Vietnam Travel Guide
Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country, bordered by China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Hanoi is its capital city and Ho Chi Minh is the largest city. Vietnam has a population of almost 10 million. Vietnamese is the official language and the Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the country currency (1€ = 26.697,24 VND as of May 26th 2018).
A visa is required to enter in Vietnam for the majority of foreigner countries. The process starts with an online application for an approval letter. There are several companies providing this service, with different costs. We opted for using this website and we paid 30,25 USD for each approval letter. The invitation letter confirmation takes some days to be received by email. Once you have it, you just need to print it and present it when arriving in Vietnam, along with the visa application form, a passport photo, 25 USD in cash and your passport. There you just need to wait to have your passport back and proceed to the Police.
Regarding weather conditions in Vietnam, they may differ according to the region. In the north of Vietnam, including Hanoi, there is heavy rain and high temperatures from May to October, while from November to April it is cooler and dry. In the far north it can be very cold during the months of December and January. In central Vietnam the rain occurs mainly from September to November and the hot and dry season is from December to August. Finally, in south of Vietnam, warm and wet season occurs between May and October (highest rainfall in June, July and August), while the hot and dry season is normally from November to April.
In November 2016, the Ministry of Information and Communications in Vietnam started the enforcement of registration rules for SIM cards. As a consequence, millions of SIM cards were cancelled. For this reason, it is now important to buy a SIM card from an approved provider to avoid having problems with the SIM card afterwards. We bought at the official stores at the airport and there were no problems at all during our 45-day stay in Vietnam. Both Vinaphone and Viettel are good alternatives. We opted for Vinaphone because it offered a better package including phone and data balances. The cost was 200.000 VND/7,49€ including 4Gb/day for 30 days. During our long stay all over Vietnam, from south to north, we always had good coverage and good internet speed. Since we stayed for more than one month, we had to top up our SIM card. At the time we were in Cat Ba Island and we could not top up our previous SIM card and had to buy a new one. It was the same price and it started working immediately (change of mobile number was not a problem for us!).
In what concerns transportation in Vietnam, people commonly associate motorbikes to Vietnam trip. Many people rent or even buy a motorbike in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and cross the country from north to south or vice versa. The roads have pretty good conditions in general and the motorbikes are seen everywhere. However, due to our big luggage, low level of experience with bikes and long stay in the country visiting more than 10 different places, we decided to move between places by bus. We loved our decision, since we found the most comfortable buses in Southeast Asia. The sleeper buses have proper beds where you can rest completely laid down. The prices are very reasonable and most of the longer trips can be done during the night, which allows to save time and money on accommodation. Within the cities/towns we visited, we always rented motorbikes to explore. It is always very easy and the prices are quite reasonable, as well as petrol costs. The only cities where we opted for an alternative mean of transport were Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, given the insanely traffic conditions. There we recommend Grab, the Uber of Asia. Normally, the prices are lower when comparing to taxis and the app works very well.
During our long stay in Vietnam, we contacted with local people from different parts of the country. We could understand that there is a difference between people from the south and the north. In particular the tribe minorities from the Northern Vietnam have deep traditions and ways of living. Despite their differences, we found very kind of people and an extremely safe country. It felt so easy to travel in Vietnam!
We spent 45 days in Vietnam. During our long stay we visited 12 different places of the country.
(A) Ho Cho Minh
(B) Da Lat
(C) Nha Trang
(D) Hoi An
(F) Phong Nha
(G) Tam Coc
(H) Ha Long Bay + Cat Ba Island
(A) Ha Giang
Detail city by city
Ho Chi Minh (4 days)
Ho Chi Minh, formerly Saigon, is a city in southern Vietnam and the largest of the country. A busy city famous for the insane motorbikes traffic.
Arriving time: we flew from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam using Vietjet Air airlines.
Sleeping time: we chose La Hostel Saigon for our 4-day stay. What we enjoyed the most was the location, quite central, and the good deal we got in Agoda for two bedrooms in a 4-bedroom dormitory.
Eating time: it was in this city that we started tasting the delicious food of Vietnam. Our favourite restaurant was Secret House. We went there many times to try different dishes. Propaganda Bistro Restaurant was also very good, not only the food but also the decoration of the place. Finally, in Cyclo Resto with an amazing local food experience, with a fixed menu including five different courses and the famous egg coffee in the end of the meal.
Visiting time: we started our tour of the city by going to Saigon Central Post Office. It is an old building with French influences, where it is common for tourists to write postcards to family and send them. Just outside the Post Office, you will find Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, established by French colonists. War Remnants Museum should not be missed, especially if you are interested in knowing more about Vietnam War. The entrance fee is 40.000 VND/1,50€ per person. If you enjoy local shopping, you should also visit Ben Thanh Market. Additionally, Cu Chi Tunnels, a 250 Km-long network of connecting underground tunnels located about 40km from Ho Chi Minh, played an important role during Vietnam War and are now a popular touristic destination. The easiest way to visit the place is to go on a tour from Ho Chi Minh, that includes the transportation and an English speaking guide. We bought in our hostel for VND250.000/9,36€ per person, plus the entrance fee of 110.000 VND/4,12€. Finally, to enjoy the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh, we suggest a visit to Bui Vien Street, similar to Khan San Road in Bangkok, it is the main bar area of the city, full of bars and loud music.
Da Lat (5 days)
Da Lat is a city located 1500 meters above sea level, centered around a lake and surrounded by hills, lakes and waterfalls.
Arriving time: we went on a night bus to Dalat. It took about 8 hours and we bought the tickets at Sinh Tourist office for 169.000 VND/6,33€ each one.
Sleeping time: Da Lat 24H Guesthouse was the place we chose to stay in Dalat. There we found very clean and spacious private room with breakfast included. The location was also good, walking distance to Dalat center. Since we arrive in the middle of the night, we were given a couple bed in a dormitory to spend the rest of the night until our room was ready.
Eating time: we tried different restaurants during our stay in Dalat. An Indian restaurant called “Ganesh Indian Restaurant”, and Italian restaurant called “Primavera Italian Restaurant”, and also a burger restaurant, “Oz Burgers Takeaway”. All the three we recommend. Finally, for a different night out experience, do not miss The Maze Bar, also called Duong Len Trang. Get lost as you walk through the hidden spots of the cool place!
Visiting time: one of the highlights of Dalat is the Cannoying. We had already had a similar experience in the Philippines, but we found this one a more challenging and surprising one! We spent some time doing research about the best companies providing those services. We ended up doing with a company called Pine Track Adventures that prefers small groups of people. There are two different packages: a short one and long one. The short one covers abseiling in two waterfalls (one is called “washing machine”, you will understand why if you try it), water sliding on the rocks and some jumps. The long one includes everything covered by the short one, plus zipline to the river and abseiling in a 15-meter long waterfall. We chose the long one, with a total cost of around 1.600.000 VND/60€ and we were lucky enough to be the only two in the group with two guides just for ourselves. Check our video from this experience! Dalat is also famous for the beautiful waterfalls in the surroundings of the city. There are more, but we only visited two of them, the ones further but more beautiful according to our research. Elephant Falls (entrance fee os 20.000 VND/0,75€) and Pongour Falls (entrance fee of 10.000 VND/0,37€). In the last one it is possible to swim, so do not forget your swimwear. Another interesting activity we did in Dalat was the Dalat Cable Car, that reaches Truc Lam Monastery. A go and return ticket costs 80.000 VND/2,96€. The landscape is beautiful, especially when arriving in the Monastery, which also worths a visit, since it is a calm place and it is very well preserved. If you still have time, before returning to the cable car back to your starting point, cross a small forest and check the view from Tuyen Lam Lake. Finally, we suggest a visit to Crazy House. The ticket costs 50.000 VND/1,87€ per person.
Nha Trang (2 days)
Nha Trang is a beach destination in Southern Vietnam, famous for its beaches, and diving spots.
Arriving time: we went from Dalat to Nha Trang by bus. We chose Sinh Cafe bus company. The journey took around 3 hours and the ticket price was 120.000 VND/4,49€.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Nang Bien Hotel. A decent hotel which main advantage is its close location to the beach (less that 5 minutes walking).
Eating time: our stay was short, but we still had time to try a nice German restaurant, Haus Bremen (although a bit pricey for our general standards) and an Indian restaurant, Yashoda Indian Restaurant, with delicious food.
Visiting time: our stay in Nha Trang was short, so we only had time to explore Nha Trang Beach. It is a calm beach where you can work on your tan and swim on the ocean. We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella for 100.000 VND/3,75€ for the whole day.
Hoi An (6 days)
Hoi An is a city located in Central Vietnam known for its Ancient Town, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
Arriving time: we took a night bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An. We traveled again in Sinh Tourist Company and the ticket was 199.000 VND/7,45€ per person. We left Nha Trang at 7pm and we arrived in Hoi An around 6am (12 hours in total).
Sleeping time: we chose Tribee Cham for our stay and we totally loved it! There are different Tribee hostels in same street (Tribee Cotu, Tribee Kinh and Tribee Ede). The one we chose had nice private rooms, a All You Can Eat breakfast including pancakes and homemade peanut butter. They also organise a lot of activities that take place in the different hostels: street food tour, spring rolls cooking class, countryside bicycle tour. We did all of them and we highly recommend them!
Eating time: the restaurant we liked the most in Hoi An was Mot Hoi An. The menu is not diverse but the food is amazing and a good money for value option. Try the typical Cao Lau and the lotus-ginger tea. Banh Mi Phuong is the place to try the famous Vietnamese sandwiches. You can eat on the inside of the restaurant or just pass by and take away your sandwich while exploring the Ancient Town. If you are more into international food, Jim’s Snackbar is a good option for a burger.
Visiting time: visiting Hoi An Old Town is the most important thing to do in Hoi An. You can explore it by foot or riding a bicycle, which is also very common. You do not need to pay to walk inside the ancient town, but some museums, temples and old houses require an entrance fee. There is a ticket that covers the main places and costs 120.000 VND/4,49€ per person. However, the best thing is to wander around the streets, visit the market, stop by a tailor shop (the most famous are Be Be Tailor and Dong Silk). Finally, make sure you visit it at night time, since the streets are full of colourful candle lights everywhere. Go to the river area and drop a candle in the water. Hoi An at night is so magical! Another interesting highlight in Hoi An is the Basket Boat Trip in Cam Thanh Coconut Village. For 150.000 VND/5,62€ for two people, it is possible to experience the traditional basket boat and wear the typical hats. There is also a nice beach, very close to town, An Bang Beach. Additionally, there are plenty of countryside spots in Hoi An, with green landscapes and better explored by bicycle. In case you are into photography like we are, there are some companies offering Photo Tours in the old town or in the countryside. We did one with the professional photographer Peter Janssen, Hoi An Photo Walks, tour “Morning in the alleys”, where we spent a whole morning exploring the streets of the ancient town, learning new photography techniques and contacting with local people. A tour costs 950.000 VND/35,58€. Last but not the least, Hoi An is a good starting point to visit some attractions nearby. For instance, it is possible to visit Marble Mountains from Hoi An. We paid 250.000 VND/9,36€ per person for a tour including transportation, entrance fees, an English speaking guide and lunch meal.
Hue (2 days)
Hue is located in Central Vietnam and the capital during Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945.
Arriving time: from Hoi An to Hue or vice versa, it is very common to ride a motorbike through the famous Hai Van Pass. We made various stops along the way: in Danang, in Beach to have lunch by the sea, in Elephant Springs for a bath (16.000 VND/0,60€). We rent the motorbike in our hostel in Hoi An and our big luggage was sent to Hue. For the bike rent and one bag transportation we paid 350.000 VND/13,11€, plus 50.000 VND/1,87€ for one extra bag.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Hue Amazing Family Homestay. Apart from its good location, we did not like the place, but we were limited in terms of choices since there a big holiday in Vietnam during our stay in Hue, reason why the majority of the hotels were fully booked.
Eating time: Nook Cafe & Bar is an interesting choice for a meal, with some good local dishes to offer. As Italian food lovers we could not miss a restaurant called Risotto. The risotto was good and also the pasta.
Visiting time: the main highlight in Hue is the Imperial City, a walled palace within the citadel of the city. The entrance fee is 150.000 VND/5,62€. There are also several Royal Tombs spread around the city. We did not visit any of them, but we were told that the most popular are the tombs of Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, due to their relative good condition and better accessibility. For a different experience we recommend the Abandoned Waterpark located 5 Km from Hue city center. You will probably find some guards that will tell you that the park is closed to visitors. But if you give them some small money they will probably allow you to enter and explore the place for a while. At least this strategy worked with us! The park is big, so we advise you to go by bike to the main spots: dragon statue in the middle of the lake, water slides. We found it a bit creepy, but still adventurous and completely safe!
Phong Nha (3 days)
Phong Nha is a town in central Vietnam famous for its beautiful caves located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arriving time: we came from Hue to Phong Nha by bus. The journey took about x hours. We bought our bus tickets at DMZ bar, as recommended by our hostel in Phong Nha, for 180.000 VND/6,74€.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Easy Tiger Hostel Phong Nha, one of the famous places in town. We loved the experience, especially because of the good environment of the hostel and all the recommendations provided every morning by the staff.
Eating time: most of the times, we ended up eating in our hostel restaurant. However, we tried once Nguyen Shack Art Cafe & Restaurant. The barbecue at the rooftop is delicious!
Visiting time: Phong Nha is the place where you can find the most beautiful caves you have probably seen. They were discovered recently and every year new caves are found in the area. Actually, the biggest cave in the world, Son Doong Cave, is located in Phong Nha. Unfortunately, a tour to this unique place is extremely pricey (around 3.000 USD), a booking should be made in advance (one year or more in advance) and physical and psychological tests are required to engage in the tour. So, maybe next time! However, there are plenty of other caves to explore. The most famous one and the first one to be discovered is Phong Nha Cave. It can only be visited by boat and it was a very important cave for the Vietnam War period. The cave was bombed many times and served as a place of protection for the Vietnamese. Next to this cave, there is another one called Tien Son Cave. It is not so impressive but still worth it because of the landscape during the small trekking to the cave entrance. The entrance ticket is 150.000 VND/5,62€ for Phong Nha Cave, 80.000 VND/3€ for Tien Son Cave and the boat price is 360.000 VND/13,48€. Each boat takes about 12 people, so you may have to wait a bit to fill in your boat and share the cost. For us, the most beautiful cave was Paradise Cave. There are trekking tours that cover 7 km inside the cave, but it is always possible to explore the first Km on you own (entrance fee of 250.000 VND/9,36€). If you would like to have a more adventurous experience, with zipline and mud baths, we suggest a tour to Dark Cave. We did not do it, but met some people that really enjoyed the experience. Nearby, it is also possible to visit the Botanical Gardens, where you can trek in the forest and take a bath on a small waterfall. The entrance fee is 40.000 VND/1,50€ per person. Paradise Cave, Dark Cave, Botanical Gardens are all inside the Phong Nha National Park and if you have the chance explore the area by motorbike. The landscape is just breathtaking! Another interesting day in Phong Nha is riding a bicycle or a bike to explore the countryside. The mandatory stops are: Duck Stop, a place where you can feed the ducks and ride a water buffalo for 120.000 VND/4,49€; Pub With a Cold Beer, where you can kill a chicken and have it for lunch, if you do not like the idea, just eat the chicken with a cold beer, of course; Wild Boar Eco Farm, for another cold beer in a hammock with an incredible view. Finish the day in Phong Nha Farmstay for a beautiful sunset.
Tam Coc (3 days)
Tam Coc is a popular destination located in Ninh Bình Province in North Vietnam for the limestone outcrops and rice paddies.
Arriving time: we went on a night bus from Phong Nha. We bought the tickets for 220.000 VND/8,24€ and the journey took around x hours.
Sleeping time: Gia Bao Homestay is a wonderful place to stay in Tam Coc, located in front of the Tam Coc Boat entrance, and run by a nice family. We arrived by bus at 4 am and they welcomed us with our room ready and did not charge the room for that night.