Travel to Vietnam
Tips, recommendations and Sightseeing Information !
When you travel to Vietnam you are about to explore a truly fascinating travel destination. Combining the traditions of old, while fast incorporating the modern, you will enjoy the history and tradition, with all the trappings of today's comforts.
Our travel to Vietnam was mainly in the northern and central regions of Vietnam, so I will give you all the information you need to enjoy a Vietnam vacation in these regions.
I look forward to others who have spent time in the south, sharing their experiences of travel to Vietnam. If you would like to tell us about your recommendations and travels in Vietnam, please do send it in. We would all love to hear about it.
Hanoi is the capital city and a good central base for the Northern region.
The city spans the Red River, and is set around several lakes. With a population of 5 million, this bustling city is divided into the Old Quarter, where most tourists base themselves, and the French Quarter .This is where government offices are located and expatriates and local workers live.
With fascinating streets alive with activity as the locals go about their daily lives, walking is the best way to get a real feel for this beautiful city.
Shopping is a colourful experience, and the walking routes take you through streets where one type of commodity is sold......in every shop. Thus you can visit everything from shoe street, to the pots and pans street.When you travel to Vietnam, you no doubt have a shopping list! While you can have clothes tailored in Hanoi, Hoi An is a better option for quality.
Museums There are many beautifully presented museums, including the
- Temple of Literature, which is wonderful. The gardens and design were totally unexpected. Don’t miss it!
- Memorial House was another that really appealed to me.
- Ngoc Son Temple reached by the bright red Huc Bridge
- The Water Puppet theatre
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
- Bonsai collection are all uniquely Vietnamese in their presentation.
: Museums in Vietnam are closed on Mondays and usually for a two hour lunch break.
Once you have explored
city, there are many day trips well worth taking. This region has been blessed with beautiful mountains, karst cliffs, lakes, rivers and forests.Travel to Vietnam will always involve viewing beautiful pagodas and shrines, mausoleums, museums, and temples, which all add to an enriching experience.
I can highly recommend the Perfume Pagoda day tour.It was one of the highlights of our travel to Vietnam. Perfume Pagoda is actually an area – with about 38 pagoda’s.
It is a full day tour, with a real variety of experiences.
With a picturesque bus ride through the countryside, a boat down the river, visiting two very beautiful and interesting Pagoda’s, and a gondola ride giving magnificent views, topped off by an excellent meal, this is a fantastic full day.
Halong Bay is probably the most popular tour from Hanoi. Travel to Vietnam would not be complete without at least one night on a Chinese junk. This is tourism at it’s peak. You will not be on your own! But it is a very scenic area of Vietnam, and a special experience.
If you are keen, you can include some kayaking and/or hiking. Or spend extra time on Cat Ba Island. I do not recommend Cat Ba Island unless you can spare at least two days. We arrived just before dusk, and left at 8.00 am so had no time to see the island, which was disappointing.
Ho Ba-be (Lake Ba-be) is a less common trip for tourists. It is a 6 hour car ride each way.(See NOTE)
It is a wonderful way to experience Vietnamese life at close quarters in a quiet rural village, enjoying the Ba-be National Park - a UNESCO Heritage site. The lake ( actually three linked lakes) is very beautiful and boat trips are arranged at your accommodation, in a Long House (stilt house).
Sapa My biggest regret was having no time to do some trekking in Sapa. It will be one reason to travel to Vietnam again. There are several 3-4- day tours you can choose from.
You can take an overnight train, or as my family did, ride their motorbikes one way and take the train back. You would need to allow a good week for this option. Close to the Chinese border, the spectacular scenery and still traditional ethnic H’mong and Dzao people, who can still be seen in their traditional dress.
Fanispan – Vietnam’s highest peak( 3143m) takes 2, normally three days for those wanting to test themselves. You will need to take full camping gear, and need to hire a guide and/ or porter to carry your gear.
Central Vietnam - Hoi An , Hue and beyond
Hoi An No trip would be complete to Vietnam without visiting Hoi An in my view. This beautiful historic town had us enchanted. With cars banned from the old town, you can wander freely, which makes for a most enjoyable experience.
Buy a one day ticket, and choose from the sightseeing options, following your free map. This is the place to have clothes tailored, buy your handcrafts, take a cooking class and just take a leisurely look at the town and surrounds.
Vietnam Day Tours
My Son this is a 55 kilometre each way, full day trip. You can either do a return bus trip, or bus one way, returning by boat. Another UNESCO heritage site featuring the remains of the ancient Kingdom of Champa.
Cham Island Part of Cu Lao Cham Marine Park we had planned on a day trip to the beach. Unfortunately the weather was not favourable. Our raincoats were well used! The easiest option is to book through a travel agent, as permits are required.
Another UNESCO Heritage city, Hue spans the famous and spiritually important Perfume River.
The main sights in Hue are the Citadel which is a magnificent old city originating in 1687, and the many pagodas, temples and mausoleums. A dragon boat trip is a wonderful way to save your feet and see some of the river side pagodas and temples.
There are two restaurants you must visit in Hue. Japanese Restaurant set up by a Japanese man, Michio Koyama, to train, house and educate street children. The other is Lac Thein Restaurant run by a deaf mute man. His brother has a restaurant next door Lac Than. See Vietnam Food for other good restaurants.
Lang Co Beach
For many, travel to Vietnam is not complete without a day or two at a lovely white, sandy beach.With time to spare we stopped for a couple of hours at Lang Co Beach. It was a dull day, but we enjoyed drinks on the terrace of the hotel, overlooking the stretch of clean, white sand. In better weather, a day or three would be very relaxing. Best time to visit is between April and July.
Danang This large relatively new city is somewhat devoid of the character of the other cities. Its main attractions are the beaches including China Beach south of the city, which appeals to those wanting to enjoy some surf.
The Lonely Planet assures us it has “considerable charm”. While we did not do a major exploration the charm was well hidden! You my like to see for yourself.
Vietnam currency is the Dong.US dollars are the best currency to take for travel to Vietnam. They can be used in hotels or restaurants. However, it is best to convert your cash to the local currency – Dong.You will need a large wallet! One US dollar equalled 16, 975 dong!(Check for todays rate!)It is wise to have the correct change with smaller vendors and especially taxis, which will drive off without giving your change if they don't have it.
Credit Cards You can use credit cards in hotels, with usually a 2% charge.
Vietnam Travel Tips
Crossing the road is an art!
We were fortunate our hotel manager kindly took us to a restaurant nearby, and in the process explained that to cross the road you must wait for a small break, then walk slowly but at a regular pace straight across – despite the traffic coming at you! You can also use your arm to show the direction you are going although I rarely saw people do this.
His excellent advice served me well for the next three weeks, and I amazed myself at how fearlessly I walked out into the mass of traffic, and crossed the streets unscathed.
Touts are Very Persistent! Be Polite but Firm
You become rather hardened to the touts selling books, postcards, hats, pictures and anything that is easily carried. The cyclo drivers were almost comical...anyone is a target. Even if you have just sat down to eat a meal! They are very persistent! The best trick was to politely say "No Thank You". If they persisted I resorted to saying – "I have already bought some."
Do not get angry – this is seen as very bad form by Vietnamese, as it is in most Asian countries.It is best to accept it is part of travel to Vietnam.
Taking Care of Your Hand Bag!
The Hotel receptionist warned us to take care of our handbags. Apparently, guys on motorbikes will sometimes try and snatch your bag and ride off.A bag where you can wear a strap diagonally across your body is the safest.
Vietnam Food is Delicious
Vietnamese Food is truly delicious. Food is a big part of the experience when you travel to Vietnam.You need to try a variety of local dishes -Pho...the traditional noodle soup, nems.........delicious spring rolls are but two of many choices.
When you feel like something a little more familiar, there is also a wealth of excellent ethnic restaurants. Italian, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vegetarian and more.
You will rarely be disappointed. Go to Vietnamese Food for my suggestions and recommendations for food and restaurants. We were fortunate our daughter knew all the good restaurants in Hanoi after 14 months of sampling. Most would be a 20 to 23 dong taxi ride from the Old Quarter.
Getting Around – Taxi, motorbike, bike, plane and Shanks Pony!
Vietnam Transport When you travel to Vietnam you will enjoy it best if you are fit to walk a lot!The best way to see the cities is definitely on foot.
However there are several modes of transport that will save your feet if need be.
- Cyclos – these are like rickshaws pulled by bicycles and wide enough to seat two. The drivers are persistent and will try and bail you up, even if you are sitting eating a meal in a restaurant. The funniest sight were large tour groups in tandem, riding through the city. Many holding their video cameras, capturing the fascinating sights of city life in Vietnam.However............................. I think they will need to watch their videos to see Hanoi!
- Motorbike Taxi - You can take a xe om – ride on the back of a motor bike, for a novel taxi ride. One elderly Australian lady regaled us with the thrill she had, taking a ride on a motorbike taxi. They are hanging around many of the street corners , you can’t miss them.
- Motorbikes to Hire – You can hire motorbikes from several places. However, unless you have experienced riding in the masses, and the most unusual traffic rules, this is not for the faint hearted.
Although my daughter and her partner love their bikes, and take long trips out of the city on them. If they are doing a long trip, they hire bigger bikes and have ridden to
– taking several days, returning on the train, and
– a six hour trip each way.
Bus – we didn’t use them , but there is a good network of buses.
Bicycles – can be hired. The same comments apply as for motor bikes!
Taxis – These are generally cheap and the best way to get around to the outskirts or beyond. Hanoi taxis or Maylin taxis are very reliable.
– When you book a hotel the hotel managers emailed back offering to arrange a car to meet us at the airport. In Ho Chi Minh this was $10US and in Hanoi $15US.( It is a 27 kilometre ride).Our daughter, said definitely take up this offer, and ensure your travel to Vietnam starts off on the right note!
There are many drivers from the airport who will try and charge well above the correct price.......the
she had heard was an American charged $150US!
The most reputable taxis to the airport in Hanoi are
City Taxis - Within the city
Hanoi Taxi (tel: 04-8535353),
Mai Linh Taxi (tel: 04-8222666),
are the most reputable. If the car has no taxi sign be wary.It will not be a registered taxi.
: Always try and get an idea of the cost of your trip before you set off, as several seemed to try and take a long..........or wrong route. Also have the correct money. If you do not have the correct amount they will drive off, without giving you change!
When to Visit - Vietnam Weather
Our travel to Vietnam was dictated by our schedule, and when it suited our daughter and her partner. As it turns out, October is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the best options.
But water is not something Vietnam is likely to ever be short of, and being a long country with a variable climate, finding a time when all parts of the country are enjoying fine weather is not really possible.
However, it WILL be warm, unless you plan on being north of Na Trang from November through to February, when it can get quite cold.
It was the wet season for central Vietnam, and we missed the worst flooding in Hanoi for over two decades by less than a week. Those large, colourful, all encompassing plastic poncho’s are readily available for anything from $1 - $5US depending on the quality... and you will almost certainly need one at some stage!
Be sure to check the Visa Search Box HERE to find out what visa you will require when you travel to Vietnam. They do say in some web visa instructions you can get a letter, verifying you as a suitable person to receive a visa as you enter Vietnam. However, you have to go to the Embassy or Consulate to get this letter, so it is probably saving precious holiday time to get your tourist visa at home or if you are American or Canadian, online. Make it for a full month, even if you're travel to Vietnam is for less time, was the advice we received at the Consulate in Sydney.
Hotels in Vietnam
We booked all our hotels in Vietnam online.
As I have mentioned, we were emailed with the offer of a car to meet us, which saved us a lot of concerns.
Computers All the hotels we stayed in had computers for guests to use, and they were considerably faster than here in New Zealand! We were impressed.
Flights to Vietnam
The most direct route to travel to Vietnam is either to Ho Chi Minh where you can start your tour. Or via Bangkok to Hanoi, starting your travels from the north.
Cheap Flights - Check VERY carefully - you may find in the end you are spending very similar dollars and could have had a more enjoyable trip.
More Vietnam Information
Northern Vietnam - Lake Ba-be
Hotels in Vietnam
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