Vietnam at A Glance
Vietnam is certainly a country that has a lot to offer with many type of adventures to suit any taste.
It’s a great place to visit with your family, friends, as a couple or solo. Vietnam is very diverse and offers a mix of big cities, lush countryside, a rich history, and a coastline with beautiful beaches. The amazing food is a fusion of Asian with French influence, the people are extremely friendly and they will make you feel welcomed.
A visa is required and is easy and cheap to obtain, but since the regulations are constantly changing, double check before preparing for your trip. You can request your visa prior to your trip online (e-visa), or upon your arrival in Vietnam. I found the e-visa the easiest way to get through Immigrations.
Make sure that you understand your Visa is valid to enter the country only once. I learned the hard way after I flew from Hanoi to Cambodia and tried to enter Vietnam again for the return trip home, that my visa was not valid for reentry. You can read more details here
Vietnam is an inexpensive place to visit. Depending on your travel style, you can spend as little as US$20 a day per person if you choose to stay at a Hostel and eat (delicious) street food.
I would say I’m more the average traveler side, (meaning, I don’t stay in a hostel but also do not stay in a classy hotel). I like to explore the culinary offerings by eating at restaurants and also sampling street food. The average I spent per day including accommodation transportation and food is between US$30 to US$50 per person (3 meals, Uber rides and a basic hotel).
If you are planning to visit different areas, keep in mind that you will have additional costs with domestic flights, night trains or bus, activities and tours and of course, shopping for some local souvenirs. Practice your bargaining skills, as haggling is normal and expected. Be respectful and have fun with it. It is not uncommon for sellers to start out at 2 to 3 times the price they are really willing to accept.
Getting Around & Transportation
It is very easy to get around Vietnam. I traveled from South to North and I found it very convenient. I would recommend if you are short in time, to fly from one region to another, since flights are very cheap. If you have more time, you also can rent a motorbike, take bus or even option for night train such as to Sapa.
For day trips, or side trips you have options to hire a local guide to drive you for a very low price, just check with your hotel front desk or at local travel agencies. Since I was in Vietnam during the peak season, I booked my cruise on the Halong Bay in advance, but you also have the change to book while you are there. You can find Uber for a very low price. While in Hoi An I rented a motorbike for US$5 per day and I found it safe and easy to drive.
For Ho Chi Ming City I used a hotel in the center city as it offered more options to explore around. I used a local house during my stay in Hoi An, in a common neighborhood as it offered more the authentic experience. During my trip to Sapa my choice was a homestay with a local family.
What to Pack
Like any other country in Southeast Asia, do not over-pack, even if you are like me and think that you may need more, you can buy whatever you need there. I like to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, since I walk a lot. Because of the high possibility of rain, humidity and hot weather I prefer to use dry fit clothes.
- Cities: comfortable and conservative clothes, consider covering your knees and arms if you are planning to visit temples
- Mountains of Sapa: Light and comfortable clothes for the summer, rain jacket, and hiking boots. During the winter pack a warmer jacket, a layer of merino and a fleece sweater because it gets cold.
- Halong Bay and beaches: Light clothes like dresses, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops and swim suit. Also a pair of pants and a jacket if you are visiting during the winter time.
Despite of being a small country, Vietnam is 1,650 kilometers long and it makes the country very diverse with weather that varies from North to South. Here is a simple plan based on the variability of the temperature, as during the summer it is incredibly hot.
The Northwest of the country dry season is from October to March, and it makes the best time to visit. While in the North of the country can get cold, and even snows in Sapa between Dec to Jan.
When to Go
Vietnam is a great destination all year-round. Deciding the best time to visit Vietnam greatly depends upon how far north or south you plan to go, as well as other factors such as festivals and holidays. In general, the best time to visit Vietnam is during December through February when temperatures are milder and rain is minimal.
I found Vietnam a very safe country to visit. Just like any other place we travel, we should follow the same rules: do not wear jewelry (I never travel with my wedding ring), dress modestly, pay attention to your bag(s) especially in big cities as pick pocketing may occur. When carrying your camera, wear a shoulder strap across your body and the same for your bag or backpack.
Vietnam offers a huge variety of activities for everyone’s taste and if you are looking for an adventure you can find a great guide here.
But if you just looking to explore the beauty of different regions of Vietnam, be prepared to walk a lot.
You can also rent a bike and explore around the areas. I did it in Hoi An and it was a great experience.
Also visiting caves such as the Marble Mountain will require some fitness level to climb stairs, but it is an easy level and you can explore at your pace.
Kayaking in Halong Bay is very popular and it is one of the most beautiful areas to just explore while enjoying the amazing views.
You also have the option to hike the mountains in Sapa, I found it an easy to moderate hiking and it was certainly the favorite part of my trip to Vietnam.
I consider Vietnam one of the best places to eat in the world. They use a lot of fresh ingredients and they are big in spices and flavors. You can also learn how to make some of the incredible Vietnamese dishes by attending Cooking Classes
Street food - is cheap and generally safe. While in Vietnam try as many dishes as you can and appreciate the experience of eating locally
The breakfast - was my favorite part, with fresh eggs and fruits and a cup of Vietnamese black or egg coffee, oh simple the best coffee in the world! The typical local breakfast is Pho and you find it on any corner and a bowl will cost less than US$1.
Pho - is one of the most popular dishes in Vietnam. It is delicious noodles with meat, broth and delicate spices and you can pretty much eat it anytime of the day, you need to try it!
Bahn Mi - Have you ever tried a Bahn Mi before? If not, please do! I like to describe it as an explosion of flavors. Bahn Mi is THE sandwich and you can also find it everywhere in Vietnam. There are a variety of options including, chicken, beef and pork.
What else - Vietnamese are big on steamed rice, noodles and vegetables. For protein you can find options of chicken, pork, seafood, red meat and tofu.
They also have some peculiar cuisine, which I was not even curious to try, but if you are more adventurous than me, you have plenty of options such as stomach, heart, intestines and even brain.