With streets overrun by motorbikes merging in every different direction, ceaseless horns honking and merchants calling out and tugging at you as you push your way down the sidewalk, Việt Nam can give even the experienced traveler quite a shock. But amidst the seeming chaos, the country's beauty unfolds and Vietnam becomes a charming friend with a lively personality and a kind smile.
The Vietnamese are friendly people trying to stay one step ahead of a rapidly growing tourism industry. Whether you're in the countryside surrounded by rice paddies or in Ho Chi Minh City, you won't get very far without someone marketing to you. But compared to other South East Asian countries, Vietnam offers similar services but at much lower prices - cheap massages, relaxing beaches, excellent food and breathtaking countryside.
There's still a bit of rivalry between the North and South and both have much to offer travelers of all types. Whether you're starting in the North and heading South or vice versa, you'll most likely stop at various small towns and beaches along the coast. But getting around this country isn't that easy. Bus rides are long and the trains are tediously slow. Flight is a preferable alternative, given the distance between destinations. Once in town, a great way to quickly orientate yourself to a busy city is to negotiate with a cyclo-driver for a “bicycle-drawn carriage” ride around.
Some of Vietnam's most gorgeous architecture is left over from French Indochina and drivers/tour guides are eager to provide a history lesson while carting you around. While Vietnam still conjures mixed emotions in some of the Western world, the Vietnamese are quick to remind you that Vietnam is not a war - it's a country.
Saigon, as it's known by the locals, has a war museum and tours to educate tourists about the conflict. But if that gets too serious, just head to the coast for beachfront nightlife and fresh seafood cooked right beside you as you sunbathe during the day.
Highlights from Vietnam
Hanoi: French elegance combined with Vietnamese tenacity, Hanoi is the beautiful capital of Vietnam
- Mekong Delta: See the floating markets and get a glimpse of life on the Mekong River
- Halong Bay: Picturesque boat tours through emerald waters and limestone isles
- Hoi An: A popular place to have tailor made clothes and suites made to order, and a beautiful traditional town to boot
- Cu Chi Tunnels: Underground network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War
- Traveling foodies can compare the southern and northern variations of phở--a rice-noodle stew (phở bò for beef and phở gà for chicken)
Saigon, or Ho-Chi-Minh-City: The economic heart of the country and a surprising pleasant city
Dalat: Cool climate and Hang Nga Crazy House (it really is crazy)
Sapa: Hiking and tribes, this northern highland town offers superb trekking opportunities and plenty of colourful markets
Phu Quoc Island: Vietnam's hidden beach getaway
Hints and Tips for Vietnam
- Visa-on-Arrival is not available for all nationalities. Check in advance as some travelers may need a week or more before receiving their approved visa or other required documentation.
- When purchasing tours (i.e. Ha Long Bay), try comparing with a few companies. If your accommodation offers tours it may be much more expensive than buying directly from tour operators.
- Double-check the season you will be entering (which differs from the South and North) as winter season, especially in the North, can be quite cold--dress accordingly.
- Be practical regarding what items you flash in public. This holds especially true on popular beaches where travelers are encouraged to keep an eye on their bags or leave important belongings behind.
- Vietnam - Guide for trip planners from theRedRiver