I made a bit of a silly mistake. Well, it wasn't too silly, basically I got a bit too carried away having fun in Laos and kind of forgot the dates on my visa for Vietnam. By the time I realised, it left me with just two and a half weeks to blast through the country, which quite frankly wasn't enough, so I had to be sensible and I had to be cut-throat in my decisions over what to see and what to skip - with so many recommendations flying at me from other travellers it's bloody hard to whittle down into a final itinerary! That's why I thought it would be a good idea to share this with you guys - I met so many people along the way who just didn't know where to start in Vietnam and I've been able to offer so many tips to other travellers since but now I can condense it all into one post. So what do you need to know if you're heading to Vietnam? Well, Vietnam is a huge country - it might seem a small detail but it has a huge impact on your time in the country because you have to spend so much time travelling between places. Then there is the fact that Vietnam has some of the best quality and best organised overnight transport I have found in all of the places I have been in Asia - this is fantastic because it means it is easy to go to sleep in one place and wake up in another, cutting the wasted time.I started my trip in Hanoi and despite arriving on a bad note after a crash, I soon saw the charm of the city. I stayed in a hotel for this first night, after a series of grubby hostels I needed a break, which was nice for a night and very close to the cathedral. I won't bother putting the name of the hotel down because I paid a bit more for this and it quite frankly doesn't matter where you stay around here, the streets are filled with hostels, hotels and guest houses - most of them seem really good quality as I have had lots of recommendations. The Sanctuary is really lovely - a few friends of mine were staying there. I would always advise you to look at several places and compare ratings and reviews across Tripadvisor, Booking.com and Hostelworld as these can vary - always take reviews with a pinch of salt. I only needed a day to get round the majority of the sights including the mausoleum, the lake temples, the Temple of Literature and others - you could take longer or cut some sights and do it in a few hours. Many sights are walking distance from the cathedral but there are some you will need a tuk-tuk to get to and it just isn't Hanoi unless you've sat in a tuk-tuk and yelled because a hundred motorbikes were driving crazily around you. Why not book a Hanoi walking tour? A great city for walking around the side streets and exploring, but do be careful as I've heard of lots of bag snatches happening around the city.From here I booked a two day trip to Halong Bay leaving the next morning - the trip was with Golden Bay and I paid $80 for a private room on the cruise, a cooking lesson, a tour round caves, kayaking around a floating village and all food for the two days. I ended up sharing a room with another girl and so only had to pay $60 in the end, so it was pretty good value for money for what turned out to be a fabulous welcome to the country. Halong Bay is an absolute must - a UNESCO world heritage site, it is beyond beautiful and in good weather like we were lucky enough to get, it is amazing. The two days are perfect for relaxing and getting away from the crazy bustle of Hanoi - a good chance to see the real beauty of Vietnam. There are several other cruises available but be careful and shop around when booking as some people on my boat paid more than I did for the same cruise. Castaways is another but offers more of a party boat experience which I personally didn't fancy - but others have given it rave reviews. I really liked that my boat attracted a really mixed crowd which was much more appealing to me than the standard booze cruise. After the cruise I arrived back in Hanoi and that evening jumped straight on a sleeper train to Hue - now Hue is lovely, but if you're pinched for time, I would suggest it should be the first place to leave off this list. I spent one night here and one full day sightseeing which was interesting - I went to the Citadel and a couple of temples, but to be honest there wasn't much to do there and I was on the first bus to Hoi An the next morning. Check out my next two posts for what I got up to in my favourite two places in Vietnam - Hoi An and Da Lat - plus below are my pics from stunning Halong Bay.Got a bit more time to kill? I was gutted I didn't have time to experience northern Vietnam by heading to areas like Sapa - for many travellers I have met, their time in this area stood out the most for their Vietnam experience.mmany of my friends chose to hire or buy bikes and scooter their way around the rice paddies and then through the length of Vietnam over a couple of weeks - something that I would have loved to have done if I wasn't short of time and such a wuss at driving the bikes on such crazy roads. Several friends really recommended the home stays available in the Sapa area and even went as far as to say it was one of the best things they have done since travelling - when I return to Vietnam in future it will be top of my list of things to do. What a fantastic way to really experience the culture firsthand.
Have you been to Vietnam - what was your favourite place and why? Would you return for another trip?