. Just take care not to drink too much, you have a long drive ahead of you tomorrow morning.
Day 3 and 4- Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a 3-hour drive from Hanoi, but the long drive is worth it once you get a glimpse of the picturesque bay. The bay has over a thousand limestone karst outcrops and islands, and when you look up, you’ll see an undulating skyline that is absolutely gorgeous. The shores around the bay are lined with mangroves, freshwater swamp forests and beaches. To get around the bay you’ll need to ride on a touring boat. Some of the touring boats even have living quarters on board. Plan on spending two days here at Ha Long Bay to relax and be energized before moving on to the next destination.
Day 5- Back in Hanoi
No trip to Hanoi is complete without a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at Ba Dinh Square. Here is where Ho Chi Minh’s corpse lies in state, receiving visitors all year round, except during autumn when the body is sent to Russia to restore and preserve it. It’s open daily from 9AM to 12NN, so plan on going early because there’s usually a long line at this place.
Rules about dress and behavior are strictly enforced by the staff and guards, so dress in a conservative manner: definitely no shorts or miniskirts allowed. Visitors should be respectful and must be silent, and must walk in two lines. Hands should not be in pockets, and arms should not be crossed. Don’t even attempt to sneak in your camera because taking pictures and videotaping is not allowed anywhere inside the mausoleum. Eating, drinking or smoking is not allowed either.
Some monuments to Ho Chi Minh’s life are located near the temple, so walk on over to the Presidential Palace. It was his official residence and to this day, still serves as a venue for official functions.
From the palace, head towards the rear gardens where you will find a stilt house. Ho Chi Minh never actually stayed in the palace—he preferred to live in the humble stilt house. Some of his personal effects were left untouched inside the rooms.
Your final stop at Ba Dinh Square is the Ho Chi Minh Museum where you can view exhibits that feature the life of Ho Chi Minh and a few of his personal belongings.
Before you leave Hanoi, have some lunch and go shopping at the Old Quarter. Here you can buy toys, trinkets and all sorts of souvenir items to take home with you.
And now it’s back to Saigon.
Day 6 and 7- Saigon
Spend the last two days of your trip back in Saigon for some shopping, culture and entertainment.
Visit the An Dong Market, which is a huge 4-story market that is a haven for bargain shoppers, especially if you’re on the lookout for cheap clothes. The first two floors are taken up by food stalls, but the last two floors are full of shops selling jeans, t-shirts, dresses and shoes.
For army memorabilia, go to the Dan Sinh Market for military surplus. It’s also a good place to buy electronics and other machinery.
You can also go to Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpacker district. It’s a convenient place in Saigon to find cheap accommodation, food and nightlife. It’s near markets and a lot of attractions, making this place a perfect base for exploring Saigon.
Vietnam is truly a wonderful place to visit. Rich in history, steeped in culture and filled with attractions and entertainment for the curious traveler, it’s a place that will enchant you and beckon you to come back for more. For a truly awesome time, come to Vietnam. Every day spent here is a delightful experience.