Stretching nearly the length of South East Asia, Vietnam is a beautiful country that really has it all. From breathtaking landscapes and mesmerising scenery, to a wealth of historical and cultural offerings, you could easily spend months in Vietnam.
Fortunately, excellent transport around the country also makes it a brilliant place for a shorter trip too. Anything from ten days to three weeks will really offer a chance to explore and discover the best of Vietnam.
Although Vietnam has a well-trodden backpacking route, it has plenty to appeal to all kinds of travellers, including dozens of beautiful high-end hotels which have opened in recent years.
So this Vietnam travel guide aims to cover all the key information to know before visiting.
And to ensure this guide is as comprehensive as possible, covering all the best things to do and see in Vietnam, a dozen or so travel bloggers have contributed their favourite places too. Read on to find out more!
History of Vietnam
Vietnam has a long and complex past. The Vietnam War is likely to come first to mind. But looking further back, the country has had a tumultuous history.
For example, Vietnam was occupied for 1,000 years by the Chinese, which has strongly influenced many aspects of today’s society. The French also later colonised Vietnam from 1887 to 1954. Their impact can be seen across the country today. For example, much infrastructure was built by the French, including the train route running north to south that’s still in regular use today. The French also introduced Catholicism which has caused long-standing conflict with Buddhists.
Vietnam sought independence which they achieved in 1956, however the country was divided. The north came under Communist rule, led by Ho Chi Minh. The south was ruled by Ngo Dinh Diem as a capitalist republic. However the south’s way forward was strongly hampered by demonstrations and a coup. The North Vietnamese people wanted to reunite the country under Communist rule, leading to a long war starting in 1958.
The Americans, fearful that Communism was spreading south through Vietnam and the rest of Asia, got involved. So America sided with South Vietnam, with John F Kennedy sending 16,000 military advisers to help support and assist in 1963.
Over the course of the next ten years, the USA’s involvement increased with more than 500,000 American troops fighting on Vietnamese soil in 1968. Nearly half a million innocent Vietnamese civilians got caught up in the crossfire and lost their lives. Eventually, the Americans conceded and withdraw from Vietnam in the 1970s, after also losing many of their own in the war too. In 1976, north and south Vietnam were reunited as a single socialist Republic.
Today, some of the country’s most important sites provide invaluable insight into the Vietnam War such as the Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. No visit to Vietnam can be complete without taking in these places and understanding some of Vietnam’s history.
Vietnam Travel Guide: Useful information
How to get to Vietnam?
The two main airports in Vietnam are Hanoi in the north, and Ho Chi Minh in the south.
There’s also an international airport in Da Nang in Central Vietnam. This airport has started to receive more international flights over recent years, including a direct connection with Doha on Qatar Airways.
Most visitors either start their trip in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, even if arriving by bus or train. Plenty of airlines fly into both these cities, including Vietnam Airlines connecting dozens of cities, including a direct route from London. Other airlines include Thai Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Cathay Pacific, all with a layover on their way to Vietnam.
Other options include arriving in Hanoi on train from Hong Kong (and other destinations in China). You find out more about train travel into Vietnam here.
Finally, the other main option for travel is by bus. Both cities are well connected from other destinations in South East Asia, such as Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh city, and Luang Prabang with Hanoi.
Visa requirements for Vietnam depend on the length of stay. A number of countries, including the UK, can enjoy a 15 day stay in Vietnam without a visa. For stays longer than 15 days, a visa is required. You can apply for an e-visa online and then obtain this on arrival only at airports (not land borders).
For UK citizens, check the most up-to-date information here.
Most other nationalities need a normal paper visa for Vietnam, which fortunately is quite easy to obtain at land borders and airports. Vietnam visa rules have been changing regularly, given the pandemic and global restrictions so do make sure to check your home country’s embassy website.
How to get around Vietnam?
Train travel is extremely well organised in Vietnam, In fact, the country is home to one of the most famous rail routes in the world: The Reunification Line. It connects Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh city (also known as Saigon) and weaves through Hue, Danang and Nha Trang.
Whether you do the whole 1,726km (1,070 miles) route, or just a segment, taking the train in Vietnam is absolutely unmissable.
We took the train overnight from Hanoi to Hue, before opting to fly from Danang to Ho Chi Minh city due to time constraints. Even just doing this segment was awesome and I loved every second.
The trains have a variety of cabins, and each train (starting with code SE) has a different number of each type. The Seat61 guide to this train route is absolutely essential for your planning.
In terms of train tickets, you can buy them at the station but I always recommend getting them a few days ahead of your desired departure date. You can also buy tickets online (with a small booking fee) on sites such as 12go.Asia and then you’ll be emailed an e-ticket. You can also arrange them through GetYourGuide here.
If purchasing the tickets at the busy train stations seems daunting or you don’t want to make a mistake, then ask at your hostel or hotel. They will nearly always be able to help and will only charge a small commission.
Trains have really improved over the past decade, and some of the carriages are slick and comfortable.
I last took the train in 2014 and opted for an air-con hard sleeper. Our compartment had 6 berths (beds), with three tiers. Sleeping on the top bunk of a three tiered sleeper is certainly an experience! You’ll find a pillow and a sheet on the bed (so definitely bring your own silk sleeping bag). There are also power sockets and adequate space for your luggage. You can buy refreshments on board and there are basic toilets too.
Personally, I found the bed pretty comfortable and spacious. I loved being rocked to sleep as we trundled south from Hanoi to Hue. I felt completely safe on board and had no issues at all.
Buses are also excellent in Vietnam. In fact, I’d argue they’re the best buses I’ve ever experienced. One bus we took, from Hue to Hoi An was the most comfortable sleeper bus I’ve experienced. If only the drive had been longer!
For shorter journeys within towns or cities, there are taxis and cyclos. Taxis should be on the meter, but many drivers will try their luck. I’d say my experiences with taxi drivers (especially in Hanoi) was the only negative of my whole time in Vietnam. Some of the drivers were very rude and unpleasant in discussing the fare.
Finally for domestic travel, flying is the quickest way to explore the country. There are many domestic airports and you can find very cheap flights on airlines such as VietJet Air, Vietnam Airlines and AisAsia.
When is the best time to go to Vietnam?
The climate really differs between the north and the south of Vietnam. Whilst the south is hot year-round, the north of Vietnam gets very cool in the winter months (December to January). It is normally too cold to swim in the sea or wear shorts and a t-shirt. So I wouldn’t recommend visiting Vietnam during the winter months if you plan to see the whole country.
The best time to travel to Vietnam is from February to June, when the days are long, warm and sunny in both the north and the south of Vietnam.
July and August is the high season in Vietnam, but there’s an increased risk of rain throughout the country in these months. It’s also very, very hot. I experienced daily temperatures in excess of 40 Celsius everyday when travelling through Vietnam in August.
September to November typically isn’t a good time to visit Central or Southern Vietnam as they experience daily heavy rains during these months.
Vietnam uses the Dong (VND). It can get a bit confusing to use as prices are listed in the 000s, and notes are huge. A common mistake is to receive the incorrect change, so for example to only receive a 50,000 note instead of a 500,000 note.
Vietnam is a pretty inexpensive destination to visit in South East Asia, and you’ll find your cash will go quite far.
You can find hostels across the country for as little as 100,000 VND per night ($4 USD/£3). For a private room you’ll be looking at nearer 350,000 VND ($15 USD/£11).
For higher end hotels, you can find a mid-range stay for around 1.2million VND which is $50 USD/£40 per night. Luxury stays are likely to be nearer 3million VND or $132 USD/£100 per night.
Eating out in Vietnam is seriously cheap. You can eat street food such as a bowl of pho for about 20,000 VND ($0.85 USD/65p). Obviously if you eat in a sit down restaurant it’ll be more expensive, but never too much. Beers are also very cheap – around 15,000 VND or $0.65 USD/0.50p in a restaurant. On the social drinking streets in Hanoi, you can even find beers for 5,000 VND! That’s about $0.22 USD or 16p!
Getting around Vietnam is also fortunately very inexpensive, even for domestic flights. An overnight train in Vietnam can cost as little as 750,000 VND ($33 USD/£25).
The most expensive things to do in Vietnam are some of the overnight tours. For example, sailing in Halong Bay or going trekking in Sapa. For Halong Bay, depending on the level of comfort and luxury you opt for, prices can range from around 2.3million VND ($100 USD/£76) to well over 12million VND ($528 USD/£400) for a one night cruise. I went with Bhaya Cruises which was a perfect, mid-range option. It cost around 7.6million VND or $330USD/£250 for two people for one night. For general day trips, such as the Cu Chi Tunnels, you can expect a half-day trip for around 300,000 VND/$13 USD/£10.
Vietnam: The Best Places to Visit
Beautiful Hanoi, the first place I visited in Vietnam. I arrived alone and spent my first few days in the city wandering and exploring. Hanoi swept me up and pulled me in. From the chaotic but exciting Old Quarter, where each street specialises in one trade (you’ll see an entire road devoted to sinks and kitchen goods, for example) to the beautiful, tranquil Hoàn Kiêm lake. You can walk the entire perimeter of the lake, which is located right in the city centre. It’s the perfect place to see the locals go about normal daily life in Hanoi, from the elderly practising Tai Chi to young couples and families spending time together. There’s also a temple called Ngoc Son in the centre of the lake connected by a small bridge, it costs 20,000 VND to visit. It makes the most beautiful backdrop for photos!
The city has a rich historical and cultural heritage, and there’s dozens of places to visit across the city to soak this in. From the French colonial architecture of St Joseph’s Cathedral and the Hanoi Opera House, to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s a big coffee culture and cafe scene in Hanoi, probably another reason why I loved the city so much. Coffee was introduced by the French, but has been long since adapted. Vietnamese coffee is renowned globally now. Try a super sweet iced coffee made with condensed milk, or the unusual egg coffee that’s made with beaten egg whites poured over the espresso. My favourite coffee shop is called The Church opposite St Joseph’s Cathedral which has beautiful interior art and wonderfully cooling fans!
Where to stay in Hanoi
There’s plenty of options in Hanoi to suit all budgets. I have stayed in a few different hotels but I can’t recommend Hanoi Culture Hostel enough (from £20 per night, or from £4 for a bed in a dorm). Right in the heart of the Old Quarter, this wonderful hotel will go above and beyond to make its guests happy. We also arranged our Hanoi to Hue sleeper train tickets through the hotel and they even dropped us off at the station and made sure we got on the right carriage!
Other places to stay in Hanoi include:
- JM Marvel Hotel & Spa (from £23 per night)
- Mayflower Hotel (from £7 per night)
- Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel (from £96 per night)
- Hilton Hanoi Opera (from £53 per night)
Hanoi Old Quarter
Submitted by Rose from wheregoesrose.com
Hanoi Old Quarter is one of the oldest and most historical places in Vietnam and well-worth adding to your Hanoi itinerary. With over 1,000 years of history, it’s a mish-mash of French architecture, atmospheric street stalls and buzzing scooters. One of the first thing you’ll notice: the old-style houses go up six or seven floors but are just a few metres wide. This is because property tax was originally calculated by width rather than height so everyone built up rather than outwards!
The other fascinating thing about Hanoi Old Quarter is its history. Over 1,000 years ago, it was built as a set of artisan guilds, each specialising in one item or material. To this day, they remain the same. Hàng Bạc is known for silversmiths and jewellery, Lan Ong sells medicinal products and Han Gai has lots of silk stores.
You’ll find plenty of houses of worship within Hanoi Old Quarter including Bach Ma Buddhist temple and St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a leftover from the French colonial period.
The food in Hanoi Old Quarter is fantastic. As well as countless restaurants and street food, there are many cute cafes inside refurbished period buildings. Here you can sample famous Hanoian beverage, egg coffee made with rich robusta coffee and sweet, whisked egg whites.
Ho Chi Minh Complex
Submitted by Emma from travelonatimebudget.co.uk
One of the top must-see attractions if you’re visiting Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. This is a vast communist complex built to commemorate the former President, Ho Chi Minh.
The setting itself is surprisingly pleasant. It has well-tended grassy areas, the unique One Pillar Pagoda, and, as probably one of the only traffic-free areas in the city, offers some respite from the hustle and bustle of other parts of Hanoi.
But visitors really come here to learn about, and honour, Ho Chi Minh, the country’s revered 20th century leader who died in 1969. There is a museum where you can learn about his life, as well as a mausoleum.
Should you visit, you can see Ho Chi Minh lying in state in the mausoleum. Guards usher visitors into a line that moves slowly past the coffin and more guards stand watch over the body. When you add in the fact that Ho Chi Minh’s body is apparently flown back to Russia once a year to be re-embalmed, it brings home just how significant he is in the history of Vietnam.
Visitors need to queue to get into the complex as the time slots are limited. They also vary depending on the season and day of the week) So a top tip is to get there early. Although the queues move quickly, it is a popular attraction and lines are long.
Natural Wonders in North Vietnam
Submitted by Emily from wander-lush.org
Halong Bay features at the top of most travellers’ wish lists – and for very good reason. It’s one of the country’s most iconic landscapes and a must-see in Vietnam.
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay is a surreal landscape of more than 2,000 limestone islands, islets and rock formations set in the Gulf of Tonkin. The bay is located in North Vietnam off the coast of Ha Long City and the boat dock can be reached in approximately 3 hours when travelling from Hanoi by road. If the boat cruise you arrange doesn’t include transfers, then you can arrange a round-trip transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay here.
Although it’s possible to see Halong Bay on a day cruise, it’s preferable to spend 1-3 nights on the water in a traditional junk boat or on board a modern vessel. Multi-day cruises visit the outer islands in the bay where you can enjoy snorkelling, kayaking and other water sports, as well as exploring caves and soaking up the surreal landscape. This tour here is an excellent 2 day adventure on a 4 star cruise – highly recommend.
In recent years, Halong Bay has started to suffer from the effects of over-tourism. For an alternative, the adjacent Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay both offer a similar landscape of karst formations, but are generally less busy and more pristine. The best time of year to visit Halong Bay is in spring or fall (March/April or September/October) when temperatures are pleasant and there’s less chance of rain. Winter is the busiest time of year on the bay and conditions are often foggy.
Bai Tu Long Bay
Submitted by Dani from diapersinparadise.com
If you’ve been dreaming about the bright blue waters and dramatic karst mountains of Ha Long Bay, but are looking for somewhere even quieter, consider looking into Bai Tu Long Bay instead.
Bai Tu Long Bay is just north of Ha Long Bay, and the cruise ships depart from the same port in Ha Long. However, Bai Tu Long has far fewer sailing boats and is a much larger expanse of sea. Plus, the number of boats allowed to stay in Bai Tu Long Bay is limited by the government.
This means you can get the pristine experience of what Ha Long Bay was once like, without sailing in a bay surrounded by dozens of other boats. You can even do a 3 day cruise and rarely pass another boat in Bai Tu Long Bay!
There are attractions in Bai Tu Long Bay besides the bay itself, and every cruise has options to visit some or all of them. You can kayak through caves, take a boat ride to Vung Vieng fishing village, you can snorkel along the beaches. You can even visit Thien Canh Son cave within the untouched forest canopy.
The best way to experience Bai Tu Long Bay is on a junk-style ship. You can do a single day trip, but it is truly worth dedicating 2 or 3 days of your trip to.
GetYourGuide have a great 2 day cruise here, which you can arrange before arriving in Hanoi.
Submitted by Nick from wanderingwheatleys.com
Sapa is one of the most beautiful areas in Vietnam. It is famous for its steep rice terraces, colorful textiles, and local ethnic tribes – the H’mong, Dai, and Dao.
Trekking in Sapa is the top reason that most people venture to the northern Vietnam province of Lao Chai. You can hire a local guide to take you walking through the endless maze of vibrantly coloured rice fields and to stunning lookouts with sweeping views of the valleys below. At the end of a long day of hiking, you can sleep overnight in a local homestay where you’ll certainly be offered a few shots of local rice wine.
Here you’ll also find the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, Mount Fansipan. At 3,147 metres tall, it is known as the “Roof of Indochina” and can be reached by cable car. On a clear day, you’ll have views all the way to China!
Being so high in the mountains, Sapa has four distinct seasons and is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can actually experience snow in the winter. The best time to visit Sapa is in late summer just before the rice harvest begins. As the rice turns from green to yellow the landscape becomes an intricate patchwork of bright colors!
Submitted by Lee and James from thetravelscribes.com
It’s been called ‘Halong Bay on Land’ for good reason. The soaring limestone karsts and captivating waters of Ninh Binh are definitely twinned with Halong’s picturesque landscapes. But that’s where the comparisons end…
Ninh Binh or, more specifically, the small town of Tam Coc, is a magnet for more laidback travelers. The area is characterised not only by its many rivers and lakes, but the mountainside temples and almost endless caves that make the region so special. Only 90 minutes from nearby bustling Hanoi, Ninh Binh is situated in Vietnam’s Red River Delta, nestled in the valley and offering a plethora of fantastic adventures. From meandering down the Tam Coc river, propelled only by the feet of your able oarsman, to checking out the nine caves (and almost endless watery expanse) of Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the biggest landmarks in Vietnam. Experience the never-ending views atop the Hang Mua Viewpoint, hop onto your bicycle to get lost in the hills.
This breathtaking region also boasts it’s fair share of temples to explore. Whether it’s hopping off at the Thai Vi temple, which you might have all to yourself, or joining a few more visitors at Bich Dong, a set of three cave temples carved into the mountainside, you’ll find so many things to do in Ninh Binh that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Book this awesome day trip to Ninh Binh here, including cycling and swimming opportunities!
Submitted by Guillem from feastoftravel.com
Trang An is a large landscape complex located in the Ninh Binh province, near the Red River Delta. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to raw natural beauty, charming cultural heritage in its small towns and temples, and stunning rice paddies.
And, best of all, it is still lesser known compared to other regions like Halong Bay, Hoi An or the Mekong Delta, especially during low season. That being said, it started being noticed after the filming of Kong: Skull Island in the area, so make sure you go there as soon as possible to go ahead of the hoardes!
The best way to enjoy the Trang An Landscape Complex is either by rowboat or from above at the Mua Caves. There are many things to discover in this region. From beautiful temples carved in the mountains, Vietnam’s ancient capital, amazing natural reserves and great food, so make sure you don’t miss any with this fantastic 3-day itinerary in Ninh Binh!
Buy tickets to join a day trip to Trang An from Hanoi here!
Submitted by Wayne from dailytourist.com
One of the best places to visit in Vietnam is a popular city called Hue. This city has a long history dating back hundreds of years. In fact, it was the imperial capital of Dang Trong from 1738 to 1775 and the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945. It is also the place where one of the longest and bloodiest battles happened during the Vietnam War.
There are dozens of different things for to see and do in Hue. One of the best attractions to visit are the tombs of the ancient emperors which provides a very insightful look at the culture and history of the area. Another place of interest is called the Tu Hieu Pagoda, one of the most famous places in all of Hue, which dates back to the year 1843. This pagoda was the home of the eunuchs during the time of the Ancient Citadel and has now become the home of various monks.
Or if you’re into food, then you’ll be happy to know that the city of Hue is home to some of the best cuisine in all of Vietnam. The most popular dish to come out of this city is one called “Bun Bo Hue”, which is a spicy noodle soup similar to pho. Other dishes of interest include Banh Beo, Banh Khoai and Banh it ram.
With so many things to see and do, Hue is definitely worth a visit. Why not join a local guide on a half-day private tour by rickshaw?
Submitted by Marya from thebeautraveler.com
If you’re interested in history, then the Vietnamese Demilitarised Zone is one place you can’t miss in the country. The zone is where the border between North and South Vietnam existed due to the First Indochina War from 1954 to 1976.
The First Indochina War began in 1946 between the French and the French-controlled State of Vietnam in the south, and the Communist-dominated independent movement, the Viet Minh in the north.
The war between the two broke out in 1950s, and the DMZ hardened into an international boundary until it ceased to exist following the reunification of Vietnam on 2 July 1976.
Nowadays, you can easily join the DMZ tour from the nearest city in either Hue or Da Nang in central Vietnam. The tour is provided in English, where you can learn the country’s in-depth history while visiting some famous war spots. These include Khe Sanh Combat Base, the post used by US Marine Corps during the war. There is also a small museum around the base where you can see some historical pictures and weapons used, along with bunkers and helicopters.
As a part of the tour, you will also visit some other war settings such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Rockpile, and the Vinh Moc tunnels. All of which are a good alternative if you didn’t get a chance to go to the famous Chu Chi Tunnel in Ho Chi Minh City.
Book a private DMZ tour here.
Submitted by Mark from wyldfamilytravel.com
Although Da Nang in central Vietnam is the popular landing point for most people heading to Hoi An, Da Nang itself is a city not to be missed.
The city is home to gorgeous white sand beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, with enticing warm, calm waters. There are also several beach clubs, the perfect place to kick back and enjoy a drink between swims.
The Ba Na Hills near Da Nang are also home to the one of the best theme parks in the country, Sunworld. This huge entertainment park offers great value for money with plenty of rides and attractions to suit everyone. The theme park is located atop the Ba Na Hills, and access is only by cable car. for everyone.
Also within Sunworld Ba Na Hills is the famous Golden Bridge, a photo magnet for local and overseas tourists alike. Shaped like a giant hand’s holding up the walkway, it sits at 1400m above sea level and provides incredible views of the Vietnam coast.
Another area to visit is the the Son Tra Peninsula, which is home to the Giant Lady Buddha. She stands at a height of 67m and can be seen from many places in Da Nang.
Between the shopping, the excellent food and the many attractions, Da Nang is a great place to spend a few days.
Organise tickets to the Ba Na Hills here, including cable car tickets and the Golden Bridge.
My Son Sanctuary
Submitted by Paula from paulapinstheplanet.com
The Hindu Sanctuary of My Son is an incredible site to visit in Vietnam. The ancient site is a UNESCO World Heritage and it was built by the Champa Civilisation over 1,000 years ago. It was built and dedicated to the deities of Shiva, Krishna and Vishnu.
My Son is an impressive Hindu-themed ruin, featuring many beautiful stone sculptures, temples, and towers in tropical jungle surroundings. Located within the village of Duy Phu, the complex stretches out two kilometres within a valley and is surrounded by mountain ranges.
You can get to My Son by a personal driver, an organized tour from Hoi An or Danang, or by motorbike. It is very interesting to see the change in the scenery, since My Son is surrounded by mountains and you will notice the misty forest making it even look mystical.
Unfortunately, the temples in My Son are not so well preserved, as it was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War. You still can see the marks of the bombing on the temples, and also large craters in the ground. But My Son survived, and despite its condition, it is worth the short trip drive to visit it. To visit the whole My Son site takes about 1-3 hours and the site is open daily from 6 am to 5 pm. Entry costs 150,000 VND. Book a day trip to My Son Sanctuary here.
Submitted by Caroline from cktravels.com
Hội An’s old town is a charming and well-preserved South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, and also a UNESCO heritage site. Adorned with colourful lanterns and painted french-colonial houses, this is one of the prettiest towns in Vietnam.
There are several things to do in Hội An’s old town and you can easily spend a whole day wandering the narrow alleyways, exploring the historic attractions and shopping in the cute gifts shops. Old town highlights include the beautifully decorated Fujian Assembly Hall and the famous Japanese Bridge.
However, Hội An really comes alive in the evening when all the lanterns around town are switched on and full of colour, and lit candles float down the Thu Bon River. Many lively riverside bars open until the early hours and there is a nightly market selling souvenirs and street food.
The only downside of the old town is that it has become extremely touristy. Sometimes it feels just a bit too crowded (particularly from around 4pm onwards when large tour groups arrive from resort hotels in nearby Da Nang). If you want to experience the town without the tourists then it is recommended to explore very early in the morning.
Suggested tours for Hoi An:
- Hoi An Coffee tasting and Old Town Discovery tour
- Unique street food tour in Hoi An
- Vegetarian cooking class in Hoi An
- Half day tour of local villages by boat
- Hoi An photography tour
Rural Hoi An
Hội An, the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Town in Central Vietnam is renowned for its beautiful waterways and historic architecture. But whilst Hội An’s atmospheric town centre is often busy, far less tourists explore its surrounding farmland and island network.
Exploring this area on bike is one of the best things to do in Vietnam. A day outing gives visitors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in local life. A local group of university students, keen to practice their English actually run free cycling tours around this area. They offer this in return for conversation and the chance to chat to English-speakers. They’ve become so well-known for their excellent tours that they’re listed as one of the top things to do in Hội An on Tripadvisor now.
Meeting up at the edge of Hội An on Hai Bà Trưng Street, you head straight down to the water to jump on the small local boat with your bike (which costs 50,000 VND) to cross the Thu Bồn river. This stunning cycling route takes in the beautiful unspoilt countryside, with stops at Kim Bong Village, Tra Que Vegetable Village and Cam Thanh Water Coconut Village. You can stop and chat with the locals, and learn how they weave bamboo mats and baskets, make rice noodles, or harvest rice using water buffalo.
It’s an idyllic route. It weaves between rice paddies, tiny fishing villages and offering rural scenes that few tourists have the opportunity to appreciate during their time in Hội An. You can even stop at Huynh family temple. This is a traditional local temple with a huge family tree on it where local couples come to check they’re not already related before getting married!
It takes around 4 hours to cycle the route, which is completely flat. As cycling is one of the main modes of transport in Hội An, you’ll have no trouble finding bikes. It’s very likely your accommodation will provide these too.
Natural Wonders in Central Vietnam
Submitted by Josie from josiewanders.com
Paradise Cave is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in central Vietnam. It was only discovered in 2005, despite being 34km long. Most visitors though will only walk into the cave for the first km, although it is possible to do tours that go further into the cave.
To approach the cave, visitors must first walk 1km along flat, well-maintained paths. Then it’s another 500m up to the entrance of the cave at an incline with many steps. Be prepared to be puffing a little as you reach the cave! Once inside the cave, apart from a few steps downwards, there are flat boardwalks with plenty of room to walk around and explore the cave.
Paradise Cave really does live up to its name. It is filled with beautiful rock formations in unusual hues of blue and yellow. The blue is particularly unusual. This is not a wet cave so there is very little water dripping like is expected in caves, although there can be more water during the wet season.
Paradise Cave is three hours drive north of Hue. While it can be visited in a very long day trip, staying in the area will allow more exploration of the surrounding national park, including other caves and activities.
Lăng Cô is a small fishing village located between Da Nang and Hue. If you plan to spend a week or so in central Vietnam, then Lăng Cô can make the perfect base, thanks to its convenient location.
Lăng Cô is a real tropical paradise. The main beach is a long stretch of soft, golden sand with crystal clear waters and backed by lush greenery. Visiting the heart of the fishing village can give a unique perspective to local life and you can join the fisherman on their traditional bamboo basket boats and head out in the water. You can also take a boat ride down the spectacular 13,969 m long underground rivers in the Phong Nha Caves.
Nearby is also Truong Son Mountain, part of the 1,100km long Annamite mountain range. Here visitors can meet the local minority people, and have a unique opportunity to learn about their unique culture. You can also head to Bach Ma National Park where you can go hiking, swim in the waterfalls and spot wildlife. High biodiversity; over 350 bird species and 132 species of mammals. Rare red-shanked Douc langurs live here as do eight other species of primates. The park is home to one of the world’s rarest mammals, the saola, and if you’re very lucky, you may spot leopards or tigers in remote sections of the park.
Finally, Lăng Cô is a great base for the Hải Vân Pass. This iconic stretch is renowned for its stunning views and incredible twists and turns. Rent a motorbike or scooter and take in this incredible journey, along National Route 1A!
If you don’t fancy going it alone, make sure to book on a group tour so you can enjoy this spectacular scenic route!
It’s also worth noting two amazing hotels in Lăng Cô – the Banyan Tree and the Angsana, both adjacent to each other.
These two amazing hotels are exceptional and can offer a beach holiday in Vietnam like no other. Their proximity to all of key attractions, national parks and local sites, make them the perfect base. The sister properties are also home to a world-class golf course, stunning spas and a beautiful farm where the hotels grow their own produce too.
Banyan Tree Lăng Cô (from £221 per night) is more focused on couples and those seeking a higher-end holiday as each villa has it’s own private pool. Angsana Lăng Cô (from £87 per night) is aimed at families and groups, with beautiful multi-room hotels and a huge lazy river style swimming pool that weaves through the resort.
Submitted by Disha from dishadiscovers.com
There are so many incredible places to visit in Vietnam and the Marble Mountains are one of them. The Marble Mountains are easily accessible from Da Nang because they’re only a 30-minute drive away.
The Marble Mountains are basically are a collection of five mountains that are made of marble and limestone. Each mountain is named after five elements – Metal, Fire, Wood, Water, and Earth. The mountains have caves and there are Buddhist temples throughout the caves and mountains. Visitors can also see bullet holes from the Vietnam War in some of the caves.
Ancient folklore says that a dragon emerged from the beach and laid an egg. A girl hatched from the egg and the fragments of the shell became the five Marble Mountains.
Four to five hours is enough time to explore all five mountains. It’s best to start earlier in the day when the weather is cooler and it’s important to wear comfortable shoes as there is quite a bit of walking and hiking with stairs involved. If visiting during the rainy season, the stairs can get quite slippery and dangerous.
The entrance fee is around $2 USD per person. For visitors that aren’t keen on hiking, there is an elevator that costs around $0.80 USD each way, per person.
You can join tours to Marble Mountain from Da Nang. Arrange your tickets here.
Ho Chi Minh City
Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. And it’s busy. Very busy! It’s pretty chaotic in fact, but definitely worth exploring.
Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City’s chaos means the city is harder work and in my opinion, less charming. There’s certainly less tranquil parks or lakes, but Ho Chi Minh City does have its own fair share of attractions.
In the heart of the city, make sure to stop by the best-preserved examples of French colonial architecture in Vietnam. One is the Opera House where you can even watch a show, and another is the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 1880s.
Just a few minutes away lies the Independence Palace and the Tao Dan Park (aka Công viên Tao Đàn). The immense Ben Thanh market is also worth visiting to pick up some traditional gifts and souvenirs, although it is pretty chaotic as the largest market in Vietnam.
There are several temples too in Ho Chi Minh city, some of which are Taoist and some are Buddhist. One of the older temples in the city is Thien Hau Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 1706 in Chinatown. Or why not visit the Emperor Jade Pagoda, which was built in the early 1900s to honour the Taoist god, Emperor Jade. Both of these temples are filled with exquisite statues and carvings with intricate details.
Chinatown is well worth a visit in itself too. It’s a labyrinth of restaurants, shops and temples.
Despite all the chaos in the city, you’ll find locals enjoying their hobbies, such as Tai Chi or Badminton in the small parks surrounded by the hum of scooters.
I recommend joining a walking tour in Ho Chi Minh City so you can explore with the guidance of a local.
Recommend Ho Chi Minh City tours:
- Saigon by Night Food and Sightseeing tour
- Water puppet show and dinner cruise
- Saigon Opera House tickets
- Ho Chi Minh City street food tour
- Ho Chi Minh City full day bike tour
- Bus tour and War Remnants entry ticket
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
To be amongst all the activity in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, I recommend you opt for a hotel in District 1.
There’s no shortage of great places to stay in Ho Chi Minh City. I’d suggest choosing somewhere quite comfortable. The city is hot and sticky, and you’ll feel exhausted and filthy when you get in!
My favourite stay is the Intercontinental Saigon which has an incredible rooftop bar too.
Other excellent high-end options are:
- The Reverie (from £259 per night)
- The Park Hyatt Saigon (from £190 per night)
- An Lam Retreat Saigon River (from £127 per night)
The best mid-range hotels are:
- Hôtel des Arts Saigon – MGallery (from £94 per night)
- Rex Hotel (from £58 per night)
- Pullman Saigon Centre (from £42 per night).
War Remnants Museum
Submitted by Arabela from thespicytravelgirl.com
When in Ho Chi Minh City, a visit to the city’s iconic War Remnants Museum is a must. Not only for history buffs but for every type of traveller.
While many of us may have heard about the infamous Vietnam War in history classes, most of us lack a personal connection to this harrowing event. And in addition, most people have only been exposed to a single perspective while learning about the war – namely the US perspective.
For this reason, a visit to the War Remnants Museum can be a very important and eye-opening experience. Not only does the museum give a great insight into the Vietnamese perspective, but it accurately portrays the true horrors of the war by recounting authentic stories of the victims and showcasing uncensored photographs. It’s a difficult and emotional experience. Some of the scenes shown in the museum are very graphic and upsetting, so do take care if bringing children.
The War Remnants Museum is located in District 3. It is easily accessible from all parts of town by Grab car or bike. The regular hours of the museum are from 7:30am to 4:30pm every day. Make sure to spare a few hours to explore all of the museum’s floors.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Submitted by Sally from our3kidsvtheworld.com
The Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the main attractions when visiting HCMC. It’s not to everyones taste and some might find it confronting however it is definitely worthwhile and highly educational. It provides a valuable insight into how the VietCong won the Vietnam War. After seeing the lengths they went to and the suffering they endured, it really is an experience that will stay with you for a while.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are part of a much larger 250km network that the VietCong soldiers used to win the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used as their operations base during combat, as well as a supply route, underground hospital and living quarters. The tunnels were even used for movements between towns so that the soldiers did not have to come up above ground, unless fighting.
Also on display are traps used by the Vietnamese, as well as a shooting range with fire weaponry used during the war. The firing range is unbelievably loud, so be prepared. There are also a number of US tanks that were abandoned when the Americans were defeated. There are even stories of some Vietnamese soldiers and their families living underground tunnel network for 4 years.
When visiting the tunnels, there are some sections that are open, giving visitors the opportunity to go down and experience what it was like during the war. There is a 50m and 100m tunnel which has been expanded to allow westerns to enter – but it’s still extremely narrow with a very low ceiling. You’ll likely have to crouch the whole way, and you’ll have a whole new understanding of claustrophobia!
The Cu Chi Tunnels are best seen on an organised tour for both the transport and the guide. Book your half day tickets here!
Submitted by Sally from our3kidsvtheworld.com
The Mekong Delta is often referred to as the beating heart of Vietnam. It’s easily accessed from Ho Chi Minh City, the gateway of the south of Vietnam and former capital city. There are many options for visiting the Mekong Delta, and its best to wait until you arrive in Vietnam for booking you trip.
The Mekong River is alive with activity and is the life line for millions of people that live along its banks. An organised tour will take you to a little village where you’ll try some locally produced honey tea. You can walk through the villages and listen to some traditional folk music. Or you can travel along the Mekong River in timber long boat through the canals. Don’t miss the coconut sweet shop, usually a popular part of most tours.
Another option is to book a homestay on the Mekong River and experience life on the river yourself. There are 1 and 2 nights options and they are highly recommended. Expect it to be rustic and far from a 5 star experience but still a great experience especially for families. There are also Mekong River cruises that give a good insight into life on the river. These are a little more luxurious than a homestay.
Suggested tour operations:
- 2 day Mekong Delta and Floating Market tour
- 3 day tour of the Mekong Delta
- Full day Mekong Delta and guided bike tour
Submitted by Lotte from phenomenalglobe.com
Dalat isn’t as popular as the coastal highlights in Vietnam, like Hoi An and Mui Ne. That’s a shame really, as Dalat is a lovely place to visit and it should be on anyone’s Vietnam itinerary.
Located in the mountains, Dalat sits at an altitude of 1500 metres above sea level. So it’s worth noting that temperatures in Dalat are a bit cooler than the surrounding areas. This makes it a great place for outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain biking. Dalat also has a very suitable climate to grow coffee and you can find plenty of lovely cafes in town.
Some of the best things to do in Dalat include visiting The Crazy House, which is a wonderfully weird fairytale house that also doubles as a hotel. This quirky building with its many shaped staircases, colourful roofs and hidden passageways is a very fun place to visit.
Make sure to also visit Ho Xuan Hong Lake where you can cycle around this lovely lake for great views, beautiful flower gardens and green pine forests. You can also rent a swan boat to get out on the water. Or why not visit the serene Truc Lam Zen Monastery which is situated on top of a mountain. The complex consists of multiple beautiful buildings and pretty gardens. Don’t forget to dress appropriately as this is a place of worship.
Other fun things to do in Dalat are taking a coffee tour, visiting the Datanla Falls or riding the train to Trai Mat.
Why not doing this great full day tour exploring the Dalat countryside?
Submitted by Joanna from theworldinmypocket.co.uk
Mui Ne is a small fishing village located around a five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. This drive is easily done with daily buses. Most travellers usually spend one day in Mui Ne, which is enough to see all the sights.
But you can arrange a 2 day tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne here.
The main tourist attraction in Mui Ne are the sand dunes. You can either rent a motorbike and visit independently, or book a tour which will go to both the white sand and the red sand dunes. The tours usually depart before sunrise, to catch it at the white sand dunes, or in the afternoon, for the sunset at the red dunes.
The white sand dunes are best explored by quad bike, which can be rented at the visitor’s entrance. On the red dunes you can slide down on sledges which you can rent for a small fee from the women and children at the bottom.
Other attractions in Mui Me include the fairy spring. This is a stream passing through a red-coloured canyon carved by the water in clay and limestone. And if you spend the night in Mui Ne you must check out the fishing village at sunrise. You’ll be able to see the fishermen return to the shore with their catch, whilst the restaurant owners are waiting to buy it.
Islands in the South
Submitted by Neha from travelmelodies.com
Phu Quoc, an island in the southeast of Vietnam is a perfect place to travel for a relaxing vacation. The island has some of the world’s most pristine white sand beaches – a major reason for the tourist influx.
An added advantage of visiting Phu Quoc is that there is no need for a visa for 30 days. So just book a flight to the Phu Quoc International Airport and savor the beauty. But a visa is required if staying over 30 days or visiting mainland Vietnam.
Even though the island is small, there is so much to keep you busy. One can’t miss experiencing the world’s first and longest cable car over water at Hon Thom Cable car. The views of the emerald green waters from the cable car are magnificent.
For adventure seekers, hiking the mountains and trails at the Phu Quoc National park is a must-do! But it is advisable to take a tour or a guide to explore the national park.
Phu Quoc is famous for its fish sauce and pepper. A trip to a fish sauce factory or a pepper plantations can be included to the trip.
The trip to Phu Quoc would be incomplete without visiting the many beautiful beaches of the island. Some of the best include Bai Dai, Bai San, Khem beach and San beach. Build sand castles or just gaze at the magical sunset, Phu Quoc is sure to cast a spell.
There are many resorts to opt for, from super luxury to mid-range and budget hotels to suit all price ranges. Novotel and JW Marriott are two of the best luxury resorts, but this list of best Phu Quoc Resorts will help guide you.
Submitted by Jackie and Justin from lifeofdoing.com
Located off of Vietnam’s southeast coast are the Con Dao Islands, an archipelago of 16 islands. The main island is Con Son and is where all the tourist attractions and accommodations are located.
Con Dao is known as a weekend getaway destination due to the clean beaches, quiet roads and ambiance, and slower pace. It’s the perfect place to relax whether visitors want to hang out at an ultra-luxury resort, such as the Six Senses Resort, or hang out at one of the public beaches. Sadly, you may find that some of the beaches in Vietnam are filled with trash. But the ones on Con Dao are clean and have soft, fine sand. Check out Nhat Beach to see the gorgeous sunset.
Other fun attractions to see on Con Dao include hiking and learning about the island’s history. Nature lovers will enjoy walking through Con Dao National Park’s forest area and seeing unique foliage and trees. The National Park also offers evening tours to see wildlife. History buffs will learn about this island’s dark history as a former prison for 113 years. A visit to the museum and the three prisons is essential to understand what happened on this island. You can see where prisoners of wars and revolutionary soldiers were tortured in the “tiger cages”.
To get here, visitors can take a short flight to Con Son airport or take a 4-hour speedboat from Vung Tau or Soc Trang. Con Dao is a fantastic place to add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Vietnam Travel Guide
So there’s my guide to travelling around Vietnam. As you can see, there’s a huge amount to see in the country, so the challenge is deciding which places to visit! Naturally, the longer you have, the more you can see.
If I had to pick just a handful of highlights for a one week or ten day trip, I’d opt for Hanoi and Halong Bay. Then I’d take the overnight train to Hue to spend a few days there and Hoi An, before heading down to Ho Chi Minh. But with an extra week or two, I’d definitely visit more remote areas such as Sapa. I would also ensure to include more time exploring the Mekong Delta.
I do hope this Vietnam travel guide is helpful and inspires you visit. Please, as always, do let me know if you have any questions!
Vietnam works well as a multi-centre trip with another destination such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Make sure to check out my other South East Asia blog posts here:
- Best things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Ethical elephant experience in Laos
- Cambodia Travel Guide
- Island-hopping the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand
- Mai Khao paradise beach in Phuket, Thailand
Disclaimer: This guide has no involvement from the local tourism board or a hotel.
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