Towering mountains toppling down to secluded beaches, row upon row of rice paddies and odd-shaped limestone karsts make up Vietnam, a land known for its boundless beauty.
The 3,260 kilometres of coastline of Vietnam is diverse, to say the least. While Northern Vietnam is known for its cool mountains, misty skylines and limestone karsts; Southern Vietnam boasts hot flat plains, dense mangroves and even endless sand dunes. To make sure you don’t miss out, Central Vietnam has all of this combined! To add to Vietnam’s interest, the culture and atmosphere is different in each region, so for the best Vietnam holiday you have to visit all three.
Vietnam’s countryside has an old-time charm, where religion lingers in the air along with the faint sound of karaoke and the distant hum of motorbikes. This atmosphere is distinctly Vietanemse, and will leave a lasting impression on you as you go through the country.
Quite the opposite of this calming image is Vietnam’s cities, where the only thing you will see is congestion, and lots of it! The cities of Vietnam are truly unlike anywhere else in the world. While Hanoi holds tradition close to its heart with old and new sandwiched together; Ho Chi Minh City demands that you look up with high-risers appearing faster than you could ever imagine.
A playground for everyone who wishes to explore it, Vietnam has all you could ever need for a trip to remember, and more. This rough guide to Vietnam will expose the secret of travelling the country and open your eyes to the possibilities.
When to Go to Vietnam
Vietnam can be a year-round destination, but you must plan your time carefully or it could go wrong, here is an introduction to Vietnam’s seasons:
The tropical south of Vietnam enjoys heat all year-round, with temperatures never dropping below 27 degrees celsius. The south of Vietnam has two seasons, hot and wet. Although, the wet season is still hot!
The weather in the south is unpredictable with the beginning of the wet season changing all the time, however, it is estimated that it is from April to October; the remainder of the year is hot with a smaller chance of rain. Luckily, a storm in the south of Vietnam lasts between 10 minutes to an hour. So you can still have the best holiday in Vietnam at this time of year!
The Rest of Vietnam
Central and Northern Vietnam enjoy four seasons. In the north, seasons are defined: in winter (November to February), Hanoi reaches chilly low temperatures and in summer (May to August), the city reaches the high 50s. Central Vietnam strikes a pleasant balance of the two with temperatures, never going below 20 degrees celsius with wet winters and summers reaching the high 30s.
No matter what time of year you choose to travel to Vietnam, it is important to remember that a little rain is inevitable. The greatest benefit is the knowledge that it will never last a long time.
Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
With a history dating back to the Silk Road, Hoi An is a city with a maritime past that brought Japanese and Chinese merchants into its quarters. Hoi An Ancient Town sits along a river with a soothing atmosphere that is further characterised by its iconic yellow and blue townhouses. Hoi An is a chance to get back to basics, where local markets are alive and thriving with friendly locals, great food and even the chance to get some custom clothes made with a 24-hour turnaround.
Just outside of the ancient town you are immediately in rural Vietnam, where rice paddies are at every turn and the national animal, the water buffalo is never too far away creating a relaxing backdrop for your stay.
You can get to Hoi An on a tour from Da Nang, the neighbouring city, however, it is also possible to stay in the city itself.
Vietnam’s thousand-year-old capital, Hanoi is unlike any other city you have been to. In Hanoi, old and new buildings stand side-by-side, and despite being a rapidly growing city, you’ll still find yourself in the countryside in just 20 minutes from the centre.
Home to some of Vietnam’s most iconic buildings, Hanoi is also the gateway to must-see destinations on a Northern Vietnam tour such as Halong Bay, Sapa and Ninh Binh. However, when you are not on a tour from Hanoi, the city’s laid-back atmosphere and cool climate will have you walking around for hours.
The Old Quarter of the city is where most of the action happens, where 36 open streets are comically named after the trades that they once peddled. Today you’ll find DIY barbecues and bars and cafes taking over the pavements encouraging you to stop to try cà phê trứng (egg coffee) or bia tươi (draught fresh beer) to soak up the city’s atmosphere.
Made up of 1,600 islets, Halong Bay is the most popular tour from Hanoi and one of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country, sitting just three hours away from the capital. Halong Bay is a dreamy network of limestone karsts that sit on a blue-green sea just waiting to be explored.
Halong Bay is home to floating villages, oyster farms, caves, beaches and the stunning Cat Ba Island. All of the best Vietnam holidays include an overnight cruise on the bay that offer a chance to kayak around the islets, visit some of the caves and relax on Ti Top Beach while being wined and dined with traditional northern cuisine.
The Mekong Delta
Known as ‘the Rice Bowl of Vietnam’, the Mekong Delta sits at the very southern tip of the country. Here, life is very much on the river; it’s the only place in the country where motorbikes are swapped for boats – even the markets are floating!
Just a few hours from the thriving Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong feels worlds away from the bustling metropolis, as the concrete jungle is swapped for endless mangroves and fruit orchards. A Mekong River tour in Vietnam will take you through endless waterways navigated by a local who knows these ‘streets’ like the back of their hand.
Tours from Ho Chi Minh City will take you to Ben Tre or My Tho, the regional capitals, to learn about all things coconut and get to grips with Mekong life. Visiting the Mekong is also the easiest way to travel to Vietnam and Cambodia by crossing the border in Chau Doc, you can even follow the Mekong into Cambodia travelling to Phnom Penh by boat!
Sitting at the foothills of Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fansipan, Sapa acts as a gateway to Vietnam’s northern country in a way that no other town does.
Surrounded by mountains, a Sapa Vietnam tour offers an introduction to a whole other level of natural beauty with mountains that are broken up by rice fields that are cut into them.
The misty town sits in a valley that connects small villages together, each owned by a different mountain tribe. A Sapa day tour from Hanoi is best accessed by an overnight train that will get you into Lao Cai at around 5 am. This is a unique chance to get in touch with the many different cultures that Vietnam’s north is home to as you travel from village to village.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is a shock to the system – there is no other way to describe it! However, once you start exploring, you’ll discover the city has its charms hidden in never-ending alleyways. Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s one and only bustling metropolis, the administrative and financial centre of the country.
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City has a fascinating history that you will learn more about as you hop from museum to museum and check out the plethora of old French colonial buildings, some in better shape than others!
The city is captivating; everything seems to move so fast yet no one is failing to keep up. With this in mind, you may choose to go with a personal tour guide in Ho Chi Minh City to take the stress out of navigating the chaos!
Vietnam’s very own little slice of paradise, Phu Quoc is a dreamy destination strictly reserved for beach lovers.
With direct flights to the island just 45 minutes from Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc is a top destination for local and international travellers. Phu Quoc is a resort island that is home to hundreds of resorts, secret beaches and amazing waterfalls. The island is very laid-back with the busiest part of the island being the night market where you will find restaurant after restaurant selling fresh seafood for a very reasonable price.
Phu Quoc is home to some of the best beaches in the world, with the most famous being Starfish Beach where you can swim with thousands of starfish in crystal clear waters.
The feeling of times gone by rings through the streets of Hue, the former capital of Vietnam and former home of the dynasties that led the country.
Hue is a sleepy city that is known for its Imperial Citadel, a complex that covered a huge part of the city before nearly half of it was destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Exploring the citadel, you’ll walk through gardens, temples, offices, and the royal complex, the Forbidden Purple City. Some of the buildings are complete, however, others are still in ruin; this is when the recent history of Vietnam stares back at you.
Another gem of Hue lies just outside the city and up a hill to reach the tombs of the former kings of the Nguyen dynasty. Hidden behind great walls are some of Vietnam’s most impressive examples of Vietnamese architecture.
How to Get Around Vietnam
When planning your trip to Vietnam, the first decision is whether you are choosing to travel from north to south or vice versa, then you can go from there;
Vietnam is a vast country with so many places to visit; you could spend an entire year making your way around the country. If you don’t have much time, flying is the best way to travel.
Flights in Vietnam are cheap and efficient with flights going from 6 am to midnight every day. Although, be aware the cheaper you go with your choice of airline, the most chance you have of flight times being changed. To make sure that you don’t miss out on this information, purchase a Vietnam travel sim card on arrival.
Vietnam’s train system is an exciting and local way of discovering the country. With train services going from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City all the time, adding a short train journey to your trip is a unique addition to your very best Vietnam holiday.
One of the most scenic train journeys in Vietnam is from Da Nang to Hue. While the journey is short, it is definitely sweet, as you cut through the beautiful Hai Van Pass with views along the coast.
Among Vietnam’s backpackers, a motorbike tour is an essential part of the Vietnam experience.
A bike tour in Vietnam can take the form of a Vespa nighttime food tour in Ho Chi Minh City or through rural Hoi An on the back of a bike like in this 18-day Vietnam family tour. If you have always dreamed of being on a motorbike, this is definitely something not to miss!
For those who are travelling on a budget, look no further than travelling by bus.
With regular services taking people up and down the country all the time, buses are the most convenient way to travel in Vietnam, mostly because it is so cheap with overnight services coming in at 200,000 VND (8$). The greatest sacrifice you will make for this price is losing sleep, the buses can be loud with music playing and horns beeping, so pack some earplugs!
Taxis and Grab
When in cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An, sometimes it’s just easier to get a taxi! There are few ways to get a taxi: hailing on the street by flapping your hand, asking at the reception of your hotel or using the Grab app. Before you get in a taxi, it is important to ask for the meter or agree on a price.
Similar to Uber, Grab is an application that is widely used across Vietnam to scoot across cities as it is safe and convenient. With options to choose a motorbike or a car to take you from A-to-B, this is a quick and easy way to get a Vietnam bike tour if you are looking to get across the city like a local!
Where to Stay in Vietnam
The capital of the country, Hanoi has lots of accommodation options to offer everyone from solo travellers to Vietnam to families. It is best to stay in the Old Quarter as you will be close to everything that you will want to see with luxury accommodation options giving you a stunning view of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake.
Another option is to stay in the expat area of Tay Ho where there are great restaurants, some serving western food, boutique shopping opportunities and great bars.
Ho Chi Minh City
This bustling metropolis is bursting with accommodation, so much so that you may be a little overwhelmed. For first-time travellers, it is best to stay in District 1, which marks the centre of the city and what is locally referred to as ‘Saigon’.
If you want in on the action, Ho Chi Minh City is renowned in the backpacker world for its Bui Vien area. While staying exactly on the street does not come recommended, you may be interested to stay nearby to walk down at night.
As one of the wonders of the world, Halong Bay has become the most popular Hanoi tour package. There are over 2,000 cruises on Halong Bay, all offering something a little different in terms of accommodation style, however, you will find that most of the cruises offer the same activities. This is a memorable and unique experience to wake up surrounded by nature!
Another booming Vietnam destination, Hoi An is where stunning villas come at incredible prices. With top accommodation options sitting on the beachfront and in heart of Hoi An Ancient Town, you’ll find accommodation ranging from cosy family-run homestays to boutique quirky townhouses anywhere else in the city, many of which come with a pool that you will be unlikely to share with anyone else while staying there!
Imagine private villas in the countryside with free shuttle buses at your beck-and-call and you have Hoi An!
Places to Eat & Drink in Vietnam
Your Vietnam culinary tour starts here;
With a focus on natural flavours, Hanoian food is typically very green with lots of different Vietnamese herbs combined to create a unique, perfume flavour.
While in Hanoi, essential dishes you have to try are pho, a noodle soup with either beef, chicken or vegetables; banh mi, a crispy bread sandwich filled with various meats and pickled carrot, and cha ca la vong, grilled fish with turmeric and dill. Another two essentials are egg coffee and bia hoi, which is fresh beer.
In the Old Quarter, you will notice lots of DIY barbecues where a grill and a tub of margarine are put down in front of you as you order your meat and veggies, and off you go. This is great for winters in Hanoi!
Fitting with the regal atmosphere of Hue, this Central city is known to be the home of Royal food, where the best chefs were brought during the rule of dynasties to serve only the best food for them.
In Hue, you will notice lots of snack-like items that are made up of glutinous rice, usually filled with seafood or pork – or both! An example of royal cuisine, these are a must-try and an essential staple food when in Hue. However, the classic example is bún bò Huế a classic dish from the city that is known across the country, made up of beef and noodles with herbs in a spicy warming broth.
Ho Chi Minh City
Eclectic and varied, Ho Chi Minh City enjoys the culinary benefit of people from around Vietnam that have moved to live and work in the metropolis.
However, the city’s proximity to the Mekong shows with lots of dishes originating from the south such as hu tieu noodle soup that is either served the Cambodian way (Nam Vang) or the Mekong way (My Tho) differentiated by their ingredients. In Ho Chi Minh City, the possibilities when it comes to food are endless!
Vietnam is a country that is big on its seafood, and while you would not expect to find food seafood in a city this big, you will be surprised – give it a try!
The Cost of a Trip to Vietnam
The one thing that stands out the most about a trip to Vietnam is the reasonable price that it comes at. No matter whether you are planning a family trip to Vietnam or are looking to travel to Thailand and Cambodia too, you’ll be surprised by what you get for your money.
There are a few things to consider when planning a trip to Vietnam;
- Length of your trip
- Season or month you choose to travel in
- Accommodation class and type
- How many places you visit during your trip
- Number of activities or tours you take part in
- Expenditure on shopping and dining out
When considering all of the things that are required to make your Vietnam trip happen, you may feel like it is too much effort. However, there is a way the stress can be taken out of this. With Tripfuser, all you need to do is think of your budget, trip duration, activity preferences and how you like to travel.
From there on, you’ll be connected directly with a Local Expert on the ground who will plan your trip for you based on your requirements.
As an example, this 10-Day Vietnam tour comes in at $2,059 per person and includes;
- 4-star accommodation
- 23 guided activities
- Airport transfers and transport by private car
- Domestic flights
- Travel insurance
- Ten breakfasts, six lunches and nine dinners
However, changing the class of the hotel and how you travel around Vietnam can change your trip to Vietnam considerably.
Everyone has different interests, priorities and preferences when it comes to planning a trip. With Tripfuser, you can browse our range of fully-customisable Vietnam tours and tailor any one of them to your preferences with a Local Expert. Or better yet, select what you want out of a trip using the ‘Design your Own Trip’ function and let one of our Local Experts design your perfect trip.
Holidays in Vietnam
Tet – Vietnamese New Year
The most important holiday in Vietnam, Tet holiday follows the lunar calendar; it is often mistaken for being the same as Chinese New Year, however, it is very much its own holiday. Tết Nguyên Đán, as it is locally known, is the celebration of the ‘first feast of the first morning of the first day’.
Having taken over full months in the past, Tet holiday usually occurs around January or February for two weeks when everything closes, other than the tourist areas so that people can be with their families. During Tet holiday, people usually spend one week on a Vietnam family holiday and one week travelling. This can be an interesting time to be in Vietnam as life slows down and the streets are filled with flowers, a Tet tradition.
International Firework Festival
An impressive event that is often missed off the travel calendar, the International Firework Festival is an annual event held in the Central Vietnam capital of Da Nang.
Taking place over six weeks in June and July, firework experts from across the world come to perform on the Han River, showcasing an eclectic range of fireworks that are a feast for the eyes!
Commemorating Ho Chi Minh’s reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1945, Vietnam’s Independence Day is a national holiday on the 2nd of September.
Independence Day in Vietnam is observed by a great gathering happening in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, where Ho Chi Minh read the declaration. In other cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, there is a firework display on the river to celebrate. However, no matter where you are in Vietnam at this time, the endless rows of Vietnamese flags hung outside of houses will not go unnoticed!
Ready to Plan Your Round Trip to Vietnam?
Vietnam is a country that has so much to give, whether you only have time to do tours from Hanoi or are looking for the trip of lifetime with a Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam tour, the country will leave a lasting impression on you that you will reflect on for years to come!