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!
Now that we live in Vietnam, we have compiled a list of the best place to visit in Vietnam and the things you absolutely must do. Read on for a brief description of each and then click on the related posts if you’d like to delve deeper into the details of each amazing destination.
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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 Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, and Hanoi is best done by airplane. VietJet is an excellent budget carrier offering low-cost flights throughout Vietnam and abroad.
When traveling between smaller towns and cities you’ll need to travel by private transfer or bus. There are plenty of luxury bus 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.
The biggest challenge when traveling in Vietnam is finding a travel agent who you can trust. We prefer to book our bus, train, and ferry tickets online through Bookaway Vietnam. They sell tickets for over 200 routes in Vietnam and have a website that makes it really easy to compare all the transportation options to your next destination in Vietnam (and other Southeast Asian countries).
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!
The Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City (still commonly referred to by its former name, “Saigon”) 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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
Phong Nha Caves
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. We’ll help you plan everything for your upcoming trip to Phong Nha including how to get there, where to stay, how to explore the caves, and other entertaining things to do in the area.
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!
This beautiful region just about 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!
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!
Halong Bay is one of the most picturesque (and touristy) areas in Vietnam. Similar to Ninh Binh, the bay is filled with towering limestone pillars. Only you’ll be cruising around on a liveaboard boat rather than a motorbike.
Picking the right boat for your trip to Halong Bay can be difficult – there are dozens to choose from. They all offer similar programs and amenities but at different price points. Read our guide on how to select the right cruise and what to expect when you’re there.
And if you want a less touristy alternative, check out the cruise options on the neighboring Lan Ha Bay.
Vietnam Travel Basics
Things to Know Before You Go
Vietnam is a wonderful place to visit and also has a few quirks. Check out our list of 15 things you should know before visiting so you are prepared for anything and everything!
Vietnam has quite a diverse climate depending on your Vietnam itinerary 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).
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.
Unlike Thailand, you 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. Here are the specific steps you’ll need to take to get approved for the various visa options:
Steps for Obtaining a 30-Day Single-Entry eVisa
- Visit this website; https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt (there is only ONE 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
- Wait 3 working days for processing
- Use your registration code, registration email, and birth date to check the results via the e-visa search menu
- If approved, print your e-visa and bring to the airport
- You will not be required to pay the stamping fee at the airport
The Steps to Obtaining a 30-day or 90-day Visa on Arrival
- Find an online service like http://www.vietnamvisapro.net/ or one of the countless other options (there is no official government website for these)
- 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
- 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.
We hope you have a wonderful adventure in Vietnam!
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!