Vietnam is a paradise for lovers of beautiful landscapes. Wonderful sandy beaches, spectacular mangrove forests and rice terraces, the exotic scenery of the Mekong Delta – it is a country so rich in natural beauties that you can hardly wish for more. Yet Vietnam has a lot more to offer. Its culture is one of the oldest in Southeast Asia, with amazing temples and ancient buildings to discover, and its crowded cities with their crazy traffic and tons of motorcycles have a really unique atmosphere. It is also one of the most popular destinations of culinary tourism since its food (including its cheap street food) is truly delicious.
Cities and attractions in Vietnam
Things to see and do in Vietnam
Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
This 250-kilometer network of tunnels, which was used by Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, has been preserved as a memorial park and is one of the historical highlights of Vietnam. Exploring the narrow tunnels is a really enlightening and intriguing experience. Excellent guided tours provide abundant information about the tunnels and the remnants of the war exhibited in the park.
Muong Hoa Valley
Rice terraces are an image of Vietnam and the gorgeous green and yellow swathes of rice paddies of the Muong Hoa Valley really are an unforgettable sight. You can take stunning photos and also learn a lot about the cultivation of rice, especially if you take a guided tour. The best time to visit the rice terraces is between August and September before the rice is harvested.
Floating markets in the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta with its beautiful scenery is a popular destination for day trips from Ho Chi Minh City. One of the highlights of the area is the floating markets, where fresh fruits and vegetables are sold from boats. You can hire a sampan (wooden boat) to discover the markets. The best time to go is at sunrise when the products are fresh and hopefully, the place is not yet flooded with tourist boats.
Temples in the old quarter of Hanoi
Besides its fascinating museums, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam is famous for its picturesque temples. Take a stroll and discover the beautiful pagodas situated in the old quarter of the city to admire their architecture and learn about how religion is practiced in Vietnam. The Temple of Literature, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Kim Lien Pagoda and the One Pillar Pagoda are some of the many sites worth visiting.
Explore Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam. It is a vibrant megapolis, which has a modern atmosphere yet contains countless traces of its rich history. Whether you are a culture addict, a fan of modern architecture or just want to enjoy the unique ambiance of a Vietnamese metropolis, Ho Chi Minh is well worth a visit.
Go diving in Nha Trang
Nha Trang, a nice beach resort on the South-Central Coast of Vietnam, is a favorite spot for divers. Try snorkeling or take a diving course and explore the depths of the underwater world.
Relax in Hoi An
Hoi An is the most traditional of Vietnam’s popular tourist destinations. It has a rich cultural heritage and a unique laid-back atmosphere. Walking around the old town with its hundreds of well-preserved ancient buildings you can discover the Vietnam of centuries past. Relax and enjoy the famous Hoi An cuisine.
What to eat and drink in Vietnam
Vietnam, and Hoi An, in particular, is generally regarded as a “culinary mecca” and attracts gourmets from all over the world. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s not much worth to make your own meals, since eating out is really cheap and you will enjoy the great variety of street food. Vietnamese cuisine is also one of the healthiest in the world, as it contains plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs.
One of the best-known dishes is Pho, a soup served with rice noodles and beef or chicken and seasoned with Vietnamese basil, mint, and lime. Goi Cuon or Vietnamese summer rolls are also very popular. They contain shrimp or pork rolled up in rice paper and are served with a special peanut dipping sauce.
As for drinks, tea is quite popular, most people favoring green tea and flower-scented white tea. Snake rice wine or Ruou is a Vietnamese specialty containing a pickled snake, which is supposed to improve health and virility. Vietnam also has a rich coffee culture, and its charming coffee shops offer a great way to relax.
Typical travel costs
Solo travelers on a budget can get a single bed in a hostel for8 USD, while a basic double room in a hotel costs about 20 USD.
Food and drinks
Being a street food paradise, Vietnam offers great dishes for ridiculously low prices. At a roadside eatery, you can have a bowl of delicious pho soup or a Vietnamese meat sandwich for around 1-2 USD. For a good seafood dinner for two expect to pay around15-20 USD.
The average price of a bottle of water, a small bottle of local beer or a can of coke around are all under 0.50 USD.
Since traffic is a nightmare in Vietnam, I do not recommend hiring a car to travel around. Bus and train tickets are very cheap (around 1 USD for every 30 miles) and overnight buses take you to most major cities (Ho Chi Minh – Hanoi from 32 USD). There are also domestic airlines, and flights are also surprisingly cheap, so you might decide to hop on a plane to travel from one place to another (Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh from 60 USD).
Tickets to museums and other sites are typically cheap, around1-2 USD. If you use a guide, though, be prepared to pay around 5-10 USD per excursion.
As far as personal safety is concerned, Vietnam is a really safe country to travel in, even for solo female travelers. Is it safe for your belongings? Well, not so much. We shouldn’t be surprised that in a developing country like Vietnam there tend to be more people desperate to get money by any means. While serious incidents, such as mugging and sexual assault are rare, petty crime is on the rise. Besides pickpocketing, bag/purse/mobile phone snatching (from motorbikes) occurs frequently. Exercise caution and use your common sense to protect your stuff: always keep an eye on your belongings, don’t walk around wearing valuable jewelry, and don’t talk on your mobile while walking in a crowded street. The best way to carry your money and other valuables are in a money belt.
Another source of danger in Vietnam is the chaotic traffic in urban areas. You will see more motorbikes here than you have in your entire life, and traffic laws are hardly observed. People often choose to ride their motorbikes on the pavement and crossing a street is a real challenge. Traffic accident rates are so high that traffic is sometimes called Vietnam’s hidden epidemic. Better safe than sorry, a travel insurance is almost a must in Vietnam, preferably one that covers theft, loss and medical care.