Vietnam

The Vietnamese countryside can feel like an impossibly beautiful place, with rice paddies extending in every direction, or at least up to the highlands, a mountain chain often shrouded in blue mist that forms the western spine of the country. The eastern side of Vietnam faces the South China Sea, with palm-lined beaches and islands that are emerging as popular resort destinations. You may also be surprised by the length of the country—at roughly 1,025 miles, it’s longer than California, and offers a surprising variety of destinations from bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south to Hanoi in the north, with countless historic sites and natural wonders between the two. Halong Bay has left poets and painters—and travelers—in awe for centuries, while the country’s hill stations provide cool, literally, escapes.

Vietnam Has Reopened Borders to All Travelers

Photo by Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin/Shutterstock

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Vietnam?

Given Vietnam’s enormous length, it can be difficult to pick a perfect time of year if you want to visit the entire country with the southern and northeastern monsoons impacting different regions at different times of the year. The safest months, however, are in the fall (September to December) and spring (March and April). The north of the country, and the highlands generally, can be cold in the winter while lower areas can become sweltering hot, and wet, in the summer.

How to get around Vietnam

Vietnam’s train service is dependable if not glamorous, and a good way to travel the length of the country. The journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi takes about 30 hours in all, though you will most likely want to stop en route at Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang, or other cities along the coast. If you prefer the freedom of your own car, hotels and travel agents can assist with hiring one with a driver. Given the relative cheapness of taxis, there’s little need to attempt to navigate the public transportation systems of Vietnam’s cities.

Can’t miss things to do in Vietnam

The must-see sites in Vietnam includes its two major cities. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the bustling, brash and buzzing metropolis of the south, which even 40 years after unification remains the country’s economic powerhouse. Hanoi, in the north, is the country’s capital and relatively more sedate. It has also managed to preserve more of its historic districts and buildings. Halong Bay is a can’t-miss-sight not just for Vietnam, but for the world generally. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has thousands of islands and karst formations that create an otherworldly seascape. Vietnam’s smaller cities like Hoi An and Hue provide relaxed and atmospheric counterpoints to the country’s metropolises and compared to the other parts of Southeast Asia, many of Vietnam’s beach resorts have yet to be overwhelmed by mass tourism.

Food and drink to try in Vietnam

In recent years, Vietnamese cuisine has made inroads around the world, with pho, banh mi, and other dishes are now familiar to diners far from the country. Given that Vietnamese cooking emphasizes fresh ingredients, however, there’s no comparing a banh mi served in Brooklyn or Berlin to one prepared using cilantro from a stand’s own garden and fish straight the sea. In Vietnam’s major cities, you’ll find a range of international restaurants and whether you are in the mood for pasta, sushi, or Chinese noodles, you won’t go hungry. The French influence in Vietnam extends to its food, and you’ll find excellent baguettes and pastries throughout the country.

Culture in Vietnam

Many of Vietnam’s cultural highlights are architectural: the Champa ruins at My Son; the 16th-century buildings of Hoi An, reflecting Japanese and Chinese influences; and boulevards, churches, and theaters constructed by the French and found throughout the country, though many are increasingly threatened by development. There are, however, other cultural highlights from water puppetry performances to the textiles and crafts created by Vietnam’s indigenous peoples.

Guide Editor

Singapore-based writer Sanjay Surana has traveled extensively in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
The extraordinary tastes and flavors of Vietnam, found everywhere from the chaotic stalls of the night markets to the hushed dining rooms of luxury hotels, plucked from skewers and slurped from bowls, have a way of imparting an immediate connection to the country’s culture. Discover Vietnam by biting into a just-made spring roll, tasting fiery noodles, seeking the influence of French colonial cuisine in a sandwich bought on the street, or just contemplating the complex wonders of a humble country meal. You’ll remember all your first tastes here.
Eat the best of Vietnamese food in the country’s largest city—from pho to clay-pot catfish to irresistible banh mi.
Even in a country blessed with an abundance of coastline, Da Nang’s sugar-sand crescent stands out. While you could easily spend your time soaking up on the sun on My Khe, also known as China Beach, many fascinating wonders in and around this Vietnamese city vie for your attention—and are well worth exploring. From Hindu temples to imperial pagodas to the lush Marble Mountains, this area offers up memorable experiences that will make you want to stay just a little longer.
Looking for a good bar? Vietnam has something for everyone: rooftop bars, chill hotel lounges, glittery discos, informal open-air cafés, and high temples of craft beer worship. Order yourself something cool and sit back and watch the show at these great places, full of Vietnamese flavor.
French-colonial influences meet Vietnamese cultural touchstones in the design hotels and family-friendly resorts of Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City. From opulent luxury or low-key authenticity, you’ll find the hotel that fits your style here.
Vietnam’s capital offers hotels with pockets of peace—lakeside tai chi sessions and ancient pagodas—amid the city’s motorbikes and hawker stalls. For a classic stay, book a room at the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a landmark in Hanoi’s French Quarter. Culture junkies should base themselves at the Hotel de L’ Opera Hanoi or the Hilton Hanoi Opera. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is just north of the bustling Old Quarter, but offers a serene waterfront setting.
Even Da Nang locals probably wouldn’t argue their home city is rich in standout attractions. Nevertheless, it is a hugely pleasant place to while away a day, with enough charismatic draws to keep visitors engaged. All the way from a tasty noodle breakfast to a sumptuous Vietnamese feast for dinner, Da Nang has what it takes to supply a perfect day.
Some attribute Hoi An’s plethora of tailor shops to its history as a center for the silk trade, even though the bespoke clothing boom is a recent one. Others maintain that the phenomenon comes from a Vietnamese propensity for copycat businesses. Either way, the ancient town has established itself as the place to get clothes made economically in Southeast Asia. If getting some new threads is on your Vietnam wish list, there are several reputable tailors and boutiques in town.
With a long and often tumultuous history that encompasses the heady days of the Champa Kingdom, Hoi An’s heyday as a regional trading hub, the American War, and Vietnam’s recent emergence as a tourist destination, the central part of the country is not short in intrigue.
With shimmering ocean crashing onto a wide sandy beach for miles, it’s no surprise that leisure activities with a water emphasis take primacy in central Vietnam. Nevertheless, there are many other things to do in the area. These include some fantastic golf, opportunities for biking, and some of the country’s most exciting motorbiking routes.
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