Travelzoo Guidebook: Vietnam

May 1, 2024

Defined by its immense blue bays dotted with fishing boats, ancient towns and temples, delicious cuisine, and lantern-lit streets, Vietnam is any traveller’s dream, offering up a diverse tapestry of experiences to suit just about any itinerary. From beachgoers to history enthusiasts, this exciting destination promises an enriching visit to anyone planning a holiday here. And with daily direct flights from Australia to Ho Chi Minh City, and the fact that you can easily obtain a visa online, Vietnam is a no-brainer for your next Southeast Asia trip.

Getting there

With a booming infrastructure for visitors, Vietnam welcomes millions of travellers each year. The majority of international flights land at one of the country’s three main airports in Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City. Once you’ve touched down, there are a number of ways for you to get around. Because car rentals are not common in Vietnam, many people opt for taxis (which are widely available in most Vietnamese cities) to reach their hotel or accommodation. Be sure to do your research before you arrive: Mai Linh and Vinasun are two trusted taxi companies. If you’re travelling a little further afield, you could jump on a train for a scenic tour (the reliable train service runs from north to south), but generally, flying is the preferred mode of transport as it is quicker and more convenient, giving you more time to relax on your holiday. Domestic flights are quite affordable and can take you straight to Vietnam’s top destinations; just be sure not to travel around public holidays.

What to do, eat and drink

From the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Hanoi, to the serene beauty of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam is a nation of contrasts, and a perfect blend of ancient tradition and modern life – making it a fascinating place to visit.

For those who are interested in exploring the past, Vietnam offers an incredible line-up of ancient wonders. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam was founded in September 1945 under the leadership of President Ho Chi Minh. But long before this, the country had a rich story to tell.

From the ancient Indochinese kingdom of Champa to French colonial rule, and the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, its well-preserved historical sites offer a glimpse into the events that have shaped the nation and its people.

Explore the ancient temples of Hue (the former imperial city), the haunting war remnants of Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, the Temple of Literature built in 1070, and the heritage houses of Hoi An.

Of course, a visit to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without witnessing first-hand the breathtaking views of Ha Long Bay. A true Vietnamese icon and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bay is renowned for its stunning emerald waters and towering limestone islands. Its best seen from the water, so we suggest hopping aboard a traditional junk boat to enjoy the scenery in all its glory, including the floating villages, hidden caves, and secluded beaches around every corner.

Speaking of beaches, Vietnam is the place to go to discover picture-perfect beaches that aren’t overcrowded. Its 3,400km of coastline is home to some of the region’s most beautiful beaches as well as some must-see tropical islands just off the coast. There really is a beach for every type of traveller. For a sandy spot not too far from the cities, try ‘hip and happening’ An Bang just 3km north of Hoi An, the popular China Beach in Da Nang, or explore the 6km of golden sands at Nha Trang beach.

If you’re looking for something more remote, check out the Con Dao islands away from the mainland (Con Son in particular offers tranquil beaches, coral reefs and sea views that seem to go on forever); or you could head to the southern Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, where Ganh Dau and Bai Thom beaches offer extra seclusion while you watch the gentle waves and turquoise waters.

Vietnam is a place of astounding natural beauty, so it’ll be tricky to choose where to go first. If lazing on the beach isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options that will keep you intrigued. Worth a visit are the eye-catching terraced rice fields of Sapa in the north – rated as one of the top seven most beautiful rice fields in the world – and let’s not forget the remarkable water world that is the Mekong Delta, with its maze of rivers, swamps and islands, famous floating markets and lush vegetation.

When it’s time to take a break from sightseeing, you’re in luck, as local cuisine plays a huge role in Vietnamese culture. From the savoury delights of pho (a fragrant slow-simmered noodle soup), to mouthwatering crispy spring rolls packed with vegetables and herbs, or a refreshing cup of ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee often served at sidewalk cafés), every dish or drink is prepared with fresh ingredients and a delicate balance of flavours, telling a story of the country’s rich culture and tradition.

When to visit

Stretching more than 600 miles in length, Vietnam encompasses a variety of climate zones. So your travel itinerary and end destination will determine when to go.

Hanoi and Northern Vietnam: A trip to these popular regions should definitely be planned around the rainy seasons. The best time to go is October and November, which promises a combination of drier weather and lovely temperatures.

Mountainous North: As with other areas in the north, the mountains experience a fair share of rain, so to avoid the heaviest precipitation and to enjoy decent temperatures, you should visit either in October and November or in March and April.

Central Vietnam: As you move south, the window for good weather opens up, and you can expect pretty consistent temperatures. Of course, many people flock here for the beautiful beaches, so if it’s a beach holiday you’re after, January to July is ideal, before it gets too hot later in the year.

Southern Vietnam: If you’re looking for a comfortable climate all year-round, this region is where you want to be. Whether you’re heading to vibey Ho Chi Minh City, or the many historical sites, visiting the south from November to April is your best bet.

Good to know

  • The official language is Vietnamese, however English, French and Chinese are also commonly spoken.
  • The currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND) and while most transactions are made in the local currency, Australian dollars can easily be exchanged on arrival. In some instances, US dollars can be used directly at selected hotels, restaurants and other services. Carrying cash on you is generally useful in case you want to pop in to a street stall or market.
  • Pack for the weather, and be mindful of the variation of temperatures (be it the cooler highlands or the steaming Mekong Delta).
  • Recommended vaccinations for travellers include Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid.
  • Practise your haggling skills as they will come in handy when bartering in Vietnam (something that is pretty much customary in the tourist market).
  • Generally speaking, the dress code is quite relaxed, so shorts and skirts, t-shirts and vests will be your go-to for everyday travel. However, it is essential that you wear modest clothing (covering your shoulders and knees) when visiting pagodas and religious sites. Sometimes you’ll also need to remove your shoes before entering, so make sure you check the local customs and practices when planning your travels.
  • You will need to buy a Vietnam travel adaptor before you go, as Aussie plugs won’t fit the sockets.
  • Crossing the street in Vietnam is chaotic to say the least, so take extra care when you’re travelling on foot – pedestrians usually need to raise their hand to ask permission to cross the road, and wait on a motorist’s response before doing so.
  • As you’d expect, chopsticks are commonly used on the dining scene – if you’re not a pro at using them, it’s a good idea to pack your own fork for when you’re off the beaten track or come across more traditional eateries.


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