Travel in Vietnam - Culturally diverse and naturally exquisite, overtly friendly and historically rich, the curvaceous country of Vietnam has it all – and then some!
Vietnam holidays are growing increasingly popular as the country opens its arms to visitors from all over the world. Bordered by China, Laos and Cambodia, this ancient country boasts beautiful scenery and some of Southeast Asia's most welcoming hospitality.
From impossibly green rice terraces to the other-worldly Halong Bay, Vietnam abounds with sights certain to leave you awestruck. From the saddle of your cycle (as is the definitive way to enjoy Vietnam tours) you will find rural villages sustained by non la-wearing farmers interspersed with grand colonial hubs.
Follow the country’s arc and see where it takes you – an imperial ancient city or an off-shore utopia? Vietnam’s north and south are like apple and oranges, with the grand and graceful boulevards of capital Hanoi worlds apart from the inexhaustible energy of HoChiMinh City. Formerly known as Saigon, HoChiMinh City today rivals Bangkok and Singapore with its progressive zest for life.
Put on your party hat and celebrate...
- Yen Tu Spring Festival
- Tet Nguyen Dan – Lunar New Year
- Huong Pagoda Festival
A trek from north to south is a visual feast. Stop halfway along the coast of Vietnam to discover the enchanting city of Hoi An. Honouring a traditional ceremony on the full moon each month, this coastal port comes alive with coloured silk lanterns hanging through the streets.
While you're in Hoi An, order a bespoke suit or dress in the city – an excellent personalised souvenir to take home from your trip to one of Asia's most exciting countries.
Lay down some Dong and buy...
- Traditional silk ao dai tunics
- Non la conical hats
- Bespoke suits from Hoi An
For a little taste of France in Vietnam, head to Hanoi. Vietnam's capital city oozes serenity and grace, from its Parisian facades and cafes to the tranquil waters of Hoan Kiem Lake. Sometimes known as Thanh Long (the City of the Soaring Dragon), Hanoi is a mishmash of sights, sounds and flavours, and sums up the charming contradiction that is Vietnam.
Don’t leave without trying...
- Goi cuon – fresh spring rolls
- Banh khot – mini pancakes
- Ca phe trung – sweet egg coffee
Flights to Vietnam are both frequent and relatively inexpensive, with most of the surrounding Asian countries linked by direct routes. It's also possible to trek around the country, using the rail network for slow contemplation of the beautiful scenery as you connect to different cities including popular beach resort Nha Trang.
Alternatively, take a cruise on the Mekong Delta, which meanders through tropical forest and alongside small villages on the river banks, which are at times only accessible by the waterways that criss-cross each other.
Other Things to See and Do Travel in Vietnam
1. Travel in Vietnam, Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
Crawl through the extensive network of nearly 500 km of tunnels utilized by the Viet Cong in the war with the USA in the 1960s. Tours involve a description of the tunnels, after which tourists are allowed to crawl about the maze and fire AK47s at shooting targets. It’s a sobering experience and not one meant for anyone claustrophobic. However, if you want a better understand the terror of the Vietnam War, this is a must-visit. Admission is around 100,000 VND (5 USD) per person.
2. Travel in Vietnam, Relax or find adventure in Dalat
Dalat is nestled in the hills of the Central Highlands and is popular with tourists who want to relax in the mountain air, so people flock here for serenity. Others go to Dalat to participate in a host of adventure sports that happen within a naturally beautiful backdrop. The hills around Dalat are filled with traditional tribal villages, which you can tour, but there is plenty to do within the city itself too. Visit the imaginatively titled palaces: Palace I, Palace II and Palace III.
3. Travel in Vietnam, Visit Cuc Phuong National Park
About 120km southwest of Hanoi lies Vietnam’s first National Park, Cuc Phuong. Covering 222 sq km, this place is home to over 2,000 species of trees and some truly rare wildlife including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour’s Langur and Owston’s Civet. It was my favorite park in all of Vietnam and the only place I didn’t find hordes of tourists. The entrance fee is 40,000 VND (2 USD).
4. Travel in Vietnam, Explore Ho Chi Minh City
Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is definitely worth exploring. Like most cities in Vietnam, you’ll be met with the roar of motorbikes speeding through colonial streets. Ben Thanh market is a must-see for amazing food and there is a great buzz of activity within the place. If flying into the SGN airport, it’s worth spending a day or two exploring the city. I recommend spending the night at The Common Room Project for a great hostel experience.
5. Travel in Vietnam, Admire the pagodas
Vietnam’s most distinctive architecture can be been in the pagodas, which can be found all over the country. They are known for their beautifully intricate carvings. Pagodas are used as shrines and temples and are treasured by the Vietnamese people.
6. Travel in Vietnam, Get active in Mui Nes
Despite being a fishing village, Mui Ne has got a significant tourism scene due to its popularity as a wind- and kite-surfing destination. The rolling sand dunes nearby are the main draw and worth checking out!
7. Travel in Vietnam, See My Son
My Son is a set of Hindu ruins in Vietnam which date back to the Cham Empire. The Champas ruled over Central Vietnam from the 3rd to the 19th century. The temples here are of incredible historical importance, but they have been largely reclaimed by the surrounding jungle, and have fallen into a great state of disrepair. Don’t come here expecting something as marvelously preserved as Borobudur or Angkor Wat. Entrance fee is 100,000 VND (5 USD) for foreigners.
8. Travel in Vietnam, Visit the caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang
Hang Son Doong is reputed to be the world’s largest cave and is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It was discovered by a local in 1990, and “rediscovered” by a British caving team in 2009. You can arrange trips to see this stunning cave. You’ll be blown away by its beauty. Entrance to the caves is around 150,000 VND (6 USD) per person.
9. Travel in Vietnam, Check out the rice terraces
Outside of connections to the Vietnam War, the stereotypical image of Vietnam is of the many rice paddies. You can find these in the Muong Hoa Valley. If you’ve never visited rice terraces, you should make a point to see them in Vietnam. Visit them to learn about rice production and take stunning photographs of the unbelievable Vietnamese countryside. Expect tours to cost around 300,000 VND (13 USD) per person.
10. Travel in Vietnam, Relax in Hue
Hue is generally passed by, making it a bit of a quieter stop along the tourist trail. Stroll along the beautiful Perfume River and into the Imperial Citadel. Don’t miss the Tombs of the Emperors.
Vietnam Travel Costs
- Accommodation Travel in Vietnam – Hostels start around (10 -13 USD) per night for the most basic accommodation. For a nicer place, you can pay almost double. Private rooms will cost at least (15-20 USD) per night for a double room. While hostels were once scarce, they have started popping up all over the country to accommodate budget travelers.
Most hostels will offer free WiFi, and many will also include free breakfast or free beer during certain hours of the day. Self-catering facilities are not very common since eating out is so cheap. For a budget hotel with a double bed, expect to pay around (10 USD) per night. This will usually include free WiFi and free breakfast.
- Food Travel in Vietnam – You can get a bowl of pho or a rice dish for (less than 1-2 USD). Most sit-down restaurants are also inexpensive at around (2-4 USD). The fancier (and more touristy) the restaurant, the more expensive. Western food will also be more expensive. A liter of water at a convenience store is about (less than 1 USD), while beer or soda at a restaurant is about (1-2 USD).
For those looking to cook their own meals, expect to pay at least (15 USD) per week for basic groceries. Be sure to shop at the local markets to get the cheapest and freshest food. That being said, food is so cheap in the country, that is simply easier – and often cheaper – to just eat street food.
- Transportation Travel in Vietnam – Bus travel is very cheap in Vietnam. The public bus around Ho Chi Minh City will cost a maximum of (less than 1 USD) per ride. Overnight buses, while uncomfortable, are only about (4-25 USD) and can take you to lots of cities in Vietnam (this will also save you a night of paying for accommodation).
For a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to neighboring Phnom Penh in Cambodia, expect to pay around (15 USD) per person. The train is also another inexpensive way to travel, with the 791km long train journey from Da Nang to Hanoi costing around (35 USD). There are extremely low-cost airlines that can hop you around the country quickly for as little as (25 USD).
- Activities Travel in Vietnam – Many of Vietnam’s attractions are based around its natural beauty and, as such, cost very little. For organized excursions such as touring the Cu Chi Tunnels you can expect to pay between (15-25 USD). Halong Bay tours from Hanoi start around (35 - 60 USD) for two-day trips and increase exponentially from there. Half-day cooking classes and bicycle tours are heavily targeted at tourists, so they cost a bit more. Expect prices to start at around (15-25) USD). For canyoning in Da Lat, prices begin around (20-30 USD) but can go as high as (75 USD).
Vietnam Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Vietnam is a pretty cheap country and you don’t need to do a lot of things to backpack or travel here on a budget. It’s already a pretty cheap country to visit. However, if you’re looking to travel even cheaper and save some money, here are my tips on how to save in Vietnam:
Eat delicious street food – The food is usually excellent, really cheap, and you can watch it being cooked in front of you. Stick to the local food and you’ll save money. The street-side pho, bread, sandwiches (called bahn mi), donuts, and bananas are your best deals all of which can be found for around (1-2 USD).
Late-night travel – If traveling long journeys, try to take the late night “sleeper” buses or trains as this will save you the cost of a night’s accommodation. Depending on the company, you may even have a chance to comfortably lie flat as you ride through the dark countryside to your next destination.
Take the tourist bus – It is actually cheaper to take the tourist bus around the country than taking local transportation because of the “tourist” price you get at the bus station. Tickets from one end of the country to another will cost around (50 USD).
Fly for cheap – Vietnam’s low-cost airlines VietJet and FlyVietnam are extremely inexpensive and adding luggage to your flight can cost as little as (6 USD). This is a great option for people with limited time to explore different regions of Vietnam. Both airlines frequently offer special deals – at the time of writing this, Hanoi to Da Nang is just VND (35 USD)! That’s a 13-hour drive.
Bargain hard – Tourists tend to be charged more than locals for everything from cycles (a three-wheel bicycle taxi) to clothes to street food. Bargain harder than you would ordinarily, and don’t underestimate the value of walking away.
Skip the SIM Card – Vietnam is highly connected to WiFi — you can find it just about every hotel, shop, restaurant, and convenience store for free! Unless you need to have connectivity during a long bus ride or in rural areas, I’d forgo the SIM card and take a break from connectivity.
Ask your hostel staff – Before you leave the hostel, ask them to estimate how much what you want to do should cost. How much should a ride to the museum cost? How much should I pay to have a gown like this made? They will be able to give you bargaining guidelines.
Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).