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Plan your gap year to Vietnam with this ultimate itinerary

Written by Zoe Faulkner on 30 / 06 / 2022

Gap Year Advice

Vietnam is stunning and blessed with a rich heritage, fascinating cities and delightful people, stretching over 1,600 kilometres from north to south. Starting in the north at Hanoi - famous for its elegant avenues and gold stoned mansions of the colonial city and maze of the bustling streets lined with traders in the old Quarter. Then Ha Long Bay with its towering limestone peaks jutting dramatically out of the water. Before you get to Hue so see the imperial palaces contrasting with the battlefields and tunnels of the Vietnam War. Further south you see the beautiful Chinese shop houses and silk traders of Hoi An and the lush fields of the Mekong Delta. Vietnam offers rich, cultural diversity and incredible natural beauty. Not to be missed.

Here is our ideal itinerary:

You can view the full interactive map here

1. Starting in Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital of modern Vietnam, moves at a gentle pace. Visit Ho Chi Minh’s imposing mausoleum, take in a water puppet show and hitch a ride on a rickshaw through the charming Old Quarter. Visit the Hoan Kiem Lake and its night markets and try egg coffee in the colonial French Quarter. There are some more museums worth visiting including the Vietnam Military History Museum and the B52 Victory Museum. This is a good springboard for trips around Vietnam, but do give yourself a couple of days here to explore.

2. Ha Long Bay

This dramatic landscape consists of thousands of sheer limestone pillars jutting out of the dark, emerald South China Sea waters. A photographer’s dream in the sunshine or even shrouded in mist. This is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will see a glimpse of typical Vietnamese life, with families reliant on fishing who live on floating homes. Cat Ba Island is a great place for backpackers, stay at the Buffalo Hostel, and do eat at Casa Bonita. From here you can take a tour around the island and take a hike in the Cat Ba National Park. Don't miss the sunset at Cannon Fort.

3. Hue

Hue is set on the Perfume River, backed by the Annamite Cordillera mountains. It is a romantic city and is the best place to experience the country’s past. The Nguyens, the last imperial family, ruled here from 1802-1945.Their mausoleums compete in grandeur and scale and are sadly now a reminder of the lavish squandering of Vietnam’s wealth. Explore the Citadel and go by boat to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda and its beautiful gardens. You can explore the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) where the Ben Hai River marks the division between the Republic of Vietnam (the South) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (the North). If you have time visit the abandoned water park, after a delicious burger at the Nook Eatery.

4. Hoi An

This is a charming city. Tucked away in the backstreets are the houses of the merchants from Asia and Europe who were lured in by the silk and porcelain. Soak up the atmosphere, stroll along the wharf, shop in the market and have some clothes made. There are many fantastic restaurants, old houses, craft shops and art galleries. The Hoi An lanterns for sale make it unbelievably pretty at night. Cua Dai beach, An Bang beach or other pretty beaches are not far from the town and you can cycle there through paddy fields and along the river bank. Here you can spend a morning learning the art of rice cultivation. Try fishing from a traditional basket boat, great fun. The nightlife here is great (Uno Bar) adn the food is good (Banh Mi Queen). This is also the place to get some cheap clothes made that can be sent home (Dong Silk or Yaly).

5. Dalat

With a climate of perpetual spring, the area around Dalat is very picturesque with its tiered fields, rolling hills, and pine forests. French influence is evident in the hundreds of colonial villas and it is considered by many to be the prettiest town in Vietnam. Visit the Pongour Falls and you must climb the Lady Buddha. The Maze Bar is great fun.

6. Mui Ne

From Nha Trang you can head to Mui Ne which is home to one of the best beaches in Vietnam. You can check out the awesome sand dunes or ride up the mountain paths to Dalat. Great sand activities here such as quad biking and sand boarding.

7. Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon was the original ‘Pearl of the Orient’, and you can visit the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and the Opera House. Now the city is modernising with its new skyscrapers altering the skyline, lively bars and a booming economy all under the watchful gaze of ‘Uncle Ho’, whose statue stands outside the old Hotel de Ville. However, there is still plenty of local charm: soup sellers, fortune-tellers reading palms and incense drifting from busy temples. There are fantastic restaurants and shops. Nearby are the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of secret underground passages used by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. You must visit the War Museum here. Book your hostel in advance here, it is a busy town.

8. Mekong Delta

In southern Vietnam, the Mekong River reaches the end of its 4,500 km journey and splits into multiple distributaries which flow into the South China Sea, earning its name Cuu Long (Nine dragons) also known as the Mekong Delta.It is the most agriculturally productive areas, growing rice, fruit and then fishing from the river.Visit the floating Markets near Can Tho. There are cocoa factories and rice noodle farms to visit.

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