I was still in Niseko having fun snowboarding when a friend of mine reached out to me and invited me to visit her in Vietnam. She’s a long-time friend who has recently moved to the land of the ascending dragon.
I had been wanting to take a trip to Vietnam for a long time so I accepted her invite and booked my flights immediately. I flew from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City on the 14th of February, just a few days before the Chinese New Year. It was both such an exciting and challenging trip. To find out why, read my tips and experiences below:
TIP #1: NEVER TRAVEL TO VIETNAM BEFORE, DURING, OR AFTER THE CHINESE NEW YEAR IF YOU WANT A RELAXING VIETNAM TRIP.
Since a vast majority of Vietnam’s population is also buddhist, the Chinese New Year has also become widely celebrated around the country. During this festivity, most public establishments are closed because almost everyone goes on a holiday.
When I arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, I noticed how busy it was. There were so many people and it was a bit difficult to get a Grab. It took me and my friend a while to get one because drivers kept canceling our booking.
Before going, I already expected Vietnam to be crowded with tourists. But I was so surprised to find out there was even more tourists than I expected. In some restaurants we went to, it was a bit difficult to find a seat. The streets were covered by so many people you could hardly drop a pin. It was also a challenge getting a ride.
TIP #2: IF YOU’RE GOING TO VIETNAM ON CHINESE NEW YEAR, MAKE SURE YOU ALREADY HAVE YOUR MONEY CHANGED TO VIETNAMESE DONG IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY OR AT THE AIRPORT.
Since almost every public establishment in the country is closed during CNY, you are less likely to find a money changer. So it will be wise for you to get your money changed beforehand. It may also be a bit of a challenge for you to withdraw money from an ATM at this time.
TIP #3: TAKE THE BUS FROM THE AIRPORT.
There are buses that you can take from Tan Son Nhat to specific spots in HCMC for a cheaper price. If you arrive too late during the night at the airport, the buses are most likely no longer operating. But don’t worry, you can always take Grab. Grab rides there are also not that expensive.
TIP #4: RENT A MOTORBIKE, WALK, OR GET A GRAB.
I mentioned earlier that it was a bit difficult to get a ride during CNY. If only I knew how to drive a motorbike, I would have just rented one. It is cheaper and more convenient. However, both I and my friend didn’t know so we just relied on booking Grab rides and sometimes, walking from our hotel to the city center.
TIP #5: BOOK YOUR BUS TICKETS EARLY.
If you plan to visit different places in Southern Vietnam and you want to take the bus because it is cheaper, I highly recommend booking your bus tickets online early. One of the most recommended bus lines in Vietnam is Futa Bus Lines, also known as Phuong Trang. You can book tickets directly from their website (click here).
From Saigon, my friend and I took the bus to Nha Trang. The fare was 225,000 VND or around 500 PHP. The bus ride would normally take 12 hours, but when we went, it only took us around 8 hours (as long as I can remember). What I like about taking the bus in Vietnam when traveling to other parts of the country is that you have the option to take the sleeper bus. This means you do not have to endure back pain because you can just lay down and try to sleep during the whole trip. Their buses are also mostly clean and they provide food, water, a pillow and a blanket for you.
While in Nha Trang, my friend and I would hit the beach on early afternoons, go to coffee shops and restaurants during the day and check out the bars at night. On our last day, we went around and visited the Long Son Pagoda and Po Nagar, a Cham temple tower founded before 781 C.E.
We stayed in Nha Trang for four days. It was originally supposed to be three days only, but because we failed to book another bus in advance, the buses on the day we were supposed to leave were already fully booked. Luckily, we were able to get one but on the next day. From Nha Trang, my friend and I traveled to Da Nang via another sleeper bus. With Futa Bus Lines, the fare is 235,000 VND which is around 550 PHP. The bus ride also normally takes 12 hours.
During our bus trip to Da Nang, we were so unlucky because our bus broke down, an hour away from Da Nang. It cost us 100,000 VND or around 200 PHP each for that short van ride. It was a very exhausting ride especially since after the van ride, we had to book a Grab car to go to our hotel.
We stayed in Da Nang for another four days. We again planned to go to the beach, hunt for good restaurants because it was a bit of a challenge to find one, visit the night market and other popular spots like the Marble Mountains.
While in Da Nang, we also went to Hoi An. You should never miss this place. Hoi An is around 30 mins car ride from Da Nang. We could have gone to Hoi An by the bus but because we were lazy to walk and wait, we decided to book an Uber (it was still operating when we there). The Uber ride going to Hoi An cost us around 300,000 VND or around 600 to 700 PHP. We didn’t plan on staying in Hoi An so we only did a day trip. In my opinion, Hoi An was a very romantic place.
The lanterns hanging above the streets were so beautiful at night. There were so many good cafes and restaurants around it and we also happened to come across shops that sell affordable souvenirs.
It was already late when we decided to go back to Da Nang so we booked Grab instead. The fare was also the same.
Now here’s another horror story, we weren’t able to book bus tickets from Da Nang back to Saigon. I was panicking because my flight back to Manila was already in less than 48 hours. The bus ride from Da Nang to Saigon would normally take a day. It’s longer since it’s farther away.
Since I was already panicking, I had to make a decision. Luckily, I came across Baolau, a ticket booking service that is used in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, China and Thailand. I was able to book our bus tickets but the journey was even longer and we had to take two buses — from Da Nang to Buon Ma Thuot and from Buon Ma Thuot to Saigon. With both prayers and luck, I was able to make it to Saigon. It was just unfortunate that I no longer had enough time to explore Saigon more because I had to rush to the airport after.
This trip was definitely a memorable one. I had so much fun with my friend. I was able to see many places and met new people. I enjoyed the food, the beach, and also taking photos for my Instagram! Haha.
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