Amazing contrasts may be found all around Vietnam. While Hoi An, a peaceful gem, represents Vietnam at its most traditional and evocative, Hanoi and Saigon are high-octane whirls of local activity.
The Mekong Delta, sometimes known as Vietnam's "rice bowl," is known for its lush plains and vibrant river life. Halong Bay's floating limestone karsts are an unearthly sight that must be experienced in person. In the meantime, brave explorers might satisfy their needs in Sapa's mist-shrouded tribal valleys. The scenery as a whole is just as striking as in the past.
Many of the iconic images of a disappearing Asia can be seen while on a luxury vacation in Vietnam, including food vendors wearing conical hats selling from yokes on their shoulders; endless emerald rice paddies being plowed by water buffaloes; sampan boats gliding through congested waterways; and entire families being shuttled around on rickety cyclops.
There are several islands to retreat to and sun-kissed dunes to unwind on outside of this sensory overload. For a complete immersion in Vietnam, a top-to-bottom vacation is advised, but you could alternatively base yourself entirely in Hoi An, where its old-world beauty blends seamlessly with its adjacent beaches. You won't ever feel like the time you spend traveling in Vietnam is enough.
The Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, is a charming mix of East meets West where the city’s fascinating layers have been forged across over 1,000 years of history. Temples, pagodas and ancient Chinese architecture are tumultuously packed together along winding alleys in its quaint Old Quarter and hopping on a cyclo (three-wheeled bicycle) is a thrilling way to explore this twisting maze. A few streets beyond, though, and everything opens up as lemon-hued grand colonial mansions flank tree-lined boulevards in the neighboring French Quarter. Hoan Kiem Lake adds to Hanoi’s openness, being a lovely place to stroll and watch locals practise early-morning tai chi. For an enriching dose of traditional Vietnamese culture, watch a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, an ancient art form that dates back to the 11th century.
The UNESCO-protected Halong Bay is said to have been created after a Jade Emperor ordered a dragon to spray pearls from its mouth into the sea to help protect Vietnam from invasion. But today it looks like the dragon’s teeth fell out of its mouth with the pearls, creating an ethereal collection jagged forested peaks that rise magnificently out of the turquoise waters around them. It’s a sight that’s lusted after by many a traveller and while you won’t be alone when visiting Halong Bay, it’s still a scene that will totally transfix you while on a luxury holiday here. Lying south of its more famous sibling, Lan Ha Bay serves up more epic limestone karst scenery but without the crowds, if you really want an intimate glimpse. For another alternative, Ninh Binh, a short drive just south of Hanoi, is often nicknamed ‘Halong Bay on land’, where limestone hills are intersected by rice paddies and lakes.
For many, Hoi An is the Vietnam they’ve imagined. In-between the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An is an oasis of calm that has stayed so true to its traditional roots it’s been honoured with UNESCO World Heritage status, its historic core brimming with Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese influences. Small wooden shophouses line narrow streets that come alive once nightfall descends, enchantingly lit up by strings of colourful lanterns. Wander the city for Vietnam’s finest food scene, where wafts of pho and cau lau (pork and noodles) can be smelt from street stalls and local kitchens, and a thread of fine tailors that owe their legacy to Hoi An’s history as a pitstop on the silk trading route.
A fast-paced flurry of urban excitement, Saigon is Vietnam at its most rapid. Its streets are swarmed with scooters that can seem overwhelming at first but if you can’t beat them, join them – Vespa tours are a great way to explore its less busy streets, passing spectacular sights such as Binh Tay, a market so big it’s like a city within a city, and Thien Hau pagoda. But Saigon is a great base for exploring further, with a day trip to the tiny tunnels of Cu Chi an eye-opening reminder of the Vietnam War. Beyond lies the legendary Mekong Delta, where timeless traces of life still thrive alone the riverbanks, with markets and villages floating on streams and rivers that weave the impossibly green landscape like arteries.
Though Vietnam’s cities are thoroughly enthralling, many don’t realize the country has plenty of incredible beaches to relax on, too. As well as its quaint old-world wonders, Hoi An lies close to several fine stretches of sand and further south, the boulders which hem in a brilliant beachy crescent add natural drama to Ninh Van Bay. Offshore, though the island of Phu Quoc has experienced a surge in visitors in recent years, its northern coast still offers a sleepy tropical sanctuary. For an even more off-beat escape, the Con Dao islands serve up unspoilt beaches and coral reefs home to eye-popping snorkeling and diving.
Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and Tetanus-Diphtheria vaccinations are currently recommended and Vietnam is deemed to have a risk of the Zika virus. While there’s no risk of Malaria in the main cities, there is a risk in rural areas such as the Mekong Delta and Sapa. If you’re entering Vietnam from a Yellow Fever zone, possession of a valid Yellow Fever inoculation certificate is required. For any current travel health advice, you should seek guidance from your GP at least four to six weeks prior to travel. You would also need a Covid-19 vaccination card and a negative Covid-19 PCR test result not less than 72hours old.
The official currency of the country is the Vietnamese dong.
You need a visa to go to Vietnam, as long as you are not from one of the countries whose nationals are exempt from visa requirements. Speak with your agent on how to get a visa.
The official languages spoken in Vietnam is Vietnamese.
Due to its long and thin shape, Vietnam’s weather patterns can be divided into three regions: the north, central Vietnam and the south. As a result, there is no bad time to plan a holiday to Vietnam – when one area is mid-monsoon, another is at its best.
The north has Vietnam’s coolest weather. The cool and dry winter lasts from November to April, with places like Hanoi and Halong Bay experiencing temperatures around 20°C during the day, dropping to below 10°C sometimes after dark – we’d advise packing layers. It gets even colder in mountainous Sapa in the far north, where you can get frost during the coldest months between December and February. It’s summer in the north between May and October, where it’s hot, humid and wet across the entire north and the later in the season you go, the wetter it gets. Hanoi and Halong Bay can occasionally endure typhoons during the summer, while the wet weather makes trekking around Sapa tricky.
Central Vietnam’s seasons are roughly opposite to those in the north. From January to August, days are dry and sunny with temperatures regularly nudging 30°C, making it perfect conditions for exploring Hoi An’s Old Town or relaxing on the beaches along its coastline. September sees the start of the rainy season, with a chance of typhoons lasting until November. The rain, however, carries on until the turn of the year. Further south in Vietnam’s central region, Ninh Van Bay benefits from a longer dry season, with the sunny weather extending to the end of September.
Vietnam’s south (Saigon & Mekong Delta) follows a typical tropical pattern, with its dry season from November to April and wet season from May to October. Temperatures hover around the low 30s (degrees Celsius) all year round, but rise steadily towards the end of the dry season, with April and May known to see the mercury hit 40°C. May and June experience frequent thunderstorms and the rain is heavy during the whole of the wet season, although it rarely lasts beyond short afternoon downpours.
The southern islands of Phu Quoc and the Con Dao archipelago follow the same pattern but with better odds of sunny days throughout the entire year. As you’d expect, there can be afternoon downpours should you be going on holiday during the wet season.
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