Vietnam – What you need to know
Vietnam is a beautiful country to visit. Rich in culture, history, and landscape, Vietnam will impress you from beginning to end.
Here is what you need to know before visiting Vietnam:
- Out-of-the-beaten-path destinations
- Vietnamese food
- List of destinations
Planning your itinerary
Vietnam probably is the easiest country when it comes to planning your itinerary. You’ll just have to decide where you start, either Hanoi and then, make your way south, or Ho Chi Minh and go the other way around.
If you want to visit all of Vietnam, you’ll need at least 6 weeks. One month is doable but you’ll have to hurry.
If you have less than 2 weeks, I would advise focusing on either the north or the south part of Vietnam (I preferred the north). In the north, you can visit: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Ha Giang and Ninh Binh.
In the south, you can explore Ho Chi Minh and its surroundings, spend a couple of days around the Mekong Delta, visit the sand dunes in Mui Né and the beach in Nha Trang and finally enjoy a cooler climate in the hill station of Dalat.
If you have time, you can add Hué and Hoi An to both itineraries.
If you’re on a really tight schedule and don’t have a lot of time, check out my three favorite places in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a touristee country, and some places can really feel crowded. But don’t worry, if you like less-visited places, Vietnam is a gold mine.
Most tourists only visit the Mekong Delta as a day-trip from Ho Chi Minh. Don’t hesitate to go deeper into the area and stay for a couple of days. You’ll be able to witness traditional living and learn about the local culture.
There’s also a less-known aspect of Vietnam: its ethnic minorities. You can meet the tribes and learn about their culture in places like Kon Tum and Ha Giang. Most tourists skip these places as it’s harder to reach and not well-known. Ha Giang is getting more and more visitors each year though, but it’s still reasonable.
Another great site looked over by tourist, is the ancient capital of the Cham people: My Son. You can easily take a day trip from Hoi An or Danang to visit the ruins and be practically alone there.
Discovering Caodaism is also a “special” experience. This religion, specific to Vietnam, is a mix of all the religions that exist. There are a couple of temples in Vietnam you can visit, the most frequented is in Tay Ninh, not far from Saigon. You can also visit the one in Danang.
The food in Vietnam is just amazing, so fresh, so tasty, with a lot of veggies and herbs, perfect for me. The most famous dish is the Pho, a noodle soup, each places have its own twist of the original recipe. Also, try the Banh Mi, the tastiest sandwich I’ve ever had. The spring rolls are delicious as well. The list of tasty food would be too long to enumerate so just go ahead and try.
Keep in mind that Vietnamese people eat a lot of different types of meat (such as dog for instance) so beware of what you order, especially outside of the big cities. If you’re allergic to seafood, be careful, they tend to add shrimp paste/squid sauce… to most dishes.
Getting around in Vietnam
Getting around in Vietnam is pretty easy. To get from city to city you can either take the bus or go by train. The buses are comfortable, all with AC, in the night ones, you will get a bed (a bit small if you’re more than 170 cm or 5,6). You can buy a ticket going from Hanoi to HCMC (and vice versa) including all the stops you want to make and with open dates. It’s actually cheaper than to buy the tickets each time. Bus companies as well as the train offer this service.
In Hanoi and HCMC you’ll find good public transportation, just use google map, all the lines are in it. In other major cities, you can use Grab or Uber, they either have cars or motorbikes. In smaller cities, you’ll need to take a cab or a mototaxi.
Hitchhiking in Vietnam is not really a thing, you can try but most people won’t understand what you’re doing.
Many backpackers choose to buy a motorbike to visit Vietnam, it’s quite common. You can either buy it from a backpacker who finished his trip (check the facebook groups) or from a garage. If you know nothing about mechanic it’s a gamble. There’s no way to tell how many kilometers the bike has done as they always unplug the counter, so you can check the basics but you can never be sure. The prices are usually around 250 USD, insurance is not mandatory and doesn’t cover much anyway, you’re allowed to own the motorbike but you can’t put it under your name.
Weather in Vietnam
When traveling in the North, keep in mind that they have a winter there. Although it sometimes snows, Hanoi is usually ok but if you go to the mountains, it get really cold. You should pack accordingly if you’re planning to visit North Vietnam between November and March. The rainy season in the North is from May to October.
In Central Vietnam, the weather is dry between January and August. The heaviest rainfalls are recorded from September to November. (I was there in October and it almost never rained)
In the South, the dry season is between November and April, then it starts to get really humid. The heaviest rainfalls are recorded between July and August.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the rainy season, because nowadays the weather is really changing. You can be there during the official dry season and experience a lot of rain and almost none during the rainy season. If the rainy season comes as scheduled, it will usually be short heavy rains in the evening.
In the middle of the mountains, Kon Tum is perfect for those you want to escape the city rush (and heat) and enjoy the nature while learning about the other side of Vietnam: its ethnic minorities.
Hoi An is probably the cutest city I’ve visited so far, its colorful old wooden houses are definitively a must see on your itinerary in Vietnam. The whole historical center has been well preserved and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
My Son located about 50km inland from Hoi An, is a must see if you are interested in architecture and ancient civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a magical place where the time seems to have stopped.