Vietnam travel guide & tips
What to expect in Vietnam
Vietnam has an exciting mix of fast-paced, food-rich cities, wildly beautiful rice paddies, emerald bays, 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 guide to learn more and get inspired about your holiday to Vietnam.
Vietnam’s great for:
- A riot of the senses. Sizzling street food stalls, whizzing Vespas, colourful lanterns and warm seas. From start to finish, you’ll find your senses overwhelmed by the incredible sights and sounds of Vietnam.
- Diversity. Beaches, cities, UNESCO parks, hill-tribes, hiking, and wildlife. No matter what your interests, there’ll be something that’ll float your boat.
- History & culture. Vietnam is a fusion of cultures. From Chinese influences in the north to French colonialism in the south. It’s a historian’s dream destination.
What's meaningful about our Vietnam holidays?
For a real taste of Vietnam, we can help you skirt the tourist trail for a more meaningful experience in this welcoming country. We work closely with our partners in Vietnam to ensure our trips work in harmony with the local community. We also choose local projects that you can opt to support. Find out more about our local project in Vietnam.
Jump into rural life in lush rice paddies, help out 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. What an amazing way to get to know the local communities. We can even arrange Vietnamese language lessons to help you along the way.
Many people heading to Vietnam dream of sailing through the famous Halong Bay. But 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.
Our top 4 Vietnam highlights
1. Hoi An
Historic Hoi An is one of the highlights of Vietnam. This historic UNESCO heritage city is a fusion of Chinese & French architecture and picturesque canals and bridges. And it’s a stone’s throw from stunning beaches. You’ll think you’re in a dream while you wander the streets filled with brightly coloured lanterns at night, before tasting the best of Vietnamese food.
2. Phong Nha-Ke Bang
For a very different vibe, head to this UNESCO national park in Vietnam’s central highlands to see awe-inspiring rock formations, mysterious caves and stay with locals on a farmstay retreat. You’ll spend time with the local people who live and work the land in the area.
3. Ho Chi Minh Vespa Tour
Back to the buzzing city. This time we recommend a Vespa Tour of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), where a local tour guide will show you the off-the-beaten-track hotspots for local food.
4. Bai Tu Long Bay
As mentioned earlier, sadly the famous Halong Bay has taken a pummeling from excessive over-tourism and is generally not the same as it once was. We made the decision to move this style of experience to a sister bay, Bai Tu Long, which is a more sustainable option. Here you’ll stay on a traditional junk boat and be waited on hand and foot, finding secret coves to swim in. Pure bliss.
Vietnam Essential Information
Best time to go
Depending on where you are, Vietnam is sunny and hot for most of the year, with cooler temperatures in the north. As long as you come prepared to encounter the occasional thunderstorm, a brisk evening, and hot sunny days you can travel almost any time in Vietnam.
English is widely spoken, but knowing some key Vietnamese phrases will help.
A, C & F
Tipping is considered important in Vietnam, especially in the service industry. During your travels, we recommend allowing $5-10 per day to tip guides or drivers who assist you throughout your holiday. It’s also customary to tip in most mid-range restaurants.
Fly direct, daily
Flights from London Heathrow fly direct to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh every day of the week. Indirect flights to Vietnam are also available, usually via Dubai or Bangkok.
Vietnamese Dong (VND)
ATMs in the towns and cities are the easiest way to get hold of cash while you’re away. However, we recommend taking a combination of bank cards, cash and a few travellers cheques as a back-up just to be safe. US Dollars are also widely accepted in Vietnam.
Vietnam, the perfect family adventure holiday
If you’re looking for a family holiday with a difference, Vietnam is calling. It’s a fantastic place to introduce older children to a culture that’s warm, welcoming and family-oriented.
Children will love adventures in the endlessly historic town of Hoi An, picking their own lunch on the riverbanks of Hue or playing on the beaches of Nha Trang. Not sure where to start? Take a peek at our Vietnam Families area to learn more about hassle-free adventure planning with Rickshaw Travel Families.
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 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, 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.
Language & culture tips
Learning the country’s cultural customs will help you to avoid embarrassing situations or accidentally offending people. Humility, restraint and modesty are all traits valued in Vietnam. Here are some of our top pointers:
- You’ll rarely see the Vietnamese lose their temper in public and you should never lose your temper in front of them. Not only is it frowned upon, but you’ll lose any chance of reaching a sensible solution.
- Leaving chopsticks sticking vertically out of a bowl of rice is associated with death as it resembles incense sticks burnt for the dead. If in doubt, just place them on a table or napkin when not in use.
- As in many other Asian countries, the Vietnamese tend to remove their shoes when coming indoors. It’s also considered rude to point your feet at people or sacred objects. The soles especially are considered particularly rude.
- While Vietnam isn’t the most conservative country in Asia, it’s still best to dress a little more conservatively than you would at home. Carry a shawl around with you so you can cover your shoulders and knees, especially when visiting religious or important sites.
- At the opposite end of the body, the head symbolises the highest point and should not be patted or touched, especially in a condescending way. It’s also deemed respectful to doff your hat or nod your head slightly when passing important people, monks and elderly people.
- Greet people you meet by shaking their hand and saying “Xin Chao!” (pronounced sin chow). For a more formal/traditional greeting, especially to elders, you may also wish to bow slightly.
- Be sure to haggle. While it may not be part and parcel of Western culture, you should expect to bargain a little when in Vietnam. Remain cheerful and always wear a smile when you are deep in negotiation. And remember, if the price is too much for you then there’s a strong chance the same thing is for sale just down the road where you can try again.
Key Vietnamese phrases
Hello! – Xin Chào!
Goodbye! – Tam biêt
Thank you! – Cám on
How are you? – Có Khoẻ Không?
I’m fine, thank you – Khóe, cám on
Yes – Vâng
No – Không
My name is… – Tên tôôla …
I’m from… – Tôi dên tù …
I cannot eat… – Tôi không thể ăn …
I do not understand – Tôi không hiểu …
I’m vegan / vegetarian – Chay (Although this isn’t an exact translation, it actually means to ‘Eat Like a Buddhist’, which will be understood all around Vietnam and will get you by)
Vietnamese food & drink
You can expect to pay around $5 for a decent meal, $1 for street food and $0.50 for a beer. Bargain.
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; the French love of pastries and baguettes is ubiquitous in Hanoi.
Keep an eye out for pho (pronounced ‘fur’). This is the national dish – a noodle soup that’s often eaten at breakfast. Bahn xeo (hearty pancakes filled with meat, veg and eggs) and gio cuon (spring rolls overflowing with fresh greens and minced pork or fish) are also worth trying.
Street food in Vietnam is cheap, plentiful and delicious. If you want to get stuck into the local fare, look out for a food market. But avoid anywhere selling souvenirs and tourist trappings. Grab bowlfuls of com binh dan – cheap and filling, meat and rice – for around $1 a go.
Costs in Vietnam
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, but US dollars are also accepted generally too. It’s a good idea to take some in smaller change with you. $1, $5 and $10 are handy for tipping guides, drivers or waiters.
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.
Take a peek at our favourite Vietnam itineraries
From 15 days / 14 nights (flexible)
Vietnam, Hanoi - Bai Tu Long Bay - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh City - Mekong Delta - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap & Angkor Wat (also available in reverse!)
To watch out for
In many ways, Vietnam is a very safe country to travel within. But just like anywhere else in the world, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and use your common sense, especially in overcrowded places and when using public transport.
It’s also best not to take valuables unless they are truly needed during your holiday. If you take a bag out, make sure it’s secure over your shoulder and be mindful of vulnerability to moped-borne snatch thieves.
For the latest advice on areas to avoid, we suggest taking a look at the FCO website. We closely monitor updates from the FCO and will keep you posted if the current advice for travelling to Vietnam changes at any point before you jet off. If you’re making your own arrangements at any point during your trip, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the latest updates.
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, you’ll get a healthy dose of culture. From its emotionally powerful War Remnants Museum to 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, its 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.
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 within jetting distance from Ho Chi Minh City. Expect powdered-golden 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 style, try Palm Island, which is 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. Stunning.
Shopping highlights in Vietnam:
Bến Thành Market – Ho Chi Minh City
At Bến Thành Market, a colossally huge warren of treasures awaits you. From clothes to pottery and crafts. And, of course, street food. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get lost in this incredible market in Ho Chi Minh city.
Tailors of Hoi An – Old Town
The perfect place to get yourself a beautifully tailored suit without the big price tags that we have in the West. Got a wedding coming up? Why not get yourself a dapper suit or a beautiful dress made?
French Quarter – Hanoi
Looking for something a little more upmarket? This beautiful & decadent area in Hanoi is home to a number of top museums, including the National Vietnamese History museum for history buffs. It’s also great for art galleries as well as the Trang Tien Plaza shopping centre if designer brands are your thing.
Old Quarter – Hanoi
In Hanoi Old Quarter, each street name reflects the business of the historic guild of the craftsmen who have traded there over the last thousand years. There are over 36 streets, each specialising in different fare, from silks on Hang Gai street to Hang Bac for silverware. Be sure to visit the famous Cha Ca (or Hang Son) street which is home to Hanoi’s signature fish dish, Cha Ca La Vong.