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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) 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.
PLANNING AN ITINERARY.
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.
Sara. 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.
Where should I go based on my interests?
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 a secluded beach island such as Phu Quoc in the south.
If you like Local experiences: 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.
If you like Beautiful beaches: 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.
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.
What about group touring? With group touring, 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. For a more "off-the-beaten-track" experience, 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.
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