I am the owner and founder of Vivutravel, we speicalise in private and tailor made holiday for international tourists, but no business since the outbreaks of Covid -19. I do not close the office, Vivutravel still has some staff to stand by and prepare for the recovery. The sad thing is there is nothing much to do.
As the founder of the ocmpany, I have been travelling a lot around Vietnam to inspect hotels, travel services as well as to find new tours and destinations. However, this trip was special in a very special time because i have never had this much time for family and Vietnam was safe to travel (when we started the trip) after days of without having new Covid-19 case in community. Encouraged and agreed by my boss (wife) and two sons (Minh - 13 years old, Duc 9 years old), i planned the family vacation by car to explore Vietnam. However, we did not have a specific plan, just go and have fun. Before starting, i gave my bosses three conditions "Safety, Budget and Fun". Date was set on 05 July, 2020.
Before giving you my reviews of the trip, i must say, travelling by car for 3 weeks in Vietnam is unusual for most of Vietnamese people.
Day 1: Hanoi - Dong Hoi - 508km
We decided to start at 09:00 PM to avoid traffic chaos and the heat of Summer. If you think, it is dangerous to drive at night and for long journey. I do not think so because i spent whole day to sleep and i had experience in driving 400-500km per day from Hanoi to mountainous areas like Sapa, Ha Giang or Ban Gioc waterfall in the north. Minh and Duc were so excited and asked me every 10 minutes "when do we go". We have done so many family trips every year, but 3 weeks through Vietnam by car was something new to them and would be a memorable experience.
Everything ready including everything we needed for three weeks, my kids told me ' this is our moving home" as they had two Autumn blankets for sleeping plus candies, cookies and their favourite drinks.
The engine sounded great and we he headed South, passing sleeping cities, towns and rice fields. Above us, the full moon was beautiful and romantic. We all sang family song.
The first stop was in Thanh Hoa province for break. Duc was sleeping and did not want to get up that early. Minh was still exciting enough to see Vietnam at night. What i needed was Red Bull and a ciggarette. I was just lucky because Duc - his mother's policeman was still sleeping. If not, i would be caught and could not enjoy my happy moments.
We continued slowly from Thanh Hoa to Ha Tinh province because it was late and traffic police might stop us for checking that made me worried, but nothing and i was still ok to drive.
The second stop for break was at Da Nhay beach in Quang Binh, too early for swimming, but great to enjoy the sunrise from the sea. After simple breakast with rice noodle soup with beef. (like what we normally have at home, but not that good. Pho Hanoi is the best). We arrived Muong Thanh holiday hotel in Dong Hoi city at around 08:30 AM. We all know this hotel very well as we stayed last year in my Vivutravel's trip. We did not book the hotel in advance, but easily got the rooms because started the trip 10 days before school holiday, not many tourists yet. Minh and Duc were ok, checked in, short rest and went for a swim in hotel's swimming pool. It was hot and i am a little but tired, but i remembered the third condition which is "fun". I went swimming with kids.
The whole day was at leisure for swimming and rest. Dong Hoi is not a big but beautiful city by the bank of Nhat Le river. In the afternoon, we went to Bao Ninh beach for swimming, but the sea was rough, i did not swimm because some best beaches were waiting for us further south. Dinner time was with best seafood in front of the hotel and a can of HuDa beer. Minh and Duc as always wanted cokes. My big boss - Huong was going to say "No". but the third condition reminded her (i think so). The first night in Dong Hoi was good.
Day 2: Dong Hoi - Danang - 265km
There are some places to visit from Dong Hoi to Hue such as the DMZ including Hien Luong bridge, Vinh Moc tunnels, Quang Tri citadel but we had visited in 2019, so we started late at 10:00 AM and just drove all the way to Da Nang.
It was hot and Duc did not want to get out of the car for break. His face looked ughly and unhappy. "I still enjoy the trip, but i want to go home", Duc said. Now i understood how difficult to mange a family vacation with kids. I talked to myself "prepare for it, be calm, be happy, be great daddy"
Arrived in Da Nang at 03:00 PM, time to find hotel. We thought it would be an easy job, but we were wrong. Many but full or expensive. 40 minutes was gone, mission to find good and cheap hotel by ourselfes failed. My boss - Huong had no choice but called "head quarter" - Ms. Duong, Vivutravel's reservation superior in Hanoi for help and it worked after 5 minutes. We got a room at Serene Beach Danang Hotel at promotional price. (4 star service - 3 star price).
Thanks to this experience, i admired "backpackers" during their travel in a new country. I also have an advice for those who are going to travel Vietnam with kids. Book everything in advance through a travel company. Do not waste your time looking or searching for hotel or something like that, let's spend time making your kids happy.
Checked in and we went for swimming. My Khe beach in Da Nang was nice, but many tourists there. I saw some western tourists, i guessed they are expats, working and living in Vietnam. I also recognized some Chinese and wondered why they are here. (At the time of writing, many Chinese came to Vietnam illegally by boat and caught by police)
Danang is an exciting city, i have been to Da Nang many times, but this was the second time i stayed overnight here. (Most of the time, i stayed in Hoi An). I googled to find a good local restaurant for Dinner, something like home for kids as they can not eat something spicy and sweet. It was convenient to have a car and google map. Restaurant was found with happy sounds of Minh and Duc. Dinner was odered with dishes of fried rice and beef + Cokes. After dinner, time to see the dragon bridge and night market. I realized that Danang is developing so quickly and this place is not our family's taste. We love narure and quietness. Time to get back to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long day.
Day 3: Danang - Pleiku (Gia Lai) - 339km
I have seen the Vietnam museum of Ethnology in Hanoi and impressed with the unique culture of the minorities living in the central highland. Gia Lai is one of the three provinces in Vietnam that i have never been to. I really look forward to coming and seeing the long house, rong house and the wariors of the land.
Started at 09:00 AM, we headed to Pleiku city. road was ok, but there was nothing much to see on the way. The most intesting part could be Lo Xo pass challenge which is 20kkm long and i heard a lot about the tigers, elephants in the old days as well as the recent Vietnam war - The pass used to be one of the base of Viet Cong. We stopped on the way to visit a coffee plantation. I felt a bit disappoited for not seeing what i had imagined.
Huong - my boss had the same feeling as she could not take great photos. Minh and Duc were busy sleeping most of the time. I had to turn on the songs of Tay Nguyen (central highlands) to wake them up and try to tell them something about the culture and history of the area.
We arrived Pleiku at about 04:00 PM, found a budget hotel just for sleeping. Nothing special on this day. It was because we were tired of long drive and we did not see amazing scenery as we expected. However, we now know why we should not bring western tourists here. The north of Vietnam is much more beautiful.
Day 4: Pleiku - Buon Me Thuot - 177km
This morning, we felt much better for having good sleep. After breakfast with bowls of rice noodles and best coffee we explored Pleiku City and found the central square a nice place (it is space of Gong culture) for memorable family photos. This part was peaceful and nice, but we had another problem with Duc - He just wanted to get back to the car to sleep and did not want to take any photo. I was going to give him a warning, but his ugly face and the third condition/rule changed my mind. I encouraged and reminded him of the third rule for some family photos. How patient i was!
Huong (boss) was always busy taking photos, but not instagramable ones. She loves taking photos and is photographer of Vivutravel. Her photos to be posted on facebook and other channels for promoting Vietnam. Sometimes, she ccould spend half an hour at a place and we pretended to be real gentlemen, waiting for her. She should have taken the photos of the ugly faces of father and sons.
Next place was the "Sea Lake" which called the "the eyes of Pleiku", it was cool here as we walked under the shade of the pipe trees. Blue water and sky, we got a nice weather, but could not take any family photo here. You know the season?
We got back to the city for simple lunch a a local restaurant then continued our trip to Buon Me Thuot. Stopped on the way to visit the most beautiful waterfall in Gia Lai province called "Phu Cuong waterfall", a great place for picnic, but not much water when we were there and it was around noon, hot and humid. I love this waterfall but it is nothing when compared with Ban Gioc waterfall in Cao Bang, the north of Vietnam.
The drive to Buon Me Thuot was great, The scenery was nice, pipe trees by the sides of the road and we stopped for taking photos and buying some local fruits. I saw some famous names mentioned in the Vietnam war, luckily, i have read about that and had something to tell the Minh and Duc. Hopefully, they still remember.
Arrived Buon Me Thuot at around 05:00 PM, got cheap and good hotel (Booked by Vivutravel). After a short rest, we walked to explore the city of Buon Me Thuot - The capital of Coffee in Vietnam where the best coffee brand - Cafe Trung Nguyen was born.
It was day 4 and we could not beleive that we had driven for around 1200km, still ok and happy and following "Safety, Budget and Fun" conditions.
Dinner was great with fried rice and we found some dishes similar to what we normally have at home. In fact, food is not a problem with my family. We do not care much, and kids can eat what we order without any complaint. Minh is called "the suckermouth catfish". Food is always delicous.
Day 5: Buon Me Thuot - Don Village - 64km (From our hotel)
There is a famous song for Kids in Vietnam for many generations called "A Calf Elephant in Don village" and it is just 64km away from the city of Buon Me Thuot. Minh and Duc were looking forward to riding the elephants and i wanted to taste the best coffee here, so we decided to stay here one more night.
Don village is located by the bank of the poetic Serepôk River, known as legendery land, famous for hunting and domesticating wild elephants. We also heard about great hunters, art of hunting and rich culture of the ethnic groups living in the area.
Don village is now a tourist attraction. When we arrived, there were not many tourists. The fun part was crossing the suspension bridges and walked under the shade of trees. Minh and Duc were happy. Huong were busing taking photos as always, but complained that noone took great photos of her.
I did ride the elephants in Laos in 2018 so i bought the tickets for Minh, Duc and my boss to ride the elephant. This part of the trip turned out to be disappoiting. The elephant walked for around 200 meters long (within 10 minutes), and Minh and Duc felt so sorry for the elephant.
It was a bit hot and humid, but kids were hungry so we had simple lunch with chicken and sticky rice. The trip to Don village was not as interesting as what we expected. However, we were here and no need to imagine whenever we hear the song "A Calf Elephant in Don village".
We headed back to Buon Me Thuot and visited one of the most famous waterfalls in central highlands - Dray Nur waterfall. This waterfall was about 25km from Buon Me Thuot, a nice place but it was bad that it was not allowed to swim. We took a few photos and got back to the hotel. I enjoyed myself with a cup of coffee and let Huong arrange everything for the rest of the day.
Day 6: Buon Me Thuot - Da Lat - 211km
There were few places in Buon Me Thuot that we did not have time to visit, but it was enough. Buon Me Thuot will not be a place to offer for Vivutravel's customers. We headed to Da Lat today. Last time when i took my family to Da Lat, Minh was 5 years old and Duc wasr not born yet. It was in 2012. The reasons i did not come back to Da Lat earlier, it was because Da Lat was too touristy and it was when My Father and Mother in law were with us last trip, but they have gone forever and left a hole in our hearts.
Our trip to Da Lat was good. We arrived early, started to look for a hotel to stay overnight. However, all central located hotels were fully booked, so we just drove around and luckily found Green Valley Hotel, got offered very good price and free parking. As soon as we checked in, we found that there was no tourist here (just us), and the receptionists were a couple - husband and wife. The hotel was French styled building, looked mysterious and a bit scary that made me think of the ghost stories in abandoned villas in Da Lat.
The room looked ok, i talked to myself "I am the more powerful than the Sun", but to be safe, i went down and had conversation with the receptionist - the husband who seemed friendly and honest. He told me "it is because of Covid, last year the hotel was always full and the price was 3 times higher".
I went back up to the room, had shower and short rest. At 19:30 PM, we drove to the night market of Da Lat for Dinner, but it was unbelievable, there was a sea of people so i just turned around to find a more quiet place for dinner and coffee before coming back to the hotel. Good sleep without seeing any ghost.
Day 7: Da Lat - Mui Ne - 154km
This morning, we visited Lang Biang mount as Huong wanted to take some great photos of the valley and cloud. But the lady of luck was not with her. Cloud was gone as we were there. Lang Biang was praised as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Da Lat, but it was normal in our eyes. I could see a lot of plastic bags on the ground. We took some family photos and got back to Da Lat to visit the valley of love. It was really hot and humid. Duc and Minh did not want to get in, but i told Minh "This is the place where you visited with grand father in 2012, do you want to see again?". In fact, i wanted to visit because this would recall memories of our last family trip and it would be also good to inspect for Vivutravel's tour in the future.
The valley of love has changed a lot, larger and more beautiful, but full of Vietnamese tourists taking instagramable photos so we tried to finish the trip as soon as possible. Duc kept saying " I am bored, i am tired, i want to go, i want a swim, i do not want photos". I now understood how hard to mange a family vacation. I kept my patience and reminded Duc of the third condition - Fun. It was at noon, hot, sweating, hungry and tired. Huong was on her own way taking photos, i had to take care of Minh and Duc. Kept them happy with a promise of a nice beach resort with swimming pool in Mui Ne in the afternoon.
We arrived Mui Ne at 05:30 PM, checked in Pandanus resort (This is a 4 star beach resort, offered us $50/room/night and breakfast included). Kids were so happy to see a huge swimming pool. They needed no rest, went swimming immediately. No other tourists at there, just us. We felt so relaxing and comfortable, but a bit sad when seeing how hard for Vietnam tourism to survive in this difficult situation.
Day 8: Mui Ne - Fishing village - Red Sand Dunes to
2 years ago, we had visited Mui Ne and seen all the tourist attractions like the Cham temples, Fairy Spring, The White Sand Dunes, so we just stayed for two nights here to rest. Minh and Duc loved the swimming pool. Huong and I went to fishing village to take photos. Beach was nice but we did not swim because hundreds of fishing boats (close to the resort) dropped anchors and dead crabs, fishes back to the sea that made the water smell badly.
This afternoon, when i was enjoying myself sleeping, Huong asked me to drive her and kids to the White Sand Dunes for Sunset photos. I was sleepy and had a ugly face. Duc told me "Daddy, don't break the third rule". I was a bit surprised because Duc wanted to go. No choice for me.
The White Sand Dunes called "Bau Trang" is about 20km from Pandanus resort which is a nice place to visit when in Mui Ne. It is fun to experience the jeep ride and slide down from the top. If you come here in the afternoon, remember to bring the sunglasses because it is normally windy.
We arrived Bau Trang at around 04:30 PM, paid for a private jeep (600.000 VND). Duc was happy to play with sand, but Huong was disappointed as she was not lucky with the Sunset.
Our two nights in Mui Ne were great but we broke the second rule. We overspent. So, we would have to save money on something else.
Day 9: Mui Ne - Doc Let beach - 264km
Late breakfast to eat to full and no need to have lunch on the way. This was to avoid meeting many tourists at the restaurant. Safety is first?
We said goodbye to Mui Ne and headed to Doc Let beach where we stayed last family trip. We skipped Nha Trang because we wanted to keep away from the crowds and we loved Doc Let much more. The beach at Doc Let was pristine, seafood was the best, too. Checked in GM Doc Let Beach Resort and enjoyed the rest of the day swimming.
Doc Let beach is about 50km from Nha Trang and less-visited. There are not many hotels and resorts here. We don't even see any taxi. Doc Let is perfect for family vacation in Vietnam if you want to avoid the crowds. Seafood is cheap and fresh, but remember to ask your hotel to arrange transfers to/from floating restaurant.
This was our second time in GM Doc Let, but will definitely come back.
Day 10: Doc Let Beach
I and Huong woke up and 04:30 AM to visit the biggest salt field in Vietnam - Ninh Hoa salt field. Great to learn how to make salts and experience the daily hard work of the villagers. Huong took some nice photos.
Day was at leisure. Minh and Duc enjoyed swimming, but when the sun came up, it was hot and they started to complain that "We are bored, nothing to do here. Can we have your smart phones to play games?". Uhm, one of the purposes of our family vacation was to stop them from watching TV and playing games. So, i said "No" and got back the ugly faces of Minh and Duc.
Day 11: Doc Let Beach - Tuy Hoa - 82km
We actually planed to drive to Quy Nhon, but when we had break in Tuy Hoa, we found that this city was beautiful, clean, quiet and the beach was just amazing so we decided to find the hotel here for one night and it was our right decision. Checked in Green Oasis Hotel, not close to the beach, but nice room. Minh and Duc were a bit upset because they did not see any swimming pool at the hotel, ugly faces again. I asked them to get some sleep and promised a nice beach for swimming in the afternoon.
At 04:00 PM, we drove to visit Xep beach, a famous place that appeared in a Vietnamese movie. The beach was so nice, but it looked dangerous with the cliffs and rocks on the left side. My job was to watch Minh and Duc swimming. Huong was busy taking photos as always. A great afternoon!
Day 12: Tuy Hoa
Day 13: Tuy Hoa - Quy Nhon - 94km
Day 14: Quy Nhon - Quang Ngai - My Khe Beach - 192km
Day 15: Quang Ngai - Ly Son island
Day 16: Ly Son island - Hoi An - 134km
Day 17: Hoi An
Day 18: Hoi An - Hue - 120km
Day 19: Hue
Day 20: Hue - Phong Nha - Thien Duong - Cave - Ha Tinh - 239km + 169km
Day 21: Ha Tinh - Ninh Binh - Hanoi - 351km