Vietnam - Guide for trip planners

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Asia » Vietnam
December 20th 2014
Published: January 18th 2010
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Phu Quy island, Binh Thuan provincePhu Quy island, Binh Thuan provincePhu Quy island, Binh Thuan province

Vietnam has long coastal line and many islands. You can see fishing work at these places.
In 2005, when I was a regular member in the Thorn Tree travel forum of the Lonely Planet website, I created the FAQ thread for Vietnam (FAQ means Frequently Asked Questions). This sticky thread on the top of SE Asia Mainland Branch has reached over 500,000 views up to date. The problem is that whenever I wanted to edit or update information in this thread, I had to send a message to the Moderator. It was inconvenient for me and it also took time before the information could be updated. Now I would like to publish this blog as a guide for those who plan a trip to Vietnam. Please note that I have never worked in the tourist industry. I travel for fun, not for earning money. What I am writing here is based on my own knowledge and experiences after I have traveled in all the 63 provinces of Vietnam. Please also do your home work, search information in the travel forums, contact the embassies/consulates and travel agents to get their replies.

This blog is intended to provide basic information for traveling in Vietnam, for example, visas, airlines, names of border crossings and how to go from A
Quan Thanh pagoda in HanoiQuan Thanh pagoda in HanoiQuan Thanh pagoda in Hanoi

The pagoda is located near the West Lake in Hanoi.
to B. I will not post information about hotels, travel agents or restaurants. If you have any questions and want to contact me, please scroll down until the bottom of this page and see "Author's note" with my email address. I will reply or advise you where to find the information. I would like to thank Alistair (the Founder and Moderator of Travel Blog) for linking this entry to the "Tips and Hints" of the Vietnam page, so that other travelers can read this before raising their specific questions. Last update of this entry - May 2019.


Citizens from 22 countries which are Japan, South Korea, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Belarus, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and 9 countries in ASEAN are exempted from a visa to Vietnam. However, they are allowed to stay in the country for a different number of days.

Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia and Belarus (15 days).

Brunei Darussalam (14 days)

The Philippines (21 days)

Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Indonesia (30 days)

Myanmar (14 days)

Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy (15 days)

E-visa is applied to citizens
I love VietnamI love VietnamI love Vietnam

The words on the red banner means "I love Vietnam". Vietnamese people have a huge affection for football. Whenever Vietnamese team wins in an important match, they buy these flags and banners then parade on the streets with them.
of 46 countries.

Citizens from other countries are still required to get a Vietnam visa in advance. There's no "Visa-on-arrival" at the border crossings or at the international airports in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC). In case you don't want to or cannot apply for a visa at the Vietnamese Embassies or Consulates for some reasons (for example, no Vietnamese Embassy in your country), you can apply for a visa through a travel agent in Vietnam. They will get an approval letter for you, so that the airlines will allow you to get on board. Upon arrival at the international airports in Vietnam, the immigration officers will stamp the visa into your passport. This service is called "Pre-arranged visa". Certainly, the travel agent will charge you some fees for the service. For detailed procedure, please contact travel agencies in Vietnam.

In case of Phu Quoc island, special visa exemption is applied to tourists. Please check the conditions.

In 2017, the number of tourists visiting Vietnam was 13 million people. In 2018, it was about 15 million people.

Useful Links

Official website of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (the government's website)

Sinh Tourist - old name was Sinh cafe, the
Mui Ne beach in southern VietnamMui Ne beach in southern VietnamMui Ne beach in southern Vietnam

Mui Ne is one of my favorite destinations in Vietnam, along with Sapa, Ninh Binh and Buon Me Thuot.
famous travel agent for backpackers. There were many copycats of this agent, but this website is original. You can go by bus or book tours to the major destinations in Vietnam at their branch offices. However, the guides don't speak English very well. I've traveled with them several times including a bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.

Some of my blogs that I suggest you to read:

Welcome to Vietnam! - Speech by the former US president, Mr. Bill Clinton, at the Hanoi National University about the Vietnam - America relationship.

Tết 2008 in Hanoi - Vietnamese Lunar New Year with traditional customs

Vietnamese water puppets - Famous art form in Vietnam

54 ethnic groups in Vietnam - Photos of some ethnic minority groups in Vietnam

If you are interested in paintings:

Vietnamese paintings
Tranh gốm (ceramic tile paintings)
Đông Hồ woodblock paintings

Airlines and Airports

There are five airlines operating international and domestic flights in Vietnam at present. They are Vietnam Airlines, Jet Star Pacific Airlines, VietJet Air, Bamboo Airways, and Vasco.

Air fares increase every year due to inflation. However, there are different prices which you can choose. The earlier you book your air ticket, the cheaper one you can get.
Ceramic tile paintings made at Bat Trang villageCeramic tile paintings made at Bat Trang villageCeramic tile paintings made at Bat Trang village

Bat Trang ceramic village is located 13km away from Hanoi's center. You can easily get to the village by taking bus No. 47 from Long Bien bridge. While being in this village, you can buy ceramic products, visit local houses and learn how to make ceramics.
It's more difficult to get a ticket during the national holidays (for example, Tet Lunar New Year, May Day, and Independence Day on 2nd Sep).

Flight Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh city (aka Sai Gon) takes one hour and fifty minutes. Flight Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh city to Hue/Da Nang takes an hour.

Nine international airports are located in Hanoi (Noi Bai International Airport), Quang Ninh province (Van Don International Airport), Hue city (Phu Bai International Airport), Da Nang city (Da Nang International Airport), Cam Ranh (Cam Ranh International Airport), Ho Chi Minh city (Tan Son Nhat International Airport), Da Lat (Lien Khuong International Airport, Can Tho (Can Tho International Airport) and Phu Quoc island (Phu Quoc International Airport).

Other airports from north to south are located in Hai Phong, Dien Bien Phu, Thanh Hoa, Vinh, Dong Hoi, Chu Lai, Quy Nhon, Tuy Hoa, Pleiku, Buon Me Thuot, Rach Gia, Ca Mau and Con Dao island.

Link to website of Vietnam Airlines

Bus, Train and Railway System

There are open tour buses as well as local buses (owned by private companies). For long distance you can go by bus with bunk beds. Please see photos
A shop at Chua Huong (the Perfume Pagoda)A shop at Chua Huong (the Perfume Pagoda)A shop at Chua Huong (the Perfume Pagoda)

From January to March of the Lunar Calendar, many Vietnamese pilgrims and tourists visit the Perfume Pagoda.
of vehicles and airports in Vietnam in this blog: Means of transport in Vietnam

The train from Hanoi runs to the following cities:

1. Hanoi - Hai Phong (you can take a hydrofoil from Hai Phong to Cat Ba island)

2. Hanoi - Lang Son - Dong Dang (change at border to China toward Pingxiang & Nanning)

3. Hanoi - Lao Cai (to visit Sapa 38km from Lao Cai, or to Vietnam - China border toward Kunming)

4. Hanoi down south to Ho Chi Minh City (more stations on the way, totally 1,700km railway, it's also called "Reunification Train"). Travel time from 29-46 hours depending on what type of train you choose.

Border Crossings

Vietnam borders with China, Laos and Cambodia. For more information about the border crossings, please read the latest trip reports posted in the travel forums or ask the embassies.

Three international border crossings with China (1. Huu Nghi Quan / Friendship Pass - PingXiang crossing 2. Mong Cai - DongXing crossing 3. Lao Cai - Hekou crossing).

Six international border crossings with Laos (1. Tay Trang - Phongsali crossing 2. Na Meo - Nam Xoi crossing 3. Muang Xen
A fisherman & his boat at Sam Son beachA fisherman & his boat at Sam Son beachA fisherman & his boat at Sam Son beach

Sam Son beach in Thanh Hoa province is a popular destination for north Vietnamese during the summer time (from May to July).
- Nong Haet crossing 4. Cau Treo - Laksao crossing 5. Lao Bao - Densavanh crossing 6. Bo Y - Ban Pakha crossing).

Six international border crossings with Cambodia (1. Moc Bai - Bavet crossing 2. Xa Mat - Trapaing Phlong crossing 3. Tinh Bien - Phnom Den crossing 4. Vinh Xuong - Kaam Samnor 5. Xa Xia - Prek Chak crossing 6. Le Thanh - O'Yadao crossing).

When is the best time to visit Vietnam?

There are 4 seasons in northern Vietnam and 2 seasons (dry and rainy seasons) in central and southern regions. It's cooler in Da Lat city (the Central Highlands) and very cold in Sapa as well as the northernmost region during the winter time (November to February).

North: The best time to visit this region is April, September to December. It's very hot and humid during the summer time, especially from June to August (including rain). The coldest months in northern Vietnam are January and February, in average, 8-20°C in Hanoi and it can get down to 0°C in Sapa, freezing and even snow.

Central region: Typhoons often hit central coast from July to October. The central region
Bat Trang ceramic villageBat Trang ceramic villageBat Trang ceramic village

This is one of the products made at Bat Trang ceramic village in Hanoi. Chi Pheo (man) and Thi No (woman) are the two famous characters in Vietnamese literature during the feudal period before 1945.
(from Quang Tri province to Phu Yen province) also experiences rain and flood during October and November.

South: November to February are the best months to visit this region. The rainy season lasts from May to October. The hottest months are March and April.

January or February is the month when Vietnamese celebrate their Lunar New Year (Tet). It may be a little inconvenient to travel before and during this time. Many people go home before the holiday, then back to work after that (in detail, before Tet from south to north, and after Tet from north to south), so traffic can be very busy. Shops and museums are closed on the 30th December of the Lunar calendar and during the first 3 days of the New Year. The good side is that you can enjoy the atmosphere and see how Vietnamese celebrate this important event with fireworks in the big cities.

UNESCO World Heritage

Natural heritages recognized by UNESCO:

1. Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh province

2. Phong Nha Caves - Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh province

3. Trang An complex in Ninh Binh province

Cultural heritages
Van Long nature reserve, Ninh Binh provinceVan Long nature reserve, Ninh Binh provinceVan Long nature reserve, Ninh Binh province

Ninh Binh (100 km south of Hanoi) is famous for its beautiful natural landscape. It's also called "Ha Long bay on land".
recognized by UNESCO:

1. Hue Imprerial City in central Vietnam

2. Hoi An Ancient Town - 30km south of Da Nang city

3. My Son Sanctuary - 69km southwest of Da Nang city

4. Thang Long imperial citadel in Hanoi city

5. Ho dynasty citadel in Thanh Hoa province

Intangible heritages of humanity recognized by UNESCO:

1. Nha Nhac (royal court music) in Hue city (2008)

2. The space of gong culture in the Central Highlands (2008)

3. Quan Ho folk songs singing in Bac Ninh province (2009)

4. Ca Tru singing in Hanoi city

5. Xoan singing in Phu Tho province

6. Giong festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples in Hanoi city (2010)

7. Hung King veneration ritual in Phu Tho province (2012)

8. Don Ca Tai Tu (traditional musical art form of the south) (2013)

9. Châu bản of the Nguyễn dynasty (2014)

10. Wood-blocks of the Nguyen Dynasty

11. Stelae at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi city

Tourist routes and how to go from A to B

Most of tourists visit the following
Quan Ho singers on the boatQuan Ho singers on the boatQuan Ho singers on the boat

This performance is often seen during the festive season in northern Vietnam after the Lunar New Year. This shot was taken in a village near Hanoi - March 2009.
popular cities/sites:

North: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh
Central: Hue, DMZ, Hoi An, Da Lat
South: HCMC, Mekong Delta, Cu Chi Tunnels, Nha Trang, Mui Ne

My advice is that you should spend only one or two days in the big cities like Hanoi or HCMC then get out of it. There are way too many people with millions of motorbikes, plus the noise, air pollution and unorganized traffic in these cities. The beauty of Vietnam is the countryside area and natural landscape. Vietnam has a good transport system and you can easily move around by plane, train, bus, motorbike and cyclo. It takes time to travel on the highways, as the average speed is only 50 km per hour. Depending on your time and interest, you can choose to experience all 3 regions of Vietnam or just one of them.

If you have 7-10 days, I suggest you spend your time in one or two regions. If you have 2-3-4 weeks, you can see all the major sites. However, it takes much time to go from A to B, so you might spend much time on the road. My favorite destinations in
Buddha statues at Bai Dinh pagodaBuddha statues at Bai Dinh pagodaBuddha statues at Bai Dinh pagoda

The pagoda was under construction when this shot was taken in November 2008. This is the biggest pagoda in Vietnam. Upon completion in October 2010, these Buddha statues were placed along the corridors that lead to the main buildings of the pagoda.
Vietnam are No. 1 - Ha Giang province (Mapileng pass), No. 2 - Con Dao islands, No. 3 - Quang Ngai province (Ly Son & An Binh islands), No. 4 - Yen Bai province (Mu Cang Chai terraced rice fields), No. 5 - Mui Ne beaches, No. 6 - Buon Me Thuot and No. 7 - Ninh Binh.

Following is the major tourist sites from north to south:

1. HANOI - The capital city with many museums, lakes, parks and old French buildings. On 10 October 2010, Hanoi celebrated the Millennium Year anniversary. From the Noi Bai international airport to the city's center (Hoan Kiem lake), the distance is 30km. You can go by taxi, Vietnam Airlines mini bus or public bus. The Old Quarter is the area where you can find cheap hotels, restaurants and travel agents, mainly on Luong Ngoc Quyen st., Hang Bac st., Ma May st., Hang Be st. For more information about what to see in Hanoi, please read the final part of this blog.

2. HA LONG BAY (UNESCO world heritage site with 1,969 islands in the bay): Most people book a 1-2-3 day tour to Ha Long Bay and Cat
Rainbow & mountains in Chăn Nưa townRainbow & mountains in Chăn Nưa townRainbow & mountains in Chăn Nưa town

Lai Chau province, North West Vietnam
Ba island (beaches, caves, jungle, fishing villages). You also can go on your own, but it's a little more complicated. Please read a separate paragraph below.

CAT BA ISLAND: Read my blog Cát Bà island

LAN HA BAY (south east of Cat Ba island): Lan Hạ bay and Cát Bà island

3. SAPA (mountain scenery, trekking to villages of the Black H'mong and Red Dzao ethnic minority people): Thanks to the new expressway, it only takes 6 hours to travel by bus from Hanoi to Sapa. You also can go by train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then take a bus to Sapa. From Lao Cai train station, the distance is 38km to Sapa and 70km to Bac Ha. Three days would be good for a trip: one day for trekking to villages, and a half day for visiting Fansipan summit (9km from Sapa town), using a train/cable car/funicular. At an altitude of 3,143m, Fansipan is the highest peak of Indochina. See my blogs:

Fansipan summit and Sapa (2019)

Sapa market

Cát Cát village

A photo model in Sapa

BAC HA (Sunday morning market of the Flowery H'mong people): You can go to Bac Ha town from Sapa or Lao Cai. Find more info in my blog: Bắc Hà Sunday market

At Vietnam - China border crossingAt Vietnam - China border crossingAt Vietnam - China border crossing

This is the Vietnamese national trig point at the Lao Cai - Hekou border crossing in the North West of Vietnam.
BINH (beautiful countryside, streams, caves, mountains on the rice fields): You can go from Hanoi to Ninh Binh by train or tourist bus. If you can afford the costs, then rent a car and driver. There are many sites to visit in this province: Phat Diem stone cathedral, Bai Dinh pagoda, Van Long nature reserve, Trang An nature reserve, Hoa Lu temple, Bich Dong cave, Tam Coc cave, Kenh Ga hot spring and Cuc Phuong national park. View my blogs:

Bái Đính pagoda under construction (2008, 2009) and re-visited in 2015
Vân Long nature reserve
The 4th trip to Phát Diệm cathedral
Tràng An nature reserve

Cúc Phương national park - Kênh Gà - Tam Cốc

Cuc Phuong National Park (then the VResort) by Rob & Lorenza

5. MAI CHAU (Thai ethnic minority villages): You can book a 2 day tour to Mai Chau through the agents in Hanoi and trek around villages of the Thai people, enjoy the musical and song performance in the evening and sleep on floor of stilt houses. You also can go by local bus from Hanoi (Ha Dong bus station).

6. HUE (the old capital of Vietnam in the 19th century, visiting the Imperial Citadel and tombs, cruising the Perfume river): It's possible to go from Hanoi/Sai Gon/Da Nang to Hue by train, tourist bus or plane (an hour flight). You should spend 2 days in
At a pagoda in northern VietnamAt a pagoda in northern VietnamAt a pagoda in northern Vietnam

During and after Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), people love to visit pagoda to pray good luck for their families. In this photo you can see peach blossom, banana and other fruits as offerings at the pagoda.
this city, half day at the Imperial Citadel, one day to cruise the Perfume river and visit 3 tombs of the Kings. Inexpensive hotels, restaurants and travel agents can be found on Hung Vuong street and the nearby area, which is very close to the Perfume river and Truong Tien bridge. You can walk to the citadel and Dong Ba market. Some photos of Hue city: Tết 2009 in Huế city

7. DMZ - Demilitarized Zone during the American War (Vinh Moc tunnels, Ben Hai river - the demarcation line from 1954 - 1975, Khe Sanh combat base): You can book this tour in Hue city. The bus leaves Hue city at 6am and you can go back to Hue city at 6pm, or head north from Dong Ha town.

8. HOI AN (UNESCO world heritage site, old town with ancient houses, Japanese bridge): You can travel by bus or train from Hue/Nha Trang to Hoi An. If you fly, the nearest airport is located in Da Nang city, then you go by taxi (30km) to Hoi An. Read my blogs about Ba Na hills, Son Tra peninsula, Hoi An town and Cu Lao Cham island:

Hội An - Tết 2011 (the Year of the Cat)

Cù Lao Chàm island

A H'mong village in Hà Giang provinceA H'mong village in Hà Giang provinceA H'mong village in Hà Giang province

Hà Giang is the northernmost province of Vietnam. This is my favorite destination in the country.
distance from Nha Trang to Hoi An is pretty far and it may take a day to travel by bus. Most tourist bus goes through Hai Van pass tunnel to save time. If you can hire a car with driver and want to see the great view of the pass, read my blog: Hải Vân pass

Da Nang city is a place you should not skip as there are some interesting sites to see. Read my blog: Đà Nẵng city

9. MY SON Holy Land (UNESCO world heritage site, old brick temples of the Champa kingdom): You can book a half-day tour in Hoi An, or hire a car and driver to visit the site. See my photos: The Chàm towers in Mỹ Sơn

10. NHA TRANG (beaches, islands, scuba diving): The nearest airport is Cam Ranh (40km south of Nha Trang). It's possible to fly to Cam Ranh from Hanoi/Da Nang/HCMC, or go by train and by bus. You can book a one day tour to visit 4 islands or other sites like Monkey island or Yang Bay waterfall. Other great sites are Doc Let beach (60km north of Nha Trang) and Thap Ba hot spring/mud bath. Read my blog: Nha Trang - Tết 2012 (the Year of the Dragon)

I was back
Vietnamese musical instrumentsVietnamese musical instrumentsVietnamese musical instruments

The instruments are on sale at a souvenir shop inside the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
to Nha Trang in March 2013 for doing Yang Bay waterfall tour: Nha Trang beach city and Yang Bay waterfall

11. MUI NE (beaches, sand dunes, fishing villages): Tourist bus can take you to Mui Ne from Sai Gon/Nha Trang/Da Lat. There are two sand dunes (yellow and white ones), Suoi Tien stream, kite surfing activity in Mui Ne. See my blog: Mũi Né beaches and sand dunes - If you go by train, then the train station is located in Phan Thiet city. You can take bus No. 1 from Coopmart supermarket in Phan Thiet city to Mui Ne.

Other popular tourist sites in Binh Thuan province: Phan Thiết city - Kê Gà lighthouse - Tà Cú mountain

12. DA LAT (Central Highlands, cool weather, mountains, waterfalls and lakes): Tourist bus from Sai Gon/Mui Ne/Nha Trang is a good choice. You also can fly from Hanoi/HCMC to Lien Khuong Airport (28km north of Da Lat city). If you spend a couple of days in this city, you can visit all the major sites (I made a list of must-sees with a local motorbike taxi driver and we visited 16 sites). I made the second trip to Da Lat city in 2013. See this link: Đà Lạt city and the Valley of Love

13. HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC) or SAI GON (the most developed
Côn Đảo islandsCôn Đảo islandsCôn Đảo islands

This is one of the most beautiful places I've been to in Vietnam.
city in Vietnam): People prefer calling "Sai Gon" as this name is short. You can fly from all major cities in Vietnam to HCMC. The airport is not far from the city's center, so you can go by taxi or by public bus. De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao streets in District 1 are the area where you can find cheap hotels, travel agents, bars and restaurants. See some photos of Sai Gon in my blog:

Sài Gòn 2013 (twenty years since my first visit)

Sài Gòn - Tết 2013 (the Year of the Snake)

Sài Gòn city at night

Discovering Sài Gòn by bus

Water puppet shows in Sài Gòn

One of the tours you can book in Sai Gon: Cần Giờ mangrove forest

Information about the bus from Sai Gon to Phnom Penh can be found in my blog: Phnom Penh

14. MEKONG DELTA (floating villages & markets): Most people book tours (1-2-3 day tours) to this region. Read my blog: The Mekong Delta (Sinh cafe tours) - If you want to go to Can Tho on your own, there is Mai Linh mini bus service. Can Tho is the biggest city in the Mekong Delta. The airport is open recently, so you can fly from Hanoi to Can Tho. If you want to go to Cambodia by the river way, you can book a tour from Sai Gon
Wooden church in Kon Tum cityWooden church in Kon Tum cityWooden church in Kon Tum city

This is one of the old buildings that the French left in Vietnam. This church is located in Kon Tum city of the Central Highlands.
or Chau Doc to Phnom Penh.

15. CU CHI TUNNELS (used by the Vietnamese communists during the American War) in HCMC & CAO DAI TEMPLE in Tay Ninh province: You can book a one day tour at the travel agents in HCMC. Read my blog about Tay Ninh province: Tây Ninh town - Bà Đen mountain - Cao Đài temple

Off the beaten path

When you visit the northernmost point of Vietnam in Lung Cu village (Ha Giang province) and Ban Gioc waterfall (Cao Bang province), you must get a permit from the local authority. Both Lung Cu village and Ban Gioc waterfall are very close to or on the border line with China. Most people hire a car and driver to visit the sites out of the tourist trail, but a few go by local bus (a challenge but fun). One of the problems in the remote regions is that most locals you meet cannot speak English, so you should prepare a list of necessary words in both English and Vietnamese.

Another update on my trip in October 2012 to the towns (for example, Bat Xat, Muong Khuong, Y Ty & Simacai in Lao Cai province) and islands (Co To & Ngoc Vung
Celebration of Tet 2009 in HanoiCelebration of Tet 2009 in HanoiCelebration of Tet 2009 in Hanoi

There are many activities for celebration of the Lunar New Year (Tet) in Hanoi as well as other cities of Vietnam. This shot was taken at the old citadel of Hanoi. You should also visit the Museum of Ethnology where some traditional customs and games are performed.
islands in Quang Ninh province) which are located in the border area and under military control: Foreigners must get a permit from immigration office or military office in the province.

Following is the sites off the beaten path in 3 regions of Vietnam:

1. QUAN LAN ISLAND in Bai Tu Long bay (northeast of Ha Long bay): There are some great beaches with white sands. See the link: Quan Lạn island

2. CO TO & NGOC VUNG ISLANDS: Both islands are under military control, so you need a permit to visit them or you can ask a guesthouse on the islands to support you and then you'll pay some fees. Read my blog Cô Tô and other islands with information about 4 islands (Co To, Ngoc Vung, Van Don and Cat Ba)

3. BA BE LAKE (200km north of Hanoi, the largest natural lake in Vietnam), CAO BANG & BAN GIOC WATERFALL (390km north of Hanoi, the most beautiful waterfall in Vietnam which lies on border with China): It takes a day to travel overland from Hanoi to Cao Bang. To visit these sites, you will need 4 days. Below is my blogs about the trip to 6 provinces in the North
Christmas 2009 in HanoiChristmas 2009 in HanoiChristmas 2009 in Hanoi

St Joseph's cathedral at Christmas 2009.
East of Vietnam (Find the route in Part 2 & Part 4):

Tuyên Quang (North East - Part 1)

Ba Bể lake (North East - Part 2)

Lạng Sơn (North East - Part 3)

Bản Giốc waterfall (North East - Part 4)

You also can refer to another blog Ba Be National Park, micro hydro electric scheme, time slowed down published by Rob & Lorenza.

4. HA GIANG PROVINCE (the northernmost province of Vietnam): This region has the best mountain scenery in Vietnam. Some people choose motorbike tours to this region, but you also can go by local bus or rent a car to Ha Giang town - Dong Van - Meo Vac - Lung Cu - Mapileng pass - Meo Vac. Information about the permit for visiting the flag tower at the northernmost point of Vietnam can be found in Part 3. See my blogs below:

Hà Giang - Part 1 (Quản Bạ & Yên Minh)

Hà Giang - Part 2 (Phố Cáo & Sủng Là)

Hà Giang - Part 3 (Đồng Văn & Lũng Cú)

Hà Giang - Part 4 (Mapileng pass & Mèo Vạc)

Sunday market in Hoàng Su Phì and Xín Mần

Other photos of Ha Giang: How do young Vietnamese travel?

5. The North West loop (6 provinces) HOA BINH - SON LA - DIEN BIEN - LAI CHAU - YEN BAI - LAO CAI: Beautiful mountain scenery, terraced rice paddy-fields and ethnic minority people are the highlights of this region. I have done a solo trip in the North West route Yen Bai - Lai Chau - Lao Cai by train, local bus and motorbike.
The Imperial Citadel in Hue cityThe Imperial Citadel in Hue cityThe Imperial Citadel in Hue city

The Imperial Citadel and the tombs of the Nguyen emperors in Hue city is a UNESCO world heritage site. This city was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 under the Nguyen dynasty (ruled by 13 emperors).

Hoa Binh province: Other than Mai Chau, you also can visit the following places:

Thung Nai valley

Kim Bôi hot spring

Son La province: Mộc Châu highlands

Dien Bien province: Dien Bien Phu was the final battlefield where the French troops were defeated in 1954. See my blog about Dien Bien Phu: Where the French war ended

Another trip to Hoa Binh - Son La - Dien Bien in Oct 2012: Hòa Bình - Sơn La - Điện Biên

Lao Cai province

Simacai - Mường Khương - Bát Xát - Sapa

Yen Bai province

Old tea trees and Red H'mong people in Suối Giàng

Mù Cang Chải terraced rice paddy-fields

The North West route Yên Bái - Lai Châu - Lào Cai

The rice harvest in Mù Cang Chải and Trạm Tấu

Lai Chau province

Than Uyên and Lai Châu

Mường Tè and wedding of the Dzao people in Sìn Hồ

Pa Há and Dào San (3rd visit to Lai Châu)

6. VINH CITY & PRESIDENT HO CHI MINH'S BIRTH PLACE in Nghe An province. You can take a train from Hanoi to Vinh city (7 hour train ride) and rent a taxi (15km to Sen village and 20km to Cua Lo beach from Vinh city). Read my blog: Vinh city - Sen village - Cửa Lò beach

7. PHONG NHA CAVES (UNESCO world heritage site): The nearest city to the caves is Dong Hoi in central Vietnam. You can reach this city by train, bus or plane. Read my blog: Đồng Hới city - Phong Nha caves (over 30 caves and total discovered length of 100km) are located 45km away from Dong Hoi
Nha Trang beachesNha Trang beachesNha Trang beaches

The south central coast of Vietnam is famous for great beaches.
city. You will get into the caves by boat.

8. TAM KY CITY: The city is located 70km from Da Nang city, 50km from Hoi An town in central Vietnam. The countryside area is a highlight. Read my blog: Tam Kỳ city

9. QUANG NGAI PROVINCE: This is a very interesting place to visit with beautiful beaches and islands, salt fields, cheap food and friendly people. I highly recommend it. Read my blogs:

Back to my father's homeland (Quảng Ngãi - Part 1)

Lý Sơn island (Quảng Ngãi - Part 2)

An Bình island (Quảng Ngãi - Part 3)

10. CENTRAL HIGHLANDS (3 provinces Gia Lai - Kon Tum - Dak Lak, elephant ride, special culture of ethnic minority groups and best coffee plantations): It is possible to fly from Hanoi/Da Nang/HCMC to Buon Me Thuot (Dak Lak province) and Pleiku (Gia Lai province). You also can travel overland from Sai Gon, Da Lat, Nha Trang or Quy Nhon to the capital cities of these provinces. For more information, please read my blogs below:

Buôn Mê Thuột (Central Highlands - part 1)

Kon Tum (Central Highlands - part 2)

Pleiku (Central Highlands - part 3)

The third trip to the Central Highlands

11. QUY NHON beach city with beautiful Cham brick towers built in the 12th century. Here are my blogs:

Quy Nhơn beach city

A trip sponsored by the US organization Viettelco

12. TUY HOA beach city which is famous for beaches and fishing
The Temple of Literature in HanoiThe Temple of Literature in HanoiThe Temple of Literature in Hanoi

82 stone tortoises with stelae on their backs to record the names of successful contestants in the examinations between 1442 and 1778. They were recently recognized as UNESCO world heritage. This place used to be the first university of Vietnam.
ports. Read my blog: Tuy Hòa city

13. PHU QUY ISLAND is one of the great places to visit in Binh Thuan province (south central Vietnam). However, foreign visitors must get a permit as this island is under military control. Read my blog Phú Quý island

14. The Southernmost Region (Can Tho - Soc Trang - Bac Lieu - Ca Mau cape): To get to the cape, which is the southernmost point of Vietnam, you must go by bus to Ca Mau city or Nam Can town, then change to water taxi. For detail, please read my blogs:

Cần Thơ (Mekong Delta - part 1)
Sóc Trăng (Mekong Delta - part 2)
Bạc Liêu (Mekong Delta - part 3)
Mũi Cà Mau - the southernmost point of Vietnam

15. TRA VINH is one of the provinces in the Mekong Delta. 70 per cent of the population are Khmer people. You will see some festivals during their new year in April. Read my blog: Trà Vinh city

16. PHU QUOC ISLAND (beaches, fishing villages): Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air fly between Hanoi/HCMC and Phu Quoc island. You also can go by hydrofoil from Ha Tien town or Rach Gia city to this island. Read my blog: New camera and Phú Quốc island

Other places to see in Kien Giang province: Hà Tiên town - Hòn Tre island - Rạch Giá city

17. CON DAO ISLANDS (beaches, prison of French and American
Terraced rice fields in Mù Cang ChảiTerraced rice fields in Mù Cang ChảiTerraced rice fields in Mù Cang Chải

During the rice harvest in October 2012.
wars): Vasco and Air Mekong fly daily between HCMC and Con Son town. There is a prison built during the French war and the Americans used this place to imprison Vietnamese communists during the war. Read my blog: Côn Đảo islands

18. VUNG TAU beach city (120km south east Sai Gon) and other sites in Ba Ria - Vung Tau province. Read these blogs:

Vũng Tàu city - Long Hải beach - Bình Châu hot spring

Vũng Tàu beach city

19. BIEN HOA city is 60km from Sai Gon. There are some industrial parks. Read my blog: Biên Hòa city

Ha Long Bay tours

Most of travelers choose a tour due to shortage of time and comfortable services. There are many travel agents in Hanoi which offer the Ha Long bay - Cat Ba island tours at different prices. If you search around Hanoi Old Quarter, you will find their price is very competitive. My advice is 1) do a search before you book a tour, and 2) choose a good and reputable company to avoid your trip to be ruined.

The Ha Long bay - Cat Ba island tour price ranges from US$25-US$200 (1-2-3 day tours), depending on quality of the boats and services, number of people on the same tours, overnight on boat or at hotel, kayaking, food, English speaking guide etc. There have been both good and bad comments about the tours. Most of the complaints were about the cheap tours or bad agents that did not provide what they promised and failed to satisfy your expectations. You may end up with many people on the boat, lack of food, low quality of boat and unhappy trip. If you think about the distance you will travel between Hanoi and Ha Long town (approx 300km two ways) by bus, then the costs for boat, food, hotel and entrance tickets, as well as commission that hotel/agent receives, it will be difficult to make a good trip at a very cheap price.

There are some types of tours as follows:

1-day tour: this is a very busy day trip, as your bus ride Hanoi - Ha Long town takes almost 4 hours, then you cruise in the bay for a few hours (including lunch on boat and kayaking if someone likes) then go back to Hanoi (another 4 hours by bus). I had some photos in this link: Hạ Long bay and Bãi Cháy city - Cửa Ông temple - Hạ Long bay

2-day tour: there are some
Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh CityBen Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh CityBen Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City

This market is one of the symbols of the city
options that travel agents will offer you to choose. For example, 2-day tour for only Ha Long bay (overnight at hotel or on boat), 2-day tour for both Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba island (overnight on the island). On the second tour, you will have a very little time on Cat Ba island. When you go there, it's already 5-6pm, just sleep one night at hotel then leave early morning next day, back to Ha Long town by boat.

3-day tour: You will have one day on Cat Ba island, either trekking at national park, or visiting a fishing village, or doing whatever you want. Read my blog Cát Bà island

You can travel on your own, but then you will have to hire a boat for yourself or find some people to share the boat. In my understanding, the travel agents do not want to let independent travelers to join the boat with their tourists. For saving time and convenience, most people choose to go on a package tour.

Culture shock in Vietnam - the traffic

Air pollution, traffic congestion and fatal accidents became some major issues, not only in the large cities of
Vietnamese souvenirsVietnamese souvenirsVietnamese souvenirs

Dolls wearing Vietnamese traditional dresses and conical hats are sold at a souvenir shop in Hanoi.
Vietnam, I think, also in some countries of South Est Asia during the development process. Awareness of traffic safety plays an important role, however many people in Vietnam often ignore traffic rules, when there are no police. Sometimes they ignore red lights, or turn left-right anytime they want. You may be surprised at the noise and why Vietnamese use horns so often, but if they don't, it's very easy to hit the people in front of them. Horns are also important to warn, as someone may suddenly come from the alleys at a fast speed. However, some people use horns which are too loud and unnecessary just to mean "I am here. Move out of my way!". I hate this type of horn.

An advice for you if you want to cross streets in Hanoi and HCMC is that you should walk slowly (don't run) and watch both sides. In most cases, the locals will know how to avoid you. Better still, wait for a Vietnamese person to cross and follow them.

Vietnamese people

I am sad to say there are many Vietnamese who want to earn quick money from tourists. You should be careful
The lotus lake in HanoiThe lotus lake in HanoiThe lotus lake in Hanoi

The best time to visit the lake for photography or buying lotus flowers is June and July (ie the lotus season). However, you must go there between 5 and 7am when the lake owners tour around the lake for picking flowers.
with the fake taxis in the big cities or cyclo/motorbike drivers who want to overcharge you at the end of your ride. Also, remember not to take the offer from taxi drivers or touts you meet at the airports, as they want to take you to their hotels. Hawkers, beggars, cyclo/motorbike drivers are quite persistent, so I know it's annoying at times, although they only want to make a living. But that's common in the tourist areas in the big cities like Hanoi, HCMC, Hue or Nha Trang. When you get out of the tourist trail, it's more relaxing and people, who don't care about tourists money, are gentle and friendly in general. I think this is not the rule in only Vietnam, but many countries.

On the other side, not every foreigner, who visits Vietnam, is great. Some people visit Vietnam just to do a country in their list, then they moan when things are not the same as they expected. While they were busy thinking about the local price and tried to fight for it, they forgot to enjoy the other good things. In some discussions in the Thorn Tree travel forum, some westerners even said "Vietnam is better without you" when the complaints made by other westerners were unworthy. For whatever reason you choose to be in Vietnam, I hope you enjoy the visit. I think most people, who don't like Vietnam, have very tight budget, or they haven't done enough preparation for the trip (reading posts in the travel forums, for example), or unable to face the culture shocks and handle the tricks. They only see negative things here or there and make a generalization for the whole nation and people. The truth is that Vietnam is not for everyone. If you feel tired of wild traffic and people in the big cities, then get out to the countryside or remote regions. Always remember that a country is not there to furnish your experience. If you are still in a bad mood and cannot go with the flow, then move on to another country where you may feel happy. Certainly, I know many foreigners who have connection with people and love Vietnam so much that it's never enough for them to go back. Even I myself am surprised at their huge affection for the country.

While searching information for my next trip to Sri Lanka, I found a post with great advice from MK_Ultra in the Thorn Tree travel forum. The advice was made for Sri Lanka, but it can be applicable to many countries. I hope you agree with what he wrote: "I know it can be frustrating, and even infuriating at times when the locals lie and scam to get some money out of you, but that's the third world for you. People are poor, and a dollar here and there means a lot more to them than you possibly realize. Try to just relate to the people, and if they don't want to get to know you and merely want your money, just let them know you're not interested.

If you're going to continue to travel in impoverished areas, you're going to have to develop a thicker skin. People will try to get money out of you, but you can't let it get to you. Just let it go. I promise it will happen more in the future. You'll only wind yourself up by worrying about it. Just stay calm and realize that they are not individuals with whom you would like to spend time, and move on. You'll find some decent people eventually with whom you'll get along well and have a great time."

Vietnamese food and drinks

Eating around Vietnam

My favorite food in Hanoi

"Phở" noodle soup - a feature of Hanoi

Vietnamese seafood

Bia Hơi (Vietnamese fresh beer)

Vietnamese coffee culture

Northern Vietnam - Food & Home Made Wines by Rob & Lorenza

Trung Vit Lon (incubated duck egg) by Kent

Tet - Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Tet is the Vietnamese lunar new year. It is also the biggest festival of the year in Vietnam. Most of the years it coincides with the Chinese lunar new year. However, our calendars are not always the same. Some years ago the first day of the new year in Vietnam was ahead of the Chinese lunar new year. You may find it difficult to move around or find food as most restaurants and services would be closed during the holiday. The good side of visiting Vietnam at this time is that you can see the Tet preparations, fireworks on the New Year's Eve and other activities. According to the law, we have 4 day holiday of Tet (the last day of the old year and three first days of the lunar new year), however the holiday often lasts a week or even 9 days because of the weekends. Most travel agencies don't work on the first day of the new year except Nha Trang where you still can book a tour to visit 4 islands. For more information, please read the blogs below:

Tết 2008 in Hanoi

2009 - the Year of the Buffalo

Tết 2009 in Huế city

New Year's activities during Tết 2009

2010 - the Year of the Tiger

Hội An - Tết 2011 (the Year of the Cat)

Nha Trang - Tết 2012 (the Year of the Dragon)

Sài Gòn - Tết 2013 (the Year of the Snake)

Other blogs about Vietnam

Vietnamese souvenirs

Fishing villages in Vietnam

Shops and markets in Vietnam

Vietnamese propaganda

Cultural Activities in Vietnam by Kent

Pagodas and temples in northern Vietnam

Flowers in Vietnam

Photos of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war (1960s - early 1970s)

A wedding party in Hanoi

My sister's wedding in Sài Gòn

New building of the Vietnam Television

Happy women's day 8 March!

One or two days in Hanoi

What to see on 1-2 days in Hanoi?

1. Ho Chi Minh President Mausoleum and Museum
(the Mausoleum is often closed between Oct. & Dec., for annual re-embalming, but you can visit the front side of the Mausoleum, the Museum in the same area and Ba Dinh square)
2. Army Museum and the Flag Tower
3. Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature)
4. Hilton Prison (Museum)
5. Hanoi Opera House (French style building)
6. The Old Quarter
7. Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Pagoda in Hanoi's center
8. St. Joseph's Cathedral
9. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (some shows every evening and you can choose time)
10. Museum of Ethnology
11. American B-52 bomber wreckage in Ngoc Ha village (Huu Tiep lake)
12. Long Bien Bridge and the Red River
13. Fine Arts Museum

How to go from Noi Bai international airport to Hanoi's Old Quarter?

- You can go by taxi (total distance 30km). Most taxi companies want you to pay based on their meters. It's always more expensive to go from Noi Bai International Airport to Hanoi center. Taxi ride on the opposite direction is cheaper and it's on a fixed rate (for example, VND 200,000 on G7 taxi, equivalent to about US$9).

- Some taxi companies are Noi Bai airport taxi Tel: 84-24-38868888, Dai Nam taxi, Viet Thanh taxi, G7 taxi.

- You can go by Vietnam Airlines mini bus or Viet Thanh bus (VND 40,000, about US$1.8). Vietnam Airlines mini bus final stop is opposite Vietnam Airlines office at No. 1 Quang Trung street. Viet Thanh bus final stop is at Hanoi circus. From both locations you can take a motorbike taxi or a taxi to the Old Quarter.

- If you want to experience a local bus, then take bus #7 from airport to Cau Giay (end of this bus route) ticket VND 8,000, then change to bus #9 from Cau Giay to Bo Ho (Hoan Kiem lake), which is a short walk to the Old Quarter, ticket VND 7,000. Total price for two tickets is VND 15,000 (75 US cents).

Some blogs of mine about Hanoi:

The Old Quarter in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature
The lotus season in Hanoi
Old French buildings in Hanoi
Sunday at Việt Phủ Thành Chương
B52 wreckage in Ngọc Hà village
A wedding party in Hanoi
Mosaic wall along the Red River
Christmas in Hanoi
Old photos of Hanoi (early 20th century)

Photos of Hanoi in the 1980s

Circus performance in Hanoi

Villages around Hanoi which make traditional products:

Bát Tràng ceramic village
Phù Lãng ceramic village
Đồng Kỵ furniture village
Chuông hat village (Nón làng Chuông)
Vác village & Cự Đà village
Chuà Thầy pagoda & Chàng Sơn fan village
Đọi Tam drum village

Thổ Hà old village

Vạn Phúc silk village

Đông Hồ painting village & Chuôn Ngọ village

Festivals in Hanoi:

Autumn Festivals

The Mid-Autumn Festival 2008

My favorite season of the year

The 1000th year celebration in Hanoi

The Mid-Autumn Festival 2014

Flower Festivals

Hanoi Flower Festival 2009

Hanoi Flower Festival 2010

Hanoi Flower Festival 2012

Japan Sakura Flower Festivals

Japan Sakura Festivals in 2008 and 2009

Vietnamese seafood

You can book a tour, or hire a car and driver to make a one day trip to one of the following places:

Cruising the Red River
The old houses in Đường Lâm commune
Chùa Hương (the Perfume Pagoda)
Some pagodas in Hà Tây province
The festive season (Mùa lễ hội)
Đền Hùng (the Temple of Kings Hùng)
Weekend at Khoang Xanh & Thác Đa
Tản Đà spa resort

Đá Chông historical site (for reference only as the site is not opened to tourists)

Author's Note

In case you want to contact me for further information about traveling in Vietnam, you can send me an email directly to

If you use private message / comment functions in Travel Blog, please provide me with your right contact. Some people sent me private messages without their correct email addresses, so I couldn't reply to them. Thank you.


18th January 2010

Having visited many of the places mentioned in this blog, it is nice to be reminded of many happy experiences of travel in Vietnam. It has also reminded me of lots places I still want to see including Dalat, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Mai Chau and the far North. I love the photos included in the blog. The references for further information are very helpful. Thanks very much for going to so much trouble to provide all this information.
18th January 2010

Amazingly helpfull
I have been reading this blog so much, and now...only 2 more weeks and i am in vietnam for 6months or longer :). Realy helpfull all this info, unreal the amount of info you are able to post. I bet you are the saviour to allot of travelers :)
18th January 2010

i have visit vietnam many time
18th January 2010

Vietnam is one of the most interesting countries to me,. I have just returned from the second visit on Siem Reap Cambodia. In planning the third visit. I may visit Vietnam, too, referring to your information.
18th January 2010

Excellent Idea!
Great idea there. I was thinking of doing one for my own city but you have gone and done one for your whole country! Blog's like these should be put in a certain place where people can find them easily. When I was thinking of blogging my city I was thinking wouldn't it be great if there was a "What To Do In...." section here on travel blog. I know it would have helped while I was traveling. Blogs are excellent but tips from people living in the country are invaluable. Darren.
18th January 2010

Thanks so much for taking the time to put this entry together, it is very informative, especially as we are coming to Hanoi again soon. Cheers!
19th January 2010

This is a nice article. Thanks for replying my email. Roland, Singapore.
19th January 2010

Congratulations on your high number of viewings! :) If you have time, come and tell us the secret of your success on
25th January 2010

Handy Information
Very good; I'll use your guide for next visit to Vietnam. - Comperhensive and details.Thanks a lot
1st February 2010

Check this out. :)
25th April 2010

Fantastic Thank You
I can truly say that your blog is one of the best I have ever seen.Very insightful without being to over the top with detail.You have given a future traveler to Vietnam good bit of insight on what to expect.Thanks Again
21st May 2010

Wow, this blog is absolutely amazing! It is brilliant that you spent the time to share your experience and knowledge with other people. It is hard to find information all in one place on the internet when you are travelling so I would just like to say thank you as this has helped alot to plan our visit to Vietnam next month! Vicki and Phil
20th August 2010

Nice Job and Hi!
Hey! It's the old Leng from TT. Glad to see you have duplicated (and expanded) this guide. Once again a great labor of love from a fellow traveler. Happy trails my friend! Leng
7th June 2011

Best blog
Personally I think this is the very good blog for planning. Thanks for share. ipad 3
1st April 2017

Great Blog and I have a question
I have a question, is it easy to book accommodation in Vietnam in December as you travel around or should you book from home before you get to Vietnam. Also is it easy to book the train when you are there.

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