Vietnam is a patchwork of terraced rice paddies, enchanting bays, glitzy cities, unexplored rainforest and stilt-house villages. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are frenetic, moto-filled urban sprawls, yet still safe and friendly with pockets of French-style tranquillity. The Mekong Delta reveals rural Vietnamese life: fruit trees, rice paddies, fishing villages and floating markets. There are lantern-lined towns, fast-fingered tailors and over 3,000km of coastline giving way to near-deserted islands. Rediscover your wild side, venturing into the hills and national parks to encounter remote hill tribes and newly discovered endangered species. Learn more in our Vietnam travel guide.
Our top Vietnam holidays
From £2399 to £324916 days inc UK flights
The best of Vietnam on two wheels
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Best time to go to Vietnam
The humid south of Vietnam is warm year-round, and the warm May to November monsoon season brings brief, heavy showers that barely disrupt travel, though regions around the Mekong may flood. The cold monsoon along the central coast occurs from October to April, and is much less pleasant. October to December are warm, sunny months in the north; from March it gets unbearably hot. May, June and September are the best times to visit Vietnam to avoid the crowds and the worst of the rains.
Map & highlightsThe iconic railway, the Reunification Express, links Hanoi, the 1,000-year old capital in the north, with Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south. One of the most popular excursions from here is to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an eye-opening testament to the ingenuity of guerrilla warfare. The old town of Hoi An with its fading Spanish and Portuguese architecture is a joy to explore, as are the dreamy seascapes of Halong Bay in the far northeast of Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Mekong Delta offers a glimpse of rural Vietnamese culture as you explore river-dwelling communities by sampan.
Cu Chi Tunnels
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
With thousands of visitors each day, the tunnels are one of Vietnam’s most crowded attractions. The wartime ingenuity is evident, though the stories of what occurred here are brutal – and the information is entirely one-sided, which may grate with some. Crawling through the hot, narrow tunnels is an experience of the discomfort and fear of war, though some describe the nearby firing range as a rather tasteless addition.
2. Halong Bay
This dreamy seascape is one of Vietnam’s most distinctive scenes. A UNESCO Site, Halong is the world’s largest marine karst landscape, with over 2,000 giant limestone boulders emerging from the waters. Sail on a classic wooden junk, paddle into secluded caves and admire the sunset over the karsts from the deck of your boat. You can also visit the surrounding fishing villages, and a floating school.
Vietnam’s 1,000-year-old capital has an unexpectedly European feel, with balconied buildings, tiled roofs, tree lined streets and pleasant parks. Street names describe the industries found in each one, including Rice Street, Boiled Fish Street and Silk Street. See ancient pagodas, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, skinny “tube houses”, artisan workshops and water puppetry – or take a cookery class, to bring the flavours home with you.
Ho Chi Minh City
4. Ho Chi Minh City
A marvellous Asian microcosm of markets, temples and roaring motos, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) – is an instant immersion into urban Vietnamese life. You could easily spend several days losing yourself in the Ben Thanh Market, Chinatown, Taoist temples, lacquer workshops, Reunification Palace and the excellent, emotive War Remnants Museum. Get stuck into the street food too – delicious and unbelievably cheap.
5. Hoi An
Hoi An is a leap into the past. The car-free streets of the old town are lit by lanterns, and evidence of Spanish and Portuguese settlers is visible in the crumbling architecture. Tailors and artisans abound; this is the best place in Vietnam to buy a tailor-made suit or dress, as well as paintings and ceramics. Walk or cycle the narrow streets, browse the riverside fish market and visit a community project for local children.
6. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is not only a glimpse of a spectacular Vietnamese landscape, but also an enchanting introduction to its water-dwelling cultures, with the floating markets of Cai Be and Cai Rang, fishing villages on tiny islands and flooded paddy fields. Navigate the narrow channels in sampan rowing boats, cross them on precarious “monkey bridges” and sample the produce of the nearby rice, fruit and honey harvesters.
Culture, food, history & beaches
Vietnam is an intoxicating country to travel. You can trace the country’s journey from colonialism to communism through fading French, Spanish and Portuguese architecture, and the sobering remnants of the war all around you. There are idyllic beaches, especially those just outside Hoi An. Vietnam has over 50 ethnic minority groups, each with their own distinct cultures. Meeting colourfully dressed hill tribes and sailing to river markets around the Mekong Delta offer many chances of meaningful interactions. And everywhere you go, that healthy, aromatic, cheap food: seafood in the north; kicking spices in the centre; delicious comfort food in the south.
Rural areas of Vietnam feel a world apart from the hectic cities, with remote communities carrying on peacefully much as they have done for centuries. Many Vietnam holidays will include time among hill tribes such as the Hmong, often involving some hiking to reach near-inaccessible villages through highlands, rice terraces and forest. In some cases you may be able to overnight in a family’s stilt home. This is a highly recommended chance to learn about rural Vietnamese ways of life through exploring folklore, music and dance, rice farming or weaving, sharing your hosts’ food and, if you’re up to it, their fiery rice whisky.
The Vietnamese are extremely welcoming of children, and while Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can be overwhelming at times, there is much to recommend family holidays here. From the age of around eight kids should love it, though they will need to adapt to some challenges, from exotic foods to squat toilets and cold showers in rural areas, and constant hubbub in urban areas. But there are fun rides on cyclos and sampans, enchanting water puppet theatre, friendly smiles on every corner and every market stall, and lots of beach resorts where you can decompress for a few days.
More holiday ideas
From £349517 days inc UK flights
Private, tailor-made Vietnam adventure holiday
More about Vietnam
Cycling holidays in Vietnam, including those that cross borders into Laos or Cambodia, are usually small group trips. Since many venture into rural areas where little – if any – English is spoken, you need a local guide with you throughout. Trips will often involve early starts and 10 or more days in the saddle covering a lot of ground, so while you don’t need calves like Chris Hoy you will want to be decently fit. Cycling through Vietnam is unquestionably one of the best ways to get an authentic take on the culture, often taking you to communities that see very few tourists.
Types of holidays
Cities can be sensory overload, and you’ll need to negotiate language barriers to visit the remote hill tribes. Small group holidays to Vietnam are popular because you get a local guide with you throughout – the best way to enjoy both sides of Vietnam. This is a magical country for family holidays, especially with older children able to cope with constant motorbike noise, unusual foods and being regularly hugged by strangers. And in a country where even crossing the street can be dramatic, all holidays are adventure holidays but some can get a little more exciting still.
See Vietnam & Cambodia together
It makes a great deal of sense to see Vietnam and Cambodia together, not least to save money. It’s fascinating to see how their respective histories and cultures have threaded and diverged, and to explore the differences in pace of life (Vietnam often hectic; Cambodia much more relaxed), and cuisine. And while Vietnam’s historic sites are impressive, nothing prepares you for the scale and majesty of Angkor Wat. You can cross the border by boat, getting to Phnom Penh from the Mekong Delta. These are typically small group trips with set itineraries, and local tour leaders ensure travel arrangements go smoothly.
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