Visiting the charming town of Hoi An in Vietnam

Vietnam Travel Guide

This travel guide for Vietnam highlights the top places to visit, how to get there, safety, scams, logistics and more to help plan your visit.

Vietnam is an amazing destination, with its bustling cities, friendly people, delicious food, instagram-worthy sites, war-torn history, and much more.

This travel guide and posts on Vietnam have been updated as of January 2022.

Top Spots In Vietnam

Hanoi

There’s a unmistakable charm to Hanoi, with all its hustle, bustle, million motorbikes, friendly locals, and influences from French occupation. It’s the countries capital, and one of the main hubs of culture and history. Hanoi’s Old Quarter, with its lively night market and French-influenced architecture, is one of the top spots and a must visit.

The Old Quarter originated in the 11th century when craftsmen gathered around the royal palace to sell their goods, and locals still shop here today. It’s also full of amazing Vietnamese food options, from excellent street food to cafes and restaurants, making a fun evening.

Hoan Keim Lake Park, nearby, provides a nice counterpoint to the chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This serene park is a great cultural spot, as you’ll see locals practicing tai chi and Vietnamese families out for a stroll.

Don’t be surprised if you’re approached by students that want to practice English with you here. Embarrassingly, I was suspicious at first, but then realized it’s part of their culture.

Hanoi Old Quarter is a top site in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hoan Keim Lake is a top site in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Turtle Tower at Hoan Keim Lake

Hoan Keim is really worth visiting at different times of day to fully experience it. During the day it’s fun to meet locals and see them go about their day, then at night, it’s more serene, with all the lights of Turtle Tower and Huc bridge reflecting in the water.

Vietnam’s mouthwatering food also can’t be missed. Of all my travels, the food here stands out as some of the best in the world. Most dishes are a delicious balance of 5 flavors; spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. And it’s very healthy (and super affordable)!

Pho and other gastronomic delights are in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Pho in Hanoi

The Pho, a noodle soup nirvana, is a delicacy of Hanoi (pronounced ‘fa’). But there are also the Bahn Mai sandwiches, Bun Cha, Lau, and much, much more. Experiment to see what you like. It’s all delicious!

Side Trips From Hanoi

As far as side trips from Hanoi, Halong Bay is stunning. It’s one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Located 105 miles (170 km) east of Hanoi, it makes a great day trip, but even better if you can stay overnight. More time allows you to explore more of the area and catch both a sunset and a sunrise.

Halong Bay is a top site in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Halong Bay

Another intersting side trip is to Sa Pa, in the mountains of northern Vietnam. It’s about 223 miles (358 km) north of Hanoi.

Sa Pa | Christophe95

This area is home to 5 different ethnic tribes, making home-stays an appealing option. The stepped rice fields in the mountains are stunningly beautiful, and there are plenty of opportunities for trekking, in addition to learning about the people here.

Hoi An

Old Town Hoi An, partway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, is captivating and fun, with its bright shophouses, French colonial houses, Chinese temples, and colorful silk lanterns.

Hoi An is a top site in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Hoi An

In the 17th and 18th centuries, this was one of the best port towns in Southeast Asia, with traders from far and wide. Well-preserved, as it received little damage during the war, it offers an interesting glimpse of life 200 years ago.

Da Nang

Da Nang is about 45 minutes north of Hoi An. This sprawling city is mostly quiet, but with some interesting sites. It’s most Instagram-worthy site is Golden Bridge, a pedestrian bridge and scenic overlook in Ba Na Hills, west of Da Nang. This is that bridge that looks like it’s being help up by a giant pair of hands. Quite dramatic!

Not as famous, but equally interesting is Dragon Bridge in central Da Nang. Shaped like a dragon, it literally spews fire and water on weekend evenings.

Dragon Bridge in the Vietnam Travel Guide
Dragon Bridge
Shooting Water
Shooting Fire

Da Nang also has many lovely, quiet, beaches, so if you want a peaceful getaway after the chaos of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, this makes a nice option.

My Son Sanctuary

The UNESCO listed temple ruins here are the remains of what was once the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. It’s located about an hour from Da Nang and Hoi An.

Ho Chi Min

Formerly known as Saigon, this is the biggest and most populous city in Vietnam. And locals still refer to it as Saigon, especially the center of the city.

The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh after the war, in honor of the revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, who helped reunify the country.

Some top things to do here include taking a riverboat tour around the city and visiting the War Remnants Museum, which provides a very sobering reality of the Vietnamese war. There’s also Reunification Palace, the Saigon Norte Dame Cathedral, and this modern city has a vibrant nightlife scene.

Side Trip To The Mekong Delta From Ho Chi Minh

Also known as the River of the Nine Dragons, this network of mangrove-lined waterways, starts in the Himalayas, passing through China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia before arriving here. It’s rich with wildlife and stunning landscapes, and dotted with villages, floating markets, and pagodas.

Best Time To Visit Vietnam

The temperatures and climate can be quite different in the various tourist areas of Vietnam, making it challenging to pick the best time to see everything.

Northern Vietnam: It can be very chilly at night in the winter and uncomfortably warm and humid in the summer. The best times to visit are spring and fall, when the climate is more temperate.

Vietnam’s Central Coast: The central coast has two main seasons, rainy and dry, although it can also get quite hot in the summer months. Its rainy season runs from September to January, making February to April the best time to visit.

Southern Vietnam: South Vietnam is warm and humid year round. Monsoon season, May to October, can bring heavy showers, but they’re usually brief and don’t disrupt travel too much. It can sometimes flood, however, in the Mekong Delta region during this time. The best time for the Mekong Delta is the dry season, November to April.

I personally visited all the areas above (except the Mekong Delta) in October and got lucky with great, comfortable weather everywhere.

Hoi An

Vietnam Travel Guide: Languages

Vietnamese is the official language, although English is common as a second language in touristy areas.

Vietnam Travel Guide: Money Matters

Currency: The Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the official currency. Conversion rates as of January 1, 2024 were as follows.

  • USD (1) = 24,335 VND
  • Euro (1) = 26,821 VND
  • CNY (1) = 3,414 VND

Learn to recognize the notes. The 500,000 ($25) dong is similar in color to the 20,000 ($1) dong note, so make sure no ine tries to fool you!

Credit Cards: Cash is king here, but credit cards are becoming more widely accepted. Especially for big ticket items in touristy areas. MasterCard and Visa are the preference, when accepted.

ATMs: ATMs are widely available, but often have withdrawal limits of 2,000,000 (about $87 USD) and charge fees on top of your banks fees. Therefore, it’s best to bring cash to convert upon arrival instead of making multiple withdraws. Note that different ATM banks will have different minimums and fees, so research the best choices.

Tipping: Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, but always appreciated, although it’s becoming more common in tourist areas. Sometimes, a service charge will be included on your bill. This, however, will not go to the server, so leave extra in cash if you want to acknowledge outstanding service.

Vietnam Travel Guide: Safety

Vietnam is very safe and although petty theft is rare, it does occur. Take normal precautions, but always be vigilant and aware of typical scams (below).

Always check the latest situation on your country’s government website. Sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), or a similar program in your country. STEP sends you updates if an issue does arise.

Hoi An

Vietnam Travel Guide: Scams

Although Vietnam is safe, there are always a few trying to scam tourists. Here are some known scams to watch out for.

  • Be cautious of taxi drivers telling you the site, or hotel you want to go to, is closed. They will take you to a place where they receive a kickback instead. Always verify that the place you want to go is open in advance, to avoid this ruse.
  • If you must carry a purse, keep it close, as people on passing motorbikes may snatch them. If they do, don’t hang on, as you could be seriously injured. Also, ditto with your cell phone.
  • Motorbike rental agencies have been known to steal the bike you rented, or say you damaged it, then charge you to get your passport back. Bring your own lock, and test drive the bike before renting to make sure there are no mechanical problems.
  • Some hotels have been known to surprise you upon checkout by saying the price quoted was per person rather than per room. Always verify, or pay in advance if possible.
  • Only buy train tickets from the station or official station websites.
  • If you take a bus and need to be separated from your luggage, remove your valuables.
  • Always check ATM machines to make sure they have not been tampered with. Also, try to use ATMs in banks, if possible.

Getting Around Vietnam

Hanoi to Da Nang, or Hoi An: There are flights and train service from Hanoi to Da Nang, where you can then catch a shuttle bus or taxi the approximate 45 minutes to Hoi An. Flights can cost as little as $25 and only take an hour and a half, while the train from Hanoi to Da Nang will take 16-17 hours. An overnight bus is another option, but not recommended. Not only is it about 18 hours, it’s also uncomfortable and less safe than the other options.

Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang, or Hoi An: There are flights from Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang, where you can then catch a shuttle bus or taxi the approximate 45 minutes to Hoi An. The flight can cost less than $25 USD and takes only an hour and a half, while the train will take over 17 hours. The bus from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An, taking over 24 hours, is not recommended.

Ho Chi Min to Hanoi: Due to the long distance, flying is the best option. Flights can be as inexpensive as $30 USD and take only a couple of hours. A great site to explore more details is 12goAsia.

Visa Info for Vietnam

While most European citizens do not need a visa for Vietnam, US and Chinese citizens need to obtain eVisas, which are valid for up to 30 days. See the Visa Policy of Vietnam for full details and information on other countries.

Vietnam Travel Guide: Top Destination Blogs

Click the icons below for more mote detailed guide on the key sites for travel in Vietnam.

If this travel guide has been useful in planning, or just dreaming about visiting Vietnam, please add a comment below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Note that all efforts to ensure the details in the travel guide to Vietnam are accurate, things do change from time to time. Please send me a note if you learn of any discrepancies.

To read more about me and my philosophy on travel,see my about me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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