Lush green mountains, golden sand beaches and bustling cities make Vietnam one of the most sought after destinations of Southeast Asia. Slide down the sand dunes during mornings, walk along the beach during noon and raid the UNESCO heritage town in the afternoon.
Vietnam has so much to offer to its visitors and its rich history provided a unique perspective to the travelers. Although the country is modernizing rapidly, still you can witness time-honored traditions in the urban life of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. This land of overwhelming natural beauty, unique culture, dynamic urban landscape and hill-tribe rural areas is so exotic that it compels travelers to visit it again and again.
Vietnam Travel Info
Language: The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese with around 85% of the population speaking this language. In the bigger cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, a large number of people speak decent English but as you start moving towards mountain regions and smaller towns you might face some language issues.
Currency: Vietnamese Dong.
Visa: Visa regulations of Vietnam keeps on changing as compared to other countries. It is better to double check it with your embassy before applying for a visa. As of August 2016, certain countries like Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are eligible for a 30 days free visa. Similarly, different countries can get free Visa for the prescribed number of days. If you want to stay longer, you need to apply in advance either through an agency or through the E-visa program.
Electricity: Vietnam has a 220 V AC electricity supply. The power sockets are compatible with the standard UK and US plugs. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Vietnam Festivals & Celebrations
To get the true feel of Vietnam you need to dive into it’s festivals and celebrations and see first-hand how the people come together to celebrate and honor century old beliefs and traditions.
Hoi An Full Moon Festival: Every 14th day of the lunar month, the old town of Hoi An prohibits all motorized vehicles from moving about and gets converted into a vast performance venue for Vietnamese art, Chinese opera, Chinese chess and lots of delectable regional food. Brightly colored lanterns are lit making the streets appear radiant and festive with traditional music blaring almost throughout the town. The temples are the busiest during this auspicious time of the month with people paying homage to their ancestors.
Tet Festival: Tet in Vietnam is equivalent to Chinese New Year and is regarded equally auspicious too. It is the most important festival of the year with family members coming together from all over to spend their holidays in their hometown. At midnight, as the New Year approaches, Vietnamese welcome the Kitchen God with firecrackers, drums and goading dogs to bark which is regarded as a lucky omen.
Xen Xo Phon Festival: Between April and May, the white Thai people from Mai Chau pray to God to send rain. They sing and dance and form circuits among the houses during some selective evenings. All this happen in torch light and in exchange people receive offerings from their elders.
Safety In Vietnam
Generally speaking, Vietnam is a safe country to visit. The Vietnamese police maintain strict law and order and you rarely hear any news of mugging, sexual assaults or robbery. Petty scams do occur in larger cities like Hanoi, Nha Trang and HCMC but this is nothing out of the ordinary. Travelers to Vietnam should be mindful to behave appropriately and show respect to the culture of their host country. Based on many years of solo travel around southeast Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Vietnam trip. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Top Things To Do In Vietnam
Visit Halong Bay
Despite some seasoned travelers considering Halong Bay to be a tourist trap, it’s still one of the most famous things to do in Vietnam and makes the top of our list. Hạ Long Bay is in northeast Vietnam and it’s known for its beautiful still blue waters with thousands of towering limestone islands popping up like icebergs. Junk boat tours and sea kayak expeditions take tourists past islands named after how they are shaped, like Teapot islets and Stone Dog. Halong Bay is not just visited for sight-seeing and photo opportunities, it’s also popular for it’s rock climbing, hiking and scuba diving.
Hire a Motorbike and Travel from North to South
A motorbike ride is the best way to see the incredible viewpoints and landscapes with the freedom of having your own vehicle to stop by where ever it suits you. You can even see the smaller, less visited places and communicate with the locals which makes all the difference. If you love bike rides, a road trip throughout the length of Vietnam is something you must not miss. Do not forget to carry your driving license with you at all time.
Explore Hoi An
Hoi An is the most incredible and cultural town of Vietnam and a favorite among the travelers. Its food is to die for and the atmosphere and vibes are so positive that you will certainly fall in love with it. It has been declared as the UNESCO Heritage Town. All you need to do is rent a bike or a bicycle and explore the town at your own pace. Also get some casual clothes if your backpack allows.
Explore the busy cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
These two Megacities of Vietnam are pretty cool with their rooftop bars, a large assortment of food to choose from, and budding craft beer movement. You can easily spend a few days in these cities without getting short of things to do. In Ho-Chi-Minh, visit the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Reunification Palace and enjoy the street food and cheap beer. Alternatively, Hanoi is a bit relaxed with its beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, Old Quarter and Nha Tho Cathedral being the main highlights for travelers.
Bask In the Glory Of the Beaches
Vietnam is not only about busy cities and beautiful mountains; its beaches are also surprisingly magnificent. You can simply relax and unwind at one of its beaches at Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An or Phu Quoc Island. You can even go diving in Nha Trang and enjoy some time underwater.
Go on a Gastronomic Excursion
Vietnam has one of the best street foods in Southeast Asia and that too at throwaway prices. You can have a piping bowl of Pho merely at $1. Several restaurants, food stalls and kiosks in Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi serve food that you would relish. From the comforting Bun Cha Hanoi to the best soup in town, a food trip in Vietnam is also a cultural experience.
Visit The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this incredible National Park is home to the oldest Karst mountains in Asia which originated around 400 million years ago. The park has numerous cave systems some of which are of extraordinary lengths and heights, and fabulous underground rivers making it a heaven for speleologists. With time the region is changing at a fast pace with the Son Trach town becoming the main hub having ATM, improved eating and lounging options and good connectivity with different parts of Vietnam.
Sand Dunes Of Mui Ne
These Geographical wonders are a must see for all visitors. Several tour organizers in Mui Ne organize day trips to these sand dunes that look like the Red Sahara Desert. You can also come here on your own if you like exploring places at your own pace. Plastic sleds can also be hired but check the prices and negotiate on it in advance. You can watch the sunset here and another interesting activity that can be pursued here is kite flying. With its beautiful landscape and peaceful atmosphere, these sand dunes have become a picnic spot for locals and visitors alike.
My Son Sanctuary
This Hindu Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a prominent sample of the Champa Civilization. It is located in the Southern part of Vietnam. Champa was an independent state from the 2nd to the 17th century and was then occupied by Vietnam. This complex has roughly 70 structures that are devoted to the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Shiva, is the most eminent of all and considered to be the protector of the Champa Kings.
Explore the Cu Chui Tunnels
Cu Chui Tunnels are a prominent war museum that provides visitors with a sneak peek at the lives of the Viet Cong-era soldiers while they lived underground. It has about 120 kilometres of tunnels which were dug in 1948 when the Viet Cong was at war with France. The construction is ongoing resulting is a large number of tunnels. This is now the most sought after attraction of Ho Chi Minh with visitors enjoying activities like firing an M16 rifle, following the claustrophobia inducing routes of eth tunnel, and sampling meals that the soldiers used to live on long back.
Tan Ky House
This beautiful house was constructed about two centuries back by a Vietnamese family and has been preserved lovingly through seven generations. The building is influenced by Japanese and Chinese architecture. The ceiling in the sitting area is supported by three shorter beams placed on top of one another. The ceiling is crab shelled and under it are carvings wrapped in ribbons. They symbolize force and flexibility.
Other than these top things to do in Vietnam, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems.
What To Eat In Vietnam
Pho: Pho by far is the most famous and the signature dish of Vietnam. The authentic pho is a broth which is extremely rich and flavorful with meat and veggies along with a nuoc cham or chilli sauce on the side. Pho is typically eaten as breakfast and can be obtained in any local restaurant and street vendor in Vietnam.
Bun Cha Hanoi: Meat is grilled and then served over noodles along with a broth that is sweet but tangy poured over the noodles. This unique combo is eaten with lots of veggies. This delectable dish originated in Hanoi but later different variants originated in different parts of Vietnam.
Banh Mi: This is a unique sandwich that has a French influence to it and is a perfect snack. It is made of toasted baguette and includes pickled vegetables, butter, pate, soy sauce, chillis, hot pepper and cilantro. There are a wide array of meat fillings that give each sandwich a unique taste.
Banh Xeo: This is a crispy pancake made of rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric and filled in with vermicelli, pork, chicken or beef slices, shrimps, bean sprouts, sliced onions, and mushrooms. It comes with rice papers or fresh lettuce and fermented peanut sauce on the side. You can easily get a platter at most of the street vendors, restaurants and local stalls.
Gui Cuon: Gui con is Vietnamese variant of spring rolls and is considered as a delicacy in Vietnam. This dish is sold in nearly all the restaurants and street food stalls. The rolls are made of fresh ingredients and are extremely light. Noodles and meat are topped with lots of fresh veggies and then rolled in rice paper to make a scrumptious roll which is then served with sweet soy sauce, topped with chilli and roasted peanuts.
Where To Stay In Vietnam
Vietnam is an incredibly affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Thailand is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget. Hostels and dormitories make travel to Thailand affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
If you’re traveling to Vietnam during peak season or wish to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up. Vietnam is a pretty popular year-round destination you know!
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Vietnam.
If you’re backpacking in Vietnam or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Vietnam Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
Vietnam is 1025 miles long and although this might not seem huge it does mean that the country is very diverse and the weather is going to vary depending on where in Vietnam you are visiting. Generally, the best time to visit Vietnam is in spring which is between February and April and then in autumn between August and October. During this time of year Vietnam’s temperatures are more moderate and there’s less rainfall. In spring, March and April the temperatures will still be quite cool in the far north of the country.
Vietnam Travel Budget
Vietnam is generally a really affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. However the cost of your trip to Vietnam depends on the level of comfort and luxury you will want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $25 to $35 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $60 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants in places like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Hội An then budget about $60 to $150 plus a day.
- Budget: $10-25
- Mid-range: $25-$60
- Splurge: $60+
Meal For One
- Budget: $1.00-$5.00
- Mid-range: $5-$15
- Splurge: $15-$50+
Vietnam Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Vietnam, like most other places in southeast Asia, is a breeze because it’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates.
Tropical southeast Asia climates also mean high humidity so lightweight and breathable lose fitting clothing is essential.
Be prepared for the occasional cool evening depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater just in case. If you’re visiting during the wet season bring a rain jacket and an umbrella. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need in the larger cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Hội An.
Other essential items to take on a trip to Vietnam include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. if you’re backpacking in Vietnam that is. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Vietnam check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Asia Packing List For Female Travelers.