Vietnam is a country any serious traveler should visit at least once in his/her life. Its natural settings, its religious monuments, its local markets, its people, its cuisine, and its beaches are the main reasons for visiting, but there are many more.
There are two ways to visit Vietnam: starting in Hanoi, and going South; or starting in Saigon, and going North.
When to Go/Climate:
The best season to travel to North Vietnam is during the hot summers, from May to October. Winters in the North are cold and cloudy. In the mountainous regions in North Vietnam (Sapa), it may be freezing during winter. Central Vietnam wet season is from December to February. The south has two main seasons: the wet, from May to November; and the dry, the best season to travel, from December to April. The hottest season is from February to May.
There are three international airports: Hanoi (HAN), Saigon (SGN) and Da Nang (DAD).
Moving around Vietnam can be done on bus, train and/or plane. For long distances I recommend plane, train is also an option. Bus should only be considered in short journeys.
Money and Costs:
The non-convertible Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the local currency. USD may be accepted in some tourist areas. Prices in Vietnam are low. Accommodations and food are particularly cheap.
82 million people live in Vietnam. In the south, people are friendly, and in the north they are trustworthy.
Vietnamese is the official language. English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
Vietnam cuisine is one of the richest in the world. From traditional Vietnamese food to seafood, you will always find something worth trying.
Here are some of Vietnam’s main attractions.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It is one of the two entry points to the country. The first impression you will have, is that this is a chaotic city. But the longer you stay, the more you will appreciate Hanoi. To visit Hanoi, you will
need around seven days. Most tourists do not stay for so long here. They stay a couple of days, visit the Old District, and go to Ha Long Bay or Sapa. If you can, stay longer and explore the city and its lakes.
If you want to do a tour of Vietnam, your next stop should be Hue. You can get there by plane or train. In case you have plenty of time, and a tight budget, take the bus.
Ha long Bay
It is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Probably you have seen pictures of this unique bay with its thousands of islands. A two or three day tour should be enough to visit Ha long Bay. In Summer its air will be clearer and its water bluer, but it can be visited any season. You get there by bus from Hanoi.
Sapa is the name of a town in the Northwest of Vietnam, from where you go on many trekkings and excursions, and visit the traditional ethnic peoples who inhabit this mountainous region. How long you stay in Sapa's region depends on the excursions you want to do. Most trekkings last from two to five days. Go on a weekend and you will enjoy its markets. You get to Sapa by an overnight train from Hanoi. Winters can be quite cold.
If you want to get off the beaten path, this is where you have to go. Babe lake is authentic, but if you go to Ha Giang and Cao Bang, you will see landscapes 99.99% of the tourists do not see. Most tours take five days. Add two or three more days, and you will get to the unspoiled areas. You travel around the region on a four wheeled vehicle.
It is a town south of Hanoi. Many agencies offer a one day excursion to Ninh Binh. Locals call it the Ha long Bay on land, because of it similarities with the world famous bay. If you want to visit its national park, add a couple more days. You get here from Hanoi on a minibus. From here you can also go to Hue.
It is the most famous pagoda in the area of Hanoi. It is a one day excursion. Two other nice pagodas in the outskirts of Hanoi are the Thay Pagoda and the Tay Phuong pagoda.
410 miles South of Hanoi sits this ancient capital of Vietnam. To visit the city you need two days. Add another day to visit the surrounding temples (must see). If you are traveling South, your next stop should be Hoi An. You get there by bus (or taxi). If you are traveling North, your next stop is Hanoi.
It is the third biggest city in Vietnam, but has not much interest for tourists. If you are traveling around Vietnam, you go here only to get the train south after visiting Hoi An. You can stay in Da Nang one or two days to visit a
couple of interesting sites, though.
It is another must see. Dedicate a couple of days to visit its picturesque streets. This is also the place to buy tailored clothes. There is also a nice beach, in case you want to stay longer. If you are traveling North, your next stop is Hue. If you are traveling South, your next stop can be Nha Trang, Muine or Saigon. To get to any of these destinations you should take the train (in Da Nang) or the plane.
It is a big town with nice beaches. A great place to relax -- although I prefer Muine. If you are into scuba diving, stay here five or more days. If not, a couple of days should be enough. If traveling North your next stop should be Hoi An. If traveling South, you can go straight to Saigon, or stop in Muine. You can get there on a bus.
It is another beach destination. Tourism is developing fast in the area. I enjoyed it much more than Nha Trang. Stay two or three days, relax on the beach, do an excursion, and keep traveling. From here you should go to Saigon, if traveling South.
Or Ho Chi Minh -- is the business city in Vietnam. It is even noisier and more chaotic than Hanoi. The town has a nice center. You could spend three to five days seeing the city. From here you can do an excursion to the Mekong Delta. And if you still have some days left, take a plane and go to Phu Quoc.
The Mekong Delta is another 'must see' in any travel to Vietnam. Do not miss its floating markets. Two or three days is the minimum stay. You get here by bus from Saigon.
I do not think foreigners will like Vung Tau, but if you are staying in Saigon and need some fresh air, go to Vung Tau. You can get here on a fast ferry (recommended) or by bus.
Phu Quoc Island
This island South of Cambodia is like paradise on earth. Although tourism is developing fast, it is still unspoiled. Crystal clear waters, long beaches, hassle free, ... a great place to chill out. Stay here around four days (longer
if you can). If you come here at the end of your travel you will appreciate it more. A favorite destination in Vietnam (and in the world probably).