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What every traveller needs to know about Vietnam.
1. WHERE TO EVEN 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.
What if I’m short on time?
In which case, 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.
1. North – is cultural, with must-see sights such as Sapa rice terraces, Halong Bay and the city of Hanoi.
2. South – is 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) and halfway through your holiday, spend 3-4 days at a beautiful Hoi An beach resort. Conveniently, Hoi An is also midway on the map.
Instant inspiration: Don't know your Banh Mi from your Banh Can? Click Here for 7 must-try Vietnamese dishes.
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:
How much time should I spend in each place?
Hanoi - The capital. Haggle in the Old Quarter, where narrow streets erupt with vendors, and walk around the lake in the city’s historical centre. Two nights is ample. Hanoi is also your easy gateway to Sapa and Halong Bay.
Ho Chi Minh City - Bustling and cluttered, this city mixes traditional culture with modern commerce. While there are no direct flights to Vietnam from New Zealand, Singapore Airlines offer good connections.
Danang - If you’re after some beach relaxation, Danang Airport is 30 minutes from Hoi An’s resorts, but don’t spend long in Danang itself.
Hoi An – The yellow-hued architecture is a crowd-pleaser, traffic is non-existent and the food’s sublime. Give yourself four days for beach relaxation, cooking classes, cycling and exploring.
Halong Bay – Giant limestone karsts, secret bays, caves and overnight junk boat cruises. Two days and one night spent on-board a junk boat is fine. Fly in by seaplane if you’re adventurous.
Sapa - In the mountains and famed for emerald rice paddies with beautifully dressed hill tribes. The trekker’s favourite, but you’ll want a minimum of 5 days to hike the best of it.
Hue - The former home of emperors and grand palaces, imperial Vietnam still stands strong. Two days for savoury prawn pancakes and some tomb tours is plenty.
2. NEXT, DECIDE WHAT ELSE YOU'RE INTO
If you like: Authenticity
Try: Sapa for an authentic homestay. Fit trekkers can combine multi-day hikes while living with locals.
If you like: Uncrowded places
Try: Vietnam is a popular place and regions such as Halong Bay can become saturated with sightseers. Instead, try a secluded beach island such as Phu Quoc in the south.
If you like: Local experiences
Try: Big, busy cities aren’t for everyone. Discover Phan Thiet fishing port and venture to nearby Mui Ne beach. This is a pleasant drive from Ho Chi Minh City and is far from touristy.
If you like: Cultural insight
Try: The Mekong Delta. If you want to get into the very core of a country, travel by water. On-board a river cruise you'll experience Vietnam’s hidden interior via ports that are positioned in the heart of the city. Your small ship can dock in tiny, fascinating places. Ask us about our favourite river cruises.
Instant inspiration: In September 2018 the most luxurious river boat to grace the Mekong will launch, carrying just 36 guests. Read more by Clicking Here.
3. WHAT ABOUT TRAVELLING AS A FAMILY
Everywhere, but the main route from north to south (or south to north) with a midway stop in Hoi An is the easiest option for families.
Is it scary for children?
Children love Vietnam, but try and avoid the super-hot – and very humid – rainy season which can be stifling for pint-sized travellers.
Will kids eat the food? Can I find alternatives if not?
Many parents fear Vietnamese food is spicy but it’s not. Most traditional recipes are full of herbs, not spice. Banh Minh is a French style baguette and there are always plenty of salads and fried rice options. Better yet, the Vietnamese are fond of French fries.
What’s the most hassle-free way to get around with kids?
We encourage all families to plan a route which stops in Hoi An. We always recommend the full three weeks with a halfway beach holiday. Kids can have a break, parents can unwind and everyone gets to enjoy some energy-replenishing beach time. The worst thing you can do, is rush your trip (and knacker your children!)
What are the potential risks?
Ho Chi Minh is one great big slap in the face of Vietnamese hustle and bustle. This can be overwhelming for younger travellers. Try starting in Hanoi and heading south instead. Hanoi is gentle and the route will ease children into alien culture.
Want to travel with like-minded families?
Some of our recommended tour companies offer family focused small group touring with itineraries your kids will love. From 12-day jaunts from Hanoi to Ho Minh City, to family focused itineraries covering everything from Hanoi cyclo tours to homestays along the Mekong Delta. Because these tours include two or three families, little ones have instant “best buds” to muck about with.
Instant inspiration: Sometimes the best way to see a city is to simply get lost. Click Here for Ho Chi Minh's hidden treasures.
4. TRAVELLING INDEPENDENTLY IS EASY
Where are the safest places to visit for the independent traveller?
Vietnam is one of the best places for an independent traveller because the entire country is considered relatively safe. Like anywhere, be streetwise.
How do I organise transport?
Start by talking with your House of Travel consultant. Trains, flights and taxis are all seen as hassle-free options. In large cities, we suggest you book one of our highly recommended guide and driver options. Not only will you benefit from local insight, you won’t have to navigate the busy metropolis yourself. Don’t forget a cyclo tour either, they’re huge fun – we have some favourites we can recommend.
How do I make independent travel in Vietnam the easiest it can be?
Plan, plan and plan some more. Book everything in advance and never on the go. We can help you with all upfront accommodation, trains, internal flights and guided tours. Your House of Travel consultant will tailor-make a DIY itinerary, combined with options for a driver and guide in one or two major cities. That way, you can choose as much or as little assistance as you like..
Know before you go: Don't go to Vietnam before reading this essential checklist.
5. TOUR GROUPS OFFER MANY BENEFITS
What are the perks?
You’re never alone, you’ll make friends on the first day, the other passengers will all be like-minded travel lovers, and you won’t have to think too much! All the niggly day-to-day planning is done for you.
How can I have a more ‘off-the-beaten track’ experience with a tour?
Book onto a small group tour with a maximum of 14 guests. This style of touring offers plenty of intrepid experiences for the more adventurous explorer.
6. THE VIETNAMESE BEACH HOLIDAY IS GREAT
What is the top beach spot?
Hoi An is our favourite spot for a Vietnamese beach holiday. Located in central Vietnam, you’re best flying into Danang and either spending 1-2 days there, and moving onto Hoi An, or going straight to Hoi An. It's just a 30-minute drive away. Ask in store for some of our favourite Hoi An beach resorts.
Further beach options:
1. Nha Trang - Well-established beach destination with a selection of high rise hotels. Perfect for the avid diver, and as the gateway to 19 unsullied islands, off-shore excursions never disappoint.
2. Mui Ne – Lowkey surf town also famed for its sand dunes and water sports.
3. Quy Nhon - A peaceful beach town midway between Nha Trang and Danang.
7. CONSIDER GOING FURTHER AFIELD
Cambodia to your left, Thailand a little further west and Laos looking down from atop. It’s easy to see all four countries in one trip – ask your consultant about tours, itineraries and the best routes for your purposes.
Ready to venture to Vietnam? Pop in-store to create your perfect Asian holiday with one of our expert consultants, or Click Here to check out all our current Vietnam deals.
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