One month of solo travel in Vietnam

The top of a hike overlooking Ha Long Bay
The top of a hike overlooking Ha Long Bay

My one month in Vietnam has been my longest solo travel adventure so far. I learned a lot about making the most of the freedom and spontaneity that solo traveling allows for. Vietnam in particular allowed for a lot of spontaneity because I was easily able to book last-minute tours and accommodations. Here's how I ended up planning my trip.

Before the trip: planning international flights and visas

First, I needed to decide on my dates of travel and my international flights because these flights could get very expensive if not booked in advance. I decided to take advantage of the maximum amount of time that I was allowed to stay in Vietnam on my tourist visa: one month. After perusing some travel blogs, I determined that one month was enough time to travel across the country, and it made sense to fly into and out of different airports.

Two months before the trip, I had booked my flight into Hanoi, Vietnam. One month before the trip, I had booked my return flight out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and I applied for my tourist visa.

Based on my dates of travel, I knew that I had 28 days to get from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

The cities that I visited

Map of the cities that I visited in Vietnam
Map of the cities that I visited in Vietnam

I didn't navigate through Vietnam in the most efficient way, due to the availability of certain tours and me changing my mind about going certain places, but I'm happy with how it worked out in the end. Since I was traveling in December, I spent most of my time in northern and southern Vietnam where the weather was good. I didn't spend much time in Central Vietnam which was having its rainy season.

Here's the itinerary that I ended up taking:


Only a few motorbikes in the early morning in Hanoi
Only a few motorbikes in the early morning in Hanoi

I started my trip in Hanoi, the capital and one of the biggest cities in Vietnam.

Hanoi: lodging

Two days before reaching Hanoi, I booked a nice hotel room for 30 USD per night for 2 nights. After arriving in Hanoi, I realized that there was a lot to see so I extended my hotel stay for another night.

Hanoi: tours

I booked a food tour through Airbnb Experiences 2 days in advance. Some of these tours are available online day-of but I figured that independent guides who are not guiding on a regular schedule may prefer some advance notice.

Hanoi: getting around

Hanoi is densely populated and I walked to many places. When I wanted to travel to other districts in Hanoi, I used the rideshare app Grab to book motorbike taxis, which were usually the cheapest and fastest way to travel within the city. When I wanted a more comfortable ride, I would book a car for a higher price. Due to the heavy traffic, travel by car took a little longer than travel by motorbike. I liked using Grab payment and destination are all arranged within the app, so I don't have to fumble around with translation apps to communicate with my driver.

My hotel offered a car to drive me from the airport to the hotel for a reasonable price, so I took that option. Grab was also an option to travel from the airport. The airport is a 30-minute drive from the main tourist area.


Rice paddies near my homestay in Sapa
Rice paddies near my homestay in Sapa

Sapa: tours

The receptionist at my hotel in Hanoi helped me book a 3-day tour for Sapa. Everything was arranged: transportation, lodging, food, and the activities for each day. Going into the tour, I didn't know exactly what I was signing up for. I only knew that I needed to meet the bus at a specific time and place, and that it would bring me back to Hanoi in 3 days, and that I would be doing some hiking. I didn't know where I would be sleeping, if there would be other people on the tour, or what we would be doing each day. I was happy that someone else was doing all the planning because I felt overwhelmed by all of the travel options and scared to get lost in Sapa. In retrospect, if I knew everything that I knew now, I would have booked everything separately. I did not have a lot of freedom in my plans; my activities each day were very similar and I didn't get to see some of the major attractions in the area. Meeting other travelers making last-minute plans in Sapa, I learned that it was relatively easy to accommodate last-minute plans. However, my trip to Sapa felt extremely unique, so I'm happy that it turned out the way that it did.

The transportation was a bus ride, 5.5 hours each way. This was a general bus that was heading to Sapa, not specific to the tour that I had signed up for. While waiting for the bus, I talked with other travelers. They all had different plans, and some had no plans, opting to figure out their plans when they arrived in Sapa.

Sapa: lodging

I stayed at a basic homestay in a remote village. It had individual rooms per guest, each room with a bed, small table, and charging outlet. A separate building contained showers and toilets. It got cold at night, and all of the guests huddled around a pan of coals that the hosts put in the common area. On my second night, I was the only guest, so I joined the host family in the kitchen by a pan of coals as they chatted in their language and worked on some crafts.

While I was in Sapa, I left some of my belongings behind in the luggage room of my hotel in Hanoi. It wasn't the most secure place; all of the luggage was visible from the street, and the room was accessible by anyone. But all of my things were still there when I returned 3 days later. In retrospect, I should have taken all of my things with me because we had plenty of storage space in Sapa.

Short stop back in Hanoi

After my long tour in Sapa, I came back to Hanoi and had a relaxing day, which gave me time to book a day tour for Ha Long Bay the next day. I booked this tour through a travel office in Hanoi.

Since I knew I would be busy on a tour for the next day, I decided to save some money and stay at a hostel for 10 USD per night. I made sure to pick a well-rated hostel and checked the pictures to see that the beds looked sturdy (Wobbly bunk beds are hard to sleep in). This was one of my better hostel experiences. The dorm room was a bit cramped, but the curtains around the bed provided adequate privacy and there were plentiful bathrooms throughout the establishment. I booked the hostel 2 days in advance of my stay and snagged one of the last female-only beds.

My hostel bed in Hanoi
My hostel bed in Hanoi

Ha Long Bay

I did Ha Long Bay as a day tour. It was a 3-hour bus ride each way, and 5 hours of activity, which consisted of cruising through Ha Long Bay with various stops. The view was extremely beautiful, but the most interesting part of the tour was probably the conversations that I had with the other travelers on the tour.

Huu Lung

My tour companions carrying their mattresses on the way to the homestay
My tour companions carrying their mattresses on the way to the homestay

I signed up for a rock climbing trip to Huu Lung arranged by VietClimb, the bouldering gym in Hanoi. I signed up for this trip pretty far in advance because these trips don't happen as frequently as the regular tourist activities in Vietnam. When I visited the gym, I signed up for the soonest trip which was 1.5 weeks later.

The tour arranged everything that we would need for the weekend, including transportation, a night of lodging, and food. A private van took our group of six on a 2-hour drive directly to the crag in Huu Lung.

We stayed the night in a minimal one-room house that was lifted up on stilts. All six of us fit in the room, sleeping on hard mattresses on the floor. The porous walls were made of woven fibers, and we could hear everything around us, like the bugs chirping outside and some very interesting and very loud animal noises in the wee hours of the morning.

Cat Ba

View from my hotel in Cat Ba
View from my hotel in Cat Ba

Cat Ba: tours

While in Huu Lung, I was still agonizing over where to travel next. After my first day of rock climbing, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed rock climbing and decided that I needed to visit Cat Ba Island for deep water solo. The Huu Lung tour van took us back to Hanoi, and the next morning I took a bus from Hanoi to Cat Ba (The "bus" ticket included a bus to a ferry port, a ferry ride, and another bus to Cat Ba town). Since Cat Ba is in the vicinity of Ha Long Bay, I probably should have combined my Ha Long Bay tour with the visit to Cat Ba to save travel time. I could have even cut out Ha Long Bay entirely, since the bay surrounding Cat Ba has the same type of landscape as the Ha Long Bay tour. In any case, I'm very glad I decided to go to Cat Ba in the end because I had an amazing time there. I booked a deep water solo tour a day in advance. Read more in my post about deep water solo on Cat Ba.

Cat Ba: getting around

I didn't see Grab drivers in Cat Ba. There were numerous people riding around on motorbikes and I easily found a driver for the one time that I needed a ride, simply by stepping outside and looking like a tourist. The unfortunate thing about finding a ride this way is that I had to agree on a price with the driver (I didn't haggle so I was probably overcharged). The driver also forgot to give me a helmet, and I had to request it partway into the ride. I spent a long time attempting to tighten the helmet, which I still couldn't get to be as fitted as I would have liked.

Cat Ba: lodging

I booked a nice hotel with a beautiful ocean view for 15 USD per night. I initially only booked 2 nights but I ended up adding a third night in person.

Hoi An

At this point, half of my time in Vietnam had passed, and I had only seen northern Vietnam. I decided to head to Hoi An in central Vietnam. Two days in advance, I booked a flight from Haiphong to Da Nang. The ground-ferry-ground transportation from Cat Ba to Haiphong took about 2 hours, the flight from Haiphong to Da Nang took about 1 hour, and the drive from Da Nang to Hoi An took about 1 hour.

I booked a hotel room in Hoi An for 15 USD per night. My room wasn't very comfortable. Even though I booked 3 nights initially, I ended up leaving Hoi An after 2 nights. I felt that I had seen enough in Hoi An and was ready to move to another city. It was very much worth the sunk cost of the hotel to continue on with my travels.

The same driver took me back to the Da Nang airport when I left for my next destination, Da Lat.

While in Hoi An, I did one walking tour, which I booked a day in advance. It seemed like many of the free (tip-based) walking tours required advance sign-up.

Da Lat from Hoi An

A delicious hotel breakfast in Da Lat
A delicious hotel breakfast in Da Lat

At this point I was feeling some travel fatigue and was planning things very last-minute. I had booked my flight from Da Nang to Da Lat one day in advance. When I arrived at the Da Lat airport, I found the bus ticket booth and was able to get on the next 30-minute ride to downtown Da Lat. I tried to look up hotels during the bus ride, but I felt too motion-sick to decide on anything. The bus dropped me off at the bustling central market in downtown Da Lat, and then I looked up a nearby hotel with availability for 17 USD per night. I walked over to the hotel to determine if it looked OK, then booked a room while standing outside.

Da Lat: lodging

After this night, I booked 2 nights at another hotel for 19 USD per night. After that, I booked another night at a hostel for 4 USD. The bed and bathroom at the hostel were not great, but the host was extremely welcoming and helped me book a bus ride by phone when there was no availability online. At this point, I met up with my sister and we were able to share a hotel room for 16 USD per person.

Da Lat: getting around

I used Grab to get around in Da Lat.

Da Lat: tours

One of my hotels helped me book a motorbike tour one day in advance and a canyoning tour one day in advance.

Mui Ne

Looking at a tour Jeep from my own tour Jeep
Looking at a tour Jeep from my own tour Jeep

My sister and I decided to visit Mui Ne as our next destination. My hostel host helped me book the bus ticket 2 days in advance. It was a 4-hour ride.

Mui Ne: lodging

The two of us shared a room at a luxurious beach side resort for 27 USD per person per night.

Mui Ne: tours

We mostly hung around the resort. I walked to a nearby travel office to book us a private car to take us on a day-of tour (The "tour" consisted of a driver that dropped us off and picked us up at various places).

Ho Chi Minh City

A street food market in Ho Chi Minh City
A street food market in Ho Chi Minh City

We took a 3-hour bus ride from Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City, which I booked 2 days in advance.

Ho Chi Minh City: lodging

In Ho Chi Minh City, we shared a room at an upscale hostel for 27 USD per person per night. My sister left Ho Chi Minh City a night earlier than me, and I booked a night at another hotel for 27 USD.

Ho Chi Minh City: getting around

It was easy to find taxis with Grab in Ho Chi Minh City.

How far in advance did I book everything?

  • I booked international flights 1-2 months in advance.
  • I booked flights within Vietnam 1-2 days in advance.
  • I booked long bus rides 2-3 days in advance.
  • I booked hotels day-of or up to 3 days in advance. There is better availability even more days in advance, especially for nice resorts or hostel private rooms, which can be in high demand.
  • I usually booked tours the day before or a few days in advance. My more niche rock-climbing tour was booked 1.5 weeks in advance. Some of my hotels and all of the hostels offered services to help book tours and transportation. There are also online services and in-person travel offices.
  • One thing to note is that my trip took place in December/January, which is not during the high season. I'd need to book things farther in advance if I were visiting during the high season.

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