Vietnam

Vietnam's colour, chaos and natural beauty bring a new adventure every day. Feel your senses come alive as you walk Hanoi's crazy streets, visit the other-worldly villages of Sapa and sail on majestic Halong Bay. Vietnam's food, people, sights and history keep even the most seasoned traveller coming back for more.

Vietnam Tours & Travel

Top holiday deals in Vietnam

Departing Days Price USD
7 Sep 2015 Vietnam Express Southbound 10 $1062
9 Sep 2015 Scenic Vietnam 15 $1218
12 Sep 2015 Vietnam Express Southbound 10 $1062
19 Sep 2015 Vietnam Express Southbound German 10 $851
20 Sep 2015 Vietnam Discovery 15 $972

All our Vietnam trips

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Get to know the history, culture and landscapes of Vietnam inside-out on an Independent Journey that includes time in...
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Explore Vietnam on this journey through the natural beauty and fascinating history of this unique country. Enjoy the...
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Uncover the dramatic histories of these two beautiful countries on a trip through the highlights of these ancient...
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Travel through Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Bangkok in Thailand on an Indochina adventure that...
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Travel to Vietnam and see the ultimate Ho Chi Minh tourist spots. Visit hidden Hanoi attractions, travel from Hoi An...
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Uncover the proud, spirited heart of Vietnam on this classic adventure. Tour to Halong Bay, idyllic Nha Trang,...
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Discover the beauty of Laos on an incredible journey from Hanoi in Vietnam's north, via Vientiane and Luang Prabang...
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Forever linked in both culture and history, Vietnam and Cambodia are Indochina’s noisy siblings with a much-loved...
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Start this odyssey in the impressive imperial capital of Hue, then travel to to the beguiling city of Hoi An. Be...
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Vietnam trip reviews

Our Vietnam trips score an average of 4.8 out of 5 based on 1674 reviews in the last year.

Best of Vietnam, July 2015

Best of Vietnam & Cambodia, August 2015

Video

Articles on Vietnam

Overcrowded and ugly: how the world’s least attractive sights can teach us more than the highlights

Posted on Wed, 21 Jan 2015

People don’t have a lot of time for 'ugly' travel. But why not? It's time to celebrate the world for what it is, not what it should be.

Read more

Soup is for life, not just for lunch: five Asian soups that will change the way you feel about soup

Posted on Fri, 21 Nov 2014

Everyone knows soup is a great lunch option, but it's often overlooked for dinner. This article hopes to change that.

Read more

The tribe has spoken: these Asian tribes will blow your mind

Posted on Mon, 29 Sep 2014

Believe it or not, the old world does survive, in the deep jungles and the high mountains, kept alive in the ancient knowledge of tribes.

Read more

Dragons to the rescue in Vietnam

Posted on Wed, 18 Jun 2014

Hanoi, Hoi An and Halong Bay - travellers to Vietnam are familiar with these magical places, but in remote Dien Bien, children are vulnerable to traffickers.

Read more

Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Vietnam, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Vietnam you may find yourself staying in a:

About Vietnam

At a glance

Capital city: Hanoi (population 3 million)
Population: 90.5 million
Language: Vietnamese
Currency: VND
Time zone: (GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
Electricity: Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type C (European 2-pin)
Dialing code: +84

Best time to visit Vietnam

Generally, there's no 'best' time for travelling in Vietnam as the seasons are a little vague and vary considerably from north to south, and within regions.

In the south, the dry season generally runs from December to June with March to May being particularly hot and humid. Temperatures usually range from 27°C to 36°C during this time. The wet season brings short and heavy rain showers from July to November, with temperatures averaging between 22°C and 27°C.

Unlike the South, the northern regions of Vietnam have four seasons. Winter is from December to February - it can be extremely cold in Hanoi and the mountainous regions, with overnight temperatures of 4°C and daytime highs between 10°C and 20°C. Summer is June to August - expect hot and humid conditions at this time, with temperatures averaging between 27°C to 30°C and high humidity.

Hanoi weather chart Ho Chi Minh weather chart

Culture and customs

Emperor's pagoda in Ho chi Minh City
Vietnam's ancient culture can be traced back centuries and over the years has been influenced in different ways by the Chinese, Khmer, French and American cultures. For most Vietnamese people, connection to family and community is paramount - whether they are from rural villages or living in the fast-paced cities. Most festivals and holidays are spent with the extended family - participating in rituals, feasting on special foods, giving symbolic gifts and paying respects to ancestors. Most Vietnamese people practice a form of religion that is an interesting mix of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, although there are also a large number of practicing Catholics living in Vietnam. Having endured the hardship that the Vietnam War brought in the 1960s and 1970s, most Vietnamese people are keen to get on with life, living with a sense of optimism and humility.

Eating and drinking

Pho soup Durian fruit

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Quick to prepare and simple to make, the cuisine of Vietnam relies on fresh produce, fragrant herbs and (quite often) lots of chilli.

Things to try in Vietnam

1. Pho

Gaining international popularity, a steaming bowl of flavoursome pho is one of Vietnam's most celebrated dishes. This noodle soup usually features clear noodles in a broth with beef or chicken and some vegetables and herbs.

2. Banh Xeo

This delicious crepe-like savoury pancake is often served with seafood or pork, onions, oil, lettuce and other condiments.

3. Banh Mi

The French influence in the region is obvious when considering the popularity of the fresh baguette in Vietnam. Take crusty bread and stuff it with pork or ham, coriander, salad and pickled condiments and you've got a favourite lunch or breakfast treat for locals and travellers alike.

4. Fresh Fruit

When in Vietnam, take the opportunity to try exotic fruits not widely available elsewhere in the world. Rambutan, persimmon, mangosteen, dragon fruit, jackfruit and durian are all delicious snacks that can be bought cheaply from markets and roadside stalls.

Geography and environment

Bright green Rice fields of Vietnam
Occupying a long, thin part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam shares borders with China, Laos and Cambodia. Much of Vietnam's terrain is mountainous, particularly the north and central highland regions. Although people still choose to live in the densely forested highland regions, most of Vietnam's population is concentrated in the cities of the low lying areas, where infrastructure is more easily built and the land is fertile. One of the 12 great rivers of the world, the Mekong, runs through Vietnam and has been responsible for wide-scale flooding. A system of canals and levees has been quite successful in redistributing the water during monsoons, and has helped to alleviate flooding in the Mekong Delta and surrounding areas.

History and government

Vietnamese flag flying in Halong bay

Early History

The land now known as Vietnam has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological finds suggest that structured societies were in existence from as early as the 1st millennium BC. Early society was mostly feudal and agriculture-based, with various dynasties overseeing different parts of Vietnam until the Chinese invasion of 111 BC, which saw the societies of Vietnam and China become intertwined. Various Chinese dynasties dominated the area for hundreds of years, although revolts finally led to Vietnam gaining self-autonomy in 905. By 938, this period of Chinese imperial domination came to a close and Vietnam entered into an age of independence.

Recent History

During the 19th century, Vietnam came under the influence of French colonisers, who assumed control of Vietnam after the Sino-French War of 1884 and 1885. French Indochina was formed in 1887, and included parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and, later on, Laos. Although the French managed to suppress internal movements towards independence for many years, their control was finally relinquished in 1954 when Vietnamese forces overcame the French during the first Indochina War. Following this war, Vietnam was divided, with separate forces ruling the north (led by Ho Chi Minh) and the south (led by Ngo Dinh Diem, with support from the United States).

The second Indochina War created wide-scale devastation and turmoil for the people of Vietnam, leading to mass migration to other parts of the world as asylum seekers tried to escape the conflict that ravaged their homeland. By the 1980s Vietnam's economy had all but collapsed, leading to further waves of migration out of Vietnam. More recently, Vietnam has benefited from the free market economy that was set up in 1986. Vietnam's economy continues to expand, with agriculture and industry providing the backbone, and the tourism sector also contributing. Although many Vietnamese people live below the poverty line, there have been widespread improvements in literacy and health which hopefully will continue to improve in the years to come.

Top Picks

Rush hour in Hanoi Landscape view of Halong bay Ancient, colourful Hue citadel Sapa woman in traditional dress

Top 10 Iconic Landscapes of Vietnam

1. Halong Bay

There's nothing quite like Halong Bay first thing in the morning. As the mists clear, hundreds of huge karst towers appear, looming high above the boat. In the soft morning light it's like waking up in a watercolour painting of a mythical land.

2. Hanoi

Motorbikes piled high with people, produce and even animals zip through the streets. It's crazy, haphazard and somehow it works. The best way to take it all in is from a rooftop cafe. Order an extra strong coffee and watch the chaos unfold below.

3. Mekong Delta

This massive area of floating markets, emerald rice paddies and lush islands is home to some of the friendliest people on earth. Take a boat trip to one of the sleepy islands to get a front row view of life on the Delta, and meet the people who call it home.

4. Sapa

Head to the hills and see the colourful villages of Vietnam's minority groups - the Zay, and the Blue and Black H'mong. The area is remote so the best way to experience it is on an overnight trek, spending the night as a guest of a local family.

5. Qui Nhon

Quaint Qui Nhon is a sleepy beach town off the main tourist trail. It's worth coming here just for the drive. The road hugs granite cliffs that plunge into the South China Sea, and islands, lagoons and sand dunes slowly give way to sugar plantations and rice fields.

6. Hue

Jam-packed with imperial sites, Hue is one for the history buffs. Explore the Citadel with its ruined Forbidden Purple City before embracing your inner emperor and taking a dragonboat cruise down the Perfume River.

7. Hoi An

This shoppers' paradise is home to more boot makers, tailors and handicraft than you could visit in a lifetime. While you wait for your suit to be made, hire a bicycle and explore the Old Town - the streets are blissfully car free.

8. Ho Chi Minh City

Still known as Saigon to most, HCMC is a city on the go. It's fast-paced, exciting and full of amazing sites. Temples and markets collide with churches and skyscrapers for a heady mix of traditional, colonial and modern.

9. Mai Chau

Mai Chau feels a million miles away from the bustle of Hanoi. Misty mountains and emerald rice paddies contribute to the air of peacefulness. Be sure to look out for the traditional fabrics woven by the White Thais that call this area home.

10. Dalat

It's spring all year round in Vietnam's 'honeymoon capital'. Soak up the French-inspired atmosphere, spot the quirky local artists and explore the surrounding lakes, waterfalls and forests. C'est fantastique!

Shopping

Traditional Vietnamese dolls

Vietnam has a nice mix of interesting markets and small shops, with handicrafts, art and clothing among the best picks.

It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Vietnam

1. Tailored Clothing

Hoi An is one of the best places in the world to get tailor-made clothing at a great price. Find a tailor, choose your fabric, get measured and return later to collect your custom-made fashion.

2. Hilltribe Handicrafts

Some of Vietnam's hilltribe people make excellent woven bags, clothing and jewellery which make meaningful souvenirs for friends back home.

3. Coffee

As one of the world's largest coffee exporters, Vietnamese coffee is among the world's best. If you’re a coffee fan, why not take a little taste of Vietnam home with you.

4. Lacquerware

The time consuming, intensive process of creating Vietnamese lacquer art results in a beautiful, smooth and polished finish that adorns everything from bowls to paintings and jewellery boxes. While not the cheapest of souvenirs, authentic lacquer art is worth spending a bit more on.

Festivals and Events in Vietnam

Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)

As the most important date in the Vietnamese calendar, Tet is a time of traditional ceremonies, special foods and paying respects to ancestors (which lasts for 3 to 7 days). Visitors will be able to see streets, shops and homes decorated with trees, fruit, paper flowers, calligraphy and lanterns.

Tet Trung Thu

Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this popular festival belongs to the children of Vietnam, but is still fun for adults too. With ancient-roots and rich in myth and legend, travellers will delight in seeing kids performing lion dances and participating in street processions.

FAQs on Vietnam

VIETNAM:
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany Yes - in advance over 15 days (Effective 1 July 2015 - Visa free up to 15 days)
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance over 15 days (Effective 1 July 2015 - Visa free up to 15 days)
USA: Yes - in advance

When obtaining your visa you should allow 3 weeks for processing, the cost is approximately US$60 to US$100. Check with your embassy or consulate for further details.

Some nationalities are exempt from requiring a visa if their stay is less than 15 days, but if you are planning on staying in Vietnam for longer than 15 days you will need to obtain a visa extension in advance (please contact your relevant Consulate or Embassy). Effective from 1st July 2015 - 30 June 2016 exempt visa nationalities will also include British, German, French, Spanish and Italian citizens travelling to Vietnam (for all purposes) for a period of up to 15 days, and on the basis of meeting all conditions prescribed by Vietnamese laws.

Keep the customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities on departure.

If your visa application asks for a point of contact, please write: Intrepid Vietnam 57A Nguyen Khac Hieu St, Hanoi, Vietnam Ph +84 4 3715 0996.

Most nationalities do not require a letter of invitation for Vietnam but if you do need one, please contact your sales agent for more information.
Tipping isn't mandatory or customary in Vietnam, but a tip of spare change or another small amount would be appreciated by restaurants, drivers and other service workers, especially if the service has been particularly good.
Internet access is widely available in tourist areas and big cities, which have many internet cafes. Internet access is less frequent in rural and remote areas.
You'll be able to use your mobile phone in most urban areas of Vietnam, although remote and mountainous areas may not have network coverage. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your mobile carrier before you leave home if you wish to use your mobile while in Vietnam.
You'll have to adjust to different standards of hygiene and sanitation while in Vietnam. The standard toilet is of the squat variety and this may take some getting used to, although western-style toilets can be found in large hotels and some tourist areas.
Quick city bus ride = 4,000 VND
Local-style coffee at a cafe = 15,000 VND
Bowl of pho from street stall = 20,000-30,000 VND
Dinner at a simple restaurant = 70,000-100,000 VND
Dinner at a up-market restaurant = 200,000+ VND
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Vietnam. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead. Ask your leader where filtered water can be found; some hotels we stay in may have drinking water available. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit and vegetables before eating.
Major credit cards are widely accepted by large shops, hotels and restaurants in Vietnam. However, they may not be accepted by smaller vendors such as small family restaurants, market stalls or in remote towns and rural areas. Make sure you carry enough cash for purchases, since credit cards aren't always an option everywhere in Vietnam.
ATMs are found widely throughout Vietnam, so withdrawing cash shouldn't be problematic in most areas. Some smaller villages and rural areas may not have ATM access, so prepare for this before venturing too far from a city or major town.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Jan 1 New Year's Day
Feb 9 Tet (Lunar New Year)
Apr 19 Gio to Hung Vuong Day
Apr 30 Liberation of Saigon
May 1 May Day
Sep 2 National Day

Many Vietnamese holidays are timed according to the lunar calendar so are celebrated on different dates each year, therefore the dates above are an estimate only. The above dates are for 2013. In addition to the above holidays, there are also many other holidays celebrated regionally throughout Vietnam.

For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/vietnam/public-holidays

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Vietnam Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Vietnam

1. Be considerate of Vietnam’s customs, traditions, religion and culture.

2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered, especially when entering places of worship.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Instead, fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water.

4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

5. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!

6. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.

9. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

10. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.

The Intrepid Foundation

The Intrepid Foundation provides travellers with an opportunity to give something back to the many wonderful communities we travel to. By donating to The Intrepid Foundation you can make a difference in local communities - in health care, education, human rights, child welfare and the protection of wildlife and the environment.

In Vietnam, The Intrepid Foundation proudly supports:

Cuc Phuong Conservation Projects

The Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Centre works to protect the many species of endangered turtle that live within the Cuc Phuong National Park. Breeding programs, research and habitat conservation all help to reverse the population decline of turtles that are endemic to this region.

Image supplied by The Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Centre.

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

This organisation supports some of the most vulnerable children in Vietnam. Homeless, disabled and poverty stricken kids are greatly assisted by the health, education and social development programs run by this worthy organisation.

Image supplied by Blue Dragon Children's Foundation.

Children's Hope in Action

Caring for some of Vietnam's neediest children, this grassroots organisation provides life-saving medical treatment, therapy programs and education opportunities to families without means.

Image supplied by Children's Hope in Action.

KOTO Saigon Training Centre

This not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program changes the lives of disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. Providing hospitality training, English language education and life skills, the KOTO cafe not only serves up great food, but also changes people's lives in the process.

Image supplied by KOTO.

To learn more or donate, go to: www.theintrepidfoundation.org

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
Catfish and MandalaAndrew X Pham
The Quiet AmericanGraham Greene
Peace is Every StepThich Nhat Hanh
The Girl in the PictureDenise Chong
The Sorrow of WarBao Ninh