is-vietnam-worth-visiting

Is Vietnam Worth Visiting in 2024? Things to do & Reasons to Visit

When it comes to discussions about travel destinations countries seem to come and go from the list frequently, but one of the hottest properties at this moment has to be Vietnam.

But when you ask the internet “is Vietnam worth visiting?” there seems to be some disagreement. In truth most of the negative appears to come from people who haven’t been there recently, or at all in some cases.

So we decided to spend a month in Vietnam to form our own opinion and to report back in our typical, unbiased way. If you want to know if Vietnam is really worth visiting then read on.

Where is Vietnam?

map showing the location of Vietnam

Is Vietnam worth visiting in 2024?

Compared to most other countries in Southest Asia Vietnam can be considered very much a developing nation when it comes to tourism. The infrastructure is struggling to keep up with increasing demand but the people in the hospitality industry are doing their best.

Which brings us to another point. Some of the comments we read during our research suggested that Vietnamese people can be quite rude to visitors.

After experiencing some of the most genuine and warm customer service we have ever experienced we wondered what those commenters had been doing to elicit rudeness. We only had one experience during the month that left us angry or disappointed, everyone else was wonderful.

Boats on the river in old Hoi An, Vietnam with people releasing lanterns

In this article we will go through all of the important factors for you to consider when deciding if Vietnam will be your next travel destination. And we will be sharing tips and opinions from our recent trip.

If you are looking for a short answer to the big question then YES! Vietnam is such a diverse country that you will surely find something about it that you will love, and it will come at a very cheap price.

How many days do I need in Vietnam?

Vietnam is a very long country, which means you must travel a long distance to get from one end to the other. So the number of days you need definitely depends on what you hope to get out of your trip, and where you want to go.

If you are looking for a quick “flop and drop” vacation you can find some nice beaches with well-priced, quality hotels and resorts. Perfect for an extended weekend trip.

The same can be said if you want to get a quick feel for the food and the people before committing to a longer stay. You could pick a single town and have a few days just eating and wandering.

To really appreciate a single region of Vietnam, whether it be Hanoi and its surrounds, the central area of Hoi An, Da Nang and Hue, or Ho Chi Minh in the south, you should be allocating at least 7 to 10 days.

But if your plan is to travel from one end to the other and have enough time in each place to genuinely appreciate where you are, we believe you should be committing at least three to four weeks, or even longer if possible.

Of course we understand that many people may be restricted travel time available so let us just say that with 10 to 14 days you can still have a memorable highlights trip.

How do you get to Vietnam?

Almost every traveller will be arriving in Vietnam by plane, so it is quite handy that the country has several international airports.

The two major points of entry will be Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh in the south, both of which welcome direct flights from dozens of countries across the globe.

While Da Nang Airport in Central Vietnam is also classed as international the range of direct connections is considerably fewer. It does however have several connecting flights through Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh daily.

Best places to visit in Vietnam

There are so many small towns and villages spread across the Vietnamese countryside and many of them offer something unique or interesting. But, to keep this to a readable length, let’s focus on a few of the more popular or extra special places.

Best places to visit in Northern Vietnam

📌 Hanoi

The ideal place to get a feel for big city life in Vietnam, Hanoi is a hive of activity. From the crazy traffic to the peaceful lake in the city centre, from food carts to sophisticated dining, Hanoi is a great place to meet Vietnam.

Evening at the famous Train Street in Hanoi

Hanoi is brimming with history and culture, is a great city to explore on foot, and it is incredibly cheap to visit. Make sure to try local dishes, try unique experiences like “train street” and “beer street”, and do some shopping.

We started our trip in Hanoi and loved it from the first morning. There is so much to do and see here that you would expect to feel overwhelmed, but somehow this city doesn’t feel as busy as it really is.

📌 Ninh Binh

If getting away from the city and getting closer to nature is more your thing then Ninh Binh might become one of your favourite places in Vietnam, or maybe even the world.

Tranquility in nature at the Lotus Field Homestay in Ninh Binh

Take a relaxing paddle past magnificent limestone cliffs and through quiet and beautiful caves, or put on your hiking boots to climb to the dragon for breathtaking views above Mua Caves.

Head into town after dark to witness the stunning riverwalk before returning back to one of the many homestay accommodations dotted throughout this pristine landscape.

📌 Sapa

If trekking is more your thing, hiring a local guide and hiking through the rice paddies on the hills at Sapa may be exactly what you are looking for. For the ultimate immersive experience try a multi-day trek and spend time with the local hill tribes.

📌 Halong Bay

One of the best-known places in Vietnam, which unfortunately has now translated into over-touristed places, is still worth a visit just to experience sailing among the majestic limestone mountains.

Once you look beyond the crazy quantity of cruising ships you will still witness one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Halong Bay may feel overcrowded but beautiful views like this make it worth a visit

We do recommend an overnight cruise rather than a day trip for this experience. Day-trippers we spoke to mostly felt too rushed and that they didn’t get the opportunity to just relax and take in the scenery.

Another tip: there is little difference between a 3-star cruise and a 5-star cruise except for the age and look of the boats. We chose a 3-star option which had us on a comfortable and more traditional boat.

The food was still top class and the crew absolutely 5-star. It really made me wonder why you would pay more money for a less traditional experience. But each to their own I guess.

Best places to visit in Central Vietnam

📌 Hoi An

The old-world charm oozes from every pore of Hoi An. This ancient river city, in our opinion, takes the best of Vietnam and compresses it into one small package.

View across the river to Hoi An old town

The Old Town along the river can get ridiculously busy with tourists at night but that takes nothing from the beauty and romance of the town. And a boat ride down the river where you can release a paper lantern into the river may be touristy but it is a fun and memorable experience.

Hoi An is so much more than just a pretty face. A short bike ride through the rice fields is a decent beach where you can swim or chill with a few cheap, local beers, or stay in town and get up close and personal with Hoi An’s incredible food culture.

📌 Da Nang

The largest city in central Vietnam, Da Nang is a popular beach destination for tourists and locals alike. Picture Miami or Australia’s Gold Coast but with much cheaper accommodation and less attractive beaches!

Other than the beach Da Nang is famous for its Dragon Bridge which breathes fire and spits water in a spectacular display every weekend. It’s quite a sight to see and definitely worth it if you are visiting.

Da Nang was our least favourite place in Vietnam but that may just have been because we had just spent time in the beautiful Hoi An, and any place would be a letdown after that.

📌 Hue

The third of the most popular places in central Vietnam is Hue, which in many ways is a blend of Hoi An and Da Nang. It is a place overflowing with historical significance but in a city setting rather than a small town.

Until fairly recently Hue was the home to the Vietnamese Emperor and his citadel fascinating place to visit during your time here. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes because the Citadel is a massive place.

Dragon guarding the entrance to the Emperors Palace at the Citadel in Hue

Hue has much more for the inquisitive traveller with a thriving market to explore, plenty of shopping at cheap prices, and a lovely pedestrian area along the edge of the river, perfect for an evening stroll.

Best places to visit in Southern Vietnam

📌 Ho Chi Minh

The largest city in Vietnam is probably best known for its role in the Vietnam War, and that history features heavily throughout the city with a number of museums and monuments.

Ho Chi Minh is more of a starting point for tours around the region rather than a destination in itself. Visitors will head out from the city to explore the Mekong Delta or to visit places like the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels.

To us, HCM just felt like any other busy and chaotic Asian city, with little in the way of personality. Somehow we just felt more in touch with Vietnam in Hanoi than we did here.

One place in HCM did catch our attention, however. The famous Bui Vien Walking Street is one of the craziest places we have been. It makes the Las Vegas Strip look like a ghost town in comparison.

For two or three blocks this street is just a party every night. Every building is either a bar or a restaurant, each pumping out music to drown out the next place, waiters swarming around the crowds trying to entice you into their restaurant, go-go dancers, and the occasional motorbike whizzing through.

It’s certainly not our usual scene but there was no way we were going to miss out on experiencing it once. It was quite a rush, but once was enough!

📌 Nha Trang

The most popular beach resort and diving area on mainland Vietnam, Nha Trang is a popular stop for backpackers looking for some sun and sand. The diving off the coast is among the best in the region.

Nha Trang is also home to the Vin Theme Parks which offer a Disneyesque experience for a fraction of the entry cost and, for much of the year, substantially smaller crowds.

We chose to bypass Nha Trang on our recent trip because it is not the easiest place to get to. For our downtime at the end of our trip we decided island life was a better option, and went to…

📌 Phu Quoc

Vietnam’s largest island is actually closer to Cambodia but either way, it is a great place to find some nice beaches and some incredibly good value in beachfront resorts.

How many places around the world do you know that offers a 5-star resort with an oceanview room and huge buffet breakfast for under $100 US per night? I bet you can’t find too many.

the enormous pool at the 5-star VinPearl beach resort on Phu Quoc

The island is also home to some of the Vin Theme Parks including VinWonders and Vin Safari Park. We bought a two-day pass and felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

VinWonders is very similar to Disneyland and, on the day we visited, could not have had more than 1000 guests in the park. There was only one ride that had a queue, all others just get on and go. Theme Park lovers take note!

Best things to do in Vietnam

Vietnam offers something for every type of traveller, so let’s break down the highlights into more manageable segments.

Best things to do in Vietnam for history buffs

Vietnam’s history is filled with long struggles for independence and unification. There are many experiences in Vietnam to allow you to better understand their turbulent history.

French colonization in the 19th century led to the 20th-century independence movement, climaxing with the 1945 declaration of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The Vietnam War, influenced by Cold War geopolitics, ended in 1975 with the North’s victory and national reunification. Post-war, Vietnam implemented Đổi Mới economic reforms, transitioning to a socialist-oriented market economy.

Best things to do in Vietnam for culture vultures

The Viet people have deep ties to a culture that has developed over thousands of years. They are very proud of their history and you will find plenty of opportunities to learn more about their traditions and sacred places.

Best things to do in Vietnam for foodies

Vietnamese cuisine is another topic that divides opinion. While some say it is too monotonous others love the way they can use such simple ingredients to make so many tasty dishes.

We fall into the second camp and enjoyed almost everything we tasted during our trip. In particular we enjoyed the cooking classes we participated in at every opportunity.

Best things to do in Vietnam for outdoor and adventure lovers

If there is one thing everyone seems to agree on when it comes to Vietnam, it’s that the country has no shortage of natural beauty. It is a wonderful destination for those of us who enjoy some time outdoors.

What should I eat in Vietnam?

Ask people what Vietnamese food they know and chances are they will either know nothing or they will say Bánh mì or Phở. And while those two dishes can be found easily right across the country, there is so much more to try.

Vietnames spring rolls on a food tour with local guide Phuong in Hanoi

Vietnam is renowned for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. Some of the most popular dishes include:

  • Phở: A fragrant noodle soup typically made with beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà), garnished with fresh herbs, lime, and chilli.
  • Bánh mì: A French-inspired baguette sandwich filled with various ingredients like pork, pate, pickled vegetables, and fresh cilantro.
  • Gỏi cuốn (Summer Rolls): Fresh rice paper rolls filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and vermicelli, served with a peanut dipping sauce.
  • Bún chả: Grilled pork served with rice noodles, fresh herbs, and dipping sauce, famously enjoyed by President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.
  • Cao lầu: A regional noodle dish from Hoi An, featuring thick noodles, slices of pork, fresh greens, and crunchy croutons.
  • Bánh xèo: Savory Vietnamese pancakes made with rice flour, turmeric, and coconut milk, filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts.
  • Chả giò (Fried Spring Rolls): Crispy rolls filled with a mixture of ground pork, mushrooms, and vegetables, often served with dipping sauce. Can also be found with other fillings.
  • Cơm tấm: A popular dish featuring broken rice served with grilled pork, egg, and various accompaniments.
  • Cơm gà (Vietnamese Chicken Rice): Fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth and served with boiled or fried chicken, herbs, and a tangy dipping sauce. Our favourite cooking class dish.
  • Bún bò Nam Bộ (Warm Beef Noodle Salad): A flavorful salad with warm beef, rice noodles, fresh herbs, peanuts, and a savoury-sweet fish sauce dressing. Our favourite Hanoi food tour dish.

These dishes reflect the rich culinary heritage and regional diversity of Vietnam and you should try every one of them.

Pauline eating the best Pho she has ever tasted at Hoang's in Hanoi

What else should you know about Vietnam?

❔ Do I need a visa to enter Vietnam, and how can I obtain one?

Most travellers need a visa, which can be obtained online via e-visa, or from Vietnamese embassies. It is possible to obtain a visa on arrival but expect to be at the airport for several hours waiting for processing.

The e-visa is quite easy to complete and generally only takes a few days to process. However it is recommended you send off the application two weeks before your trip in case you have to correct an error or there are delays.

Another important tip is to make sure you are completing the form on the official government website and not one of the sites that fill in the form for you but charge hefty fees.

❔ What is the best time of year to visit Vietnam for good weather and fewer tourists?

The best time is from November to April, when the weather is cooler and drier. But keep in mind that Vietnam covers a very large distance from North to South and the climate can vary greatly across the country.

During the New Year celebrations in February is a great time to join in the festivities but understand you won’t be the only tourists there for the fun. Expect some big crowds.

❔ What are the must-see places and top attractions in Vietnam?

Must-see places include Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, Phu Quoc Island and the Mekong Delta.

❔ What is the currency used in Vietnam, and what are the typical costs of accommodation, food, and transportation? (Prices in USD)

The currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Vietnam is generally affordable, with budget accommodations starting at $10-20 per night, meals at $1-5, and local transport at $1-10.

With Vietnam offering travellers such great value for money don’t be afraid to treat yourself to some nicer accommodation occasionally, the difference between a Hostel and a 4-star hotel might only be a few dollars per night.

❔ Is Vietnam a safe destination for travellers, and are there any health precautions or vaccinations needed?

Vietnam is generally safe, but as with any destination, travellers should be cautious of petty theft. Vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and malaria prophylaxis are recommended.

As with any destination, you should always check your government’s travel recommendations and ask your health professional about additional vaccination suggestions.

❔ What are the best ways to get around Vietnam?

While trains and buses are the most economical way to travel the long distances they are often reported as being something less than a comfortable way to move around.

Vietnam has a few low-cost domestic airlines and flying is a great option and may be much cheaper than you expect.

If you have a motorcycle licence and experience with long-distance riding then hiring a bike may be an option. But if you are fans of a 4-wheeled road trip, like us, the bad news is Vietnam may not be the right place to get behind the wheel.

❔ What cultural traditions and etiquette should I be aware of when visiting Vietnam?

Dress modestly, especially in temples; remove shoes before entering homes; and avoid touching people’s heads or pointing with your feet.

While some of these things sound strange to us and you may think they are restrictive or too silly to bother with, remember that you are a visitor and you should respect your hosts.

We did see quite a few young female tourists wearing sleeveless tops and shorts, and a few guys wearing caps that couldn’t be bothered to show respect when visiting temples. Please don’t be one of them.

❔ How widely is English spoken, and will I have trouble communicating?

English is commonly spoken in tourist areas, but learning basic Vietnamese phrases can be helpful. It doesn’t take much effort to at least know how to say please, thankyou, hello and goodbye in a local language.

❔ What types of accommodation are available, and which areas are best to stay in major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang?

Options range from budget hostels to luxury hotels. In Hanoi, stay in the Old Quarter; in Ho Chi Minh City, District 1; and in Da Nang, near My Khe Beach.

We decided to spoil ourselves at the end of the trip on Phu Quoc and split our time between a 4-star beach resort, the Saigon Phu Quoc Resort & Spa at under US$50 per night, and a 5-star luxury beach resort, the VinPearl at under US$100 per night.

Is Vietnam Worth Visiting? Our opinion.

Vietnam had been on our travel radar for a few years but it wasn’t until we found a crazy cheap tour deal on Clickfrenzy that we finally locked in a trip. And we decided the 12 day tour needed more so we extended to a month.

Short answer first… Absolutely Vietnam is worth visiting. We felt that it offered the kinds of experiences you used to be able to get in Thailand before it was tourist-trampled to near death.

Dean and Pauline on the river in a basket boat near Hoi An

We loved the food and the subtle differences between versions and we moved further south. Every meal seemed much too cheap for how good it actually tasted and was presented.

The people were generally very friendly and almost every person we had contact with in hotels and restaurants seemed genuinely happy that we were there. None of the plastic “have a nice day” crap.

The Viet people love to share their history and culture and we are sponges when it comes to that kind of experience. And the sites we visited enhanced every story we were told.

If you are looking for an inexpensive destination with great food, friendly locals, a rich history and traditions willingly shared, then Vietnam should be pushing its way to the top of your list.

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