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VIETNAM TRAVEL GUIDE

All essential information about Vietnam that you’d need to know prior to your Vietnam tour
COUNTRY AT A GLANCE

Vietnam at a glance

General Information

Population: 90.5 million
Capital City: Hanoi (6.5 million)
People: 53 ethnic minorities
Language: Vietnamese
Currency: Vietnam Dong (VND)
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International Dialing Code: +84

Passport and visa
Passports should be valid for six months from the date of entry into Vietnam. We recommend you make a photocopy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate, or scan it and keep it in an accessible email account.

Visitors must have a visa before entering Vietnam, and a visa on arrival can only be obtained with a letter of approval. A visa on arrival is granted to many nationalities for stays 15 days or less. Travelmap can arrange this for you. Otherwise, you must apply online or at the embassy for all 30-90 day single or multiple entry visas.

Some nationalities are eligible for visa exemption. Please click here to see if you are exempted for a visa to Vietnam. 

Phones & Internet service
The Vietnamese postal service is reliable and there are also courier services widely available. Do not put postcards into letter boxes; give them to your hotel to post or go to a post office.

Telephone connections to the rest of the world are widely available, however they aren’t cheap. A Vietnamese SIM card is a less expensive way of calling other countries. However, your phone will need to be unlocked in order for it to work. 200,000VND ($10) worth of phone credit can last for up to 45 minutes to the UK.

Internet access is available in all major hotels and WiFi can be found in most cafes in developed areas.


People, Cities & Culture

Previously ravaged by war, Vietnam is now racing into the modern age. It’s major cities are rapidly transforming thanks to an influx of foreign investment and the emmergence of a market-based economy. This sprint into the modern age has lifted millions out of poverty. Vietnam now has the fastest growing middle class in Southeast Asia. Most of Vietnam’s population lives on or near the coast where many of the largest cities are located. The promise of work from burgeoning industries of Vietnam's urban centres has continued to lure families from the countryside, where agriculture is still the primary industry.


One of Vietnam's strengths as a travel destination is its people. Chatting with Vietnamese is an incredibly rewarding way to immerse yourself in the country’s diverse history and culture. By nature, Vietnamese people are energetic, direct and enjoy having a laugh, typically over a cup of Vietnamese coffee, iced tea or the locally brewed bia hoi -Vietnam’s famously inexpensive draft beer. A strong emphasis is placed on family and Confucian traditions. Most Vietnamese maintain a strong sense of obligation to spend holidays and festivals with relatives.

Journeying from north to south will give travellers fascinating insight into the subtle contrasts that exist within Vietnamese culture. Food in northern, southern and central regions also vary in flavours and style. Ho Chi Minh City is regarded as the country’s most developed city, with a noticeable Western cultural influence. In Hanoi, the capital city has a distinctly traditional feel. Communication styles between northern and southern Vietnam are vastly different. Although Hanoians are generally regarded to be more stoic on the outside, attempting a few simple Vietnamese phrases is a guaranteed way to make friends.



Transportation

At first glance, crossing the road in Vietnam may seem impossible. Newcomers can spend a considerable amount of time trying to find a gap in the stream of motorcycles, only to be led across the road by a sympathetic local. After a bit of practice, most travellers realise it is much easier than it looks. There is a rhythm to Vietnamese traffic that, with a predictable stride and a bit of bravery, will flow around you like water as you cross to the other side unscathed.




Taxis can be easily found in Vietnam’s major cities and are a popular means of transportation for visitors. The most reputable companies include Thanh Cong and Taxi Group in the north, and VinaSun in the south. 

Those wanting to explore the streets at a more relaxed pace can opt for a cyclo ride in major tourist centres.

Motorbike taxis, or “xe oms” are not recommended for tourists. Pricing is unregulated and commutes are often dangerous. This mode of transport is not recommended by Travelmap and is generally not covered under normal travel insurance policies


WHEN TO VISIT

When to visit Vietnam

Weather

Vietnam’s vast and lengthy terrain has a diverse regional climate, making it difficult to specify a ‘perfect’ time to visit. Instead, it provides good flexibility for any itinerary.

In the north of Vietnam, from April to October, temperatures can reach up to 38°C with occasional bursts of heavy rain from July onwards during the rainy season. Winter is from December to March. The weather is damp and overcast and temperatures drop as low as 10°C, so be sure to pack a sweater! The best time to visit sights of the North such as Sapa and Hanoi is between September through December.

Generally sunny year round, the climate in the central region is more consistent. Visiting Hue, Hoi An or Da Nang can be lovely any time of year. However, be wary of autumn as cooler temperatures do usher in from September till December, and occasional typhoons bring heavy rains.

In the south, it is generally hot year round, with the dry season running from December to June. The wet season lasts from July to November and is hot and humid with short, heavy bouts of rain. The ideal season to see Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta is from December until March when temperatures are more mild.

Vietnam’s weather can be unpredictable, so it may be a good idea to carry an umbrella or raincoat with you. You can purchase these from most supermarkets and general stores.


Festivals and National Holidays

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or Tet, is the most important time of the year in Vietnam. To celebrate, most Vietnamese return to their hometowns to visit relatives, exchange gifts and li xi, or “lucky money”, take part in family feasts and hold traditional ceremonies. For visitors, the lead up to Tet is a visual collage of vibrant traditions, exotic foods and festive markets. Locals flock to banh chung stalls for cakes made of glutinous rice, pork, fermented bean paste rolled with banana leaf. Street markets overflow with elegant lanterns and calligraphy. Brave motorcyclists can also been seen balancing pots of bright peach blossoms or ornamental kumquat trees as they zip through the traffic. Tet generally lasts three days, taking place at the end of January or the beginning of February, and usually coincides with a public holiday. Travelmap can advise you on how this may affect your travel plans in Vietnam.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is another exciting and bustling time to visit Vietnam. Generally considered a festival for Vietnam’s children, it also has ties to ancient myths and legends. Large swathes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and popular areas in big cities throughout the country, become closed to traffic and are, instead, dedicated to lion dancing and night markets selling decorative masks and toys. Delicious moon cakes are sold in sweet and savoury varieties that can take up to 3 months to make. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on different dates every year in September.

Other important holidays include:

  • Liberation of Saigon: 30 April
  • International Worker’s Day: 1 May
  • Hung King’s memorial day: 10 March (lunar calendar)
  • Vietnamese National Day: 2 September


TOP PLACES TO VISIT

TOP PLACES TO VISIT

A long, narrow country squeezed in between the South China Sea and the Laos and Cambodia borders, Vietnam is a land of striking landscapes that range from the lush rice terraces and forested mountains in the north to the picturesque valleys of the Central Highlands and the fertile delta and beautiful beaches of the south. Included in the mix are booming modern cities, colonial towns, traditional villages, archaeological sites and otherworldly islands. An overview of the best places to visit in Vietnam.

10. Dalat 

Year-round cool weather and idyllic scenery of misty valleys, lush pine trees and colorful flowers are some of the reasons that Dalat was once used by Vietnamese emperors and French colonials as a summer retreat. Today, this charming town in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam is a popular destination for those looking for relief from the heat. A walkable city, Dalat is a beautiful scene of French colonial architecture and villas set amid picturesque landscapes.

9. My Son

Located on the central coast of Vietnam near the Duy Phú village is the important archaeological site known as My Son. One of Southeast Asia’s most notable ancient sites, My Son was once a significant center of religious Hindu ceremonies where the kings of the Champa Kingdom built numerous temples devoted to the worship of the god, Shiva, between the 4th and 14th centuries.

8. Ho Chi Minh City 

Lying along the Siagon River near the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon and served as the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Today, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of the reunified country, offering plenty of reasons to visit, from its blend of historic and modern attractions to vibrant shopping, dining and nightlife.

7. Mekong Delta

Colorful floating markets, fruit orchards, rice paddies, sugar cane groves, bird sanctuaries and quaint villages are all what draw many to the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam. Nicknamed “Vietnam’s Rice Basket,” the Mekong Delta is an agricultural region made fertile by the maze of canals and streams fed by the Mekong River. Stretching from the Gulf of Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta feeds more than a third of the country from its rich plantations, orchards, rice paddies and fish farms.

6. Nha Trang 

Located on one of Asia’s most beautiful bays off the coast of South Central Vietnam, Nha Trang is a popular seaside resort city. Picturesque mountains, beaches and lush islands all make it a favorite destination among tourists, Vietnamese and scuba divers. Adorned with resorts, palm trees and a lovely promenade, Nha Trang’s beach is its main draw. Amusement and water parks provide fun for everyone with roller coasters and wave pools.

5. Sapa 

Surrounded by pictorial mountains, rice terraces and a diversity of hill tribes in the remote northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a quiet town frequently used as a base for trekking in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains and touring rice paddies and traditional villages. From the town, there are many organized tours that aide tourists in mountain hikes and exploring the nearby rice paddies and remote villages. These tours present views of beautiful waterfalls and the opportunities to experience the food, customs and way of life among the local tribes.

4. Hue 

Situated on the banks of the Perfume River in Central Vietnam, Hue once served as the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Today, the vestiges of this former glorious period are reflected in the city’s architecture, culture and cuisine, making it one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. Of the city’s monuments, the Citadel is the most famous. Once the seat of the Nguyen emperors, the Citadel is a sprawling complex of grand palaces, ornate temples, walls and gates Another important landmark on the river is the city’s official symbol, the Thien Mu Pagoda.

3. Hoi An

Located off the coast of the South China Sea in South Central Vietnam, Hoi An is a beautiful, old city dating back 2,000 years to the Champa Kingdom. The city’s historic architecture, traditional culture and textiles make it a popular destination in Vietnam. At the heart of Hoi An is its atmospheric Old Town which is small enough to walk around easily. The narrow, winding lanes of the Old Town are lined with beautiful old architecture, traditional wooden houses and hundreds of tailor shops selling clothing, shoes, bags, souvenirs and custom-made services.

2. Hanoi

For the last century, Hanoi has the Indochina and Vietnam Wars to emerge as the booming capital city of a reunified Vietnam. At the heart of Hanoi is its Old Quarter, an open-air museum of historic Asian and French colonial architecture that has largely remained intact despite the bombings of the Vietnam War. Here among scenic tree-lined boulevards, tourists can browse busy markets, sip coffee at quaint cafes and visit prominent sites like the Grand Opera House, the Presidential Palace and Saint Joseph Cathedral.

1. Ha Long Bay 

With its aqua-green water and cluster of limestone rocky outcrops rising from the water like sea dragons, Ha Long Bay resembles a scene from a fantasy story. Located about 130 km (80 miles) east of Hanoi in northern Vietnam, this otherworldly bay features more than 2,000 jungle-covered islands pitted with intriguing caves, grottoes, sinkholes and lakes. Many of the islands have been sculpted over the centuries by natural processes into fantastic formations.

Which destination do you consider the best place to visit in Vietnam?

TOP THINGS TO DO

Top things to do in Vietnam

Kayaking in Halong Bay

Few things beat waking up to the glow of sunlight streaming across hundreds of limestone peaks visible from the window of your traditional junk boat anchored in Gulf of Tonkin. Whether it’s paddling to private beaches, weaving your way through deep caverns under huge limestone karsts or splashing through sunny patches of this UNESCO-listed bay, kayaking in Halong Bay will give you a front-row seat to one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. 





Trekking and homestay experience in Sapa

Sapa is home to some of Vietnam’s best trekking routes. Often joined by brightly-dressed locals from the Red Dzao or H’mong ethnic minority groups, visitors are treated to incredible panoramas of cascading rice terraces and quaint villages perched against rolling hills that snake their way to the Chinese border. Sapa multi-day packages allow travellers to get a unique feel for rural village life and traditional Vietnamese hospitality with overnight stays at local guest houses and homestays.





Sampling street food in Hanoi

With more food stalls per square kilometer than any other city on earth, Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is famous for its bustling street food scene. As the sun sets, Hanoi’s sidewalks become dominated by small pop-up restaurants with locals sitting on small stools amongst a litany of sizzling woks and bubbling pots. Our very own Hanoi street eats walking tour gets you close enough to enjoy some of the very best of Vietnamese street food, including favourites like pho bo (beef with noodles in broth), banh mi (Vietnam’s infamous sandwich) and fried nem (spring roll).




Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels is one of Vietnam’s most treasured symbols of the Viet Cong’s dedication and ingenuity during the Vietnam War. Our Cu Chi Tunnels tours allow travellers to spend the morning wandering around this vast underground complex that once buzzed with thousands of soldiers. The site also provides a startling contrast to modern-day Vietnam, a rapidly-developing country propelled by grand aspirations and a resilient population looking away from its wartime past to a prosperous future.





Cruising the Mekong Delta

There is nowhere in the world quite like the Mekong Delta, a convergence of mighty rivers and lush farms intertwined and weaving their way across the region. The best way to explore the Mekong is undoubtedly by boat, with our Mekong River tours and cruise packages taking you deep into the heart of this bustling maritime hub. You’ll get to sail down the main artery of the Mekong, explore riverside villages, chat with Buddhist nuns at ancient monasteries and experience life on the river at the Chau Doc Floating Market.


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