You already know it's a stunning country — here are the facts to help you plan a visit to Vietnam.
WHERE TO START.
You'll want to consider all this before you even think about your first bowl of Pho.
How much time do I need to see the best of Vietnam? To see the main highlights, we recommend a minimum of 10 days, but ideally three weeks — to see the very best of Vietnam in its entirety.
Should I travel north-south, or south-north? Either. However, if you want to ease your way into the Vietnamese lifestyle, start in Hanoi. The north is less chaotic than the culture-explosion that is Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam’s south. If you're short on time, we recommend you spend seven days in either just the north or just the south. You could fly into Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, or start centrally — from Danang — and work your way up or down via stunning Hoi An.
North. It's cultural, with must-see sights such as Sapa rice terraces, Halong Bay and the city of Hanoi.
South. It's more chaotic than its northern counterpart, but fun. Ho Chi Minh City is bustling.
What if I want all the best bits, plus beach downtime? Definitely allocate three weeks. Start in the north (Hanoi) or south (Ho Chi Minh City) and halfway through your holiday, spend 3 to 4 days at a beautiful Hoi An beach resort. Conveniently, Hoi An is also midway on the map.
What’s west? Why does no one go there? Western Vietnam is rural and there’s little to explore. If you’re after somewhere less urban, Dalat is a city surrounded by farmland, and Quay Nhon is a coastal city, but the ambience is sedate.
What’s the best way to travel between regions? If you’re short on time, skipping central Vietnam and flying from north to south (or vice-versa) is wise. If time's not a problem, book a driver and guide for a scenic route between Hue and Danang, or Hanoi and Danang. Both drives are stunning.
Trains are reliable throughout, but the Reunification Express train, which chugs between Hanoi and Sapa, is a real highlight. Slow but intrepid, if you have time to amble, the views are incredible.
When is the best time to visit weather-wise? In Vietnam, the weather differs by region:
In the north: May to October is hot and humid with high rainfall. November to April is cooler and dry.
In the very north: December and January are bitterly cold. Even Hanoi can get snow in these winter months.
In the central regions: experience hot, dry weather between January and August (lovely mid-30°Cs) while heavy rainfall can occur in September, October and November, sometimes causing floods.
In the south: it's dry and hot from November to April, and warm but wet from May to October. The highest rainfall is in June to August.