Vietnam is the perfect getaway for those who are seeking dynamic action mixed with tranquility. The country is located in Southeast Asia and it is known for having stunning beaches, dramatic caves, vibrant green mountains, and jam-packed cities.
The busy city streets are dominated by scooters with about 3.1 million cruising the capital boulevards and modernity has conquered the skyline with glass and steel architecture. It’s outside the cities where adventure awaits tourists who want to escape into the breathtaking views of Ha Long Bay, the Fanispan Mountain, or Hang Son Doong Cave. We cover the basics of visiting here, but for more in-depth info Uncover Vietnam has a complete Vietnam travel guide to soak it all in.
Chào Mừng – Welcome to Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it’s layered with a complicated and somber history. The capital was once a battleground that marked the beginning of the First Indochina War and ever since it has been shrouded from the public eye, until it began to open up in the 1990s.
Today, tourists can experience the past by visiting memorials and periods of influence from French and Chinese occupation. Currently, the city is pushing past their dark history and opening its doors to tourism. The Old Quarter is one of the most popular destinations and a must see in the city because of its temples, pagodas, markets, and restaurants.
Culture and Language
Similar to many Asian countries, Vietnam was once ruled by dynasties. The dynasties, which started back in 2879 BC ruled the country until the French made Vietnam one of their colonies in 1858. But the French didn’t stay in power forever and by World War II, Japan had invaded. It wasn’t until after WWI that France reoccupied southern Vietnam and northern Vietnam was controlled by the communist leader, Ho Chi Minh.
The French-Viet Minh War began, where the United States allied with France to stop communism. At this time, Vietnam was separated into two countries – Northern and Southern Vietnam. But by 1959, Ho Chi Minh wanted full control and a unified country ruled by Communism. The United States feared the spread of Communism in Asia and declared war with troops arriving in Vietnam in 1965. By 1973, the US withdraws from Vietnam and Southern Vietnam surrenders to Communism.
But while Vietnam has had it dark days, it has pulled through to look towards a brighter future. Once a struggling nation, the country is set to become a developed nation by 2020. The fast-growing economy of Vietnam with tourism also expanding throughout its borders. Tourism has helped strengthen the economy and with a record amount of 15.5 million international visitors in 2018, the numbers are only climbing year by year.
Vietnamese is the official language of the country, which is spoken by 76 million people. It is also the national language of Vietnam, though foreign languages are still present throughout the country. Older generations may still speak French from the occupation days, while English is becoming more common in touristy areas. However, a few minority languages and influence from neighboring countries in remote villages of Vietnam.
For many, the minority or historic languages are important because Vietnamese culture worships their ancestors. Respect for ancestors also transcends to respect for the family and community. The culture is very respectful, and they don’t appreciate criticism. Symbols are also important culturally with dragons, lotus, and bamboo being the most important.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Vietnam, you will need a tourist visa approved prior to your arrival in the country. A visa can be approved by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C., but you will likely have to visit in person. Other documents required include a valid US passport with at least 6 months validity (beyond the date of your departure). remaining and one blank page.
If heading to the Washington D.C. office is not an option, most US citizens are eligible for Vietnam’s visa on arrival program. This is the easiest way to get a tourist visa because it allows you to apply online. Once the application is completed, you should get a visa approval letter in the mail. The letter can be used alongside your other required document upon your arrival to the country, where you will be stamped with your official tourist visa. Keep in mind that the visa on arrival program is only valid for those entering Vietnam through an airport.
There are also different fees for the visa on arrival program. A single entry that is valid for 1 month will cost $18 US dollars, while a single month with multiple entries will cost $23 US dollars. There is also a 3-month visa available in both categories, which will cost $28 and $43 US dollars. Single entry visas also have a $25 US dollar stamping charge, which will need to be paid at the airport upon your arrival. Multiple entry visas have a $50 US dollar stamping charge, which is also to be paid at the airport upon arrival.
If you are traveling through Vietnam multiple time over a series of months, the multiple entry 12-month visa would be your best option. This visa costs $60 US dollars and has a $135 US dollar stamping fee. Keep in mind that the stamping fee must be paid for in cash at a special counter in the airport, upon your arrival.
Visitors who choose the visa on arrival program will need to go to the visa application counter upon your arrival at the airport. There should be signs indicating the direction, which state Transfer and Visa Counters. Here, you will show your visa approval letter and accompanying documents to receive your visa stamp. If you were able to visit the consulate in Washington D.C., you would have been given the tourist visa and you will not need to visit the counter in the airport.
With tourism on the rise, Vietnam is getting more expensive to visit but it is still an affordable country to travel. The most important parts of your budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation. It is important to consider your budget before you set off for your journey to ensure that you are fully prepared for your trip.
The cost of your flight will be a large portion of your budget and you should expect to spend up to $800 US dollars for your economy ticket. Budget flights may be available, which would cut the cost in half. But similar to any vacation, the time of year that you travel and when you book your ticket can change the price. Spring and autumn are the most popular times to visit Vietnam, so you’ll see the prices of flight increase during those months. You can also save money by booking your flight further ahead of your departure date.
Like any country, Vietnam can be toured on a backpacker’s budget, moderate budget, and luxury budget. Most backpackers will spend $10 US dollars per night for a hostel, which should provide you with breakfast and internet. A nice hotel will cost $75-$100 US dollars per night and is the most popular choice for a moderate budget. But Vietnam also has plenty of luxury resorts and accommodations that have high prices – hundreds to thousands of dollars per night.
Airbnb is another option in the big cities, which can cost as little as $20 US dollars per night. For travelers who want private accommodation and a kitchen to cook their own food, Airbnb is the best choice.
However, Vietnamese food is affordable and delicious. Many travelers prefer to eat out so that they can experience authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Goi cuon is a traditional starter dish, which is clear spring roll with a side of peanut sauce. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that is filled with pork or beef with vegetables. Bun cha is a popular street food, which is barbequed pork with cold rice noodle and broth. Pho perhaps the most well-known noodle dish from Vietnam that is made with rice noodles, onions, and a meat – like chicken, pork, or beef.
The best news is that tasty food is very affordable throughout the country. Street food can cost under $2 US dollars for a meal. If you prefer to sit down in a restaurant, you should expect to pay up to $30 US dollars for a meal in touristy areas. Local eateries may cost $15 US dollars per meal, but nothing quite beats the authentic taste of street food.
Drinking is also enjoyed amongst tourists and you’ll find that there are many locals who are drinking more due to the growing middle-class economy. Beer, spirits, and cocktails are all popular and rather affordable compared to some American cities. A beer can cost as little as $1 US dollar, while other drinks can cost up to $5 US dollars. If you are sticking to touristy areas, you should expect to pay more for alcoholic beverages.
In big cities, like Ho Chi Minh City, you will find swanky bars that have excellent views of the city. But outside of the bustling metropolis destinations, bars will be quieter and more local. But the nightlife is lively in the country and you’re always bound to find a good party.
Overall, the daily budget will range from $30 US dollars to $200 US dollars or more. Most backpackers will spend about $30 US dollars a day and still travel comfortably. A more moderate budget would range from $60-$100 US dollars per day and a luxury experience would cost $200 or more US dollars per day.
There are also a range of attractions that may have additional transportation or tour costs. City tours can cost $30 US dollars, while big adventure packages can cost $100 US dollars or more. The cost will depend on what you want to see and do in Vietnam. Like the rest of your budget, you can go crazy and spend hundreds on activities or save money and only hit the most tourist areas and avoid private tours.
How to Get Around
Another part of your budget that is important to consider is transportation. There are a lot of places to visit in Vietnam and you will likely want to venture between cities and destinations.
One of the best ways to get around and one that will save you travel time, is to take a domestic flight. There are a few budget airlines that operate within the country and a ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi can cost as little as $30 US dollars. However, if you book the tickets last minute and during tourist season, expect prices to be closer to $90 US dollars.
Buses are the most affordable way to travel, but with lots of traffic it can take you hours to reach your destination. Short bus rides will cost as little as $2 US dollars, while long bus rides (up to 10 hours) will cost about $22 US dollars. For backpackers, the buses are the best way to travel because they can see more of the country and still save money.
Trains are another option for traveling throughout the country and have similar prices to bus tickets. The only difference is that trains can eliminate the experience of traffic and road chaos by sending you quietly along the tracks. While the train is not as developed as other countries, it is reliable between large cities. Most people prefer to use the trains when they have a long trip, which they often book overnight so that they can sleep.
Taxis are another option to get around a specific city and are relatively affordable. Vinasun and Mailinh are the most reliable companies that do not overcharge tourists for their rides. Most taxis will run on a meter but expect to have an adrenaline rush as you experience navigating the chaotic street traffic.
Finally, walking is a great way to experience a city or destination and its free. Many tourist areas are safe to walk in as long as you keep your belongings close and are aware of your surroundings. As with any new travel destination, you should avoid walking alone at night.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Vietnam is a stunning landscape and the cities are popular tourist destinations. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City
Once called Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City was renamed after the Communist leader and is a constant remind of the country’s military power. The busy city is now home to a diverse group of people with expats and tourists becoming more popular. Military museums can educate you on the country’s past, while the Independence Palace is a stunning modern building. The lively city is constantly busy, even as the sun goes down. Tourists can slip into the night for a fun time at the bars and try a variety of delicious street food dishes.
More beautiful than Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is also the capital of Vietnam and one that highlights the past. French colonial architecture is still standing within the city and is central to the city’s Old Town. There are many different memorials and museums dedicated to the difficult history, but the new energy of the city has pushed it towards a bright future. Dining is a big draw for tourists in the city who are eager to taste traditional Vietnamese food.
Hoi An is a unique city that is filled with watery canals and a mixture of colonial villas and Chinese pagodas. The city blends the various cultures into one and tourists can easily see the French and Chinese influence in the architecture and streets. The riverside restaurants are increasingly popular where you can get an authentic bowl of pho to satisfy your hunger.
My Khe Beach is the biggest attraction for the city of Da Nang, which features a vibrant green coastline with resorts, high rises, restaurants, and bars. Now a holiday destination, the city is a top pick because of its clean, white sand beaches. Plenty of watersports also attract the more adventurous tourists, but for those looking to relax, you can simply drop a towel and lay out under the warm sun.
More rural than other locations on this list, Dalat was once a French holiday resort. A mixture of French colonial villas and Chinese structure dot the city streets. Tourists can escape in a horse drawn carriage or visit the city’s version of the Eiffel Tower. Just outside the city walls, the mountains are a big draw for hikers, mountain bikers, and white-water rafters.
Hue used to be the imperial capital of Vietnam, but now the city rests with a variety of ancient ruins that are open to the public. The palace was destroyed during the Vietnam War, but parts of it remain intact and other sections have been rebuilt. The ruins remind tourists of ancient times, where they can imagine an emperor gazing across the landscape.
Another seaside resort location, Nha Trang sits on the South China Sea and is known for their modern architecture blended with Catholic churches and old temples. Just outside the city, waterfalls and hot springs are popular day trips, which highlight the areas natural beauty.
Can Tho is famous for their floating markets, which are the biggest draw for tourists. The city sits on the Mekong River and the Cai Rang floating market is a unique sight and experience. Tourists can get on the water in a small boat and buy traditional Vietnamese dishes before enjoying the sunset.
If you want to get into the local lifestyle and natural landscape, Ninh Binh is the best place to go for an otherworldly experience. The rural location is lined with limestone karst and an idyllic river. Nearby are the Tam Coc, which is a three-part cave system. The caves can be explored by boat and there are a variety of guided tours available.
Points of Interest
While cities are always fun to explore, Vietnam is also home to plenty points of interest from stunning natural wonders to man-made architecture.
Ha Long Bay
One of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations, Ha Long Bay is located in the northern region and is dotted with green islands. The jungle like vegetation sits atop limestone pillars and enormous caves only add to the beauty. Many small fisherman villages float along the bay, but you’ll often find many different cruises boats touring the area.
Fanispan Mountain is the highest location in Vietnam and a popular tourist destination because of the mountain’s beauty. Often called the Roof of Indochina, the mountain rises 3,143 meters above sea level. A cable car will lift you into the clouds and gives you the best view of the area.
Hang Son Doong Cave
Located within the larger Phong Nha ave system, the Hang Son Doong Cave is one of the largest in the world and a popular camping location for tourists. Guided tours often pitch tents on the cave floor, which also features a river and blue water pools. An absolute wonder, the cave is plenty of guided tours available.
Con Dao Islands
Once used to house prisoners, the islands are now a hot spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. While some of the prison ruins can be toured, the beauty of the islands have made the area a top destination for tourists.
A series of 5 mountains, the Marble Mountains are filled with stunning caves and Buddhist temples. The caves are filled with shrines and the entire area is sacred to the people. While a more offbeat location, the mountains picturesque appearance draws off the beaten path travelers.
Sa Pa Terraces
The Sa Pa Terraces have become one of the most famous visuals from Vietnam, which boasts the perfect cut and kept rice paddies. Located in the Muong Hoa valley, the paddies have become a destination for those who want to experience the beauty of nature and human co-existing.
Get Out and Go
While Vietnam is a smaller country, it is still packed with stunning destinations. The natural beauty of the landscape and the chaotic cities are becoming ever more popular with adventurous tourists. But whether you’re there to pay tribute to those fallen during the war or want to escape into the natural wonders of the world, Vietnam will be a vacation you won’t soon forget.