Most flights to Vietnam go to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon). From there, stay and soak up the bustling city life or travel to Hoi An (a quiet city), Phu Quoc Island (south of Vietnam, home to 99 forested mountains), Nha Trang (white sandy beaches for miles), Ha Long Bay (a stunningly beautiful World Heritage Site located near the border with China).
Whether it’s beaches, markets, shopping, hiking or cruises, you can do one or all of these things with some forward planning.
How to Get Around Vietnam
Plane, train, automobile. Your options aren’t limited at all when it comes to getting around Vietnam. Buses, tuk tuks and scooters are all additional options.
Many travellers opt to fly in to Ho Chi Minh from their international destination then travel north to Hanoi, or south via bus, hiking, motorbike or standard road bike then returning via plane. You can fly from Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Hue, Nha Trang, Da Lat or Phu Quoc via domestic flights.
Trains are more expensive than buses in Vietnam, though they are more comfortable and a faster way to travel between destinations. The train between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is a popular route, though keep in mind it takes over 30 hours. If you book an overnight trip, you’ll sleep through most of it. Book early, especially in peak season to ensure you get the time and date you need.
Most cities in Vietnam are well serviced by bus routes, although the quality of some of the roads leaves plenty to be desired and you may find the comfort factor gives good reason to opt for taxis, trains or flights. Short bus trips aren’t too taxing, though keep in mind that there may be a lack of English language skills, so studying the routes prior to jumping on the bus is advised.
Your driving licence isn’t recognised in Vietnam so renting cars is not advisable nor easy. You can organise a private driver though, and if travelling in a group this can be an affordable and comfortable option for getting around.
Bicycle tours are aplenty but you can also rent bikes in the major cities and Dalat, Hoi An, Ninh Binh and Hue are renowned for being cycle-friendly.
Alternatively, flag down a motorcycle taxi, motorbike or cyclo. Make sure you settle upon a price before departing though and don’t be afraid to negotiate. It’s expected. The roads can be chaotic so it’s advisable not to rent a motorbike or a car.
From an easy stroll through to serious jungle hikes, Vietnam’s beautiful landscape is entirely designed to be walked, trekked, climbed and ambled.
Northern Vietnam is ideal for mountainous climbs and more sturdy trekking while elsewhere you’ll find nature trails, reserves, national parks and coastline hikes.
Lang Bian Mountain in Dalat offers a variety of adventurous walks and experiences. Rock climbing and camping alongside hiking are the most popular activities.
Ba Be National Park was only established in the early 1990s. Rainforests, waterfalls and sky high limestone mountains all jostle for your attention. There’s plenty of hiking trails to choose from, with multi-day treks enabling you to see waterfalls, caves, rice fields and more.
Cat Ba National Park is located on an island near Ha Long Bay. Go for the 18 kilometre hiking trail up a mountain. It will take approximately 6 hours and it’s advisable to go with a guide. This is a wildlife lover’s idyll, with a good chance you’ll spot civets, macaques and deer.
Cuc Phuong National Park is Vietnam’s oldest and largest national park. It’s renowned for being a conservation area rich with hiking trails that may take you up the karst mountains for unforgettable valley views or less strenuous hikes through the forests and trails. Local guides are available or opt for a self-guided day hike.
Ba Na Hill is ideal for those seeking scenic walks without too much challenge. Hiking trails through this quirky replica of a French Colonial town and miniature railway is fun and will lead to gorgeous waterfalls.
Like many of the South East Asian destinations, Vietnam is friendly, hospitable and welcoming of tourists. Over half the population are Buddhist, though there are 11 recognised religions in Vietnam: Islam, Bahai, Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai amongst them.
In many family homes there are shrines to family ancestors, regardless of religious identity.
Vietnam was colonised for over a thousand years by China and thus, their values, norms and traditions have been influenced by Chinese culture. French culture also plays a strong role, since Vietnam was colonised by the French in the 19th century and there are still many elements of architecture, design and food related to the French influence.
It’s advisable to wear sleeves that cover the shoulders and knee length or longer pants when visiting religious sites. If visiting a family home, acknowledging and greeting the elders is expected and respectful. It is also expected that you will remove your shoes upon entering homes and religious sites. If you’re worried about the security of leaving your shoes, you can carry them in a bag with you. Gifts of fruit, flowers or confectionary when invited to a house are the norm.