Tour operators and local guides are known to arrange homestays on request, more so in the Mekong delta to the south than elsewhere in the country, but it remains an unorganised sector with few reliable reviews whereas you can find lovely places to stay all over Vietnam within budget parameters. I’m afraid you don’t have nearly enough time to see all of this linear country, which is easily traversed north to south or vice versa. May I therefore suggest you fly into capital Hanoi and focus on the north, which suits your interests as well? Spend a couple of days in Hanoi, where you could stay at the clean, centrally located and helpful Art Hotel (from Rs 2,500; www.hanoiarthotel.com). A day-trip for a cruise to view the spectacular limestone karsts in the Ha Long Bay would be rushed and tiring; 2-or-3 night cruises are a vastly better experience, although good services are expensive (for example, www.darianculbert.com or www.halongdragonpearljunk.com). Scenic or overnight train journeys can get you to other-worldly Hoi An (also a Unesco site like Ha Long Bay; Da Nang is the nearest railhead; you will find our coverage of Hoi An in the February 2015 issue of OT interesting) and the atmospheric old imperial capital of Hue by the Perfume River, and you won’t regret dividing whatever time you have left between them. An agency like www.vietnamimpressive.com can help you with your ticketing. If you aren’t entirely persuaded by these options, you can look up more tempting itineraries at www.vietnamonline.com/planning/suggested-itinerary. It’s worth considering the Ha An Hotel (from Rs 3,600; www.haanhotel.com) for your stay in Hoi An, and the wonderfully VFM Jade Hotel (from Rs 1,300; www.jadehotelhue.com) in Hue.
You may have the occasional difficulty, but English is quite widely understood, especially in sectors that cater to tourists, and signages are helpfully bilingual in Vietnamese and English. Yes, it’s quite safe to travel alone, subject to precautions you would usually take while alone in unfamiliar territory. The Vietnamese are a friendly, diffident and hospitable folk, culturally attuned to Confucian humanism. Enjoy your trip.