Having lived for two years in amazing Vietnam, we had the chance to visit several different destinations throughout the country.
Since not everyone has the possibility to travel for several months, we’ve created two itineraries: one listing the alternative locations for the most adventurers who have more time and are willing to explore secluded areas (this very post you’re reading), and the other featuring traditional spots for shorter trips (you can check out here our 2-week itinerary guide to Vietnam).
THE MOST AUTHENTIC VIETNAM
If you’re looking for the most authentic experience in Vietnam, this is the itinerary you need! We’ve travelled to all these places (except for Phu Quoc island, we’ve been to its Cambodian neighbour island of Koh Rong) and we can totally recommend them! We suggest a duration of at least a full month since some destinations are a bit secluded, so transfers might be time consuming.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Arguably the most modern and westernized city in Vietnam. A chaotic energy will welcome you! Named after the beloved Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Mimnh City is also famous for the many French colonial landmarks. It was our first approach to this country, here you will find the crazy story of our arrival there.
It’s a dream destination for scuba divers and beach lovers! With its soft-sand beaches, palm trees and limpid waters, it’s the perfect tropical island for your relaxing purpose.
The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, Khmer pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies. Some of the most popular destinations are Can Tho and Ben Tre, easily reachable on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City.
Mui Ne is a particular destination in Vietnam: on the seaside there’s a busy sand strip where resorts attract tourists, whilst on the inside there’s a desert like area known as Mui Ne Sand Dunes.
In the middle of the highlands, Dalat is surrounded by forests, lakes, waterfalls. Vietnam’s best coffee and wine come from this region, where landscapes are wonderfully green. If you’re a nature lover, you can’t miss it!
Another mountain town, less busy than Dalat and way more traditional. Many ethnic minorities populate Pleiku area.
Quy Nhon is a laid back seaside town, not as touristy as Nha Trang and Da Nang. Vietnamese people sometimes simply say about it “like Da Nang 20 years ago”, come here to escape crowds.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of lanterns will enchant you with its magic! We suggest to spend a couple of nights here to explore the area of Hoi An.
The city is a good mix of laid back relaxing spots along the 20-km-long beach, and thrilling day and nightlife along the Han river, with crowded local markets in the mornings and a thousand colour settings in the evenings. Da Nang is the city where we used to live, so don’t miss our ultimate guide to all the must-do’s here!
Visiting Hue, you’ll go back in time. It was the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors. You will be charmed by the Forbidden Purple City with its palaces and shrines, and by the sumptuous imperial tombs. We’ve been to Hue several times, being close to Da Nang city.
Or DMZ, is a 5km strip of land on either side of the Ben Hai River, which from 1954 to 1975 acted as a buffer between the separated North and South Vietnam. Ironically, the DMZ became one of the most militarized areas in the world. Most of the bases and bunkers have long vanished, but it’s possible to visit some historical sites as Khe Sanh Combat Base, Vinh Moc Tunnels and Hien Luong Bridge, marking the former border between North and South Vietnam.
PHONG NHA NATIONAL PARK
Home to the biggest underground cave system in the world, Phong Nha National Park is a must for nature lovers and explorers. But sit down for a moment now: visiting the main Son Doong Cave for a multi-day adventure underground will cost you over 2,000$ and you need to book a couple of years in advance! However, there are several other minor tours available, at everybody’s reach.
Close to Ninh Binh town, Tam Coc area is known as the “Ha Long Bay on land” for its typical limestone rock formations and caves. Best way to explore it? On a rowing boat flowing down the River Ngo Dong, surrounded by the greenest rice fields. We were there during some heavy flooding, but it was still amazing, if not more.
The vibrant capital of Vietnam offers countless options: from the characteristic night market in the Old Quarter, to the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis in the city center, to the austere Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum site. You will fall in love with the multicultural and yet traditional vibes of this city! Check out what’s best to do in Hanoi.
BAI TU LONG BAY
Bai Tu Long is the next bay after Ha Long. For a purer experience instead of staying in busy Ha Long Bay, your boat will take you in a more remote area, less known to tourists and less popular. Read about our experience here.
This north-eastern province bordering China is home to the spectacular Ban Gioc waterfalls, the 4th world largest waterfall along a national border. You can find our detailed article here. If you are a fan of road trips and insane adventures, don’t miss our story about the longest and slowest transfer ever from Cao Bang to Ha Giang!
Talking about authentic Vietnam far from tourist hubs, Ha Giang province deserves a spot. Embedded between mountains, you’ll enjoy some of the most evocative views. You’ll likely meet ethnic minorities: be ready to stop to one of the many local markets along the road, the colors will strike you! This is a remote area that needs time to be visited, we tried to see as much as possible, and this is the unforgettable adventure we ended up living.
Get in touch with the local minorities of black H’mong and red Dzao and hike to the top of Vietnam! Here you will find all the details to reach this charming mountainous town.
HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN VIETNAM?
You can pre book all of your Vietnam accomodation here.
Check out our favourite hotel in Hanoi: modern rooms and excellent staff in the Old Quarter.
An example of Vietnamese homestay in Ninh Binh: a welcoming family will take care of everything you need.
Great value for money in Hoi An: 3-star hotel with swimming pool from 20$!
WEATHER – WHEN TO GO TO VIETNAM?
Vietnam extends for almost 2,000 km from north to south, this leads to at least 3 different climate areas:
- north: cool dry winters (dec-apr, 15°-25°C), hot wet summers (may-nov, over 25°C).
- centre: cool rainy winters (nov-mar, 20°-25°C), hot dry summers (apr-oct, over 30°-35°C).
- south: hot dry winters (nov-apr, over 30°-35°C), hot wet summers (may-oct, over 25°C).
This said, Vietnam is a tropical country, it will be generally hot with thunderstorms always ready to surprise you.
DO I NEED A TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes you do. Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
WHAT ABOUT VACCINES?
It’s always recommended to check whether you need any specific vaccine, especially if you are travelling for more than 15 days. Book an appointment with an expert at the international vaccination center. The doctor will tell you which vaccines are required/recommended for Vietnam.
VISA – HOW TO GET A VISA TO VIETNAM?
Vietnam is upgrading its visa free policy to more countries every year. However, this is currently valid for only 15 days. We recommend you to see our detailed post here to know how to request your 1-month or 3-month tourist visa to Vietnam.
FLIGHTS – WHERE TO START YOUR VIETNAM TRIP?
It depends on your itinerary. Your choice is between the northern hub, Hanoi Noi Bai Airport, and the southern one, Ho Chi Minh Tan Son Nhat, which are both international and linked with worldwide destinations. For shorter itineraries you could consider Da Nang Airport, the 3rd biggest in Vietnam, which has just opened a new terminal to widen its offer.
TRAIN, BUS, FERRY – HOW TO BOOK TICKETS IN VIETNAM?
Many backpackers prefer to cross land borders rather than flying, and it’s very easy and cool to do so across Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar. In Vietnam, the Reunification Express Train Line connects Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and it’s a marvelous experience to try at least for a section.
You can book train, bus, ferry tickets easily online from reliable agency amt.12go.asia.
We also recently used baolau.com, a new online booking platform operating in Southeast Asia. Follow our step-by-step guide to make sure you get your ticket delivered straight to your e-mail address.
Well now you should have a deeper idea about planning your trip to Vietnam, but if you need more details, just let us know in the comments below. We have plenty of suggestion to share!
ENJOY YOUR TRIP TO VIETNAM!