With everything from stunning landscapes to superb cuisine, this part of Southeast Asia is extremely beautiful and there is no denying that. The days are long done when Vietnam was mostly known as a war-torn country after its conflict with America. From the islands of Halong Bay and the temples of Hanoi to the palaces of Hue and the beaches of Nha Trang, this is a country that is truly waiting to be explored. Today, the tourist industry and Vietnam travel continues to grow. In the last 10-15 years has become a significant source of national revenue. Even though certain parts of the country are still difficult to travel through, it is a very visually-pleasing and interesting place to visit.
Discover the culture, weather, geography, cuisine, best things to do and visit, and more with our Vietnam travel guide.
The Vietnamese people are very friendly, generous and welcoming, which means the locals will make every effort to ensure your trip is as enjoyable as possible. Most of the locals are very careful in dress, and this applies especially in religious settings or similar dwellings. To avoid issues with this culturally sensitive matter, it is practical for the traveler to dress discreetly when out and about. For instance, the clothes worn should avoid showing too much skin; so long pants and long-sleeved tops are preferred.
The religion in Vietnam is Buddhist majority, but there are also Christian (predominantly Roman Catholic), Caodaist, Hoa Hao, Confucian and Taoist minorities.
Weather & climate
The geography of Vietnam means the weather varies drastically as you travel from the north to the south of the country. There are three distinct climatic zones: north, central and south. In the north and south the tropical monsoons occur from May to September, while in the central regions the monsoons take place from October to April. For the other times of the year in the different climate zones the weather is almost completely dry. The weather can get really hot year-round, but the cooler temperatures are noticed in the north between October and April. The temperature can go as high as 40° C through the rainy season (May to September), but in Hanoi and other northern highlands the weather is quite damp and chilly in the winter.
Best time to visit
On the whole, there isn’t a particular time when Vietnam travel is best because the climate is so varied and there is plenty of sun somewhere in the country at any given time. The high season for Vietnam travel packages is September to March, but for the holiday tour that includes the central regions this can be disrupted because of bad weather, especially for the months September to December. For the holiday that includes relaxing on the beaches in the center of the country, such as Nha Trang, Hoi An and Danang, the preferred time to travel is May to August. For the traveler in the north of the country exploring the emerald waters of Halong Bay, the autumn is the best time to explore because of the clear and bright skies.
Vietnam is a ‘S’ shaped country that has Laos and Cambodia to the west and People’s Republic of China to the north. On the southern and eastern shores are the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. Vietnam is one of the countries that lies within the tropics with the central region of the country a huge tropical rainforest and this makes the country principally agricultural. The northern region of the country has the Red River plains that split the Lo and Chay rivers, as well as Hanoi. Areas to the north and west of the capital city are naturally hilly and green. The south of the country has the Mekong River that helps to promote the fertile plains for the rice industry. Additionally, in the highlands to the southwest, which is the mountainous area, the farmers grow coffee, tea and rubber.
Visas are required for all Vietnam travel with a few exceptions.
For instances, nationals from certain countries like Japan, South Korea, Nordic (Sweden, Finland, Denman and Norway), Germany, France, Spain, Italy and United Kingdom can visit Vietnam without a visa provided the trip is up to 15 days. Other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Indonesia have a slightly longer exception and can travel to Vietnam without a visa for up 30 days.
The type and cost of Vietnam tourism visa can vary with the length of stay, so it benefits to make the necessary inquiries with the nearest embassy before travelling. The tourist visa can last 30 days and cost $20 or 90 days and cost $70, and is easily applied for using a Vietnamese embassy or an online visa agent.
Where to stay
The places to stay in Vietnam have seen a significant improvement in recent times. Most of the towns have hotel and guest house accommodation. Plus, any of the major cities have the ability to put tourists up in accommodation that matches almost any budget. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are rich in high-end hotels such as named chains like Intercontinental, Sofitel and Hilton. The hotels include the type of facilities that are available in 4-5 star hotels, such as great restaurants, health club, swimming pool, room service, air conditioning, etc. Additionally, the popular beach resorts like Vung Tau, Phan Thiet, Hoi An and Nha Trang have a high-quality selection of places to stay.
For the budget conscious traveler, there are plenty of value-for-money mini-hotels or guest houses across the country. Most of these places are very clean with simple furnishing, but may lack air conditioning and include shared bathrooms. A popular tourist town is likely to let rooms at budget hotels for about $20 per night, although they aren’t likely to be in the most centrally located and usually a short ride away in a taxi.
Shopping and nightlife
Vietnam travel is a shopper’s delight for those that like a bargain and handicrafts. Hand-painted silk greeting cards, colorful hill-tribe bags, ceramics and silk are all a must-buy. Hoi An is a perfect destination for the tailor made outfit that can be made from scratch in 24-hours. Most of the cities or towns have a market ongoing at any one time to make a great experience for the traveler. Plus, for a similar shopping experience to home, the major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City has up market malls that sell leading domestic and international brands.
The nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City is concentrated in District 1 and is very exciting with a choice of up-market venues or dingy bars. Elsewhere in Hanoi the nightly entertainment is quieter with most of the venues in the Hoan Kiem lake and Old Quarter areas. Most live music entertainment is limited to the international hotels, which can have acts from Thailand and Philippines performing. In most other areas of the country, the nightlife is restricted to the small hotels and bars, although Hoi An in central Vietnam has a very nice bar/café scene.
Food and Drink
Vietnamese cuisine is usually superb with flavorful and fresh dishes and includes plenty of different regional variations. But in most areas, the dishes rely on noodles or rice to form the basis of the meal. The Vietnamese cooking is seen as healthy with a heavy reliance on fresh vegetables and herbs, and a lot of fish, as well as the presence of fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste. Specialty dishes include pho, nem, Bun cha, Bia hoi, Com hen, Lau and Banh chung. Also, Vietnam is the 2nd largest coffee producer in the world and therefore this country has a very strong café culture.
Air travel in Vietnam is great to save time within the country and regular services between the major cities (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hué, Nha Trang and Danang) are provided by Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific. Certain areas in the country like Dien Bien Phu in the north-west are easier to fly to. Early booking of flights is essential in January/February when the Tet holiday takes place.
The road infrastructure in Vietnam is of a reasonable standard, although the road quality in the certain regions can vary from great to quite appalling. The road network can deteriorate while the rainy season is taking place. There are several major routes through the country, including Highway 1 that travels the entire length of the country and connects Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City, while Highway 22 connects Ho Chi Minh City to the Vietnam-Cambodian border. Traveling on the roads is easiest by taxi. Self-drive hire cars are virtually non-existent, but there is the option of hiring a chauffeur-driven car.
Tourists on one of the Vietnam travel packages that spans the country are likely to find the rail system with its long-distance trains a great option for traveling between major cities. For instance, a trip from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can take about 30-35 hours. Plus, certain trains include private tourist carriages and a dining car for the more relaxed journey.
There are plenty of national parks and preserves in Vietnam that are worth a look, including:
Hoang Lien National Park
Located in Sapa, Hoang Lien national park is the most famous one where adventurers can hike to conquer the highest peak in Vietnam and Indochina – the Fansipan. Normally, It takes from 2- 3 days to get to the submit, but the new cable car system (came into operation in 2015) is highly recommended as it takes less than an hour and you can see amazing view toward Muong Hoa valley, villages and rice terraces.
Ba Be National Park
Ba Be national park is located in the northeast of Vietnam. The only way to get there is by car and it takes you around 6 hours, but it is worth coming to enjoy fresh air and stay in a homestay with Tay ethnic minority before taking wonderful boat trip on the world’s largest fresh water lake – Ba Be lake.
Ba Vi National Park
The Ba Vi National Park is home to rare plants, rich in birdlife and has the triple-peaked Ba Vi Mountain as its centerpiece. The main attraction in the park is the Ho Chi Minh temple that rests on the summit of the mountain.
Bach Ma National Park
Located in Hue, Bach Ma national park is an ideal destiantion for all. It is amazing to trek through jungles along meandering stream and listening to the birds’ singing. .
Cat Tien National Park
The Cat Tien National Park is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and rich in hills, rivers, lakes, swampland and jungle that includes a variety of exotic fauna and flora
Cuc Phuong National Park
The Cuc Phuong National Park was the first recognized park in the country and a sanctuary for a diverse collection of plant life and animals. The park is perfect for the hiking enthusiast with several purpose-made trails ready to use.
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
The Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park spans nearly 800km and is appreciated for its distinct karst landforms with hundreds of grottoes and caves ready to explore, including the world’s largest cave, Son Doong. Other activities in the park include trekking, mountain climbing, kayaking and bike trails.
Things to see and do
Enjoy a cruise on the Mekong Delta and admire its lush-green scenery, floating markets, or watch as the farmers plant rice in the paddy fields.
Crawl down and explore the Cu Chi tunnels which were used by the Viet Cong during the war, walk part of the supply route, get a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), or view remnants of bomb craters.
Eat pho or similar Vietnamese dish at one of the many roadside cafes or eateries. It is very cheap and easy to order.
Visit Ha Long Bay and cruise this area in an old Chinese junk and explore the famous limestone isles and karsts in many sizes and shapes.
Use a bike or hike up the scenic mountains of Sapa that are appreciated for the ethnic diversity, rice terraces, rugged scenery, and located near the Chinese border.
Visit the former port city Hoi An which is known for its well maintained Ancient Town to shop for tailored and silk clothes.
• Get prepared and read a Vietnam travel guide before arriving in the country.
• For the best phone/internet reception, make sure to buy a tourist SIM card through a recognized service provider in Vietnam. Popular brands include Vinaphone, Mobifone and Viettel.
• Avoid drinking the local tap water and buy a great brand of mineral water that has been kept out of direct sunlight.
• Be cautious with the motorbike taxis as the roads are very busy and there is a greater risk of an accident compared to a regular taxi.
• Dress appropriately and modestly when planning a visit to a religious site or other local dwelling.
• Avoid wearing a lot of jewelry and leave the valuables in the hotel safe when out visiting the sights.
• Be extra cautious when crossing the roads and be prepared for the rules of the zebra crossing to be ignored.
• Avoid dicey street food, smoothies, or milk drinks to minimize issues with stomach complaints. Diarrhea pills are readily available and very cheap in any of the local cities.