Vietnam travel: From the Mekong Delta to the limestone islands of Halong Bay

To travel through Vietnam is to experience an incredibly diverse and beautiful country. In Hoi An you’ll have the opportunity to wander through narrow streets, surrounded by the old houses of previous merchants. These are joyfully decorated with multi-coloured lanterns. In Hanoi you can visit age-old temples and enjoy delicious pho-soup. In Ho Chi Minh City you can stroll through colourful markets and in Halong Bay you can take a boat through the karst mountains. The best spots of the Mekong Delta can be discovered by bike. A Vietnam travel experience means new adventures every day!

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A Vietnam travel experience

Discover the dynamic cities

No matter how early you arrive in cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, they’re already bustling. Watch Vietnamese locals doing tai chi, playing sports and dancing in the parks. Or see them trading at the markets and cruising through the busy traffic on their motorbikes. Your vietnam travel journey should definitely include a few days of Hanoi. You will find plenty of cultural attractions in this city, such as the Temple of Literature. Then stroll through the Old Quarter and browse through the various shops and attend some workshops while you’re there. There’s something for everyone!

Bike through Hoi An

This bike route on the outskirts of Hoi An will take you through the traditional Vietnamese way of life. It’s an enjoyable way to come into contact with the local people. You will have lunch with a local family and taste the traditional Vietnamese cuisine. This excursion is in collaboration with ILikeLocal, an initiative that connects travellers and locals, and is a must-do during your Vietnam travel adventure!

Trek through the far north

The north of Vietnam, in the surroundings of Sapa, is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts. High mountains, endless rice terraces, villages of local hill tribes: the things to experience are endless! Stay overninght with tribes like the Black H’mong, who like to show you everything about their way of life. If you enjoy visiting markets, make sure to visit the Sunday market of Bac Ha during your Vietnam trip. Traditionally dressed members of hill tribes from all over the area come here to do their shopping.

The atmospheric town of Hoi An

In the centre of Vietnam, you will find the beautiful Hoi An. This charming town full of old houses, markets, sewing workshops and lanterns is one of the highlights of a Vietnam travel experience. Want to learn how to cook Vietnamese food yourself? Take a cooking course here, where you will learn how to make the most delicious Vietnamese dishes after a visit to the market for the ingredients.

The mountains of Halong Bay or the quieter Pu Luong

Halong Bay is on the to-do list of almost every Vietnam traveller. The jagged karst mountains lie perpendicular to the water and the landscape is simply magical. There’s a reason Halong Bay is well-visited. If you prefer a quieter alternative in the north, take a look at the nature reserve Pu Luong. You can sleep here in the ecolodge Pu Luong Retreat, which is beautifully situated right in the mountains. A great place to stay for a calmer experience with a view over the surrounding rice fields!

Travel through Vietnam by train

In Vietnam you sometimes have to cover long distances to get from one place to the next. Taking the train becomes an ideal means of transportation. Especially in the north and centre of the country, travelling by train in Vietnam is ideal. For example, you can easily take the train between Hanoi and Lao Cai and between Danang and Hanoi. Often you have to take a night train, but the trains in Vietnam are comfortable with good beds. The train rocks you to sleep and by the next day you’ll have arrived at your destination.

Vietnam with children

Looking to make a long travel journey with your children? Then we recommend a family trip to Vietnam. This destination offers plenty of variety and you can make your trip as active as you want. Our local travel specialist Thuy has great experience in organizing Vietnam trips for families and would be happy to help you tailor your dream trip to your and your family’s wishes. Have a look at our sample Vietnam family trip for inspiration!

Share your Vietnam travel wishes with Thuy and she will send you a tailor-made proposal

Know Before you Go

General Information and Insider Tips
Visa

Residents of the UK do not need a visa for stays in Vietnam of 15 days or less. For stays of up to 30 days, however, a visa is required. US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand nationals do need a visa for travel to Vietnam. For other countries, check visa requirements here.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months prior to arrival in Vietnam, and have at least one blank page available for your visa.

There are three potential ways to obtain a visa: Through your local Consulate office, Visa-On-Arrival or E-Visa (E-Visas are currently only open to US and UK residents; see full country list here). 30-day and 90-day visas with single and multiple entries are available depending on how you obtain your visa. Check your country’s Vietnam Consulate website for details.

Visa-On-Arrival (VOA) Notes:

  • You must apply online before arrival; you can’t simply show up at the airport to apply for your visa.
  • VOAs only work at the international airports, not land crossings.
  • You must provide your date of arrival when applying for your visa online; you may arrive after the date indicated, but not before. Note your visa starts on the date designated on the VOA form, not the actual date of entry.
  • There are several third-party VOA websites that are unauthorized, so do your research to ensure your VOA provider is legitimate.

If you are travelling from or through the United States, and are not a US national or resident, you will need to obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), ideally at least 72 hours prior to departure.  ESTA has replaced the paper form that used to be filled in prior to landing in the US. The authorization costs $ 14 USD and needs to be paid by credit card. Canadian nationals are exempt and do not need an ESTA.

It is your own responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of valid and correct travel documentation.

Insider Tip: Because of fraudulent VOA processors and potential issues that could delay your entry (typos on form, incorrect date of entry listed, etc), we recommend using the E-Visa process or going through your nearest Consulate to secure your visa prior to arrival in Vietnam.

Vaccinations

There are no particular requirements for Vietnam, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended, and Zika is currently a potential risk in Vietnam. Check the latest information about Zika warnings. There has also been an increase in Dengue Fever cases, so precautions should be taken. Malaria is present in some rural areas, so seek medical advice regarding anti-malarials if traveling to Vietnam’s remote areas. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.

Doctors in Vietnam generally speak little to no English, and often require cash payment for services rendered. Familiarize yourself with your travel insurance process for making reimbursement claims. Tap water in Vietnam is generally not safe to drink. If using your refillable Dopper bottle, we recommend combining with a Steripen.

Insider Tip: If you become seriously ill, head to a private clinic in Hanoi, Danang or Ho Chi Minh City where you’ll have access to the best health care the country has to offer.

Safety

The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our Vietnam travel experts are always well-informed about the current situation. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.

Insider Tip: Crossing the street in Vietnam is an art form. If you wait for traffic to stop, you may be waiting forever. Instead, wait for traffic to slow down and they may miscalculate. If a local is nearby, cross alongside them and stay even with their pace to get safely across.

Electricity

220V/50Hz

Most sockets use the US-style two-pronged (Type A) or European-style two-pronged (Type C). You may also come across the three-pronged Type D plug, so be prepared with a global adapter. Some hotels have dual A-C sockets that can accommodate both plug types.

Flights

At Better Places Travel, you book your own international flights. Your travel expert will gladly advise you on the best option. Read here for more information and tips.

When to go

Vietnam can be split into three geographical regions, each with their own climates: North (from Hanoi up), Central (Around Da Nang/Hoi An) and South (Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta). May-September is the rainy season for both the North and South, whereas the monsoon hits the Central region from October-April.

March-May and October-December are generally higher tourism seasons, but if you are traveling to all three regions, there is no ideal time to visit. Plan for rain at some point, which usually occurs in short afternoon downfalls. Due to its tropical climate, both temperature and humidity are high for much of the country year-round, with the exception of the far north which can experience chilly temperatures in winter.

Insider Tip: Tet (Vietnamese New Year) is a giant celebration that falls in January or February each year, lasting up to seven days. While it is a great cultural experience, you must plan ahead. Prices can soar, flights harder to get and museums, shops, restaurants, etc. may be closed.

Language

The national language is Vietnamese

Hello                     Xin chào (sin jow)

Goodbye            Tạm biệt (tam byet)

Please                  Làm ơn. (lam uhhn)

Thank you          Cảm ơn. (gauhm uhhn)

Yes                        Vâng (vuhng)

No                         Không. (kaumng)

Insider Tip: Vietnamese has six different tones, and each can change the entire meaning of a word. While English isn’t widely spoken, hand gestures and a smile go a long way.

Culture

Vietnam has strong influences from China and France, along with a huge coffee culture. Cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) is a Vietnamese staple, and ubiquitous. Noodle soups like phở are commonly eaten for breakfast, so some street stalls may run out come lunchtime.

Haggling in markets is part of the culture in Vietnam, and is expected. It should, however, be a polite exchange; never adversarial. When you hit the lowest price the vendor will offer, pay or walk away. If invited to someone’s home, always bring a gift of sweets or flowers. Leaving food on your plate is considered impolite, so try to eat everything.

Insider Tip: Slurping noodles on little plastic stools along the sidewalk is a cultural experience not to be missed. To ensure food safety, choose a stall where you can see the soup pot. if it is boiling, its contents are likely safe to eat.

Money

The local currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND)

Vietnamese notes range from 1,000-500,000, but the “thousand” is sometimes left off so you’ll hear denominations refered to as 1, 2, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. The ATM network is expanding rapidly, so cash machines are found just about everywhere. Cash withdrawl limits vary by bank and location, but typically range from 2,000,000-4,000,000 VND. Banks in larger cities (notably Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) can have much larger withdrawal limits.

Visa and Mastercard are accepted at larger hotels and restaurants, but American Express is much harder to find. Vietnam is a largely cash-based society so always have money with you. US Dollars are also widely accepted, so it is advisable to carry some.

Insider Tip: ANZ Banks usually have the highest cash withdrawal limits, so using an ANZ bank in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi (cities with higher limits) can really cut back on transaction fees.

Tipping

While tipping isn’t customary, it is on the rise with the influx of tourism and becoming more commonplace in larger cities, particularly hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists.

  • Restaurants- a 10% service charge may be added to higher-end restaurants, but that usually goes to the restaurant or split by all staff, not directly to your server. Smaller restaurants and food stalls don’t include a service charge nor expect a tip, but a small token of 5-10% is often appreciated.
  • Cabs- No tipping, but you can round up the change if you want.
  • Hotels- Tip bellmen the equivalent of $1 USD per bag and housekeeping $1-2 per day.

Read more about the Vietnamese tipping culture here.

Packing

While the climate in Vietnam is hot and humid, they are a conservative culture. Shorts (although not too short) and t-shirts are acceptable to wear in large cities, although most locals wear long pants and sleeves. Young adults are the exception, some of whom adopt more Western-style dress. Shoulders and knees should always be covered when visiting temples.

Must-pack items:

  • Comfortable sandals for walking
  • Umbrella and/or lightweight rain jacket—it will undoubtedly rain during your visit
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Sunglasses and hat
  • Microfiber towel or sarong for beach-going
  • Scarf (women) for throwing over bare shoulders at temples (or use a sarong)
  • Bandana for covering your head under a dirty helmet if riding on a motorbike
  • Simple medical kit with over-the-counter drugs and first aid (including anti-diarrheal and stomach meds for potential food contamination)
  • Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
  • All prescriptions
  • Flashlight/torch for possible power outages
  • Tissues in case toilet paper is unavailable
  • Universal plug adapter for the various electrical outlets

Insider Tip: Local SIM cards are cheap and can be purchased at the airport at the airport or at numerous kiosks in larger cities. Note your cell phone MUST be unlocked in order to use a local SIM. If you are under contract with your current phone, use an older phone and call your cell phone company to obtain an unlock code. Not only will you be able to make calls while traveling, you’ll have access to data when WiFi is unavailable.

Be sure to check out our Sustainability Checklist for more tips on how to respect the environment and local culture while travelling.

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