Vietnam is well connected through its international airports at Hanoi (Noi Bai Airport), Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat Airport) and Da Nang acting as major hubs. You can explore Vietnam by plane, train or bus. Renting a car is not a recommended option here with a left-hand drive and the not-so-good roads with sign boards in Vietnamese.
Travelling in Vietnam – Plane
Flights are a very good option as it saves you time and if you plan in advance, you can get some really cheap deals – we got Vietjet Air tickets from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (INR 2200)! The flight connectivity is superb, and you can easily find a lot of flight options to suit your schedule.
Pro Tip: We always make sure we travel light with 2 small backpacks as cabin luggage and 1 suitcase for check-in. In such cases, we book separate tickets – one at the lowest fare (like the $30 ticket mentioned above which doesn’t include check-in luggage) and the other with the luggage add-on. This helps you save quite a bit if you have flights on multiple legs of your journey.
Travelling in Vietnam – Train
Trains are a good option if time is not a constraint in your itinerary. To give you some context, the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes almost 40 hours vs a 2.5 hr flight journey! That said, it is the best way to see the countryside and have a leisurely trip. You will most certainly take a train if you are planning to visit Sapa in the north. Make sure you book your tickets in advance especially if you are travelling on weekends. These are a couple of recommended websites for booking train tickets in Vietnam 12Go and Baolau.
Travelling in Vietnam – Bus
Buses can be found connecting all towns and cities. Be warned – the roads are not great and the buses not very comfortable. The journeys are long which means it will definitely add on to your days in the itinerary (Check out our itinerary here) – both in terms of travel time as well as recovery time. You can find bus tickets on the websites mentioned above for the trains.
Travelling within the city
The cities we went to were the 3 most tourist friendly cities and have a good public transport system which you can rely on.
In Hanoi, for airport transfers, we used the city-airport bus line – look for bus number 7 or 17 and you can get from the airport to the city centre for less than 1 USD per person. You can find out the routes and timings here. Once you reach the Old Quarter, most tourist spots are accessible by foot.
Ho Chi Minh City also has buses, but we didn’t use them as the routes were longer and prone to traffic jams. We went for “Grab” taxis – convenient and easy on the pocket.
Grab taxis are available in all the major cities – make sure you have the app downloaded. It comes in really handy – don’t worry if you don’t know Vietnamese – the app has a chat translate feature where you can type in English and the driver gets it in Vietnamese (mind=blown!). They also have food delivery on the same app – so if you are feeling too tired to step out, they can “Grab” you a quick meal!
Where to Stay
Hanoi: As close as possible to Hoan Kiem Lake. This is where you will be spending most of your time – whether it is exploring the town or hopping into eateries. We stayed near Ta Hien street which was close enough to the bus stop where you get buses to the airport.
Hoi An: Close to the Old Town as this is the centre of activity. We stayed in an Airbnb on the island which has the night market. It was an amazing homestay with super nice hosts who helped us out with our transfers from Da Nang.
Ho Chi Minh City: District 1 – this is where all the day-tours start. You can also find a lot of good restaurants in this district.
Airbnb’s are very popular in Vietnam and with the right set of filters and locations, you can find some really good places. We booked all our accommodation through Airbnb.
Check out our other blogs on Vietnam here. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot them in the comments below. To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales
If you have the option to visit only 1 country in South-East Asia, it must be Vietnam! A diverse country with landscapes ranging from tea plantations to dense forests to lush mountains to bustling cities and amazing beaches, Vietnam has something for everyone.
Vietnam is quite large in terms of area (4th biggest in South-east Asia) and forms a significant part of the historical region of Indochina (consisting of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). The erstwhile French colony was named Indochina because of the strong influence of Indian and Chinese cultures in the region – Vietnam takes more from the Chinese culture while the Indian cultural heritage can be seen at large in Cambodia (which is a story for another blog). Modern culture is also shaped by political ideology which varies as you move from north Vietnam to the south. What does all this mean? Well, for one, it makes Vietnam an amazing place to visit with a lot of history. And don’t even get us started on the food! Vietnam is cheap, safe and great to visit at any time of the year – you can plan your itinerary based on which month you are planning to visit.
Best Time to Visit
Vietnam can be divided into 3 regions – North, Central and South and the weather in each region varies largely in different times of the year.
North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa): This part of Vietnam has 4 distinct seasons and the winters can get cold. October-November is a very good time to visit as the weather is cool and dry. You get clear blue skies and you can really enjoy your cruise on the Ha Long Bay. Another period which is good is March-May (Spring). The mid months of May-September have scorching summers as well as monsoon rains which can dampen your plans – most of the Vietnam experience is outdoors.
Central Vietnam (Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue): This is a narrow region squeezed between the sea on one side and mountains on the other. January-June is the best time to visit. June-August has hot summers with plenty of humidity while November-December typically sees a lot of rain and typhoons.
South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta): This region experiences a tropical climate which means the best time visit is November-April. There are options for a lot of day tours from Ho Chi Minh City and having pleasant weather really helps!
Given these windows, the best option to cover Vietnam from North to South would be in the Spring window of March-May. As it was impossible for us to get long leaves from work in those months, we decided to go in November (keeping fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get bad weather in Central Vietnam).
You can enter the country from one of the international airports – usually the points of entry are Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. All the major cities are very well connected by flights, train and bus. The flights are quite cheap and make it a viable option even if you are travelling on a budget! We managed to get a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (more on that here).
To get the Visa, you can go for one of these three methods:
The old-fashioned way of getting it done through the embassy – this is also the most expensive option.
Get a Visa Approval Letter – this is the cheapest option. There are many websites which offer you an approval letter for as low as $6. Do check online reviews to verify the legitimacy of these portals to avoid getting into a scam! We used Vietnam E-Visa which charged us $12 per person for a single-entry visa. Just make sure your name matches exactly on the approval letter as your passport so that you are not denied entry. On arrival at Vietnam, you need to pay the stamping fees of $25 (cash) per person.
Currency: Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the currency here and 1 USD can get you ~23,000 VND. So, make sure you convert in parts or risk carrying around huge bundles of currency! Currency exchanges are available everywhere and you won’t face any problems in getting a good rate. As always, convert a small amount at the airport where you are entering which can get you to the city centre (you will get better exchange rates here).
How many days to spend in Vietnam?
This depends on which parts of the country you would like to explore. You can easily budget 5-6 days for each of North, Central and South Vietnam. We spent 10 days in Vietnam and feel this is a good enough time to explore the highlights of the country. You can easily extend this by another 5-6 days without feeling too stretched.
Day 1: Arrive at Hanoi by flight. Check-in and relax for the day.
Day 2: Morning bus to Ha Long Bay. 2D/1N cruise package – enjoy kayaking, swimming in the bay and enjoy the beautiful karst landscape.
Day 3: Morning Tai Chi class at sunrise on the boat. Transfer back to Hanoi and explore the city around Hoan Kiem lake.
Day 7: Early morning cab to Da Nang and flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Spend the day relaxing and exploring the Ben Thanh Market.
Day 8: Day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. In the evening, explore the area near the Skydeck in Ho Chi Minh City. The city itself does not have too much to see but is a great base location for many day trips – here’s our guide on day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 9: Day trip to the Mekong Delta – exploring the delta and some snake wine! Explore more of Ho Chi Minh City in the evening.
Day 10: Flight to Cambodia.
The “Time-is-not-a-constraint” adventurer: as mentioned before, you can spend up to 5-6 days in each region. While in Hanoi, you can add a couple of days to visit the plantations in Sapa valley in the north. You can visit Tam Coc, which is also called the “Ha Long Bay on land”. You can also add a couple of days in Da Nang exploring the city and go on an excursion to the Ba Na hills where you can spot the Golden Bridge.
History Buffs: You can add Hue to your itinerary – this town used to be the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty empire.
Hope this post helped you kick-start your plan to visit Vietnam. We have detailed our experience at each of the places in our blogs which you can find here.
If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales
We start with how to get to Croatia from the neighbouring countries. The easiest and expensive option is by flight – through Zagreb or Split or Dubrovnik and use flights for the rest of the journey. You can use any booking website to look at available options. In this blog we will cover how to use trains and buses and make the most of them to get around Croatia.
From Budapest, Hungary: Our itinerary of Eastern Europe led us from Budapest to Zagreb. We had the option of taking a bus which would take about 5 hours (excluding the time for immigration at the border) or the train which was a similar duration but was more comfortable. We chose the train for two reasons: first, to enjoy the countryside and second, the train would stop at the border and we would have to switch to a Croatian train for the rest of the journey to Zagreb – this was something we wanted to experience.
The train from Budapest
For booking all your train tickets anywhere in Europe, we would always advise you to go to the official website of the railways as they will always give you the best and cheapest options. In this case, head to www.mavcsoport.hu (the Hungarian railways website). To guide you through how to book tickets here, check out this detailed account by The Man in Seat 61 – the go to place if you want guidance on train travel anywhere in Europe. Do note that you will not get an e-ticket for this train. You need to keep the code you will get by email and collect the tickets at automated machines at the train station in Hungary. We recommend booking the tickets in advance so that you don’t have to figure out travel options at the last minute. You also get cheaper tickets on advance booking. Budapest has multiple railway stations – you can catch the train to Zagreb at Budapest Keleti (Keleti Palyaudvar) railway station.
From Austria or Italy: The best option would be to travel to Zagreb via bus. The journey would take you through beautiful Slovenia and if you are lucky, you would get a long enough break to explore the beautiful lake town of Bled.
Now that you’ve reached Croatia, buses and ferries are your lifeline to get around.
Travelling in Croatia – Buses
Croatia has a good network of buses which are convenient to get from one place to another. Two very good websites for booking buses are Flixbus and GetbyBus. These guys are basically aggregators which will show you options from various companies. Do check out the ratings and reviews of the operator to make sure you pick the right bus for your travel. They can charge you for heavy luggage, so keep change handy.
Pro Tip – Split to Dubrovnik
You can choose to take a bus from Split to Dubrovnik and back. However, the road route crosses a tiny patch of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What does this mean? You are exiting Croatia and need to re-enter to continue the journey which means two rounds of immigration checks. This also means that if there is a hold-up for a single person in the bus, the entire bus needs to wait. The travel time from Split to Dubrovnik is 4.5 hours excluding the wait at the checkpoints. We wanted to avoid this bit and planned it in a way that we used boats both ways. Check out our complete itinerary here.
Travelling in Croatia – Ferries/Catamarans
We took catamarans from Split to Hvar and onwards to Dubrovnik. There are two major operators – Jadrolinija and Kapetan Luka. We used both for different legs of our journey and would recommend both equally. Both connect the mainland to all major islands along the coast and you can plan all the legs of your journey accordingly.
Make sure you keep enough buffer between transfers in your journey so that you don’t miss out on a bus/boat. It is always better to reach a place early than deal with the frustration of missing a connection.
We always recommend making your bookings atleast a week or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat (preferably, a reserved seat). Also, advance bookings can get you some good deals! Keep your eye out for these.
Where to Stay
The sweet spot for us while booking a place to stay is to have it close to the main attractions with access to the transit systems. The access part is kept at higher priority as it is convenient when you’re moving in/out with your luggage. In Europe, it becomes much easier than most other places as the cities have been designed with great connectivity.
Zagreb: We picked an Airbnb at a walkable distance from the bus station (which is also close to the railway station). We had an early morning flight out of Zagreb and chose to stay near the origin point of the bus.
Plitviče National Park: The park itself does not have any options for stay but there are a couple of villages right outside the main gates. We picked Rastovača which is a 10-15 min walk along the highway from “Entrance 1” of the park. The buses from Zagreb stop at Entrance 1. Make sure you reach when there is still daylight as the highway goes through a dense forest and you don’t want to be stranded here in the dark! Rastovača is a beautiful village with some nice cottages where you can find rooms on Airbnb. We stayed at a lovely little cottage called House Spehar (where we had some amazing breakfast the next day!). You can also choose to stay in some of the hotels near Entrance 2 – we didn’t go for these as most of the crowd enters the park from here and the best way to explore it would be start at Entrance 1 in the opposite direction of the crowd. For more on how to make the most of your day at Plitviče, click here.
Split: When in Split, try to stay as close to the Old Town as possible. Split has an active nightlife which is concentrated in this area. As the public transportation dies down quite early, having your room close to the Old Town is a major plus. On one of our stays, we couldn’t find a place close enough and we had to walk back almost 4 kms (couldn’t even find cabs!).
Hvar: The island of Hvar is quite big – however, the preferred places to stay are near the port for ease of movement. With some effort, you can find some beautiful Airbnb’s with amazing views. Be wary of the stairs as there are many in the area! Hvar also has some amazing seafood places, but more on that here.
Croatia is a delight for seafood lovers! We had some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted and is the main reason why we wouldn’t think twice before coming back here again.
Dolac Market: We love visiting the local green markets as it is the best place to get a flavour of the local taste. You can sample the fresh fruits, veggies and meats at this market – we got some tasty apricots to eat while we walked around the city.
You can also find a lot of restaurants along the Ulica Ivana Tkalčića.
Villa Spiza: Excellent food with simple and fresh ingredients! It takes some time to find the place as it is not the biggest one in the city. Make sure you go early, or you might not get a table before they run out of food! The menu of the day had pork chops and lamb pasta. Delicious food which keeps you coming back for more!
Pazar market: Local green market near the Old Town. Go early in the morning to see people selling fresh produce and meat. You can pick up some fruits and berries to munch on throughout the day.
Fife restaurant: Towards the end of the Riva Promenade, this place serves really good local dishes at compelling prices.
Marinero bistro: Without doubt, the best food we had in Croatia. Delicious tuna fillet, fried calamari with tartar and house wine made for a wonderful dinner!
Dalmatino: We didn’t get time to go here but heard some good things about this place. Next time!
Mlinar bakery: This was our go-to place across Croatia – ideal for a quick bite, stocking up on supplies or even a small meal. It is pocket friendly and tasty and is ideal for the backpacking tourist.
The first image that pops up when you hear the word “Dalmatian” would be the black and white spotted dogs made famous by the Disney movie. The origin of this breed is from a region of the same name in Croatia. The historical Dalmatia region is along the Adriatic coast and covers most of the southern half of the country. The major cities in this region are Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik. There are many beautiful islands off the coast, some of the best ones being Hvar, Brač and Korčula.
We started our holiday from Zagreb where we spent half a day (enough to see all major attractions). We then spent an amazing day at Plitvice National Park. A 4-hour bus journey from Plitvice took us along the coastal cities of Zadar and Sibenik to Split. We were picked up by our Airbnb host from the bus stand who had come along with his two cute kids. Nino – our host – was super-friendly and a really nice guy. He gave us a mini tour of the city and told us how to get around. As we entered the residential neighborhood, we noticed gardens behind every house with vines wrapped around the garages. And on these were grapes!
Coming from Indian city life, it is indeed a wonder to see grapes growing freely in every house! We left our luggage in the room and walked back to the old city.
As we entered the old town area, the vibe itself changed. The tiny streets transported us to another age as we walked around looking for a place to eat. We always read up about the best places to eat so that we experience the best foods in the limited number of days we spend. We arrived at our destination, Villa Spiza – a small restaurant in a tiny lane. For a place so tiny, there was a lot of crowd waiting to get a table. As we waited (40 mins in total), we saw the owner come out and strike off some items from the menu. We learnt that their menu changes every day based on what they get fresh from the market. Luckily, the dishes we had our eyes on were still on the menu when we got our table. And it was totally worth the wait! Delicious pork chops and minced lamb pasta and amazing wine to go with it! All food pics are available on the Food page. After dinner, we walked around, got an ice-cream and saw some hostelers partying out on the lanes – looked like this one was going all night long.
Our second day at Split was mostly spent exploring Diocletian’s Palace and the walled city.
We first headed to the farmer’s market where we picked up some fresh fruits for the day. The Palace itself has a lot of interesting elements – sphinxes from Egypt, a temple dedicated to Jupiter and actors dressed up as Romans putting on a show for the visitors.
We also spotted some of the shoot locations of Game of Thrones there. If you get tired walking, there are plenty of little restaurants and takeaways. We ended our day by taking a bus back to Zagreb.
Pro Tip: To get a panoramic view of Split old town and the port, head up to Park Marjan. We started our day here walking all the way up to the observation deck. The early morning light gave us a beautiful view of the city. From here, you can climb down the steps and get to the Riva Promenade.
We had planned to visit Hvar, Dubrovnik and come back to Split – so we decided to leave our luggage at the Split port instead of lugging it around all the way. Look out for lockers near the bus stand where you can leave your luggage for a daily rate. We took the 9:45 am Jadrolinija catamaran from the dock. Wondering how to book tickets for these? Check out our guide to local travel in Croatia.
The boat was good and the ride was smooth – it cut through all the waves and almost glided through to reach Hvar in just under an hour. We walked up some steps near the port to our Airbnb where we left our bags and went to explore the town.
Walking along the coast-line itself is a soothing experience. The water is so clear that you feel the boats are floating in air!
We continued to explore the old town area and a series of stairs led us up to the Fortica. The climb up is quite tiring but the end result is worth it – you get a view of the entire town with the coral tiles roofs, blue skies and the blue sea merging into it, rugged terrain along the coast and cactus plants with beautiful flowers all around!
We walked into a restaurant for lunch where we had some amazing fried calamari. We headed back to our room as the sun was beating down on us. We met our host, Zora who suggested some off-beat places on the island. There was a beach which was a good 30 mins walk along the coast on the southern part of the island which she recommended. We passed through a neighbourhood of premium apartments and some remote roads along the coast to reach the beach. The beach was full of white pebbles and the water was perfect for a swim.
We took care not to step on the sea urchins! After spending a couple of hours here, we took a shortcut by climbing over a hill to cut across.
For dinner, we headed to the Marinero bistro which is just off the old town centre. The food we had here was possibly the best we had on the trip to Croatia. Grilled tuna fillet, calamari with tartar and house wine – the memory of the taste makes us want to go back there! Food pics here!
We spent some time at the beach spotting stars and constellations (the sky was so clear!). As we walked back to our room, we saw many people dressed up getting on boats to go to Carpe Diem – one of the craziest party places around. We had to catch a boat the next morning and decided to skip it – best to leave it for later!
We took the Kapetan Luka catamaran from Hvar to Dubrovnik at 8:45 am. This time we sat on the upper deck where we enjoyed views of the coast and the islands of Korčula and Mljet. As we got closer to Dubrovnik, we saw not one, but many cruise ships off the coast. Oh no! Cruise ships could mean only one thing – crazy crowds!
As you exit the port at Dubrovnik and cross the road, you will see a visitor information centre and a counter from where you can buy bus tickets. We got our tickets and boarded bus 1-A to the Old City (Stari Grad). The walled city welcomed us in a manner that we expected – full of tourists. There were multiple Game of Thrones tours going on along the walls and inside as tourists tried to recreate the scenes. We explored the city for the better part of the day – the inner walls, the cathedral, the port (of wildfire), drawbridge and lots of steps (including the Shame, Shame ones).
The restaurants are all tourist traps with super expensive menus and even the exchange rate here was the worst we had seen in Croatia. After lunch, we took Bus number 3 back to the port where our boat to Split was waiting.
As mentioned in our top post, if you are crunched for time, you would do well to skip this journey to Dubrovnik as the crowds will put you off. If time is not a constraint, stay for 2 days and start exploring the walled city early in the morning before the cruise crowd hits.
The place we were looking forward to the most in Croatia was Plitviče National Park. Why you ask? Take a look at these pictures we shot, and you’ll get an idea why.
The lakes in Plitviče have been formed at different heights as a series of cascades. You can also spot many waterfalls and rapids as the water flows down from the upper lakes to the lower lakes. But what is most stunning in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the colour of the water! The distinctive colours of the lakes is due to moss, algae and minerals which are deposited on the limestone topography. There are wooden pathways and bridges criss-crossing the park which give you the chance to experience nature’s beauty at its best! Now that we’ve resolved the why, here’s how you can make the most of your day at Plitviče.
Reach the park early in the morning
This advice holds true for many tourist attractions as you get to see the place in all its glory without tourists. I cannot emphasize how true this is for Plitviče (we got a glimpse of the crowded version as we left). We started our day at 7:30 am from our beautiful cottage in Rastovača (check out our tips on places to stay here) and we were at the ticket counter in Entrance 1 at 7:45 am. We didn’t have to face a queue and were one of the first people to enter. If you go during the peak season (July-August), you might have to wait a while in the queue, and you may even get a later slot – so make sure you book in advance if you visit in these months (we visited in June). The entrance fees also goes up in the peak season. You can check out the latest fees on their website.
Select the best routes
There are around 8 different routes (4 from each entrance of the park) you can choose to take on your tour depending on how much you are willing to walk and how much time you’d like to spend at the park.
We selected Route C – a 4-6 hours long trail which would span 8 km across the upper and lower lakes. This is one of the best routes to get a complete experience of Plitviče – there is one stretch on the route which is via boat too. We also took a deviation towards the end of the trail and walked through a stretch of route H to get a view of the upper-most lakes of the park.
Once you reach the end of the trail, you can take a shuttle bus back to your entrance or walk along a shortcut trail.
Alternatively, if you are entering the park from Entrance 2, select Route H (which covers the same route in the opposite direction).
If you are crunched for time, go for Route A or B which will take you through the best parts of the lower lakes. If you want to spend the entire day, go for Route K – the longest trail available.
Best spots in the Park
Most of the wallpaper worthy spots can be found along the lower lakes. The closest one to Entrance 1 is the Veliki Slap or Big Waterfall (you can find signboards which will guide you).
You can find plenty of amazing spots along the boardwalks. Take your time and enjoy the views as you make your way along the trail.
Cascade viewpoint – you can get this view when you walk back to Entrance 1 from the bus stop.
Additional spot: on the way to Veliki Slap, you will find a path going upwards – walk up and continue along the path towards the right and you will reach the viewpoint in about 200 metres.
Best time to visit
You can visit Plitviče anytime between April to October to enjoy the colours of the lakes. July-August is the peak season which you can skip if you want to avoid crowds. We visited in June and really enjoyed it. There were many parts of the park where we had the place entirely to ourselves. The weather was warm and comfortable – perfect for the long walk!
Getting to Plitviče
Plitviče is located 130 km south of Zagreb and 250 km north of Split which makes it a great place for a day trip. You can find several buses on this route which makes it very accessible. For all your local travel in Croatia, check out our guide here. We arrived in Plitviče a day before our planned visit to the park. This gives you the freedom to rest well and start early to beat the crowds.
Where to Stay
We recommend staying close to Entrance 1 – this will enable you to enjoy the beauty of the lower lakes before the crowds start hitting. We picked an Airbnb in the village of Rastovača. Check out our blog on places to stay.