Hey there.

Welcome to the world through my eyes. I'm an internationally published travel writer and photographer who has travelled to 75+ countries, and has tried to capture some of that along the way. Travel means the world to me, and my goal is to offer tips and advice to help you feel the same! 

How to Spend 3 Weeks in Vietnam!

How to Spend 3 Weeks in Vietnam!

I've written a lot in the past about Vietnam, but I've never done it in a cohesive and instructional sort of way. And, like it or not, that's the way people are taking in information these days. I refuse to relinquish my personal style and approach, but I also want to offer people what they're looking for.

So, while I won't start a Vietnam travel blog by any means, I will move forward with this article which talks about why you should go travel Vietnam, and a suggested itinerary for three weeks in Vietnam. That's really the theme of this piece, as the title suggests - how to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam. That being said, you'll still find it useful if you're only going to spend 1 week in Vietnam, or 2 weeks in Vietnam. 

Essentially, this is for those people who are planning a trip to Vietnam. I've written a fair bit before about Saigon, Mui Ne, Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, and Hue and Hoi An, but, as I mentioned, this is going to be my walkthrough post, so to speak. It'll talk about my experience planning a trip to Vietnam, and what I saw with 3 weeks in Vietnam. Basically, I'll try to answer the questions of what you can try to accomplish approaching Vietnam north to south within a three week timeframe. I'll take pieces of old posts and update it with new information and insight to create a one stop shop of sorts. 

If you like this post, you'll love "How to Spend 3 Days in Tokyo."

NOTE: This post may contain some affiliate links. That means, simply, that I may get commissions from some of my recommendations. That being said, my opinions are fully my own.

Flying to Vietnam 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Flying to Vietnam

The peak season to travel to Vietnam is widely considered to be September to April, but there's not necessarily a bad time to fly to Vietnam. I spent a few weeks there in September and it was just fine, but I've also had friends spend time there outside of those months, and they didn't really mention anything notable to me as far as why you wouldn't travel there. As a general tip, flights to Vietnam are typically cheaper around Christmas time, which I would assume is because many people going on holiday are headed to cooler climes which are famous for there Christmas markets. Places like Germany, Austria and their Christmas loving central European neighbours come to mind!

Anyway, as far as searching for a cheap flight, I always start with Skyscanner, (sometimes utilizing my favourite way to save money on flights), type in my potential dates and location, then go from there. From the US, airlines like China Eastern often have fairly good deals, but if you're already in Asia then it's almost a guarantee that you're going to want to fly with AirAsia. I've flown AirAsia maybe a dozen times, and they're basically RyanAir, if RyanAir was decent (though my experience with RyanAir was pretty solid last week, I must admit). Especially if you're near a hub like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia is a good bet. 

I should note, this post is all about tackling Vietnam in 3 weeks, but it's certainly possible to see Vietnam in less time! 

What to Pack for Vietnam

There are a number of things that I know, in retrospect, would really have come in handy when I was packing for Vietnam, so I decided to create a short section here of items that might be helpful for you when you think about what to pack for Vietnam.

These are, as I alluded to, items that, if I could have done it over again, I would have love to have had during my three weeks in Vietnam. The products are also pictured in order below and are clickable.

  1. Lonely Planet Vietnam - Sure, I use websites like everyone else. I mean, you’re using one at this very moment, right? The reason I liked having a copy of this on me was that there are a lot of long bus and train rides, and it was nice to use this to prep before I got to the next destination. They’re relatively inexpensive nowadays anyhow.

  2. Waterproof 20L dry sack - Vietnam is a wet country, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ruin your stuff, especially when kayaking and hiking and so forth. This is a bit of an insurance policy.

  3. LifeStraw Go Filter Water Bottle - Do you know how nice it is to never have to worry about the quality of the water?

  4. Sleeping bag liner - If you’re staying in hostels and hotels across the country and you find a bed you aren’t really sure is all that clean, you’re saved. This thing is next level comfortable, and it’s also great for the sleeper trains and buses.

  5. Quick dry travel tower - If you’re on the move and only staying places for a night or two, this can be invaluable. I used this little guy as my primary towel in Southeast Asia.

  6. Helly Hansen breathable raincoat - A small investment to ensure you’re not going to be sopping wet, especially during rainy season. I stand by Helly Hansen because, for me, they’re the only raincoat I wear in the heat when it’s raining and don’t sweat bullets.

What to See in Hanoi, Vietnam 

Hanoi is busy in all the right kinds of ways. Today, it stands as the capital of Vietnam, and it does feel as if you're at the center of something big. High up in the north it seemingly stands tall to look over the rest of the country.  It's population is something around 7.5 million, but it feels like it should be much, much more. I'd liken it to a weather report that suggests that it's -3 degrees outside, but with a windchill it'd feel more like -87 degrees.

Generally speaking, you'll want to spend at least a few nights here, especially if you've just landed from somewhere else and are battling jet-lag. If you're running off a three week schedule, then you can afford a good three nights in Hanoi, but if you're on a slow pace you can do it in 4 or so nights, and if you're a speedster, then you could tackle major sights in 2 nights and three days. 

Truc Bach Lake

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Lakes in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi feels like an urban city through and through, but the presence of several large lakes serve to offset the feeling of grimy urban squalor. Hoan Kiem Lake is arguably Hanoi's most well known lake, as it's situated in the heart of the city. However, I tended to appreciate the two lakes situated in the northern part of the city. In my opinion, getting out of the potentially crowded urban places in Vietnam's rather dense cities is essential to recognize if you're going to enjoy your three weeks in Vietnam. 

Truc Bach Lake felt a touch touristy with it's larger hotels across the shore, but also happened to be lined with cheap Vietnamese restaurants, and thus a healthy amount of locals. Located slightly west of Truc Bach Lake is the appropriately named West Lake. Fishermen line the shores hoping to catch a fish or two. It reminiscent, in some ways, of the fishermen lining the Galata Bridge in my beloved Istanbul, Turkey.

Tran Quoc Pagoda 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Hanoi's Tran Quoc Pagoda

This pagoda is of cultural importance as it was originally built in the 6th century, but still holds an important message for the future as "Tran Quoc" means "stabilizing the nation." You don't need me to tell you that Vietnam's history has been anything but stable, no thanks to several devastating wars, many of which weren't chosen, but "arrived" at their shores. One thing that is worth noting is that this is the oldest Buddhist temple in the city, and many would consider in the most impressive, so it's a must visit during your time in Hanoi. I've seen a lot of pagodas and that, and this 1500 year old pagoda is pretty neat, I must admit. If you've got 3 weeks in Vietnam, then you can take the time to explore this guy! 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam

Oh, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. For me, this was the building that most suggested the deep ties that Vietnam has with communism. That being said, of course I'd realized that earlier as getting a visa for Vietnam was no small feat. The reverence that Vietnam has for Ho Chi Minh is simply indescribable. He was, and continues to be, their leader in a number of senses. He spearheaded the communist revolution here, and it's difficult to walk 10 metres without a mention of his name. That's largely because Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh are inextricably linked.

To put it in perspective, during the first conversation we had in Vietnam at our hostel, the manager was quick to note that Bri was very lucky because she shared a birthday (May 19th) with Uncle Ho. Not to be blunt or assumptive, but the reverence Ho Chi Minh receives here is otherworldly, which explains why Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City shortly after his death. Unlike other nations, Ho Chi Minh has his face on all the currency, as if to suggest that, in terms of importance, there's no one who matches him. 

The whole complex around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was essentially communism manifested in architecture. It had an aura of authority and intimidation rarely seen in places not named North Korea or China. Defacing this property is likely the surest way to end up in prison, or worse. That being said, having lived in Turkey, I've also seen the way the Turks revere Ataturk, and I too respect that man, so I can see both sides of the coin on this one. 

"Beer Corner" 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Hanoi's Beer Corner

I took this photo years ago, and knowing my younger self, there's a reasonable chance that sobriety eluded me here, so excuse the lack of clarity here - it is, in all likelihood, an accurate reflection of mind frame. 

The "Beer Corner" is most definitely worth a visit for its unique approach to drinking. Plastic stools appropriate for Kindergarteners stretch as far as you can see around this lively corner. Perhaps best of all, the beer is wonderfully inexpensive, and likely won't cost you more than a dollar. You'll get a little sore from the seat, but it's totally worth it. Apparently, hundreds of people around me were thinking exactly the same thing. 

Find Your Perfect Hotel in Hanoi


What Else to do Before Leaving Hanoi, Vietnam? 

  • Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

  • Hoa Lo Prison

  • Vietnam Military History Museum

  • Vietnam Fine Arts Museum

  • Vietnamese Women's Museum

  • Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower

Taking a Ha Long Bay Cruise!

From Hanoi, it makes sense to head straight to Ha Long Bay. The bus ride is only a handful of hours (usually a little under 4), and then you're in paradise. Well, sort of. The throngs of people you thought you were leaving behind in Hanoi actually made their way to Ha Long Bay. Sadly, in my opinion, it's likely the most over-touristed part of the nation. That being said, it's one of the earth's great treasures, so it's worth seeing before it is altogether ruined. My hope is that eventually they'll be some measure of sustainability in terms of the vision for this place, as it really is a special part of the country and planet at large.

In terms of thinking of your 3 weeks in Vietnam on a macro scale, I'd recommend doing a 3 day excursion if you've got the time. Personally, I spent one night on the ship and one night on Cat Ba Island, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. If you haven't got much time to spare, I'd personally at least try to do an overnight on a ship, if possible. 

You can also find some more info about an itinerary from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay here, or read about different Ha Long Bay cruises

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Ha Long Bay Cruise!

It's a massive area consisting of approximately 2,000 islands with some of the bluest blues and greenest greens around. Not surprisingly, they managed to tie Ho Chi Minh into Ha Long Bay by conveniently claiming that there are 1969 islands, which happens to be the death year of Uncle Ho.

To explore this vast area, we employed the services of a worn down white ship that slowly but surely chugged through the clear waters. This river barge came complete with our own room, a nifty little lounge set-up on the second floor, and my personal favourite - the rooftop, equipped with some broken down reclining chairs and unbeatable photo opportunities. We spent our first night actually sleeping on the ship as our boat rolled back and forth with the waves in a little inlet. This river barge experience I'm referring to is often called the "Ha Long Bay Cruise."

My advice for finding the "best" river barge would be to start on TripAdvisor and the like and see which companies you feel align with your values. I look for sustainable companies, and Bri and I found one through our hostel. Ask around a little at your place of accommodation and see if you can get a deal through a friend or family, including transportation to and from. It's not altogether that expensive, and I'd definitely recommend going the overnight route.

Kayaking in Ha Long Bay

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Kayaking in Ha Long Bay!

For me, being on a ship or bus for too long just makes me a touch anxious, and I feel like I need to move. Well, if you're like me, this is where kayaking comes in handy! As Canadians Bri and I felt well suited for the challenge. Both Bri and I relished the beauty of it all, but no matter how far we paddled we couldn't ever seem to quite escape the sight of another boat packed full of eager tourists. Nonetheless, it was one of the defining moments for us when we looked back on our four month trek through Southeast Asia. Not to mention, it was nice to have some autonomy and go and explore on our own terms, then meet back up with the ship a little later on.

Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park

We spent the second leg of our journey through Ha Long Bay on Cat Ba Island. It's the largest island in Ha Long Bay, and a tourist hub of sorts in the region. Bri and I were accompanied by some new people on Cat Ba, which is always a positive. Our first stop after landing on the island was at Cat Ba National Park, which covers roughly half of the island. We hiked for about an hour to reach the summit of a moderate mountain in the national park that offered some pleasant views, as any good summit should. As an aside, hiking is something to think about when planning a trip to Vietnam, and conceiving of what good Vietnam itinerary should consist of. 

This summit was unique in the fact that it had an old, rusty, rickety watchtower on it. Yes, I climbed it, but in retrospect I don't think it was the safest structure I'd ever witnessed. If presented with another opportunity like that, I'll likely pass (as my parents are surely delighted to hear), seeing as my heart was beating fairly quickly and I could almost hear the structure creaking. Generally speaking, standards of safety are a little different here in Southeast Asia, so, in essence, it was an attempt to acclimatize myself to this new and foreign land. Yup, that's the story we'll go with.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park

Monkey Island in Ha Long Bay 

Monkey Island is a short distance from Cat Ba Island by ferry and definitely worth visiting, even for just a few hours. If you're looking to stay longer than that time period, then there's a rather overpriced resort located on the island that can surely help you out. We were accompanied by some of our new found friends, namely a friendly girl named Monique from New Zealand, and Tim and Loes, a lovely Dutch couple. Together, we enjoyed the warm sands and views of mischievous monkeys. Honestly though, it makes total sense why this place is called Monkey Island, as the monkeys put on quite a show. Bri even managed to get a picture of one drinking a beer. That's the stuff that dreams are made of.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Monkey Island in Ha Long Bay

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave (literally "surprising cave") is probably worth giving a quick mention, too. It's one of the most popular in Ha Long Bay and is quite large and impressive. Personally, I saw a handful of caves in Korea, and now maybe I've lost a little interest in the whole cave experience. Perhaps it's because of my lack of hardened knowledge, but all caves tend to look the same to me, or at least similar. The one thing about this cave that really makes it worth it is the elevated views from the cave itself looking out into Ha Long Bay. Sung Sot Cave and the surrounding areas offer some of the most iconic views. Really, finding those epic views is going to be a huge part of the way you're planning a trip to Vietnam when you're looking at how to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Sung Sot Cave in Ha Long Bay

It's worth mentioning that you can try to see all the sights, but much of what you'll appreciate about most is likely the views you get casually from the boat. I know Bri and I loved soaking it all in.  

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Ha Long Bay!

What Else to do Before Leaving Ha Long Bay, Vietnam? 

  • Thien Cung Cave

  • Dau Go Cave

  • Tuan Chau

  • Bai Chay Bridge

  • Ha Long Park

Exploring the Imperial City of Hue

Hue's best known as a former capital of Vietnam during the early 19th century all the way up to middle of the 20th century. I bet many of you didn't know that when World War Two struck in Vietnam the capital was Hue, and not Saigon or Hanoi. And, quite honestly, I wouldn't blame you, but if you did know, then I congratulate you with a virtual pat-on-the-back that will likely (never) be delivered in the near future. As a former capital, it possesses an heir of importance and authority that you can't necessarily build or buy. It wasn't the capital for all that long, historically speaking, but nonetheless it still held the title, and that's worth something in my books. 

The most striking evidence of Hue's former glory is the Imperial City. It served as both a citadel and a palace, and it's defensive prowess is immediately observed even from the street, as well as its historical value. Especially if you've just taken a night bus to get here, I'd recommend spending at least two nights here, as there's plenty to see. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Imperial City of Hue

The Purple Forbidden City 

The first line of defense began with a 10km moat and 2 metre thick stone walls. The interior beyond these walls is simply enormous. It took us several hours to walk around the enclosed area. In the middle sits the "Purple Forbidden City," which was essentially an enclosure for the royal family (the short lived Nguyen Dynasty). It was rewarding to walk around, but I was overcome with the notion of what this might have been. This area was initially spared from the American offensive because of its intrinsic historical value to humanity, but eventually that was ignored (not surprisingly). From the looks of it, this gorgeous area was mercilessly bombed. It was terribly sad in that regard, but it's encouraging to see that there is a large-scale restoration project underway. To put it in perspective, only 10 major buildings survive of the original 160. No restoration project can repair such immense damage. Personally, I would have had a difficult time there if I'd been an American. Either way, it's a stunning sight. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Purple Forbidden City in Hue

In terms of exploring Hue, I chose to travel via rented scooter, as it was relatively easy to get around and get to the major sights, but it's just as easy to get a tuk-tuk, or even rent a private driver. For that matter, you can do a lot of the city on foot, but there are some sights, such as the next one for which you should have some form or speedy transit. As I said, the scooter was my speed demon of choice, and there's not all that much paperwork to go from walking to riding. 

Tu Duc Tomb

I stopped at a few places on route (namely Nam Giao or "The Temple of Heaven"), but my goal was to reach Tu Duc Tomb, which was located just under 10km outside of Hue. I'm not going to lie, I was loving the wind in my face on that scooter. It was also surprisingly delightful  to be a direct part of the chaotic Vietnamese traffic. It's difficult to watch from the sidelines, but I felt as if I was in the "eye of the storm," so to speak. Tranquil Tu Duc Tomb impressed me in the first five seconds. The compound is separated into the "temple area" and the "tomb area," and you enter directly into the beauty of the temple area with a gorgeous view of Xung Khiem Pavilion perched on Luu Khiem Lake. The withered water-lilies on its surface served to make the view all the more enchanting.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Tu Doc Tomb in Hue

Like the Imperial City, this complex was also rather large, but it was a pleasure to take a moment to walk these grounds. In fact, it's the only way to properly view a place like this. I took well over an hour to peruse both the temple and tomb areas and was completely enveloped by what I saw. While the above picture was my favourite part of the temple area, I'd have to say that my favourite part of the tomb area was the Emperor's Grave. As the name of the whole complex would suggest, the tomb belonged to Emperor Tu Duc, who was the fourth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty and reigned from the mid to late 19th century. Elaborate structures guide you to the tomb where you're confronted with a simplistic, yet powerful, stone tomb. It's very straightforward, but I think that's what makes it remarkable. 

It's a place that isn't overrun with tourists, and it offers a bit of serenity and the opportunity for a reflective stroll. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Tu Doc Tomb in Hue!

Find Your Perfect Hotel in Hue 


What Else to do Before Leaving Hue, Vietnam? 

  • The Mieu

  • Ho Chi Minh Museum

  • Le Ba Dang Art Museum

  • Pagoda of the Celestial Lady

  • Tomb of Khai Dinh

What to do in Hoi An, Vietnam

3 Weeks in Vietnam - What to do in Hoi An, Vietnam

I'm not entirely sure why, but Hoi An is likely my favourite city from my time in Vietnam, and Bri seems to concur with that notion. There wasn't really all that much to do, but that may actually be why it's my favourite city. Cities like Hanoi and Saigon constantly bombard you with noise and pollution, but there's a little more room in Hoi An to control and appreciate your surroundings. It doesn't hurt that your surroundings are drop dead gorgeous. 

We were only in Hoi An for a few days, but it has left a lasting impression upon me. It is unquestionably the river that gives Hoi An its charm. Apparently, the river has been charming for quite some time as well, because Hoi An was Southeast Asia's largest port all the way back in the 1st century. The entire city is actually a UNESCO World Heritage sight, which I whole-heartedly agree with. For me, it took one view from a bridge to fall in love with this city. It puts a smile on my face to know that "Hoi An" roughly translates to "peaceful meeting place."

In truth, when you're planning a trip to Vietnam, and you're aiming for 3 weeks in Vietnam, you'd be remiss not to spend some time here. We stayed for two nights, but I remember distinctly wishing that I had more time. You don't need more time, but you probably wouldn't hate spending 3 nights there if you've got time to spare. I think that, in many ways, it's the gem of the country. 

Hoi An's Old Town 

I could easily envision the same murky, brown water aiding the trading ships down river from the first century on. It's difficult to establish where exactly the new town in Hoi An would be, but we spent a fair bit of time in the Old Town or Ancient Town. Conveniently, you can purchase a pass to visit any five historical sights in that area, thus forming your own tour based on your own interests. We entered the Old House of Quan Thong, which was somewhat interesting, but I certainly enjoyed the Quang Trieu Assembly Hall significantly more. Honestly, it's not any one, two, or five sights that make this place special, as Hoi An is already packed full of special. However, the Japanese Covered Bridge happens to be the only known covered bridge in the world that has a Buddhist pagoda on it. I'm not entirely sure how many other bridges are vying for that feat, but it's worth noting! 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An

In recent years, Hoi An has become somewhat legendary for its shopping, especially in the old town area. Specifically, Hoi An offers cheap custom made suits, dresses, and any other clothing you can imagine. While tempting, I passed on the custom suit in order to maintain some semblance of a budget in the early part of my travels, though people come from far and wide to clad themselves in custom attire. I didn't purchase much, but the streets provided a joyful sanctuary for a stroll. That being said, I'm coming back and putting this culminating post a little after I initially wrote the above text and I think that I'd probably bite on the custom gear nowadays! The colourful, ornate shops were also something to behold. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Hoi An Old Town

If a river is simply too measly a body of water for you, then you're nicely covered by the seaside Cua Dai Beach. Bri and I rented bicycles to reach the beach and it made a fine afternoon, as you can imagine. I'm not a beach connoisseur, but it seemed to me as if Cua Dai had everything you'd need. Warm sand, an endless view out to the sea, and a fairly good tide aiding waves to the shore. The 

Thu Bon River is right nearby if you change your mind and decide that smaller bodies of water are better after all. I'll post a photo of both to adequately portray your options, although I probably wouldn't recommend swimming in the latter.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Thu Bon River near Hoi An

Find Your Perfect Hotel in Hoi An


What Else to do Before Leaving Hoi An, Vietnam? 

  • Museum of Folk Culture

  • Gam Museum

  • Assembly Hall of Fujian Chinese

  • Song Hoai Square

  • Terracotta Park

Things to do in Mui Ne, Vietnam 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Mui Ne, Vietnam

I'll be honest when I say that this header of "What to do in Mui Ne, Vietnam" is a tad misleading because, realistically, there are two things to see and do - the White Sand Dunes and the Red Sand Dunes. I understand it's a well developed tourist hub, and there are some awesome restaurants and bars, but I think for the sake of ease, it's worth just mentioning and posting a photo or two of the two main sights, in my humble opinion. That being said, it's still worth a night or two, if only because it will have taken a night bus to get down from Hoi An. 

The Red Sand Dunes 

The red sand dunes are located closer to the actual town of Mui Ne, and are lesser known, but not necessarily less impressive. Actually, they are less impressive than the white sand dunes, but they're still fascinating. Either way, I'd have to say that any sand dunes in Southeast Asia are impressive. Honestly, I would expect to see this in the Middle East, but not in Vietnam.

The White Sand Dunes 

The white sand dunes were much larger, more photogenic, and happened to be accented with several sizable lakes. These dunes were the real deal. These sand dunes were the reason we made the trek to get to minuscule Mui Ne, and what a wonderful reason it was. If you've got three weeks in Vietnam, in my opinion this is a must, must, must visit. 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The White Sand Dunes in Mui Ne

We explored the town at large, but as I mentioned primarily it was about the sand dunes for us. If you want to see some more photos of my younger self jumping around the sand dunes, I can accommodate that, but that was from a younger time. This picture as well above is a kind reminder that I'm getting old now. 

I wouldn't be doing my job, however, if I didn't make a list of things to do in Mui Ne, Vietnam for people who are spending some more time, so let's get to it. This list comes from my research, and chatting with friends who have either lived in Mui Ne or the surrounding area. 

Find Your Perfect Hotel in Mui Ne


What Else to do Before Leaving Mui Ne, Vietnam? 

  • Fairy Stream

  • Hon Rom

  • Suoi Cat

  • Mui Ne Cape

What You Need to See in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam 

If you were planning a trip to Vietnam, and you were dealing with Vietnam from north to south, then this is likely your last stop. I'll have a section at the end where I recommend further places to visit with your 3 weeks in Vietnam, but I'd say it's well worth allocating some time here to really investigate the heritage here. This was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. In light of that, it's not out of the question to spend 4 nights or more here. Again, some people would disagree with that, but there are some museums here, and general experiences that just shouldn't be rushed. 

3 Week in Vietnam - Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon stands as Vietnam's largest city, and I'd also venture to say that it's probably the country's most well known metropolis. It felt like a city of greater magnitude than anything I'd experienced prior in Vietnam. The population sits around 9 million people, and it's fair to say that most of these citizens own a relatively loud motorbike and/or scooter with an even louder horn upon it. Saigon, like Hanoi, has a reluctance towards silence that is only matched by a toddler who has consumed far too much sugar. And as for the pace of this city, it resembles that of a rogue adolescent.

The text above would lead you to believe that I didn't like Saigon, but that's far from the truth. I love noisy cities. I mean, I lived in Istanbul for the past three years, so you know I love noise. If you gave me a choice of cities to live in within this region, I'd likely choose Saigon, I really would. My biggest pet peeve in life is being bored, and you'll never be bored in this city. Never. 

The Reunification Palace 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Reunification Palace in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

The Reunification Palace was a site I refused to miss, as per its historical value in the formation of Vietnam. Not surprisingly, it wasn't always called the Reunification Palace, but rather the Independence Palace (when the South used it as a headquarters during the war). As with the changing of the city name, the South seems to still refer to this place by its original name. Long before either of those names, it was the Norodom Palace, and it was constructed by the French Colonialists in the 19th century. The bottom line is that names change upon conquest, and this usually creates a bit of tension. Anyway, my absolute favourite part about this place is that it serves more or less as a time capsule. The building that stands today was built in the early '60s, and hasn't been renovated or touched really since it was built. It wasn't even really touched after the North burst through the front gates in 1975 (a monumental event that ended the Vietnam War). 

The boardrooms were neatly drawn up and simplistic according to the standards of the '60s, and the recreation rooms were downright groovy, also according to the standards of the '60s. The first picture will show you the former with the cabinet meeting room, and the second picture will show you the latter with the gambling room. Needless to say, the gambling room is hands down my favourite room in this complex. It looks like it's straight out of an Austin Power's movie.

The War Remnants Museum 

The War Remnants Museum is something to behold, and it will unquestionably leave an impression. This is by far the most anti-American exhibition I've ever experienced. To be honest, I was blown away. The first floor of the museum essentially just displays what a united front of protest there was against the US "aggression in Vietnam" (this is the term they use throughout the exhibition). The subsequent floors paint a dark, disturbing picture of what the United States did during the war. They hold back no graphic content when displaying pictures of the effects of agent orange, and maybe they shouldn't.

It's interesting to note that the original museum was put together in 1975 and was called the "Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes." Then, in 1990, it was changed to the "Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression." Finally, in 1995 it was changed to its current name. From what I can gather, the names were changed, but the content inside remains just as striking and condemning as it ever was. Quite honestly, there really isn't much defense for what the US did in Vietnam, and this museum was proof enough that Vietnam hasn't forgotten about the atrocities that occurred...and they likely won't.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Vietnam in 3 Weeks - Water Puppet Shows in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

The Golden Dragon Puppet Theatre is the premier place in Saigon to watch some ancient water puppetry in action. Water puppetry is famous around Vietnam, and has been since it originated in the North around the 11th century. It was a 50 minute long show depicting events of cultural importance to Vietnam, and managed to be entertaining even though I don't speak a word of Vietnamese.

I wasn't discouraged by the lack of English, and in fact would have been very discouraged had it been in English as it's a Vietnamese show (and has been that way for hundreds and hundreds of years). They handed out a program to try to help out their English audience, which I adored because of the straightforward titles for each specific act. My personal favourites were: "4. On a buffalo with a flute," "7. Rearing ducks and catching foxes," and my top choice goes to "15. Unicorns play with ball." The acts tended to follow the descriptions pretty closely, so you can imagine the show as nothing if not entertaining.

The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica 

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica

The Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica seems out of place in this modern Asian city, but only until you remember that the French colonized it. In fact, all the building materials were brought from France in the mid to late 19th century. I think it compliments this modern metropolis pretty nicely, and adds a bit of class to the city's sometimes dirty exterior. 

Ho Chi Minh City Hall/Hotel de Ville de Saigon

Also in the eloquent French style is Ho Chi Minh City Hall, perhaps more appropriately known as Hotel de Ville de Saigon. I wouldn't necessarily plan my day around a visit here, but it was definitely worth walking past and taking a moment to appreciate. You can say what you want about the French, but their architecture speaks for itself, even when it's halfway across the world.

One last note on transportation. All around Saigon you'll find gentlemen who will transport you on the back of their motorbike for next to nothing.

Find Your Perfect Hotel in Saigon


What Else to do Before Leaving Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam? 

  • Chu Chi Tunnels

  • Bitexco Financial Tower

  • Dam Sen Park

  • Pham Ngu Lao Street

  • Dragon Wharf

  • Museum of Vietnamese History

  • Giac Lam Pagoda

  • Quac Tu Pagoda

  • Thien Hau Temple

I've given you a rundown here of a sample Vietnam itinerary and how you can go travel Vietnam for three weeks. However, I did the above itinerary in a little under three weeks, so it's very possible for you to fit more into your Vietnam itinerary. Though I haven't been to these places personally, I've spoken to friends who tell me that if you're doing Vietnam north to south like I did, you can also squeeze in the following places if you've got a little time. 

What Other Cities in Vietnam Should You Consider? 

Da Nang, Vietnam  

Known for the Marble Mountains and the Cham Sculpture Museum.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Da Nang

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Known for the Po Nagar Towers as well as beaches and islands.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Nha Trang

Da Lat, Vietnam 

Known for Da Lat Cathedral and Pongour Falls. The waterfalls in Dalat are supposed to be something special.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - Da Lat

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Known for rivers, swamps, islands and floating markets.

3 Weeks in Vietnam - The Mekong Delta

I'd be lying if I said that didn't take me a million hours to do, but it feels great to have all this information consolidated in one place, and hopefully that helps you as well. I'd love to know what you think. Would you like me to make more of these for countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, and Turkey? Any and all comments are welcome below, including any additional tips or if you have any further questions. As always, I respond to each and every comment individually. 

A Delhi Essay: "The Best Tuk-Tuk Ride of Your Life"

A Delhi Essay: "The Best Tuk-Tuk Ride of Your Life"

Diving into Istanbul's Grand Bazaar on The History Fangirl Podcast

Diving into Istanbul's Grand Bazaar on The History Fangirl Podcast