Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful and diverse country with lovely people and delectable cuisine. It’s truly one of the most amazing countries in the world and if it’s not yet on your bucket list, it should be. But with so much to explore, deciding where to go in Vietnam can be overwhelming – especially if it’s your first time visiting.
Vietnam offers something for every taste – from trekking in the rugged rice terraces of Northern Vietnam to lounging on stunning white sand beach in the South. Whether you choose to explore Vietnam’s history, delves deeper into its expansive food scene, or just get lost in the winding alleys and never-ending motorbike traffic, you’re sure to find plenty to do in Vietnam.
Having lived here for over a year, we have compiled a list of the best place to visit in Vietnam. Starting in the North and working your way south you can explore all of these amazing Vietnamese destinations. Be prepared to fall in love with Vietnam just like we have!
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How Long to Spend in Vietnam
Vietnam is a surprisingly large country with a lot of amazing places to visit and fun things to do. We recommend spending at least a month in Vietnam which gives you time to explore a bit of Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay), Central Vietnam (Hue, Danang, and Hoi An), and Southern Vietnam (Saigon, Dalat, Mui Ne, the Mekong Delta, and Phu Quoc).
Of course, we realize that many people don’t have the flexibility to spend an entire month in Vietnam which is why we put together an awesome 2-week Vietnam itinerary for all of our friends and family that have visited while we have been living here. It focuses on North and Central Vietnam which is what most visitors to Vietnam seem to prefer for their first trip.
Visa Requirements for Vietnam
Unlike neighboring Thailand and Cambodia, most visitors can’t simply arrive in Vietnam and get stamped into the country. You’ve got a bit more work ahead of you. Even US Citizens will need a visa for Vietnam.
The two most common visa options for tourists are the eVisa and the Visa on Arrival, both of which require approval before your arrival in Vietnam.
If you’re planning to visit Vietnam for 30 days or less and do not require a multiple-entry visa then we recommend the eVisa. If your trip is longer than 30 days or if you need to exit and re-enter Vietnam for any reason then your only option is the Visa on Arrival.
Steps for Obtaining a 30-Day Single-Entry eVisa
- Visit this website; https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt. This is the only official government website, all others only look official but are run by tourist agencies.
- Upload your passport data page image and a passport photo (straight looking without glasses)
- Pay the $25 USD fee by credit card
- You will be emailed a registration code which you can use to check the status of your eVisa
- Wait 3 working days for processing
- Once approved, print your e-visa and remember to pack it in your carry-on luggage!
Steps to Obtaining a multi-entry 30-day or 90-day Visa on Arrival
- Find an online service like http://www.vietnamvisapro.net/ or one of the countless other options
- Complete the visa application
- Pay the fee
- Wait 2 working days (usually less) for the letter of approval
- Print the approval letter
- Get passport photos taken if you don’t have them already. If you forget this step you can get them taken at the airport for an inflated charge of ~$5 per photo (but it’s best not to rely on this option).
- Pack your approval letter, passport photos, and cash, Make sure they are all in your carry-on/hand luggage!
- At the airport you’ll pay a stamping fee – either $25 or $50 depending on the length of visa you’re applying for (see below). Be sure to bring US Dollars in reasonably good condition – bills with no rips or writing.
You can find more information about the Vietnam visa process in our must-read post on Vietnam Travel Tips.
Getting Around Vietnam
Vietnam is a large and rather long country which can make getting from the northern end to the southern end of the country quite daunting. We often find that traveling between major cities such as Saigon, Danang, and Hanoi is best done by airplane.
VietJet is a very affordable budget carrier with hundreds of low-cost flights throughout Vietnam, however, our experience has been that the flights are often delayed – sometimes for several hours. You’ll also need to pay for any checked luggage on VietJet and if you’re checking more than 1 bag it can get quite expensive.
Vietnam Airlines is a bit more expensive, but you’ll have 2 checked bags included in the price of your ticket and you’re much more likely to arrive at your next destination on time.
We always use Skyscanner.com to check flight prices when we travel – it’s our favorite comparison search engine.
When traveling between smaller towns and cities in Vietnam you’ll need to travel by bus or minivan. There are plenty of luxury bus companies companies that will get you where you are going on-time and in comfort. Unfortunately, there are also a number of less reputable bus companies that will claim to provide comparable service but then fail to deliver.
Bookaway also offers 24/7 support via phone or chat and you can even cancel your booking for free up to 48 hours before departure!
Weather in Vietnam
Vietnam has quite a diverse climate depending on which region you choose to visit. But overall Vietnam has a mild tropical or subtropical climate. Hot, humid, and occasionally rainy so be sure to bring an umbrella, especially if you visit from July to November.
Northern Vietnam has four seasons and during the winter months (December – February) it can get down to 40° F or even colder in the mountains. And the summer months of June – August are quite hot, in the 90° F range. The autumn time sees a bit of rain which can make a trip to Sapa quite a muddy experience.
Central Vietnam has warm temperatures year-round and in the summer months (June – August) it can be almost unbearably hot. The weather from November to April is a bit cooler and drier. And Southern Vietnam has a wet season (May – October) and a dry season (November – April).
Money in Vietnam
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). At the time of writing (August of 2018), the conversation rate was about 23,305 VND to $1 USD. So if we say that something costs 50,000 VND, that’s just about $2 USD.
Vietnam is a cash-driven country and it’s rare to find restaurants, bars, or shops that take visa. Most ATMs will only let you take out a maximum of 3,000,000 VND (~$130 USD), and many will only give you 2,000,000 VND (~$85 USD) at a time. You’ll be charged a 3% transaction fee each time you use one.
Be sure to check with your bank prior to departing to ensure that they refund international ATM charges. And that they don’t charge their own international fees.
We use the Chase card for booking hotels and tours and our Charles Schwab card for getting money out of the ATM.
The Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the second-largest city in terms of population (Ho Chi Minh City is number one). It is the jumping-off point to visit the beautiful surrounding countryside, but it’s worth spending a few days in this bustling city as well.
One of the highlights of Hanoi is the cuisine. You can eat what is possibly the best bun cha in all of Vietnam at the same restaurant where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama dined together. And you can try another local delicacy – snake!
And during your time in Hanoi you absolutely must visit the “Hanoi Hilton” where John McCain was held prisoner after his plane was shot down during the war. Read all about our other favorite things to do in Hanoi here!
The Sapa region is home to several minority groups who earn a living through farming and tourism. The town is perched high on a hill and the views of the Muong Hoa Valley below are quite incredible. Lush green rice terraces stretch across the landscape as far as the eye can see.
Most people travel to Sapa to go trekking through the remote villages, but there is so much more to know before visiting this region. Read all about what to do in Sapa and how to choose a trekking guide!
3. Halong Bay
Halong Bay is one of the most picturesque (and touristy) areas in Vietnam. In fact, many travelers have Halong Bay at the top of their list of places to visit in Vietnam. Cruising through the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay is definitely an experience that you won’t soon forget.
Picking the right boat for your trip to Halong Bay can be difficult. While there are dozens of boats to choose from, most of the cruises in Halong Bay offer a similar itinerary. The difference is in the quality of meals and onboard accommodation. On Halong Bay you’ll find everything from floating hostels that cater to those on a backpacker budget to luxurious 5-star cruises.
We actually prefer the cruises in Lan Ha Bay because the area is every bit as beautiful as Halong Bay but without the crowds.
4. Ninh Binh
This beautiful region, just two hours south of Hanoi, is full of lush green rice paddies in the shadow of towering limestone cliffs. Life moves a bit slower here. The people are friendlier. Traffic jams generally involve herds of goats rather than cars. You’ll feel all around happier, relaxed, and more at peace.
Many people condense their time in Ninh Binh to only a day trip but we’d recommend spending at least 3 nights here if you have the time to spare. Trust us, it’s worth it!
Read all about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in the stunning region of Ninh Binh!
5. Phong Nha
The Phong Nha region of Vietnam contains a massive national park – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. It is home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia as well as hundreds of massive, complex cave systems.
Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave, and Black Cave are the most popular and easily accessible caves in the area. You can visit all 3 on your own – no need to hire a tour guide.
History buffs will love the Imperial City of Hue as it was the seat of Nguyễn Dynasty emperors from 1802 to 1945 and there is a beautiful walled complex to explore. Hue has so much history to learn about and gain a greater understanding.
Hue was also right in the center of the clash of northern and southern Vietnam during the American War (or Vietnam War as you may know it) so many of the sites have had to be reconstructed. The longest and bloodiest battle took place here but thankfully many of the historical sites remain intact.
If Hue is on your Vietnamese travel itinerary, read all about what to do while visiting!
7. Da Nang
The city of Da Nang is full of lavish beachfront resorts and is the perfect place if you’re looking to get a little rest and relaxation. Da Nang is getting more and more visitors of late with the construction of the Golden Bridge – a giant bridge that appears to be held up by two hands. It’s also the southern gateway to the spectacular drive over the Hai Van Pass. But there is so much more to see and do in this busy city so plan on spending a few days here during your trip.
Read all about what to do and where to stay during your trip to Da Nang!
8. Hoi An
Hoi An is a darling little touristy town in central Vietnam that is a must-visit during your trip! The pedestrian-friendly downtown area is famous for the beautiful yellow French colonial-style buildings that line the streets. Plus it’s full of cute boutiques, quaint coffee shops, and delicious restaurants. In the evenings the riverfront comes alive with vibrantly colored lanterns and a lively night market.
The most popular activities in Hoi An include taking a cooking class, biking through the countryside, going on a photography tour, getting a dress or suit tailored, taking a day trip to visit the nearby My Son ruins, and shopping!
And when you get tired of the crowded, touristy Old Town, you can make the 10-minute drive to the neighboring An Bang beach. Here you’ll find a peaceful sandy beach and quaint local restaurants and bars. Plus there are several beach clubs where you can use the pool for the day for a nominal fee!
Hoi An is one of our favorite cities in Vietnam and not-to-be-missed during your trip. Read all about what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Hoi An!
9. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Saigon (officially “Ho Chi Minh City”) is a bustling metropolitan city in the South of Vietnam. It has an amazing food scene, it is a popular place for westerners to open up craft breweries, and there are diverse neighborhoods to explore.
Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC as its often called, has a large international airport so it’s often a jumping-off point to explore other areas of the country. You can easily see the highlights of the city in just a few days so there’s no need to spend a lot of time here.
There are several tourist attractions in HCMC including the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. But we would argue that the best things to do in Saigon involve coffee, food, and beer. We visited the top breweries and the best coffee shops in HCMC and compiled our thoughts on the ambiance and options at each. Enjoy drinking your way through this big, busy city!
10. Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is an island off the southern coast of Vietnam (well, technically it’s off the coast of Cambodia) and it is the place to go if you want to visit a tropical paradise during your vacation. Even though Vietnam has a huge amount of coastline, most of the beaches actually aren’t anything special. But that’s not the case in Phu Quoc.
Here you’ll find white sandy beaches, ideal diving and snorkeling conditions, yummy seafood, and some fun activities to keep you busy. Rent a motorbike and cruise around the island, stopping along the way to explore the temples and enjoy an iced coffee on the beach.
And if you want to pamper yourself during your trip to Vietnam, Phu Quoc has some truly amazing hotels and resorts to splurge on! And since they have an airport on the island, it’s easy and cheap to book a plane ticket from HCMC.
That’s it – the best places to visit in Vietnam! Where you’re favorite Vietnam destination. Let us know in the comments below.
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!