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Any preconceived notion of Vietnam will quickly disintegrate upon arrival. The most enthralling country in southeast Asia is dynamic, diverse and full of head-spinning contradictions.

Long, narrow and boasting 3,444km of coastline, Vietnam’s character varies from one province to the next. The north has limestone mountains, hill tribes, world famous Halong Bay and the vibrant capital city of Hanoi. In the centre, the largest cave in the world, waterfalls and the charming UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An. The south has languid beaches, tropical islands, the fertile Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest metropolis.

Venture outside of the cities and it doesn’t take long to find yourself immersed in a traditional rural world of agriculture and fishing. Imperial dynasty, French colonial and war-time vestiges remain — and some citizens continue to suffer from the legacy of Agent Orange and unexploded ordinances. But Vietnam isn’t focused on its turbulent past; nearly 100 million citizens are busy hustling for a brighter future. The result is a fascinating mix of old and modernity.

Just when you think you have the country figured out, it’ll surprise like a cinematic plot twist. Unabating, unforgettable — that’s Vietnam.

10 days

Vietnam north to south

Cities, Mekong Delta and Halong Bay
Hanoi (2 days) Halong Bay (1) Hoi An (2) Ho Chi Minh City (2) Mekong Delta (2) Ho Chi Minh City (1)
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12 days

Classic Vietnam

Historical cities and rural waterways
Hanoi (2 days) Halong Bay (2) Hue (2) Hoi An (2) Ho Chi Minh City (1) Mekong Delta (2) Ho Chi Minh City (1)
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14 days

Culture, cities and beach resorts

Vietnam’s cultural highlights plus a beach break
Hanoi (2 days) Halong Bay (2) Hue (2) Hoi An (2) Ho Chi Minh City (1) Mekong Delta (2) Phu Quoc (2) Ho Chi Minh City (1)
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  • Ho Chi Minh City

    Ho Chi Minh City

    Previously known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City changed its name after Vietnam unified following the Vietnam War...
  • Hanoi

    Hanoi

    Vietnam’s capital is a riot of blaring horns, stunning architecture and delicious street food...
  • Sapa

    ...
  • Hoi An

    Hoi An

    Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most attractive cities, due in part to the preservation of historic buildings in its Old Town (Hoi An avoided being bombed in the Vietnam War)...
  • Halong Bay

    Halong Bay

    Halong Bay is a World Heritage Site and Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination...
  • Mekong Delta

    Mekong Delta

    The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s breadbasket, with 70% of the country’s fruit and 50% of its rice grown here...
  • Phu Quoc

    Phu Quoc

    Phu Quoc is an idyllic island that offers beaches, diving and kayaking to those looking to escape the bustle of Vietnam’s cities...
  • Hue

    Hue

    Charming Hue was once the capital of the Nguyen dynasty and is a great place to explore the history of Imperial Vietnam...
  • Dalat

    Dalat

    Dive into a bit of adventure with a guided canyoning experience at the Elephant and Pongour Waterfalls near to the city of Dalat in Vietnam’s central highlands...
  • Con Dao Islands

    Con Dao Islands

    This remote archipelago off the southern coast is Vietnam’s premier spot for viewing sea life...
  • Phong Nha Caves

    Phong Nha Caves

    Home to the largest and third largest cave in the world, Phong Nha is a wonder of ancient karst and underground worlds...
  • Fansipan Mountain

    Fansipan Mountain

    At 3,143m, Fansipan is the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula...

Elephants in Asia, Ethically

Humane experiences with Asia’s sacred animal

Elephant riding in Asia may seem commonplace and normal, no different to horseback or camel rides. Too few realize that with elephants — an undomesticated animal and endangered species — it’s much more complicated. That's why we created this guide.

Get the guide

Seasons and climate

Stretching 1,650km, Vietnam is so long that it has three climate zones — north, central and south — each experiencing its own weather patterns. Tropical monsoons create two annual seasons: rainy and dry. Travellers should also be aware of the typhoon season. From August to December, there is a small chance of a typhoon or tropical depression rolling in from the ocean resulting in serious rainfall and flooding. October tends to be the most intense storm period.

There isn’t a bad time to visit Vietnam as there will always be differences within the country at any given time. For example, in January there can be snow in Sapa, torrential rain in Hue, perfect wind conditions for kiteboarding in Mui Ne and ideal beach weather in Phu Quoc. Choose a few destinations and activities and use the optimal time for those to decide when to visit Vietnam. For the rest, come prepared and take it all in stride like the locals.

High season is December to March; it is cool and dry in Hanoi and warm in the south, a reprieve from the heat and humidity. Attractions are busy and hotels charge higher rates. March and April may be the sweet spot: it is spring in the north, the rainy season has ended in the central coast and has yet to begin in the south. School holidays in July and August are a popular time for Vietnamese families to go on holiday. Expect resorts and tourist sites to be more busy than usual.

Month-by-month

North
The north including Hanoi has four seasons. The best times to visit are April to June (spring/beginning of summer) and September to December (fall/beginning of winter). It is oppressively humid, hot and rainy from June to August, while December to March is cold and indoor heating is rare. Hanoi dips to 10C while mountain regions like Sapa can experience snow. April is a terrific time for Sapa, as well as September/early October when the terraced rice paddies are vibrant, full and near to harvest.

Central
Central Vietnam has two seasons: hot and sunny; cool and wet. Generally, September to January/February is rainy and cool. Unlike the south’s short monsoon downpours, the rain here can drag on. Hoi An’s old town floods after particularly heavy rainfall. When the sun comes out from March to August, it is extremely hot -- the ideal time to hit the central coast beaches.

South
There’s a popular saying in the south: “There are two seasons: hot and hotter”. Temperatures here do not dip below 20C. Expect pleasant, warm, dry weather and tranquil oceans from November to February. The “hotter” part comes in March and April when temperatures soar.

The rainy season runs from May to September. Hotels offer low season rates and tourist attractions are less crowded so it can be a great time to visit by simply working around the daily downpour that lasts an hour or two. Temperatures cool down after the rain, and places like Cat Tien National Park and the Mekong Delta are lush and beautiful. However, lowland areas with rivers such as Ho Chi Minh City do experience flooding. The seas are rough around Phu Quoc Island. Those looking for beach time should head up towards the central coast to Qui Nhon, Da Nang, Hoi An and Nha Trang.

Known as the “city of eternal spring”, Da Lat in the Central Highlands is famous for its temperate climate, warm in the day and fresh at night throughout the year. Like the south, the rainy season is from May to September.

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Festival and events

Tet, Vietnamese New Year, is the country’s biggest celebration. Falling in February or March according to the lunar calendar, this public holiday lasts a week, sometimes longer, with the buzz of anticipation building weeks in advance. The New Year is traditionally celebrated by returning home to be with the family, but it has also become a popular time to go on holiday. That means hotels and transport are maxed out, and some tourist sites and restaurants are closed. Avoid travelling the week before and during Tet.

Taking place on the 14th and 15th day of the eighth lunar month, usually in September, the Mid-Autumn Festival (Tet Trung Thu) celebrates the harvest. It’s also known as the “Children’s Festival”. Youngsters play games, sing songs around the neighbourhood and receive treats. Families honour their ancestors and gift friends with moon cakes. Compact, charming towns such as Hoi An or Da Lat are ideal for taking in the festivities, which culminate in a lion dance procession through the streets.

National Day commemorates Ho Chi Minh’s declaration of Vietnam’s independence from France and Japan on September 2, 1945. Patriotic pride is on full display in the big cities Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang with flags, fireworks and a military parade.

Held on the 14th day of every lunar month, the Hoi An Lantern Festival transforms the already atmospheric town into a glowing wonderland. Locals set up altars in front of businesses and homes, and visit temples. On the touristic side of things, the streets are festooned with lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours. The gimmick is undeniably pretty and photogenic.

What to eat and drink


Vietnam is synonymous with eating. You can’t turn a street corner without encountering something that looks, smells and tastes delicious. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have hip, contemporary dining scenes, but the country is still best known for its street food and bolthole shops specialising in one dish.

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Street vendor selling fruit in Hanoi

Highlights

No trip should go without joining locals on the footpaths sipping tumblers of Bia Hoi draught beer or strong Vietnamese coffee, a national pastime. Enjoy it hot, iced or sweetened with condensed milk. In Hanoi, hot coffee whipped with egg and sugar transforms it into an indulgent sweet treat.

Pho has become the international ambassador for Vietnamese cuisine. Inexpensive and deceptively simple, the noodle soup is made by slowly simmering beef bones with charred ginger, onions and spices like star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and cloves. Pho in the north is a simpler affair. Only sliced onions and scallions are added to the clear, delicate broth. Southern-style pho is sweeter and richer. Adding fresh herbs and bean sprouts are part of the eating ritual. Which is better? Try both to decide for yourself.

Vietnam_Pho

Phở soup

Banh mi is an example of French colonial influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The East-meets-West baguette sandwich is a sum of many good things: crusty baguette, paté, a medley of cold cuts, pickled daikon and carrots, scallions, mayonnaise, chilli and coriander.

However, Vietnamese cuisine is much more than just pho and banh mi, and is extremely regional. A journey through the country could be told in noodle soups. Hue Province's signature is bun bo Hue, an umami and lemongrass rich soup of beef and rice vermicelli. Turmeric-infused mi quang is a staple in Quang Nam Province. Popular in the south, banh canh cua are starchy tapioca noodles and crab in a thick broth. Another southern soup is bun rieu cua, rice vermicelli, pork broth and a cake of freshwater crab.

Vietnam_Pork-Banh-Mi-Sandwich

Vietnamese Pork Banh Mi Sandwich

Walk along any city street, river or beach in Vietnam and chances are there’s something sizzling on a charcoal barbecue. Joints where people can grill their own meat, fresh seafood and snails at the table are popular. So are places serving nem nuong, garlicky pork sausage that diners make into lettuce wraps. In fact, grilled pork is the star of several favourite dishes like com tam – pork and a helping of cooked broken rice grains, fried egg, pickles and tangy nuoc cham dressing. It tops bun thit nuong, a vermicelli noodle salad. In 2016, Barack Obama and chef Anthony Bourdain ate Hanoi bun cha – grilled pork patties and noodles dipped into a flavourful broth.

Finally, don’t leave Vietnam without trying the riot of tropical fruits like rambutans, mangosteen, pomelo, jackfruit, durian and dragonfruit.

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Vendors selling street food, Hanoi

National parks

Vietnam's outstanding natural beauty

In 2003, UNESCO recognised Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park as one of the world’s most outstanding limestone karst ecosystems. The park is home to Hang Son Doong and Hang En, the largest and third largest caves in the world. While Hang Son Doong is out of reach for most (the expeditions are expensive and physically demanding), there are many other extraordinary caves and areas of the park to explore, including a section of the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail. Boats ferry passengers on an underground river through namesake Phong Nha Cave, while a kilometre-long boardwalk gives visitors an eye-full of the 31km long Paradise Cave.

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View of Crocodile Lake, Cat Tien National Park

Cat Tien National Park in south Vietnam offers nature, hiking and prime bird and wildlife viewing opportunities just 160km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. Covering 71,920 hectares and bound by the Dong Nai River, the lowland tropical rainforest and wetlands contain monkeys, civets, sambar, guar, langurs, wild crocodiles and a number of bird species like the endangered pitta. The park is also home to a Sun and Moon bear sanctuary, opening to the public in 2019. Visitors can do one-day or multi-day treks, boat trips and night safaris.

Remote and covered in jungle, Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands off the southern coast. Once used by the French as a prison, the largest island offers both a sombre history lesson and some of the best independent hiking in the country. Con Dao National Park covers 6,000 hectares of land and 14,000 hectares of the surrounding ocean. After registering with the park office, visitors can walk a number of marked forest trails that end at secluded beaches. Con Dao is also one of the best places for diving in Vietnam.

Hill tribes

Cultural Vietnam, ethically

Vietnam has staggering ethnic diversity. After the majority Viet (Kinh), there are 53 ethnic groups, many with their own language, traditions, spiritual beliefs and agriculture. The hill tribes in the north are the most well known; photos of them in their unique dress have been used to promote “exotic” Indochine since the French colonial era.

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Child wearing decorated tradition clothes hat of hill tribe in Sapa

Once a French hill station and retreat, Sapa in Lao Cai Province is the hub for northern hill tribe trekking and homestays, experiences that combine mountain scenery, lovely terraced rice paddies and ethnic villages. There are, however, serious concerns about over tourism, unbridled development and respect, with villages and the famed Bac Ha Sunday Market becoming human zoos.

A few tips if you do decide to visit Vietnam’s hill tribes: A visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi is essential to learn more about the ethnic groups and their culture. Instead of a one-night trek, spend the time and money to go further afield. Make an effort to interact with locals (and not just for a photo); a good guide can be instrumental in bridging the gap.

Seeing a fraction of the tourists, Ha Giang Province also has hill tribes and mountain landscapes. Hiking Mu Cang Chai is an excellent way to see stunning terraced rice paddies and learn about the Black Hmong. Kon Tum in the Central Highlands has eight minority groups. The Jarai are known for their fascinating burial rituals and towering thatch roof building used for village ceremonies. Treks and village stays will immerse travellers in this place where relatively few outsiders venture.

Halong Bay

Vietnam's star attraction

Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay is Vietnam’s star attraction. More than 1600 karst islands and islets jut up from the ocean, each tower of rock uniquely shaped by nature.

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Tourist "junks" floating in Ha Long Bay

Overnight cruises on traditional boats known as junks explore some of the 43,400-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site, usually with stops to kayak the formations, visit caverns and explore traditional floating fishing villages. Two-night cruises allow for deeper exploration and a chance to get out of crowded waters.

In Hanoi, the hundreds of agencies that sell tours are middle-men who are not actually running the trip, so buyer beware. When choosing a boat, the size, level of comfort and service ranges from backpacker party boats to luxurious private cruises. The general rule of thumb is you get what you pay for when choosing a Halong Bay cruise.

The best time to visit Halong Bay is springtime from March to May/June, as well as September/October. These periods are most likely to have warm, dry weather. The peak tourist season of November to February can be good if you don’t mind cold temperatures (12 to 20 Celsius) and mist that reduces visibility. Halong Bay’s off-season coincides with the hot, humid, rainy months of June to August; operators offer discounts though cruises may be cancelled due to stormy weather.

Where to go in Vietnam

Our recommended places

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Previously known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City changed its name after Vietnam unified following the Vietnam War. This is the place to learn more about Vietnam’s recent past, with many museums, monument and sites like the Cu Chi Tunnels, where North Vietnamese soldiers hid during the War.

Beyond history, Ho Chi Minh City is now one of Vietnam’s most innovative cities and a centre of commerce. This is the place to see the Vietnam of the past and the future, with ancient temples mingling with 21st-century skyscrapers.

Hanoi

Hanoi

Vietnam’s capital is a riot of blaring horns, stunning architecture and delicious street food. Head to the original streets of the Old Quarter, where market traders have been selling their wares for more than 1,000 years, before exploring the city’s historical heritage, influenced by Chinese and French occupations and the scars of the American War.

Make sure to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, dedicated to the man who fought for a unified Vietnam, before lapping up the city’s coffee culture and street food stalls.

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s most attractive cities, due in part to the preservation of historic buildings in its Old Town (Hoi An avoided being bombed in the Vietnam War). Look out for Chinese temples, Japanese merchant houses and evocative tea warehouses, or head to the enticing market on the Thu Bon river. Hoi An is also an excellent base for exploring the villages and countryside of central Vietnam.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a World Heritage Site and Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination. Take an overnight cruise around the Bay’s 2,000 beautiful islets, stopping to see the shimmering lights in Hang Sung Sot Cave, go diving in the clear water or simply enjoy the scenery.

For a slightly less crowded experience, head to Cat Ba Island to cycle around its peaceful countryside or travel on to the equally beautiful Lan Ha Bay.

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s breadbasket, with 70% of the country’s fruit and 50% of its rice grown here. This maze of rivers, rice paddies and floating markets offers visitors the chance to see rural Vietnam and experience farm life, whether onboard a floating boat or through a homestay with local families. The many villages are also a good place to try some of Vietnam’s varied cuisine.

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is an idyllic island that offers beaches, diving and kayaking to those looking to escape the bustle of Vietnam’s cities. Once a quiet backwater, Phu Quoc has rapidly embraced tourism. It’s worth looking beyond the resorts of Long Beach if you want a quieter, more tropical experience. Make sure to try some seafood on Phu Quoc — the island’s residents are traditional fishermen and its claim to fame is the production of Vietnam’s best fish sauce.

Hue

Hue

Charming Hue was once the capital of the Nguyen dynasty and is a great place to explore the history of Imperial Vietnam. Look out for its rambling architecture and fascinating museums, such as the tombs of the Ancient Emperors and the Tu Hieu Pagoda, or take a peaceful cruise along the Perfume River.

Dalat

Dalat

Dive into a bit of adventure with a guided canyoning experience at the Elephant and Pongour Waterfalls near to the city of Dalat in Vietnam’s central highlands. The region’s fertile soils yield natural resources aplenty but wildlife still thrives here, including elephants, bears and gibbons.

Con Dao Islands

Con Dao Islands

This remote archipelago off the southern coast is Vietnam’s premier spot for viewing sea life. Turtles, rays, barracuda and tropical reef fish are possible at 21 dive sites. For those who prefer nature on land, the island’s national park boasts trails and secluded, undeveloped beaches.

Phong Nha Caves

Phong Nha Caves

Home to the largest and third largest cave in the world, Phong Nha is a wonder of ancient karst and underground worlds. Venture into the longest dry cave in Asia, take a boat on an underground river through Phong Nha Cave or swim into the unlit Dark Cave.

Fansipan Mountain

Fansipan Mountain

At 3,143m, Fansipan is the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula. With ethereal panoramas of the Hoang Lien mountain range from the summit, the 1-3 day hike is a must for adventure seekers, while the cable car from Sapa provides a slightly gentler option.

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