If you are looking to experience Vietnam but you don’t have the time to explore the country in full, then don’t worry. There are plenty of Vietnam tours and itineraries that will let you see the country’s most iconic sites. To help get you started then why not take a look at five must-sees below.
Firstly a few of the basics. Some of the best times to travel are between October and March, this is when most of Vietnam experiences a dry season and is when temperatures are at their most temperate. However, as Vietnam is over 100km in length temperatures can vary. If you are looking to travel during the peak season (October to March) then temperatures will range from 15 degrees c to 25 degrees c degrees in the north to 25 degrees c to 35 degrees c in the south. If you are looking to avoid the crowds then travelling in the “off-season” means that you will miss most of the crowds and get the opportunity to see Vietnam in quieter more tranquil surroundings. Travelling at this time does mean higher temperatures, this is typically upward of 30 degrees c across the country with the north of Vietnam generally being the hottest region of the country. Almost all Vietnam tours will have work itineraries around these seasons or will offer tailor made solutions.
Although this region tends to experience more rainfall in the summer months of April to August, it is a part of Vietnam that can and should be visited year round. Most tours to Vietnam will include a day tour to My Tho. Although a lovely spot from which to enjoy Vietnam it tends to be incredibly busy throughout the year. This is due to its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City (drive time of about 1 hour). However, adding an extra 45 minutes can deliver you to quieter, more remote and peaceful ports such as Ben Tre. This very small port can be easily access by road and the day excursions will often include visits to traditional brick kilns as well as small home-stay style restaurants. Private arrangements can be made on smaller, more intimate vessels that carry you through some of the Mekong’s small tributaries. These shorter cruises often take you past small villages and communities that are rarely visited by tourists making for a truly authentic experience.
Although Hue to the South of Vietnam (around a three hour drive over the iconic Hi Van pass) is also a delectable city, Hoi An is Central Vietnam’s number one attraction. A UNESCO world heritage site the city boasts some truly unique architecture which is primarily due to the city’s long history as a port town welcoming traders from Japan, China, France and beyond. Hoi An’s streets are resplendent with French buildings from the colonial era as well as Japanese houses that are still inhabited by the decedents of early traders. One of Hoi An’s key attractions is the Japanese bridge that connects two halves of the city over a small river (built around 1593).
Activities in Hoi An can include visiting some of the towns renowned tailors, taking in one of the many cooking classes that specialise in region cuisine ($20-$50 per class), enjoying a short river cruise ($10-$20) or sampling some of the many street cafe’s which serve many European style cakes and drinks as well as Vietnam’s rich and dark coffee. When in Hoi An a recommended restaurant is Mango Mango. Located just opposite the Japanese Bridge the restaurants proprietor employs and trains local apprentices and offers a stunning menu which offers a fusion of Vietnamese and Western cuisine. As well as this restaurant this region of the city (the waterfront) offers a variety of restaurants offering Western and Vietnamese dishes as well as many local beers!
At night your time cannot be misspent wandering the streets taking in the river which is illuminated by a flotilla floating ornaments and coloured lights that line the rivers banks. Flying to Hoi An (airport is actually located in Da Nang) takes around 1 hour 45 minutes and can also be reached by bus which takes anywhere between 12 and 16 hours. Some Vietnam tours will terminate here and connecting flights to Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are readily available.
Hanoi and Halong Bay:
Due to their proximity, Hanoi and Halong Bay are too close to miss. After a 1:45 minute flight from Da Nang you will arrive into Hanoi. A city that is fast expanding but still retains character and small city charm. If staying the best place to aim for is the city’s old quarter, or as close to it as you can get. A centrally located hotel is the Maison De Hanoi which offers compact but boutique style rooms and good service. Hanoi’s sights include Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the Temple of Literature, the Hanoi Hilton (prison in which John McCain was housed during the American/Vietnam war) as well as The Hanoi Wat Museum and the West Lake. All of these sights are accessible via taxi, or by foot. Cyclo’s (a traditional form of transport) are all but banned from the city and Motorbike transport is unsafe and not advised. As ever, be sure to check to taxi is officially registered and metered!
Sightseeing aside Hanoi offers some incredible restaurants in which you can enjoy a meal from $5 per person and favourite amongst conventional tourists and backpackers is the ‘fresh beer’. Costing around $0.20 a glass. No Vietnam tour is complete without a fresh beer. Fresh beer is typically served on street corners (immediately next to bustling city roads) and enjoyed in small plastic chairs.
Halong Bay – another of Vietnam’s World Heritage sites – is just a three hour drive from Hanoi. Popularised by the French film Indochine Halong Bay is breathtaking. Views of the bay can be enjoyed throughout the area (including Halong city) and good accommodation can be sought out in Halong city itself. Overnight options on the bay are available as are the day excursions. Be sure to ensure the boats carry safety certificates and the appropriate paperwork! Aside from the bay Halong Town does not offer much else in the way of entertainment so a couple of days and an overnight stay is normally sufficient.
With all Vietnam tours, research widely and be sure to book with an established tour operator.