12 days ,  Dec'15- Jan'16



Kind of travel:
Me and my wife Elisa with our 3 year old daughter INES in an independent travel

26th Dec'15- 8th Jan'16

Do I need a visa:
No, since till 30th June 2016 there's an agreement between Italy and Vietnam about no visa requirement for Italian Citizens entry Vietnam if staying less than 15days and reentering the country not before 30 days.

How I moved:
Mainly by train (even spending overnight), but also with some buses (a very cool VIP night bus) and by taxi inside the cities. Speedboat has been a convenient way to reach Cat Ba and Vung Tau

Freezing or baking:
In the north cold (max 12-13C) and wet (always!), in the center (Danang/Hoi An/Hue) ranging max 16-19C but still wet. The good weather I found only in the south where it was above 30C!

Where I slept:
Usually in Medium range Hotel (20€ room per medium/ high range) that I found clean and more than acceptable. Once I slept in a super resort in Cat Ba (paying 80€), but it was not worth given the weather. I particularly enjoyed sleeping on the train in the 4 bed berth (50€ per person)

What I liked:
The best memory of the travel has been Hoi An by night with the lanterns and floating candles. The we enjoyed travelling on the comfortable Vietnamese trains also get acquainted with Vietnamese thanks to our daughter. If passing by Hanoi you shouldn't miss the water puppet show and the last but not the least I liked Vietnam is cheap!!

What I disliked:
I hated the cold (max temp 12-13C) and rainy weather of the North. The full booked trains in the high season that didn't let us to find places available from Danang to Ho Chi Min.

How much daily:
All included (without flights) the budget turned out 45€/day pp: 20€ per room for accommodation; 15€ pp for food; if you use taxi for long distance it can be a part of your budget (15€ for 30min ride)

weather in the north/center in december is rainy and cold! You might think to skip Halong Bay in December.Bring cash, since all ATMs I tried did not work with foreigner credit cards! Check carefully Vietnamese Railway website for the train schedules

About backpacking with a 3yo toddler:
At the end it turned out easier than expected in particular with the food (rise helped a lot), with the people (having a baby opens many doors) and with the health (not a single issue). The difficulties were to share the same bed on the train and travelling in the late evening.


Despite all the headwinds we had (coldness, rain, fullbooked trains) I enjoyed travelling in Vietnam in particular I appreciated the identity of the country I found stronger than in his neighbors as Malaysia or Thailand. For sure Vietnam recent history lead to pay attention to details that otherwise would have passed more unnoticed: the difference between the north (Hanoi) and the south (Saigon), the strong communist advertising (each Vietnamese flag waving always near another red one with siclke and hammer), the charisma of the 'Uncle Bo',…..
Another element that made the difference (in particular travelling with a 3yo toddler) has been the railway network that let us to cross the country enjoying the hours spent on the train. It wouldn't have been the same on a bus.
In addition I found easier than I expected to travel around with a toddler: for instance pushing a stroller is feasible given the paved and large sidewalks, the city cleaner than I expected, not so many smells around… ok, it might be I had too low expectations in term of Vietnamese standards.
The only thing that still doesn't convince me is Halong Bay… is that a place somebody can get mad for in a season in which you don't swim?




Vietnam travel tip




Since till 30th June 2016 there's an agreement between Italy and Vietnam about no visa requirement for Italian Citizens entry Vietnam if staying less than 15days and reentering the country not before 30 days.



Be prepared to deal with huge amounts, not because Vietnam is expensive but because for most of the countries 1 Dong will be equal to several thousand unit of your currency. For instance 1€= 21.000 dong.



I used Lonely Planet 10th edition in Italian (Nov 2014)



We did not take any vaccination or prophilassis neither for us nor for our 3yo daughter.
As concerns the risk of Malaria on the coast during the winter time is negligible.
We paid attention to what we were drinking (always bottle water and no ice) and we wash often the hands to our daughter with disinfectant wipes.
At the end luckily our 3yo daughter did not have any health issue.


  • TRAIN:

    • Check carefully on the net:
      - the Vietnamese railway website:
      - the worldwide trainschedules in

    • Is it more convenient to fly or to take a train?
      If you compare from a cost/time benefit flying will turn out more convenient (ie: Danang- HoChimin by train 60$ in 15h, by flight 100$ in 15h).
      However from the travel standpoint taking the train you'll experience far more the country/people than on the flight, that's why I really reccomend to experience the train.

    • How long Hanoi- Ho Chi Minh takes?
      Assuming you want to do in just one shot it'll take 35-40h according to the trains you'll take

    • Which is the most unconvenient leg you did as concerns the schedule?
      While Hanoi to Danang is very conveninent having a train leaving Hanoi at 7.00 pm and arriving in Danang at 11.00am,
      I cannot say the same for the Danang- Ho Chi Minh leg since the trains leave late in the evening to arrive in the middle of the day.

    • How many trains are there?
      Be aware that most of the trains to the full leg Hanoi- HoChiminh, implying that:
      - if you need to do get on and get off in intermediate towns the timing might be unconvenient (ie: 4.00 am)
      - trains will be easily full even if the leg you are interested is not popular

    • Train classes:
      1) First class: 2 bed berth (Livingstone train)
      2) Soft bed: 4 bed berth
      3) Hard bed: 6 bed berth
      4) Hard seats

      The best bed is the lower one (also the most expensive)
      In the berth A/C is freezing so the best is to have a tape to close the A/C slots above your bed.
      On the train you won't find that much to eat so bring your own food
      About buying train tickets:
      I've never tried personally but I've read several complaints about people trying to buy them on line unsuccessfully. It seems the Vietnamese railway websites accept only Vietnamese credit cards.
      Once in Vietnam the options are the station or the travel agencies.
      If you are told by an agency that a train is fully booked try at least another one.

  • How to reach Cat Ba Island from Hanoi?
    First of all DO NOT take the 15USD package offered by all the agencies and by the hotel in Hanoi!
    You'll find yourself on a bus for 3 hours to reach Haiphong than another 1 hour bus trip to get to an harbor placed in the middle of nothing. As third step on a shitty boat for another hour to arrive in a rundown dock, and finally again 1 hour by bus to be dropped in Cat Ba town. Much faster, cheaper and comfortable is the train that takes 2.5h from Hanoi to Haiphong; from here the speed boat that in 1h will bring you directly in the heart of Cat Ba city. (check the train latest schedule (Hanoi- Haiphong) in internet)

  • General Tips:
    - If you decide to visit in the north of Vietnam in December and January be aware that it'll be cold and rainy. Bring the right outfit to cope with such weather.

    - In Vietnam there's a wide choice of night buses and in particular I got surprised by a VIP sleeping bus we took to reach the Can Tho from Saigon with a bed/seat layout I had never seen so far. Tilting seats that becomes beds set in a two deck lay out

    click to enlarge

    The only downside is the Vietnamese length of such beds that won't make you enjoy it if you are taller than 160cm
    - Is it better Hanoi or Ho Chi Min?
    I far preferred Hanoi since more traditional than the cosmopolitan Ho Chi Min, but an expat will say exactly the opposite. In the capital you will find more highlights (Ho Chi Min museum and mausoleum, the water puppet show), while his southern counterpart more night life. The thumb rule is, as I read once, 'Hanoi is for the day, Ho Chi Min for the night'
    - About Ho Chi Min:
    Ho Chi Min mausoleum in Hanoi opens only in the morning till 10.45am
    Ho Chi Min museum (next to the mausoleum) is unremarkable unless you have a guide; you can hire one but only in the morning.
    - Don't miss the Caodaist temples: this is a sect merging several religions as Islam, Christian, Buddhism,.. and worshipping among others Shakespeare, Giovanna D'arco, Victor Hugo. The main temple is 2h from Ho Chi Min, but there are also others as the one in Danang. You can attend the prayer as I did and it's an interesting experience.