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Vietnam

Vietnam is a nation of huge contrasts, immense cultural diversity, and breathtaking natural wonders, that can keep its travelers – ranging from back packers to the world’s elite – entertained for weeks if not months. With its rice paddies, undulating hills, unspoiled beaches, lush jungle, modern cities, and French colonial architecture, the Southeast Asian nation is a magnet for lovers of authentic culture, pristine nature, urban life, and rich history. It’s also a rather long country, stretched out along the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Needless to say that planning a trip to Vietnam can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a first time visitor.

Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Vietnam with my travel guide. Find out more about:

  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Travel requirements
  • Getting around
  • Inspiration, highlights & travel tips
  • Suggested itineraries
  • Recommended luxury hotels (+ reviews)

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Vietnam is a narrow but very long country, stretched out along the South China Sea. There’s a big difference in weather pattern between the North (which includes the capital Hanoi and nearby Halong Bay) and the South (which is home to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta), while Central Vietnam (with the popular beach resort towns of Danang and Nha Trang) experiences a climate influenced by both the North and South.

  • North Vietnam has a distinct winter and summer season. The mostly dry winter lasts from November to April and generally starts warm and sunny until December, after which cold winter weather sets in, accompanied by often persistent mist in coastal areas and frost in the mountainous area around Sapa. The hot, humid and wet summer lasts from May to October, with peak rainfall from July to September. In general, March/April and October/November are the best months to visit the North in warm temperatures and under blue skies.
  • South Vietnam experiences four annual seasons: cool and dry between November and February; (very) hot and dry between March and May; hot and wet between June and August; and cool and (very) wet between September and early November. The best time to visit South Vietnam is the cool and dry season, when the weather usually benefits from a pleasant dry heat and the surrounding countryside is still green from the rains. Although most rain falls in brief afternoon downpours, autumn travel is generally not recommended as heavy rain, tropical storms and even typhoons may occur.
  • Central Vietnam experiences a weather pattern that is influenced by both the North and the South. Around Da Nang, the wet season starts in September and continues through January, after which the dry, sunny weather returns. Further South, the Nha Trang area benefits from a longer dry season (typically January to September), with warm temperatures and little rain, while the rainy season runs from October to early December with almost half the annual rainfall falling in October and November.

With such a complicated weather pattern, it may be tricky to recommend a certain month to travel the whole country. However, in general, spring (e.g. March to early May) is the most favorable season to travel around Vietnam, since the weather should be dry, warm and sunny in the South, Center, and North. March offers more comfortable temperatures though than May, which can be brutally hot. For your information, I traveled to Vietnam during the latter half of April and the beginning of May, and I experienced dry weather and blue skies for most of the time, with an occasional rain shower in the far North.


HOW TO GET THERE

Vietnam receives numerous international daily flights via its four main international airports, located near Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, and Nha Trang.

  • Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport (SGN) is the country’s largest airport and the main getaway to Ho Chi Minh City and South Vietnam. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Nội Bài International Airport (HAN) serves Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and is the main gateway to North Vietnam. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Da Nang.
  • Da Nang International Airport (DAD) is located in Da Nang, the largest city in central Vietnam, and the most important gateway to access Central Vietnam. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Da Nang.
  • Cam Ranh International Airport (CXR) is the smallest of the 4 airports and serves the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam’s most popular resort beach town. Click here for a list of airlines that offer direct flights to Nha Trang.

Before you buy a plane ticket, consider reading my tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket.


TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS

Requirements for entry into Vietnam differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Vietnam.

  • You need a passport with at least six months validity to enter Vietnam.
  • Generally, a visa is required to enter, exit or transit through Vietnam. A visa on arrival can be obtained with a pre-approval letter procured through travel agents. Exceptions include passport holders from a select number of countries counting Russia, Japan, South Korea, Scandinavia and ASEAN member countries.

Make sure you read my 10 tips to plan a worry-free trip.


GETTING AROUND

It’s quite easy to get around in Vietnam, and several modes of transportation are available:

  • Most travel takes place via the roads in air-conditioned tourist coaches and mini-vans that run up and down Highway 1, which connects Hanoi in the North with Ho Chi Minh City in the South, passing through Hué, Da Nang and Nha Trang en route. If a bus sounds too public for you or doesn’t have a time schedule that fits your itinerary, it also possible to reserve private transfers with a chauffeur-driven car via most hotels at often reasonable prices (e.g. $300 USD for the 9 hour trip from Nha Trang to Danang). It has to be noted though that the road conditions differ significantly from those that you may be used to, with chaotic and dangerous traffic situations (especially with cars and trucks overtaking each others all the time on two lane roads at crazy speeds).
  • A great way to travel in Vietnam is by train, albeit it’s more used by locals than tourists. Vietnam’s rail network extends to most destinations of interest to a first-time visitor in Vietnam and it’s safe, comfortable, not too expensive, and allows you to see the countryside. I don’t recommend the train for night travel though: during my train trip from Danang to Hanoi, the toilets were very dirty, no food or drinks were provided, and the beds were very uncomfortable (albeit it was ok for just one night). Train tickets can be booked online.
  • Domestic flights are probably the best way to move around the country if you don’t have a lot of time. Vietnam’s major cities are connected daily via multiple flights and the cost of a domestic ticket is often quite cheap. Tickets can be booked online on the website of the three carriers that offer flights within Vietnam:

INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS

There are several good reasons why you should put Vietnam on your bucket list:

  • French architecture & culture in Hanoi
  • Majestic coastal scenery of Ha Long Bay
  • Rural life in the Mekong Delta
  • Natural beauty of the Con Dao archipelago
  • Century-old temples and palaces in Hue and My Son
  • The old town of Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage site
  • Asia’s best luxury resorts

The following, in-depth articles may also inspire you and help you plan your holiday to Vietnam:


SUGGESTED ITINERARIES 

It’s impossible to suggest one itinerary for Vietnam, but I hereby share with you the schedule of my own recent holiday in Vietnam, which is great if you want to see country in a time frame of two weeks, hereby making use of domestic flights (although three weeks are recommended if you have more time and want to travel at a more leisurely pace)

  • Day 1-3: South Vietnam: explore Ho Chi Minh City and make a day trip to the Mekong Delta (recommended hotel: The Reverie).
  • Day 4-6: South Vietnam: fly to & explore the Con Dao archipelago (recommended hotel: Six Senses Con Dao).
  • Day 7-9: Central Vietnam: fly to & explore the Nha Trang area (recommended hotel: Amanoi or Six Senses Ninh Van Bay).
  • Day 10-12: Central Vietnam: fly to Danang & explore the cities of Hoi An & Hue (recommended hotels: Four Seasons, InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, Banyan Tree).
  • Day 13-14: North Vietnam: Hanoi (recommended hotel: Sofitel).
  • Day 15-16: North Vietnam: Ha Long Bay cruise.

If you don’t like to take domestic flights or have more time, I recommended to extend the above schedule by making a one- or two-night stopover at Mui Ne, located halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang (recommended hotel: Anantara Mui Ne) and a one- or two- night stop-over at Quy Nhon, located halfway between Nha Trang and Danang (recommended hotel: Avani Quy Nhon).

If you don’t have two weeks time, but let’s say 10 days or less, I recommend you to focus on two regions of Vietnam instead of three, and skip either the North, Center, or South (IMHO: the North and Center are more scenic and impressive as compared to the South).

For more ideas, I suggest the excellent Vietnam itineraries as described by The Rough Guides and Frommers.


RECOMMENDED LUXURY HOTELS (+ REVIEWS)

Please visit my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in Vietnam if you are eager to know how I rank the countries’ top properties, according to my own experience at each one of them.

Below, you find my reviews of luxury hotels in Vietnam (with pros, cons, and tips to save money per property).


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