Are you interested in traveling to Vietnam? It’s a fascinating country. From history to food, there’s so much to do and see that it’s well worth a visit. Let us tell you why.
All we hear about growing up in the United States is the Vietnam War, where our fathers fought. My father did, and I sat in front of the black-and-white screen of our t.v. watching Walter Cronkite every night waiting for him to mention my dad. He never did, thankfully.
And so, when I started hearing what a wonderful place to visit Vietnam was, I had to go. Call it morbid fascination, but I couldn’t wait. Of course, entering any communist country is a little unnerving; at least before you get there.
It’s the preconceptions and the unknown that gets you. Once you get your visa stamped and are through customs, you look around and you begin to realize what friendly people live here. It’s not so scary after all.
That was our very first trip to Vietnam in 2013. This beautiful country left such an impression on us. So much so that our daughter Erika found a teaching job in Ho Chi Minh City, and we all moved here. That was almost a year ago, and we’re still exploring and loving it.
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Getting to Vietnam
Most people will arrive in Vietnam via air transport, as we did. It is convenient, and the only thing you might need to worry about is getting your Vietnam tourist e-visa before you arrive.
We found out the hard way, that even though the website says it will take a minimum of three days, it was more like five. And then Jim had a problem with his, so they sent it to be rectified and this added another couple of days before we actually received the e-visa. Because of this, we had to cancel our flight and rebook. So beware.
Once you arrive at the airport and get through immigration and customs, you are right in the middle of the taxi chaos. As you probably already know, either have your hotel pick you up, take an official taxi or bus, or our go-to is getting a Grab car. You can download the app before you arrive and it will work fine while you have an Internet connection.
Getting around Vietnam between cities can be a bit challenging. There are many modes of transport, you just need to choose the one that suits your travel style the best.
For the most part, we fly Vietjet all around the country. This is because Vietnam is bigger than it looks, and going by rail or road will take you much longer.
Rail – There are main train lines that connect all the main tourist sights, and we took one from Hanoi to Da Nang. It was comfortable and pretty easy, but long. You can also book overnight rides, so this might give you cost savings if you don’t have to pay for a hotel for one night.
Bus – There are lots of overnight bus options as well. We’ve yet to try this, since it seems as if you won’t get much sleep even though you have your own bed. I’ve heard various thoughts on this, and it’s 50/50 whether they had a good ride. If you are adventurous, this is the cheapest option. Word of warning, however, if you are taller than five foot ten inches, you will have a hard time fitting in the bed space.
Rentals – You cannot rent a car in Vietnam. Period. Well, that’s not entirely true. You can hire a car and a driver for a day, even a week. However, there’s no option for you to drive yourself. A good option here is to check with the hotel in your destination to see if they offer a transfer service.
The exception to the no rental rule is for motorbikes. That is if you are okay with renting scooters and riding them through the chaotic Vietnamese streets. We have done this, and it can be terrifying. However, it’s also very rewarding. Again, how much adventure are you up for?
Best Time to Visit
The absolute best time to schedule a visit to Vietnam is between the months of November to April. This keeps you out of the rainy season. As Vietnam hosts a tropical climate, the temperatures are pretty moderate during these times as well.
I think the absolute worst time to come would be in the months of June through September. It’s really hot and humid, and when it rains, it can go on for days!
Places to Visit in Vietnam
There are so many places to visit in Vietnam that we find we’ve only scratched the surface. I’m sure in the coming months and years we’ll keep adding to this list.
- Ho Chi Minh City
- My Son
- Hoi An
- Nha Trang
- Phu Quoc
- Mekong Delta
- Phong Nha
- Tam Coc
- Ha Nam
- Ban Gioc
Ho Chi Minh City
Living here in Ho Chi Minh as expats, we’ve really gotten to know the city and all her charms. There is so much to do, to see, to eat, and to enjoy that we’re having a wonderful time.
Ho Chi Minh City, also referred to still as Saigon, is the largest city in the country. It’s where many of the big governmental tourist sights like Independence Palace and the War Remnants Museum are. But, it’s not all museums. There are plenty of excellent coffee shops and restaurants to keep us happy.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Caravelle Hotel – Famous, or infamous, for their Vietnam Era rooftop bar, Saigon Saigon, everything about the Caravelle is elegant comfort in the heart of the city.
- Orchids Saigon Hotel – Another excellent value choice within walking distance of most of the main sights in town with a soothing indoor pool where you can really beat the heat.
A very provincial city, looking like some old European capital with an Asian flair, Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and it has been able to grow without losing its small-town feel. There is plenty to see like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, some stunning and historical temples, and a few colorful markets.
Where to say in Hanoi:
- The West Hotel and Spa – Central location within close walking distance to everything in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, excellent value in a super-friendly hotel
- Imperial Hotel and Spa – Upscale and elegant at a great price, this is one of Hanoi’s best hotels with a rooftop restaurant offering beautiful views of the city
It rained on us most of the time we were in Hue, but it didn’t dampen our spirits, because it is a host to many important sights in Vietnam, a series of which combines to make the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Complex of Hue Monuments. We visited the many areas and found the architecture extraordinary and quite majestic.
Where to stay in Hue:
- Spatel d’Annam Imperial Boutique Spa and Hotel – This beautiful hotel melds history and luxury in a great location, oh and don’t miss out on the gorgeous outdoor pool
- White Lotus Hue Hotel – Located right on the river with stunning views from those riverfront rooms, with clean and comfortable rooms at a great price
My Son is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, located up the famous Perfume River. The only way to get there is to take a day tour from Hue, but these are plentiful. The day we explored My Son was one of the drier of the few we experienced in the Hue area, so it was quite satisfying walking around the temple complex. Everything was very overgrown and very green.
Hoi An, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was much cheerier than anything in Hue. Of course, the major draw to this quaint town is the abundance of cheap tailoring. Everywhere you walked, there were tailor shops promising to make you a suit, coat, or any other type of clothing that you desired.
And yes, it would be done before you pull out of town. “We’ll have it to your hotel before you leave”…and they did. What fun to have clothes made for you. Hoi An is a town where a lot of backpackers head and then hang out for a while and there were plenty of good little hang-outs, hotels, and all kinds of restaurants and bars.
Where to stay in Hoi An:
- Hoi An Heart Lodge -The name says it all, in the heart of the city with heartfelt kindness, and comfortable rooms at a very affordable rate
- Hoi An Central Hotel – Excellent location within walking distance of all the sights, fabulous pool in a garden setting, free bikes, and an excellent breakfast
Mainly a beach resort town, Nha Trang is not someplace I would often head to. However, the draw here was the little island where you can take a round boat made out of bamboo fronds to a fishing island called Hon Mieu. I’m always up for a boat ride, especially in something as unique as one of these cute little, round woven boats.
Where to stay in Nha Trang:
- MerPerle Beach Hotel – you come to Nha Trang for the beach, so stay on the beach. Great value and rooms with amazing views at this beachfront hotel
- Azura Gold Hotel and Apartments – steps from the beach and close to downtown, comfortable and affordable rooms and a rooftop swimming pool with incredible views
Da Lat is a refreshing city to head to when the heat in the rest of the country has you a little worn out. Up in the mountains, the city stays a little cooler than other parts of Vietnam. This is a major produce-growing area and the number one flower producer in the country. There are so many fantastic things to do, like the Cave Tunnel, Alpine Slide, and some summer palaces to visit.
This quirky little city has a bustling night market, but our favorite thing to do was take the old train from Dalat to Trai Mat to see the Dragon Pagoda. With so much going on, this is a city that the kids will absolutely love!
Where to stay:
- Sunny’s House – which is superb for the cost and proximity to downtown. Some rooms even come with a bathtub, which in Vietnam is a real luxury.
- Hanz Ngoc Sang Hotel – really close to the night market and so easy to walk just about anywhere downtown.
An island of sandy beaches and the ultimate in pampering and relaxation, Phu Quoc is the place to unwind. With stunning resorts that feed you well and meticulously care for their beaches, pools, and other amenities, you can spend a few days in Phu Quoc and never have to leave the hotel. We don’t recommend this, though. There are plenty of really fun and interesting things to do on this beautiful island, and we wouldn’t want you to miss a thing.
We stayed at the stunning Salinda Resort and loved it so much that we’re planning on booking it again….soon!
In Southern Vietnam, the Mekong Delta can be a multi-day or just a one-day trip from Ho Chi Minh. There you can ply the waters of the river on a variety of boats, as well as visit a floating market, enjoy the fresh produce and the happy smiles of the locals. The best way to visit is to take a tour, like the one we took with our partners at Get Your Guide, Mekong Delta Small Group Tour.
Phong Nha is a small town that is host to a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is a huge national park. The park is known for its caves, and boy are there a lot of them! We only visited two, but if you are a true spelunker or trekker, you can see so many more. We enjoyed Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave while staying at the superb Phong Nha Farmstay (homestay hotel).
We found getting to Phong Nha a bit of a challenge, but we did it. It might be easier to take this day trip from Hue, since you just have to stop there on your trip!
Tam Coc is another natural area that is full of stunning rice fields, lotus gardens, karst mountains, and yes…more caves. Here we took a couple of boat rides to the caves and enjoyed the coolness of the caves’ interiors after baking in the summer heat of Vietnam. This can also be done as a long day tour from Hanoi if time is short.
We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Trang An Peaceful Homestay which was minutes from the boat launch for the Trang An cave circuit.
A completely off-the-radar destination for most foreign visitors, we purposely stopped on a train trip from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. Ha Nam which hosts two spectacular sites, the Tam Chuc Monastery and the Phi Lai Temple. We were supremely happy to have done them since they are now way at the top of our list of temples to visit in this amazing country.
Far enough out of the way that not too many tourists get here, Ban Gioc was a huge surprise. In the farthest north of the country, bordering China, sits these amazing waterfalls and pristine natural lanscapes. We loved visiting the Magic Eye Mountain, as well as the Ban Gioc Temple and the falls themselves.
We took this 2 day tour from Hanoi and were supremely happy. We only had a total of five in a large, comfy van, and our guide Thanh was amazing!
Mountains, terraced rice paddies, and colorful local tribespeople make Sapa a must-do destination. We loved Fansipan Mountain and Bac Ha where we visited a local market after taking the Chapa Express Night Train from Hanoi.
Vietnam is a great Asian destination to visit with so much to do and see packed with frenetic cities, stunning countryside and rice paddies, and beautiful beaches. The food is fresh, tantalizingly vibrant, and beyond delicious. Pack your bags and get ready to experience one of your best trips, ever!
If you are interested, here is some further reading about Vietnam travel:
- Dalat – Things to Do!
- Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
- Border Crossing: Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh
- Cat Ba Vietnam
- Vietnam – 1 month Itinerary
- Travel Vietnam
- Vietnamese Beaches
Have you been to Vietnam? Any tips?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.