How To Travel Vietnam: The Ultimate Guide

travel vietnam and ninh binh

After living in Vietnam for 18 months I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge about the country. Not only about living in the crazy capital city that is Hanoi, but also experiences from travelling in Vietnam. I spent most of my time in Hanoi teaching English to Kindergarten students. But when I wasn’t teaching I took every chance I had to explore the country. Taking short breaks away with friends, or alone, to various towns and cities. So if you’re looking for travel advice, top tips, things to see and do when you travel Vietnam, I’ve got you covered.

hanoi

I travelled to Vietnam in March 2017. I planned to backpack around the country before continuing my travels through Southeast Asia. But after only a few short days into my stay in Hanoi, I fell in love. I fell in love with the generosity and kindness of the local people. The delicious and insanely cheap food. The amazing friends I made in the hostels. I fell in love with the culture; the happiness, and infectious smiles of people I met. The way of life was nothing I’d experienced before. 

For anyone who is keen to travel Vietnam, here’s my ultimate guide for you.

Travel Vietnam North to South, or South to North? 

That’s the typical route many take when they travel Vietnam. Starting from one part of the country and travelling through all the main hotspots.

Vietnam isn’t a huge country, but it is very long. 

Starting from the top and working my way down, here’s a list of the places I’ve been, seen and fell in love with. 

If you need any more information about travel in Vietnam, things to see and do, places to visit, best times to visit leave me a comment below or reach out to me on the contact page.

Without futherado here’s my Vietnam travel guide.

Hanoi

hoan kiem lake

The capital of Vietnam. The city is known for its centuries-old architecture with huge influences from Southeast Asia, China and France. At the heart of the city is the bustling Old Quarter, where the narrow streets are filled with street traders and food outlets. You can expect streets to be chaotic with people, but more so, motorbikes. And if you’re waiting to cross a busy road, keep an eye out for those motorbikes. It’s not uncommon to see a family of five on the back of the bike, perhaps barrels of beer strapped onto the seat, or even a dead pig being taken to a nearby restaurant for dinner that night.

crazy motorbike traffic

If you enjoy quiet and relaxing places, you probably aren’t going to like Hanoi. It’s busy, overcrowded, chaotic and noisy. But it’s full to the brim with character and culture and that’s why it’s my NUMBER #1 favourite. Rich in history, but also modern with the times. If you’re a big fan of the city, I have no doubt you’ll love this place. 

If visiting Hanoi on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday it’s worth heading to the Old Quarter at night. On each of these days the main roads are closed off to traffic and pop up market stalls line the streets selling all kinds of souvenirs and foods. And if you walk towards Hoan Kiem Lake, you can expect to see performers and musicians taking to the streets to keep crowds of tourists and locals entertained. 

market food

Places to visit: 

  • Hoan Kiem Lake 
  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 
  • Old Quarter
  • Hanoi Opera House
  • Hoa Lo Prison 
  • Dong Xuan Market – a crazy, busy market! It is a chaotic masterpiece!
  • Long Bien Bridge – built by the same architect as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The bridge was bombed during the Vietnam / American war and as you walk along it you can see where chunks of the bridge were destroyed.
  • Train Street – walk along train tracks that run through the city alongside houses. 
  • Bia Hoi (the Vietnamese version of a pub/bar. Fresh, cheap beer for around $0.20 a cup). Whilst you’re there why not try some rice wine too. There are hundreds of Bia Hoi’s all over Vietnam but they all do pretty much the same thing.

Sapa

Transport: travel by overnight bus or book a tour from Hanoi.

vietnam travel guide sapa

A town in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam. Sapa is a popular destination for travellers looking to take on a trek or hike challenge. The Muong Hoa Valley overlooks lush green terraced rice fields, rolling hills, overgrown valleys and top it off, just 9km away you’ve got Mount Fansipan. Standing at 3,143 meters it’s the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula. Reaching the summit of Mount Fansipan takes 20 minutes by cable car, but if you’re fit, daring and have a few days to spare you could take a climb to the top via a steep guided walk.

Hill tribes, such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao, make up much of Sapa’s local population. I’d definitely recommend staying in a homestay with locals. You’ll experience so much more than you normally would from a hotel. Expect authentic Vietnamese meals at a family dinner, a tour of the local area and seeing what these wonderful people get up to in their day-to-day lives. 

vietnam travel guide sapa

The homestays are very basic, imagine little huts with thin mattresses for beds, and you might not be guaranteed hot shower water. But it’s definitely worth the experience. 

Things to do: 

  • Trekking 
  • Visit Mount Fansipan 

Watch my vlog below to see what I go up to in Sapa. 

Hà Giang

Transport: travel by bus or rent a motorbike and drive yourself there. 

This is the one place I’m yet to tick off my Vietnam travel list. Nonetheless, I’ve added it on here because I’ve heard nothing but amazing stories from very close friends and locals… so I’m taking their recommendations.

Hà Giang is a province in northern Vietnam, bordering China. Known for its forested limestone and granite mountains, like Sapa it has beautiful landscapes. 

But unlike Sapa, it is untouched by mass tourism. But the main reason many backpackers and travellers visit Hà Giang is for the infamous motorbike loop. Drive through the picture postcard mountains of Meo Vac.

Things to do:

  • motorbike loop – check the weather and give yourself enough time.
  • Ban gioc waterfall – one of the biggest in SE Asia! 

Hạ Long Bay

Transport: travel by bus from Hanoi

vietnam travel guide halong bay

Hạ Long Bay, in northeast Vietnam, is the image that many people associate with when they think of Vietnam. The emerald waters and towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. But the region is popular among tourist for boat tours, scuba diving, kayaking, rock climbing and hiking, particularly in mountainous Cát Bà National Park.

Ninh Bình

Transport: Travel by bus or train from Hanoi

vietnam travel guide ninh binh

Ninh Bình city is a small city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam. A train journey from Hanoi. If you’ve had too much noise and craziness from Hanoi, spend a day or two in this relaxing little town in the countryside.

Things to see and do:

  • Tam Coc river – you can take a boat tour which is very picturesque.
  • Visit a number of Pagodas.
  • Lying down dragon – climb up to the top and watch the sunset from the top.
  • Tam Coc Bich Dong – a cluster of cave temples in a mountain.
  • Rent motorbikes or bicycles and explore.
  • Trek through rice paddies – dependant on season and weather.
  • boat ride the Tam Coc river 
  • Visit some pagodas 
  • Rent some bikes and drive around 
  • Trekking – dependant on season and weather.

Watch my vlog below to see what I go up to in Ninh Bình. 

Da Nang 

Transport: Travel by train from most major cities.

vietnam travel guide golden hands

Da Nang is a coastal city in central Vietnam known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port. It’s a popular base for visiting Ba Na Hills, which is most famous for the Golden Bridge that opened there in 2018.

Places to visit: 

  • Marble Mountains
  • My Son
  • Dragon Bridge – The bridge is closed off to traffic for a short period each weekend so that a fire display can take place. Tourists gather each night to watch as the dragon spits out fire.
  • Golden Bridge hands – in Ba Na Hills
  • Ba Na Hills – a quirky place. What can only be described as a Vietnamese-like Disneyland. Very touristy, too touristy for me. In fact, I didn’t quite like it. Everything seemed very fake and plastic. But maybe that’s just me.
golden hands

Hội An

Transport: Travel by train or bus. If coming from Da Nang you can get a taxi for around $30 which takes around 45 minutes. 

vietnam travel guide hoi an

Hội An is a city on Vietnam’s central coast most famous for its well-preserved Ancient Town. It’s my favourite Vietnamese town because of the natural beauty which is bursting with history.

Roads in the Ancient Town are pedestrianised so hire some push bikes and cycle around the beautiful town. 

Things to see and do:

  • Night markets and day markets
  • Take a boat ride in a coconut boat 
  • An Bang Beach 
  • Walk through the town during the night – the streets are all lit up with lanterns. It’s so romantic and beautiful 😍 
  • Cau Chua Pagoda
  • Thanh Ha Pottery Village

Watch to see what I got up to when I visited Hội An with my best friend.

Phong Nha

Transport: travel by bus or train from any major city 

vietnam travel guide caves

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is a protected area in north-central Vietnam. Known for its mountainous landscapes, tropical forests and underground rivers and vast network of caves. These include the huge Sơn Đoòng cave which is the world’s largest cave. But with a $3,000 price tag and waiting list, it’s not very easy to visit. Instead travellers can check out Phong Nha, Paradise and Dark cave. The area’s rich wildlife includes tigers, black bears and elephants.

Things to do:

  • Paradise cave
  • Phong Nha cave
  • Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park
  • Water sports
  •  Phong Nha Town and Local Market
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Đà Lạt

Transport: travel by bus, train or fly from any major city.

vietnam travel guide da lat

Đà Lạt, the capital of Lâm Đồng Province in southern Vietnam’s Central Highlands, is surrounded by hills, pine forests, lakes and waterfalls. It’s very beautiful. As my taxi was driving me from the airport to my hostel I didn’t quite think I was still in Vietnam. Đà Lạt is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its distinctive cooler climate. The city was developed as a resort by the French in the early 1900s and there are many reminders of this colonial heritage through architecture.

Places to visit: 

  • Hằng Nga Crazy House
  • Flower Gardens
  • Đà Lạt Market (Cho Dalat)
  • Đà Lạt Night Market
  • Xuan Huong Lake
  • Datanla Waterfall 
  • Hoa Son Dien Trang 
  • Adventure sports – canyoning and water rafting is incredible here. (As you can tell from the pictures!)

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

vietnam travel guide post office hcmc

Lastly, no Vietnam travel guide should miss out to this bustling city. Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as Saigon) is the second largest city in Vietnam. The city is famous for the pivotal role it played during the Vietnam / American War.

Places to visit: 

  • Cu Chi Tunnels 
  • War Museum
  • Ben Thanh Market 
  • Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica – made entirely of materials imported from France
  • 19th-Century Post Office
  • Artinus 3D Art museum 
  • Chill Sky Bar Saigon

Phú Quốc

vietnam travel guide phu quoc

Transport: fly from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Phú Quốc is a Vietnamese island which lies off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s known for white-sand beaches and fancy beach resorts. More than half of the island is part of Phú Quốc National Park, which includes mountains, tropical jungle, hiking trails and wildlife.

Places to visit: 

  • Duong Dong Day and Night Markets
  • Sao Beach – white sand and crystal blue water.
  • Phú Quốc National Park 
  • Hon Thom Cable Car – longest cable car in the world.
  • Ho Quoc Pagoda

Have you travelled to Vietnam before? If yes, where was your favourite place? Leave me a comment in the box below!

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Maya
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In the last 4 months I've had an incredible time travelling in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and now Vietnam. To top
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