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Vietnam - Travel Guide

 

Type of Vietnam Holiday

Deciding what to include on a tour of Vietnam depends of course on your interests, time and budget. We can tailor make any itinerary to suit your exact requirements.

Our tailor made vietnam Tours can include just flights, hotels and transfers without any excursions or your trip can be tailored to include a mix of guided excursions with time to explore independently (which we think is usually the best mix).

Typically many people combine a week or longer of touring in Vietnam with a beach extension in the south, in Mui Ne or perhaps on Phu Quoc Island.

Family Holidays to Vietnam

Vietnam offers plenty of options for exciting Family Holidays. Vietnam is a very visually stimulating country with lots of activities on offer as well as some great beach resorts for families.

Kayaking in Halong Bay, cruising around the Mekong Delta, learning how to make Vietnamese sweets and cyclo rides around Hanoi are just some of the activities which children of all ages tend to love.

Vietnam is well connected by domestic flights, but adventurous families may consider including an overnight train trip as part of the trip.

Temples & Heritage

Vietnam is a great destination for those looking for some cultural experiences. Hanoi has plenty of temples and buildings to satisfy the most ardent culture seeker.

Hue should be top of most people's lists, being the old Imperial capital of Vietnam, with remnants of the Imperial Citadel still standing and the glorious tombs of the Vietnamese Emperors on the outskirts of the city.

Mekong River Cruises

The Mekong River is one of Asia's iconic waterways and Vietnam offers several options for a Mekong River Cruise.

Cruises range from short overnight Mekong Delta cruises on small traditional boats, to multi day Mekong Cruises from Saigon to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, and onwards to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor.

Pandaw Cruises introduced a Red River Cruise from Hanoi in 2015 which is proving extremely popular.

Another popular overnight cruise of course is to Halong Bay close to Hanoi, where tall limestone cliffs jut out from the Emerald Sea of the bay.

Wildlife & Nature

Vietnam has over 3,000 km of coastline, the fertile Mekong Delta, a backbone of mountains, glorious Halong Bay and the recently discovered largest cave in the world, so the natural attractions rate highly.

Wildlife experiences aren't particularly well set up, although the Cat Tien National Park close to Saigon is the most accessible and most rewarding National Park, especially for seeing gibbons.

Cat Tien is also a great birding site, as is the highland region around Dalat, about 4 hours north of Saigon.

Active Holidays

Vietnam offers excellent opportunities for a more active holiday. Cycling is one of the most popular forms of transport in Vietnam and cycling in the countryside around Hoi An or Hue or in the Mekong Delta is very popular.

Some of the best trekking in Vietnam is in the north, in the hilltribe region around Sapa, an overnight train trip from Hanoi.

Trekking around Mai Chau, south of Hanoi is also a great option, combining walking with staying overnight in village homestays.

Undiscovered Vietnam

There is a fairly well-trodden path through Vietnam but it is fairly easy to get off the beaten track in Vietnam.

The Northeast of Vietnam is a little visited but extremely beautiful corner of the country, with stunning mountain scenery and diverse hilltribe populations.

Much of central Vietnam sees relatively few visitors outside the hotspots of Hue, Hoi An and Danang.

A journey along the coastal stretch from Hanoi to Hue will reveal an area of Vietnam few visitors make it to.

The Central Highlands is also a fantastic area for active and cultural experiences but receives few visitors.

Saigon

Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City) is the economic engine of Vietnam, a thriving, sprawling metropolis of 13 million people with at least as many scooters on its busy streets.

There are plenty of sights in Saigon and a city stay in Saigon is essential to really experience Vietnam properly.

Reminders of the war-time period are there in Saigon's re-unification Palace, the War crimes museum and the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, whilst Saigon itself is dotted with French colonial buildings.

There are just a handful of colonial style, boutique and luxury hotels in Saigon.

Hanoi

Centred round attractive Hoan Kiem Lake, the capital of Vietnam is a complete contrast to its worldlier southern counterpart.

Where Saigon is all hustle and bustle, Hanoi is more laid back, whilst Saigon is very western looking, Hanoi is more conservative and traditional.

Hanoi's Old Quarter is compelling with streets full of traditional vendors and artisans, and the prevailing French influence lends Hanoi a unique atmosphere. An overnight trip to stunning Halong Bay is a must for anyone visiting Hanoi.

Hoi An

Many travellers' favourite town in Vietnam, Hoi An is just ten minutes from a quiet stretch of beach.

An old trading port, Hoi An has a charming, old-town atmosphere, with winding streets, old temples and ancient meeting halls.

A Vietnam beach holiday to Hoi An offers a great mix of beach holiday with things to see and do. Recommended boutique resorts in Hoi An include Victoria Resort & Spa, Boutique Hoi An Resort and the nearby Nam Hai, one of the best luxury resorts in Vietnam.

Fusion Maia in nearby Danang offers unlimited spa treatments, pool villas and amazing value.

Hue

The former Imperial Capital of Vietnam is worthy of a couple of nights stay in order to see the remnants of former Imperial rule.

The Forbidden Palace is an evocative reminder of former glories, and the tombs of the Imperial dynasty are equally spectacular, just a few miles from the city centre.

Hue was the scene of intense fighting during the war and many people enjoy tours of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to some of the famous battlegrounds.

Other sights nearby include the Marble Mountains, China Beach and the scenic Hai Van Pass on the way to Danang.

Mui Ne

A four hour drive from Saigon, the small resort area of Mui Ne is an excellent choice for a beach holiday in Vietnam. Mui Ne retains a low-key Vietnam beach resort charm, with no large resort developments and a good choice of local restaurants.

Mui Ne is a good choice for wind and kite surfing aficionados as a good breeze can whip up here in season. There are a couple of great boutique resorts in Mui Ne including Cham Villas, Mia Resort and the nearby luxury Princess D’Annam Resort which is one of the best luxury resorts in Vietnam.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a busy Vietnamese beach resort town with a good choice of restaurants, bars, shopping and other facilities.

Just an hours flight from Saigon, many people enjoy Nha Trang for day trips to nearby Cham ruins or for some of the best diving in Vietnam. Nha Trang's resorts include Ana Mandara, a great little boutique resort, and Mia Resort, one of the best value boutique resorts in Vietnam.

Nearby Ninh Van Bay offers two of the top luxury resorts in Vietnam - Six Senses Hideaway and An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas.

Phu Quoc Island

Phu Quoc, Vietnam’s largest island is becoming increasingly popular for a beach holiday in Vietnam, with several daily flights from Saigon.

Phu Quoc offers a laid-back island-style Vietnamese beach holiday and a great island on which to round off a tour of Vietnam. MGallery La Veranda is one of the most charming boutique resorts in Vietnam and Chensea Resort and Cassia Cottages are two of the best beach resorts on Phu Quoc.

The weather in Phu Quoc means November to March is the perfect time to visit one of Vietnam's best island escapes.

Halong Bay

About 3-4 hours east of Hanoi is one of Vietnam's most spectacular destinations. Halong Bay is a beautiful bay of emerald sea studded with tall limestone cliffs towering from the water.

Halong Bay is best seen on an overnight trip from Hanoi, staying aboard a traditional Vietnamese Junk. Leisurely cruises reveal the most scenic areas of the bay, stopping to climb to an island viewpoint, explore a magnificent cavern or to simply swim or paddle in a kayak.

We highly recommend the overnight trip. A day trip from Hanoi feels far too rushed for most people and part of the joy of this trip is kicking back and relaxing on board.

Sapa

Vietnam’s northernmost major town, Sapa is set in a mountains gateway for trips into Vietnam's hill tribe region.

The Sapa region is famous for its pristine environment, unparalleled scenery, the highest mountain in Vietnam (Mount Fansipan) and the more than 30 colourful Vietnamese hill tribes who live in the area.

Sapa itself is a lively Vietnamese market town, full of colour and interest. We highly recommend the Victoria Express overnight train to Sapa, by far the most comfortable way to travel to Sapa.

Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is Vietnam's most fertile region, also known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam.

A trip to the Mekong Delta is one of the highlights of a tour of Vietnam and we recommend a 1 or 2 night Mekong Delta Tour rather than a long day trip.

The Mekong Delta's two main towns are Can Tho and Chau Doc and Victoria Resorts offer the best hotels in the Mekong Delta.

A cruise on the Mekong Delta is a great option, with a choice of converted rice boats such as the Bassac or the private Song Xhan Mekong Cruise.

Central Highlands & Dalat

The Central Highlands form the backbone of Vietnam bordering Cambodia and Laos and offer great trekking, hilltribe villages, waterfalls and beautiful Lak Lake.

Thriving Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku are the two main centres. The French developed Dalat as a hill station, a few hours drive from Saigon as a retreat from the heat and humidity of the Mekong Delta region.

Nowadays Dalat remains a popular escape for the Vietnamese and a favourite honeymoon destination.

Dalat has several scenic waterfalls, a thriving local arts scene and interesting temples and is one of the best destinations for golfing holidays in Vietnam.

Quy Nhon

Quy Nhon is a charming seaside town in a scenic area of Central Vietnam, untouched by mass tourism.

Connected by daily flights from Saigon and Danang, Quy Nhon was once recognized as the capital of Vietnam’s Cham culture.

The wonderful Life Wellness Resort Quy Nhon is a great option for those looking for a spa and wellness resort in Vietnam or a spa retreat to compliment a Vietnam tour. 230 km north of Nha Trang, Life Resort Quy Nhon is also accessible by train on a journey between Hoi An and Nha Trang.

Getting There

There are no direct flights to Vietnam. Flying time including connection is usually around 15 hours. Saigon and Hanoi are the two main international gateways with connections via all the major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

There are also international flights into Danang in Central Vietnam.

Visas

UK passport holders require a visa to enter Vietnam and all travellers must have a passport valid for 6 months after their planned exit from Vietnam. 

A tourist visa is normally a single entry visa, which means that if you exit Vietnam (for example for a side trip to Cambodia), you will require a new visa to re-enter (or apply for a Multiple Entry Visa).

The validity of a Tourist Visa is 30 days and normally a single entry visa is given unless a multiple entry is requested. 

There are 2 ways to obtain a visa: 

Visa application before departure

Apply directly at the Vietnamese embassy or consulate.

Click here for Vietnam Consulate

The Vietnam Consulate in London is efficient and usually turns around visas within 5 working days. They also have an express service. It is also possible to visit in person.

Visa costs vary and aren’t normally advertised on the consulate website. Sending an email normally elicits a reply with a few hours with the latest visa costs on.

Visa on arrival

It is possible to arrange a visa on arrival. These are a little bit cheaper. If going this route, ensure that you print out a copy of the visa approval letter as airlines have the right to refuse boarding if there is no evidence of a visa.

There are dozens of companies offering visa approval letters. Many of them may be unreliable and some may be simply scams.

We advise getting the visa stamped in your passport before travel if possible, for peace of mind.

Also this saves waiting time on arrival, especially important if you have a connecting flight.

Our feedback from clients who have used myvietnamvisa.com has always been good and we have used them ourselves without any problems.

On arrival in Vietnam, proceed to the Visa on Arrival counter at the airport. You will be asked to fill one more form, give 2 photos and pay USD 45/person (Single entry), USD 65/person (Multiple entry until 28 days) and USD 95/person  (Multiple entry until 45 days) in cash before the visa is stamped into your passport and before going through passport control.

Visa on arrival is possible at the international airports in Hanoi, Saigon and Danang and at the land border of Moc Bai.

Before departure, prepare some bank notes in US Dollars to pay the visa fee on arrival. 

The above information is a guideline. Visa information is particularly susceptible to change at any time, and it remains your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documents for travel.

Costs

A typical 10 day Vietnam touring itinerary including flights from the UK will cost between £1,500 and £2,500 pp depending on the choice of accommodation

Costs within Vietnam are low in general, although in Saigon and Hanoi costs in the city centres can be much higher. Please find some sample costs below to help with an indication of costs within Vietnam.

Meal out in a local restaurant: £2-5

One hour spa treatment: £7 (locally), £20 (hotel)
                                     

Currency

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). US Dollars and Euros are accepted in some hotels, restaurants and shops. Please note that they are not normally allowed to collect foreign currency since 2012.

Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 05:00 and some on Saturday morning.

In the major cities there are some exchange offices open long hours near places frequented by tourists and most hotels will change US Dollars and Euros at very reasonable rates. 

You receive a slightly better exchange rate for $100 and $50 notes than for smaller denominations.

Most credit cards are accepted in Vietnam. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted. JCB and American Express are also accepted in some outlets.

Not all hotels, commercial centers, shops and restaurants accept credit cards. Check with the cashier before making any purchases.  

Bear in mind that in some places a surcharge usually applies for credit card purchases: VISA and Mastercard approx 2.2%, JCB:  2.75% surcharge, American Express: 4% surcharge.

NOTE: Surcharges can change without prior notice. Check the percentage charged before you pay.

Health & Safety

Vietnam is a very safe country for travelling if you follow the usual precautions. To see the latest travel advice we recommend the Foreign Office Travel Advisory website.

Bear in mind that the FCO advice does tend to err on the side of caution, but nevertheless is a good guide to health and safety considerations if taken within context.

Vietnam is a safe country to visit. As a global rule, never leave your valuables unattended in the vehicles and always maintain eye contact and a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags.

In Saigon (HCMC) there has been a surge in drive-by snatching so keep a lookout around you and never stay close to the road’s edge with a bag, gold chains or handling a phone or camera as these are the favorite objects 

Avoid cyclos late at night and choose reliable metered taxi companies (they are really cheap and air-conditioned). Choose Mai Linh Taxi, Vinasun, Vina Taxi in Saigon (HCMC) and Hanoi Taxi and CP Taxi in Hanoi. Best to avoid other brands on the street.

It is not advisable to drink tap water but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere.

All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per person in the room. Ice cubes in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.

Some minor stomach problems are always possible when travelling in exotic countries. In general follow the wash it, peel it, cook it or avoid it rule if eating somewhere where hygene might be suspect.

Vaccinations

We aren't medical experts and prefer to leave medical advice to those more qualified. Some GP's will offer very good advice, but many will not be as up to date on travel health issues.

The main vaccinations for travellers are usually available at GP surgeries.

We find MASTA Travel Clinic extremely good and very thorough and those looking at doing any amount of travelling in South East Asia would do very well to contact the nearest MASTA clinic.

Bear in mind that many vaccinations need to be planned well in advance of travel.

Itinerary Planning

Many people choose a tour of Vietnam by flying into one end of the country and flying out of the other (i.e. Saigon and Hanoi). This usually makes most sense for those doing a tour of Vietnam.

Central Vietnam is great for a beach break, and many people choose Hoi An/Danang as the spot to have some relaxation time in the middle of a Vietnam tour.

For those who only want one city stay, we are often asked whether Saigon or Hanoi is better. Naturally both are great and both have their attractions.

Hanoi offers the chance to go to Halong Bay for an overnight cruise which is a relaxing trip offering amazing scenery and the chance for some activity.

Saigon on the other hand offers the chance to go to the Mekong Delta for the night.

Hanoi is a little bit more laid back, traditional and conservative than Saigon, which is the economic heart of Vietnam.

Hanoi is more pleasant for walking around the Old Quarter and the Lake; Saigon is much more hustle and bustle.

Vietnamese Cuisine

The cuisine of Vietnam comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed.

One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market.

Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam.

Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio (nem in northern dialect), deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts.

Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available however more so in Southern Vietnam.

What's the food like?

The cuisine of Vietnam comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market.

Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam.

Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio (nem in northern dialect), deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts.

Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available however more so in Southern Vietnam.

In Saigon, Hano and the main tourist centres Western food is widely available.

What are the domestic airlines like?

There are 3 main domestic airlines currently operating in Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar-Pacific Airlines and Viet Jet Air. The last 2 are low-cost carriers.

All airlines are using a mixture of Boeing and Airbus planes and Vietnamese as well as foreign pilots. We normally use Vietnam Airlines for domestic flights.

Do I need to tip?

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is very low compared to Europe.

It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters also expect to be tipped.

Do not let a guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much.

Currency

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). US Dollars and Euros are accepted in some hotels, restaurants and shops.

Please note that they have not normally been allowed to collect foreign currency since 2012.

Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 05:00 and some on Saturday morning.

In the major cities there are some exchange offices open long hours near places frequented by tourists and most hotels will change US Dollars and Euros at very reasonable rates.           

You receive a slightly better exchange rate for $100 and $50 notes than for smaller denominations.

Electricity

Vietnam mainly uses 220V but in some areas, 110V is also used.

A mixture of flat and round 2-pin outlets are used throughout the country. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.

Time Zone

GMT + 7 hours

Capital City

Hanoi

Population

Vientam has 88 million people with 54 distinct ethnic groups.

Language

The national language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. In big cities and in places with many tourists, people will speak basic English. The younger generation will be more adept at speaking English, while the older generation still speaks some French.

Because Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese.

The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people.

Religion

Buddhism is the dominant religion in Vietnam usually combined with elements of Confucianism and Taoism.

About 10% of the country's population is Catholic and there are also communities of Protestants and Muslims.

Vietnam is also home to a unique religion called Cao Dai, a religious cocktail of all the world's major faiths.

There are dozens of other distinct religions in Vietnam, with several unique religions in the Mekong Delta alone.