VIETNAM TRAVEL GUIDE CONTENTS
At a Glance
Given its historic past, Vietnam is a country that offers a unique perspective for travelers. Blessed with an insanely diverse landscape, you could be sliding down sand dunes in the morning, taking a stroll by the beach by noon and walking around a UNESCO heritage town by afternoon.
As my partner and I met in Vietnam, it will always be a memorable country for us. To help you plan and make the most out of your trip to Vietnam, here’s some key information to help you out.
Vietnam Quick Information
Visa: Compared to most countries, the visa regulations in Vietnam keep changing so it is best to double-check with your embassy or on the government website for any changes.
As of 2019, the following countries can get a free visa for the prescribed number of days. If you wish to stay longer, you will have to apply for a visa beforehand either through an agency or through the newly implemented e-visa program.
- Visa-free for 30 days: Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore
- Visa-free for 21 days: Philippines
- Visa-free for 15 days: Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain
- Visa-free for 14 days: Brunei, Myanmar
Please note that if you get a free visa on arrival, this is non-extendable — meaning you will have to fly out of the country if you wish to stay longer. If you’re planning on staying for 30 days or more, we recommend that you apply for a tourist visa at least 3 days in advance. However, as visa regulations change all the time, make sure you consult the government’s website to get an accurate idea on the regulations.
Safety: Generally speaking, Vietnam is a pretty safe country to travel to. Although there are a few scams to watch out for, the most common accident that happens is motorbike related. While driving a motorbike in Vietnam is something that we recommend you do, make sure that you have the proper licence from your home country. Most travel insurance policies won’t cover you otherwise.
We recommend checking out Safety Wing who provide monthly plans which is very convenient! They also have very extensive coverage and have been personally using them for months.
Language: In larger cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, heaps of people speak a decent level of English making it a relatively easy place to travel. However, as with most places, as soon as you venture towards smaller towns and mountainous regions, the level of English drops. With this in mind, having a good grasp of a few basic Vietnamese words can go a long way. Words like petrol, hotel, and bathroom are definitely high up there on the list of must-know words.
Check out our full Vietnamese for travelers guide for an overview of basic words and phrases to help you out. In case you’re deciding where to go, check out our comparison article on Thailand vs Vietnam.
Transportation: The transport from one place to the next is fairly easy in Vietnam and is quite efficient. We recommend using Bookaway or 12Go website to view bus, boat, and train schedules ahead of time.
Vietnam Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
Generally speaking, you can go to Vietnam almost all-year round as you are bound to experience sunshine and rain throughout your trip. However, the best time to visit Vietnam is from February to April and August to October as the temperatures are not as intense and the rainfall is milder.
Traveling Vietnam can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. A decent budget in Vietnam would be anything from $25-30 a day. If you stick to just street food and hostels, traveling Vietnam is incredibly cheap. While the conversions can get a bit tricky (you’re always a millionaire in Vietnam), you will eventually get used to it.
Listed below are rough prices of basic costs:
Budget: $5-8 (dorm) $18-25 (private)
Food (Typical Meal For One)
Street food: $1-2
Very nice restaurant:$10++
Beer in a shop: $0.88
Beer in a bar: $1.32-$2.65
Open Bus Tickets (stops at all the major tourist destinations with a flexible schedule) $68-70
Buying motorcycle $250-300
Flights to domestic destinations (Vietnam airlines or Jetstar) $36-45
What to Pack for Traveling Vietnam
As we say in all our packing list guides, do not overpack. Similar to other Southeast Asian countries, you really don’t need to take a lot with you as you will also be able to buy things there. Hoi An in Vietnam is very popular for their abundance of great tailors so if you’re not traveling to other countries, save some space to get a few things done for a fraction of the price while you’re there.
Vietnam is a rough and rugged type of place, with the exception of its busy cities. With that in mind, here’s our complete list of what to pack for Vietnam, including some tips if you’re planning to drive a motorbike in the area.
Best Things to Do in Vietnam
Being that Vietnam is such a big and diverse country, there are heaps of incredible things to do, making it a one-stop shop country for both culture and adventure.
To help you out, here’s a list of things to do in Vietnam so you don’t miss out on anything epic.
Go on a Food Trip
Next to Thailand, Vietnam has to be one of my favorite places for street food in Southeast Asia. The best thing about it is the street food is dirt cheap, with a piping bowl of authentic pho starting at a mere $1.
In the complete guidebook which you can find at the bottom of this page, I’ve also listed a few of my personal food stall/restaurant recommendations in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Hoi An. From where to get my favorite Bun Cha Hanoi to the best soup lady in town, going on a food trip in Vietnam is considered as a cultural highlight.
Insider Tip: If you’re unsure about what to eat while in the country, we highly recommend going on a food tour to get introduced to all the local Vietnamese delicacies. Listed below are a few of our top food tour recommendations in most of the cities.
Recommended Food Tours
- Hanoi Guided Street Food Tour: If you’re looking for an authentic guide to take you around some of the best street eats in Hanoi, we highly recommend this tour. It’s fun, interactive, and really takes you to some pretty unique places.
- Ho Chi Minh Scooter Food Tour: If you want to do as the locals do, travel around on a scooter to 5 local food joints with a local guide as they take you to sample the best of Saigon’s street food and beer.
- Hoi An Night Food Tour: Hoi An is a beautiful city with tons of delicious food. Discover them all with a local guide as you sample your way to some of Hoi An’s specialty cuisine.
Attend Cooking Classes
When my partner Tom and I first met in Vietnam, one of the first things I did was drag him to a cooking class where we got to make our own spring rolls, pho, and other awesome Vietnamese delicacies.
For me, it was the perfect souvenir and was a fun alternative to the usual sightseeing activities. Take a look at these cooking classes in Vietnam for more details on the various cooking classes available.
Click the link below to read reviews and to find the perfect class that meets your budget.
Buy a Motorbike and Travel from North to South (or Vice Versa)
To date, my partner Tom still raves about his experience of buying a motorbike and driving it throughout the length of Vietnam. Not only did he see so many incredible viewpoints and scenery along the way, but the freedom of having your own transportation makes a huge difference to your entire experience.
The best part about buying a motorbike was being able to stop in smaller, less touristy towns and really interact with the locals. At that time, he bought his motorbike for $250 and sold it for the same price a month and a half later.
If you’re an avid motorbike person or if you simply want to take on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, check out our complete guide on traveling around Vietnam on a motorbike.
Insider Tip: If you don’t know how to drive a motorbike (or are not properly insured), you can opt to a motorbike tour along some of the best routes. Listed below are a few of our recommendations.
- Dalat City Easy Rider Tours: If you’re in the area, we highly recommend going on one of these motorcycle tours. Not only are the guides amazing (old Vietnamese veterans) but the roads around the area are top notch! This tour is best booked ahead as they do fill up.
- Discover Saigon with a Local: If you want to see Ho Chi Minh city through the eyes of a local, hop on a motorcycle and zip around some of the best places in the city.
- Hai Van Pass Motorcycle Tour: If you want to experience driving through THE best roads in Vietnam, then this tour is a must. Featured in Top Gear and other popular shows, this tour allows you to experience the road while being safely driven by experienced riders.
- Hai Van Pass Jeep Tour: Alternatively, if you’re not comfortable on a motorcycle, you can also do this tour on an open-air jeepney which just adds to the fun of it.
While Vietnam is packed with so many cultural highlights, it also has heaps of adventurous things to do.
From going canyoning in Dalat, sliding down the sand dunes and kitesurfing in Mui Ne, there are heaps to do. A few of our recommended must-dos are trekking in Sapa, canyoning in Dalat, as well as cycling in places like Hoi An or Hue.
Explore Hoi An
Hoi An in Vietnam is one of my favorite areas, mainly due to the incredible food, vibe, and atmosphere that this UNESCO Heritage town has. Rent a bicycle and bike around the old town and to the beach. Stop by and get some tailor-made clothes (if you have room in your backpack!).
Wander Around Ho Chi Minh
Admittedly, I am not a city person so the chaotic and busy cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are not really my cup of tea. However, after you get over the chaos and the constant barrage of motorbikes coming from every direction, the two metropolitan cities of Vietnam can be pretty cool.
With classy rooftop bars, a budding craft beer movement, and an incredible array of food options, spending a few days in these two cities is still worth doing.
In Ho Chi Minh, visit the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, and Notre Dame Cathedral for a quick taste of history and culture. Wander around and enjoy their version of Khao San Road, Pham Ngu Lao for some cheap street food and even cheaper beer!
The best part about Ho Chi Minh is its accessibility to day trips such as those to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong River.
Explore the City of Hanoi
Hanoi, on the other hand, is a little bit more relaxed compared to Ho Chi Minh.
A few of the best things to do in Hanoi is to stroll down the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake, Nha Tho Cathedral and the Old Quarter. From Hanoi, you can also arrange trips to Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, and Sapa.
In Hanoi, beer is cheaper than water which makes for a few fun evenings. Although they have loads of trendy clubs and restaurants, if you want an authentic experience, sit down by the many curbside local Vietnamese BBQs and wash your food down with some cold beer on tap. There’s absolutely nothing like it and is what locals do on a daily basis.
Bask Along Beautiful Beaches
Surprisingly, apart from bustling cities and incredible mountains, the beaches in Vietnam are a great place to relax and unwind for a few days.
Whether it’s the beaches in Mui Ne, Hoi An, Nha Trang, or Phu Quoc Island, there are plenty of outdoor activities for you to do. During my time in Vietnam, I even decided to go diving in Nha Trang and although it wasn’t the best location, I still enjoyed my time underwater.
Go Hiking in Sapa
By far, one of the best things to do in Vietnam is to go hiking in Sapa. The beautiful little town of Sapa in Northern Vietnam is one of Tom’s personal favorites as he got to experience an authentic homestay with a lovely woman named Cho Cho.
When traveling to Vietnam, definitely don’t miss out on this experience.
Go on a Halong Bay Cruise
Personally, I think Halong Bay is slightly overrated. If I could do it all over again, I would spend a bit more money and opt to go to other locations that are a bit further.
Other alternatives would be to aboard a junk ship that heads to Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay. As they are located further away, the waters are not as crowded and dirty, actually allowing you time to take in the beauty of these limestone cliffs.
Tours Around Vietnam
If you prefer traveling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia for ages. We particularly love this Vietnam Active Holiday Tour where you cycle, hike, and kayak as you make your way from top to bottom. The reason why we love G Adventures is because they have loads of different tours that cater to different age groups. They have family tours, tours for 18-30 year olds, and even tours that take you all over Southeast Asia, allowing you to explore a little bit of everything.
If traveling by yourself isn’t your jam, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip. We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
What to Eat in Vietnam
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit obsessed with food so naturally, I was in foodie heaven while traveling around this country.
With so many professional chefs like Anthony Bourdain and even the former President of the US, Barack Obama, having tried out popular signature dishes in Vietnam, here is my take of what to eat in Vietnam.
Gôi Cuon, or Vietnamese spring rolls, is considered as a delicacy in Vietnam. The best part about it is that it is sold in almost all restaurants and street food stalls. Unlike the usual spring roll which is deep fried, Vietnamese rolls are light and are made out of fresh ingredients.
Made from rice paper, noodles, some sort of meat (shrimp or pork), then topped with heaps of fresh herbs. They normally serve this with a sweet soy sauce topped with roasted peanuts and chili. Delicious!
Bun Cha Hanoi
Every time I head to Vietnam to visit one of my best friends who lives there, the first thing I ask her to do is to take me to a restaurant that serves Bun Cha Hanoi. Essentially, this dish is grilled meat served over noodles, with a sweet but tangy broth that you pour over the noodles.
Eaten with loads of herbs and other greens, this dish is delicious and is considered a must-try when in the country. As you can guess by the name, this dish originated in Hanoi but there are also different versions of it available in different parts of the country.
Undoubtedly, pho is one of the most popular dishes in Vietnam. Unlike the commercialized versions that you usually have to season with heaps of sriracha and soy sauce, the broth in Vietnam is usually very rich and full of flavor.
While it is difficult to choose where to eat among the plenty stalls, a great tip that we’ve learned based on our years of traveling Asia is to always go to the places that are full of locals.
Places to Stay in Vietnam
Generally speaking, accommodation is very affordable in Vietnam. In most tourist hotspots, you will find plenty of hostels as well as two and three-star hotels to choose from. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com and Agoda.
To make things easier, we’ve already made a list of all of our top recommendations for places to stay in Vietnam.
These lists were made based on personal experience as well as from that of other people we’ve met on the road. As with most places in Asia, there is always room to barter, even when it comes to things like accommodations. Just remember to always haggle with a smile!
Listed below are our personal recommendations on the best places to stay in Vietnam From cheap and fun hostels to luxurious hotels, check out a few of our top picks:
Books to Read When Traveling Vietnam
Apart from our travel guide, here are a few other recommended reading material for your trip to Vietnam.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement: If you’re looking for a read that depicts life beyond the Vietnam war while still talking about culture and history, this book is highly recommended.
Matterhorn: If you want a deeper understanding of what happened during the Vietnamese war, this novel by Karl Marlantes is a great read from the perspective of an American Vet.
19 Minutes to Live: Another recount of the Vietnam-American war from a helicopter pilot’s point of view.
The Sympathizer: Written by a Vietnamese, this book is a story about Vietnamese army officials who move to LA to start a new life.