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Vietnam is one of my absolute favourite countries. And I’m not alone in this! Most people who visit Vietnam fall in love with it, because it’s worth falling in love with! If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and are looking for tips for travelling in Vietnam with the best things to do in Vietnam, you’ve come to the right place!

Vietnam is a long skinny country in SE Asia with a little bit of everything. The chaos of the cities in Vietnam is exhilarating. There’s stunningly beautiful countryside. The people are incredibly friendly and I admire their resilience. And the food…the food is some of the most delicious food found on this planet!

Our first Vietnam trip was inspired by the food, specifically by Pho soup. Randy is obsessed with Pho soup, so we traveled to Vietnam to have a taste of the “real deal”. And while the Pho soup didn’t disappoint, we fell in love with this country for more than just the food (although that’s still obviously a BIG part of it!).

There’s SO much to consider when planning a trip abroad. We’ve spent months in Vietnam, on multiple trips, and have helped lots of friends when planning a trip to Vietnam. (Mostly because I love the country, and also because I love planning travel!)

I’ve got loads of Vietnam travel advice to share, so make sure you check out the other Vietnam planning post; The Ultimate Vietnam Itinerary and, if you’re headed to Vietnam with Kids, I’ve got you covered too!

Travel Tips and Things You Need To Know Before Travelling Around Vietnam

Best Time To Visit Vietnam

Vietnam has quite a varied climate given it’s small size. It’s long and skinny, running from the Gulf of Thailand in the south to the mountains in the North. It can be quite hot in Ho Chi Minh at the same time that it’s snowing in SaPa (yes, it DOES snow in Vietnam occasionally!).

When to visit Vietnam partly depends on where you want to go! The rainy season tends to be in the summer in the North and South, and in the Winter in the central regions of the country. Hoi An occasionally floods in the late fall, typically between November and mid-December, so it’s best to avoid this time of year if possible! (Plus, it’s starting to get cold in December anyways).

Typhoon season can hit in the south from May to September, and in the north from October to April.

Northern Vietnam can get cold in the winter, and central heating is relatively uncommon. You may find an air conditioning unit that can pump out a bit of hot air to take the edge off, but if you’re traveling during the winter months make sure you bring some warm layers for sleeping. When we visited SaPa in February we could see our breath in the hotel room! They did have heated blankets on the bed, so sleeping was fine, but I didn’t want to get out of my hot shower into the cold room!

The best time to visit Vietnam is in October or March. You’ll generally miss rainy season, and other than the chance of flooding in Hoi An, the weather is pretty temperate throughout the country during these months.

Vietnam Tourist Visa

The Visa process in Vietnam is a bit more complicated compared to the rest of SE Asia. It differs greatly depending on your passport, and whether you’re arriving by Air or overland.

If you’re from the UK, Japan, South Korea and some Western European countries, you may be eligible for 15-days of visa-free travel in Vietnam. However, if you want to stay longer than 15 days, you’ll need a Visa.

If you’re from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, you’ll need a Vietnam travel Visa for any length of trip to Vietnam. The easiest way to do this is to apply for an e-Visa. I’ve used Vietnam Evisa multiple times in the past, and have recommended it to lots of friends. It’s worked every time!

*expert tip – fill out ALL your paperwork before you arrive in Vietnam. Last time we went I put Randy in charge of the Visa process. He didn’t fill out the paperwork and it took us an HOUR longer to get through customs compared to our friends (who had the paperwork pre-filled!).

If you want to enter Vietnam overland from Laos, Cambodia or China you’ll need to get a visa from a Vietnamese embassy in the bordering country you’ll be crossing from.

If your stay is less than 30 days, you can obtain an e-visa (depending on your nationality). However, e-visas cannot be used to cross into Vietnam overland. If you want to cross into Vietnam from Laos, Cambodia or China and you wish to stay longer than 15 days, you’ll need to get a physical visa from a Vietnamese embassy. These can be easily obtained from the bordering country that you’re in.

You can get visas on arrival for up to 90 days if you’d like to stay in Vietnam for a longer time. These require a letter of invitation and can only be obtained when arriving by air. You can also obtain a Visa extension at any land border if you want to stay in the country longer than 90 days (just be sure to get your extension before your Visa expires).

Money in Vietnam – credit cards, ATM

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong. It’s available in bank notes from 50 to 500,000 dong, although the notes less than 1000 dong aren’t very common. Coins from 200 to 5000 dong are still available although they’re not being made anymore. With an exchange rate hovering around 20,000dong/US Dollar, you’ll be an instant millionaire when you exchange your money!

It’s easy to exchange dollars for dong. You can do this at banks, hotels and the airport, although the exchange rate will be relatively high. The cheapest place to change money is at the various jewellery shops in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and near Ben Thanh market in HCMC. As around to ensure you’re getting the best price before settling on a shop to exchange money.

As with many countries, to get the best exchange rate you’ll want to ensure your bank notes are in new-condition without dog-ears, rips or wrinkles.

If you’re traveling long-term, or you don’t want to carry a wad of US cash, you can withdraw money from various ATM machines around the country. The ones in Hanoi and HCMC tend to be the most reliable but even then it can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. The HSBC ATM (beside the Starbucks in Hanoi’s Old Quarter) was the most consistent for me. There are also a few more ATM’s along the West bank of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Most banks have a maximum withdrawal limit of 4-9million dong ($170-385 USD). ANZ and Citibank have the highest withdrawal limits, although they also tend to have the highest withdrawal fees.

*expert tip – when withdrawing money abroad, ensure you know the transaction fee charged by your card or bank. This is often around $5 and can really add to the cost of withdrawing money.

Cell phone, SIM Cards & WiFi

Wifi is common in most accommodations these days and tends to be fast and consistent. This is the cheapest way to stay connected as it’s free! You can also find free wifi at some business (mainly tourist coffee shops), but I wouldn’t count on this as it’s not as widespread.

We used a local VietTel SIM card in Vietnam that was easy to obtain and cheap. We bought it at the airport while we were waiting for our eVisa to be processed…it was a great use of our waiting time! You can also get it after you’ve left customs and picked up your bags. Our tourist SIM had unlimited data (but only 5GB at 4G) for 40 days, and cost $18US for 2. (prices change all the time).

 If you’re flying into Vietnam, you can also Pre-order a SIM for the Ho Chi Minh airport or the Hanoi Airport from Klook to use while you’re in the country. (You can also have one delivered to your hotel in Hanoi, HCMC, Hoi an, Da Nang and Nha Trang).

You can also bring a pocket-wifi, such as a SkyRoam. This is our go-to when we’re only in a country for a short time. It’s a bit more expensive compared to a local SIM, but there’s NO hassle! Just put your phone on airplane mode, connect to the Skyroam wifi, and continue on as usual.

Is Vietnam Safe For Travellers?

When we first traveled to Vietnam (years ago), many people asked, “is Vietnam safe to travel?” At that time we were pretty sure it was safe, but started to question it because of everyone’s curiosity. Over the past decade travel in Vietnam has become more common place and less people worry about the safety.

In my experience, Vietnam is a relatively safe country for travellers, although there’s the usual potential for pickpockets and basic scams (mainly in Hanoi and HCMC). I’ve never felt unsafe in Vietnam, and haven’t had any issues. Use your common sense and you should be fine!

  • Use a cross-body bag or an antitheft backpack to keep your belongings safe.
  • Never walk alone at night
  • Keep your valuables hidden
  • As your hotel or hostel which areas of the city to avoid after dark

The most dangerous thing you’ll probably do in Vietnam is cross the road!! Traffic is chaotic and takes a bit of getting used to. Vehicles will whiz past both in front of you and behind you. Just keep a steady pace when crossing the road as the oncoming vehicles will anticipate where you’ll be and move to avoid you.

*expert tip – When crossing the road ensure you keep a steady pace. It will be VERY uncomfortable at first, but if you keep a steady pace the oncoming traffic will anticipate where you’ll be and avoid you (I promise it works…maybe watch a few locals do it before attempting yourself!)

How To Stay Healthy in Vietnam

When planning a trip to Vietnam it’s important to consider how you’ll keep yourself healthy while you travel.

As with most developing countries, the tap water is NOT safe to drink in Vietnam. Some hotels will offer filtered water, or you can buy bottled water as you go. In an effort to decrease our plastic consumption, we always travel with a filter water bottle. This was we have safe drinking water wherever we are, we don’t have to spend money on water, and we’re not polluting the oceans with unnecessary plastic bottles.

Most food in Vietnam is safe to eat, even the street food! I’m of the opinion that good street food is even safer than most restaurant food. Our general rule for street food is the stall needs to be busy so we know everything is fresh that day. Also, the smaller the menu the better (fewer ingredients to store and potentially go bad). My ideal street food stand is a busy stall selling one item, extra points if it’s Pho soup! Perfection!!

If you’re buying fruits or vegetables, make sure you either wash them with filtered water, cook them, or are able to peel the skin off. Steer away from salads and anything potentially contaminated with local water.

I always travel with good Travel Insurance, for me it’s worth the peace of mind to know I’ll be taken care of if something awful was to happen during a trip. We use World Nomads travel insurance. Luckily we’ve never had to make a claim ourselves, but I’ve talked to others who have and they all rave about how easy they are to deal with.

 

Vaccinations Needed For Vietnam

If you’re wondering which vaccinations you need for Vietnam I highly recommend visiting your medical travel specialist. The basics you’ll want to look into are;

  • Dukoral (to avoid traveler diarrhea and enjoy the street food without worry)
  • TwinRx (or Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B)
  • Typhoid
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps & Rubella)
  • dTap (dypyheria, tetanus & pertussis)
  • Influenza
  • Japanese Encephalitis (only if you’re planning on spend a long period of time in the jungle, not needed for 10 days in Vietnam).
  • Rabies (likely also not needed to a 10 day trip to Vietnam, just don’t pet any stray dogs…of which there aren’t many in Vietnam).

How to Travel Within Vietnam

There are so many different ways of getting around Vietnam and most trips will include a combination of the various modes of transportation. Transportation in Vietnam is generally cheap and easy to book.

Train

The Vietnam Railway generally runs from South to North (and vice versa) and connects Hanoi with HCMC. There are 4 seating options; hard seat, soft seat, 6-bed soft berth and 4-bed soft berth. If you’re going a short distance I recommend the soft seat, and if you’re taking an overnight train I recommend the 4-bed soft berth.

You can buy tickets online and pick them up at the train station, have your accommodation book for you (for a small fee), or book them yourself at the train station. Booking at the train station is the cheapest option, and is actually quite easy. There will be a schedule posted somewhere. Just figure out which train you want, which class you want, and talk to the agent. Usually there’ll be someone around who speaks English!

Van hire

If you’re traveling as a group a van hire may be the most economical way to travel, especially short distances. It also has the benefit of leaving on your own schedule. We took a private van from Da Nang to Hoi An, and from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha (return). Both were arranged through our accommodation, ran on time, and the drivers were relatively safe (for Vietnam!).

Plane

Since Vietnam is such a long skinny country, it’s hard to avoid traveling by plane unless you have a LOT of time. Airplane travel in Vietnam is the fastest and most efficient way to travel long distances. There are multiple airline options to choose from, including some decent budget airlines. Just remember if you’re booking a budget airline (like Jetstar or VietJet) you’ll need to pay for checked bags, food, drink and seat selection in addition to your ticket.

My favourite place to look for airfare is Momondo. I find they have the best variety of flights compared to everywhere else on the internet!

Bus

Buses in Vietnam are actually pretty comfortable, but they’re not fast! There are multiple options for local and tourist buses, and usually you can just show up at the bus station and book your ticket. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, most accommodations will be able to book for you as well. Almost every hostel throughout the country advertises bus tickets for purchase!

You can also look up bus schedules and book your tickets at 12go.asia or baolau, both specialize in asian destinations. There’s a selection of all sorts of types of buses and minivans throughout the country (and the rest of Asia!).

If you’re traveling on a “sleeping bus” (with beds rather than seats) I suggest sitting closer to the front as the engine is at the back and it gets hot. If you’re prone to motion sickness, opt for a bottom bunk. The top bunks offer better views, but tend to sway a lot as the bus jostles it’s way down the road.

Vietnam Trip Cost

I’m sure you’re wondering, “how much is a trip to Vietnam”?

Vietnam is one of those countries that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. We travel as a family of four, and on our most recent trip our Vietnam travel cost averaged $206CAD/day total ($50CAD per person). I’d consider this a mid-range budget. It included 3 flights, a decently nice resort in Phu Quoc, and a few different day trips and guides.

A backpacking Vietnam budget can be as low as $10US/day per person if you stay in the cheapest dorm rooms, eat street food away from the tourist stalls, and hitchhike. This is an absurdly low amount of money! It’s do-able, but you may end up missing out on some experiences (like Ha Long Bay). A reasonable backpacker’s budget would be in the $20-30US/day range.

If you’re prepared to spend $40-50 US/day (per person) on your Vietnam travel budget, you won’t miss out on anything (well, nothing important anyways!). You’ll be able to travel comfortably, stay at mid-range accommodations and take a few day tours to make the most of your time in Vietnam.

If your Vietnam trip budget is more than this, the sky’s the limit! High-end hotels seem to be similarly priced no matter where you are in the world. You can hire a private car and driver, eat at fancy restaurants (although I’m not sure why you’d want to, the street food is SO good!), and fly between destinations.

Vietnam Travel Tips

  • The electricity in Vietnam is 220V, and most outlets will accept both the North American and European plug. In this day-and-age, everything we travel with plugs into a USB, USB-C or has it’s own power-converter, so we only travel with a small US to Euro travel adapter. If needed, we plug our super-awesome Anker travel charger into the wall, and everything plugs into it. It does all the converting and provides surge-protection so our precious electronics are safe!
  • Unlike it’s neighbours, the Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet (just like English) so names are easier to recognize although still VERY difficult to pronounce. Vietnamese is a tonal language, which means the WAY you say something completely changes it’s meaning. English is widely spoken on the tourist trail. Even in the smaller cities where tourism is less common, it’s possible to find someone who speaks English. When all else fails, download Vietnamese on Google translate and you’ll be able to get by!
  • Download an offline map before you leave wifi so you don’t have to use data while you’re adventuring. Maps.me and a downloaded Google map are both great options.
  • Grab (the Asian version of Uber) is the easiest way to get around the cities in Vietnam. Prices are reasonable, it’s available in most cities (and expanding constantly), and it eliminates the language barrier because you don’t actually have to talk to your driver!

The Best Things To Eat In Vietnam

  • Pho Soup, the reason we initially visited this incredible country, is a MUST EAT when you’re in Vietnam. The Pho in the South tends to come with more herbs and accoutrement. The Pho in the North is simpler, but still delicious!
  • In Southern Vietnam, mainly Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), you HAVE TO eat Banh Xeo. It’s a delicious, crispy around the edges, rice flour pancake that you stuff with a bunch of delicious leafy green veggies and herbs and dip in fish sauce. I may not be explaining it in a way that makes it sound super yummy, but trust me…it’s incredible!!
  • If you like sandwiches, Banh Mi should be on your list of foods to try in Vietnam. The best place to eat it is in Hoi An, because the baguettes are the best in Hoi An, but you can generally find decent Banh Mi anywhere. This baguette sandwich is typical stuffed with grilled meat, pate, mildly picked veggies and some greens.
  • The other Hoi An specialty is Cao Lau. This noodle dish is made of special Cao Lau (fat) flour noodles a small scoop of broth, and is typically garnished with grilled pork and greens.
  • In Hanoi, Bun Cha is the local noodle specialty. You’ll get a plate of rice noodles, herbs and pickled veggies as well as a bowl filled with grilled pork, pork meat balls and a sweet & salty broth. I eat it by using one of the extra side bowls and putting a bit of everything in my own bowl to enjoy it. This, in my opinion, is the perfect dish. It’s sweet, salty, savoury, crunchy, fresh…pretty much every flavour imaginable is found in Bun Cha Hanoi!

Sample Itinerary For Your Vietnam Trip

Since Vietnam is a long and skinny country, it’s best visited from South to North or North to South. If you’re coming from abroad I recommend you fly into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and out of Hanoi, or vice versa.

Spend a few days hanging out in Ho Chi Minh City, getting acclimatized to the craziness that is Vietnam. Head to Phu Quoc for a few days of relaxing on the beach and spend a night in a homestay in the Mekong Delta before heading North.

Skip the central coast and fly from HCMC to Hoi An (via Danang). Join a lantern making class and eat the Hoi An specialty, Cao Lao. Hop on a comfy tourist bus to Phong Nha and spend a few days exploring some of the world’s most spectacular caves (including the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doon if you can spare the 4 days and have managed to snag a spot on one of the weekly trips well in advance).

From Phong Nha, taxi to Dong Hoi to catch the train north to Tam Coc (Ninh Binh). Float through the limestone karsts of Trang An Grottoes and visit the ancient capital of Hoa Lu before getting back on the train to Hanoi.

You can spend a few days eating your way through Hanoi, or continue on the train up to SaPa to go trekking in the stunning rice terraces. Finally, end your trip cruising around Ha Long Bay, kayaking and swimming in the South China Sea before returning to Hanoi for your flight home.

The Best Things To Do In Vietnam (By City)

This Vietnam guide is set up to walk you through the best cities to visit in Vietnam. It’s comprehensive, so you shouldn’t feel like you’ll miss out if you don’t see everything in this post! We’ve spent 8 weeks in Vietnam, over multiple trips, and still haven’t done everything in this post.

There always seems to be something more to see and do, so don’t worry if you’re not able to include everything when planning a trip to Vietnam. I figure this is actually a good thing because there always need to be something to return for! Keep reading my Vietnam travel blog for info on all the cities to visit in Vietnam.

Southern Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): 2-3 days

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is one of my least favourite cities, but it’s one of the best first places to go in Vietnam. Most international flights will land here, and it makes for a good jumping off point for your Vietnam travel adventure.

There’s lots to do in HCMC, so it’s worth spending a couple days. If you’ve just come from overseas I’d suggest taking 3 days so you can move at a slower pace and get over jet lag! If you’re coming from somewhere else in Asia, 2 days in HCMC is enough. It may not be one of the best cities in Vietnam to visit (in my opinion), but it’s hard to avoid!

The Best Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is right in the center of HCMC and located near many of the main tourist accommodations. There’s a fantastic food court near the back with everything from Pho Soup to fresh fruit smoothies.

The market is home to a variety of souvenir shops, clothing, houseware and much more. Haggling is definitely expected, and they’re used to tourists, so don’t feel bad about driving a hard bargain.

Once you’ve made your way through the market, head around the back to where the market spills onto the street. You’ll find fruits & veggies, seafood, shellfish and frogs (our favourite!).

An Dong Market

An Dong market is the largest market in the city for textiles and other handicraft items, with prices typically lower than Ben Thanh (although you have to work for it). There’s a mix of wholesale and retail, and you really need time to browse and haggle if you’re hoping to snag a good deal.

You can also find a snack or drink at the foot court in the basement if you get hungry or thirsty.

*expert tip: The bathrooms here are some of the worst I’ve experienced anywhere on my travels (and I’ve experienced some pretty awful bathrooms), so consider heading elsewhere if you’ve “gotta go”!!

War Remnants Museum

The War Remnants Museum isn’t the one of the best Vietnam places to visit if you have a faint of heart or weak stomach. However, it is one of the important Vietnam sights if you’re interested in learning about the country’s history. There are horrific images from the war displayed throughout the museum, warning of the horrors of war and the importance of peace.

Massive pieces of US military equipment are displayed both inside and outside. These were left behind when the ARVN (the Southern Army) fled as the Northern Army pushed into HCMC. They’re impressive, but don’t leave quite the same impression as the photos inside.

Independence Palace

Also known as the Reunification Palace, the Independence Palace was the home of  General Nguyen Van Thieu, the Southern Vietnamese General during the war. In 1975, a tank belonging to the Northern Vietnamese Army crashed through the front gates, effectively ending the war.

Today this historic building looks the same as it did in 1975, with artifacts, maps, a bunker and antique furniture adorning it’s rooms and halls. It’s one of the top Vietnam tourist attractions in Saigon.

What to see in Vietnam
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)

Saigon Skydeck

The Saigon Skydeck is found on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower. It offers incredible views over the city and is a great place to come for sunset. The only downside is the Skydeck is enclosed, so all your photos will be through the windows.

If you don’t want to pay to just to go the Skydeck, you can stop in at the Cafe for a drink. You’ll spend a pretty penny on the drink, but the view’s free!

Phoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

This beautiful taoist temple in HCMC dates back to 1902. It’s not the largest temple in the city, but it’s full of intricate carvings, beautiful lanterns and vivid artwork. There’s also a large display of brass ornaments and antique weapons.

It’s not worth going out of your way to visit, but if you’re in the area it’s worth the stop (especially since entrance is free!).

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are fascinating and one of the top Vietnam tourist spots in the country. The tunnels were used by the Vietcong guerrillas during the American War and offer an interesting perspective into just how determined the Vietcong were to win the war.

The tunnels are an expansive series of chambers stretching 30km out of HCMC. Two sections are currently open to visitors, as well as a number of other activities; swimming pool, shooting range, temple, etc.

*expert tip – If you’re traveling with young kids, or have a tendency to be claustrophobic, I suggest you skip this one.

top places in vietnam

Find the perfect tour for Ho Chi Minh City

 

Where To Stay In HCMC

The best area to stay in Ho Chi Minh is near Ben Thanh market. There’s a great selection of restaurants for all budgets, and most of the things to do in HCMC are within walking distance. Click the hotel name for the best pricing and availability.

Where To Eat In HCMC

There are SO MANY great places to find food in HCMC, and honestly any busy street food stall is going to be worth stopping at!

If you head West from Ben Thanh market, along the south side of Saigon Central Park, you’ll see a number of small alleyways heading away from the road. Most of these extend to Bui Vien street in the heart of the backpacker district. There are food stalls and restaurants set up at all times of the day. We’re eaten at many and have yet to be disappointed!

Banh Xeo 46A – the one restaurant I think is a MUST DO in HCMC is Banh Xeo 49A. It’s become quite popular recently, but it’s still delicious. The specialty is Banh Xeo, large rice pancakes that you stuff with delicious herbs and dip in fish sauce. They’re heavenly, and this restaurant makes THE BEST in the world!

How To Get To Ho Chi Minh City

Airplane

Tan Son Nhat International Airport (airport code: SGN) is the largest airport in Vietnam. It has connections to many international destinations, most of which are in Asia. If you’re starting your Vietnam adventure in Ho Chi Minh, you’ll likely fly in here.

The airport is about 6km north of the center of town, and takes anywhere from 45min-1.5hrs via car. It’s relatively straightforward to take a cab from the airport. Head to the left once you go out the main door and join the taxi queue. Make sure to ask the driver to turn the meter on once you get in the car.

  • Cost: 150,000-200,000 VND ($8.50-11.25CAD) plus the 10,000 VND ($0.55CAD) airport fee. 

Mekong Delta: 1-2 Days

The Best Things To Do In The Mekong Delta

If you’re wondering what to do in Vietnam, aside from spending your time in the big cities, head out into the Mekong Delta. You can opt for a multi-day trip with a homestay, or pop in for a day trip. If you’re short on time, an organized Mekong Delta tour or a VIP Speedboat tour is the way to go (we visited on a speedboat tour, although it was a bit bumpy at times!).

River Cruise
A river cruise is an ideal way to see life along the Mekong Delta. These tend to be more on the luxurious side, making them an incredibly comfortable way to see this part of Vietnam.

 

Cai Rang Floating Markets

This is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta, and the most interesting to visit. Because of this it can get busy so it’s best to arrive as early as possible, ideally before 7am. The best way to visit is by boat – head to the Ninh Kieu Warf near the Can Tho market to catch a boat (40,000-80,000 VND ($2.25-4.50 CAD)/person or around 600,000 VND ($34 CAD)/boat). If you don’t want to visit in a boat, you can wander along the side of the river and catch a few great photo-ops from the Cai Rang bridge.

Vietnam best places to visit
Vegetable merchants at Mekong floating market

Another great way to visit the Cai Rang Floating Markets is via a tour from HCMC. This is easiest if you’re short on time or don’t want to go through the hassle of visiting on your own!

Vinh Trang Pagoda

The Vinh Trang Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located on a large plot of land on the banks of the Bảo Định canal. We visited from our speed boat as part of a day-tour to the Mekong Delta. It’s not one of the top Vietnam tourist places, but is worth visit if you’re in the neighbourhood. One thing I find in Vietnam is that it’s often difficult to find beautiful, spiritual buildings. This definitely fits the bill, and is worth visiting because of this.

Cao Dai Temple

There are a number of Cao Dai Temples in the Mekong Delta, each as intricately decorated as the next. The easiest one to visit is the My-Tho Cao Dai Temple, very close to Vinh Trang Pagoda. I loved the vibrant colours of the Cao Dai temple. It was so bright and cheery, the way I think a religious site should be!

Where To Stay In The Mekong Delta

Can Tho is the most popular city to stay in if you’re going to spend the night in the Mekong Delta. There’s a variety of options from basic budget dorm beds, to incredible homestay and high-end resorts. Click the hotel to find the most up to date availability and pricing.

Multi-Day Tours To The Mekong Delta

 

Mui Ne: 1-2 Days

Mui Ne is all about the sand dunes, one of the most unexpected thing to find on your Vietnam vacation! A day is really all you need to enjoy some epic sand dune adventures, but you can add a second day if you want some time to chill out on the beach!

The Best Things To Do In Mui Ne

White Sand Dunes

The white sand dunes are about 25km from Mui Ne and well worth the trek get to them. Once you’re there, the best thing to do is go on a quad tour. Bumping along the dunes in this other-worldly destination should definitely top your Vietnam bucket list!

After your quad tour, make sure to stick around to watch the sunset from the Lotus Pond.

  • Location: Find it on Google Maps here!
  • Hours: The dunes are technically open all hours. If you want to join a quad tour it’s best to either book in advance or just find someone during daylight hours.
  • Cost: Visiting the sand dunes is free, beware of scammers trying to extract an “entrance-fee” from you.
top things to do in Vietnam
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)
Red Sand Dunes

The perfect complement to the White Sand Dunes are the Red Sand Dunes! These are much closer to town and accessible on foot if you’re up for a sweaty walk! They’re also a great place to catch a sunset, or simply rent a plastic sled and go sand-tobogganing (sledding for all you Americans!).

The Famous Fairy Springs

This cute little stream is tucked amongst beautiful limestone walls and gorgeous green trees all while leading to a waterfall (of course!). The water is crystal clear, warm and only ankle deep making it ideal for wading and splashing.

The fairy springs is quite a touristy destination and is showing up increasingly more on lists of where to go in Vietnam. You’ll want to arrive first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

Visit Mui Ne Fishing Village

Along the North (East) stretch of Mui Ne Bay there’s a colourful collection of fishing boats bobbing among the gentle ocean waves. In the early morning they bring in their catch to sell in the market. This is the best time to visit (as it’s the most active). Alternatively you can visit at sunset for the perfect photo op!

vietnam things to see

Where To Stay In Mui Ne

Mui Ne is all about the beach, so you want beach front accommodation! Everything listed is beach front, because in Mui Ne you don’t have to compromise location for price. There’s a HUGE variety of options, everything from single-digit priced dorm rooms to fancy resorts.

Where To Eat In Mui Ne

Chi Em – This family run seafood joint is a great bet for fresh seafood with a distinct Vietnamese flavour. Chi Em is located along the beach west of Mui Ne.

Check out Google or TripAdvisor for other great restaurants as there’s always something new popping up.

How To Get To Mui Ne

Bus – There are a number of daily buses from HCMC that take around 5hrs. One of these is partly overnight, which I suggest avoiding as it’s such an awkward time and doesn’t allow enough time to get a decent sleep.

Find the latest schedule and pricing from HCMC to Mui Ne on Bookaway.

Train – In my opinion the train is a far more comfortable way to travel compared to the bus. It’s about 4 hours on the train to Mui Ne (Muong Man, a short taxi from Mui Ne) from HCMC in the South if you’re traversing the country from South to North. If you’re going North to South, you can train to Mui Ne from Hoi An or Nha Trang in the North. I highly recommend pre-arranging pickup at the train station with your accommodation, it takes the stress and hassle out of it!

Da Lat: 2-3 Days

Da Lat is a cute little mountain town and one of the few places in Vietnam to offer respite from the (sometimes oppressive) heat along the coast of Vietnam. The fresh mountain air can be a welcome change from the sweltering, sticky soup that passes as air in HCMC. I wouldn’t put this on the top of my list of things to see in Vietnam. But, it’s worth a visit if you love the mountains, or if you just want a break from the heat!

The Best Things To Do In Da Lat

Ho Xuan Huong Lake

This is the perfect place to sit in the shade and relax in the cool, crisp, mountain air. If you’re feeling (slightly) adventurous you can rent a paddle board and do a lap of the lake. If not, grab a picnic and find a lovely spot to hang out in the shade.

vietnam what to do
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)
Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Although it’s a little bit out of the ways (about 9km from Da Lat), the Linh Phuoc Pagoda is worth the drive if you like colourful architecture. Made from broken pottery and shards of glass, this intricate pagoda also has beautiful gardens and a creepy basement (not for kids or those with a weak stomach!). Be prepared for the tourist buses as it can get pretty packed with tourists at times.

Visit A Waterfall (or Two)

Datanla Falls and Elephant Falls are located relatively close to each other, a short distance south of Da Lat. It’s worth renting a scooter (or hiring a car) and exploring them together. Datanla Falls is more built up with a roller coaster, zipline, cable car, hiking trains and a series of waterfalls.

Elephant Falls is a bit (a LOT) less developed, and is peaceful and quiet. You can also wander down the path to Linh An Pagoda to see the big laughing Buddha.

popular places in vietnam

Where To Stay In Da Lat

Da Lat is definitely more of a backpacker town and the accommodation options reflect that. There’s a plethora of low-cost dorm rooms and budget-friendly private rooms for every travel style. True to Vietnam, there’s also a number of fantastic homestay and family-run accommodations. Click on the hotel name to find the best pricing for your dates!

Where To Eat In Da Lat

Like any good backpacker town there’s a plethora of food options in Da Lat. Look up the latest review on Google or Trip Advisor, or better yet, check out the Rusty Compass guide to eating in Da Lat.

How To Get To Da Lat

Da Lat is about 5 hours from HCMC. You’ll either get to Da Lat from Mui Ne in the South or Nha Trang in the North. The easiest way to get to Da Lat is either via a hop-on-hop-off tour, or with a minibus. Check out 12go.asia for schedules and pricing.

Train: You can’t take the train all the way to Da Lat, but you can train to Mui Ne or Nha Trang and then catch a minibus to Da Lat.

Nha Trang: 2-3 Days

I’ve never really felt any pull to visit Nha Trang as it just seems to rub me the wrong way! It’s not one of the must visit places in Vietnam, in my opinion! I picture as being a giant tourist trap. That being said, I feel like this wouldn’t be a complete Vietnam travel guide without it, so here goes…

The Best Things To Do In Nha Trang

Bai Duong Beach

Since Nha Trang is SO touristy, the beach in town can be shoulder to shoulder (or beach chair to beach chair) with pasty white bodies burning in the South Asian sun. If this is your thing…head to Nha Trang beach and save the drive. If it’s NOT your thing, the 10min drive to Bai Duong beach is 100% worth it!

Now, don’t expect nobody at this beach, it’s still only a 10min drive from Nha Trang! But…it is significantly less crowded and the water is brilliantly clear and calm making it a lovely place to swim (bob around in the water) and relax.

must do in Vietnam
(Nha Trang Beach – courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)
Hon Chong Promontory

Along the south end of Bai Duong Beach there’s a rocky outcrop that is Hon Chong Promontory. It has a little coffee shop (Hon Chong Coffee) with beautiful ocean views and the occasional cultural music performance. There are some great photo-op spots along the rocks, but it can get very touristy and I’m not 100% sure what the appeal is! I’d rather just spend my time on the beach (personally).

  • Location: Find it here on Google Maps.
  • Hours: 6am – 10pm for the coffee shop
  • Cost: 22,000 VND ($1.25 CAD) to enter the promontory (coffee is extra!)
Po Nagar Cham Towers

This small Buddhist complex of 4 towers is within walking distance of downtown Nha Trang and is worth meandering your way to. Since the complex is small, you’ll need less than an hour to visit, leaving lots of time to enjoy the walk to and fro.

The towers were built between the 7th and 12th centuries, and are still used for worship. The location along the Cai River is beautiful, and it’s definitely not to be missed if you love architecture.

Long Son Pagoda

The real reason to visit Long Son Pagoda is to trek up the hill immediately behind it to visit the large white Buddha. The 14m tall seated Buddha itself is worth the climb (152 steps, but who’s counting!), but the view over the city makes it that much more spectacular! Make sure you dress appropriately, meaning long pants and shoulders (at least) covered.

It’s also worth trying the vegetarian restaurant at the base. We haven’t visited but I’ve talked to a few people who raved about it!

best tourist places in vietnam
Yang Bay

Yang Bay is slightly out of the way, but worth it if you’re looking to get away from the crowd (or if you’re travelling with kiddos!). There’s a series of three waterfalls; Yangbay, Yang Khang and Ho Cho. Make sure you bring shoes that can get wet and handle a bit of mud (don’t expect an easy climb).

When you’re done trekking between waterfalls, you can either swim in the falls or head to the beach where you’ll find a much smaller crowd compared to Nha Trang (or give yourself enough time to splash in the falls AND at the beach!)

Where To Stay In Nha Trang

Nha Trang is more of a back-packers beach town (compared to Mui Ne), with a staggering number of budget accommodations. There are a few five star resorts though for those looking for a bit more comfort! Click on the hotel name to check the most up to date prices and availability.

Where To Eat In Nha Trang

There’s a great variety of delicious, fresh street food in Nha Trang due to it’s long-standing position as one of the main tourist hot-spots in Vietnam. One of the best places to find street food is at the markets scattered around the city. (Cho Dam Market is likely your best bet).

Lanterns – If street food isn’t your thing, or you’re looking for something a bit nicer (i.e. you want to sit down at a normal table to eat your meal), Lanterns offers deliciously fresh, local food at a great price.

The most unexpected food you’ll find in Nha Trang is a good selection of Russian cuisine! It’s been a popular destination for Russian tourists for decades, so if you’re looking for a break from Vietnamese fare hunt down some Russian food.

How To Get To Nha Trang

You can easily access Nha Trang from HCMC in the South and Danang in the North (or Hanoi if you’re skipping much of the middle coastline).

Bus – It takes about 9hrs to get to Nha Trang from both HCMC and Danang. Find the schedules and book online or book with your accommodation.

Train – The train from HCMC to Nha Train takes between 7.5 and 9hrs. You can go either during the day or overnight (although the sleeping trains arrive VERY early in the morning). From Hanoi the train takes 24-26hrs, so unless you really want to take the train, flying is WAY faster and around the same price as a sleeping berth. You can also take the train from Danang (Hoi An), Ninh Binh, Dong Hoi (Phong Nha), Hue and others. Find the pricing and schedules at Vietnam Railways.

Fly – Cam Ranh airport is about 30km south of Nha Trang and has daily flights to Hanoi, HCMC and various other destinations.

Central Vietnam

Hoi An: 2-3 Days

Hoi An is an interesting town with a mix of touristy, local, expat and beachy vibes. It’s a Vietnam must see destination and of all the places to see in Vietnam, I think Hoi An is worth a spot on any itinerary.

The old town is gorgeous and well preserved, if a bit on the fake-for-tourist side of things. As much as I turned my nose up a bit at it, it’s hard to not be drawn into it’s charm with the lanterns all lit up at night.

The thing that bothered me about the Old Town is the fact that it’s become so touristy the locals have been forced (priced out) into the surrounding area. I also got slightly annoyed at the abundance of tailor shops and the feeling that everyone was just trying to make a buck off me.

All that aside, I do think it’s worth visiting for a few days because it really is beautiful.

top places to visit in vietnam

The Best Things To Do In Hoi An

Vietnamese Cooking Class

Hoi An has a few regional specialties making this a great place to go to a cooking class. Many classes will combine a market tour and round-boat ride, or biking through the rice fields and surrounding countryside. We did our class with Hoi An Eco Coconut Tour and highly recommend them. Our guide was fantastic (especially with our kiddos) and the food we made was delicious.

Find the Hoi An Cooking Class that’s right for you:

Lantern Making Class

The lanterns are ubiquitous around Hoi An, and making a souvenir lantern is the perfect way to spend an hour or two. You can make everything, or choose the easy route and opt for a class where the frame is already made and you just add the fabric.

We made our lanterns with Hoi An Handicraft Tours, at this cute little family run shop near Old Town. They were so patient and helpful (especially with the kids). The fabric selection was decent and I love remembering our time in Vietnam every time I look at our lanterns hanging up at home!

Vietnam holiday destinations
Hoi An Central Market

I love wandering around the markets when we travel, and Asian markets are the BEST!! The market in Hoi An spills onto the streets and down towards the river. There’s an incredible variety of food, and (for the most part) the vendors were happy to help us.

You can grab lunch at one of the many food stalls inside the covered market, or pick up some fresh fruit and veg to snack on later. There’s also a variety of souvenirs (including my favourite…Vietnamese coffee pots) and random household items to be found.

Calm Spa Hoi An

One of the MOST RELAXING things to do in Vietnam is visit a spa. The prices are SO reasonable (compared to North America) and the service is excellent. The Calm Spa’s setting amongst the rice paddies is incredible, and feels a world away from the city. If you choose a package, it includes lunch (or dinner) from the Red Dragon (I recommend the summer fresh rolls!).

Bãi biển Cửa Đại (Hoi An Beach)

This isn’t the nicest beach in Vietnam, but it’s worth a visit if you need a break from the city or just want to hang out and relax. The 5km beach is lined with food vendors so you won’t go hungry, and it tends to be less crowded than the beaches in Danang. It’s also relatively clean…as far as Vietnam beaches go!

Where To Stay In Hoi An

There are a surprising number of great hotels and homestays in Hoi An due to it’s extreme popularity with tourists. The competition is stiff, so you get a ton of value for money here. I suggest finding something with a pool if you’re visiting any time other than December to February.

Where To Eat In Hoi An

Red Dragon Restaurant

If you’re looking for a good, sit-down meal, Red Dragon restaurant is a great choice. It’s located half way between Old Town and the beach, so it’s a bit out of the way, but worth it! The food is fresh and delicious, and there’s great variety. It borders on a fancy restaurant, but still kid-friendly and reasonably priced.

Hoi An Roastery

I love a good coffee, and there were so many coffee shops in Old Town I couldn’t resist going into one. Hoi An Roastery was decent, but definitely overly touristy. My meal was good, and the coffee was good, but no better than what I’d get for half the price outside of Old Town.

Cafe 43

This delicious (and cheap) restaurant is a small walk from Old Town but still very easily accessible. Cafe 43 is located just down the street from the Lantern-making class and is a great place to go if you’re looking for a break from Old Town.

How To Get To Hoi An

Da Nang is the main access point for Hoi An if you’re taking the train, bus or plane.

From Danang – The cheapest way to get 30km from Hoi An to Danang is Bus #1 for 30,000 VND ($1.70 CAD) from the Danang bus station. It takes 45-60min but is relatively comfortable and very affordable. You can also get to Hoi An via a taxi (remember to barter) or have your accommodation arrange a private car or van pick-up.

Da Nang: 2-3 Days

Da Nang is most commonly visited as the transportation hub for Hoi An, and is hard to avoid while travelling through Vietnam. Although most people simply transit through Da Nang, it does have a few Vietnam attractions and is worth lingering for a few days if you have the time.

The Best Things To Do In Da Nang

Marble Mountains

The Marble Mountains are one of the most popular Vietnam points of interest around Da Nang. The mountains are full of Buddhist shrines, caves and tunnels that you can explore at your leisure. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hike to the summit for a spectacular view over the surrounding countryside.

Vietnam what to see
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)
The Dragon Bridge

This is one of the quirky attractions in Vietnam that’s best viewed twice, once in the daytime and once at night. Every night the bridge is lit up, but it’s best viewed at 9pm on Saturday and Sunday when the Dragon bridge breathes fire!

Location: Find it here on Google maps.

Đà Nẵng Museum of Cham Sculpture

The Cham Museum is a small museum in Da Nang but has the largest collection of Cham artifacts in Vietnam. A visit will likely only take about an hour, but isn’t air conditioned so dress accordingly! Some of the signage is in English, and there’s a decent (free) audio guide using your phone and the free wifi.

My Khe Beach

This beautiful white sand beach is possibly the nicest beach in Vietnam (besides Phu Quoc!). It’s so large that it’s easy to find an empty’ish stretch to relax. If you’re a surfer, this is a great place to catch some waves. If not, be prepared for the waves as it’s not the calmest for swimming.

Where To Stay In Da Nang

Where To Eat In Da Nang

Da Nang has a little bit of everything available, including some incredible street food and deliciously fresh seafood. Check out this post about the best Da Nang restaurants from the 2 Food Trippers who spent 4 months eating their way through Da Nang!

How To Get To Da Nang

Da Nang is located in the middle of Vietnam and takes quite awhile to get to via bus and train. If you have the time, my suggestion is the train as the Reunification Express is quite comfortable, especially if you have a soft sleeping berth. The hop-on-hop-off bus is also a good option if you’re touring the entire country from South to North (or North to South).

Bus: The only way I’d take a bus to Da Nang is if the train is full! The distances are long enough (to pretty much everywhere) that the train is much more comfortable.

Train: The train to Da Nang takes 16-17hrs from both HCMC and Hanoi. It’s definitely worth the bit of extra money for a soft sleeper! Check out the latest prices and schedule at Vietnam Railways.

Plane: Da Nang is well connected to the rest of Vietnam with daily flights to HCMC, Hanoi, Da Lat and Nha Trang.

Hue: 2-3 Days

Hue (H-way) was the capital of Vietnam until the middle of the 20th century (1945 to be exact) and is full of many interesting things to do because of this. It’s in a bit of an awkward location in the country, part way between Da Nang and Phong Nha, so it’s not often on the list of must see places in Vietnam. Hue hasn’t made it’s way onto our own itinerary yet, but it will one day!

The Best Things To Do In Hue

Imperial City of Hue (Hue Citadel)

There are a number of palaces and various ornate buildings to quietly wander within the old Imperial City in Hue. Many of the buildings were damaged during the Vietnam War and restoration is ongoing. The city is surrounded by a beautiful moat, and as such there’s only one way in! Make sure your taxi driver drops you at the North-West entrance (the Meridian gate) by Cửa Hoà Bình.

If your budget is tight you can easily wander the Imperial City on your own, but you’ll get a lot more out of it by hiring a guide.

Consider a guided tour of Hue:

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(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)
Visit An Emperor’s Tomb

There are a number of tombs and mausoleums around Hue built for (and by) the various Emperors. Khai Din Tomb and Minh Mang Tomb are the most popular (and therefore typically have the most tourists). It’s easy to spend part of a day hopping around the various tombs in the area. If you’re planning on visiting more than one tombs, it’s worth purchasing a combo ticket which includes 3 Royal Tombs plus the Imperial City for 360,000 VND ($20 CAD).

  • Khai Din Tomb – open 7:00am-5:30pm every day, 150,000 VND ($8.40 CAD) entrance fee plus optional audio guide 70,000 VND ($3.90 CAD).
  • Minh Mang Tomb – open 7:00am-5:30pm every day, 100,000 VND ($5.60 CAD) entrance fee plus optional audio guide 70,000 VND ($3.90 CAD).
Thien Mu Pagoda

This beautiful 7-story pagoda was the staging ground for the “Buddhist Crisis” in 1963. It’s worth a visit both for the serene surroundings, but also because of it’s historical significance.

fun things to do in vietnam

Where To Stay In Hue

Where To Eat In Hue

The one dish you MUST eat while in Hue is Bun Bo Hue. It’s not as famous as Pho Bo, but this spicy broth is full of complexity and flavour. Delicious!

Jody from Legal Nomads has a fantastic post about places to eat in Hue you should check out, mostly focused on street food (my favourite!).

How To Get To Hue

Bus: The bus from Da Nang takes about 2.5hrs, and is about 4hrs to Phong Nha. The most comfortable bus is a tourist bus, and the easiest way to book is via your accommodation or on Busbud.

Train: The train to Hue takes between 2-4hrs from Da Nang and between 3-4hrs from Dong Hoi (Phong Nha), the most likely places you’ll catch the train. You can find the most recent prices and schedule from Vietnam Railways.

Plane: Phu Bai Airport is about 15km from central Hue and connects Hue to HCMC, Da Lat and Hanoi.

Phong Nha: 2-3 Days

Phong Nha is perhaps the best little backpacker town in Vietnam. In my opinion, it’s one of the best things to do in Vietnam. Sure, it’s not on the beach like Nha Trang or Da Nang, but it’s laid back vibe and spectacular countryside make it the ideal place to hang out for a few days.

Vietnam activities

The Best Things To Do In Phong Nha

Phong Nha Cave

Although this isn’t the largest cave in the world (which is Hang Son Doong, also found in the mountains around Phong Nha), it’s one of the easiest caves to visit in Phong Nha. The cave is relatively easily accessible and is one of the more adventurous things to do in Vietnam.

You can easily book your tours with your accommodation, or book this tour to Phong Nha Cave in advance if you don’t want to worry about it while you’re traveling!

Paradise Cave

I actually liked Paradise Cave more than Phong Nha Cave, maybe because we visited it first and it’s vastness came as a surprise. After a sweaty 600m hike up the mountain to the entrance, the coolness of the cave’s interior washed over us like a pleasant hug. Massive stalactites and stalagmites joined together forming otherworldly shapes (our favourite was the one that looked like an elephant!).

Most visitors only see the first km via a series of walkways built up through the entrance of the cave. If you’d like to continue through the further 6km through the cave (swim in the river and explore the giant cavern at the end) you can book a full caving tour.

*expert tip – there are toilets before you start the hike up to the cave. I’d strongly recommend using them!

Bike Ride Through Bong Lai Valley

This was our favourite things we did in Phong Nha! The countryside is relatively flat (other than the limestone karsts jutting out of the countryside) making it ideal for exploring by bike. This is definitely something you can do on your own, just make sure you download an offline map of the area first (using maps.me or Google maps).

If you have a bit of room in the budget, I’d highly recommend hiring a guide. The day will be much more relaxing if you don’t have to worry about where you’re going and can just enjoy the scenery. (You can easily hire bikes and a guide through your accommodation or one of the many tour offices in town).

vietnam travel destinations

Where To Stay In Phong Nha

The staple backpacker accommodation in Phong Nha is Easy Tiger’s Original Hostel. It has only dorm rooms available, and tends to be relatively loud most nights. The restaurant is pretty decent with great atmosphere, and the pool is free for anyone to use!

Where To Eat In Phong Nha

Easy Tiger Hostel Restaurant

The restaurant at Easy Tiger Hostel is spread out around the common space; in the courtyard, by the pool and inside the lounge area. Food is decent with a good variety of Western food options. We especially enjoyed the delicious American-style breakfasts here!

Omar’s Namaste Indian Restaurant

You may think it’s strange to recommend an Indian restaurant in Vietnam, but Omar’s Namaste Indian Restaurant was incredible! My mouth is still watering over the chilli & coriander naan. If you’re looking for a change from Vietnamese food, this place is a must-eat-at in Phong Nha!

Nguyen Shack

Nguyen Shack is a small BBQ joint in the center of Phong Nha. It’s right in the middle of the tourist area, is is such a fun meal to sit and cook yourself.

Phong Nha Coffee Station

As much as I LOVE a deliciously sweet and strong Vietnamese coffee, sometimes I just want a good latte. Phong Nha Coffee Station has incredible lattes (and other coffee), possibly the best we found in all of Vietnam!

How To Get To Phong Nha

Phong Nha is accessed via the neighbouring town of Dong Hoi. If you’re taking a tourist bus many of these will stop at the hostels in Phong Nha. All other modes of transportation (train & plane) stop in Dong Hoi.

Once you’ve reached Dong Hoi, you can have your accommodation arrange van pickup, book a private transfer yourself, or just hail a taxi. Don’t pay more than 400,000-500,000vnd ($22-28CAD) for the taxi, you may have to barter hard! If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, or want to save a bit of money, consider catching the local bus. It’s bus B4 (Dong Hoi – Hoan Lao – Phong Nha), and you can catch it from the Nam Ly Bus Station.

Train: The train to Dong Hoi takes 10hrs from Hanoi, a whopping 23hrs from HCMC, 3hrs from Hue and 8hrs from Da Nang. Find the latest schedule and pricing on Vietnam Railways.

Plane: Dong Hoi airport has a couple flights every day to HCMC and Hanoi.

Northern Vietnam

Tam Coc (Ninh Binh): 1-2 Days

Of all the Vietnam destinations one could visit, Tam Coc is relatively easily accessible. The largest city in this area is Ninh Binh, but I found it industrial and unappealing (sorry Ninh Binh!). Although Tam Coc is a bit (okay, a LOT) more touristy, it’s a lovely little area very close to everything you’ll want to do. I’d highly recommend staying in Tam Coc rather than Ninh Binh.

The Best Things To Do In Tam Coc

Trang An Grottoes

Tam Coc and Trang An are the two most popular areas for a boat tour in the countryside around Ninh Binh. I’d love to be able to compare them myself but we chose to visit Trang An grottoes on our first visit and loved it so much we went back on a subsequent visit, choosing to skip the Tam Coc boat ride all together.

The long route takes you through 9 caves, a few of which you’ll need to duck at various places. It’s such a cool experience, something we were happy to repeat!

*expert tip – you have to pay for the toilets here, but they’re inexpensive and worth using prior to getting on the boat for 2.5 hours!

best places to see in Vietnam
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital

How Lu was the ancient capital in Vietnam in the 10th century, and is still in surprisingly great condition. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and is full of ornately covered temples set amongst peaceful gardens, surrounded by mountains. You can easily spend a few hours wandering around, exploring the area.

top things to see in vietnam
Bai Dinh Pagoda

Although this is a relatively new complex, it’s still beautiful and worth exploring. The views from the top of the Pagoda are spectacular, and since it’s relatively new there’s an elevator to the top, saving lots of stairs. You can easily spend a few hours exploring the various temples and pagodas in the complex.

  • Location: Xã, Gia Sinh, Gia Viễn.
  • Hours: 7am – 6pm every day
  • Cost: Free to enter, the electric car ride from the parking lot to entrance is 30,000 VND ($1.70 CAD) per ride and is worth it!
Best places to travel in Vietnam

Where To Stay In Tam Coc

Where To Eat In Tam Coc

Tam Coc is a typical tourist city with a variety of restaurants, none of which really stood out for us! My suggestion is to ask at your accommodation, or check out Google or Trip Advisor for the latest recommendations.

How To Get To Tam Coc

You’ll come in and out of Ninh Binh and will need to either grab a taxi or arrange pick-up with your accommodation to travel the 10km to Tam Coc.

Both the bus and train journeys from Hanoi take about 2-2.5hrs. They’re both comfortable and easy. I usually choose the train because I like being able to move around. It’s worth comparing prices at 12Go.Asia before making a decision!

You can also take the bus or train from Dong Hoi (Phong Nha) to Ninh Binh. It’s about an 8hr journey, but the countryside along the way is spectacular!

Sa Pa: 2-4 Days

Throughout the past decade tourism in SaPa has transformed this sleepy mountain town into one of the premier Vietnam tourist destinations. With the influx of tourists has come the destruction of environment and culture that typically accompanies fast development. It’s still possible to get away from the crowds and glimpse the magic that’s made SaPa so popular.

vietnam places to see
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)

The Best Things To Do In Sa Pa

Go Trekking

The most popular thing to do in Sa Pa is to go trekking in the rice fields and hillside around town. I highly recommend looking into SaPa Sisters Trekking. This female owned and operated company empowers minority women living in and around SaPa, providing them an opportunity to earn a living and help support their families.

Mt. Fansipan Cable Car

You can either take the hard way (hike to the top) or the easy way (the 15min cable car) to visit the top of Mt. Fansipan. I’d suggest the easy way, unless you really love hiking and haven’t had enough trekking around the countryside!

  • Location: TT. Sa Pa, Sa Pa, Lao Cai
  • Hours: 7am – 6pm every day
  • Cost: 700,000 VND ($40 CAD)/adult and 500,000 VND ($28 CAD)/child 1.1-1.3m tall
best holiday destinations in vietnam
Visit a Minority Market

There are markets either in SaPa or in one of the nearby villages most days of the week. It’s worth going out of your way to visit some of the more far-flung markets as they tend to be less touristy and have a better vibe. Check out this post for an overview of which markets occur on which days.

vietnam top attractions
(Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Photos)

Where To Stay In Sa Pa

Where To Eat In Sa Pa

We were relatively unenthused with our meals in SaPa, so I honestly don’t feel like I’m the right person to recommend anywhere to eat in this little mountain town! Your best bet is to check it out on Trip Advisor and find something that appeals to you.

The main town of SaPa is quite touristy, so there are plenty of options!

How To Get To Sa Pa

The majority of visitors to SaPa come essentially as a round-trip from Hanoi. Unlike everyone else we traveled to SaPa from HaGiang (in the North of Vietnam) then carried on over the border to Laos. We never took the overnight train, which is unfortunate, because sleeping trains are one of our favourite things!

Bus – I almost always choose the train over the bus, however the bus to SaPa does have a few advantages. First off, it’s slightly faster than the train, arriving in around 7hrs. Second, the bus has the advantage of arriving directly in SaPa, whereas the train arrives in Lao Cai which is an hour drive from SaPa. If you’re traveling round-trip from Hanoi I’d suggest taking the bus TO SaPa (so you don’t have to mess with the transfer once you arrive), and take the train BACK to Hanoi.

There are a few good bus options on the SaPaTrain website (in the bus section!)

Train – An overnight train is something everyone should do at some point in their lives!! The Hanoi-SaPa route is a popular one, with comfortable trains and plenty of options. Vietnam Railways lists all the available tourist trains to SaPa, with pricing and schedules. One thing to notes…the train doesn’t actually go to SaPa! It ends in Lao Cai, about an hour’s drive from SaPa. You’ll need to pre-arrange pick-up or grab one of the many taxis or mini-buses at the Lao Cai station to get to SaPa.

Ha Long Bay: 3 Days

Ha Long Bay is one of the best places to go in Vietnam that should be on any first time itinerary. I feel a bit guilty saying this, because when we visited Vietnam with our friends last year (their first time) we DIDN’T visit Ha Long Bay because we’d already done it. And, although it’s spectacular, we didn’t have a burning need to go back. I guess they’ll just have to visit Vietnam again so they can get to Ha Long Bay!

vietnam vacation spots
Why You Need 3 Days

Many tour companies offer 1, 2 & 3 day cruise options for Ha Long Bay. These are a bit misleading because the drive from Hanoi is 3 hours. My suggestion is to do a 3-day (2-night) cruise because you’ll actually get a FULL day on the water.

Why You Should Book With Indochina Junk

For starters, we’re in no way sponsored by Indochina Junk, nor have we ever received any money from them. I’m not even an affiliate so I don’t make any money if you book one of their cruises. I just think they’re the best tour operator to use when visiting Ha Long Bay.

Why?

Because they’re one of only tour operators with a permit for Bai Tu Long Bay. Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are side-by-side and have exactly the same landscape. The difference is that Ha Long Bay will be jam-packed full of boats, and in Bai Tu Long Bay you might not even see another boat.

Ha Long Bay Cruise Options

Admittedly, cruises to Bai Tu Long Bay with Indochina Junk are more expensive than some of the other alternatives. If you’re on a budget, or short on time, check out these other options that still get you into Bai Tu Long Bay and (hopefully) away from the crowds.

Hanoi: 3-4 Days

Hanoi is one of the best cities to visit in Vietnam. In fact, it’s my favourite city in Vietnam, and potentially my favourite city in all of Asia (it’s maybe tied with Luang Prabang, I can’t decide!). The Old Quarter is noisy and a bit chaotic, but it’s just SO charming. There are tiny alleyways tucked all over the place that offer (a bit of) respite from the busy streets. Getting lost in the alleys is a must-do in Hanoi!

The Best Things To Do In Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake

Wandering around Hoan Kiem Lake feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the ring road around it. You can stop for an ice cream of coffee at one of the many cafes around the lake, or cross the bridge to Ngọc Sơn Temple. The bridge is the prettiest at night when it’s all lit up!

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Water Puppet Show

A traditional water puppet show isn’t just for kids! This is something that’s definitely enjoyed by all ages. The best (in my opinion) theatre is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on the North End of Hoan Kiem Lake. Make sure you buy your tickets earlier in the day as it’s assigned seating and many of the shows sell out.

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Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius, and was the first national university in Vietnam (which I think is pretty cool!). The site is incredibly peaceful, as you would expect, and feels a world away from the noisy city around it. If you’re visiting on your own, it’s worth getting the audioguide.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

This is something we haven’t done in Hanoi, as we’ve always visited with kids and I don’t trust they’ll be quiet enough (yet) to be respectful and quiet. If you want to visit, keep in mind that this Ho Chi Minh was and still is highly revered amongst the Vietnamese, and his mausoleum should be treated with respect. Make sure to dress appropriately, meaning legs and arms covered as much as possible. No photography is allowed, and the lineup is often long (up to 2 hours!).

Hanoi Kids Walking Tour

This is something we did on our first trip to Hanoi and it’s still one of my favourite Hanoi activities to date. We were met by 2 university students who spent 4 hours walking us around Hanoi. They were able to practice their English in exchange for giving us a local’s perspective of their city. We wandered Old Quarter, visited the Temple of Literature and went for Egg Coffee with the best view over Hoan Kiem Lake. Make sure to book in advance as it’s quite popular!

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Street Food Tour

Vietnamese food was the reason we traveled to Vietnam the first time (thanks Anthony Bourdain!), and is the real reason we LOVE the country. Hanoi has some of the best street food in Vietnam and it’s definitely worth joining a street food tour to find things you’d have a hard time trying otherwise.

There are a LOT of options to choose from, and the one we did was good (but not great) so I suggest doing some research before choosing one. You can start here if you’d like!

Where To Stay In Hanoi

I suggest staying in Hanoi’s Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem Lake). It has the most charm and is one of my favourite parts of any city in all of Asia! All of the options listed below include excellent breakfasts (other than the Sofitel!) and are located in the Old Quarter.

Where To Eat In Hanoi

Pizza 4P’s Trang Tien

If you’re looking for a break from Vietnamese food (I’m not sure WHY you’d want a break from Vietnamese food), Pizza 4P’s Trang Tien is the BEST pizza in Vietnam. Not that we ate a lot of pizza in Vietnam, but it’s pretty freaking delicious pizza!

Pho 10

I think the best place to eat Pho is at a tiny table on the sidewalk! But, if you’re looking for something more restaurant-like, Pho 10 is the place to go. Randy did a TON of research (he considers himself a bit of a Pho aficionado) and decided this was the best off-the-street-place-to-eat-pho. Be cautious of the tiny chili peppers, they’re VERY spicy!

Cinnamon Restaurant

We very rarely eat at “fancy” restaurants when we travel, but after (months) of backpacking we decided to splurge on a nice meal with our friends. It was 100% worth it! If you’re sticking to a backpacker budget, steer clear of here. But, if you’re looking for a nice meal at a very reasonable price by Western standards, Cinnamon Restaurant is delish! (Our “fancy” meal for 9 people with non-alcoholic drinks was 2,950,000dong/$165CAD).

How To Get To Hanoi

Hanoi is easily accessed from everywhere in the country, and is well connected by bus, train and plane.

The Hanoi Airport is 30km from the centre of town. You can pre-arranage pick up with your accommodation (but this will be the most expensive). The cheapest option is public bus 17 which costs 5000 VND ($0.30 CAD) and takes about an hour to Long Bien Station, the closest to Old Quarter. You can also take bus 7, which runs to Kim Ma bus station about 2km West of Old Quarter. They both run every 15-20 min from 5am to 10pm. A Grab car or taxi is an easier but more expensive option at around 320,000 VND ($18 CAD).

Alternative Places To See In Vietnam

Phu Quoc: 3-4 Days

The Best Things To Do In Phu Quoc

If you want to get off the beaten path and are wondering where to visit in Vietnam, consider the tropical island of Pho Quoc. We spent our days in Phu Quoc lazing around on the beach, kayaking around the coast, snorkelling in front of our resort and biking through the small neighbouring villages. It was peaceful and relaxing, and we loved it!

If you’re looking for a bit more to do though, this is the most comprehensive list of things to do in Phu Quoc I could find (because we did very little other than relax!).

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Visit a Pepper Farm

The one thing we DID do (on our way back to the airport) was visit one of the Phu Quoc Pepper Farms. Most people who’ve traveled in SE Asia have heard of the famous Kampot pepper from Cambodia. Phu Quoc is just across from the Cambodian coast and has a very similar climate, therefore producing very similar pepper.

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If you just want a taste of the island you can join a day-trip from HCMC. (I promise once you see it you’ll want more than a day!)

Where To Stay In Phu Quoc

We spent an idyllic few days at the Gold Coast Resort on the north coast of Phu Quoc. There wasn’t any Vietnam sightseeing, just recharging. Our beach-front bungalows were beautiful and the food offered at the resort was delicious.

There are a number of great accommodation options in Phu Quoc, ranging from budget to very high end. Everything listed is beach front (because this is the point of visiting the island) and includes A/C (because it gets pretty stinking hot and you’ll definitely appreciate it!). They all include breakfast except Gecko Guest House (but you can book breakfast at the on-site restaurant on arrival).

Where To Eat In Phu Quoc

We were SO lazy, we ate every meal at our accommodation in Phu Quoc!! The menu was extensive, the food was delicious, and it was just easier. Phu Quoc Island Guide has a very comprehensive post on where (and what) to eat on Phu Quoc that I suggest you check it if you’re not as lazy as we were!

How To Get To Phu Quoc

Plane – The easiest way to get to Phu Quoc is to fly from HCMC or Hanoi. Check Momondo for the best flight prices! The island is quite spread out, so you’ll likely want to pre-arrange pick up from your accommodation.

Boat – There are a number of options for fast ferries from the mainland to Phu Quoc Island. Whether you Departs from Rach Gia (the shortest drive from HCMC and longest ferry) or Ha Tien (longest drive from HCMC but shortest ferry) depends on your itinerary and whether you’d rather spend more time on the boat or in a vehicle! You can book your ferry tickets online from Superdong, and even pre-arrange transportation from the ferry dock to Duong Dong town.

Combine your trip to or from Phu Quoc with a tour of the Mekong Delta. I love combining tours with transport with accommodation!

 

Ha Giang/Yen Minh Province: 3-4 Days

Ha Giang province is tucked away in Northern Vietnam on the border with China and truly is the best of Vietnam. It’s becoming a more common stop on a North Vietnam Itinerary, but is still off the beaten path. It feels like Vietnam’s final frontier as the wave of tourism that’s hit the rest of the country hasn’t made it here…yet!

best things to see in vietnam

The Best Things To Do In Ha Giang

Quan Ba Twin Mountains

The entire drive from Ha Giang town to Yen Minh is stunning, but stopping at Quan Ba Heaven Gate for a view of the Quan Ba Twin mountains is one of the best rest-stops along the way. (You’ll also need the stop because the road is pretty winding and twisty!).

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Dong Van Sunday Market

The minority markets around SaPa have become quite the tourism spectacle recently and have lost a bit of their charm. The Dong Van Sunday market (and the rest of the minority markets held throughout the week in various locations in Ha Giang market) have yet to succumb to the fate of over-tourism and are still authentic and fascinating to visit.

Ha Giang’s Happiness Road

The most popular way to see this part of Vietnam is on two-wheels (with a motor!). Not wanting to be left out, we rented a scooter one day from our hotel and LOVED exploring the countryside. The freedom of having your own transportation is incredible and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

Our reason for being in Ha Giang was to visit our sponsor child through Plan Canada, so we also explored via car (with a guide and driver…complete luxury!). We vowed to come back (when our kids are older) and spend more time (likely on a motorbike) in this part of the world.

If you’re not into motorbiking, or want something a little more comfortable, you can do the loop by car. Check out Emily’s post for everything you need to know about visiting Ha Giang without a motorbike.

vietnam places to go

Where To Stay In Ha Giang

Ha Giang province is quite large, but I recommend you stay either in Ha Giang or Yen Minh. You’ll also likely find random homestays along the way if you’re doing a road-tour.

Where To Eat In Ha Giang

Our favourite place to eat in Ha Giang was at the little Pho stand beside the market, but it was one of those places we just stumbled upon and I have no idea exactly where it was!

If you’re looking for the best places to eat in Ha Giang (and what to eat) check out this guide. It’s got you covered!

How To Get To Ha Giang

Ha Giang has (so far) avoided the swarms of tourists found in SaPa because it’s a bit more difficult to get to. There’s no train here, so you either have to come over the border from China, or take a bus (either from Hanoi or SaPa).

We took the day-time bus from Hanoi (6-8hrs), and then carried on via the day-time bus to SaPa. Both buses were comfortable, but the one from Hanoi was definitely better! We booked it through our accommodation in Hanoi and had no problems, but you can also book in advance online. If you book a bus with 2 levels and tend to get car sick, make sure you book a few days ahead so you can get a bottom bunk (the top tunks sway a lot!).

Well, there you have it, all the Vietnam cities to visit.

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