When we asked Hannah, our lovely Marketing Assistant, to go and try out our brand spanking new Vietnam Travel Pass programme, she leapt at the chance (unsurprisingly) – here's what she had to say about it...
I’ve recently returned from trying out the Vietnam Travel Pass and had a fantastic time! The pass includes a hop-on hop-off bus that starts in Ho Chi Minh City in the south and ends in the capital, Hanoi, in the north, with loads of stops at some really interesting places along the way for either one or two nights. Here are my highlights from each stop...
Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi Tunnels half day tour
Price: $7 USD
I’d been told that the Cu Chi Tunnels were a must see whilst in Vietnam so as soon as I arrived at the hostel I booked a trip for the following morning. The tour starts at about 8am from the hotel and you arrive back in Ho Chi Minh City at around 2pm (which gave me enough time to visit the war remnants museum afterwards).
The tunnels themselves are a huge underground network that were used by the Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots, supply routes and living quarters during the Vietnam War. One section of the tunnel is open to visitors so if you’re not too claustrophobic then it’s worth a go. The tunnel has been enlarged for tourists but it’s still not huge, it’s 100m long in total but there are exit points every 20m so if you’re not too comfortable but still want to try it out then you can exit after 20m like I did!
Canyoning day trip
Price: $72 USD
After a few fun days exploring Ho Chi Minh City I hopped on the bus to the first stop – the hill station town of Da Lat. Da Lat is known as the honeymoon capital of Vietnam due to its cooler climate and beautiful scenery. There are lots of adventure activities on offer in Da Lat – from cycling trips to white water rafting, but I had heard great things about the canyoning trips. Our guide on the bus helped me to organise the trip and I was picked up from my hostel the following morning.
My trip involved seven different activities based at the Da Lanta waterfalls near Da Lat. We abseiled down some pretty high and fast sections of the falls and into the water at the bottom so be prepared to get wet! There are also two opportunities to try out ‘natural waterslides’ by sliding down smooth sections of the rock and into the pools at the bottom and an 11m cliff jump into the river below (I wasn’t brave enough for that one!).
Disclaimer: This tour is not for the faint-hearted!
Our next stop on the route was the tiny fishing village of Bai Xep. With 400 residents it’s really off the tourist trail and with only three hotels you’re likely to have the gorgeous beach mostly to yourself.
In terms of activities, there are a few trips you can do to the surrounding areas, but it was great to have some chill time after a busy few days. The whole group opted to enjoy a day of swimming in the sea, reading, sunbathing and strolling down the beach and around the village. In the evening our hotel put on an awesome seafood BBQ for us all. Having dinner and drinks to the sound of the waves on the beach next to us was a great way to finish a day of R&R.
Half day cooking class
Price: $25 USD
Speak to anyone who has been to Vietnam and they’ll often tell you that Hoi An is their favourite place. It’s not without reason – Hoi An is a really beautiful city bursting with colonial European, Chinese and Japanese influences and there’s loads to do! Take a boat trip down the Thu Bon River, check out the landmarks in Hoi An old town (tickets included in the bus pass), buy anything from souvenirs to fresh fruit in the extensive markets, or explore more of the local area by bike.
Vietnamese cooking classes are really popular in Hoi An and so this is what I decided to do. We left early in the morning to head to the local market to buy all of our ingredients, which was certainly an interesting experience (be prepared to see plenty of live produce!). We reached the cooking school via a short boat ride to a lovely setting where the school is surrounded by rivers, reeds and rice paddies. We learnt how to cook four different dishes from spring rolls to the legendary Vietnamese Phở (a rice noodle soup with beef) and then got to sample them ourselves – needless to say we were absolutely stuffed and in need of a nap by the end!
It was a great morning and left us with plenty of time to explore the rest of Hoi An old town and do some souvenir shopping in the afternoon. The best part is that they give you a recipe book to take home so you can make amazing Vietnamese food for your friends and family once you’re back (although mine are still waiting for me to give it a go!).
Exploring the Citadel
After a great few days in Hoi An we hopped back on the bus and took a short journey to the former capital of Vietnam – Huế, which seemed much calmer and not as busy as other cities I visited en route. Unless you decide to hop off the bus and stay a little longer, you only spend one night in Huế but it felt like long enough to see everything.
Some of my group went on a motorbike tour to see more of the city and surrounding area but I went for a stroll around the Citadel – a walled city built by past Emperors of Vietnam. The Citadel is vast and, although it’s not quite the same as it once was, it’s easy to see how grand it would have been back in its heyday.
Exploring Paradise Cave
Next stop was the Phong Nha National Park – another one for lovers of the outdoors (and foodies as it turns out!). The local town is fairly new to tourism but there’s a lovely friendly atmosphere and some excellent restaurants – fancy barbequing your own delicious food on a personal BBQ? Phong Nha is the place!
The main reason people visit Phong Nha is to explore the hundreds of cave systems and underground rivers and marvel at the oldest karst mountains in Asia. Phong Nha is actually home to the world’s largest cave, which incredibly was only discovered in 1991 – if you want to see it for yourself you’ll need at least seven days and over $3,000 USD to spare for a unique trek. Luckily for the rest of us, entrance to another of the national park’s most impressive caves – Paradise Cave, is included in the travel pass. It’s full of breathtaking rock formations and you can explore the first 1km of the cave with your included ticket.
For the more adventurous, it’s possible to take tours further into the cave for an extra cost. There is also a dark cave tour available that includes zip lining, kayaking and mud bathing in another of the park’s many spectacular caves.
Boat trip to the Trang An Grottoes
Known as the ‘Halong Bay on land’ Ninh Binh features more phenomenal karst scenery. A boat tour through the surrounding caves and peaks to the Trang An Grottoes is included in the travel pass. The area was actually the filming location for the most recent King Kong film, Skull Island, so after cruising around and soaking up the scenery you can hop off the boat to explore the set – it’s pretty surreal!
Evening street food tour
Price: $30 USD
Final stop and ending point for the Vietnam travel pass is the capital city of Hanoi. Bursting with history and culture it’s especially famous for delicious food but there’s also plenty of sightseeing to be done.
As I was short on time in Hanoi, I opted to go on a street food tour and wow did they pack a lot in! The tour starts at 5pm and the local guide will take you to all the best places buying you things to try along the way. We must’ve stopped and tried at least eight or nine different culinary delights, from Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguettes) to spring rolls, and the famous egg white coffee. It didn’t take long until we were all stuffed, so make sure you go on an empty stomach!
If you have time then I’d recommend factoring a few extra days into the end of your trip to visit Sapa or Halong Bay (or both!). Your guide will be able to help you to book this before you finish the tour. I went to Halong Bay myself and it was incredible, some of my friends from the bus visited Sapa instead and were also raving about it!
Vietnam is an amazing country and the Vietnam Travel Pass makes it easy to visit loads of different destinations within a 2-3 week window, which was perfect for me. Of course, if you have longer I’d definitely recommend hopping off and exploring each area in more detail. The guide on the bus is really knowledgeable and always on hand to help with booking accommodation and activities meaning you have more time to relax and enjoy all that Vietnam has to offer. Vietnam really has it all – great beaches and islands, adventure activities, culture, food – I can’t wait to go back!