Vietnam is one of our favourite countries and we’ve travelled it from top to bottom. This post covers all the Vietnam travel advice we’ve learned through our extensive personal experiences in the country. What in our guide to Vietnam travel? We’ve had so many adventures in Vietnam, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
On our first Vietnam trip, we cycled in from China, riding into Ha Long Bay and then visiting Cat Ba Island. We then cycled west through Hanoi and over the incredible Annamite Mountains into Laos. Jane has also done lots of solo travel in Vietnam. She spent three months cat-sitting in Hanoi before going on an adventure through Central Vietnam.
We also spent a month teaching yoga in Mui Ne, two months volunteering with Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund near Nha Trang, and weeks travelling in south Vietnam, all the way to the Cambodia border.
As I write this, we’re living in a little house in Hoi An for a couple of months. In total, we’ve spent more than a year in Vietnam, exploring almost every corner of this fantastic country. With all this experience, we feel pretty comfortable offering you travel advice for Vietnam. If you’re planning your own Vietnam adventure, read on for our best Vietnam travel advice.
Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
Vietnam offers such a wide range of activities, from the cultural, to the natural, to the spiritual, that it’s hard to be bored. If you’re travelling to Vietnam for the first time, here’s a summary of the activities you’ll definitely want to do. For more info, don’t miss our full guide to transformational things to do in Vietnam.
Trekking in the Northern Mountains
One of the most popular destinations for Vietnam adventure travel is Sapa, a region in the rolling purple mountains of Vietnam’s northwest.
People come from all over the world to trek the mountains with a guide from one of the local tribes. After a day of walking along narrow mountain paths, through farms, villages, and the wild mountainside, you can spend a night in a homestay, experiencing how the locals have lived for centuries.
Travel Tip: Avoid Sapa town itself, which is a tacky and overcrowded.
Travel Tip: For a less-touristy alternative to Sapa, try Mu Cang Chai, which has breathtaking terraced rice fields.
Travel Tip: If you don’t want to trek, book a stay at Topas Ecolodge, where you can enjoy the beauty of the mountains without having to walk there!
Cruising in Spectacular Ha Long Bay
As the number one place to visit in Vietnam, we equate Ha Long Bay to other world-famous sights, like the Great Wall or the Eiffel Tower. It is amazing and you must go, but prepare to be one among hundreds of tourists.
You can’t see much of anything from Ha Long Bay town; the only real way to experience the beauty of the region is on a Ha Long Bay Junk cruise. Book a two-night cruise (rather than the more common one-nighter) to have a chance to get away from the crowds and go kayaking or swimming.
Travel Tip: For a less touristy cruise location, visit nearby Bai Tu Long Bay instead.
Travel Tip: For a cheaper alternative, take the public ferry (which was a complete rust-bucket when we took it) from Ha Long town to Cat Ba Island. You’ll get to see some of the famoust karst formations along the way.
Exploring the Vibrant City Life
Vietnam’s two biggest cities, Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh in the south, provide two very different travel experiences.
If you’re looking for culture, beauty, and endless opportunities for wandering around twisty vibrant streets, definitely choose Hanoi. We’ve spent several months in the city and never get tired of returning.
If you want big city vibes, with a chance to hang out with Vietnam’s hip, young middle class in cool cafes, trendy boutiques, and rooftop bars, then check out Ho Chi Minh City. The city is bigger, busier, and harder to get around, but it still offers plenty of entertainment.
Travel Tip: If you visit Ho Chi Minh City, remember Grab Bike is your friend, whisking you around the city for pennies.
Wandering the Streets of a UNESCO Village
If you like to dream the day away, wandering narrow alleys and sipping strong coffee, the ancient city of Hoi An should be on your itinerary. Her solo trip to Hoi An was one of Jane’s Vietnam highlights.
She liked it so much, we returned a couple of years later and rented a house in Hoi An for two months. We still miss it!
The pedestrianized old city is lined with wooden merchant’s houses, all painted the same shade of dark yellow — and it is one of the few places in Vietnam where you don’t have to worry about being run down by a scooter as you wander.
It is touristy, but despite the hordes who visit each year, it has somehow managed to hold onto its ancient magic, especially in the evening when paper lanterns and floating candles reflect off the lazy river.
Tours are a great way to get away from the crowds and experience more of the real Hoi An. We loved both our Hoi An scooter tour and our photo tour of Hoi An.
Spelunking in the World’s Most Amazing Caves
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Phong Nha Ke Bang national park. You are in good company. Though it contains one of the world’s most impressive limestone karst cave systems, it is still relatively unknown as Vietnam tourist spot.
Cave visits and treks are obviously the big reason to visit and I highly encourage you to leave enough time (and money) to book a trek to one of the many protected caves. This makes for a fantastic Vietnam adventure trip for those who want to add a little off-the-beaten-track experience to their vacation.
Travel Tip: Save half a day to explore by bicycle, where you’ll be far away from tourists and immersed in the local culture.
Relaxing on Beautiful Beaches and Islands
Did you know Vietnam has gorgeous beaches and islands that rival their more famous counterparts in Thailand?
With more than 3,000 km of coastline, it shouldn’t be surprising that much of it comprises wide sandy beaches. Phu Quoc Island in the south is the most famous beach retreat, but it is practically overrun with luxury resorts. Nha Trang and Da Nang in central Vietnam are also great spots for beach lovers.
Travel Tip: For a less touristy alternative, head further north to Qui Nhon, where there are fewer facilities but also far fewer tourists — and plenty of beautiful beaches!
Visiting the Incredible Mekong Delta
Picture a sea of emerald green rice stalks, dotted with water buffalos and workers wearing Vietnam’s iconic pointed hat. It’s hard to believe that the idyllic, slow-paced Mekong belongs to the same country as frenetic Ho Chi Minh City.
This is where a huge portion of Vietnam’s food, including rice, coconuts, sugar cane, and tropical fruit, is produced.
Where agriculture is absent, there is water. Here, the Mekong’s thousands of fingers reach and twist their way to the sea and the locals live their lives in floating villages, on boats, or in stilt houses along the river.
Travel Tip: For an unparalleled cultural and nature experience, visit the Mekong Delta by bike and boat.
We’ve only chosen a few of the incredible highlights of a trip to Vietnam. When you start planning your itinerary, you’ll find even more experiences you won’t want to miss.
We Recommend These Vietnam Tours
Vietnam is great for the independent traveller but there are some places and experiences that you’d probably never get to by yourself. If you’re thinking of taking a Vietnam tour or doing a short tour while you’re there, these are the ones we recommend.
Grasshopper Adventures Cycle & Boat Tours
We love Grasshopper Adventures because they make it easy to explore Vietnam by bicycle (and sometimes boat). Their local guides keep you safe on the roads and help you experience off-the-beaten track Vietnam, away from other tourists.
If we were booking a Grasshopper tour in Vietnam today, we’d choose one of these:
- Northwest Vietnam by Bike. Spend 5 days cycling the scenic region west of Hanoi, on an unforgettable adventure cycle tour of Vietnam’s rich cultural heartland and stunning countryside.
- Bike & Kayak Hoi An. Enjoy this UNESCO city in a way few people get to on this 1-day tour. Cycle the countryside to experience rural life and then take to the water to visit places that are completely inaccessible by land.
- Mekong Delta in Style. This 3-day tour takes you to the incredible Mekong Delta with two luxury overnight stays and a chance to taste the culinary specialities of the region.
Get Transfers and Day Tours on Get Your Guide
If you’re looking for an easy way to find the most popular experiences in each destination in Vietnam, explore Get Your Guide. It helps you book everything from walking tours, to boat tours, airport transfers, and food tours.
How Long Do You Need in Vietnam?
I have happily spent months and months exploring Vietnam’s mountains, beaches, cities, and even caves! It would take a long time to see everything there is to see in Vietnam.
With two weeks in Vietnam, you’ll have enough time to thoroughly explore the northern, central, or southern region of the country without flying all over the place. If you only have two weeks, I strong recommend that you just stick to one region — there is plenty to do without travelling hundreds of kilometres down the length of Vietnam.
One week in Vietnam is just not enough to even scratch the surface. With 3 or 4 weeks, you’ll get to explore a little more, having time to really enjoy Vietnam’s friendly and vibrant culture. With 6 weeks, you could comfortably see the main regions and sights of Vietnam, with a little time left over for beach bumming.
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
Wondering when is the best time to visit Vietnam?
We have great news for you! Since Vietnam has three distinct climate patterns, in north, central, and southern Vietnam, there’s no bad time, or best time, for your Vietnam travels.
That means that you don’t need to worry too much about when to visit Vietnam — if you have a window in your schedule, you can start planning your trip!
For Northern Vietnam
Best time to go: October–December, March–April
The best time to visit northern Vietnam is from October to December, when it’s usually sunny but not unbearably hot. December is high season, so if you can go earlier in the year, you’ll find everything less crowded.
January and February in the north tend to be cool and misty. It’s still an OK time to visit, but be prepared for all your travel photos to have grey, dull skies. Also, if you plan to visit the mountains in winter, you’ll need warm winter clothing, and the karsts of Ha Long Bay could be completely obscured by fog.
March and April can also be an excellent time to visit, before the rainy hot season really kicks in. If you go in summer, be prepared for plenty of incredible rain storms and temperatures soaring above 30°C.
For Central Vietnam
Best time to go: Feb–May
The rainy season along the central coast of Vietnam lasts from around September to January, depending on which section of coast you choose. Spring is a good time to visit, since the rains have tailed off but the summer heat has not yet kicked in.
If you love the hot weather and want to lie on the beach a lot, June to August can be a good time to visit.
For South Vietnam
Best time to go: Dec–May
Southern Vietnam has the least volatile climate of the three regions, with temperatures remaining hot but bearable throughout most of the year. Rainy season is from May to November — but the rain tends to fall in a predictable pattern with a short mega-downpour every afternoon.
This leaves the rest of the day for sightseeing, and keeps the dust down, too. If you want to avoid the worst heat, stay away in Spring, from March to May, when highs can easily hit 40°C.
Vietnam Itineraries for 2 Weeks
For your first visit to Vietnam, two weeks is just about right, so we created three amazing 2-week itineraries for Vietnam.
Northern Vietnam Itinerary
This itinerary starts off in Hanoi and heads north. We recommend it for Vietnam first-timers who want to enjoy the greatest nature experiences Vietnam has to offer.
Central Vietnam Itinerary
This itinerary starts in Hanoi and heads south. It’s perfect for culture buffs and foodies who also want to make time for beaches and Vietnam’s incredible caves!
Southern Vietnam Itinerary
This itinerary kicks off in Ho Chi Minh City and is great if you’ve been to Northern or Central Vietnam before or you want to explore less-visited parts of the country.
Cost of Travel in Vietnam
Even though it’s become a hugely popular tourist destination in the last decade or so, travel to Vietnam is still incredibly cheap.
Here are a few example prices:
- A decent meal in a restaurant will cost around $5.
- A banh mi from a street stall is less than $1.
- A clean and comfortable double hotel room is about $12 per night.
- Hostel beds, in nice hostels with lots of amenities, cost less than $5.
- A 5-hour bus ride will run you about $6.
- A luxury hotel room is about $50 per night.
- Make sure to add a little money for tips.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can travel in Vietnam for $15 per day. If you like a little more comfort, budget about $25 per day. Even if you really live it up, you might find it challenging to spend more than $60 per day.
Accommodation in Vietnam
Out of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is the best for accommodation. From hostels to luxury resorts, the standard is very high and there are plenty of options available. We’ve never had trouble finding great places to stay in Vietnam, at a great price.
Hostels & Home Stays
At the very budget end of Vietnam accommodation, hostels and home stays are plentiful and cheap. You can easily find a decent, clean bed for around $4.
In out-of-the-way places like Mai Chau, Sapa, and Phong Nha, home stays give you a chance to meet the locals and live like them too. A home stay bed in Vietnam usually consists of a mattress on the floor separated by a curtain from other travellers or the family.
When in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or other popular tourist destinations, hostels are the best budget accommodation around. You’ll usually get a comfy bed in a dorm with 6–10 beds, plus a secure locker and a common area to hang out. Hostels usually have a few budget private rooms as well, which can be the perfect option for couples or solo travellers who want a little privacy.
Both hostels and home stays in Vietnam usually include a simple breakfast of bread, eggs, and fruit.
Travel Tip: I love staying at the small hostel chain Nguyen Shack, who have incredible little properties scattered around Vietnam.
In much of Vietnam, it is easy to find a private double room in a very nice, spotlessly clean hotel for around $12. In the most popular destinations, there are hundreds of options. A good percentage of them are highly rated, and highly deserving of their high ratings. This is part of the reason we love travelling Vietnam — the selection of comfortable accommodation is excellent.
In a budget hotel, you can expect a family run business, usually with fewer than 10 rooms. The rooms are often basic, with a hard bed (typical in Vietnam) and a simple bathroom with questionable plumbing. Shower enclosures are becoming more common now, but don’t be surprised if your shower is right next to the toilet and sprays all over the bathroom. This is the norm in Vietnam and you do get used to it.
However, you’ll also usually find spotlessly clean sheets and floors that have been polished to perfection. Staff are always friendly and helpful. They will go above and beyond to earn your repeat business and, more importantly, your positive reviews on booking sites.
Budget hotel rates almost always include breakfast. You usually have a choice of noodle soup, banh mi omelettes, banana pancakes, and fresh fruit.
Boutique Hotels and Luxury Hotels
If you want to splash out a little on your trip to Vietnam, you’ll find a great selection of higher-end hotels, especially in the more popular tourist destinations. Even if you usually travel budget style, it’s worth going upscale for a few nights, since you can get a boutique hotel room in Vietnam for about the price of a Motel 6 in the US.
In higher-end hotels, you can expect 5-star service, comfy beds in well-designed rooms, and excellent included breakfast. The best boutique hotels serve a la carte breakfast alongside an extensive breakfast buffet of both Western and Asian favourites.
Travel Tip: In Hanoi, we highly recommend the small chain of Elegance Hotels. We’ve stayed in several of their properties and have been continually wowed by their amazing service and level of comfort.
Where to Stay in Vietnam
Don’t miss our series of Vietnam accommodation guides! We picked our favourite hostels and hotels in a range of prices for some of the must-see cities in Vietnam.
Food & Drink
Try a Cooking Class in Vietnam
The best way to understand Vietnamese cuisine is to join a cooking class. You learn the ins and outs of preparing Vietnam’s signature dishes —including fried spring rolls, noodle soup, papaya salad, and egg coffee — but you’ll also come away with a better understanding of Vietnamese culture. Plus, you’ll get an amazing meal, made all the better because you cooked it!
Check out Cookly for the best cooking classes in Vietnam, including vegetarian and vegan options.
What You Need to Know About Vietnamese Food
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t love the food in Vietnam. The food is almost always freshly prepared and often filled with fresh herbs, veggies, and spices.
In Vietnam, you can get a bowl of steaming fragrant noodle soup or a fresh bahn mi sandwich for less than a dollar. Foodies should definitely visit Hue and Hoi An, where dozens of regional speciality dishes are on offer, alongside the more familiar Vietnamese foods.
Travel Tip: I highly recommend doing a food tour in Hanoi and Hoi An, where you’ll learn all the best places to get street food and local specialities.
Vietnam for Vegans & Vegetarians
Vietnam is by no means a vegetarian and vegan paradise. For a start, there is fish sauce hidden in just about everything and meat is a vital part of every meal. But if you know what to look for and where to go, you can get some of the best food of your life, animal-free.
Don’t miss our series of guides to vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam!
Alcohol in Vietnam
Aside from the home-brewed rice wine drunk in Vietnamese villages and the fresh brewed ‘bia hoi’ enjoyed on the sidewalks of Hanoi, alcohol is not a huge part of Vietnamese culture.
You can easily get a Saigon Beer for a couple of dollars in any restaurant, but cocktails are less common.
Until recently, Saigon and 333 were the only beers readily available.
During the last few years though, the craft beer scene in Vietnam has exploded. Especially in Ho Chi Minh City, you can find an incredible range of beers brewed in Vietnam. Many of these beer companies are now bottling their wares and can be found in expat and tourist bars around the country. If you’re a craft beer fan, don’t miss it!
Responsible Travel in Vietnam
In Vietnam, there aren’t as many pitfalls for the responsible traveller as there are in many other countries. Many of Vietnam’s travel businesses — from travel agencies, to tour companies, to restaurants and hotels — are run by local families. This makes it easy to make your travel money go straight to the Vietnamese people, with no interception by foreign corporations.
However, as in any country, be especially cautious when visiting wildlife sanctuaries and other animal attractions, like civet coffee plantations. Animal cruelty is common in Asia, and many places do not treat their animals well.
How to Dress in Vietnam
The rise in tourism in Vietnam over the last couple of decades has brought a radical change in how the Vietnamese (especially women) dress. Where once you would have seen women in traditional clothing, now they dress just like Westerners, in jeans, t-shirts, short shorts, and short skirts.
Especially in cities and other touristy places, anything goes when it comes to clothes. Feel free to pack your shorts, spaghetti strap tank tops, and other revealing clothing. You’ll fit right in.
However, do be aware that it can get crazy hot in Vietnam, so you might want to cover your flesh, not for modesty, but to prevent sun damage. If you’re spending winter in Vietnam, also remember that the mountains can be terribly cold!
Rural women in Vietnam still often dress in traditional costume, so bring more modest clothes to wear for your off-the-beaten track adventures.
Wondering what to pack for Vietnam?
Our Vietnam packing list will make sure you have the right gear for you trip.
Charities in Vietnam
Although Vietnam has a thriving middle class, there are still lots of people living in extreme poverty in the country — though as a tourist you probably won’t see them. I won’t get into detail about the social problems that exist in Vietnam here, but please education yourself before you travel.
When we travel to countries that face extreme poverty and human rights issues, we like to donate to charities who are doing something to combat those problems.
Here are a few charities operating in Vietnam that we recommend:
- Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund donates bicycles to girls in minority villages in Vietnam. They also run summer camps, music, and art lessons for impoverished kids in these villages. We have volunteered with them for two summers and highly recommend their work.
- In Vietnam, everyone gets around on motorbikes, including families with tiny babies and small children. AIP Foundation in Vietnam donates motorbike helmets to kids and educates families about why kids should wear helmets.
- Peace Trees Vietnam runs a program to feed and educate 3,500 children in rural Vietnam. Peace Trees works to clear bombs from war-ravaged lands and builds schools on the cleared land. They also help underserved kids get daily healthy meals and attend school.
- Animals Asia works throughout Asia, and extensively in Vietnam, to fight against animal abuses, while also caring for cats and dogs. In a region where animal abuse is still commonplace and often accepted, their work is crucial.
Yoga in Vietnam
Though it’s not that well known as a yoga travel destination, the Vietnam yoga scene is growing at lightning speed, for expats, tourists, and locals.
If you want to practice yoga while you’re in Vietnam, there are a few yoga hotspots you should know about.
There are lots of yoga studios in Ho Chi Minh City and more are being added every day it seems. We’ve always enjoyed our practices at the wonderfully peaceful Mandala Wellness, out in District 2. Friends tell us that Yoga Living is also an excellent place to practice. But there are dozens of other studios where you can find classes while you’re there.
In Hanoi, the selection is pretty good, too. We are totally loyal to Zenith Yoga, where Stephen has taught regularly over the years. They only employ very well trained teachers and you’ll be guaranteed to learn something about your body and about yoga if you practice there.
If you’re looking for a yoga retreat in Vietnam, you’ll find good options in Hoi An and on Phu Quoc Island. There are also some available on the south central coast near Nha Trang.
Practical Vietnam Travel Advice
In this section you’ll find our best practical tips for travelling in Vietnam.
Is Vietnam Safe for Tourists?
Yes, Vietnam is an extremely safe country for travel. As a couple, we’ve travelled all around the country by bicycle, train and bus, and never encountered any hassle or safety issues.
Jane has also travelled in Vietnam by herself and lived in Hanoi for a few months on her own. She never had any problems and never even felt uncomfortable.
Of course, as with any country in the world, you need to use your brain and avoid certain situations to stay safe. Don’t hang around at night in dark alleys, protect your drinks if you’re at a bar, and don’t tempt bag snatchers on city streets by being careless with your bag and phone.
See Dangers, Scams, and Cautions for Vietnam Travel below for more info.
Travel Insurance for Vietnam
Though Vietnam is an extremely safe country to travel in, I wouldn’t go anywhere without travel insurance. If anything happens, from motorbike accidents, to losing your luggage, or getting an unexpected illness, you’ll be happy to be covered. For the average traveller, insurance only costs a few dollars per day. It’s worth every penny.
One of the most popular travel insurance companies for adventurous travellers — because it is affordable, reliable, and easy to apply for — is World Nomads. Their guide to how travel insurance works is very useful.
How to Get a Visa for Vietnam
Unfortunately, unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, getting a visa for Vietnam isn’t as easy as showing up at the airport and paying a fee. The Vietnam visa requirements can seem complicated when you first look into them, but once you untangle all the conflicting information on the internet, it’s really quite easy.
Our quick and easy guide to Vietnam visas has all the information you’ll need.
Most passport holders will just need a Vietnam tourist visa — the Visa on Arrival. Getting it is a two-step process.
Before you travel, you’ll need to go online and apply for a visa letter. These letters can be obtained through various travel agencies and visa agencies online, and usually take a couple of days to process. Vietnam-visa.com is a trustworthy source.
Bring the letter with you when you fly, and complete the second step at the airport, where you will apply and pay for your Visa on Arrival.
If you’re going to Vietnam for less than 15 days, look into the visa exemption, which is available to some Western passport holders. The details can be found in our quick and easy guide to getting a Vietnam visa.
Vaccinations for Vietnam
You don’t need a lot of travel vaccinations for Vietnam, but there are a few that the CDC recommends for all travellers:
- All routine vaccinations. Includes MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella), diphtheria, tetanus, and polio.
- Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Can be contracted through contaminated food or water in Vietnam.
Some other travellers will need more, depending on the type of activity they plan to do in Vietnam.
- Hepatitis B. Can be contracted from needles or sexual contact, so if you plan to get a tattoo or piercing, or get jiggy with a stranger, this one’s for you.
- Malaria. There’s not a huge malaria risk in Vietnam and most travellers won’t need anti-malarials. If you plan to spend a lot of time in rural areas, especially sleeping outside, then ask at your local vaccination clinic.
- Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies. You probably won’t need these unless you’re planning on taking up residence in the Vietnamese countryside or will be working with animals during your visit.
As always, with any medical concerns, you should check with a specialist — in this case, you local travel vaccination clinic or your doctor — to make sure your specific situation is covered.
What to Pack for Vietnam
Loose and modest clothing. It’s not always hot in Vietnam but it usually is! Loose light clothing is a must. Even though many modern Vietnamese women wear revealing clothes, it’s best for tourists to cover up a little, out of respect for the more traditional culture — and to protect your skin from the sun.
I love the look of this travel skirt! These loose flowy pants look perfect for Vietnam, and this pair of sporty travel pants would be perfect for more adventurous Vietnam travel.
For men, we have a whole guide to men’s travel pants. So go take your pick.
Mosquito bite zapper. You should, of course, always use mosquito repellent in Vietnam. Effective mosquito spray is easy to find in any convenience store. Look for small bottles with a spray top and a picture of a mosquito on the side.
But, you will probably get bitten a few times and in my experience, Vietnamese mosquito bites are the itchiest in the world. I am totally reliant on my Zap-It mosquito bite zapper these days — it is amazing at taking away the itch.
Flip-flops. Flip-flops have endless uses in Vietnam, from wearing around the hotel, to beach days, to flipping your way around the cities. Everyone, locals and tourists alike, wears them just about everywhere. These folding packable flip-flops look pretty cool and of course, people love their Havaianas.
Your own chopsticks. In Vietnam, chopsticks are usually wooden and most often not very clean. We travel everywhere with our To Go Ware Bamboo Travel Cutlery. It’s perfect for mindful travel in Vietnam (and an awesome replacement for plastic cutlery when you’re getting take-out back home)!
Travel yoga mat. Most hotels in Vietnam have hard cold floors, perfect for hot days but not great if you plan on practicing yoga in Vietnam. Some are none too clean, either. It’s best to bring a travel yoga mat if you plan to practice in your hotel room.
Busses in Vietnam
A well organized bus network links every conceivable spot a visitor would want to go in Vietnam.
- Quality – Long-distance busses are cheap, generally on time, and usually comfortable.
- Price – A five or six hour bus ride will cost you around $6, depending where you’re going. A great deal!
- Bus type – Journeys are usually in a sleeper-style bus, where you can (almost) stretch out on a bunk and might even get some sleep.
- Safety – Nightmare tales of dangerous drivers and filthy busses are mostly a thing of the past — now busses are, if not luxurious, the best way to get around Vietnam.
We use 12go.asia for routes, times, prices, and booking busses in Vietnam.
Vietnam Train Travel
There is a train line in Vietnam that starts in the north and winds its way through coastal communities and then finally heads inland to end up in Ho Chi Minh City. The train is no faster than the bus and is more expensive, so often not the best choice.
It can be useful for making the overnight journey from Hanoi to Sapa or for a quick ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne. Also, the train trip from Hue to Hoi An is supposed to be beautiful!
Easy rider motorbike in Vietnam
One of my favourite Vietnam experiences was my trip from Hue to Hoi An by motorbike. I have never driven a motorbike in my life but in Vietnam, you can hire a bike with a driver.
You sit on the back watching the world go by while they do all the work. This kind of transportation is ideal for maximum 5 or 6 hours — after that your butt (and possibly the rest of you) will fall asleep!
Flying in Vietnam
We never recommend flying around inside a country — it is expensive, bad for the environment, and makes you miss huge chunks of fascinating travel. To avoid flying in Vietnam, plan your trip for just the north, center, or south.
However, if you must fly in Vietnam, there are lots of cheap flights available. But be warned, the low cost airlines in Vietnam (JetStar and VietJet) have a reputation of being late all the time!
We once got to the airport in Nha Trang only to discover that our flight was delayed by 8 hours. Yikes! We quickly re-booked onto Vietnam Airlines and took the financial loss as an expensive lesson.
Tourist Traps: What to Avoid in Vietnam
What to avoid in Halong Bay, Vietnam
One of the most famous natural sights in the world, Ha Long Bay can get overcrowded with boats, especially during high season. On the other hand, winter in Vietnam, especially in the north, can be misty and rainy. Trust us, being in Ha Long Bay when it’s too misty to see the views is pretty depressing!
If you decide to take a boat trip in Halong Bay, opt for two nights and three days — the second day usually includes a small-boat trip to a secluded bay. Also, don’t go too cheap with your boat trip or you’ll end up on an overcrowded and dirty ship.
Indochina Junk’s Dragon Pearl was great back in 2009 when I sailed on it and it still gets great reviews now. They also run tours to the less touristy Bai Tu Long.
Whatever you do, avoid staying overnight in the city of Halong Bay. It is particularly uninspiring.
What to avoid in Sapa, Vietnam
Avoid spending the night in the city of Sapa. The wall-to-wall guesthouses and tacky tourist restaurants are the epitome of “tourist trap”. Instead, from Hanoi, arrange an overnight trek to a home stay.
Do a two-night trek to explore further off the beaten path! I booked with Lily’s Travel Agency in Hanoi and can highly recommend them.
Travel Tip: I wrote a complete guide to trekking in Sapa for NOMADasaurus. Read it before you go!
Travel Tip: If you don’t want to do a group tour, check out Topas Ecolodge for a more peaceful stay.
Should you avoid Vietnam bus travel?
I have read many horror stories about the busses in Vietnam, especially the sleeper busses, which used to be notorious. Most of the bus companies in Vietnam have really cleaned up their act in recent years. I have travelled by bus all through the country and they are not that bad!
Sleeper busses, which are used during the day too, are far more comfortable than an overnight flight, with room to stretch out your legs and lie down. Just make sure you pack a very small bag to carry on board and stow everything else under the bus — you share your seat with whatever you bring onboard.
As long as you don’t expect to get much sleep and come prepared with lots of podcasts or music to listen to, the busses in Vietnam are an efficient and eco-friendly way of getting around.
Avoid the street donuts in Hanoi!
You will not walk around Hanoi for long before a woman with a basket of donuts approaches you. They look tasty but don’t be tempted. The locals won’t touch them since no one really knows what kind of oil they’re fried in or how they’re handled.
There are lots of great street foods to try in Hanoi. Just take a look at our Hanoi vegetarian food guide to find out where to eat!
How to avoid overwhelm during Vietnam travel
Vietnam can be busy, noisy and dirty. It can also be peaceful and astonishingly beautiful. Make sure you plan some peaceful and remote activities (like trekking or boat trips) to offset the stress of Vietnam’s vibrant cities.
When in the cities, make time to chill out at a cafe or get a fresh squeezed juice to beat the heat. Don’t forget to use all your best yoga techniques for handling the hassle — stay calm, breathe deeply, and let go of the desire to control the situation.
Travel Tip: Treat yourself to a coconut coffee at Cong Caphe in Hanoi. You can thank me later!
Touts can be persistent but remember to treat them for what they are — fellow humans who are just trying to earn a living. It’s amazing how far a smile and a little eye contact will get you.
Above all, when you’re travelling in Vietnam, just go with the flow and leave some time for meditation!
Dangers, Scams, and Cautions for Vietnam Travel
There is very little you need to worry about while travelling in Vietnam. It’s an extremely safe country for tourists, and people are generally honest, friendly, and helpful. As with anywhere in the world though, there are a few baddies that you should watch out for.
Crossing the Street
By far the biggest hazard in Vietnam is the traffic. In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi especially, just crossing the street is an Olympic sport. You really can’t imagine the number of motorbikes and scooters on the road until you’re walking through the midst of them, trying to get from point A to point B.
Travel Tip: When you’re a newbie in Vietnam, always try to cross the street next to a local. Walk when they walk, move slowly and deliberately, and never ever run or hop out of the way. The motorbikes will avoid you — you just gotta have faith!
Bag snatchers and thieves
In Ho Chi Minh City, use a little extra caution when walking along busy roads with fast-moving traffic. Don’t dangle your bag or camera on the traffic side of the street.
Also, try not to wander along carelessly waving your phone around in your hand. I have heard reports of tourists losing cameras, bags, and phones to snatchers, though I’ve never seen any evidence of it myself.
Sleeper busses in Vietnam
Once upon a time, overnight busses in Vietnam were a huge hazard. Drivers were overworked, overtired, and drove at insane speeds. Now, probably thanks to online reviews, the bus companies have cleaned up their acts and the sleeper busses are a great way to get around.
You still might want to do a little research to make sure you’re booking in with a reputable bus company, like The Sinh Tourist, Mai Linh, and Phuong Trang.
All over Vietnam, you can tell which businesses are popular with tourists from the number of copycats who are trying to piggyback on their success. (Piggybacking cats? Cute!).
For example, The Sinh Tourist is popular and even recommended by Lonely Planet. Just don’t be fooled by, for example, The Tourist Sinh, The Sun Tourist, Sinh Tours, and any other company with almost, but not quite, the same name. This happens with hotels, cafes, tour companies and more, so make sure you know what you’re looking for and where it is.
The broken scooter scam
In the most popular Vietnam tourists spots, like Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, be careful when renting a scooter or jet ski. Some renters run a scam where they give you a damaged machine, and then try to charge you for the damages when you return. Only rent from reputable places and examine the vehicle, taking photos before you drive off.
Hanoi street vendors
There are a cluster of minor scams that happen only in Hanoi, as far as we’ve seen.
Don’t do the donuts. The donut vendors in Hanoi walk around with baskets of tempting donut balls. They will offer you one for free and, once you’ve tasted one, the pressure is on to buy! The donuts taste OK but the locals never eat them — they’re strictly a tourist trap. Why? Because rumour has it they’re fried in re-used and unsanitary oil, which is not only gross but a recipe for food poisoning.
Forget fruit baskets. Another minor annoyance is the women who walk Hanoi’s streets with fruit baskets on their shoulders. If you look interested, they will plop their conical hat on your head and shift the baskets to your shoulders faster than you can blink. Once your friend has taken a photo, the fruit sellers want you to buy or just give them money. Probably worth it for the cheesy picture you’ll get!
Roving cobblers. My least favourite street scam in Hanoi is run by a gang of roving cobblers. You can spot them by the shoe-shine kit they carry and the small rack of sandals they often have. Last time I was in Hanoi, one of them actually grabbed my shoe right off my foot while I was walking!
He then proceeded to stick some glue where no glue was needed and tried to upsell me to a pair of shoes from his rack. He wouldn’t give me my shoe back, so I was stuck. Eventually, I grabbed my shoe out of his hand, gave him a very stern look indeed, and went on my way.
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A Final Note About Travel in Vietnam
When you head out on a Vietnam adventure, you can experience a huge variety of activities in a small geographical area. Take your time, travel slowly and don’t try to fit too many activities into too little time!
You’ll want to reserve plenty of hours for sitting back and watching the vibrant culture in action. If you stay aware and remember to breathe, you’ll have an amazing trip in Vietnam.
We hope our Vietnam travel advice is helpful while you’re planning your Vietnam holiday!