Just one country within the popular travel region of South East Asia, Vietnam is no stranger to tourism. Most (if not all) of the country is accessible and easy to explore, including overland borders crossings to Laos and Cambodia which are straightforward.
In Vietnam expect budget style accommodation without all the mod cons, and lower end of the spectrum amenities; in other words this probably isn’t the country to explore if you’re a princess. But what you will receive is a place with delicious cuisine, interesting history, and spectacular scenery. Here’s everything you need to know, for your trip to Vietnam.
Vietnamese dong is the national currency and most widely used for travel. USD is also accepted, particularly for larger sums such as accommodation payment. There are plenty of ATMs throughout the country but always have small denominations on you when paying for items; large sums of change are often unwelcome or result in no charge returned.
All visitors require an entry visa which should be lodged prior to departure, for pick up on arrival as you head through customs at the airport. It’s mandatory to have a minimum of 6 months duration on your passport, from date of expected departure from Vietnam, otherwise you won’t be eligible for entry.
visas for New Zealand residents can click this link: vietnamvisa.govt.vn/new-zealand-citizens/
For all other nationalities, lodge your visa at: vietnamvisa.govt.vn/australian-citizens/
Ho Chi Minh – Mui Ne – Hoi an – Da Nang (airport) – Hanoi – Sapa – Halong bay – Hanoi
Starting in Ho Chi Minh and travelling north means your trip ends with the spectacular scenery of Halong Bay and relaxation, rather than the busy, noisy city of Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi (northern region and closest city to Halong bay) has a large international airport, and many airlines will sell tickets which fly into Ho Chi Minh, and out of Hanoi.
From Ho Chi Minh take a bus to Mui Ne. This is a small beach town that is most famous for kite surfing, but also has an enjoyable evening bar and restaurant scene, which is preferable to the alternative beach destination of Nga Trang.
I recommend booking your bus ticket at Ho Chi Minh; no need to do so before arrival as one day in advance is plenty, and your hotel or guest house can assist you if needed.
Once arriving in Mui Ne, let your driver know where you wish to get off; Mui Ne is essentially on the main road that runs along the coast of the country, and your driver will pull over anywhere to drop you off. Don’t forget to let the driver know though; he may continue through the town!
Length of stay in Mui Ne depends on your preference, but it’s probably the only nice beach in the country so you may like to stay anywhere from 2 or 3 days up to 5 or 6. If your objective is a beach holiday, this probably isn’t the right country for you, as beaches aren’t what Vietnam excels in, so you wouldn’t likely spend the same length of time here as you would on a beach holiday in other parts of the world. Keep in mind too that Vietnam is conservative and it’s considered inappropriate to be bathing in skimpy swimwear. Leave G String swimwear at home, and keep your bikini straps on or the beach guard will have a word with you.
The overnight bus is an effective way to travel; it saves wasted days in transit and you can sleep while you move. The sleeper buses in Vietnam are particularly clever; they’re essentially a bus full of bunks beds, so sleeping is relatively comfortable and the roads are in good condition.
Da Nang is not worth spending time in itself, but is a good option to base yourself, for day trips to Hoi An and marble mountain. Da Nang also has an airport for your domestic flight to Hanoi, after spending time in Hoi An.
Hoi An is an absolute must do; no trip to Vietnam is complete without spending time here either as a full day to explore, or as an overnight with two days to explore. No need for longer, and tailored clothing can be made in a surprisingly short length of time. Hoi An is a 45 minute drive from Danang, and cars with driver can be arranged easily from your hotel.
Marble mountain is also a short drive from Danang and worth a day.
Flights from Da Nang to Hanoi take around 90 minutes, are relatively cheap, and a good option as there isn’t a lot to see by land, over this section of the country. Book with Vietnam airlines, Jet Star, or Tiger Air.
Once arriving in Hanoi, spend time walking the alleys, taking in the sights, and compare deals for your trip to Sapa. There’s so need to book Sapa before arriving in Vietnam, and booking in person a day or two before departure will give you the benefit of being able to haggle a better deal; there are a lot of companies side by side who are vying for your business.
Trekking Sapa should come with a warning; while it’s certainly a countryside, hill region which is worth exploring, it’s also incredibly touristy. Irrespective of how much you pay, or the trek style you select, you will be with plenty of other foreigners and busy fending off hagglers. It’s a reminder that Vietnam hasn’t captured tourism in the same way that other countries have, by enforcing the strategy of excellent hospitality and value being what will make travellers return; in Vietnam there is still plenty to learn about tourism.
Things to Consider
Vietnam’s response to tourism changes noticeably as you move from South to North. In the north- particularly around Hanoi and Sapa – it’s worth being cautious of dishonesty. False money can easily be given as change to those who aren’t paying attention, and promises of better quality, facilities, or exclusivity of hotels or treks are often not as they seem.
More so, the police can be fairly corrupt, looking for opportunities to receive payment from naive tourists. The military seem to have a far greater power, and are not to be messed with.