Looking to explore Vietnam but not sure where to start? This Vietnam travel guide will help you plan the perfect trip, whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or natural beauty. Vietnam is a country with something for everyone, and this guide will help you make the most of your time there.
Overview of Vietnam
- Capital: Hanoi (since 1010)
- Other main cities: Hue, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City
- Currency: dong. The Vietnamese use paper money ranging from VND 1,000 dong to 500,000. However, remember to keep small changes on you, because finding someone to break up a 500,000 bill might be difficult. Some places do take cards, and locals use bank transfers or send money via digital wallets such as Momo (available for residents only).
- Language: The official language is Vietnamese. Many people take English, French, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean as a second language. You will be able to get around with English (and occasionally Google Translate).
- Entry/Visa: You can apply for an E-visa online, at your local embassy or consulate, or get a visa on arrival. FTrip has a handy guide on how to get your visa.
- Safety: The rule of thumb is not to drive after dark, and get home before 10. Of course, on holiday, you can keep yourself safe and still have fun by staying in public, well-lit places, and keeping a close eye on your valuables.
- Transportation: You can get around the cities and the country in general by taxi, ridesharing apps, rented motorbikes and cars, buses, BRT (in Hanoi), and trains.
How to get to Vietnam
- By air: The three main international airports in Vietnam are Noi Bai International Airport (serving Hanoi), Tan Son Nhat International Airport (serving Ho Chi Minh City), and Da Nang International Airport (serving Da Nang). Additionally, Phu Quoc International Airport serves arrivals from some cities such as Seoul or Delhi.
- By train: Not available at the moment. There used to be direct two-way routes from China to Hanoi.
- Bus: You can take buses from Vientiane and Luang Prabang to Hanoi. Travelers out of Cambodia can take buses from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, the nearest major city.
Traveling around Vietnam
Traveling by Air
The Vietnamese national flagship carrier is Vietnam Airlines. Other options are Jetstar Airlines, VietJetAir, and Bamboo Airways. In addition to the major airports named above, Vietnam also has airports in Can Tho, Cam Ranh, Cat Bi, Phu Bai, Van Don, and Vinh.
Traveling by taxi or moto taxi
Booking a ride in Vietnam has never been easier. In addition to the traditional methods of waving down a passing cab or calling a phone number, you can book a car or motorbike ride through smartphone apps such as Grab, Bee, or GoJek. (Caveat: You might have to wait longer during rush hour and in the rain.)
Traveling by Bus
Within the cities, tickets are paid for in BRT stations and on the normal buses themselves. As it’s only VND 7,000 for a single ride, you must pay in cash. For long-haul buses, you can ask travel agents or book with reputable websites such as 12go.
Traveling by Motorbike
Travel agencies often offer motorbikes for rent. Navigating the traffic in Vietnam can be a terrifying affair requiring nerves of steel, with local drivers being quite cavalier about safety, but you can never be too careful. Keep your helmet on at all times and avoid the temptation of speeding.
Traveling by Train (online booking available, sleeping train)
The official website of Vietnam Railways is available in Vietnamese and English. You can book tickets there directly and pay online or upon ticket pickup, instead of through a third party.
Top 5 Vietnam travel experiences
Saigon Food Tour on a Vespa
As night falls, experienced drivers hop on their Vespas and take culinary adventurers to see a different side of Ho Chi Minh City. Depending on the Saigon food tour, in addition to sampling local delicacies such as Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), cha Gio (fried spring rolls), and other “Best of” authentic Vietnamese street foods, you may be able to go on the town at cafes with live music, as well as visit markets and local vendors to learn more about the culture and cash economy.
Ha Giang loop tour
This circular route, close to the border with China, is often traversed by semi-automatic motorcycles over the course of three to five days. The winding, narrow, and precarious roads will take you past jaw-dropping canyons and awe-inspiring mountain passes beneath an endless blue sky. In the right season, you can see massive fields of rice or buckwheat flowers in bloom in Ha Giang loop tour.
Cruise the Mekong Delta
The Mekong River runs through multiple countries, and it is here in Vietnam that it exits into the East Sea through nine mouths, earning the name Cuu Long (Nine Dragons) River. Many cruise lines offer the opportunity to ford the waters of this mighty river in luxury, comfort, and safety. Just as royals once sailed this river, you will see the diverse animal life, lush greenery, and schools of fish that sustain the locals.
Explore Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was recognized by UNESCO in 2003 as a World Heritage Site. To enter one of the caves in this system is to enter another world, liminal and dream-like, as dim lighting gives way to darkness and solitude. Some caves even have a thriving ecosystem, with plants (similar to what grows outside the caves) growing wherever there is light from a collapse and water from an underground river.