Vietnam in a Nut Shell:
- EAT! – Pho Bo: A steaming bowl of beef noodle soup is a local Vietnamese speciality and a must-try disg! Best eaten in styrofoam bowl off the streets off Hanoi
- DRINK! – Bia Hoi: Grab a plastic stool and sit at a Bia-Hoi Junction with locals and fellow travellers whilst drinking Vietnam’s most beloved draft beer. (At $0.50 / litre – why the hell not!)
- WEAR! – Red T-Shirt with a Yellow Star: Have you been to Vietnam? Get the T-shirt.
- BEWARE! – Crossing the road: Cars, trucks,motorbikes, bicycle rick-shaws, bicycles, street hawkers, pedestrians, it’s certainly a challenge! Locate a gap, commit and then don’t stop moving…
Introduction to Diverse Vietnam…
Misty mountains, magical karst landscapes, hectic buzzing cities, sweeping rugged coast lines, fishing villages, sandy beaches. The best thing about Vietnam is it’s diversity.
The shape of the country, being skinny means that it is a fantastic country to travel the length from North to South or South to North. Hop on an open bus which costs just $15 for the whole length of the country or take the comfortable sleeper trains.
Group Trips in Vietnam
In Vietnam’s cities, you’ll find an energy and a pace of life that is electrifying and never boring. In the North you’ll find Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, full of character and life. Wander around the ancient streets of Hanoi’s Old Medieval Quarter, where each street is named after the trade that was first established there. Relax by Hoan Kiem Lake, sip sweet Vietnamese Coffee, sit at the famous Bia Hoi Junctions with the locals and soak up the atmosphere of one of Vietnam’s most atmospheric cities.
Northern Vietnam is a great area for backpackers to explore and one that’s hard to beat on diversity. Many backpackers find that their highlight during a trip to Vietnam is UNESCO World Heritage site Halong Bay ‘Bay of the Descending Dragons’ – with hundred of limestone karsts, caves, beaches and floating villages to explore… Check out the most popular trip for backpackers to Halong Bay here.
UNESCO Halong Bay with its limestone karsts and floating villages
Further inland, from the Mai Chau Valley to the untouched mountain village of Mu Cang Chai to beautiful Sapa – you’ll find some of the most incredible scenery in Vietnam. You could be trekking amongst hill tribe villages in mountainous Sapa one week, wake-boarding by the beach in Cat Ba National Park the next.
Check out this backpacker trip in the untouched highlands of Vietnam
Hiking, kayaking, water-sports, rock-climbing, even scaling the heights of Vietnam’s highest peak ‘Fansipan’, for the intrepid traveller, the adventures to be had on land or at sea are never-ending!
Heading further down the coast to Central Vietnam, you’ll find the ancient towns and UNESCO World Heritage Towns of Hue and Hoi An – must-stops for backpackers interested in culture, architecture, history and art. For food lovers, they’re also great places to try some delicious Vietnamese local specialities! And while you’re in Hoi An, why not fill your rucksack with some brand new tailor-made clothes!
Adventure junkies must not miss the incredible Phong Nha National Park, with rafting, kayaking, trekking, mountain biking and caving opportunities! Recently, the world’s largest cave was discovered in the area ‘Han Son Doong’.
After all that history and culture, if you’re beginning to get withdrawal symptoms for a beach, don’t panic! Look no further than Vietnam’s beach resort of Nha Trang. A long white stretch of sandy beach, accompanies by lively night-time bars will keep travellers coming back for more. Or you may prefer the quieter, more chilled out Mui Ne, famed as the wind-surfing capital of Vietnam, it’s a great (and cheap) place to kick back for a few days.
Down South, the country’s capital Ho Chi Minh City, (formerly Saigon) has a completely different feel than Hanoi. Distinctly more modern and sprawling, it’s Vietnam’s powerhouse and economic centre with plenty of hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs to keep the backpacker busy! After the city, from here it’s just a short journey to Phu Quoc Island and South Vietnam’s answer to a beach paradise.
Exciting, extremely diverse, at times exasperating, but never boring, Vietnam will shake up your senses and leave you with some fantastic and unforgettable travel moments!
5 Random Facts about Vietnam
1. Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is a UNESCO World Heritage site where more than 3000 limestone karsts rise from the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong translates as the ‘bay of descending dragons.’
2. There are over 20 million motorbikes in Vietnam, more than 3.5 million of which can be found on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, which averages at nearly one motorbike for every two persons.
3. In the old quarter of Vietnam’s fascinating capital, Hanoi, the streets are named after the trade that once took place there. For example, Hang Dao Street, translates as ‘Pink Street’ as it once sold fabric, silk and dye in bright colours, like red and pink, whereas the connecting ‘Hang Ngang Street’ sold bluish fabrics, and is thus known as ‘turquoise street.’
4. Vietnam boasts an impressive coast line of nearly 3,500 kilometres of rugged sandy beaches and sheer cliffs that back onto National Park land in many areas. At its thinnest point, the country is only 31 kilometres wide.
5. Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963 was considered one of the most elegant women of the 20th Century, compared to Jackie Onassis, Eva Peron and Grace Kelly.
- Currency: Vietnamese Dong
- Capital city: Hanoi
- Main religion: Tam Giao (Triple religion – Confucionism, Taosim, Buddhism)
- Main language: Vietnamese (official)
- Telephone code: +84
- Time: GMT + 7 hours
- Emergency numbers: Ambulance: 115, Police: 113, Fire: 114
Vietnam Language Essentials
- Hello: Sin chao (Hello)
- Thank you: Cam on (thank you)
- Oh my God!: Oy zoy oy!
- Learn Vietnamese on your iPod for free.
Vietnam Visa Information
Visa: Visas for entering Vietnam must be arranged in advance. You can do this at the Vietnamese embassies in whichever country you are in and some travel agencies also offer the service. Depending on where you apply for it and how long you mind waiting, (on average from 1 day to 4 days), it can cost anywhere between $35 and $65 for a 30 day visa. You will need 1 passport sized photograph and your passport must be valid for at least 6 months upon entering.
Visas can also now be obtained in advance through Vietnam Airlines online. The initial application for a single entry visa will cost $18, then a further $25 “stamping fee” will be charged on arrival in the airport, when you collect the visa. The $18 gets you a letter of approval, which must be printed out and taken to show the Airlines when boarding the plane. The letter, along with two passport photos and $25 in cash, must then be given to the Immigration Office upon arrival in return for your visa.
Visa extension: Maximum 30 day extensions can be obtained from travel agents in Hanoi, HCMC or Danang. The process can take up to 5 days and the fee is US$30 for extensions up to 30 days.
The climate of North and South Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the South and hot summers and cold winters in the North. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November.