If you’re one of those travelers, who are looking to explore a still relatively under travelled part of the world, then Vietnam must be added onto your bucket list. Vietnam holds a unique combination of astonishing natural beauty, rich culture, thriving cities, along with isolated hill tribe villages.
Oftentimes, when people talk about Vietnam, they only speak about the war and rebellion that lasted for many years. It’s only now after major renovations and urbanization that travelers are getting a chance to see the other side of this beautiful exotic country. Whether you are traveling alone, with a group of friends, or your family, you will certainly find plenty to do in this incredible country.
What to Expect in Vietnam
Vietnam used to be a lesser-known travel destination in Southeast Asia. Taking the lead were neighboring countries like Thailand and Indonesia as most travelers’ top picks. Over the years, it has gained popularity worldwide with Hanoi being consistently included in TripAdvisor’s top 10 travel destinations.
When traveling, make sure to keep your valuables close, check on the agreed price beforehand, but most importantly enjoy the relative wilderness of this stunning country. Consider getting travel insurance, have your drivers license to be able to rent motorbikes, and enjoy exploring these fantastic places.
It’s because of its warm people and locations as one of the most beautiful countries in Asia. But before you book your tickets and pack your bags to go on an epic adventure, you should do a bit of research on where to stay, what to do, how get around and the places places to stay in this exotic country.
Destinations – Due to Vietnam’s subtropic location, the majority of the country receives warmer weather year round. Popular destinations include the major cities of Hanoi, Saigon and Da Nang. Coastal beach getaways are common too, to places like Hoi An, Mui Ne and Nha Trang. There are also mountainous regions such as Sapa and Da Lat.
Weather – Although subtropical, Vietnam is a large, long mountainous coastal country with an elevation range from 0 to peaking at 3,143 meters (10,312 feet) above sea level. You can certainly experience four seasons here depending on where you go and even a chance to see snowfall in certain destinations (although rare) like Sapa.
Both the north and south get hot in the summer, unless you’re escaping to the cooler breezes of higher elevation, in spots like Sapa, Ba Na Hills or Da Lat. Although Hanoi’s hot and sweaty in the summer, the same humidly causes it to be quite chilly in the winter. While Saigon and much of the south on the other hand stay warm. The bigger thing to note in the climate is the wet (May to October) and dry (November to April) seasons.
Activities – When it comes to spending for tours, travelers could really get a lot from their buck because most attraction spots in Vietnam are centered on its natural sceneries. But if you want to book tours like Ha Long Bay cruises in Hanoi, expect to pay at least $40 for a two-day trip. Compared to traveling to other Asian countries like Singapore, China and Japan, it’s still reasonably a lot cheaper.
Food – Vietnam is a culinary hot spot so expect to be spoiled with a lot of delicious local dishes. Whether you’re choosing a sit-down restaurant or picking out a food stall, prices come reasonably. A bowl of Pho or rice dish will only cost you $1 or 2. If you’re going a little upscale, expect to spend at least $7 for a meal. Be sure to try out some of their popular dishes like Banh Mi, which is their Vietnamese version of a very good sandwich.
It’s much like other tourist destinations and if you want to spend money on fine food you certainly can. You can also eat with the locals and live very cheaply. If you’re staying a longer than a week and would like to cook your own meals, expect to pay about $20-50 for a week’s worth of groceries. Overall eating out is cheaper than USA, because in addition to the menu itself being cheaper, tips are not expected and tax is less.
Festivals – Discover some of the historic annual events that occur around the country. The biggest annual celebration is known as Tet Holiday, which corresponds to the Lunar New Year. Locals do a lot of traveling during Tet, especially from the big cities such as Hanoi and HCMC to their more rural hometowns.
Transportation – Traveling within Vietnam also comes very cheap. There’s also many alternatives on how to get to one place to another. Bus rides usually cost quarter of a dollar per ride. Overnight buses and trains can take you to any point in the country and should cost between $1 and $33, depending on where you want to go. To give an example, a bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia costs just about $15. Another alternative is booking low-cost plane rides if time is an issue. There are airlines that offer trips for as low as $18 one way.
Accommodations – The good thing about Vietnam is that there are a myriad places where travelers can stay depending on their budget and needs. Hostels in particular are very popular among solo backpackers and those who are traveling on a budget. There are some hostels that offer as low as $5 per night, which allows you to really stretch your travel money.
Private apartments can be found for around $20 per night and up, which is of course a lot more comfortable since you will have more space and privacy. Most hostels and hotels offer complimentary WiFi, breakfast and while some even offer free beers.
Where to Go and What to Do
Marvel Hanoi – The picturesque city is filled with traces of French colonial architectures mixed with Asian influences. You can simply wander on the streets of Old Quarter and admire the old buildings and establishments that have stood the test of war and time.
Visit the Pagodas – One of Vietnam’s finest architectures are their pagodas which can be seen everywhere. These are used as temples and shrines by Vietnamese people and considered one of the many treasures of the Southeast Asian country.
Adventure in Sapa – This northern area is very popular among travelers because of beautiful and relaxed atmosphere. Famous for its hills, mountains, and terraces, it’s many foreigners’ favorite spot in the North. It’s such a tranquil place to settle for a week whether you want to explore or de-stress. It’s advisable to go to Sa Pa during the off peak season so you can take advantage of biking and trekking.
Discover Ho Chi Minh City – It’s Vietnam’s largest city which is why it’s definitely worth exploring. The Ben Thanh Market is good places to go to if you’re looking for great food and activities you might want to do. The city is also very much alive at night so a perfect destination for those who are looking to party.
Halong Bay – Undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s world class destinations that is often frequented by locals and foreigners. It has more than 3,000 islands for guests to sightsee and explore. Visitors usually spend 3-5 days touring Halong Bay, making sure that they’ve seen and done most of what its emerald green water has to offer.
Check out Dive spots in Nha Trang – Apart from their beaches and water attractions, Nha Trang is also a famous destination for those who want to go diving. There are different packages offered by many businesses like Open Water certification that should cost around $400.
Vietnam Travel Tips
Tourist Bus – Contrary to other countries, it’s way cheaper to take the “tourist” bus in Vietnam rather than taking the local bus. Tourists actually get a discount price in fares. For example, it costs just around $50 to travel to one end of the country to the other end.
Bargain – Locals usually charge a lot more when they realize you’re a tourist. Whether you’re buying from a food stall or a souvenir shop, haggle twice as you normally would. Also, don’t feel bad about walking away when you feel like they’re charging way more than you’re willing to pay. The best thing to do is negotiate your “final price” to come to an agreement.
Late Night Commute – Traveling at night can save you some money because you don’t have to spend on accommodation. There are many sleeper buses that you can book which will take you to your next destination without wasting more time and money by staying overnight at one place.
Skip SIM Card – Another good thing about Vietnam is that you can connect to WiFi at almost every hotel, restaurant and shops for free. Since you won’t be spending a lot of time online anyway, you can skip getting a SIM card. But if you need to be connected to the internet all the time, you can get one but make sure that your phone supports it.
Hotel Staff – Don’t underestimate the information you can get from hotel and hostel staffs where you’re staying. The locals know a lot of things that will be useful for your trip. You can ask the best places to eat, costs of transportation and other services. Vietnamese people friendly and would be more than willing to help you out.
Visas for Entering Vietnam
Citizens of Australia, Canada and the United States need to apply for visa before arrival. These come in a range of lengths, including both personal and business. You can choose from single entry or multiple entry, in terms of 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year for U.S. tourist visas. The business visa has an option up to 3 years. The basic is the 30-days single entry visa.
For citizens of Southeast Asia, Western Europe and Scandinavia, they get to visit Vietnam visa free for 15 days. Please check your country’s embassy for the correct and most current visa information.
History of Vietnam
Located on the South China Sea, Vietnam is famous for its many historical attractions, pagodas, Buddhist temples, and its natural sceneries. According to the United Nations Population Division, Vietnam has a population of 95.5 million as of 2017, higher than that of Germany and United Kingdom.
Vietnam has fought many battles over the centuries starting in 939 A.D. when an independent Vietnamese group was formed. Back then, the northern region of Vietnam was part of Imperial China. Several imperial dynasties grew politically and geographically until the country was colonized by the French in the 19th century.
In 1954, the Japanese won the First Indochina War against the French that caused the division of the country into two rival states: North Vietnam or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and South Vietnam or the Republic of Vietnam. The conflict between two groups led to what the world knows as the Vietnam War, which had heavy intervention from the United States from 1965 to 1973.
The battle ended in 1975 with North Vietnam’s victory, ending the nearly 20 year war. Southern Vietnam’s President General Duong Van Minh surrendered to the Communist forces unconditionally in Independence Palace, Saigon.
Finally in 1986, the Vietnamese government had a series of political and economic reforms that paved the way for the country to carve its name in the world’s economic map. By 2000, Vietnam was able to achieve its status of having one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Climate of Vietnam
Vietnam has different climate zones depending on the region.
North Vietnam – This part of the country has four distinct climates: spring, summer, autumn and winter. During the winter months (January – February), temperature can drop down below 15° Celsius. However, the Highlands could experience extreme temperatures and can even welcome snow in the winter months.
Central Vietnam – This region has two different weather patterns with strong winds and rains from September to February. Summer tends to be hot and dry, so it might also be difficult to travel to Central Vietnam during this time.
South Vietnam – It’s advisable to visit this part of the country from December to February when the weather is not as hot and the night’s are cooler. March to May/June are considered hot and dry months and June to November is the rain season.
The culture in Vietnam is heavily influenced by Southern China because of long and several periods of Chinese occupation. Their language also includes several borrowed words from Chinese.
Most people in the country are ethnic Vietnamese or Kinhs, but there are also ethnic Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City who are descendants from immigrants that arrived in Northern Vietnam from Guangdong province.
There are over 85% of Vietnamese who identify themselves as Buddhist followed by Catholics. Meanwhile, others share religions such as Christianity and Islam.
Biggest Cities in Vietnam
1. Ho Chi Minh City – Formerly known as “Saigon”, its name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the “Fall of Saigon” that took place in 1975. This is to honor the first leader in Northern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. It’s also considered the largest city in the country and perceived as the economic center of Vietnam.
2. Hanoi – The city has been the capital of Vietnam since the unification of the North and the South in 1976. The city lies on the bank of the Red River and used to be the capital of Northern Vietnam. After the North’s victory in the historical Vietnam War, Hanoi was declared the seat of government of the Southeast Asian country.
3. Hai Phong – This is the third largest city in terms of urban population located at the northern part of Vietnam. Hai Phong is also known as “The City of Flame Flowers” as flame flower trees line its streets, adding more beauty to the colonial look of the city.
4. Cần Thơ
5. Biên Hòa
6. Da Nang – It’s considered the most important city in the Central Coast of Vietnam and home to My Son Sanctuary which is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. It’s also where you can find the Marble Mountain or the “Five Elements Mountain” that never fails to impress its guests of its history and picturesque beauty.
7. Nha Trang – This coastal city in the South Central Coast of Vietnam is famous for their beaches. It has earned the interest of many foreign and local tourists because of its tropical holiday feel which has greatly helped in boosting the tourism industry in the area. The Nha Trang Beach in particular is very popular among foreign visitors because of its blissful nature and touristy appeal.
Vietnam’s definitely a destination with many different flavors. It’s exotic beauty will surely captivate any visitor that sets foot on its shores.