Vietnam is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia with stunning landscapes, beaches, historic sites, and unique culture. It offers wonderful experiences for all types of travelers, from backpackers to luxury holidaymakers. Here is a comprehensive travel guide to help you plan your tour to Vietnam.
Where to go in Vietnam
Vietnam is a long, thin S-shaped country that stretches over 1,650 km from north to south. It has 3 main regions: North Vietnam, Central Vietnam, and South Vietnam. Each region has distinct characteristics and highlights worth visiting.
The bustling capital Hanoi and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay are must-see destinations in North Vietnam. Heading south, Hue, Hoi An, and Da Nang along the central coast offer imperial history, ancient towns, and beautiful beaches. Don’t miss the caves of Phong Nha either.
In the south, vibrant Ho Chi Minh City and the floating markets of the Mekong Delta shouldn’t be missed. The paradise islands of Phu Quoc and Con Dao also await with their gorgeous beaches and azure waters.
Best time to travel to Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam depends on the experiences you’re seeking and the region you plan to explore. However, the months from February to April, and October to December are generally considered the best times to visit most of Vietnam.
The weather is pleasant nationwide during these months, with comfortable daytime temperatures and low rainfall. Major festivals like Tet (Lunar New Year) and National Day also take place at this time.
The summer months from May to September can be very hot and humid. Frequent downpours are also likely, especially in Central and South Vietnam. The winter months of December to February can be quite cold in the north with temperatures dropping below 10°C.
How to get to Vietnam
Vietnam has international airports in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City. The vast majority of international visitors arrive by air. Direct flights operate from major hubs across Asia and the Middle East, as well as many cities in Europe.
Overland borders with Cambodia, Laos and China also make Vietnam accessible by land. Several train routes connect Vietnam with southern China. You can also enter Vietnam on one of the many international cruise ships that visit ports like Halong Bay, Da Nang and Nha Trang.
Within Vietnam, the easiest way to travel between cities and regions is by plane, bus, train or private transfers. Domestic flights are affordable and connect all major destinations quickly. Overnight buses and trains also conveniently link most places of interest.
Places to Visit in Vietnam
Hanoi is Vietnam’s vibrant capital and second largest city. Located on the banks of the Red River, it’s over 1000 years old and rich in history and culture. Hanoi’s Old Quarter still retains a nostalgic charm with narrow lanes, traditional shops, and lively street life. Iconic attractions include the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, and Water Puppet Theater. The city also boasts fantastic local cuisine.
Must-try food and drink in Hanoi:
- Pho (beef noodle soup)
- Bun cha (grilled pork with noodles)
- Banh cuon (steamed rice rolls)
- Egg coffee
- Bia hoi (fresh draught beer)
Sapa is a picturesque hill station in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. It sits at an elevation of 1500 meters surrounded by gorgeous mountain vistas, lush rice terraces and scenic trekking trails. Sapa town has a cool climate, French colonial charm and vibrant hill tribe markets. Staying in a local homestay and visiting ethnic minority villages nearby is a highlight.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay in northeast Vietnam is renowned for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands and islets. A cruise through Halong Bay lets you marvel at the karst formations, grottos and floating villages. Kayaking into hidden lagoons surrounded by cliffs is an unforgettable experience.
Often referred to as the ‘Halong Bay on land’, Ninh Binh is famed for its limestone mountains, rice paddies and rivers. Top attractions include Trang An Boat Cave Tour, Tam Coc Boat Tour, and Cuc Phuong National Park. With many temples, pagodas and cycling trails, Ninh Binh makes an enchanting stopover near Hanoi.
Ha Giang province in far north Vietnam boasts stunning scenery and rugged landscapes. Rugged limestone mountains, dense forests, and terraced rice fields create an incredibly photogenic destination. Visit ethnic minority villages, see the majestic Dong Van Plateau, and ride over the epic Ma Pi Leng mountain pass.
Mai Chau is ideal for experiencing ethnic minority culture and rural life in Vietnam’s northern mountains. Stay overnight in a traditional stilt house at a Thai village. Highlights include hiking through valleys and rice paddies, exploring local markets, and riding bicycles through the countryside. Traditional music and dance shows at night are also offered.
Designated a UNESCO site, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains astonishing caves and underground rivers. Highlights are huge Hang Son Doong cave, Paradise Cave, and Phong Nha Cave with an underground river and boat trip. The Phong Nha region is also spectacular for jungle trekking, mountain biking, farm stays and ethical wildlife encounters.
As the former imperial capital, Hue is synonymous with the magnificent imperial citadel, palaces, royal tombs and temples built under the Nguyen Dynasty between 1802 and 1945. Today, many of these sites such as the Imperial City and Thien Mu Pagoda still reflect Hue’s regal past.another highlight is cruising on the perfume river at night to see Hue’s illuminated landmarks.
Da Nang is one of Vietnam’s most livable cities with lovely beaches, riverside promenades, the Dragon Bridge and excellent street food. Its location makes it an ideal base to explore the nearby UNESCO sites of Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary. Don’t miss Ba Na Hills and Marble Mountains on the city outskirts for stunning views.
Graceful Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful ancient town. The wonderfully preserved merchant houses, Chinese temples, bridges and narrow lanes exude old world charm. Visit sights like the iconic Japanese Bridge, Tan Ky House, and Assembly Halls. Make sure to wander the Ancient Town and craft beer hotspot at night when lanterns light up the streets.
Must try food and drink in Hoi An:
- Cao lau noodles
- White rose dumplings
- Hoi An chicken rice
- Quang noodles
- Artisan Vietnamese coffee
Blessed with a stunning coastline, Nha Trang is Vietnam’s beach capital. Miles of white sand, turquoise waters and hip seaside promenade attract holidaymakers from near and far. Some of Asia’s best scuba diving spots are just offshore too. Be sure to enjoy a seafood barbecue right on the beach and check out nearby Po Nagar Cham Towers.
With its temperate climate, Da Lat has been Vietnam’s premier hill station since the French colonial era. Nestled at 1500 meters in the Central Highlands, its known for scenic pine forests, flower gardens and scenic waterfalls. Must-do activities include canyoning, mountain biking, camping” rafting and visiting quirky sites like the Crazy House.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City offers a thrilling blend of old and new Vietnam. Historic landmarks like the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, and War Remnants Museum reflect the city’s complex history. After visiting these cultural icons, indulge in the modern amenities of District 1. Dine at world-class restaurants, check out hip bars and cafes, or shop until you drop at swish malls.
Don’t miss sampling street foods like banh mi sandwiches, pho noodle soup and ca phe trung (egg coffee).
Sprawling over 40,000 sq km, the Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s rice bowl and a major fruit growing region. Cruise along palm-lined canals and floating markets aboard a sampan boat. Meet farmers who live on the water and visit candy factories and coconut candy production centers. Don’t leave without trying delicious tropical fruit and southern Vietnamese dishes.
Phu Quoc Island
Lapped by azure waters, Phu Quoc boasts stunning beaches, dense tropical jungles, and idyllic seaside resorts. Bask on Long Beach, go snorkeling and diving off remote islets, tour a fish sauce factory, or explore Phu Quoc National Park covering over half the island. Fresh seafood like squid, grilled fish and crab is excellent here too.
Con Dao Island
Situated off Vietnam’s southeast coast, the Con Dao Islands feel wonderfully remote and untouched. Con Son is the main island, ringed by lovely beaches, evergreen forests, walking trails and historic sites like a colonial-era prison. Con Dao is a marine conservation area renowned for stellar diving and snorkeling amid coral reefs and sea turtles.
Mui Ne is Vietnam’s premier beach resort town, renowned for its sweeping sandy coast, towering sand dunes, and exhilarating water sports scene. White sand, warm seas, and steady winds from November to April attract kitesurfers and windsurfers from around the globe. When you want a break from the beach, check out the impressive multi-colored sand dunes nearby.
Off the beaten track destinations
Beyond its famous sights, Vietnam offers fantastic offbeat experiences away from mainstream tourism. Some recommended places to go include:
- Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – See the world’s largest cave Son Doong and adventure through jungle rivers on a multi-day expedition.
- Ha Giang – Journey over the epic Ma Pi Leng pass and immerse yourself in the culture of remote hill tribes.
- Tuyen Quang – Relax at off-grid eco-lodges near Na Hang Reservoir and waterfalls.
- Phu Yen – Admire the modern Song Cau Arch Bridge and enjoy empty beaches.
- Buon Ma Thuot – Immerse yourself in the culture of Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
- Con Dao Islands – Swim at secluded beaches, see endangered turtles, and escape crowds.
Travel safety in Vietnam
Vietnam is generally a safe country to travel in, however it pays to take some simple precautions. Be extra vigilant walking at night, especially in cities. Only take licensed taxis, especially at airports. Don’t carry large sums of cash and avoid flashy jewelry. Beware of scams and petty crimes like bag snatching in crowded areas. Also take care on roads as traffic can be chaotic.
When visiting rural areas, dress and behave respectfully around local communities. Ask permission before photographing people. Research water safety and recommended vaccinations for your trip as diarrhea can be an issue.
Check government travel advisories and purchase travel insurance with medical evacuation. Vietnam has excellent medical care in cities, but facilities get more basic in rural areas. Also ensure you have complete travel documents as the police may conduct checks.
Costs and money
Vietnam offers outstanding value for travelers on any budget. Hostel dorm beds start from $5 USD per night, while mid-range hotels average around $25-40 per night for double rooms. Plenty of street food and local restaurants across Vietnam serve meals for less than $2-$3.
Western food and upscale restaurants in touristy areas are markedly more expensive. You can enjoy a nice sit-down meal for around $10 per person.
Other typical costs are:
- One-way flight Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City: $50-90
- Sleeper bus Hanoi to Hoi An: $20-30
- Train from Da Nang to Hue: $3-7
- Entrance to museums and temples: $1-5
- Halong Bay day cruise: $30-60
The official currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Carry hard cash in dong for markets, street food and rural areas. However, US dollars are also widely accepted in major tourist spots. ATMs are available, though check for withdrawal fees. Visa and MasterCard are accepted in cities, but less common elsewhere.
Internet & calling
Vietnam has excellent 4G coverage and most hotels, restaurants and cafes offer free WiFi to customers. Local SIM cards with cheap data packages are very affordable and easy to get as a tourist. You can buy them at convenience stores and airport kiosks. 3G service covers most of the country.
The country code for Vietnam is +84. Buy a local SIM if you need to make frequent calls. Using Skype or Messenger over WiFi is very cheap for international calls. You can also buy international call cards very cheaply.
Electricity & socket adapters
Vietnam runs on 220 Volts and uses either European style two round prong plugs or American flat two prong plugs. Visitors from North America will require a voltage converter and plug adapter. More modern electronics often handle dual voltages, so check your device. Power outages occasionally occur, especially during the wet season.
Traveling to Vietnam
Travel visa requirements for Vietnam
Most foreign nationals need a visa to enter Vietnam. The easiest option is to apply online for an e-Visa before you go. Approval is fast, and you can print the e-Visa out or show on arrival. Single entry e-Visas are valid for 30 days and cost around $25.
Otherwise you can apply at the nearest Vietnamese Embassy for a visa on arrival letter. Have passport photos ready and get your visa stamped in at airports in Vietnam. Visa on arrival costs around $50 for single entry.
Tourist visas allow a stay of up to 90 days for each entry. Selective nationalities like Scandinavians can enter and holiday in Vietnam visa-free for up to 45 days.
You can choose the option is to use service of a travel agent in Vietnam, fill some forms and get the approval letter in one or two days. With this letter, you need to queue and present it to VOA counter and they will stamp Vietnam visa on your passport. I find this option is safer and easier for me as every step I can do online, no worrisome of losing my passport and shorter time to get my visa. I use vietnamvisa.org.vn and get what I want. The only annoying thing is the long queue at the custom window. My advice is that depend on your situation; choose the option that better suit you.
- By air – Vietnam has 8 international airports. Frequent flights serve Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City from around the region. Hanoi is best for visiting northern Vietnam. Fly into Da Nang to see central highlights. Ho Chi Minh City gives you easy access to southern Vietnam.
- Overland – International bus connections and trains connect Vietnam with China, Laos and Cambodia. You can enter overland at several border crossings. Consider boat trips from Cambodia through the Mekong Delta.
- By sea – Luxury cruise liners stop at ports like Halong Bay, Danang, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City. However, it’s often cheaper to fly to start your trip.
Vietnam has modern airports across the country served by affordable domestic carriers. Flying between major cities and regions is fast, inexpensive and saves overland travel time.
Airlines include Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air, Bamboo Airways and Pacific Airlines. Compare schedules and deals online. Book early for discounts.
Vietnam has a comprehensive long-distance bus network operated by myriad companies. Overnight sleeper buses are best for covering big distances between tourist destinations like Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh City.
Most tourist buses are reasonably comfortable. Some companies like The Sinh Tour offer luxury buses. Book bus tickets through travel agents or hotels.
Operated by Vietnam Railways, trains are a scenic and leisurely way to travel between main cities in Vietnam. The main railway line runs from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh City and passes highlights like Hue, Danang and Nha Trang.
Book train tickets online, through an agent, or at train stations to reserve a berth. Cabins with four or six bunks and air-conditioning are comfortable on short overnight trips.
One of the most convenient ways to transfer between cities in Vietnam is by private car or van. This allows door-to-door service and flexible timings. All major travel agencies can arrange transfers via a luxury vehicle, minibus or 4WD.
Within Vietnamese cities, cheap public buses are available but routes are not always obvious for visitors. Most travelers prefer using the ubiquitous taxis or ride-hailing apps like Grab.
Other means of public transport include cycle rickshaws called xích lô, which are fun for short trips around places like Hoi An, Hue or Hanoi.
Registered taxis are an affordable way to get around Vietnamese cities. They are plentiful in tourist centers. Ask your hotel to call one or look for highly visible official taxi ranks.
Insist the driver uses the meter to avoid overcharging. Grab or similar apps also allow you to order taxis via your phone. Just be aware of fake taxi scams at airports.
Vietnam’s old quarters and rural villages are best explored walking. While traffic appears chaotic, if you walk predictably drivers will flow around you. Use crossings and bridges where available to cross streets.
Walking allows you to stumble upon hole-in-the-wall eateries and shops that tourists miss. Wear a quality face mask in cities due to pollution. Carry small change and a bottle of water when sightseeing.
Other options for getting around
- Motorbike – Adventurous travelers can rent motorbikes in many tourist destinations to self-tour around cities, beaches, and the countryside independently. International Driving Permits are required and road rules differ from the West.
- Bicycle – Vietnam is a popular cycling destination. Bicycles can be rented affordably at many hotels and shops. Cycle through small towns, Mekong Delta islands ### Inspiration
From historic cities to remote highlands, Vietnam offers endless opportunities for adventure and cultural immersion. Here are some top experiences for your travel inspiration:
- Dine like an emperor inside Hue’s regal imperial citadel
- Cruise the majestic limestone peaks around UNESCO site Halong Bay
- Trek through rice terraces and stay overnight in hill tribe villages around Sapa
- Wander thecharming Ancient Town of Hoi An and dine by lantern light
- Motorbike over the scenic Hai Van Pass between Danang and Hue
- Kayak and explore karst caves in Ninh Binh’s emerald subterranean river
- Take an expedition deep inside Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave
- Relax on tropical beaches and partake in world-class water sports in Nha Trang
- Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War
- Meet locals and sample exotic produce while cruising the Mekong Delta’s waterways
- Unwind in the cool mountain air of Da Lat and explore waterfalls nearby
- Island hop around Con Dao Islands for beaches, diving, and sea turtles
Vietnamese culture is rich and diverse, influenced by centuries of Chinese, French, and Indian domination, as well as its own indigenous traditions. Here are some key aspects of Vietnamese culture:
1. Family values: The Vietnamese put great emphasis on kinship and the extended family. Respect for elders and an emphasis on filial piety are important cultural values.
2. Confucian values: Confucianism has traditionally played a significant role in Vietnamese society, emphasizing order, hierarchy, respect for authority, and education. These values have strongly influenced Vietnamese norms and customs.
3. Buddhism: The majority of Vietnamese people follow Mahayana Buddhism, which has been intertwined with Vietnamese culture for centuries. Buddhist temples and pagodas can be found throughout the country.
4. Ancestor worship: Vietnamese culture places a strong emphasis on ancestor worship and the belief in the afterlife. Many Vietnamese families have an ancestral altar at home to pay respect to their deceased relatives.
5. Festivals: Vietnam is known for its vibrant festivals, many of which are based on lunar calendar events. The most famous festival is Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, where families come together to celebrate with food, music, and fireworks.
6. Cuisine: Vietnamese cuisine is renowned worldwide for its fresh ingredients, balanced flavors, and diverse dishes. Popular dishes include pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette sandwiches), and spring rolls.
7. Traditional clothing: The traditional Vietnamese clothing for women is called “ao dai,” a long dress with high slits, often worn on special occasions and national holidays. Men typically wear loose shirts and pants, paired with a conical hat called “non la.”
8. Music and performing arts: Traditional Vietnamese music ranges from folk songs to court music, often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the dan tranh (zither) or the monochord. Traditional music and performing arts, such as water puppetry, are still cherished and performed today.
9. Respect for nature: Vietnamese culture promotes respect and harmony with nature. This can be seen in the country’s many pagodas and temples nestled in peaceful natural surroundings, as well as the tradition of offering food and incense to local spirits.
10. Etiquette: Politeness and maintaining face are important in Vietnamese culture. Personal space is smaller compared to Western cultures, and a handshake is the typical greeting. Remove your shoes when entering someone’s home, and it is customary to address people with appropriate titles according to age or social status.
These are just a few aspects of Vietnamese culture, and there is much more to explore and appreciate about this vibrant and diverse country.
Learning some basic Vietnamese phrases, wearing modest clothing, and taking etiquette cues from locals will enrich your cultural experience.
Here are some frequently asked questions about traveling in Vietnam.
Is it safe? Vietnam is very safe for tourists who take normal precautions. Violent crime is rare. However petty theft can occur at tourist sites, so keep valuables secure.
Do I need vaccinations? No vaccinations are mandatory except yellow fever if coming from an affected area. However hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus and diphtheria shots are recommended.
What currency? The Vietnamese dong (VND) is the official currency. Have cash in dong for rural areas but US dollars are widely accepted in tourist areas.
What is transportation like? A mix of planes, trains, buses, taxis and boats can get you anywhere. Domestic flights are cheap. Taxis are very affordable but agree on the fare first.
How expensive is Vietnam? It’s perfect for budget travelers! Dorms are ~$5 USD and food starts from $1. Mid-range hotels average $25-40 per night.
When is the best time to visit? The ideal months are February to April and October to December when it’s dry across Vietnam. Summer is hot and humid with more rain.
Can I drink the water? It’s best not to. Drink only bottled, boiled or purified water to avoid stomach upsets. Ice at restaurants is generally fine.
Is Internet common? Yes, 4G coverage is excellent. WiFi is available at most hotels, cafes and restaurants. Local SIM cards are very cheap.
Vietnam is an incredibly rewarding country to visit. From the frenetic energy of Hanoi to the tropical beaches along the coast, there are endless highlights and experiences for travelers. The delicious cuisine, fascinating history and welcoming culture make it a must-visit Southeast Asian destination. Use this travel guide to help plan out where to go and what to do on your Vietnam adventure