Five Things First Time Travellers To Vietnam Should Know
- Buy your train tickets at the station. While many hotels will offer to arrange your ticket for you, most will add a substantial "service fee" of about VND 200,000. If you're on a budget or simply don't want to get ripped off, flag down a motor taxi and do it yourself.
- Jewellery shops have a better rate of exchange. While all the major airports have currency exchange booths, your money will stretch further if you head to the gold or jewellery shops in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
- Withdraw money from Citibank to avoid multiple transaction fees. Plus Citibank allows you to withdraw up to USD 400 at a time while other local banks have a limit of USD 100.
- Some of the world's best tailors live in Hoi An. If you want to get a quality homemade suit or any other personalised item of clothing, Vietnam's tailors won't disappoint. The turnaround time is quick, the quality is good (if you go to the right place) and it's a bargain considering what you'd pay for such a service back home.
- Vietnam doesn't have a tipping culture. Locals never tip at restaurants, and it's not a practice expected from tourists either. But if you feel the service was exceptional, tip at your own discretion.
Best Time To Visit Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam is during its winter months. From December to February, temperatures are cooler making sightseeing and getting around more bearable. It's also Vietnamese New Year, the biggest celebration of the year and a great time to experience Vietnam's culture and traditions.
Unlike some of its neighbouring countries, the north of Vietnam gets cold in winter. You might even see some snow if you travel up to Sa Pa so make sure you pack enough warm clothes.
Vietnam's high season is from May to September. If you're travelling around the coast, prices will be higher (but still cheap), and you'll need to book in advance to beat the summer rush.
But these hot summer months also mean its monsoon season. While the downpours are a welcomed relief to the 37°C temperatures, you'll need to plan some backup activities. It's also a good idea to buy a lightweight plastic poncho as anything too thick will make you overheat.
And if you can't make the New Year celebrations, try to book your flights around the Mid-Autumn Festival. It's an incredible cultural event with lanterns lighting up the sky and lion dancers taking over the streets. You'll also be able to sample some delicious mooncakes and learn more about life in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Min
Ho Chi Minh is a chaotic whirl of culture, history and the modern humdrum of city life. Its bustling streets are full of historical landmarks, delicious restaurants and some of the best shopping in the country.
Make sure you visit the city's most famous landmark, the Reunification Palace. It's the place where North Vietnamese tanks stopped and ended a war that lasted almost 20 years.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and one of the oldest in the world. It's home to an array of excellent museums, a vibrant nightlife scene and delectable cuisine that will charm even the most hardened traveller.
Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to learn more about modern Vietnam or delve into its cultural past at the Vietnam Fine Art Museum.
Or if you want to escape the city, the tranquil countryside is only a short drive away including the iconic Ha Long Bay.
Hue is a city for history buffs. It's full of ancient relics from the 19th century when the Nguyen emperors ruled Vietnam.
Hue's most famous attraction is the Imperial Enclosure. Located on the banks of the Perfume River, you can explore the gorgeous Thai Hoa Palace, the Halls of Mandarins with some of the best-preserved ceiling murals and the Dien Tho Residence.
If you have time, hop on board a riverboat cruise and explore the collection of outlying sites. Visit the royal tombs and the Thien Mu Pagoda with its 21-meter high tower.
In the 15th century, Hoi An was a major hub for Japanese and Chinese merchants. Today, much of the old town quarter is well-preserved, giving the city an atmospheric charm that sets it apart from the rest of Vietnam.
While there's plenty to see and do in the city, like visiting the Japanese Bridge, the museums and the many pagodas, the best part of Hoi An is simply walking around.
Meander around the old streets, visit the 17th-century Tan Ky House and don't forget to sample all the delicious Vietnamese street food along the way.
Top Attractions in Vietnam
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam's top destinations. Stretching across a 120-kilometre coastline, its thousands of islands, lush vegetation and spectacular limestone pillars attract hundreds of visitors each year.
While it's only a 4-hour drive from downtown Hanoi, a day trip won't do this UNESCO World Heritage Site justice. If you have time, spend at least a day exploring the mammoth caverns, island hopping between the 1,600 islands and kayaking around rocky outcrops.
Plus you can even spend a night sleeping on a boat in the bay. Paired with Ha Long Bay's iconic views, this unique accommodation option is an experience that will earn you all the bragging rights once you return home.
Hang Son Doong Cave
Hang Son Doong Cave is the largest cave in the world. It's three million years old and boasts its own climate, river and jungle.
Located in the heart of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, this amazing landmark was only explored for the first time as recently as 2010.
Today, you can book a guided tour and explore the deep caverns, large enough to fit a 747 or an entire New York City block.
The temperature difference inside the cave creates clouds of mist, giving it an ethereal atmosphere. But the most incredible part about visiting this natural landmark is that you have the option to camp inside. It's a once in a lifetime experience that will allow you to explore Hang Son Doong Cave to its fullest.
Cu Chi Tunnels
During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong guerrillas built a 120 km network of underground tunnels to hide from invading forces.
Since then, the Cu Chi Tunnels have become a major tourist attraction in Vietnam for travelling history buffs. Visitors can crawl through the tunnel system, learning about underground life as a Viet Cong soldier and the impact the war had on Vietnam.
But if you have claustrophobia, you might want to give the tunnels a miss. You'll start the tour going through a narrow slit and crawl on your hands and knees through some parts. But it will be worth it as you sample meals the soldiers had and even get a chance to fire an M16 assault rifle.
Sa Pa Terraces
In the northwest of Vietnam, not far from the Chinese border, lies the town of Sa Pa. This remote part of the country is famous for terraced rice fields overlooked by Vietnam's tallest peak the Fansipan Mountain. The Hmong, Giay, Dao, Tay and Giay tribes all use this fertile land to grow rice, corn and a variety of vegetables.
Besides being one of Vietnam's most beautiful rural vistas, Sa Pa is also a top trekking destination. For nature lovers, there are seemingly endless things to see as you make your way between the tiny villages scattered across the mountain.
Dating back to the 4th century, My Son was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. Built by King Chandravarman for the god Shiva, the temples all serve to honour the Hindu divinities.
Once a group of over 70 temples, today only 20 remain intact. Each temple is built from brick sandstone block with architectural influences from the Indian and Malay empires.
This ancient site survived bombings during the Vietnam War, and it's an incredible place to visit if you want to learn more about country's recent past as well as its ancient history.
Major International Airports in Vietnam
- Tan Son Nhat International Airport
- Noi Bai International Airport
- Da Nang International Airport
- Cam Ranh International Airport
- Phu Quoc International Airport