Vietnam Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Welcome to Vietnam, a captivating country nestled in Southeast Asia, known for its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture. From bustling cities to tranquil countryside, Vietnam offers a diverse range of experiences that captivate the senses and leave lasting impressions. Whether you’re drawn to its ancient temples, lush rice terraces, bustling markets, or delectable cuisine, Vietnam promises an unforgettable journey that intertwines tradition with modernity, all against the backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Vietnam as a tourist depends on the specific regions you plan to explore and your preferred weather conditions. Vietnam’s climate varies from north to south, and there are generally two distinct seasons: the dry season and the rainy season.

  1. Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay):
    • Best Time: October to April
    • During these months, the weather is cooler and drier, making it ideal for exploring cities, trekking in Sapa, and cruising Halong Bay.
  2. Central Vietnam (Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang):
    • Best Time: February to August
    • Central Vietnam experiences its dry season during these months, with warm and sunny weather that’s perfect for beach visits and cultural exploration.
  3. Southern Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc):
    • Best Time: November to April
    • This region has a more consistent tropical climate, but the dry season brings more comfortable temperatures and less humidity.
  4. Mountainous Areas (Dalat, Northern Highlands):
    • Best Time: November to March
    • These areas can be cooler, especially at higher altitudes, and are best visited during the cooler and drier months.
  5. Rainy Season:
    • If you don’t mind occasional rain and humid conditions, visiting during the rainy season (May to September) can also offer unique experiences, fewer crowds, and lush landscapes.

It’s important to note that weather patterns can vary, and unexpected changes can occur. Always check local weather forecasts and be prepared for any weather conditions during your visit. Additionally, keep in mind that major holidays like Tet (Lunar New Year) can affect travel plans and availability, so consider these factors when planning your trip to Vietnam.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Vietnam as a tourist is relatively easy and offers a range of transportation options to suit your preferences and budget. Here are some common ways to travel within the country:

  1. Domestic Flights:
    • Vietnam has a well-connected network of domestic flights that link major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and more. This is a convenient option for covering long distances quickly.
  2. Trains:
    • Vietnam’s train system connects many cities and offers an authentic travel experience. The Reunification Express runs between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, passing through scenic landscapes.
  3. Buses and Coaches:
    • Buses are a cost-effective way to travel between cities and regions. There are various options, from local buses to more comfortable tourist buses.
  4. Motorbike Rental:
    • Renting a motorbike is a popular choice for independent travelers. Be sure to have a valid license and practice caution, especially in busy traffic areas.
  5. Taxis and Ride-Sharing:
    • Taxis and ride-sharing services like Grab are widely available in urban areas and provide a convenient and safe mode of transportation.
  6. Cyclos and Xe Om (Motorbike Taxis):
    • In cities, cyclos (cycle rickshaws) and xe om (motorbike taxis) offer short-distance transportation and a unique local experience.
  7. Cruise Ships and Boats:
    • If you’re exploring areas like Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta, consider taking a cruise or boat tour to fully appreciate the scenery.
  8. Walking and Cycling:
    • Exploring cities and towns on foot or by bicycle is a great way to immerse yourself in local life and discover hidden gems.
  9. Local Flights to Remote Areas:
    • For more remote destinations like Con Dao or Phu Quoc islands, you might need to take local flights or ferries.
  10. Cyclo Tours and Guided Tours:
    • Consider taking guided cyclo tours or walking tours in cities to learn about history, culture, and local life.

When choosing your mode of transportation, consider factors like distance, comfort, time, and the experience you want to have. Vietnam’s transportation options cater to various preferences, allowing you to customize your journey based on your interests and itinerary.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. Here are some basic words and phrases in Vietnamese that can be helpful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Xin chào (sin chow)
  2. Thank you: Cảm ơn (kahm uhn)
  3. Yes: Vâng (vung)
  4. No: Không (kohng)
  5. Please: Xin vui lòng (sin vui lawng)
  6. Excuse me / Sorry: Xin lỗi (sin loi)
  7. Goodbye: Tạm biệt (tahm byet)
  8. How are you?: Bạn khỏe không? (bahn kweh kohng?)
  9. I don’t understand: Tôi không hiểu (toy kohng hew)
  10. How much is this?: Cái này bao nhiêu tiền? (kahy nay bow nyew tee-ehn?)
  11. Where is…?: …ở đâu? (…uh dow?)
  12. Bathroom: Nhà vệ sinh (nah vay sinh)
  13. Food: Thức ăn (took uhn)
  14. Water: Nước (noo-uhk)
  15. Help: Giúp đỡ (gyoop duh)

While many people in the tourism industry in Vietnam may speak some English, learning a few basic phrases in Vietnamese can greatly enhance your travel experience and show respect for the local culture. Vietnamese is a tonal language, so pronunciation is important; listening closely to locals and practicing will help you communicate more effectively.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Vietnam offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular types of accommodations for tourists:

  1. Hotels:
    • Vietnam has a variety of hotels ranging from budget to luxury. You can find international chains, boutique hotels, and local establishments.
  2. Hostels:
    • Hostels are a great choice for budget travelers and solo adventurers. They offer dormitory-style accommodations and a social atmosphere.
  3. Guesthouses and Homestays:
    • Guesthouses and homestays provide a more intimate experience, often run by local families. They offer insight into local life and culture.
  4. Resorts and Beach Villas:
    • Coastal areas like Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc have a selection of beachfront resorts and private villas for a luxurious stay.
  5. Boutique and Heritage Hotels:
    • Some cities, like Hoi An and Hanoi, offer charming boutique hotels housed in historic buildings.
  6. Cruise Ships and Overnight Boats:
    • For exploring areas like Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta, consider staying on a cruise ship or overnight boat.
  7. Eco-Lodges and Retreats:
    • Eco-lodges and nature retreats are ideal for those seeking a sustainable and close-to-nature experience.
  8. Airbnb and Vacation Rentals:
    • In major cities, you can find vacation rentals through platforms like Airbnb, offering apartments and homes with local hosts.
  9. Floating Villages and Homestays:
    • In places like the Mekong Delta, you can stay in floating villages and experience life on the water.
  10. Backpacker Areas:
    • Popular backpacker areas like Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City and the Old Quarter in Hanoi have a range of affordable accommodations.

When choosing where to stay in Vietnam, consider factors like location, amenities, proximity to attractions, and the type of experience you want. It’s advisable to book accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons or popular events.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its vibrant flavors, fresh ingredients, and diverse dishes. Here are some must-try foods when visiting Vietnam as a tourist:

  1. Pho:
    • A Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef or chicken, herbs, and rice noodles. It’s a beloved dish and a staple of Vietnamese cuisine.
  2. Banh Mi:
    • A delicious French-influenced sandwich with a Vietnamese twist, typically filled with a variety of ingredients like grilled meats, vegetables, and sauces.
  3. Goi Cuon (Spring Rolls):
    • Fresh spring rolls made with rice paper and filled with herbs, shrimp, pork, rice vermicelli, and often dipped in a peanut sauce.
  4. Bun Cha:
    • Grilled pork served with rice noodles, herbs, and a flavorful dipping sauce. It’s a popular dish in Hanoi.
  5. Com Tam (Broken Rice):
    • A dish of broken rice served with grilled pork, often topped with a fried egg and accompanied by pickled vegetables.
  6. Cha Ca:
    • A Hanoi specialty, it’s a turmeric-marinated fish dish served with vermicelli noodles, herbs, and peanuts.
  7. Cao Lau:
    • A unique noodle dish from Hoi An, featuring thick rice noodles, tender pork slices, herbs, and a savory broth.
  8. Mi Quang:
    • A central Vietnamese dish with turmeric-infused noodles, shrimp, pork, herbs, and crunchy rice crackers.
  9. Bun Bo Hue:
    • A spicy beef noodle soup from Hue, known for its rich and flavorful broth.
  10. Xoi:
    • Sticky rice served as a savory or sweet dish, often topped with a variety of ingredients such as fried shallots, mung beans, or grilled meats.
  11. Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee):
    • A unique Vietnamese coffee preparation, where egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk are beaten together for a frothy topping over strong coffee.
  12. Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancake):
    • A crispy rice flour pancake filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and herbs, often wrapped in rice paper.
  13. Bo La Lot (Grilled Beef in Betel Leaves):
    • Grilled beef wrapped in aromatic betel leaves, a flavorful and fragrant street food.
  14. Nem Nuong (Grilled Pork Sausage):
    • Grilled pork sausages served with rice paper, herbs, and a dipping sauce.
  15. Che (Vietnamese Desserts):
    • Explore a variety of Vietnamese desserts, such as che ba mau (three-color dessert) and che chuoi (banana tapioca pudding).

Sampling these dishes will introduce you to the diverse flavors and culinary traditions of Vietnam, from north to south. Don’t hesitate to try street food and local markets for an authentic taste of Vietnam’s culinary heritage.

What to See? 🔍

Vietnam is a country with a rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities. Here are some must-see places to include in your itinerary when visiting as a tourist:

  1. Halong Bay:
    • Explore the iconic limestone karsts and emerald waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, through boat cruises and kayaking.
  2. Hoi An Ancient Town:
    • Wander through the charming streets of Hoi An, known for its well-preserved architecture, lantern-lit evenings, and vibrant markets.
  3. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon):
    • Immerse yourself in the bustling energy of the largest city in Vietnam. Visit landmarks like the War Remnants Museum and the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
  4. Hanoi:
    • Discover the capital city’s blend of ancient temples, colonial architecture, and vibrant street life. Don’t miss the historic Old Quarter.
  5. Sapa:
    • Experience the beauty of the northern mountains in Sapa, known for its terraced rice fields, ethnic minority villages, and trekking opportunities.
  6. Mekong Delta:
    • Explore the vibrant waterways of the Mekong Delta, visiting floating markets, fruit orchards, and local villages.
  7. Da Nang and My Khe Beach:
    • Enjoy the city’s modern attractions, such as the iconic Dragon Bridge, and relax on the beautiful My Khe Beach.
  8. Cu Chi Tunnels:
    • Gain insight into the Vietnam War by visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive underground network used by Viet Cong soldiers.
  9. Nha Trang:
    • Relax on the beaches of Nha Trang, known for its clear waters and vibrant underwater world, making it a popular spot for diving and snorkeling.
  10. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park:
    • Discover the stunning caves and karst landscapes of this national park, including the impressive Son Doong Cave.
  11. Phu Quoc Island:
    • Enjoy the white sandy beaches and clear waters of Phu Quoc Island, known for its relaxation and water activities.
  12. Da Lat:
    • Visit the “City of Eternal Spring” with its cooler climate, French colonial architecture, and flower gardens.
  13. Ban Gioc Waterfall:
    • Experience the beauty of the Ban Gioc Waterfall on the border with China, the largest waterfall in Vietnam.
  14. Cao Dai Temple:
    • Witness the unique Cao Dai religion at the Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh, featuring a fusion of different religious elements.
  15. Con Dao Islands:
    • Explore the serene beauty of the Con Dao Islands, known for their pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and historical significance.

These must-see places offer a diverse range of experiences, from cultural immersion to natural wonders, ensuring an unforgettable journey through Vietnam.

What to Do? 📸

Vietnam offers a multitude of activities and experiences that cater to various interests. Here are some must-do things for tourists visiting Vietnam:

  1. Take a Halong Bay Cruise:
    • Explore the stunning landscapes of Halong Bay on a cruise, kayaking through caves and admiring the limestone formations.
  2. Explore Hoi An’s Lantern Festival:
    • Experience the enchanting Lantern Festival in Hoi An, when the town is aglow with colorful lanterns and cultural performances.
  3. Motorbike Ride Through Hai Van Pass:
    • Embark on a thrilling motorbike ride through the picturesque Hai Van Pass, offering panoramic coastal views.
  4. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels:
    • Gain insight into Vietnam’s history by crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network used during the Vietnam War.
  5. Trek in Sapa’s Rice Terraces:
    • Trek through Sapa’s lush rice terraces, interacting with local ethnic minority communities and enjoying breathtaking views.
  6. Attend a Cooking Class:
    • Learn to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes in a cooking class, exploring the vibrant flavors of the cuisine.
  7. Take a Cyclo Ride Through Hanoi’s Old Quarter:
    • Experience the vibrant chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter by taking a cyclo ride through its narrow streets.
  8. Visit the War Remnants Museum:
    • Gain a deeper understanding of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
  9. Enjoy Water Activities in Nha Trang:
    • Dive, snorkel, or simply relax on the beaches of Nha Trang, known for its vibrant underwater world.
  10. Explore the Mekong Delta by Boat:
    • Cruise along the waterways of the Mekong Delta, visiting floating markets and getting a glimpse of local life.
  11. Attend a Water Puppet Show:
    • Watch a traditional water puppet show, a unique art form depicting stories through puppetry on water.
  12. Discover the Phong Nha Caves:
    • Explore the impressive caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, including the famous Son Doong Cave.
  13. Experience Vietnamese Coffee Culture:
    • Savor Vietnamese coffee, from the strong traditional drip coffee to the refreshing iced versions.
  14. Visit Ancient Temples and Pagodas:
    • Explore Vietnam’s spiritual heritage by visiting ancient temples and pagodas, like the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi.
  15. Participate in a Homestay:
    • Immerse yourself in local life by staying with a Vietnamese family in a homestay, gaining insight into daily routines and customs.

These activities offer a blend of cultural immersion, adventure, relaxation, and exploration, allowing you to experience Vietnam’s rich heritage and diverse landscapes firsthand.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Vietnam’s culture is deeply rooted in its history, traditions, and diverse ethnic groups. When traveling to Vietnam, consider these cultural aspects:

  1. Respect for Elders and Authority: Show respect to elders and those in positions of authority. Address them using appropriate titles like “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
  2. Dress Modestly: While beachwear is acceptable at beach destinations, modest dress is appreciated when visiting temples and rural areas.
  3. Removing Shoes: It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, a temple, or certain businesses.
  4. Bargaining: Bargaining is common in markets, but do so with a friendly attitude and a sense of respect for the seller.
  5. Public Displays of Affection: While public displays of affection are becoming more common, it’s still more discreet than in Western cultures.
  6. Cultural Sensitivity: Learn about local customs and traditions before visiting, as this shows respect for the local culture.

Safety in Vietnam:

Vietnam is generally a safe destination for tourists, but it’s important to exercise common-sense safety precautions:

  1. Street Crossings: Traffic in Vietnam can be chaotic. Use pedestrian crossings and crosswalks cautiously, and watch for traffic.
  2. Personal Belongings: Keep your belongings secure, especially in crowded areas. Use anti-theft bags and be cautious of pickpockets.
  3. Traffic Safety: If renting a motorbike, wear a helmet and drive cautiously. Traffic rules might differ from what you’re accustomed to.
  4. Health Precautions: In certain areas, mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever can be a concern. Use mosquito repellent and consider vaccinations.
  5. Drink Responsibly: When consuming alcohol, do so responsibly. Be cautious with unfamiliar drinks and ensure they’re from reputable sources.
  6. Local Scams: While most locals are friendly, be aware of common scams, like inflated prices for tourists. Always agree on prices beforehand.
  7. Natural Hazards: Be aware of the weather conditions, especially during the typhoon season. Follow local advisories and stay informed.
  8. Travel Insurance: Have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and unexpected incidents.

By being respectful of local customs, staying aware of your surroundings, and following safety guidelines, you can have a rewarding and safe experience while traveling in Vietnam. It’s also helpful to stay updated on travel advisories before your trip.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a journey to Vietnam is an immersive experience that takes you through a tapestry of history, culture, and breathtaking landscapes. From the bustling streets of its cities to the tranquil beauty of its countryside, Vietnam offers a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. From savoring the diverse flavors of its cuisine to exploring its ancient temples and vibrant markets, each moment in Vietnam is a discovery of its unique charm. As you traverse its enchanting landscapes, interact with its warm-hearted people, and immerse yourself in its rich heritage, Vietnam promises an unforgettable adventure that will leave you with cherished memories and a deep appreciation for its captivating essence.