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Saigon After Dark

30 days Vietnam Overland Summer 2022


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Hello all,

With the opening of borders a few months ago, I decided to bite the bullet and went on a 30 day trip to Vietnam.

 

 

This entire overland trip was from the south (HCMC) to the north (Hanoi), by train and bus.

I stayed in 8 cities, covering an approximate distance of 2000km

 

Singapore – Ho Chi Minh City – Da Lat – Nha Trang – Da Nang – Hoi An – Hue – Hanoi – Sa Pa – Hanoi – Singapore

 

Here are some of my sharing and information, hope it will be useful if you are planning a similar trip or looking for inspiration.

 

Costs

 

Total cost (estimated) about S$2k.

 

Including

- Accommodations

- local tours

- Grab bike / taxi

- food / entertainment

 

Excluding

- Flight ticket to and fro (because redeemed with flyer miles)

 

My cost can also be lesser if

- I pre-booked all the tickets (explanation below for why I didn't pre-book)

 

Recommended basic packing list

 

In addition to packing your clothes/chargers, I recommend the following as well:

 

- 2x copies of travel documents / insurance (keep 1 copy in backpack and 1 copy in hand carry bag)

 

- photocopies of passport (some hotels want to keep original passport for registering with police, you shouldn’t leave your original with anyone. So next best option is to give them the photocopy)

 

- Clothes drying line (just get from daiso) - for emergencies when your hostel has no drying machine and no where to hang your clothes. But all the accommodation in Vietnam had laundry service, so didn’t use it.

 

- Vacuum flask

- Lock (for hostel cabinet)

- a pair of sunglasses

- a book (to read on the train) or e-book

- a journal to write down interesting events and thoughts

- a multi-tool or swiss army knife (put with check-in luggage, DO NOT put in hand carry bag)

- spare plastic bags (NTUC type), for rubbish, or packing etc, you never know.

- some long sleeve shirts (for cool mountain cities like Da Lat or Sapa)

- a pillowcase or old t-shirt to cover the pillow for overnight train travel

- a powerbank

 

Useful Websites / Apps

 

https://www.seat61.com/

Seat61.com has a massive amount of information on trains schedules/information/overland info for nearly every country in the world. It was set up by some UK dude who is a fan of train travelling.

 

As far as I can see, he himself does a lot of travelling to gather the information, but also accepts travelling information from his website users/readers.

 

It probably took 90% of the guesswork out of my planning.

I highly recommend that you use this website for your own planning and make sure to print out a copy of the relevant information and keep it with you while travelling.

 

https://dsvn.vn/#/

This is the official Vietnam Railways website – Duong Sat Viet Nam

Switch to English language so that it’s easier to navigate the website.

Use this website to check available train schedules.

It is also possible to reserve a ticket first, and then go to the train station to pay and receive the ticket.

 

https://www.budgetyourtrip.com/

Good website to estimate daily budget in any city

 

Booking.com

I used Booking.com during this trip, because I already have some member levels / loyalty rewards.

 

Maps.me app

This app does not require data. Extremely useful when you haven't got a local simcard yet, or to conserve your data usage.

There are no data/mobile signals in some areas, so this is extremely useful.

Not quite sure how it works..... by GPS?

 

Booking of tickets/accommodation

 

It is of course cheaper to pre-book everything early in advance.

You can pre-book everything, but I didn't because I wanted more flexibility.

Plus you never know when stuff might happen and it will be difficult to get refunds.

 

It is more expensive to book a train ticket for next week, compared to booking 1-2 months back.

But again, I want the flexibility, so I have to pay more.

 

For train/bus tickets, I prefer to buy directly at the train station, or ask the hostel/hotel to book the bus for me.

 

My SOP

- In city A -> Book next city's (B) accommodation.

- Reach city B -> Book travel ticket to City (C)

- While in city B -> Book next city's (C) accommodation

 

But take note of peak / off-peak / holiday periods.

The local Vietnamese will also love to travel during their holiday periods, therefore your favourite / highly rated accommodations may be fully booked.

 

Trying to figure out Hotel reviews

 

Figuring out the true nature of the hotel/homestay/hostel in Vietnam can be tricky.

Some reviews may be faked, and when you finally check-in to the accommodation, it doesn’t match your expectations.

 

My personal guideline to reduce the possibility of expectation mismatch, is to:

- only look at properties with at least a 100 reviews

- read recent reviews (skip the property if there are no recent reviews)

- read the highest rated reviews to see why people like this accommodation

- read the lowest rated reviews and decide if the complaints about the property is acceptable or not.

 

This does not totally eliminate the problem of booking a less than acceptable accommodation, but it helped me personally to filter out many of the dubious listings.

 

 

Check your Visa-free entry stamp in the passport

 

Singaporeans are allowed 30 days free visa entry into Vietnam.

 

When the Vietnamese customs officer stamp your passport, they will write down the final date that you have to exit the country.

 

If you intend to holiday for less than 30 days, then no problem.

If you want to maximise the 30 days, PLEASE CHECK the final date.

 

In my case, the officer asked me how long I wanted to stay in Vietnam. I replied 30 days.

Then he stamped my passport and wrote down the last final date.

But when I checked the date, it was an extra day beyond the allowed final date (i.e. the date he wrote would have caused me to overstay by 1 day).

 

Do not follow what is written in the passport in this case.

Otherwise you may have to a pay fine and they may blacklist you.

 

Manually calculate when is your final date and stick to it.

 

Train Travelling in Vietnam

 

If you like slow travel, then train travelling is pretty much what you have to do.

 

During the day time, there’s nice scenery.

You can interact with the locals.

You can save on accommodation with overnight travel to the next city.

 

In general it is quite safe.

 

My recommendations for your comfort and safety:

- bring a pillowcase or old T-shirt because they do not change the pillowcase if there was a preceding passenger before you.

- fully charge your powerbank. There are USB ports and power outlet in the cabin. But it doesn’t hurt to have a backup

- lock your bulky valuables in your luggage / backpack

- bring your handbag/wallet/passport with you all the time if you go toilet onboard

 

Travelling by bus

 

Vietnam has nice sleeper buses in various types of quality and comfort level.

 

I recommend daytime bus instead of overnight bus, because it is safer.

Especially when travelling to mountain cities like Da Lat or Sapa.

 

Museum Opening Hours

 

Quite a number of museums close during lunch hour and their websites may not reflect the timing.

- 11am to 1pm

- 11:30am to 1:30pm

- 12 to 2pm

 

As much as possible, try to time your visit in the early morning opening hour, or after lunch.

 

Vietnam siesta hour

 

It could be the hot mid-day sun, or it could be the delicious bun cha.

But many street stores and activities stop during the mid-day and the people go hide indoors or cafes, or take a nap.

 

At first I couldn’t understand why.

 

But as I adapted to the hot hot sun (or rather, learned to avoid the sun), I also started to hide indoors at shopping mall, or go back to hotel to cool down, rest and shower.

 

Scams / Safety

 

Google and internet is your best friend.

I always google to find out what are the ongoing/latest scams/cons in town.

This is to keep me on my toes and not get carried away.

It only takes one incident to ruin the trip.

 

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

For me, I generally prefer to be a little more paranoid than to YOLO. Your miles may vary.

 

Sometimes when they see that you are a foreigner, they will jack up the price. Try to negotiate if it is not a fixed/labelled price.

 

There are also touts or shoe-shiners who want your business. If you are not interested, just politely wave them away, or don’t look at them. They will get the hint and move on.

 

For taxi or bike rides, it’s better to use Grab.

Make sure that the license plate number matches the one that arrives.

If you have to flag down a taxi, make sure you check the route first on Google map.

 

Memories/Incidents

 

to be updated

 

 

Things I didn’t do / should have done

 

to be updated

 

 

Money changing / finances

 

to be updated

 

 

City specific recommendations

 

to be updated

 

 

How did I make the red line / train icon route on the map?

 

I used a combo of Google Earth and some editing in Shotcut video editor.

The plane / train icons are free license icons

 

 

 

I hope this is informative and entertaining to you, for those of you who have dreamed of or are planning for similar journeys.

If you have any questions regarding planning, or the trip, just ask me, I will try to answer 🙂

 
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