Destination Travel Guide Vietnam

Goooooood morning Vietnam! Vietnam is a tropical country of a diverse landscape with rice paddies, stunning beaches and mountains but also bustling cities, centuries old culture, hill-tribe villages, limestone islands of Halong Bay and a French colonial history. With a lengthy coastline of 3.500 km Vietnam has a huge variety in climate and culture. Vietnam offers it all to the traveler who wants more as just a lazy day on the beach. Sadly Vietnam is by the most people know for the Vietnam War (actually the Second Indochina War) and Vietnamese boat people but Vietnam has so much more to offer as history. Follow me and I will introduce you to Vietnam. 

Although the official name is Ho Chi Min City I just use the French name Saigon. If you want to travel in Vietnam and need information or any help then contact me via de email-link under at this travel blog.

Read more about other destinations at DESTINATION TRAVEL GUIDES.

Of course you could read Wikipedia about Vietnam but let's give you a management summary. Vietnam is a so called communist country in Southeast Asia and in the north bordering with China and in the west bordering with Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam is a narrow long stretched country with a coastline of 3.500 km. Due to this geographical location there is a huge diverse climate with hot tropical in the south and cool mountains in the north. 

Vietnam is famously divided as South Vietnam and North Vietnam although personally I like to divide Vietnam in North, Central and South. But cultural-wise and climate-wise you can divide Vietnam in more regions. North Vietnam can be divided in Northern Mountains and Central Coast. South Vietnam can be divided in Central Coast, Central Highlands, South East and the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam has about 96 million people so most cities have a huge population. Of course the 2 biggest cities are Hanoi in North Vietnam and Saigon in South Vietnam but also places like Da Nang, Na Trang, Hai Phong or Can Tho have a huge population of each more as 1 million people.

The area we now call Vietnam has been ruled by Chinese dynasties for centuries. During the time of European colonisation Vietnam has been first under the influence of the Portuguese, Dutch and British but Vietnam later became a French colony as part of French IndoChina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).

Some handy facts :
  • Language : Vietnamese
  • Currency : Vietnamese Dong (VND) with notes of 500, 1.000, 2.000, 5.000, 10.000, 20.000, 50.000, 100.000, 200.000 and 500.000. Yes it is easy to be millionaire in Vietnam!
  • Capital city : Hanoi
  • Religion : Most Vietnamese practice non-religion or local folk religion what is facilitated by the fact that the government is communist and against religions. But the main religions are Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity and Caodaiqsme.

Travel Slow

Tourism is booming in Vietnam, both for Free Individual Travelers and for Group Tours with tourisme mostly from China, Europe and America. But before we start exploring Vietnam, the most important thing : Travel Slow! 

Not try to see all Vietnam in 2 weeks because all you will see are airports, busses, hotel lobbies and taxies. When traveling slow you will meet more local culture, local people and people will start to recognise you and try to make a chat with you. In that way you will see more of the real Vietnamese way of life.
  • Limit the places your visit.
  • Stay longer at 1 place. At least 3 nights but 5 would be better.
  • Travel local and meet local people, take the bus or train.
  • Remember going van place A to B is about the journey not the destination.
  • When planning a travel route have a look at Google Maps and look to the distances you will be traveling. 
  • Remember that traveling takes more time in Vietnam, especially if you do not know your way.
  • Do some research about the places where you are going, it would be a shame if you would walk passing something you would love the see.
  • If you come for a second (or third) time to Vietnam try to visit some new places but also some places you have been to already. 
For tours & accommodation in Vietnam have a look at A Travel Mate (a Vietnamese travel agency based in Hanoi, Vietnam) or Greenwood Travel (a Dutch travel agency based in Bangkok, Thailand).

My Favourite Destinations

My first time traveling to Vietnam was in the late 1990s and of course I visited Hanoi and Halong Bay. End 2010s I started to travel from North to South Vietnam and I love the colonial style of Hoi An, chaos of Saigon and the river life at the Mekong Delta. And to my own shock I even feel home in Hanoi. Have a look at all my posting about Vietnam.

When traveling from north to south (or visa-versa) you will notice a difference in attitude and culture between people from South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Especially between people living in Hanoi and Saigon.

Beach & Islands Destinations

As Vietnam has a huge coastline and many tropical islands there is an abundance of beach destinations. I am not really a beach guy but I will mention a few : 
  • In the Gulf of Tonkin (with Halong Bay / Hai Phong) of course the most famous is Cat Ba Island but in this area are many more smaller islands.
  • Mui Ne Beach & Doi Duong Beach at Phan Thiet (near Saigon)
  • Phu Quoc Island with Long Beach and Sao Beach. This island is actually along the coast of Cambodia.
  • Nha Trang Beach
  • Co To Island
  • Quan Lan Island
  • Thuan An Beach at Hue
  • Da Nang with My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc Beach
  • An Bang Beach at Hoi An
  • Cham Island near Hoi An
  • Quy Nhon Beach
  • Ninh Chu Beach
  • Con Dao Beach

Culture & History Destinations

For Culture & History the popular destinations are 
  • Hanoi with the old quarter
  • Hoi An with colonial houses
  • Hue with the Forbidden City
  • My Son Cham ruins 
  • Cu Chin Tunnels from the Vietnam War
  • Tomb of Khai Dinh near Hue
  • Saigon with museums and 
  • Sapa in North Vietnam for hill-tribes in the mountains.

Nightlife Destinations

As North Vietnam was for a long time ruled by devoted communists the nightlife of Vietnam is mostly found in cities in South Vietnam with rooftop bars in Saigon and karaoke bars in Da Nang. But Hanoi is catching up fast with beer bars and cocktail bars. And of course beach destinations like Phu Quoc and Nha Trang also have a lively nightlife. Or enjoy a sundowner at Mui Ne Beach. And even high in the mountains of places like Sapa or Da Lat you will find a rooftop bar or beer bar for a drink.

Nature & Wildlife Destinations

Vietnam is blessed with forests, jagged mountain ranges, limestone plateaus, crystal clear diving spots and breath taking landscapes. I could make here a list of more as 50 destinations but I will just mention the ones that I think are the best.
  • The mountains of North Vietnam, bordering China. The most famous destinations here are Sapa and Bac Ha. With hill-tribe villages, waterfalls, rice paddies and cool weather.
  • Or Ning Binh known as Halong Bay of the land with limestone hills, rice paddies and rivers.
  • Halong Bay with limestone islands, caves and floating fishing villages and Cat Ba National Park.
  • Cham Islands with coral reefs and marine life.
  • Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
  • Ba Be National Park
  • Cuc Phuong National Park
  • Pu Mat National Park
  • Nha Trang for diving.

Vietnamese Food Destinations

Lovers of the delicious Vietnamese food can go anywhere in Vietnam and enjoy the delicious food. But to taste the real thing you should go to the place of origin. 
  • Drink the best coffee in Hanoi, famous for its Egg Coffee.
  • Eat the best Pho (noodle soup) on the street in Saigon, for breakfast or lunch.
  • Eat delicious Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette) in Hoi An.
  • Enjoy delicious Com Tam in the Mekong Delta.
  • Have a lunch with Bun Bo Hue, of course in Hue.
  • Eat Cao Lao on the street in Hoi An.
  • Experience Mi Quang in Da Nang.
  • Add Xio (sticky rice) to your lunch in Hanoi.
  • After diner enjoy Bahn Beo (banana dessert) in Hue.
  • Snack a Goi Cuon (salad roll) in Hanoi.
  • Enjoy Che (sweet dessert with fruit) in Hanoi.

Traveling to Vietnam for the first time?

Traveling for the first time in Vietnam and traveling independently you will probably be shocked by the the chaos and the size of cities in Vietnam. Remember there are 96 million people living in Vietnam! Most people will arrive in Hanoi or Saigon. And traveling from North to South (or visa-versa) is what most people do. Remember this is a distance of 1.700 km!

Many people will fly to Hanoi and explore Hanoi for a few days. From there some people go explore the mountains in the North and/or go to Halong Bay to stay overnight at a Chinese Junk.

From Hanoi many people travel all the way along the coast to Saigon and make some stops along the way of course. You can travel this by bus, airplane or train. Or of course a combination of it. Places to visit along the way are :
  • Ninh Binh
  • Dong Hoi
  • Hue
  • Da Nang
  • Hoi An
  • Qui Nhon
  • Nha Thrang
  • Phan Thiet / Mui Ne
After exploring Saigon for a few days many people make day-trips to the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi Tunnels or the Holy Temple of the Cao Dai religion.

Seasons of Vietnam

Due to Vietnam's geographical form and location there is a wide range of weather from cool weather in the north (like Sapa) and tropical hot in de south (like the Mekong Delta). So there is actually no bad time of the year to visit Vietnam but be aware of the tyfoon season from June to November.

Generally the seasons are :
  • May to November : Wet season
  • December to April : Dry season
Best time to visit : 
  • North & Central : October to May
  • South : September to April
But the weather is a bit more complicated in Vietnam :

North Vietnam

  • December to March : Cool to cold, misty and cloudy skies
  • April to June : Warm to hot, clear skies and sunny
  • June to August : Storms, hot and humid
  • September to November : Mix of sun and clouds, warm to cool

Central Vietnam

  • September to February : Cool to cold, rainy and cloudy skies
  • March to August : Warm to hot, sunny and clear skies

South Vietnam

  • May to November : Sporadic rainfall, hot and humid
  • December to April : Clear skies, hot and sunny

Accommodation in Vietnam

Accommodation in Vietnam goes from cheap & basic guesthouses & hostels up-to the most luxury 5-star resorts and hotels. And you will basically find accommodation everywhere, all over Vietnam. Although the luxury accommodation is limited to popular destinations like Hanoi, Saigon, Hoi An, Da Nang, Mui Et and other beach destinations. Accommodation is not expensive in Vietnam. The luxury accommodation is good value for money in compare to price in Europe. When traveling independently in Vietnam don't worry about accommodation, there are hotels almost everywhere. Have a look at the accommodation where I did stay when traveling in Vietnam.

Food & Beverages in Vietnam

Food & beverages in Vietnam goes also from cheap & simple food carts and pubs up-to stylish restaurants on a roof-top. And you can basically eat any kind of food from Western food like Italian, British, German to Asian like Japanes, Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Cambodian and of course Vietnamese. Although the stylish restaurants and non-Vietnamese food is limited to popular destinations like Hanoi, Hoi An, Da Nang and Saigon. The good thing about the French colonisation is that you can eat French food all over Vietnam and have a nice wine. But once in Vietnam I would suggest to try the real local Vietnamese food like Pho (noodle soup), Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette), Com Tam, Bun Bo Hue, Cao Lao, Mi Quang, Xio (sticky rice), Bahn Beo (banana dessert), Goi Cuon (salad roll) and Che (sweet dessert with fruit).

Getting to Vietnam

Getting to Vietnam :
  • By Air is easy with international airports in Hanoi (Noi Bai), Ho Chi Minh (Tan Son Nhat), Da Nang, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc. And connecting Vietnam with major cities around the world like Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Melbourne, Sydney, Mumbai, Doha, Dubai, New Delhi, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and Istanbul.
  • Over Land you can also get to Vietnam from Cambodia (bus & boat), Laos (bus) and China (bus & train).

Getting around in Vietnam

Getting around in Vietnam is also easy
  • By Train with train lines from Hanoi to Saigon. For more information see Local Vietnam.
  • By Air with airports in all major places like in Hanoi, Da Nang, Saigon, Hue, Na Trang, Can Tho, Haipong and many more. See the full list at Wikipedia.
  • By Car (drive yourself or with a driver) or motorbike as there are reasonable good highways to all major destinations in Vietnam. But be aware of the chaotic traffic in Vietnam.
  • By Bus as there are busses going to all major destinations in Vietnam. 

Travel Advisory

The most important thing when you are going on holiday is your safety. In general Vietnam is just as safe or unsafe as any country in Western Europe or other countries in Southeast Asia. 

Of course "Act wisely as you would do at home", that means :
  • Travel with Travel Insurance
  • Be careful with riding a scooter / motorbike
  • Don't do drugs or drink excessive alchohol
  • Do not offend other people
  • Respect the law
  • Check the visa rules with your local Vietnamese embassy or consulate.
Before traveling to Vietnam check the regulations at Travel Advice US Embassy in Vietnam. And for your visa see E-Visa Vietnam and Getting a visa for Vietnam.

When traveling in Vietnam remember :
  • Weather : From June to November there can be floods, typhoons and severe rain.
  • Roads : Traffic can be chaotic in Vietnam, especially in big cities like Hanoi, Saigon and Da Nang. When crossing the road do not assume cars or scooters will stop for you. The won't! 
  • Theft : When traveling by public transport like bus or train be aware of theft.
  • Prohibited areas : Military areas and sometimes some border area's are prohibited for traveling. And make no mistake, foreigners have been arrested for this. 
  • Traveling alone : Although traveling alone can be great, but in some situations / places it is better not to be alone. So avoid that, unfortunately this must be said especially for females (because some males can not control themselves).
  • Air quality : Especially in big cities the air can sometimes be unhealthy. Check the air quality at Air Quality Vietnam.
  • Health : Vietnam is not as Western Europe and Dengue / Malaria are still present in some parts of Vietnam. For both are no medicine / vaccines that protect you 100%. As a matter a fact some malaria prophylaxis may be harmful to your health. So best is to try to prevent against mosquitos.

Where to go next?

  • China, bordering Vietnam in the North
  • Laos, bordering Vietnam in the west
  • Cambodia, bordering Vietnam in the south
  • Thailand, not bordering Vietnam

Map of Vietnam

Destination Travel Guide Vietnam by Traveling 2 Thailand

Map of Hanoi

Destination Travel Guide Vietnam by Traveling 2 Thailand
Map of Hanoi, the square-lined area is the old quarter

Map of  Saigon

Destination Travel Guide Vietnam by Traveling 2 Thailand
Map of Saigon / Ho Chi Min City

Map of Hoi An

Destination Travel Guide Vietnam by Traveling 2 Thailand
Map of Hoi An, the green streets are the old quarter 

Map of Halong Bay

Destination Travel Guide Vietnam by Traveling 2 Thailand
Map of Halong Bay

Disclaimer : All information is created in good faith and is an expression of fair comment.


About this travel blog

I made this non-commercial travel blog for the sheer love of traveling and to make off the beaten track places more accessible for English speaking tourists and people living in Thailand. To travel beyond the beaten track & highlights. Enjoy! You do not have to become a (paid) member, there are no advertisements and you can use / copy all information from this travel blog as long it is not for commercial use and as long you refer to this travel blog.

One night in Bangkok and the world is your oyster

I belong to that race of men that don't fit in, a race that can't sit still, so they break the hearts of kith and kin and they roam the world at will. In 1985 I started to roam the world at will in Indonesia & Thailand and since then I did not stop. And now living in Thailand I am still roaming the world. If you have a question or need help in planning your holiday in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam ? Send me an email at Contact @ Traveling 2 Thailand

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