Our adventure-packed Vietnam tours help to bring alive this fascinating country and land of great contrasts. From Halong Bay, which is surrounded by spectacular beaches and renowned for its delicious seafood, to cities like Hue, which was once the capital of Vietnam during the Nguen Dynasty which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This bustling, lively place, which is renowned for its monuments temples, pagodas and architecture, is the perfect destination for a wide variety of adventure tours. Vietnam, in particular, offers spectacular scenery when your Vietnam tours cross the Marble Mountains via the scenic Hai van Pass.
Hoi An is renowned for tailoring and Nha Trang is a beachside city brimming with restaurants, bars and nightlife. Ho Chi Minh City was known as Saigon until the end of the Vietnam War and is now the most important economic centre in Vietnam and is the largest city in the country. If you're interested in the history of the Vietnam War make sure you visit the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Hall on your Vietnam tours. When there, take an excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels where around 10,000 people lived underground for several years. This is a remarkable experience if you're interested in adventure tours. Vietnam is also well-known for the Ben Thanh Market, where you can buy everything from cosmetics to live ducks! If you're after more aquatic adventure tours, Vietnam is also at the heart of the Mekong Delta. You can visit the Cao Dai temple along the way and we will take a boat trip around the tributaries of the mighty Mekong River.
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All Tours of Vietnam
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Vietnam Travel Articles, Inspiration & Information
Sampling Vietnamese Cuisine
So what should I try? This might be your first question when contemplating the food choices in Vietnam. I always recommend trying the local dishes specific to wherever you are at the time, even though Vietnam is a relatively small country it is still diverse and has three distinctly different culinary zones; Northern, Central and Southern. Read more
Getting clothes tailored in Hoi An
Vietnam is one of the most colourful and vibrant countries in the world and part of this stunning colour comes from the clothes. The woman are especially elegant in the traditional Ao Dai, a long tunic over pantaloons, made of Vietnamese silk which is simply stunning with its rich colours and patterns.. Read more
A Taste of Vietnam
On arrival in Hanoi I got my first taste of the sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam. This hustling bustling city will have you on the edge with an adrenaline rush as you simply try to cross a main road. Scooters zip by, cars dodge in between lanes of traffic and pedestrians do their upmost not to get run over, amidst a never-ending cacophony of sound. Read more
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Vietnam Travel Guide
Vietnam Travel Guide
Travelling in Vietnam offers incredible variety. It is a country with a complex psyche; history has proven its people to be resilient by nature and yet the vibrancy of the country and friendliness of people shows this toughness tempered with a joy for life. Vietnam is a loud and curious place for the first time traveller and full of wonder. Away from the persistent sound of horns in its major cities, Vietnam’s natural highlights are another jewel in its crown. From the towering limestone karsts of Halong Bay, to the terraced rice paddies of Sapa and the dunes of Mui Ne, the landscape is varied and enchanting. If all that was not sufficient, there is a wealth of culinary experiences to be had in a country with over 500 national dishes; history to uncover in its UNESCO sites and museums; and cultural diversity in its northern minority hill tribes. It’s a big call, but it may be true to say that Vietnam actually does have it all.
The Vietnamese currency is called the dong (symbol: ₫) but US dollars are also accepted in most places. Notes come in 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 500,000 dong denominations. There are also coins in 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 dong denominations which are less common.
ATMs will generally allow up to 2-4 million dong (about US$100-200) maximum withdrawal at a time depending on the location and bank. Banks and ATM’s can be found almost everywhere in Vietnam and credit cards are a widely accepted form of payment for larger purchases (with the exception of American Express). A good idea is to carry a mixture of cards and cash (with some extra tucked away in case of an emergency) in US dollars.
Costs in Vietnam vary from backpacker basement to sky high luxury depending on your tastes. In general, a meal in a basic restaurant will cost around US$2-5 and street market food less than US$1. A 1L bottle of water costs around US$0.50. Eating in nicer restaurants and a few beers in the evening will of course cost more.
Bargaining is way of life in Vietnam and you can expect to haggle in markets and with street vendors. Upmarket shops with prices tags are generally non-negotiable. While tipping is not expected, it is appreciated and generally a few thousand dong (20-50 cents) or around 10% is sufficient in restaurants. More expensive restaurants may charge a service fee. If you’re pleased with the service, you should also tip your guide and the driver if appropriate, at the end of a tour.
Major Cities and Towns in Vietnam
Vietnam is an easy place to pick a travel route; due to its long, thin geography you have two options – south to north or north to south. The two biggest cities in Vietnam are Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south, with the latter being the larger of the two. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. In addition you have Hue, the former imperial capital, which is half way between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and is the literary, artistic and cultural heart of the country. Then the smaller town of Hoi An where hundreds of tailors ply their trade to the many travellers that stop in on this charming UNESCO-protected hamlet. Nha Trang is a coastal resort hugging the curve of its yellow, sandy beaches. Other smaller towns include Sapa in the far north where Hmong hill tribes live and terraced rice paddies line steep valleys and Dalat in the central highlands with its cooler mountain air and lush forests and waterfalls.
The electricity supply in Vietnam is 220 volts. In general they use a European plug with two circular metal pins but in some rare cases it is also possible to find a flat two pronged socket as used in North America or a 3-pin India-style socket, so it is best to take a universal adaptor and cover your bases. Power outages are not uncommon, so be prepared for erratic power supply.
While Vietnam is most famous, or likely infamous, for the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s its history is far longer and richer than the events of the last half century and it has been anything but uneventful. Early inhabitants of the region of southern Vietnam included the Funan kingdom, which was based around the Mekong Delta and traded with China, India, Persia and the Mediterranean. By the 9th century AD the Funans were absorbed into the kingdom of Chenla which spanned what is now southern Vietnam, Cambodia and part of Thailand. In what is now central and southern Vietnam, the Hindu kingdom of Champa was found from around the 2nd century until it was eventually annexed and absorbed into Vietnam.
In the north around the 2nd century AD the Chinese conquered Red River Delta near Hanoi and what followed was 1000 years of Vietnamese resistance to Chinese occupation. One famous and celebrated act of rebellion was the two Trung sisters who declared themselves queens of Vietnam and drowned themselves preferring to take their own lives than surrender to the Chinese.
By the 10th century Vietnam had claimed back its independence and remained independent for almost 1000 years until the mid-1800s when they were invaded by France. French colonial rule was often harsh and was resisted most successfully by the communists led by Ho Chi Minh. During World War II Viet Minh in the communist north resisted Japanese invasion and after the war Ho Chi Ming declared Vietnam independent. The French attempted to reassert their control of the area leading to full-scale war which ended in 1954 when the Viet Minh overran the French garrison.
That same year The Geneva Accords temporarily divided the country at Ban Hai River in what became communist-controlled North Vietnam and anti-communist South Vietnam. It took just a few years for this arrangement to turn into an armed struggle and the north formed a guerrilla fighting unit most commonly known as the Viet Cong (VC) to fight the south.
By 1965 the USA deployed its first troops to defend South Vietnam and in 1968 the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive which marked a crucial turning point in the war. The Paris Agreements signed in 1973 set out the complete withdrawal of US troops, release of American POWs and a ceasefire between the north and south.
Saigon surrendered to the north on April 30 1975. What followed was a period of large-scale oppression which led many southern Vietnamese to flee their country as refugees. From the 1990s Vietnam has enjoyed greater stability, economic growth and diplomatic relations. In 2000, Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit northern Vietnam.
Vietnam is over 1600km long and 329,566 sq kms making it slightly larger than Italy. The north has spectacular karst formations – great jutting limestone outcrops both on land and offshore. This also creates great cave systems, some of which are still to be properly explored. The Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south provide conditions for cultivating rice. Vietnam also has highlands and high plateaus in the far north and central highlands of mountain ranges and forests near the south. Vietnam’s extensive coastal lowlands are bordered by plenty of sandy beaches and tropical islands.
Etiquette and Culture
The Vietnam population is made up of 90% Kinh people and 10% minority groups including the northern hill tribes. Most Vietnamese follow the Tam Giao, or triple religion – a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The next most popular religion in Vietnam is Catholicism and it has the largest population of Catholics in Southeast Asia after the Philippines. Vietnam life revolves around the family, including extended family, and sharing meals together.
When greeting someone, Vietnamese will typically shake both hands and bow their head slightly. Hello is xin chào (seen chow) and attempting to greet people in Vietnamese is generally greatly appreciated. Elders are respected, are given right of way and are typically served first. Public displays of affection between men and women are not considered appropriate and modest dress should be observed when visiting temples or sacred sites.
Best time to travel in Vietnam
Vietnam is located entirely in the tropic and subtropic regions, but due to its length and geographic variety it receives a surprising range of weather. The north is cooler than the south; winter is from November to January which can bring frost and even snow in the highest of the northern mountains, while Hanoi and Ha Long Bay generally enjoy mild temperatures. Coastal Vietnam receives warmer weather from July to October and cooler weather from November to May. Typhoons can affect the coast in the summer months from July to November. Southern Vietnam is warm year round and is broken up by distinct wet and dry seasons. Wet season is from May to October and affects the length of the country to a more or lesser degree.
When to travel
Owing to the difference in latitudes between the north and the south, it is difficult to pinpoint an ideal time to visit weather-wise, but the advantage is that there is a part of the country that is seasonable at any time of year. Generally speaking, November to April is a good time to visit the entire country as it avoids the humidity of the summer months. If you are planning to visit the far north of the country during these months, you should pack layers to prepare for the cooler weather. May to October will be hotter and wetter, but it is still possible to travel at this time of year and many travellers decide to visit during these months as it fits better with their own date restrictions and travel plans.
Peak months for tourists are July-August and November-February and the quietest months tend to be May, June and September. Tet is the Vietnamese New Year. It falls in late-January/early February and is generally a difficult time to travel owing to the increase of domestic travellers. Hotels are often sold out and transport is full, so if you’re planning a trip that coincides with Tet it is best to book well in advance and ensure your travel plans are in place with plenty of time to spare. Last minute bookings over this time of year often cannot be confirmed due to lack of availability.
Guide to food in Vietnam
One of the joys of travel in Vietnam is appreciating its cuisine, which is famous for its use of fresh ingredients and is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. Vietnam food is often a balance of five tastes – salty, sweet, bitter, sour and spicy – and uses ingredients including soy sauce, shrimp paste, fresh herbs, fish sauce and a variety of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Flavours include lemon grass, chilli, Vietnamese mint, ginger, coriander and basil. Given the country’s prolific production of rice, it is no surprise that this contributes a lot to the local food on offer, from plain cooked rice, to rice paper rolls and rice noodles.
The most common meal in Vietnam is noodle soup made using a clear broth from long slow boiling of meat and seasoning. The most common flavours are chicken and beef and this can be served at any meal, including breakfast.
Rice dishes – Cơm
There are many rice dishes on offer in Vietnam; some of the popular ones include Cơm chiên Dương Châu (Yangzhou Fried Rice), Cơm gà rau thơm (chicken and rice with mint) and Cơm tấm (broken rice grains usually topped with grilled pork).
Spring/salad rolls - Gỏi cuốn
These are rice-paper rolls that often include shrimp, herbs, pork, rice vermicelli, and other ingredients wrapped up and dipped in nước chấm or peanut sauce. There are many, many varieties of these rolls.
Vietnamese baguette – Bánh mì
A leftover from French colonialism, baguettes can be filled with cold cut meats, pickles, cucumber, mayonnaise, eggs, sardines, coriander or tofu among other ingredients.
Salads - Gỏi
Vietnamese salads come in many flavours such as Gỏi đu đủ which uses green papaya, herbs, various meat such as shrimp or pork and a dressing which balances the five flavours and may include lime, palm sugar, chilli and fish sauce.
Draft beer - Bia hơi
Small stalls or bars may have locally produced draft beer on tap and it is by far and away the cheapest way to drink in Vietnam, with a plastic cup of beer starting from 3,000 dong (about 15 cents).
Top Attractions and Highlights in Vietnam
1. Halong Bay
The UNESCO site and natural gemstone of the north, Halong Bay is a majestic site most commonly visited by taking a ride on the many traditional junks (Chinese sailing boats) of the area. Comprised of almost 2000 islets, the towering limestone karsts draped in foliage can be explored by kayak. There are also various caves which can be visited.
2. Hoi An
A tranquil and picturesque town with a history dating back over a millennia, Hoi An was once part of the Hindu kingdom of Champa and at one time was the largest trading port in Southeast Asia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of hundreds of tailors making clothing to order, it is easy to slip into the town’s easygoing pace while wandering its photogenic lantern stalls, bridges and riverside restaurants.
3. Mekong Delta
This vast river delta provides a livelihood for the many Vietnamese that call the river home. With houses set on stilts lining the main waterways, boats busily chugging up and down its watery highways and fruit and vegetables sold straight from the bow of trading vessels, it is more than just a geographic feature and has a distinct way of life.
As capital cities go, Hanoi is certainly one of the more charming of the world. Whether you wander the early morning to see local residents getting their early exercise before the heat of the day, walk around the green Ho Kiem Lake, or enjoy the organised chaos of the street markets in the old quarter, Hanoi has a beguiling charm. A mix of traditional Vietnamese culture and lingering French influence, there is something for everyone here.
The old dynastic capital of Vietnam, Hue is a city stood still with sprawling palace grounds, ornate gates and elegant pagodas lining the winding Perfume River. Now considered a centre of intellectual and artistic learning, you can pick up some local art or take your time uncovering the city’s eventful history.
6. Ho Chi Minh City
The largest city in Vietnam, the traffic is likely the first thing to take your breath away with thousands of motorcycles forming a seemingly impassable motorised river on the major roads. Once you have mastered the art of crossing the street the city offers informative museums, interesting palaces and a buzzing and vibrant nightlife.
7. Cu Chi Tunnels
Found outside Ho Chi Minh City, this vast network of underground tunnels will amaze. They were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and were integral to the Tết offensive which was considered the turning point of the war. Soldiers would often live in the tunnels in terrible conditions, coming out only at night to find food.
8. Mui Ne
With its vast coastline Vietnam has no shortage of beautiful beaches. Mui Ne is a coastal resort and fishing village and not far north is its famous sand dunes which are accessible by taxi, bicycle or moped. Kite surfing is also popular here owing the amount of offshore wind the region receives.
Located in the far north near the Chinese border, Sa Pa is the main region of the minority Hmong hill tribe people and is most well known for its hillsides of emerald terraced rice paddies. The town of Sapa is a relatively small mountain outpost and from here you can take hikes to local villages and through the dramatic scenery.
Located in the central highlands, this cool forested area littered with waterfalls used to be a popular destination for the French escaping the heat and humidity of the coastal lowlands to their elegant villas in the hills. Explore its market, palaces and summer homes and enjoy the scenery on one of the popular local motorcycle tours.
10 Interesting Facts about Vietnam
1. At its narrowest point, Vietnam is only 30 miles/48 kilometres wide.
2. The country’s two largest rivers are the Mekong in the south and the Red in the north, both of which spread to form vast deltas around which the majority of the population live. They also help to provide the fertile land and nutrients needed for agriculture.
3. Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of cashew nuts.
4. As a communist country, Vietnam has no official state religion, although people are free to worship as they please. The most common religion is Tam Giao, or triple religion, which is a combination of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.
5. Vietnam’s highest mountain is Fansipan at 3,143m, located in the north near Sa Pa. It is also the tallest mountain throughout Indochina.
6. Written Vietnamese uses Latin script, the same as English and the Vietnamese alphabet has 29 characters.
7. Vietnam has a 94% literacy rate, one of the highest in Southeast Asia.
8. Vietnam is a socialist republic, governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam. The president is elected by the National Assembly and serves a five-year term.
9. Vietnam has over 30 million registered motorcycles and which make up 95% of all registered vehicles in the country. Due to the number of traffic accidents involving motorcycles there has been discussion about banning them from cities.
10. Tết is the Vietnamese New Year and is the most important celebration in the country. It falls on the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar which normally falls in late January or early February.