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Your full Wanderlust guide to travel in Vietnam

Vietnam boasts stunning landscapes – the karst outcrops of Halong Bay and the hilltribe-settled mountains around Sapa spring to mind – as well as beaches, charming colonial towns, the fascinating villages of the Mekong Delta and lush national parks.

Windsurf at Mui Ne, chill on tropical Phu Quoc Island, roam the historic streets of Hoi An, delve into the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi and settle in for a water-puppet show in capital Hanoi – and those are just the headline acts.

As infrastructure improves and hitherto-remote areas open up to travellers, more of Vietnam’s treasures come to light – explore the hills around Ninh Binh, visit the Cham temples of Quy Non or meet the tribes of Ba Be National Park – so be prepared to look beyond this page and the Vietnam guidebooks, and discover your own gems.

  • Capital city: Hanoi
  • Population: 98.2 million
  • Money: Vietnamese Dong
  • Int dialing code: + 84
  • Languages: Vietnamese
  • Visas: Visa required prior to entry. When checking into a hotel, you’ll have to hand over your passport so that the hotel can register your presence with the local police
  • Voltage: 110 / 220 V
  • Time: GMT + 7


Wanderlust recommended experiences in Vietnam

  • Meet the tribes of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Meet local people belonging to the hilltribes of Vietnam, near the country's border with Cambodia. Discover fascinating stories and culture – tales of wild-elephant catching.

    Kayak among the karst outcrops of Halong Bay. Any visitor to northern Vietnam is inundated with images and offers of boat tours to Halong Bay, Vietnam’s most-popular (and commercialised) natural attraction. But once visitors get on one of the junks (traditional Chinese boats) racing across the bay, they often find as much intimacy with their surroundings as on a Spanish beach in August – try the same experience in a kayak and get closer to Vietnam with every paddle stroke.
  • Delve into the claustrophobic Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi near Ho Chi Minh City

    Stroll around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and settle in for a water puppet show
  • Visit the Imperial Tombs and Forbidden City of old Hue
  • Cruise among the floating markets of the Mekong Delta
  • Relax with some beach time on tropical Phu Quoc Island

When to go to Vietnam

Climate is complicated by regional differences and two monsoons – the northern three-quarters of Vietnam get wet and cool October-March, while the south is warm and dry; a summer monsoon affects most of the country from April to October, bringing hot and humid conditions. The northern spring (April and May) and early autumn are probably the most comfortable (and not too crowded) times to visit.

International airports

Noi Bai Airport (HAN) is 35km north of Hanoi. Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) is 7km north-west of Ho Chi Minh City.

Getting around in Vietnam

Domestic flights link the main centres, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Danang and Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. A range of buses – from small (and often packed) minibuses to large, comfortable air-con coaches – comprise an extensive network around the country at very reasonably prices.

There’s one main railway line that runs along the coast between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, branching out to a few more destinations around the north. Hiring a car (often with driver) or a motorcycle allows more flexibility – but be aware of poor road safety.

Vietnam accommodation

Hostels, guesthouses and hotels are all part of the accommodation scene (though not, largely, camping). Homestays are increasingly popular, and can offer great opportunities for living among the minority peoples of the central and northern highlands.

Vietnam food & drink

Vietnam’s cuisine is diverse and delicious. Best known flavours include pho bo (beef noodle soup), spring rolls – either translucent or fried – and the ubiquitous nuoc mam, a powerful fermented fish sauce. The French colonial influence means tasty breakfasts with strong coffee and baguettes. Bia hoi – glasses of beer served on tap from barrels – is the most common hooch, tea the rival to coffee for most-common daytime drink.

Health & safety in Vietnam

Consult your GP or travel health clinic to check the appropriate vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis. As well as malaria, which is a problem in some rural areas, dengue fever afflicts parts of Vietnam; as much as possibly, cover up and use insect repellent, particularly in the evenings.

Avoid drinking tap water, and ensure eggs and other potentially risky foods are well cooked. Be wary of venomous snakes in remote regions.

There is a risk of crime in big cities, but in general Vietnam is not a dangerous place; one thing to be aware of, though, is the continuing risk from unexploded ordnance remaining from the war.

Take local advice on walking trails, and never touch any war relics you find.

Wanderlust tips for travel in Vietnam

  1. Get your hiking boots on – walking is a great way to access less-touristed villages, and the highlands offer fine trekking; consider conquering Fansipan, at 3,143m is Vietnam’s highest peak.
  2. Crossing the road can be a nerve-shredding experience; bear in mind that drivers don’t want to hit you – be patient, stride purposefully and make yourself visible.
  3. Some travellers report feeling hassled or ripped off by drivers or others in Vietnam, which is an increasingly commercial-minded destination; a sense of humour and patience is helpful.

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