You could easily spend a month travelling from the capital of Hanoi, beside Ha Long Bay in the north, to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta in the south. If your time frame is a little tighter than that, a good place to start your planning is to break it down to north, central and south and see what you can fit in.
An itinerary for the north
Vietnam's capital Hanoi has street food all wrapped up –it's the home of pho (noodle soup) and you'll come across street food vendors on almost every corner. A favourite thing to do is get lost in the winding streets of the Old Quarter, where you'll stumble upon markets, temples and pagodas galore. The city is the jump-off point for Ha Long Bay and your dream cruise around some of its 2,000 or so jungle-covered islands.
Take a side trip from Hanoi to Ba Be National Park, where you can travel by boat through its enormous lake, and hike through scenic forest past caves and limestone cliffs. Nearby Sa Pa is also popular for hiking, where you'll see rice terraces and meet locals at hill tribe villages.
Discovering central Vietnam
The heart of Vietnam is the place to go for historic sites and national parks. You could spend a week alone at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park exploring the vast network of caves!
On the banks of the Perfume River you'll find peaceful Hué, with its famous Citadel of temples, palaces and tombs. Further south, fishing town Hoi An is where you can take a cooking class and learn how to make the town's speciality, white rose dumplings. If you’re staying in Hoi An, take a day trip to the ruins of UNESCO World Heritage site My Son Sanctuary.
Ho Chi Minh City and southern Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating mix of history and a whirlwind of dining options. Learn about the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace. Head to the French Quarter to gape at Notre Dame Cathedral and the colonial-style Central Post Office. In this chaotic city there are so many markets, shops and restaurants that the hardest part is choosing which to go to. Make sure you go to Bến Thành Market as it ticks all those boxes!
Escape the city and head to Nha Trang with its beautiful bay location, boat trips, beaches and diving spots. It's another world again in the Mekong Delta with floating markets, rice paddies and a labyrinth of waterways best explored on an overnight boat trip.
A visit to Vietnam can entail all manner of travel experiences, and you can have a great time in as little as a week, or as long as a season. Get a travel insurance policy that covers everything you want to do there – and extend it if you decide to stay longer!
Like most countries in Southeast Asia, it's not a good idea to drink their water, as you'll end up with traveller's belly – avoid ice cubes too! Here are a few other tips for your trip:
When to go to Vietnam
You'll experience very different weather travelling from north to south. The dry season in the north is September to February, whereas in the south it runs from December to May. Depending on where you are, between May and December, the rainy season means flooding and cyclones (typhoons) are common, so make sure you've got travel insurance to cover you if your flights are cancelled. It can become hot and humid in Vietnam so be prepared for temperatures that can hit 40 degrees and above.
How to spot a scam
If you grab a cab to head to a specific place, don't fall for the "oh no, that place is closed" line; the driver will then take you somewhere else where they get a commission. Keep an eye on the taxi meter as some have been tampered with, and watch out for taxis that aren't actually taxis – turn them down and get in an official cab. There’s still a chance you might get ripped off, but hey, it's not that bad.
Choosing between road, rail or plane travel
A sleeper train could take you a day or two to travel north to south, so if you're pressed for time, look at domestic flight options. Open-tour buses are the most popular means of travel, dropping you off at the country’s myriad places of interest, but they can take up a fair bit of time too.
Carry small notes with you
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong – try paying for items in smaller notes as they’re easier for vendors to change.
Online visa applications
The government's Smart Traveller website recommends you apply for your Vietnam visa online or in person via an embassy as there have been numerous cases of online scams where travel agents have ripped travellers off.
Before you head off, check the government's Smart Traveller website for current travel warnings for Vietnam. If you plan on skiing or snowboarding, make sure your travel insurance covers those activities.
Check with your doctor which vaccinations you'll need to visit Vietnam. The Australian Embassy in Vietnam recommends you vaccinate against diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, polio, and TABT (tetanus, paratyphoid A and B, and typhoid).
Malaria and Zika virus have both been reported in Vietnam. To avoid being bitten, cover up with loose clothing, have a good insect repellent and see your doctor for antimalarial medication. Visit a doctor immediately if you start to feel fluey on your trip.
Road conditions in Vietnam are not the same as in Australia and accidents happen more often. If you choose to see the country by bike, wear protective gear and a helmet, and make sure your travel insurance covers you.
Like any place you go, petty theft can happen. A favourite is bag slashing, and having your bag snatched by someone whizzing past you on a motorbike.
Choose CGU travel insurance for your trip to Vietnam.
There are heaps of activities on offer in Vietnam – for peace of mind get a travel insurance policy that covers what you plan to do.
At CGU, we can help you find the right level of protection, so your activities, luggage, medical bills, and cancellation costs are covered. If you are unsure about the best insurance to buy for Vietnam, then give us a call on 13 24 80.