Vietnam is fascinating. Few countries in the world can offer such a diverse range of culture, history and beautiful landscapes, with opportunities to explore and unwind in equal measure.
Where is Vietnam?
Vietnam is furthest east on the Indochina Peninsula in South-East Asia, bordered by Cambodia to the south west, Laos to the north west and China to the north. It also borders Thailand across the Gulf of Thailand to the west while its east coast leads onto the South China Sea, north of Malaysia, north west of Indonesia and west of the Philippines. Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is up in the north while its largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), is much further down in the south.
Vietnam is a long-time favourite for cultural and touring holidays, and a captivating country to explore. Many travellers choose to kick off their Vietnam holiday in one of the country’s vibrant cities. You can start in the north in the capital Hanoi — on the banks of the Red River with a mix of well-preserved temples, buzzing markets and skyscrapers — before heading down south to Ho Chi Minh City, famous for its French colonial history and the intricate Cu Chi Tunnels used during the Vietnam War.
Visit the old imperial capital of Hué for a fascinating insight into Vietnam down the years. The city is split into north and south by the lovely Perfume River, with most of the hotels, restaurants and cafés in the south. A boat trip is a great way to soak up the sights; the historic Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and impressive 19th-Century royal citadel, surrounded by a moat and with thick stone walls, are particular highlights. For the perfect stopover, go east to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Hoi An; it’s an ancient riverside city interspersed with Venice-esque canals and renowned for its superb cuisine including pho noodle soup.
Vietnam has also become an increasingly popular beach destination, thanks to a top mix of family-friendly oceanfront resorts and luxurious romantic retreats. Most of the best beaches are in the southern half of the country; Danang, right in the centre, has calm waters which make it an ideal spot for kayaking, while neighbouring Hoi An’s city centre is close to the popular An Bang beach. Further south you'll find Ninh Van Bay, a superb hideaway only accessible by boat, and Nha Trang — this popular beach resort has 19 offshore islands and is only a 45-minute drive from Cam Ranh, another coastal city which is home to the chic and peaceful Fusion Resort Cam Ranh, Nha Trang. In the Phan Thiet region even further down the coast, Mui Ne was once a fishing village and is now a popular beach resort; it’s excellent for watersports including sailing and kitesurfing and has beautiful red sand dunes on its outskirts – hop on a dune buggy or 4x4 to explore them.
Two hidden gems worth visiting are Con Dao and Halong Bay. Con Dao is a mountainous archipelago of 15 rugged islands off Vietnam’s southern coast, with a national park covering 80% of the area and protecting sea turtle nesting grounds. Halong Bay is an enchanting UNESCO World Heritage area of natural beauty, an enclave of the Gulf of Tonkin off the north-east coast; it’s known for its spectacular islets and limestone rock formations, topped with rainforest and breaking through the turquoise waters. For an unforgettable twin-centre holiday, pair any of Vietnam’s cities with the still relatively undiscovered Phu Quoc Island. It’s Vietnam’s largest island off the south-west coast in the Gulf of Thailand, with a tropical climate plus year-round warm temperatures, and is home to forests and hills in the north, lively tourist beaches in the south and secluded spots on the west coast.
Vietnam is surprisingly big, so the quickest way to get from one major destination to another is by plane; regular flights make travelling between the north and south straight-forward. A cheap and cheerful way to explore is by bus, but the journeys are often long and rickety. Crazy city traffic can be daunting, so renting a car isn’t the norm – you’d be better off paying for a moto taxi or a cyclo. Make sure you agree a price beforehand, and don’t be afraid to barter. Paying extra for the comfort of a train is a good option for longer journeys, and a boat trip is another great way to get around; sailing along the Perfume River in Hué to see the city’s sites, or a two-night cruise on board the luxurious Au Co ship around the beautiful limestone islands and caves in Halong Bay, are two excellent options.
Vietnam has some of the most brilliantly hectic markets in South-East Asia, from silk and silver streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter to the must-see Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, open since 1914. Tailor shops will make bespoke garments for you in no time. You'll find handicrafts such as bamboo items, lacquerware, ceramics, silk and jewellery. Antiques are available, but can be difficult to take back to the UK due to problems at customs. Be sure to haggle with locals for the best prices, except in state-run stores where prices are fixed.
Diving & snorkelling
Marine life in Vietnam is not as extensive as in other South-East Asia destinations such as Thailand or Malaysia, but diving and snorkelling here is still fun. Nha Trang on the central coast is home to several snorkelling sites in the South China Sea, and is known as the country’s diving capital thanks to its beautiful clear waters. Here you’ll have the chance to see rare species including frogfish and cowfish. Phu Quoc is known for having Vietnam’s finest hard coral growth and you can snorkel at Turtle Island off its north-west coast, while the Con Dao Islands are the only snorkelling location which offers the chance to see sharks, rays, turtles and sea cows.
Food & drink
Vietnamese cuisine is similar to Chinese, with lots of noodles and rice, plus seafood and fish by the coast. You can instantly see the emphasis on fresh herbs and produce including basil and peppers, used extensively in hotels’ cuisine and also in street food – locals serve tempting dishes including noodle soup pho, the pork noodle dish cao lau in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City’s bot chien – a mixture of rice flour and egg, cooked then served with papaya, shallots, green onions and pickled chilli sauce.
GMT +7 hours
11 ½ hours
Vietnamese. Some speak French and English.
Until 30 June 2021 ‘British Citizen’ passport holders travelling for tourism or business can enter Vietnam on a single entry for up to a maximum of 15 days (inclusive of dates of entry and exit) without a visa. Multi-entry will require a visa.
Standard vaccinations/boosters against Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended for all travellers. Speak to your doctor for further advice.
A service charge is usually included in the bill in large hotels and restaurants. In small resraturants and bars, leave a tip for good service. You should also tip baggage porters, drivers and guides.