Not many countries are as diverse and interesting as Vietnam. It has beautiful beaches, nature, rich culture, a lot of recent as well as ancient history, friendly people and delicious food.
Tourism is developing quickly in Vietnam. Many big resorts are coming. This is a good thing for the country, but it does spoil it a little bit for travellers who like to explore relatively undeveloped places. I guess that in a decade Vietnam will be a lot like Thailand. So try to plan your trip to this wonderful country in the next few years if you can.
Vietnam is a very large country, with almost 100 million inhabitants. The Vietnamese are very kind and friendly people. They love children as well. The kids will feel at home and welcome even when they don't speak the language. There is a lot to do with children in Vietnam. If you have somewhat older children there is a lot of historic places to explore. For younger children the beaches are just perfect. The kitchen has both Asian as well as French influences, to the nice croissants and good coffee will not be missed. While you can still also taste the delicious oriental spices and fresh seafood which Asia is so famous for.
We visited Vietnam twice and will certainly go back. It's a vast country with many interesting places to see. Many hotels are of very high service level, although many Vietnamese don't really speak English very well.
What to do
There is so much to see and do in Vietnam, it would be impossible to make a short list for the entire country. But if you have limited time available, we would advise you to add at least these cities to your itinerary.
- Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. You can still fee the influence of the communist regime in the daily life of people living here and that's what makes it so interesting.
- Ho Chi Minh city, formerly known as Saigon. From here you can visit the Chu Chi tunnels and Mekong delta.
- Ha Long Bay. Some people think it is too touristy, but it still is beautiful and a Unesco World Heritage site.
- Last but certainly not least, Hoi An. it is a beautiful historic city with a wonderful atmosphere, but I would book a stay in Da Nang and visit Hoi An from there, so you can also enjoy the beautiful beaches Da Nang has to offer.
- Don't forget to apply for a Visa or an authorization letter before you go. If you choose for the authorization letter option (it's cheaper) than do take enough cash with you to pay for your visa upon arrival. The visa department accepts USD and Vietnamese Duongs. A single entry visa, costs 30 USD per person, a multi entry visa 50 USD per person. Also bring your authorization letter (printed in color), filled out forms and 1 pass photo per person.
- Flights within Vietnam are not expensive, so if you don't have a lot of time take a flight between the cities to save time.
- Dress appropriately when visiting temples. Take off your shoes and don't go in with shorts or skirts above the knee or bare shoulders.
- Don't take pictures of locals without asking them for permission first. They probably won't mind but my experience is that they don't like being photographed without their consent.
- Do not flaunt your money or luxury items. Most of the people in Vietnam are very poor. It is considered an insult to flaunt with expensive jewels and too much cash.
- That being said, beware of thefts and pick pockets. Don't bring too many valuables with you and leave the valuables you do have in a safe as much as possible. Think of items such as passports, credit cards, too much cash, travel documents etc.
- When in Ho Chi Minh use Vinasun taxis only. They are the most reliable company.
- If you're staying for at least 3 days in one place, go to a tailor and make a dress, blouse or suit. Vietnamese tailors have beautiful fabrics and are inexpensive and quick. I had matching dresses made for me and my daughters, it was wonderful and I still wear them often... unfortunately the girls have grown out of them.
- Bring mosquito repellent.
- Try to combine your Vietnam visit with a visit to Cambodia as well, if you have enough time. It's easy to incorporate it in your itinerary. If you plan on doing this don't forget to apply for a multi entry visa into Vietnam.
When to go
Vietnam is large enough to have different climate zones. It can be divided in North, Central and South.
The North has four seasons with chilly winters, hot and wet summers and nice spring and autumn seasons.
Central Vietnam has two different weather patterns. Summers are hot and dry and the conditions from September - February are often characterised by strong winds and rain.
The South has three season from March - May it is hot and dry, June - November lot of rain and from December - February it is cool and dry. A great time to visit!
We combined Vietnam with Cambodia. So we flew from Da Nang to Siem Reap. Then to Phnom Penh and then by boat on the Mekong River back to Vietnam. Below you will see our itinerary.
However, if you don't have enough time to also visit Cambodia. There are plenty of variations or alternatives for the route. You can go from north to south, also visiting Nha Trang, or from South to North, including Sapa in your itinerary. As European carriers mostly fly to Ho Chi Minh city, this would be your logical starting point but you can also immediately take a domestic flight to another city, for example Hanoi, to start your trip.
We almost didn't drive during our trip as we only had 4 weeks and we wanted to get the most out of our visit. However, this route is also very doable in 3 weeks (excluding the day of arrival and departure). Then I would recommend the following:
Hanoi: 2 days -> Ha Long Bay: 3 days -> Da Nang: 3 days -> Siem Reap: 3 days -> Phnom Penh: 2 days -> Can Tho: 2 days -> Phu Quoc: 4 days -> Ho Chi Minh: 2 days.