Around the World Trip: Da Nang, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

*By Whitney*

Vietnam was the 8th country on our trip! We had already been to Northern Vietnam and were heading to Central and Southern Vietnam!

If you haven’t already, check out my posts on our adventures at the other stops: 

Timeline: Da Nang (Oct 15-17), Hoi An (Oct 17-24), Ho Chi Minh City (Oct 24-29)

We left Ha Long and got a bus back to Hanoi, so that we could fly out of the Hanoi airport. While in Ha Long, we found out we could have actually flown to/from a smaller airport nearby (Cat Ba International Airport). This didn’t come up during our research for planning our travels, but in the future we would use that option to avoid the 4 hour bus ride to/from Ha Long! We had a few hours to kill in Hanoi before heading to the airport which we spent in the air conditioned local chain Highlands Coffee. Just the couple hours of dealing with being a pedestrian back in Hanoi reminded us why we hated it the first go round!

Da Nang

When we arrived in Da Nang, we immediately felt we liked it a lot better. In some ways, it reminded us a bit of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was still a city, but not quite as big or overwhelming. We decided to walk from the airport to our Airbnb which wasn’t too far away. We stayed at an Airbnb in someone’s home right in the city. Upon arriving, we thought the house style was really cool. It was in a neighborhood just off a main road. The homes were like townhouse style, with 2-5 levels, adjacent to one another, with a big open main level that you could see into from the outside, either with completely open doors/walls or all glass. Walking by, you could see every single family in their living room, or some of them had a business operating out of their downstairs. We stayed with a very nice family, and the interior of their home was immaculate with very new amenities. We were so happy to see a clean and modern bedroom and bathroom! The Airbnb was also in a great location, walking distance to almost everything. The only potential downside to our Airbnb was that we were on the 4th floor of a family home, and they locked up their front door/gate at 11pm, so we essentially had a curfew. But this wasn’t a problem for us as we didn’t have any plans of staying out late while in Da Nang. Overall it was a great experience!

In Da Nang we did some sightseeing, including visiting a Catholic Church, the local market, the modern malls, a few awesome bridges (including one decorated like a dragon!), and an amazing Buddhist temple on a mountain by the beach with gorgeous sunset views! We had some delicious food there (including fresh spring rolls and bun thit nuong) and tried the ever-popular milk tea. I also got a really good gel manicure and pedicure there at a third of the cost of what it would be in the U.S.! (No nail salon for Jared this time, he was still scarred from his ingrown toenail experience from the pedicure in Thailand!)

Hoi An

From Da Nang, we took a short taxi ride to nearby Hoi An, which was arranged at a cheap price by our amazing host in Hoi An. Little did we know when we arrived in Hoi An that it would become one of our absolute favorite places in the world! I can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed Hoi An. To start, we stayed at the best homestay with the best host anyone could ask for. The homestay was a small building with 4 bedrooms, a common area, and a kitchen. The host lives in one room and rents out the other 3. The home was beautifully decorated and had very modern amenities, including the best shower we’d had our entire time in Asia! The homestay was just a block from the beach, as well as many restaurants and bars. The beach bars/restaurants were an incredible perk all their own. Many of them offered beach access including lounge chairs and umbrellas; wifi; games; hammocks or cozy beach beds; and some even had pools! Just by buying a drink or eating there, you could enjoy all these amenities for the whole afternoon into the evening! It was so much fun, and we thoroughly enjoyed lounging by the beach for several days! Just a short drive from the beach is Hoi An Ancient Town and Hoi An City. Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, filled with coordinated yellow buildings, colorful lanterns, charming streets, unique bridges, and historic stops along the way. It was a magical place to be, although a bit crowded with other tourists!

During our time in Hoi An, we spent our fair share of time relaxing and enjoying our homestay as well as the nearby beaches and beach hangouts! We also spent some time in town trying delicious food, visiting the historic buildings, and going to the night market. We were able to meet up with friends we met in Hanoi from America, and also ran into our friend from the UK again as well! (Literally, ran into him without planning it, ha!). We got to be there during the monthly lunar lantern festival which was a neat experience. We also celebrated Jared’s 30th birthday while we were there. With the help of our host, I was able to plan a special day full of relaxing at our favorite beach club (Kahuna’s), enjoying (maybe too many) Birthday drinks, a romantic dinner by the beach, a small get together at our homestay (with more drinks!), and even a cake from a local bakery! Jared had maybe a little too much fun on his birthday, and we spent the whole next day recovering! The final highlight from our time in Hoi An was our host taking us to a secret locals spot for the most amazing local dish, My Quang, prepared by the woman known locally for making the best in town. It was so delicious that we went back two more times during our stay! It was such a cool experience eating this local dish prepared by a lovely woman who didn’t speak English, on the porch of her house tucked away in a neighborhood with no sign. We were lucky to have the inside scoop by our host, who called ahead each time to make sure she would have enough for us to enjoy. Every time we went, there were locals who stopped by toward the end of our meal only to learn that she was all out for the day, and to leave with empty stomachs and sad faces!

We spent only a week in Hoi An but could have easily stayed a month or more! We can’t wait to go back!

Ho Chi Minh City

After leaving Hoi An, we knew it would be hard to top, and we were a little nervous we’d have a bad experience in HCMC, the second largest city in the country, like we did in Hanoi. Luckily, our Airbnb when we got there was pretty nice, so it was a good step-down experience from Hoi An, ha! The only downside was it was located in a back alley where we saw lots of rats! Luckily the inside was nice and clean and safe. This one was like a hostel with private rooms, or more like a motel. We had a small but cozy bedroom, bathroom, mini fridge and water kettle, which are always nice to have. The hostel offered us transportation and tour packages, but from doing some research we found out that they were way overpriced! So we arranged all of that on our own.

We were able to do some sightseeing around town including visiting a Chinese temple “Jade Emperor Pagoda”; the Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral which are classic examples of French Colonial architecture in Vietnam; the local night market; and the tallest building in the city, Landmark 81!

We also learned a lot of history from the Vietnamese perspective on the American-Vietnam war while we were there. We visited the Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong hid, lived, and fought during the war. It was a fascinating place. I got claustrophobic inside the tiny tunnels and had to get out! And they’ve even widened them for tourists. The ones they actually lived in were smaller! There was some really grueling history there including how they used guerrilla warfare and hand made traps to defeat the US. I will say they were innovative and resourceful, but also brutal! We also went to the War Remnants Museum which we felt was definitely biased and had quite a bit of Vietnamese propaganda, but there are two sides to every story. Being born in the late 80s/early 90s, Jared and I really didn’t (and still don’t) know a lot about the Vietnam War because we weren’t around then. But what we saw at the museum about how the local people in Vietnam were affected was heartbreaking! It was definitely quite an experience and I’m glad we went.

The last thing we did in Ho Chi Minh which was unforgettable was a traditional Vietnamese cooking class! We signed up through Airbnb Experiences, which was the first time we had ever used that feature. We were in a small group of 4 people, and we met our host, a native of Vietnam, at the local wet market. She took us through the market and showed us the items to buy to make our meal (which would include Beef Pho (soup), Spring Rolls, Mango Salad, and Mango Dessert). We then went to her in-home kitchen to learn to prepare and cook all the items. It was such a fun experience. Our host was awesome, and all the recipes were from her family which was even more special. Everything was so delicious, easily some of the best food we had in Vietnam. I’m so glad we did the cooking class and would love to do another one at some point!

Ho Chi Minh was our last stop in Vietnam. Our Vietnam experience didn’t start out that great, but by the end we really learned to love the country!

Next Stop: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

Insider Tips on Vietnam (Da Nang, Hoi An, HCMC):

  • For tips on hygiene and sanitation, check out the insider tips section at the bottom of my Chiang Mai post! Most of it applies for all of Southeast Asia!
  • I forgot to mention in my last Vietnam post, US visitors do need a Visa to enter the country, regardless of length of stay. You need to do an e-Visa a couple weeks in advance, or get it at an Embassy in advance. We foolishly didn’t realize this and waited until the last minute when we were in Thailand a couple days before. We luckily found a short-cut where you can apply online through a travel agency for a same day or next day “Approval letter”. They basically pre-approve you, so you can then get a visa on arrival at the airport. But if you don’t either have the visa itself already or the pre-approval letter at the airport, they will NOT let you in. Don’t mess around on that one! I think it was about $5 for the pre-approval letter and $25 for the visa. Do your research!
  • Here’s a few key points from my last post:
    • In Vietnam, they drive on the right.
    • The currency is the Vietnamese Dong and it’s approx 1 USD = 23,000 dong. They don’t use coins, only bills.
    • You can use plug types A, C, and F. This means generally if you’re from the US or Europe (not UK), you can use your plugs without an adapter. But the Voltage is 220+ so even if it fits, you may still need a voltage converter. Modern electronics like laptops and cell phones are compatible at the US voltage of 110 and the other countries at 220+.
    • The language is Vietnamese, which uses the Latin alphabet with additional accent marks, making it slightly easier to pick up on for Westerners. However, pronunciation is difficult due to many tones.
    • A few important Vietnamese words to learn:
      • Hello: Xin Chao (there are a lot more greetings to learn that they use depending on who they’re talking to, but as a tourist this one was the easiest and seemed to suffice!)
      • Thank you: Cam On (I heard a lot of pronunciations of this one, but basically it’s just like saying “come on”)
  • In Da Nang and Hoi An, you have the option to stay at the beach or in the city. Both are really nice options! We stayed in the city in Da Nang and by the beach in Hoi An, and we liked our choices!
  • I would really recommend trying out staying at a “homestay” to get some local recommendations, especially for local food such as My Quang. Send us a message if you want the host’s info where we stayed so you can stay there too!
  • While in Hoi An, you HAVE TO try the restaurant “Morning Glory.” It came recommended to us by friends we met in Laos from the UK. They said it was the best. They were right.
  • Definitely recommend trying a cooking class. If you’re really serious about it, you could try different ones in different parts of the country, because the cuisine actually varies in different parts of the country we found out!
  • Watch out for motorbikes! Being a pedestrian or a motorbike driver yourself can be risky business in Vietnam.
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