Vietnam is fast-paced with food-rich cities and wildly beautiful rice paddies; it’s tropical island beaches and warm welcomes. It’s a country with so much to see, it’s hard to keep away. One thing’s for sure: you need to see it to believe it! Read our ultimate guide to Vietnam for ideas on planning your next visit and what to expect from this incredible country…
Vietnam Map: Where is Vietnam?
Vietnam is in South East Asia, bordering with China, Laos & Cambodia. It’s a huge landmass but also skims along the coast towards the South China Sea, facing out towards Malaysia (Borneo), Indonesia and the Philippines.
Before you go
You may need a visa when travelling to Vietnam if you’re planning on visiting for longer than 15 days or intend on returning within 30 days.
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, but US dollars are also accepted generally too. It’s a good idea to bring some in smaller change with you – $1, $5 and $10 are handy for tipping guides, drivers or in restaurants.
You can expect to keep your budget small in Vietnam; we’re talking around $0.50 for a beer and a decent meal for $5, even in sit-down restaurants.
Best time to visit Vietnam
South Vietnam stays hot and sunny for most of the year, which means you can get away with visiting in our winter and still enjoy good beach weather. Rainy season in the south is roughly May to September.
Things are cooler in the north; Hanoi beckons later in the year, between September and December, once the rain has cleared.
For visitors to central Vietnam, you can expect hot weather pretty much straight through from January to July.
Don’t worry too much about rainy seasons; downpours here are brief, dramatic and a fact of life, but sunny weather is often close behind.
Getting around Vietnam
Trains are the best way to get around Vietnam. Not only will you be surrounded by the buzz of local life, but you’ll also catch some stunning sights of the country as you speed past. If you’re packing more into your trip, there’s a North to South railway that stops off at the country’s main sights, so it’s really convenient.
In cities like Ho Chi Minh City, rickshaws and Vespas are a brilliant option. Rickshaws will take you around for a few US dollars a go, while Vespa tours will get you acquainted with the local sights – they’re fun and super safe, too.
Food in Vietnam – chow on down!
Vietnamese food is famous worldwide for its fresh flavours and even fresher ingredients. Dishes are laced with punchy fish sauce, soy sauce, fresh herbs, lemongrass, ginger and mint. The cuisine has a tapestry of influences; spices and curries were borrowed from Thailand and India; China inspired Vietnamese stir-fries, and the French love of pastries and baguettes is ubiquitous in Hanoi.
Keep an eye out for pho (the national dish; a noodle soup that’s often eaten at breakfast. Pronounced ‘fur’), bahn xeo (hearty pancakes filled with meat, veg and eggs) and gio cuon; spring rolls overflowing with fresh greens and minced pork or fish (hungry yet?).
Street food in Vietnam is cheap, plentiful and delicious. If you want to get stuck into a local fair, look out for a food market (avoid anywhere selling souvenirs and tourist trappings) and grab bowlfuls of com binh dan – cheap and filling, meat and rice – for around $1 a go (what a bargain!).
Cities of Vietnam
Vietnam’s cities are real characters – colourful, diverse and a lot of fun, ‘organised chaos’ comes to mind. You may fly into Hanoi, the supercharged capital offering a crash course in Vietnamese culture. Dodge the mopeds to find your way around through the narrow streets of the old quarter, slurp down steaming bowls of pho and follow the lanterns to the glassy Hoan Kiem lake.
Down in Ho Chi Minh City, meanwhile, you’ll get a healthy dose of culture in its emotionally powerful War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace and elegant French Colonial architecture lining its hectic streets. The legendary Ben Thanh Market is a must visit; the perfect spot to experience the city’s foodie offerings.
If you prefer a more chilled pace, visit the historic town of Hoi An in central Vietnam. Chock full of charm, it’s colourful riverboats glide past grand old architecture, Chinese temples and restaurants, with gold-sand beaches a leisurely cycle away. The carefree pace of life here has won Hoi An a legion of fans and makes it perfect for teaming up with a relaxed beach stay.
Rural Vietnam & Meaningful Travel
For a real taste of Vietnam, we can help you skirt the tourist trail for a more meaningful experience in this truly welcoming country. We work closely with our partners in Vietnam to ensure our trips work in harmony with the local community, and we also choose local projects that you can opt to support. You can find out more about our local project in Vietnam here.
Jump into rural life in lush rice paddies, help out working on a farm and lend a hand to the locals with the harvest. You can even wind your way up the waterways of the Mekong River before hopping off in a village to join a local family for a meal or homestay – an amazing way to get to know the local communities, as our Travel Specialist, Paul, found out. We can even arrange Vietnamese language lessons to help you get along!
Many people heading to Vietnam dream of sailing through the famous Halong Bay, however, we recommend the less touristy and more meaningful option of Bai Tu Long Bay. It’s less polluted, quieter and makes for a more meaningful experience.
Beaches in Vietnam
Vietnam’s beaches rival nearby Thailand’s, but with a fraction of the hustle-bustle. The tropical climate of the south lends itself to beach breaks, with the desert island perfection of Phu Quoc jetting distance from Ho Chi Minh City. Expect powdered-gold sand and crystal-clear snorkelling conditions.
Then there’s Hoi An, the ancient city on the central coast with palm-studded beaches a lazy cycle from the centre; perfect for soaking sightseeing-weary feet. If you prefer your beaches more Robinson Crusoe, try Palm Island. A little-known corner of Nha Trang, it’s a seriously laid-back spot for relaxing, diving, swaying in a hammock and wandering barefoot from your beachfront bungalow.
Fancy tranquil lakes instead? Our trip to Lak Lake is a stunning alternative to the classic beach stay taking you to the lush highlands and staying in wooden lodges by the lake. Pure bliss!
After a family adventure in Vietnam?
If you’re looking for a family holiday with a difference, Vietnam is calling. It’s a fantastic place to introduce older kids to a new culture that’s warm, welcoming and family-orientated.
Kids will love adventures in the endlessly historic town of Hoi An, picking their own lunch on the riverbanks of Hue or playing on the stunning beaches of Nha Trang. Not sure where to start? We’ve got a ready-made holiday put together with families in mind, which figures out the best weather you’ll get in school holidays and plenty to keep kids occupied.