Vietnam Temple in Tam Coc - Guide to Vietnam

Guide to Vietnam

The Vietnam flag - all red with a yellow star in the center
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Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is a country with breathtaking landscapes, ancient traditions, and a vibrant culture. From the lively streets of Hanoi to the serene mountains of Ninh Binh, Vietnam offers a diverse range of experiences.

With a past marked by resilience, Vietnam blends it’s storied past with modern aspirations. Visitors are drawn to it’s bustling cities, picturesque countryside, and iconic landmarks. Vietnam is a land of contrasts but its warm hospitality makes it an unforgettable destination for those who explore what it has to offer.

Vietnam Country infor including the capital, language, population, money, and dialing code

About Vietnam

Vietnam, officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is located in Southeast Asia bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east and south.

Vietnam stretches approximately 1025 miles along the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. It’s this strategic location that put Vietnam at the crossroads of trade and cultural exchange for centuries that has had a huge influence on its history and culture.

NOTE: If you’re looking for specific articles about Vietnam, just scroll all the way to the bottom of this page to find them.

Guide to Vietnam: Vietnam’s History

Vietnam has a long history of being ruled by different groups. Chinese dynasties ruled the northern part of Vietnam since the 3rd century BC and that lasted for about 1100 years. In the 10th century, the Vietnamese began to take back their country and established a monarchy followed by dynasties for about 1000 years.

During all of this time there were numerous civil wars with different nations and in the mid 1800’s, France colonized the country. In the mid 1940’s, Ho Chi Minh began to rise as a prominent leader in the North while the France still controlled the South.

Eventually France was forced to pull out and Vietnam was left with a communist North and a semi-independent South. The North tried to spread communisim to the South and the United States stepped in in an attempt to stop it.

Eventually the US pulled out and the North attacked Saigon and took over. Today, Vietnam is a communist state.

Best time to visit Vietnam

Vietnam is considered a tropical country but because it stretches over 1000 miles long, the weather varies. There are parts of the country that have snow in the mountains and can get pretty cold in the winter months.

But even though Northern Vietnam can be cold in the winter months, the southern part of Vietnam doesn’t really make it out of summer. Most everywhere else it’s hot and humid throughout the year.

So, that said, November, December, January, and February are the best times to travel to Vietnam. It won’t be unbarebly hot yet like it is the rest of the year. Spring and summer is not only hot and humid, it’s also the rainy season.

The best time to visit Vietnam will really depend on what you want to do. If you plan on spending time in all parts of Vietnam then it may be impossible to avoid some kind of poor weather.

We spent 3 weeks in Vietnam during December and Ho Chi Minh City was humid and hot, the center of the country around Hoi An rained so much the streets were flooded, and Sapa was so cold that we left early and went back to Hanoi. We weren’t prepared for winter in Vietnam!

Because of the wide-range of weather possibilities in Vietnam, I’m not sure you can avoid all of it. I still would suggest visiting between December and February for the best overall weather. Just bring an umbrella, raincoat, and at least a sweatshirt for the evenings in the northern part of Vietnam.

Areas of Interest in Vietnam

Vietnam is such a large country with a wide range of landscapes and historical sites that recommending the best places to visit is hard to narrow down. You could visit Vietnam a dozen times and still not have seen it all.

  1. Hanoi: This northern city is the capital of Vietnam and one of the country’s most vibrant and busiest cities. Hanoi is the political and economic heart of Vietnam with a history dating back over a thousand years. The city has a wealth of historical landmarks including the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university.
  2. Sapa: this picturesque town is in the northwestern mountains of Vietnam near the border with China. The town is surrounded by terraced rice fields and stunning landscapes. People travel to Sapa to hike to remote villages inhabited by ethnic minority groups to learn more about their culture.
  3. Ha Long Bay: Located south of Hanoi, this stunning natural wonder is one of Vietnam’s most iconic attractions. Ha Long Bay covers an area of around 600 square miles and comprises thousands of limestone karsts and isles creating a breathtaking seascape. There’s no shortage of outdoor activities in Ha Long Bay such as swimming, kayaking, and exploring caves and grottoes.
  4. Ninh Binh: While Ninh Binh might not be very well known, it’s quickly becoming a top destination in Vietnam. It’s often referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land” because of its karst landscape where you can explore boat trips through waterways that weaves through caves. Ninh Binh is one of Vietnam’s most beautiful areas.
  5. Hoi An: Hoi An is an ancient well-preserved town with a unique cultural heritage. Founded in the late 16th century, Hoi An was originally established as a trading port due to its strategic location along the Thu Bon River. Trade between Vietnam, China, Japan, and other countries took place there and helped shape Hoi An into the unique blend of multi-cultural heritage it is today.
  6. Hue: Hue once served as the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 making it one of Vietnam’s most significant and historical cities. Located there is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Imperial Citadel complete with fortified walls and a moat. The citadel contains the former royal residence, temples, and ceremonial halls.
  7. Da Nang: This coastal city is the largest city in central Vietnam making it a strategic location for trade and tourism. Da Nang is famous for it’s beaches with clear blue waters, the Marble Mountains, and the city’s iconic landmark, the Dragon Bridge. Da Nang is in a very convenient location right between Hoi An to the south and Hue to the north.
  8. Ho Chi Minh City: Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with around 10 million people. It’s located in the southern part of the country and is situated along the Saigon River just north of the Mekong River delta. Ho Chi Minh City is an economic powerhouse and a hub of culture, commerce, and history. From the historic Reunification Palace to the diverse culinary scene, Ho Chi Minh City is a place where you can view the old and new converging into a dynamic future.

Guide to Vietnam: Visa Requirements

Most people traveling to Vietnam will need at least six months available on their passport after their arrival date and a visa. Most people will only require a single-entry visa valid for 30 days but an option for a 90 day visa with multiple entries is also available.

Vietnam does have an e-visa available online which you can print out and bring with you or you can get a visa upon arrival at the airport. If you’re unsure if you need a visa you can check out Visa requirements for your country at the iVisa website.

Getting to Vietnam

Most people will either fly into Ho Chi Minh City in the south or Hanoi in the north. If you’re coming from other nearby countries such as Thailand or Cambodia, you will have more options for flying into some of Vietnam’s smaller cities.

Guide to Vietnam: Budget

Vietnam is very affordable from food to hotels. Depending on where you’re flying from, your flight will be the most expensive part of the trip.

Accomodations in Vietnam

Vietnam has some high end hotels but the budget hotels are also very nice. You can find 3 and 4 star hotels for as little as $25 a night. There are some luxury hotels as well so that option is available. And for those on a backpackers budget, there are plenty of hostels in Vietnam to stay in.

Some locations, such as Sapa, have what’s called homestays where you can stay with a local family to learn more about their life and culture.

Again, Vietnam is very affordable. Always look at your itinerary and choose a place near all the places you want to see to minimize your walking or having to pay for a taxi. Keep in mind that the closer you are to touristy areas, the more you’ll pay.

You also don’t want to be right in the center of everything. Nothing worse than trying to fall asleep but the local bars next door are still lively. Choose a place that’s close to the action but not directly in it.

Food & Drink in Vietnam

Vietnam has a diverse culinary heritage that has been influenced by local regions as well as past occupations. It’s most famous dish is pho, a noodle soup made with beef or chicken rice nootdles and broth with spices.

Vietnam’s second most famous dish is the Banh Mi, a legacy of French colonialism. The Banh Mi is a crusty baguette filled with meats and vegetables. Anthony Bourdain made a particular Banh Mi sandwich famous when he visited Hoi An.

These are just a few examples of food that you can get while in Vietnam. You can get an entire meal with a drink for under $5. There are a lot of local street carts that sell food for even less. In Hanoi on what is known as beer street, you can buy a cup of home-made beer for just 20 cents.

Not everything is that cheap but if you are looking for ways to save money while in Vietnam, you can.

Activities in Vietnam

Vietnam has a wide range of experiences and activities for travelers of all interests. From wandering through the streets and admiring historic sites such as the Old Quarter in Hanoi to cruising around on a boat through Ha Long Bay.

Ninh Binh Vietnam was probably our favorite place we visited in Vietnam. The landscape there was unbelievable. If you love outdoor activities such as hiking up mountains or boating through natural landscapes then Ninh Binh should be on your Vietnam itinerary.

There’s plenty of historical sites in Vietnam that would take a year to explore. Many of these sites are either free or priced so low that they might as well be free. Then there’s just walking around the streets taking photos of all the amazing buildings. That’s free!

There are some activities that really have nothing to do with anything history or culturally related to Vietnam but they just happen to be something unique such as standing inches away from a fast moving train in between buildings.

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of historical sites related to the Vietnam War such as the War Remnants Museum (which is just $1.50 to enter) and the Chi Chi Tunnels.

Did you know there is an abandoned water park in Vietnam that you can sneak into and look around? There is and it’s in Hue, Vietnam.

Shopping in Vietnam

Shopping in Vietnam is really affordable, including souvenirs. You’ll find a lot of knock-offs in Vietnam (fake purses and clothes) and a lot of people will buy those. Unless you’re a small person you might have a hard time finding clothes that fit so make sure you bring what you need to wear.

Guide to Vietnam: Getting Around

The best way to get around Vietnam from one city to another is to either fly, take the train, or take a bus. Which one you choose depends on the distance and location you’re traveling to.

Air Travel in Vietnam

Vietnam is a very long country and if you only plan on visiting it’s two most popular cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you will need to fly to reach one from the other. You could choose another way but it will take a VERY long time to travel from the north to the south.

There are also airports at some of the smaller cities but many places don’t have airports or will require you to fly to an airport in a nearby city before continuing by train, bus, or car.

Train Travel in Vietnam

Train travel in Vietnam is a great way to get around Vietnam. Vietnam’s railway network stretches all the way from the north to the south connecting all the major cities in between. You can buy an overnight train ticket if you’re traveling a long distance which will save money on a hotel.

We took the overnight train from Hue to Ninh Binh in a sleeper cabin that slept 4 people it took 12 hours to get there. While the train was comfortable, it wasn’t the cleanest. That’s the downside of public transportation.

Bus Travel in Vietnam

We traveled by bus in Vietnam A LOT of times. They have sleeper buses in Vietnam and you get your own compartment where you can lay down and stretch out. They are very roomy and fairly comfortable and they travel throughout the entire country.

One thing to be aware of when it comes to driving or drivers in Vietnam is that they LOVE to honk their horns A LOT. So you might plan on sleeping on the bus but don’t count on it. The bus driver will honk the horn the entire ride. It’s a bit crazy.

Taxis in Vietnam

You can easily find taxis in all Vietnam cities large and small. Vietnam doesn’t use Uber but they do have Southeast Asia’s version of Uber called Grab. Grab works just like Uber so make sure you download the app before you leave from home.

Walking

Once you’re in your destination you’ll probably spend the majority of time walking. You’ll find the streets are pretty busy in Hanoi and Saigon and you’ll have to dodge cars and scooters. It’s very intimidating at first when you see ALL the vehicles zipping in and out of traffic and you’re trying to figure out how to cross the street.

Nobody is going to stop to let you cross. You just have to step out and go. You won’t get run over, I promise. Just step into the street and cross. They will go around you.

Guide to Vietnam: Staying Connected

It is very common for people traveling to Vietnam to buy a local Sim Card for their phone so they’ll have internet and access to google maps. It’s VERY affordable. You can find sim card shops at the airports once you get through customs.

You can also buy them in towns and sim card shops. There are several companies that sell sim cards and they range in data, usage period, and price. We were going to be in Vietnam for 3 weeks so we needed a sim card that would last the entire time we were there.

We picked one that would work for up to 30 days and it cost around $20 which is an amazing price. The sim card shop will make a copy of your passport, register the sim card to you, install it, and turn it on. Once that’s done you’ll have service in Vietnam! Just make sure you save your original sim card so you can put it back in your phone when you leave Vietnam.

Safety in Vietnam

Vietnam is a very safe country and you shouldn’t worry about any violent crime. However, you do want to be aware of pick pocketers. Keep your bags close to you and closed up. If you have never been pick pocketed you are lucky. These people are able to unzip your bag and take things without you noticing.

You should also avoid drinking the water in Vietnam. You won’t have a problem finding bottled water everywhere at local convenience stores. You’ll even want to use bottled water when you’re brushing your teeth.

How long do you need in Vietnam

Vietnam is huge with Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) as the bookends to this country. There is a lot to see in between. If you just want to see Hanoi and Saigon then you could stay a week. About 3 days in each city plus the travel day in between.

If you want to see much more such as Hoi An, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay, then 2-3 weeks in Vietnam is better. 2-3 days at each of those locations is a must. Read more about what to see and do in our Vietnam Travel Guides below.

Guide to Vietnam: Bucket List Ideas

Vietnam map with locations to visit
Vietnam bucket list - Guide to Vietnam

Vietnam Travel Guides

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