Dazzle your senses with Vietnam’s unique blend of Southeast Asian dynamism, spectacular scenery and culinary flare.
Vietnam’s geography is that of a long serpentine slither of land bordered by rugged mountains to the west, and the South China Sea to the east. This sweeping arc continues around to the Gulf of Thailand, and adds up to some 3,400 km of fine white sandy beaches lapped by aquamarine waters. For many this is reason enough to book flights to Vietnam. There’s so much more to experience though, from exploring the rural charms of the Mekong River delta, with its paddy fields and laidback pace, to bracing yourself for the thrill of Vietnam’s famously frantic cities. The remote northern mountains are home to fascinating tribal settlements, while the bucket-list staple if Ha Long Bay, despite its popularity, never fails to conjure up its magic.
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Top things to do in Vietnam
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this Southeast Asian nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Vietnam.
Go on a culinary adventure
Vietnam’s celebrated cuisine has emerged as some of the most exciting in the world. Delicate blends of sweet, sour, salty and hot are combined with fresh herbs and seafood to create so many memorable dishes. Fresh summer rolls, Banh mi baguettes, noodle soups and dipping sauces to die for are just a few of the delights. Each area of the country specialises in different dishes - head to the Mekong Delta to sample Bun Mam (rice noodles with shrimp and fish) or Hoi An to sample crispy pancakes and fried crab cakes...
Visit iconic Ha Long bay
One of the essential Asian experiences has to be an early morning junk cruise through the magical Ha Long bay. With limestone karsts looming all around as you drift through the quiet of a misty morning, this really is soul-stirring stuff. If you want to see a bay that is equally beautiful but far less well-known, then our local experts recommend you visit Lan Ha. The turquoise waters and soaring karsts are just as spectacular but seen by far fewer travellers.
All hail Hanoi
Although it has a burgeoning modern edge, Hanoi is host to the ancient soul of Vietnam and retains a small town charm. The Old Quarter embodies the bustling, scooter-thronged city of popular imagination, while in the neighbouring French Quarter you’ll be transported straight back to the nineteenth century by colonial architecture and picturesque streetscapes.
Ho Chi Minh City
An irrepressible youthful energy defines the brazen and ever-modernising metropolis of Ho Chi Minh, home to around ten million inhabitants. That said, its modern sheen cannot erase the centuries of history still discernible among the glittering skyscrapers, with romantic temples and pagodas still very much present. The city, formerly known as Saigon, is also known around the globe for its association with the American war.
Highland trekking in Sapa
If you conjure up a mental image of Vietnam, chances are it will be of conical hatted rice farmers tending to their sumptuous emerald green paddy fields. These idyllic scenes can be found in many regions in the north, but for many its Sapa, Vietnam’s original highland trekking destination, which springs to mind.
Lesser-known things to do in Vietnam
While there are many well-known things to do in Vietnam, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Vietnamese adventure.
Into the green
The remote Pu Luong Nature Reserve is the perfect place to reconnect with nature and a slower pace of life. Wander among the rice terraces and through verdant forests, or embark on a multi-day trek to really get under the skin of rural Vietnam. Cycling routes link up some of the traditional villages and hamlets and are another good way to explore, on two wheels rather than by foot.
An inland Ha Long Bay...
Tam Coc’s limestone karst formations erupt from the verdant valley bottom in breathtaking style. Rice paddies spread out in all their shimmering glory, with waterways threading through the green making the perfect access routes. Take a boat tour on a sampan to appreciate the spectacular views and Asian character of the landscapes, scattered with so many karst crags that it is easy to see why the area got its nickname of 'Ha Long Bay on Land'.
Heavenly Hoi An
The ancient port-city of Hoi An is a laidback historical gem, perfect for exploring by bike. Pretty cobbled lanes lead between colonial merchant houses and ornate temples, while romantic riverside hostelries tempt you in with the aroma of the excellent local cuisine. This is a great place to take a cooking class, and also indulge in some beach time.
A speleologist’s dream
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is home to over 300 caves complete with spectacular formations and underground rivers, some of which can be navigated by boat. This northern corner of Vietnam on the border with Laos is ripe for exploration.
When is the best time to visit Vietnam?
The best time to visit Vietnam depends on where you plan to go. In the south, the dry season lasts from December to late April, while monsoons can occur from May to November, which can disrupt travel to more remote regions. The temperature rarely falls below 20 degrees and can reach a fierce 40 degrees in April or May. The central coast can experience rain from September to February, but temperatures are glorious in spring (February to May) and warmest from June to August. Northern Vietnam enjoys sunny weather from October to December, cooler misty weather until March, and then scorching weather, particularly from May to August, which often features heavy rain.
Interesting facts about Vietnam
Vietnam is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
According to official figures, there are around 18 times as many motorbikes in Vietnam as there are cars.
Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world after Brazil, and tops the list of cashew nut exporters globally.
There are no less than 54 recognised ethnic minority groups living in Vietnam
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Vietnam. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the best experience on holiday.
Street food galore…
Vietnam’s many street vendors serve up some of the best and most authentic food in the country. Be a little choosey though, stand back and see where the locals go, then follow suit.
Get to grips with haggling…
There are so many beautiful crafts and trinkets to gather in Vietnam’s many street markets. Remember, there is no fixed price and haggling is expected, so have fun with it.
When visiting holy temples and pagodas, remember to dress modestly. It’s easy to pick up a scarf or shawl and carry it in your bag for these occasions.
What to read before you go to Vietnam
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Vietnam, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'The Sympathizer' by Viet Thanh Nguyen
An award-winning, bestseller set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War – a darkly comic political thriller and an irresistible page turner.
'The Beauty of Humanity Movement' by Camilla Gibb
A beautifully poetic novel set in Contemporary Hanoi. Gibb weaves together past and present through the contrasting lives of her characters, bringing to life the complex history of Vietnam.
'Catfish and Mandala' by Andrew X. Pham
The unforgettable chronicles of a young Vietnamese-American who sets off by bicycle from California to Saigon in search of his lost homeland.
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