How to Plan a Vietnam Travel

How to Plan a Vietnam Travel

If the COVID-19 situation continues to be well under control in Vietnam, it is expected that e-visas for Vietnam will be available from July 2020, and foreign travelers will also be allowed to enter Phu Quoc with visa exemption then. This is a positive sign for international travel.

For more Asia travel tips during the coronavirus period, you can click here.

Are you looking for some help with planning a trip to Vietnam? Look no further! The following travel guide will help you to plan your perfect trip to Vietnam, even if this is your first trip to Vietnam!

Because Vietnam's tourism infrastructure isn't as developed as neighboring Thailand's, it might seem daunting to plan a trip here first, but we promise Vietnam is worth it!

1. Why Visit Vietnam?

kind vietnam people
Vietnam people

Many destinations proclaim they are unique in scenery, historical relics, or charming beaches. On the contrary, Vietnam is not so unique in scenery, and has less historic sites than China, fewer beaches than Thailand and Indonesia, and less convenient transportation than Singapore and many other SE Asian countries. So why visit Vietnam?

The answer is that it is a “safe, good-value option”. Without spending too much money, you will be paid back with guaranteed good experiences, such as tasting nice Vietnam cuisine, relaxing on beaches, meeting the friendly locals, and getting a glimpse of Vietnamese culture. All of these will ensure that every penny and every day spent will count.

Although Vietnam does not boast about being unique, it does boast of encompassing everything. Here are six points to convince you:

2. When is The Best Time to Visit Vietnam?

vietnam's rice fields in summer
Vietnam's rice fields view in summer season

The period from November to February is the most comfortable to travel. As a long and narrow country north to south, with a long coast, the weather is accordingly milder all year round, with fewer extremes of temperature.

High Season (November–February) — Cool, Dry Season

This season is blessed with quite comfortable weather. You can also get the chance to take part in local holidays, such as Tet (Vietnamese New Year), during January or February. Prices are much higher though.

Shoulder Season (March - April) — Warm, Dry Season

This period is the best time to visit for those wishing to find the balance between the price and the weather. It is hotter than the high season but still comfortable, with a blue sky and fewer clouds.

Low Season (May–October) — Hot, Rainy Season (Monsoon)

The reason for visiting Vietnam during the low season is that the whole country offers much cheaper prices for hotels, restaurants, and transportation. However, bear in mind that it's uncomfortably hot/humid with rainfall (normally shower in the afternoon).

See more on Best time to visit Vietnam.

3. Where to Visit in Vietnam and How Long For?

For those visiting Vietnam for the first time, 7 days will help you get to see the main sights from north to south (Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City), revealing the progression of the country from ancient times to modernity.

Start from Hanoi, take an excursion to Halong Bay, then explore Hoi An, and depart from Ho Chi Minh City. If you have 14 days, it is recommended to add Siem Rep, Bangkok, or Luang Prabang to your itinerary before flying back home. Never just scratch the surface when you make a trip.

Choose your favorite destinations according to your own schedule, instead of covering all the so-called must-see attractions. Because the country is rather long, it's important not to underestimate travel time in between cities as you don't want to be exhausted rushing from city to city on your trip.

Hanoi

As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is a must when planning a trip to Vietnam. It has an incredible, buzzing Old Quarter with lots of history to explore, temples, museums, beautiful lakes, and monuments.

Taking your time to explore Hanoi will really pay off, especially as some of the main sights, such as the Old Quarter and the nearby Hoan Kiem lake, are best explored on foot or on a bicycle and you won't want to rush them as there is so much to see in the area, with plenty of shops and restaurants to discover.

Halong Bay

As one of the most beautiful natural scenery spots in Vietnam, Halong Bay is one of Vietnam's most popular destinations for tourists and is also listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The bay consists of numerous islands and peaks, most of which are uninhabited. Halong Bay is best explored by cruise or seaplane, with lots of options available depending on whether you want to see the hot spots in a day or have multiple days to see the sights.

Da Nang

As one of Vietnam's most popular coastal cities, Da Nang in Central Vietnam makes for a wonderful beach holiday. You could spend up to a week here if you're looking for a beach vacation, but the sights can be covered in a day or two if you don't have as much time or aren't headed to Vietnam with an intention to unwind on sandy shores.

Hoi An

Hoi An, also in Central Vietnam, is a wonderful spot for relaxing on the beach, as well as taking cooking classes, learning about Vietnamese lanterns and how to make them, as well as exploring the countryside.

You will need at least 2 days here but could easily spend up to a week in this popular hotspot.

Ho Chi Minh City

As the biggest city in the south of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is a wonderful place for urban travelers as well as foodies, and the most modernized and fashionable city in Vietnam.

You'll have lots of museums, scenic spots and historical landmarks, as well as cultural activities to explore.

Mekong Delta

In the southwestern corner of Vietnam lies the Mekong Delta, a network of waterways and wilderness that is one of the most amazing regions of Southeast Asia. You'll want to explore this by motorboat or bamboo raft, and can take multiple days here depending on how much you want to see of the area.

4. Where to Start on a Trip to Vietnam?

Starting your trip to Vietnam usually happens in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, whose airports receive most international flights. These also make the best starting points for your trip as they are in the north and south of the country.

As for the prices of international flights, these are heavily dependent on when they are booked and the travel season. Traveling in the low season may save you at least half the costs of traveling in the high season. There are only a few direct flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and other major cities in the world, and most of these are operated by Vietnam Airlines.

If you are looking for cheaper flight to get into Vietnam, connecting flights can be wise choices. Approximately 10 flights operate each day between Hanoi and Bangkok, and the journey takes about 1½ hours. Transfer flights from Shanghai or Hong Kong are also good options, with Hong Kong to Hanoi only taking roughly 2 hours.

Read more on Get to Vietnam by Air

5. How Much Does It Cost to Tour Vietnam?

vietnam's train
Vietnamese Dong

You can get a rough idea of the cost of the trip by calculating the major costs, which include international flights, hotels, and day trips.

Pay attention to currency exchange rates, having a clear idea of the main exchange rates between US dollars/Euro and the Dong. Read more about how US dollars work in Vietnam.

International Flights

The prices of international flights are heavily dependent on when they are booked and the travel season. Traveling in the low season may save you at least half the costs of traveling in the high season. There are only a few direct flights between Hanoi City / Ho Chi Minh City and other major cities in the world, and most of them are operated by Vietnam Airlines.

Accommodation

When it comes to hotels, it is good news that the price for accommodation in Vietnam is under the medium price bracket when compared with other countries. Instead of ranking Vietnam hotels with international hotel star ratings, it would be better to recognize them by ‘Comfort', ‘Boutique', ‘Luxury', and ‘Guesthouse'.

A boutique hotel with 3–4 stars only costs you $50–$100/room for one night, and is set in a great location with good service, a comfortable room, and a wonderful breakfast.

If you are looking for a luxury hotel, you can expect to spend around USD 150-200 a room per night, while a hostel can be found anywhere starting from USD 10 depending on your requirements.

Photos from La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa
Photos from "La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa"

Day Trips

Day trips should be considered after dealing with the international flights and hotels. Coach tours are good options because of the competitive prices.

However, if you invest $100–$150/person on a guiding service by hiring a private guide with private transfers, it will pay off as you will have a better experience with unforgettable memories. The guides provide professional exploration tours, are friendly and helpful, patient and able to make adjustments, and pay attention to details during the trips. This will help you have a more tailored experience depending on what your needs are!

6. How to Get a Vietnam Visa

Visas for Vietnam are required for citizens of more countries before visiting Vietnam, but there are some exceptions (more information about Vietnam visa exceptions are listed here).

There are multiple different types of visas for Vietnam, but for anyone visiting as a tourist we recommend the 30 day e-visa as it is the most convenient and cheapest way.

Other options include going to a Vietnamese embassy or consulate and applying for your visa in advance, or applying for a Vietnam visa on arrival online and collecting it as soon as you get to the airport in Vietnam. If you are looking to stay in Vietnam for more than 30 days, you may have to check with a travel agency before planning or reach out to us for more information.

7. Vietnam Currency and Money

The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong (abbreviated as VND), but you can also use your US dollars in most places in Vietnam with the exception of some local shops or smaller towns.

The Vietnamese dong has been the official currency of Vietnam since 1978, and is divided into hao (0.1 dong) and xu (0.01 dong), but it is unlikely that you will ever need to use such a small amount of money because the exchange rate from USD to VND hovers around 1:23,000.

You'll have options to withdraw money in Vietnam, but it is not a bad idea to bring some cash with you, too. The easiest thing to do is to bring USD in cash on your trip, and exchange some for VND either at the airport, your hotel, or at a bank or an exchange stall in the city.

You'll find more information about how much things cost on a day-to-day basis in both USD and VND, how to exchange your money in Vietnam, as well as general questions about money in Vietnam here.

8. What to Bring on a Travel to Vietnam?

What to bring on your trip to Vietnam will largely depend on where you are going, but there are some basics that you shouldn't forget as they are either not available in Vietnam, or you'll realize they are hard to find especially in the smaller cities or on the road.

9. How to Get around Vietnam

If you are expecting a comfortable trip in Vietnam with fun experiences, it is recommended that train and bus options are not included in your travel plans. It is widely known that the railway is the least developed transportation infrastructure in the country. A train ride from Hanoi in the north to Da Nang on the coast in the center takes almost 17 hours, when its price for a soft sleeper is the same as a flight between these two cities.

Trains

vietnam's train
Vietnam train's sleeper compartment

There are currently seven lines operating for the whole railway network, with an overall length of 2,632 kilometers. The North–South Railway Line, linking Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, is the most famous one, which is also known as the Reunification Express. Two types of service are offered: express (SE) and local (TN). All the SE and TN coded trains end with a number. The odd number indicates a train going from north to south, while an even number is for a train traveling from the south to the north. The Hanoi–Lao Cai railway line is the other frequently used one.

Some travelers consider entering Vietnam from China via the Hanoi–Nanning line. The line connects Gia Lam Station in Hanoi and Nanning Railway Station in Nanning. A soft sleeper costs 248 yuan. The following provides details about the train service (the schedule uses the UTC+7 time zone):

MR1–T8702 T8701–MR2
Stop Arrival Departure Stop Arrival Departure
Gia Lam   21:40 Nanning (China)   17:45
Bac Giang 22:39 22:42 Chongzuo (China) 19:24 19:28
Dong Dang 02:00 03:00 Pingxing (China) 21:11 22:41
Pingxing (China) 03:41 05:41 Dong Dang 23:22 00:22
Chongzuo (China) 07:07 07:10 Bac Giang 03:40 03:43
Nanning (China) 09:12   Gia Lam 04:45  

The other five railway lines are:

Flights

Flying in Vietnam is cheap and fast, making it the best way to get around between major cities. Although it is not big, more than 20 airports are dotted around the country, with frequent flights and good prices. The main domestic carriers are Vietnam Airlines, being the best airline in Vietnam, and VietJet Air as a private low-cost one.

Many flights link the two largest and most important cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It takes approximately 2 hours by plane. Almost all of Vietnam's main cities can be reached by air, such as Hai Phong, Hue, Da Nang, Nah Trang, Da Lat, Can Tho, and Phu Quoc.

More on Internal Flights of Vietnam.

Roads/Buses

Vietnam's roads are notoriously narrow and under-developed, often winding through hilly areas. Prepare for motion sickness, and avoid inter-city bus rides, unless really on a budget or wanting to see the countryside. Some short bus rides or private road transport will be necessary to get to local attractions.

The good news is that car ownership is still relatively low, so traffic jams are few outside the cities, which are typically clogged with motor scooters, etc.

Follow the locals' examples and learn the skill needed to cross the motorbike-filled roads.

Boats

A short boat trip is the other way to have a nice trip in Vietnam, making for a fun experience. They are especially popular in Ha Long Bay, the Mekong Delta, and the waterway connecting Vietnam and Cambodia.

10. Where to Stay When Visiting Vietnam?

As mentioned before, hotels in Vietnam are numerous with different styles to choose from. Ranging from guesthouses to 5-star hotels, each level offers good options.

If traveling with children, take a second look at the hotel's location and facilities before pressing the ‘Book' button.

More on Top Hotels in Vietnam

You must know the best areas and hotel types in order to choose a suitable hotel in the main towns:

Destination Recommended Hotel Type/Area
Hanoi Hotels close to or in the Old Quarter
Ha Long Bay Private junks or small shared junks
Sapa Home stay
Hoi An Small boutique Buddha hotels or hostels
Nha Trang Hotels/resorts close to the beach
Saigon(HCMC) Hotels close to the market or the river (Recommendation: the new Continental Hotel)
Myanmar Novices
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