50 things you need to know before traveling to Vietnam

Vietnam is a dream destination for many, an opportunity to live a unique adventure in a country of extremes and great beauty. It has beaches, mountains, culture, famous monuments, and off-the-beaten-path attractions. It has tasty, diverse, and very creative food…. It has everything we need for a fabulous trip and then some more! It is no coincidence that it became one of the world’s best and most popular destinations!

We were in Vietnam for 30 days, traveling from north to south and getting to know a good part of the country. However, Vietnam is so big and diverse that it is difficult to say we truly got to know it.

Still, some general characteristics and travel tips are valid for the entire country. So we will present the 50 things you need to know before traveling to Vietnam, looking at the people, tourism, the best travel destinations, the best ways of traveling, food, costs, curiosities, and much more…

What do I need to know about Vietnam and the Vietnamese

Vietnam Geography

#1 Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is a large country, but most importantly, it has massive geographic diversity due to its elongated shape. Despite this, Vietnam only shares borders with three countries: China, Laos, and Cambodia.

#2 Vietnam is part of the Indochina, or Indochina Peninsula, which also includes Laos and Cambodia. France colonized all of these countries from the 19th century until the mid-20th century.

Thus, Vietnam was one of the French colonies in Asia, which is still quite visible today, as we will explain several times in this article.

Visitors exploring ancient ruins set in a serene forest clearing reminiscent of Vietnam's diverse geography
The Mi Son ruins were built between the 4th and 24th centuries in Vietnam

#3 With approximately 1650 km from north to south, Vietnam occupies mainly the east coast of the Indochina peninsula and is bathed by the South China Sea. The country has a very diverse topography, including mountains, coastal plains, and river deltas.

The coastal region, which has beaches, coves, and islands, is quite popular for beach tourism. Vietnam’s coastline is marked by two huge deltas, the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south.

Vietnam’s interior is marked by large mountains, winding roads, and impressive gorges, making it both a challenging and interesting tourist destination. These mountains are also home to diverse ethnic communities, each with its own unique culture and traditions.

This country’s geography makes trips very long due to the distances, hilly routes, and infrastructure. It is one of the most relevant questions to consider when planning a trip to Vietnam.

Lush green karst mountains hug a serene river in Vietnam as the warm glow of the sunset bathes the landscape in golden light.
Typical Vietnamese landscape with limestone mountains and a gorge in Ninh Binh, everything is beautiful

The Vietnamese

#4 Vietnam has a population of around 100 million inhabitants. It is the 15th most populous country on the planet and is also among those with the highest population density.

The current population growth rate is relatively low, but the population grew immensely during the 20th century, rising from around 30 Million in 1950 to almost 80 Million in 2000.

However, the population’s distribution is not uniform. It is mainly concentrated on the coast and in the Red River (Hanoi) and Mekong (Ho Chi Minh) deltas, which have more favorable conditions for crucial economic activities, such as agriculture and fishing.

Tourists enjoying a guided boat ride on a calm river in Vietnam, with lush green limestone mountains in the background, a boatman expertly paddling with his feet under a pink umbrella.
On a boat trip in Ninh Binh, the guide rows with his feet with impressive coordination

#5 The Kinh ethnic group represents around 85% of Vietnam’s population. However, the rest of the country is characterized by enormous ethnic wealth and diversity.

The government of Vietnam recognizes 54 ethnic groups (although there are supposedly even more), with the largest and best-known being the Tay, Thai, Hmong, Kmer, and Mường. Although they make up around 15% of the population in total, none of them individually exceed 2%.

#6 These ethnic minorities give Vietnam incredible cultural and linguistic richness, as each has its own beliefs, unique costumes, and language. One of the best ways to see this wealth directly is by taking a trail through the Sapa region, where you can see and talk to people from different groups in addition to the fabulous views.

Models of traditional figures dressed in ethnic costumes against a backdrop of expressive portraits on display at the Galeria Réhahn gallery in Hoi An
Different ethnicities of Vietnam are represented in the gallery of Galeria Réhahn in Hoi An, Vietnam
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Tip

The Réhahn Gallery in Hoi An does a fantastic job showcasing the costumes and cultures of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.

#7 Traditionally, Vietnam is considered a Buddhist country, namely Mahayana Buddhism. However, Vietnam’s Buddhist traditions are quite different in that they do not contain the same institutional structures, hierarchy, or sanghas that exist in other traditional Buddhist environments.

The percentages of the population that adhere to each religion vary greatly depending on the sources. Buddhism in Vietnam is closely linked to popular and animist traditions that many people still adhere to.

Only around 8.5% of the population is Christian, and there is practically no Islam in the country.

Elaborately adorned temple interior in Vietnam with a large golden Buddha statue flanked by intricate decorations and smaller figures, creating a serene atmosphere for worship and reflection.
A Buddhist statue in one of the Buddhist temples in the Bai Dinh complex in Ninh Binh

Economy and development

#8 One of the things to know before going to Vietnam is that it is still a very poor country. Despite its growth since the economic reforms known as “Đổi Mới” implemented since 1986, its income continues to be quite low, as is easily seen from the prices of many services.

The average salary in Vietnam is only about 325 USD, and the GDP per capita is 4,300 USD annually. In purchasing power parity, the value rises to 14,000 USD, as Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in the world.

On the other hand, Vietnam is also one of the countries with the highest economic growth in recent decades. There’s great enthusiasm everywhere, businesses are emerging, and there is a huge desire and stimulus for things to happen. It’s amazing to see!

A vibrant and busy night scene in an Asian city with pedestrians, cyclists, restaurants and colorful lights adorning the street shows the development of Vietnam
Bui Vien Street, also known as Backpacker Street, is a street full of restaurants and bars in Ho Chi Minh City.

#9 After Đổi Mới, Vietnam’s economy began to be considered a market economy, but Vietnam continues to be led by the communist party. This is an almost paradoxical situation in which the communist party actively sponsored the economic transformation to a capitalist economy.

Despite this economic transformation and some economic freedom, Vietnam is neither a democracy nor a free country. Vietnam is a one-party socialist republic where the Communist Party of Vietnam (PCV) plays a dominant role.

Furthermore, many international human rights organizations have raised concerns about the lack of freedom of speech and the suppression of political dissent in Vietnam.

Keep this in mind when you are in Vietnam, and most importantly, don’t be surprised if there is a lot of political/communist propaganda and some people don’t want to discuss certain topics. The political status and individual freedoms are less open than in Western multi-party democracies.

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi under a cloudy sky, flanked by lush greenery and flowering plants, with the Vietnamese flag flying at full mast.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, where Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body is found

Languages and communication in Vietnam

#10 The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. This is the language virtually everyone speaks, although specific languages exist for ethnic groups. Vietnamese is an Austro-Asian language, classified as Mon-Khmer.

Despite being influenced by other regional languages, such as traditional Chinese and French (via colonization), Vietnamese is a unique language that is quite different from all other main languages. The intonation and use of the Latin alphabet (unique in the region) are some of the distinctive features that differentiate it from other languages in the region.

Vietnamese is a tonal language (with six tones), meaning a word has different meanings depending on the intonation. That’s why we see all the signs above and below the letters that modify the vowel sounds.

The tonality also makes the language much more difficult for Westerners to learn.

A vibrant street scene with bicycles and locals amidst quaint buildings adorned with lush cascading flowers under a clear blue sky, perfect for anyone looking to travel in Vietnam
French Quarter in Hanoi with European-style houses filled with terraces where you can drink the famous Vietnamese coffee

#11 If you don’t speak Vietnamese (most likely), English is the best language to communicate with Vietnamese people. Although some people still speak French, colonialism didn’t end that long ago; they are few and usually older.

Many people speak English reasonably well in urban areas and the tourism sector – much better than in Japan or Korea, for example. The pronunciation is sometimes tricky, but we could understand it. As a last resort, you can always use Google Translate or an automatic translator like Fluentalk.

#12 Generally, the Vietnamese are extremely friendly towards tourists, making any interaction much easier. They are extremely extroverted people who naturally like to interact and communicate.

The Vietnamese are known for their hospitality. Even though the language barrier exists in some cases, many locals will be willing to help and find ways to communicate, often using gestures and facial expressions.

Vietnamese appreciate foreigners’ efforts to communicate in the local language, even if just a few words. Therefore, learning some basic words and phrases in Vietnamese can facilitate interaction and create a more enriching experience during your visit to Vietnam.

#13 However, the country’s harsh economic reality also means that there is enormous economic interest and always a desire to sell something, be it a service or a product.

This happens a little everywhere but is intense in most tourist centers. Prepare to be approached constantly and feel like a walking wallet, which is typical of some poorer countries.

A busy street scene in a charming old town in Vietnam, with pedestrians passing traditional shops adorned with lanterns under a clear blue sky.
Street in historic Hoi An full of tailors, art shops, and cafes

Is it safe to travel to Vietnam?

#14 It is important to note that we have never felt our physical safety in question. Vietnam is a very safe country to travel to, and the Vietnamese, despite being insistent, are very peaceful.

Violent crime is very rare, and so it will take a lot of bad luck (making some very bad decisions) to get involved in any type of violent situation in Vietnam. On the other hand, although we have not experienced anything of the sort, it is always advisable not to display luxury products or large amounts of money.

In fact, one of the things that impressed and surprised us most was the limited visible police force in Vietnam. It is very rare to see police officers in uniform in any region of the country.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers in Vietnam – one of the biggest is traffic. The chaotic traffic without respect for the rules, so famous in Vietnam, makes walking on the road one of the biggest risks. In fact, Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest number of road deaths per 100,000, particularly outside Africa.

This site tends to have very interesting information about safety in the various countries we travel to.

A serene temple set amidst lush greenery with rolling hills under a cloudy sky, offering a peaceful haven for those wondering, "Is it safe to travel to Vietnam?"
Bai Dinh Ninh Binh Buddhist Temple in Ninh Binh

#15 Another issue to be aware of in Vietnam is schemes to take advantage of distracted tourists or those who have simply fallen into a well-laid trap.

Some of the most popular schemes include:

  • Photos of the fruit baskets – first, they are friendly and let you take a photo, then they ask and charge an absurd amount;
  • Fixing shoes on the street – they take your shoes off to fix them and then ask them to come back very tall;
  • Swapping banknotes while counting;
  • Request payment for (inexistent) damages caused to motorcycles after rental;
  • Saying that the taxi cost is x and in the end saying that it is 10x more. When confronted, they say the tourist misheard;
  • Businesses with the same name (bars, hotels, restaurants, etc.) to take advantage of the other’s reputation;
  • Sale of counterfeit products;

Some of these schemes are well planned and work even better because the Vietnamese are normally friendly, making us let our guard down and think that the person there is also friendly, not just a swindler.

However, we must state the obvious. If you get scammed in Vietnam, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. It happens to thousands of tourists yearly, and sometimes, they don’t even realize it. Most likely, you only lost a few dollars, and don’t let that ruin your trip. It is also a learning opportunity.

The bustling street life of Hanoi with a local vendor carrying baskets of goods, amidst a backdrop of shops and parked motorbikes, showcases the vibrant culture for those traveling in Vietnam.
Street vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam, be aware if they mess with you and take photos of the fruit baskets

Vietnam War

#16 In Vietnam, they tell us that what we call the Vietnam War is called the American War or against America. This is obviously very debatable since reality is much more complex.

This conflict is considered an extension of the Cold War, in which each faction was supported by the corresponding side in Vietnam. Thus, the Soviet Union and China supported North Vietnam, while the USA and most of the West supported South Vietnam.

This war took place between 1955 and 1975, ending with victory when North Vietnam was conquered by South Vietnam, uniting Vietnam into a single communist country.

A collection of military aircraft on display outside the Vietnam People's Air Force Museum, showcasing the country's aviation history and heritage, invites those traveling through Vietnam to explore.
Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

#17 This is also one of the most portrayed conflicts in cinema and television, being well known due to the brutality of the fighting, the extensive use of chemical agents (such as the infamous Agent Orange), the guerrilla warfare used by the Northern Viet Cong, and the massive US bombings.

Considered one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century due to the high number of deaths and injuries, the Vietnam War left immense scars that are still visible in many aspects of life in Vietnam today.

One of Vietnam’s most popular tourist activities, particularly in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), is visiting the Cuchi Tunnels. There, you can learn more about the war and how it took place, particularly the tunnels used by North Vietnam in its Guerrilla War.

Since you can visit and enter the tunnels, seeing what they were like (but it is still impossible to imagine what it would have been like to live there), this experience is not to be missed. It is a place where you learn about history and humanity, not only about this conflict.

Exploring the past: a curious traveler emerges from an underground tunnel in the Cuchi Tunnels
Visiting the Cuchi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City is the ideal way to learn about the civil war in Vietnam

Climate in Vietnam

#18 Since Vietnam is such a large and long country, it is natural to have different climates. The north of Vietnam is normally considered a subtropical region, and the center and south are tropical. The entire country is influenced by monsoons but in different ways.

In general, temperatures are quite high, with the North being cooler than the South. The mountainous areas in the interior have more moderate climates in the center and south, while in the northern mountains, it gets really cold in winter.

The summer monsoons last between May and October and bring heavy rain to the northern and southern parts of the country. Interestingly, the central area is more protected and experiences the least rain during this season.

We can divide Vietnam into three climate regions: North, Center, and South.

  • North: It has four well-defined seasons, with cool winters (or even cold in the mountains) and hot summers. The summer monsoons bring intense rains from June to September.
  • Center: There are smaller variations in temperatures and rainfall. Rain is heaviest from September to November. There are milder winters and hotter summers than in the North.
  • South: Tropical climate with only two seasons, dry and humid. It is hot throughout the year and humid, with intense rains during the monsoons between May and October, with July and August being the wettest.
mountain full of terraced rice fields with some houses and trees in Vietnam
Vietnam’s iconic scenery – terraced rice paddies in Sapa

When to travel to Vietnam

#19 Due to the different rainy seasons, Vietnam is a complicated country to choose the best time to travel, especially if we want to see the whole country.

Still, we believe the best time is between the end of October and April. The climate is more pleasant in these months, with moderate temperatures and less rain. It is an excellent way to explore the country, especially the northern and central regions.

However, you need to be careful if you go to Sapa and other mountains in the North—it will be cold! In the South, it is always hot, but you manage to avoid the rainy season, when, in addition to the monsoons, the humidity makes the heat almost unbearable.

In our opinion, the time to avoid is the summer when the monsoons and rains are more intense in almost the entire country, and flooding is common. The heat is also too intense everywhere, making outdoor activities very difficult.

If possible, also try to avoid the peak domestic tourism season as a lot of people can gather, namely:

  • Tet (usually in January or February).
  • The water festival is at the end of April or the beginning of May.
  • School holidays in July and August.

The high season for international tourism usually coincides with the period with the best weather for traveling, that is, between November and April, with particular emphasis on the period between January and March.

We traveled in Vietnam between the end of October and the end of November and found it to be an excellent time. Temperatures were generally warm but bearable, even in the south. In the mountains (Sapa and Dalat), it was cool but not cold yet. In terms of attractions, it was ideal, with everything open, but we very rarely saw any kind of queue or crowd. There was no need to book anything in advance.

When traveling to Vietnam discover a serene path that winds through a lush lotus lake with majestic limestone karsts rising in the background under a clear blue sky.
Beautiful scenery in Ninh Binh of limestone cliffs surrounded by a river and lotus flowers in Vietnam

Tourism in Vietnam

#20 In recent years, Vietnam has seen a huge increase in tourists, rising from 5M in 2010 to 18M in 2019. After the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism has not yet recovered to these levels, but 2023 has once again been a year of high tourism with more than 12M visitors.

Vietnam is extremely popular with backpackers and long-term travelers because it offers almost unbeatable prices, safety, and activities. It is also a young and vibrant society that attracts many people.

However, most tourists to Vietnam come from its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia, namely China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc. Among Westerners, Americans are undoubtedly the largest in number, with over 700,000 in 2023 (only 4th country). Europeans also visit Vietnam a lot, but they are mainly backpackers.

Interestingly, there are also many Russian tourists in Vietnam, but they are mainly concentrated in beach areas such as Nha Trang, Mui Né, etc. In fact, many restaurants and shops even have menus and signs in Russian.

A quiet beach in Vietnam with modern architecture and tall buildings under a cloudy sky.
Nha Trang Beach is one of the most touristy beaches in Vietnam, but this is low season and bad weather day

#21 Vietnam currently has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making it the second country with UNESCO Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia. Of these eight sites, 5 are cultural heritage, two are natural, and only one is mixed.

The most famous and popular is undoubtedly Ha Long Bay, but they are all beautiful and excellent tourist attractions. We especially liked Hoi An Old Town and Tràng An Scenic Area.

Interestingly, all UNESCO heritage sites are in the north and center of the country.

The serene waters of the bay with tourists swimming and boats docked, against the backdrop of majestic limestone karsts at dusk, are what to know before traveling to Vietnam
Ha Long Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam

Vietnam itinerary

#22 Due to Vietnam’s elongated shape and geography, most tourists follow a very similar route, starting the journey at one end and slowly moving towards the other.

We chose to do it from north to south, starting in Hanoi and ending in Ho Chi Minh. But it is perfectly possible to do exactly the opposite. The only question is having enough time to do it, as it takes at least three weeks.

Therefore, we recommend about a week in the North, a week in the center, and a week in the south. If you have more time, we suggest you stay longer in the North, as it seems to have more and better attractions. Some of which we didn’t go to, such as the Ha Giang loop, Phong Nha, and Cát Bà Island.

The route we recommend is, in this order:

  • Hanoi (1 or 2 days)
  • Day trip to Ha Long Bay (1 day)
  • Sapa (2 days)
  • Ninh Binh (2 or 3 days)
  • Hue (1 or 2 days)
  • Trip to Hoi An, stopping at Marble Mountains and Hai Van pass (1 day)
  • Hoi An (3 to 5 days)
  • Dalat (2 days)
  • Ho Chi Minh City (2 days)
  • Day trip to the Mekong Delta (1 day)

In the south center of Vietnam, we also went to Nha Trang and Mui Ne, but we only recommend going there if you have more time, as none of the destinations fell in love with us. Mui Ne was even our least favorite thing about Vietnam.

If you have less than two weeks, we strongly suggest focusing on just one part of the country. In this case, we think it would be ideal to stay in the North, as this is where most of Vietnam’s most famous and popular attractions are located.

Um cenário vibrante da vida urbana, onde um arrojado edifício amarelo com decorações tradicionais flanqueia uma estreita linha férrea, com um vagão azul espiando por trás, mostrando a mistura única de comércio e transporte
The famous street in Hanoi where the train passes through a narrow street normally full of people selling goods on the street, and when the train passes, they lift all the material

Where to go in Vietnam?

#23 Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and a popular city among backpackers and adventure travelers. Normally, the capital is one of the biggest attractions in any country, but Hanoi is far from that.

Hanoi is one of the cities we least enjoyed visiting, and in our opinion, the negative aspects far outweigh the positives.

It is chaotic, busy, frenetic, and undoubtedly full of life. But it’s too much! The traffic is horrible and has no rules; it is very dirty and polluted, and we are always bothered by persistent sellers.

We understand the appeal some people may have for an anarchic place, where almost anything goes, but it’s definitely not for us.

Despite this, we must mention that Hanoi has some interesting things and monuments worth visiting. Still, we suggest staying there for as little time as possible to go to the main points of interest and understand what we are discussing in person. Two days should be more than enough for this. Places not to be missed include:

  • Temple of Literature
  • French Quarter
  • Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The illuminated ancient pagoda reflected in a serene lake at night, with the modern city skyline in the background, Vietnam travel guide
Beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake with a temple is a nice place to walk in Hanoi

#24 We do not include the mandatory visit to Ha Long Bay when we say two days will be enough for Hanoi. It is possible to visit Ha Long directly from Hanoi on a one-day or multi-day tour or go to Ha Long and take a boat there.

Most people prefer to take the tour, as almost all itineraries involve returning to Hanoi before heading to the next destination. The big decisions are how many days to spend there and what level of luxury the cruise will be.

We took a day tour, and although we felt it was a little rushed, it was enough to see the bay and appreciate that magnificent landscape from several different angles.

There are a thousand and one cruises with all kinds of options. We suggest you take a closer look at what each one offers and book an excellent-reviewed cruise online, like this one. If you try to book live and at the hotel, it will depend on the luck and seriousness of your interlocutor, as hotels earn commissions on what you book there.

Cruise ships wind through the majestic limestone karsts of Halong Bay under clear blue skies, a must-do experience when traveling to Vietnam.
Cruise Boats on Halong Bay in Vietnam

#25 Sapa is also relatively close to Hanoi, but it is not advisable to do a day trip as it takes too long. Furthermore, it is a very beautiful place, and it is worth staying for a few days to relax, enjoying the cooler weather, the views, and the different cultures of the ethnic minorities.

One of the most popular activities in Sapa is taking a trail through the rice fields with a guide from one of the region’s many minorities. In this article, we explain everything you need to know, but they are so worth it! There are also tours with trails included, like this two-day, one-night tour from Hanoi.

Another popular activity is taking a guided (or independent) motorbike tour along the region’s trails. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it, as riding a motorbike isn’t our thing, but it must be spectacular.

We also recommend going to the village of Cat Cat, as it is extremely beautiful. But in this case, you can walk there as it is quite close to Sapa. Note, however, that it is a very touristy place. In fact, the whole of Sapa is very touristy, and the city is bigger than you might initially think.

Travelers and locals follow a Sapa trail through lush vegetation in a mountainous rural landscape.
Tour of the Sapa rice fields guided by local guides from the different tribes of Sapa, Vietnam

#26 We loved Sapa, but it wasn’t even our favorite destination in northern Vietnam. That title goes to Ninh Bihn and its spectacular rock formations. This area is sometimes called the sealess Ha Long Bay due to the similarities of its karst landscapes.

Although visiting Ninh Binh’s attractions from Hanoi is possible, we advise you to go there for a few days. First, you can escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and then you can enjoy everything that Ninh Binh has to offer—and there is much of it. But if you don’t have time, check out this tour, as it has excellent reviews.

If you can spend 2 or 3 days in Ninh Binh, we recommend you go to:

  • Boat trip in Tam Coc – this is where you can see the guides paddling with their feet.
  • Boat trip to Trang an – absolutely spectacular.
  • Visit Bich Dong Pagoda
  • Climb to the viewpoint at Hang Mua – one of the best views in Vietnam
  • Visit the imposing Bai Dinh Pagoda – The area is huge and has many things to see.

To visit Ninh Binh, the ideal is to rent a motorbike or bicycle, ride through the rice paddies, and explore the best attractions above. An important note: although we always refer to Ninh Binh as the largest city in the region, you should not stay there as it is of no interest. You should stay in Tam Coc or near Tráng An.

Tourists in orange life jackets explore a serene river in canoes in Vietnam, with a traditional pagoda set against a backdrop of towering limestone karsts and lush vegetation.
A boat trip to Trang An is one of the most beautiful attractions to do in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

27 Hue is located in the center of Vietnam and is known for being a city rich in history and culture, particularly for being the last imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty.

The city’s main attraction is undoubtedly the imperial city of Hue, an impressive architectural complex with walls, gates, and palaces that offer a unique insight into Vietnamese history.

In addition to the imperial city, the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty emperors on the city’s outskirts are also a curious and interesting attraction. Finally, Hue is also known for the beautiful banks of the Perfume River and delicious food with various local specialties such as Bun Bo Hue, Banh Khoai, and Nem Lui.

An impressive view of a traditional palatial structure in Hue with ornate roofs, situated next to a tranquil moat under a vast sky with scattered clouds, invites travelers to Vietnam to explore
Imperial City in Hue, the last imperial capital of Vietnam

#28 Hoi An was our favorite destination in Vietnam and perhaps the only place we didn’t mind spending a few weeks. The city is beautiful, and as it is smaller than most other destinations, it has a more peaceful and relaxing atmosphere that provides a pleasant break for travelers.

Despite this, there are many things to see and do, from boat trips along picturesque rivers and canals to stunning beaches. At night, colorful lanterns illuminate the city, creating a magical atmosphere, with the lanterns reflecting in the waters of the canals.

The center of Hoi An is probably the most beautiful and pleasant in Vietnam and perhaps in all of Southeast Asia. Yes, it’s very touristy, but it’s spectacular, and if you go outside of high season, there won’t be any crowds.

Hoi An is also known for its handicraft shops and tailors, who make custom clothes, shoes, and other silk products.

A vibrant night scene at a river festival in Vietnam, with colorful lanterns adorning the boats and riverside, creating a festive atmosphere.
Canals in Hoi An at night with boats and colorful lanterns illuminating the city

#29 In the mountains of Central-South Vietnam, we find the city of Dalat. The first thing to mention is that Dalat is a large city with more than 400,000 inhabitants, not a small town or village. So don’t expect a bucolic or rural environment, but the mountains and landscapes around you are worth it.

As in Sapa, the altitude in Dalat means temperatures are more pleasant than on the coast or in Saigon. Dalat is also known for its beautiful flower gardens, parks, and nearby waterfalls.

The region is also a large producer of coffee and tea, so one of the most popular activities is visiting these plantations. Since practically all the attractions are outside the city and are not easily accessible, we recommend you take a tour like this to see the waterfalls, coffee plantations, and other destinations.

A majestic statue overlooking a powerful waterfall amid lush greenery on a cloudy day, evoking the desire to travel to Vietnam
Thác Voi (Elephant waterfalls) and Buddhist pagoda in Dalat, Vietnam

#30 The Mekong Delta is a very interesting region with a culture and lifestyle different from the rest of Vietnam due to its immense rivers, canals, mangroves, and swamps. It is also rich in wildlife and has great biodiversity.

The floating and non-floating markets are one of the biggest attractions due to the quality of fresh products such as fruits, vegetables, and fish. Crafts are also quite popular.

Visiting the canals and taking boat trips is perhaps the most popular activity as it allows you to appreciate the unique landscapes of the Mekong.

Although it’s worth staying for several days, most people visit the Mekong on a day tour from Ho Chi Minh. If you want to stay for two days, many tours include one or two nights on the Mekong and thus penetrate further into the region.

Paddling through a peaceful mangrove tunnel, a women with traditional Vietnamese hat appears amid the serenity of nature.
Taking a boat ride on the canals of the Mekong Delta is something you have to do on a trip to Vietnam

#31 Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) was the capital of South Vietnam and is still the largest city in Vietnam. It is also the richest and most developed and is even considered one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Although Saigon suffers from some problems like Hanoi, such as excessive and anarchic traffic, there is less chaos. Therefore, despite the excessive heat throughout the year, we found Saigon to be a much more pleasant city than Hanoi.

In addition to serving as a base for excursions to the Mekong, Ho Chi Minh City is also the place to stay to visit the Cu Chi tunnels we talked about earlier. We consider this the main thing not to be missed in the city.

In addition to the tunnels, there are other interesting attractions, especially in District 1 – the central and historic area of the city. The most popular and well-known are:

  • Visit the Independence Palace
  • Explore Ben Thanh Market
  • Railway Station
  • Central Post Office
  • Bui Vien Street – especially if you are a backpacker and looking for nightlife.
Independence Palace adorned with flags under a clear sky, fronted by a manicured lawn and active fountain, evoking the serenity found in regions like traveling in Vietnam.
Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Food in Vietnam

#32 One of the essential experiences in Vietnam is tasting its typical food. Vietnamese food is famous for its explosion of fresh flavors, interesting textures, and a dining experience that reflects the country’s rich history and diversity.

In addition to the various national dishes, the food is also very local, with each region and city having several typical dishes worth trying.

Traditional Vietnamese food seeks balanced and harmonious flavors, almost always including sweet, sour, salty, and bitter elements. Each dish aims to have a little bit of everything. Fresh, local herbs and ingredients also greatly influence and are present in almost all dishes.

Finally, we must mention that rice is a staple food in Vietnam and is presented in a thousand and one different ways, being a fundamental part of many traditional dishes. Whether in broths, rice pasta, glutinous rice, or even sweets, rice is nearly always present.

Typical Vietnamese dish: Fried rice with chicken and vegetables with carrots, chives and corn
One of the most common dishes in Vietnam – Fried rice

#33 Vietnam’s most famous and iconic dish is undoubtedly Pho – a rice noodle soup served with meat (beef or chicken) and various fresh herbs that typically include basil leaves, coriander, soybean sprouts, slices of lemon, and pepper.

Beef Pho is called pho bo, while if it is chicken pho is called pho ga. Pho sauces and condiments vary depending on the region and restaurant, with Northern Pho (mainly from Hanoi) and Southern Pho (from Saigon) being particularly well-known.

Pho from Hanoi tends to have a lighter, more delicate broth, while that from the South is richer and darker. The one from the South is also sweeter and incorporates more diverse ingredients. In the North, the most traditional is beef pho. The choice of aromatic herbs and other accompaniments also differs greatly from north to south.

Traditional Vientame dish: pho made with chicken and a clear broth with rice pasta and chives with some lemon slices to squeeze on top
The most famous dish in Vietnam is Pho. In this case, it is chicken pho (Pho Ga)

#34 Besides Pho, there are many other dishes you should try in Vietnam. They are not as well known internationally, but they are usually delicious. Remember that there are intrinsically regional dishes that you will probably only find in your city/region of origin.

Some of our favorites are:

  • Banh Mi: The famous Vietnamese sandwich is made with crispy baguette and a variety of fillings such as pork, chicken, or pâté, as well as fresh vegetables and herbs. It exists all over the country, but our favorites are the ones in Hoi An.
  • Bun Cha: Grilled pork meatballs served with rice noodles, vegetables, and herbs. It is very typical of Hanoi but is found everywhere.
  • Goi Cuon: Fresh spring rolls with shrimp, pork, herbs, and rice vermicelli, served with peanut sauce.
  • Com Tam (Broken Rice) is a traditional Saigon street food dish with broken rice, grilled meat, fried eggs, and side dishes.
  • Mi Quang is a yellow rice noodle dish typical of central Vietnam. It features pork, shrimp, herbs, peanuts, and an aromatic broth.
  • Banh Xeo: Crispy rice crepes stuffed with shrimp, pork, soybean sprouts, and aromatic herbs. It is also known as Vietnamese pancake.
  • Bun Bo Hue is a spicy rice noodle soup with beef, generally with more intense flavors and spices than Pho. As the name suggests, it originates from Hue, but it can be found in other cities.
traditional Vietnamese dish made with meatballs in broth to which you have to add rice dough and assorted vegetables
One of the tastiest dishes in Vietnam, Bun Cha

#35 In Vietnam, you will find an almost endless list of starters and main dishes to try, but the story is a little different regarding sweets. There are relatively few famous sweets and desserts in Vietnam, especially if we exclude typical street and market food.

In fact, one of the most curious features is that most local restaurants don’t even serve dessert. The more touristy ones will do, but they have relatively few options and are usually international sweets.

The most popular sweet/dessert is probably Ché. Ché is more of a general term for Vietnamese sweet soups or puddings. Its ingredients are mung beans, black beans, sweet beans, lotus seeds, and gelatin mixed with coconut milk, syrup, or water. There are specialized stores, and when it’s good, it’s usually very good.

There are some other sweets on the street, but most are Asian sweets and desserts that can be found in any country in the region.

Vietnamese sweet made with fruit ice, coconut pudding and peanuts. Eat with a spoon
Vietnam’s most popular sweet – Ché, which is a kind of sweet soup made from fruit ice and sometimes pudding

#36 This brings us to street food… and street food in Vietnam is delicious. You will find all types of food and dishes in the night markets and on the street, whether typically Vietnamese, like Pho and Banh Mi, or international, like grilled shrimp and meat skewers.

In addition to leaving our mouths watering, street food in Vietnam is extremely cheap. In fact, all the food is very cheap, but it is perfectly possible to eat for 2 or 3 Euros in the markets.

One thing that surprised us in Vietnam was the low prevalence of convenience stores. Apart from Saigon, where there are more than a few (especially in District 1), the other cities have very few or none, even in Hanoi. So if you’re used to the 7-11 or Family Mart in Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, etc… don’t count on it outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

several street food stalls with sandwiches, fruit pancakes, juices and everything you can imagine
Vietnam has a wide variety of street food that is delicious and cheap

#37 Finally, what perhaps surprised us most in Vietnam was the coffee! Vietnamese coffee is spectacular, and the country has a strong and vibrant coffee culture. Trying local coffee is a unique experience, whether due to the traditional way it is filtered (using “phin”), all the available coffee types, or even the iced versions and with condensed milk.

Some of the best-known and most popular coffees in Vietnam are:

  • Coffee with condensed milk
  • Egg coffee – includes beaten raw egg yolk
  • Iced black coffee
  • Coffee with yogurt
  • Coffee with coconut
  • Coffee with Salt

Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer, behind Brazil. Practically all coffee produced in Vietnam is the Robusta type, characterized by a more intense flavor with earthy and bitter notes. It also has more caffeine than Arabica coffee.

Coffee culture in Vietnam appeared during the French colonization, but its subsequent development was due to local creativity. There are cafes everywhere in the cities, from the simplest ones to the beautiful terraces and luxurious cafes in the biggest cities.

We enjoyed Vietnamese coffee so much that we decided to go on a coffee-tasting tour, where we learned more about its production and how to make it. It was really fun, and we recommend it to all coffee lovers! See more information here!

Vietnam coffee on top of a lamp, the coffee contains condensed milk and a little salt
Delicious coffee in Vietnam coffee with condensed milk and a little salt, the contrast works very well

Currency and Costs of Traveling to Vietnam

#38 One of the things you need to know before traveling to Japan is that the official currency is the dong. In 2024, the euro-dong exchange rate is around 26,500. In other words, 1 Euro is worth 26,500 dongs. To simplify, and given that the values are high, most menus will show 25, 50, and 100 dong instead of 25,000, 50,000, and 100,000 dong.

Our suggestion is not to take Dong with you. The ATM network in Vietnam is good; you can withdraw money anytime. In our experience, withdrawal costs are acceptable, and there are even some free ATMs. Furthermore, the exchange rate there is practically always better than changing it before arriving in Vietnam.

Practically no store or restaurant accepts card payments (credit or debit), so it is essential to always have cash, especially outside large cities. In any case, make as many payments as possible by card, as it is safer and reduces the number of withdrawals.

A peaceful rural setting in Vietnam Travel Guide, with a flooded rice paddy with a buffalo and calf on the side of the road and a bicycle parked on the grassy verge
Man grazing buffalo in rice fields in Vietnam

Costs of Traveling to Vietnam

#39 One of the fundamental things to know before traveling to Vietnam is that it is very cheap. In fact, we consider it to be the cheapest country we have ever traveled to as none of the main travel items are expensive, be it accommodation, internal travel, food, tours, entrance fees to monuments, souvenirs, etc.

In fact, even plane trips from neighboring countries are quite cheap if you use low-cost airlines like Vietjet.

Excluding flights, we spend an average of 75 Euros per day traveling as a couple, which gives an average of 37 Euros per person per day. Compared to recent trips, it is by far the cheapest country we have traveled to recently, namely Mexico, Korea, and Japan.

It is important to note that we are backpackers and always try to control our travel costs (although we were much more relaxed in Vietnam). Travel costs also depend on the time of year and very much on the type of traveler you are. If you stay in more luxurious hotels, do a lot of tours and shopping, and go to amusement parks, these values will increase exponentially.

A serene beach setting with a clear blue sky, golden sandy beaches and people enjoying a sunny day by the water with a backdrop of distant mountains.
The best beach we’ve been to in Vietnam, An Bang Beach in Hoi An

#40 As we said, Vietnam is a globally inexpensive destination where no high expenses stand out. Still, the food is surprising due to its low prices. Eating good local food for 2 or 3 euros in Vietnam is perfectly possible. It will obviously not be meat-rich food, but it is tasty and the opportunity to try some more traditional and local dishes.

We like to try all the local specialties, so we eat mostly local food at local restaurants. On the other hand, we like street and market food, which further reduces costs.

#41 There are accommodation options for all tastes, but it is truly incredible what you can get for around 15 Euros. It is perhaps the best quality-price ratio we have ever found.

In Vietnam, we never paid more than 20 Euros per night; the average value was probably below 15 Euros. We always stay in private rooms with a bathroom, often with breakfast included, without booking too far in advance.

We recommend using Agoda, as the price was lower than that of Booking.com in almost all cases. We suggest you take advantage of such low prices to stay in better accommodation and rest better. Still, if you don’t want to, it is perfectly possible to find accommodation for prices below 10 Euros per night—even in double rooms.

Visitors converge on the summit of a stunning limestone hill in Vietnam, where a small pagoda stands sentinel amid panoramic views of the verdant landscape below.
Visitors converge on the summit of a stunning limestone hill in Vietnam, where a small pagoda stands sentinel amid panoramic views of the verdant landscape below.

#42 Tourist attractions and tours are another source of costs that sometimes weigh heavily on the travel budget, but they are also not very expensive in Vietnam. There are some exceptions, like the climb to Fansipan (in Sapa) or the Ba Na Hills theme park (in Danang), but they are not the kind of things we suggest or do. Most of the things we suggest here are either free or extremely cheap, and natural attractions are rarely paid for.

Finally, we have transportation, which is an important item in Vietnam. Not because it is especially expensive, as it is not, but because the country is quite long, and the distances to cover and travel times are very long.

In our experience, trains are much more expensive than buses despite being a lot of fun (more on that below) and worth it.

Two individuals enjoy a thrilling luge ride over a scenic river surrounded by lush greenery, reminiscent of the costs of travel to Vietnam.
One of the most fun activities we did in Vietnam was riding the alpine sled at the Datanla Waterfalls in Dalat

Is it necessary to tip in Vietnam?

#43 In general, there are few situations in which you will need to tip, and normally only for purely tourist services. Historically, tipping has not been part of local culture.

The only situations in which we felt the need to tip were on some organized tours and normally for the guides, especially those not directly part of the tour, such as the boat rowers.

It is also not customary to tip in local restaurants. Still, tipping is more likely to be suggested in restaurants that are aimed more at foreigners, especially if you are in a highly touristic area.

Of course, you can and should reward spectacular service. Also, remember that salaries in Vietnam are very low, so tips can be important for whoever provides the service.

Tourists enjoying a serene boat ride against the backdrop of majestic limestone karsts and lush vegetation in Vietnam under a clear blue sky.
Boat trip along the limestone cliffs in Trang An, Ninh Binh

How to Travel in Vietnam

Public transport

#44 To travel in Vietnam, we used a mix of trains and buses, which worked reasonably well. We did not rent cars or motorbikes, and we visited all the places mentioned here by public transport and occasionally on an organized tour.

Traveling by train in Vietnam is an experience that should not be missed, especially on the reunification train. The conditions are far from ideal, but it is a historic train and an opportunity not to be missed for anyone who loves trains.

In this article, we explore what it’s like to travel on the reunification route and explain everything you need to know to have this experience, which several publications have already considered one of the best train journeys in the world.

Boarding a train at a busy station on a cloudy day to travel in Vietnam.
Riding the reunification railway in Vietnam is an experience we recommend

#45 Buses are the most popular option as they are faster, can go to almost any destination, and are cheaper. Given the long travel times, buses usually run in Vietnam at night. Sometimes, it really is the only option.

Traveling at night also has the advantage of losing almost a full day with a few trips and saving on accommodation for that night, but in Vietnam, this is not a very significant saving. On the other hand, as comfortable as buses are (they aren’t always), they are much more tiring than sleeping in a bed.

If you decide to travel on a night bus, always try to use a VIP cabin sleeper bus, as they are the ones with a partition just for you and by far the most comfortable. Normal sleepers end up being very uncomfortable.

Inside a sleeping bus compartment, ready for an overnight journey, this is one of the cozy experiences offered by public transport in Vietnam.
VIP Cabin Night Bus in Vietnam

Rent a car in Vietnam

#46 We chose not to rent a car (or motorbike), as we wanted a completely relaxed trip without worries about driving, parking, dealing with rent-a-car, or international driving licenses.

Please note that driving in Vietnam without an international driving license is impossible. Although some companies that rent motorbikes allow it, drivers risk being stopped and having to pay a tip or fine.

Therefore, we cannot give many tips on renting a car or driving but note that traffic in Vietnam is completely chaotic, and non-compliance with rules is widespread throughout the country. Even so, in rural areas, the confusion is much less.

The main roads in Vietnam are quite reasonable, despite some potholes. Still, that’s not where you’ll have any major problems. The biggest problem is the cities, and we strongly advise you not to have a car or motorbike in the most urban part of your itinerary, especially in Hanoi and Saigon.

Busy street scene in a Vietnamese city with motorcycles dominating the road, demonstrating the unique direction in Vietnam, and a mix of traditional and modern architecture in the background.
A chaotic street like Hanoi with motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians everywhere

Other Vietnam Travel Tips

Vietnam souvenirs

#47 Vietnam is a unique destination with a remarkable history and culture. It is also a country that marks us with its positive and negative extremes, and therefore, it will be a trip that you will hardly forget and from which you will want to bring back memories for yourself and others.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to shop and even more interesting things to bring. The biggest problems may be finding space and dealing with the suitcase’s weight.

Some of our suggestions are:

  • Vietnamese Coffee: It is one of the most popular and delicious souvenirs you can buy.
  • Phin: Vietnamese coffee filter consisting of a small metal press with perforations placed over a cup.
  • Ao Dai: Traditional Vietnamese attire is an elegant and culturally significant souvenir.
  • Non La: The well-known conical hat that is one of Vietnam’s trademarks and a symbol of the country’s identity.
  • Local Condiments: Bring home some traditional Vietnamese spices, such as pho spice mixes, cinnamon, or Vietnamese chili.
  • Vietnamese Lacquer: Plates, bowls, and trays are known for their beauty and intricate design.
A collection of colorful portable coffee filters, souvenirs from Vietnam, on a wooden table.
Phin, the Vietnamese coffee filter just like Vietnamese coffee, is an ideal souvenir

Trash, pollution, and recycling

#48 This is perhaps the worst thing to know about Vietnam. Despite all the natural beauty and spectacular attractions, Vietnam is a very dirty country overall.

Trash and pollution are nearly everywhere, including tourist attractions, popular neighborhoods, historical centers, and even beaches, rivers, and lakes. We don’t want to be too pessimistic about this issue, but it’s important to be prepared to see and deal with a lot of rubbish and pollution.

For example, one of the places we went to and had high expectations for is Mui Né, but we cannot advise anyone to go there. Yes, it must have once been beautiful and attractive, but it is currently a horrible experience. There is rubbish everywhere, and the few areas with beaches are completely full of plastic and other rubbish.

From what we have read and learned, the government has made an effort to implement some recycling measures and, above all, waste processing, but they are clearly insufficient. It’s still perfectly natural to see people burning their own trash in front of their doors—even in city centers, as we saw daily in Hanoi’s French Quarter.

Beach littered with scattered rubbish and debris, highlighting environmental pollution in Vietnam's coastal areas
Beach full of rubbish both in the sea and on the sand in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Internet in Vietnam

#49 Just like in practically every other country these days, all accommodations have free WI-FI, so this shouldn’t be a big concern. The signal quality, especially in the rooms, is only worth confirming in the comments.

If you want to use mobile data, you must buy a local data card or an eSim. Buying the card is relatively easy; you can do it at any convenience store throughout the city.

Despite this, we ended up using an e-SIM card, and it worked quite well for us. As soon as we arrived, we had internet, and as we were traveling to several countries, it became easier to buy a regional e-SIM.

If you want an e-sim for Vietnam, you can buy it here. It’s very simple to use and ensures you have data as soon as it arrives.

A peaceful country scene in Vietnam: the sun setting over a flooded rice paddy with hills in the distance and power lines stretching across the sky.
Rice fields in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Electrical outlets

#49 Electrical sockets in Vietnam are types A, C, and D, with 110 / 220 voltage and a frequency of 50 Hz.

In other words, you will not need an adapter if you come from Continental Europe (Portugal included) or other countries with the same type of sockets. In any case, if you want to buy one, we suggest this universal adapter, and if you need a frequency converter, we suggest this one.

Also, check if the voltage and frequency differ from those in your country. Normally, computers, cell phones, and the like work with any voltage as they have a converter, but household appliances and hairdryers will need a transformer.

Documentation to enter Vietnam

#50 Portuguese, Brazilians (and many other nationalities) need visas to enter Vietnam. For stays of up to 30 days, you only need an “e-visa” approved and issued online by the immigration services. This is the official website where you can apply for an e-visa.

There is no need to use an agency; each traveler can apply for a visa. It is very important to insert the correct information and carefully validate the data that appears on the visa after receiving it in the email. There have been cases of errors, and if there are errors, you won’t be allowed to enter Vietnam, even if you are not responsible.

Obviously, we are talking about tourist stays. If you go to work, the issue is completely different.

It is advisable to always have a ticket to leave the country and proof of means of subsistence, as these may be requested upon entry. The passport must also be valid for at least six months.

Limestone mountains surrounded by lotus-filled river with Buddhist temples on the banks of the river - Vietnam Travel Guide
Gorge with limestone mountains, it is one of the most beautiful settings in Vietnam

Vietnam Travel Guide

Finally, if you want to buy a travel guide, we suggest this guide from Lonely Planet, which has a lot of useful information.

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50 Travel tips Vietnam

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