Vietnam has earned its name as one of the most versatile and golden places to visit on earth. It has a lot to offer when it comes to the tourist attractions.
It actually has everything for everyone when it comes to likes and favorite places to visit, foods to eat, and scenery among others. It is a serene tourist destination which is envied by even the frequent travelers.
Update: Find 41 Best Things to do in Hanoi
Update: Read now 24 Fun things to do in Ho Chi Minh City/ Saigon
This is your guide to the best FUN things to do in Vietnam. A complete guide, a guide to see what do Vietnamese for fun, tipping, what to eat in Vietnam.
This article covers everything about Vietnam:
- top things to do
- 10 Smart and basic Travel Tips for Vietnam
- 10 Things not to do in Vietnam
- Shopping: 6 Things to buy (souvenirs, perks and essentials)
- What to pack – a packing list
- handpicked accommodations (hostels, hotels, homestays, resorts)
- Insurance for Motorbiking Vietnam
- Visa to Vietnam
- Safety in Vietnam
- Things to do in Vietnam in 15 days (Itinerary ideas)
- Tet Holiday in Vietnam
- Full map with itinerary and sights
- guide books
- your questions
It is said that you cannot truly claim to have explored all what Vietnam has to offer on just one visit.
However, like any other destination, you want to explore and tour, you will need to make some serious preparations if you want to get the most out of your visit.
This is a guest article. Hostelgeeks visited as well Vietnam, and we got back with a bunch of amazing hostels. When you are planning to visit Vietnam, make sure you bookmark this article.
For the Spanish speaker and traveler, here is a full guide to Viajar a Vietnam.
Read: all the best hostels in Vietnam – for all types of travellers
1) Best Things to Do in Vietnam
Assuming that you have done your research and you know the basics already, below are the coolest things and tours you can do while in your stay.
No worries, we cover the basic tips here.
In this list we share our adventures of 3 months in Vietnam. With the fun things, the cool things and gems we found.
We share how to drive around on a motorbike, explore hidden tunnels and how a tractor took us in a shovel to a lonely beach.
(As for the printed guide book, here is your Lonely Planet to Vietnam.)
1. Take your food fantasy to Hanoi
It is a haven for all the food lovers.
You can find in Hanoi the best delicacies in the country and at a cost friendly price. It is a big city which mean that there are multiple restaurants and places where you can get any type of meal you want.
If you love eating unique and tasty meals, then you need to take a tour to Hanoi. It is better if you have a tour guide to help you explore the city without much hustle while you enjoy the tasty meals which are readily affordable.
Do eat all the street food you can find in Hanoi. We loved it!
Food and Walking Tours in Hanoi
There are also plenty of Hanoi Waking Tours. Personally I love food walking tours combined. You can find great walking tours in Hanoi here.
Find more information on food tours in Hanoi here.
From pork to noodles and fish dishes, you will find all once you get to Hanoi.
Oh and psst: If you fancy a great restaurant, our absolute favorite restaurant in Hanoi is called NEW DAY in the old town.
Vegetarian Food in Hanoi
Also, Vegetarians will love the food in Hanoi. There are many many options. All over Vietnam you will find An Chay Restaurants.
Vietnam is a paradise for Vegetarians!
“An Chay” means Vegetarian.
Not everybody actually understands what vegetarian means, so they might want to put chicken on top of your Banh Mi, for instance. Keep an eye on it and let them know by gestures you do not want chicken on your food, for instance.
Vietnamese street sellers are happy to make you the sandwich you want.
I always stay next to them and point to the things I do not want and the thing I do want, and use some hand signals. It works well. Try it.
2. Take a Tractor to the beach (central Vietnam)
One of the most adventurous things to do in Vietnam was taking a tractor to the beach.
This is one of the super-NON-touristy things to do!
This beach we went to is North of the Mui Dinh dunes. There was a street food stall near the street. We stopped there, asked, they sent the tractor.
No, I am not kidding. This is exactly how Vietnam works!
They brought us to the beach through the Vietnamese dessert.
We agreed they will pick us up again in 2 hours. We were beaching for a bit, took amazing photos, enjoyed the ambiance. There was also a small street food shop on the beach.
Again, this is Vietnam. This is the typical Vietnam experience when you leave the beaten path!
We stayed at the Hon Co Ca Na Resorts for $35 a night.
From here we took our motorbikes along the coast line to the dunes again and then took the tractor.
The resort is super cool as well. You stay 5 meters away from the beach in huge rooms. The food int he restaurant itself was also amazing.
The guy working there became our close friend, we chatted always with him and he gave us amazing tips. So, yeah, come over here!
3. Experience wind and kitesurfing in Mui Ne
The region may paint a picture as being only a fishing destination, since it is famous for that.
However, it has a lot more to offer in terms of adventure.
Mui Ne has amazing sand dunes which you can take advantage of.
You can get your gear ready to surf with the wind and sand dunes. It is a magical experience which adds to the excitement once you tour the area. It ignites a sense of adventure and if you do not want to surf you can watch the beautiful sand dunes to make your trip worthwhile.
Important: If you are coming here by motorbike, pay attention to the police and avoid their scams.
4. Talking about Mui Ne: The Dunes
The dunes of Mui Ne are one of the top places in Vietnam.
Everybody knows about them. If you haven’t heard about it, well, you would have heard it soon enough.
The dunes in Mui Ne are super cool and you even sandboard here. Wherever you stay, a hotel, hotel or home stay, they can offer and organize the tour for you.
The dunes are about 200km East of Saigon aka. Ho Chi Minh City.
Good to know: Mui Ne is known for its dunes AND the corrupt police men. When you plan to come here with your motorbike, chances are the police will stop you. And even if you have all the needed paper work, they want some money from you.
We avoided Mui Ne with the motorbike and drove around it. You can find an alternative route here.
5. Explore the Hang Son Doong cave
Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, the Hang Son Doong cave is the largest known cave in the world.
Hang Son Doong cave is the largest known cave in the world.
You will be treated to a rare site in the national park where the cave is found. Tourists flock this national park to see the amazing cave which is reputable due to its size.
However, you will have to pay an entrance fee to enter the cave and experience the beauty of greatness.
Good to know: You cannot enter this cave without any guide. You HAVE to get a guide and you can even sleep here.
You can book the tour with Oxalis.com. They are specialized in this cave tour.
Bare in mind, some tours can cost up to 3000$. During these tours you actually sleep in the cave. Now, that’s definitely amazing!
6. Have a Mud Bath in Dark Cave-Hang Tối (and Zipline)
In the same area, near the enormous cave of Hang Son Doong, you find the so-called Dark Cave.
The Dark Cave is a long cave where you enter with a small group and you are armed with a helmet and a light. At the end of the Dark Cave there is a mud bath waiting for you.
It is pure fun!
The group is limited to 15 people (around about). You can also enjoy a bit of Kayaking and a tiny water park with the Dark Cave together. You start with a 400m Zipline, walk in the cave, have the bath and then enjoy the water park with zipline, water bikes and a few more fun games.
There is no need to book anything ahead of time. Just go to the Dark Dave, buy your entrance and enter.
The tour starts as soon as enough people are in.
The coolest and most popular hostel in Phong Nha is Easy Tiger.
They even have a pool, live music, foosball, organized cave tours and a daily briefing on things to do in Phong Nha for the day.
7. Take a trip to the Hanoi and visit the Mausoleum
Hanoi has a lot to offer from art galleries to beautiful temples.
If you are a fan of architecture and historical ruins, the city of Hanoi has a lot to offer.
Visit the museums where you will get to learn about the history of the Vietnamese people enjoying the sights and scenery.
While in Hanoi, make sure you visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh. Personally, I had no idea that this is even possible.
You can enter the Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh is placed. You can see the real dead body of him.
It looks like in the movies, very very interesting!
Many schools with young kids from all over the country visit. They hold a small ceremony, all are dressed accordingly.
You are not allowed to bring in a big camera. You can leave this free of charge outside, and can pick it up later. I did it, the camera was in perfect shape, no worries!
Inside you will find 4 soldiers, not moving at all.
Important to know: You are not allowed to take any photo. If you do, you can end up in jail! Behind the body you will see huge flags in red. One flag is the Vietnamese flag with a golden star on red background. The other one is the Sowjetunion/ Communism flag known as The Hammer and Sickle and The Red Banner.
The entrance is free.
Tuesday – Thursday: 07:30 – 10:30
Saturday and Sunday: 07:30 – 11:00
Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
8. See the pagodas
Get to know the religious culture of the Vietnamese.
The pagodas serve as evidence of a rich culture which is still respected in the region.
The pagodas are unique structures or buildings which are found everywhere you go within Vietnam. They are normally used as shrines by the people are which makes them important to the citizens of the country.
They have ancient carvings on them which will be worth seeing and exploring.
Not to worry actually.
You will come across religious buildings in
- Hoi An
No need to add anything extra to the list.
The biggest Pagoda in all Vietnam is Bai Dinh Pagoda, in Ninh Binh province. This is around 100km south of Hanoi.
9. Find solace in Dalat (or Da Lat)
Set yourself up for a relaxing atmosphere on the highlands.
If you want a little action to go with this, you can participate in the sporting events on the hills of Dalat.
You can also tour the villages around which will open up the rich culture of the region while you find solace in that serene place.
We especially enjoyed the tiny, cute coffee shops all over the village.
Our favorite coffee shops in Da Lat are:
- An cafe
- Me Linh Coffee Garden (for a day trip to the area)
- Bicycle up cafe
- ZEN Cafe Dalat – Villa
- K’ Coffee
Dalat is also the region where they produce wine. Try a few local wines, they are tasty!
Another highlight is the night market directly in the city center. You cannot miss it!
10. Visit Hoi An for a shopping adventure
Get suited and put on your suit game as you will find tailor-made suits in Hoi An.
Hoi An is the cutest, typical Vietnamese village you will find. So, at least, it is in the book.
It is really cute, a river flows through the village, many small shops, cafés, restaurants. The whole village is surrounded by rice fields, perfect to take photos.
In this guide we cover as well the best things to buy in Vietnam.
Find here our big guide on best hostels in Hoi An.
The beach of Hoi An is around 5km away.
Hoi An is a small place where you can opt to take a walk as you explore the authentic suits they have in store.
Most visitors come to this place to shop, see historical building and have coffee at the most exquisite cafes it has to offer.
Also, you can choose to relax at the beaches after a long day of exploration and adventure.
Good to know: The first day we entered the village we went to a beautiful roof top restaurant. The next day we took the same street and suddenly there was a stand asking for an entrance fee. Apparently this is not a scam, but true. Around the city you find a few places asking for entrance fee.
We did not pay, since we thought it is a scam. We went to a different street, same story.
Then we went to the street with Cong Caphe, there we did not have to pay any entrance. I cannot assure you it will be the same for you, but give it a try.
To me it does not seem fair to pay an entrance fee to an ancient city, especially since i leave my money anyway here, buying at least a few souvenirs or coffees.
Anyway, this is just for you to know.
My best tip for Hoi An: Move around and keep walking. There are so many corners and tiny places you can explore. Do not stay only on the main street. At night, the city is lightened up. This is the best time to take beautiful photos.
Last but not least: I loved the Chinese Bridge, so beautiful and picturesque. Here is our photo from the Chinese Bridge.
Update: once a month, every full moon, there is the Full Moon Festival in Hoi An.
If you happen to be around here, stay in Hoi An. You can purchase little floating candles boats and set them free in the river.
Personally, I did not like this that much. When you walk a bit in floating direction, you will see all the trash. Not really adorable anymore.
11. Take a bike tour to Da Nang
Da Nang is the big city near Hoi An. It is in the north of Hoi An.
It has SO MUCH to offer, but it is less known, a real hidden gem in Vietnam.
If you know how to ride a bicycle, then Da Nang will be the best place to tour. A bike tour will go well if you have local guides helping you discover the beautiful landscape.
You will be able to go through villages as you wish away the sunlight.
The tour will start as the sun rises and may go on til the daylight is gone.
It is an adventurous tour, which educates you on what the area has to offer in terms of tranquility and unlimited adventures as you move along with a small crew.
The best hostel in Da Nang is Memory Hostel. In a nutshell, the best hostels in Da Nang are:
- Memory Hostel – for solo-traveler
- Rom Casa Hostel Da Nang – for party-traveler and beach-lover
- The Vietnam Hostel – for couples
Read our complete guide to best hostels in Da Nang.
What to do in Da Nang?
You have to visit the infamous Dragon Bridge. Every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm then dragons spits fire – real fire!
Okay, the dragon spits as well water after spitting the fire… but I think the fire is way cooler!
Below you can find more information, #15.
Read: 14 best design cafes in Da Nang.
During the day, hang out at the beach or drive to the peninsula. There is a gigantic Buddha statue.
In the area you find as well restaurants directly at the beach. Just keep driving – there is only 1 street – and keep an eye to the right side. Once you see a restaurant, climb down the stairs, sit down, enjoy the ocean!
Here is the street I am talking about. This will make it easier for you to find the place.
Bare in mind, wherever you park with your motorbike, you pay a bit for parking. It is kind of a tipping for the people watching over your vehicle.
12. Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
It is a favorite destination for all those visitors who love diving in the sea. If you are familiar with scuba diving you can apply for a certification and take a plunge into the sea.
However, if you are not a fun, you can dine and wine in the beautiful resorts found bedside the sea which adds value to your visit.
Vietnam has a lot to offer for your perfect vacation or holiday.
There is a lot to see and a lot of places to visit.
However, this will depend on how well prepared in terms of the necessities you need and the prior knowledge of the area you are visiting. This will prevent you from running into trouble and enjoy your stay while you make the most out of it.
The best hostel in Nha Trang is the container hostel CCASA Hostel.
Update: We wanted to give you even more insights to the essential things to do in Vietnam.
So we updated this article with even more tours and places to visit in Vietnam.
13. A vegetarians heaven
Are you a meat lover? No worries, there is LOTS of meat you can eat.
But, also vegetarians will love this country.
During our 3 months adventure, we enjoyed so much food.
This country is a heaven for vegetarians.
The Buddhist only eat vegetarian so there are tons of restaurants and food stalls specialized on this.
Keep your eyes open!
Every full moon, all Buddhist people only eat vegetarian foot. We had no idea and went to a Vegetarian restaurant in Da Nang. They were even out of food!
Try to learn as well the basic words for Vegetarian: AN CHAI!
I can even write you this without looking up the word. Here is a guide to eating Vegetarian in Vietnam.
14. Visit an abandoned water park
We visited Hue, the former capital.
Hue is located North of Hoi An. A bike trip or an organized bus tour between these two cities is the best you can do in Vietnam! It is one of my favorite routes in Vietnam! This route takes you along the Hai Van Pass. This is where you will find a former US military bunker. It was once one of the most dangerous routes in the world, today it is only beautiful.
It is also the former border between North and South Vietnam.
Hue is a nice place to visit in Vietnam and recommended by so many people. So, yes, it is worth, but…there is a but:
Our highlight was the abandoned waterpark in Hue.
It is right outside the city center, and there is a tiny entrance fee. This park was built in the 2000s and was never really used and adapted by the people.
Today, well, it’s a travelers dream to wander around this impressive scenery. Bring you camera, please please please!
Good to know: There is a tiny food stall around. Here you can get a coca cola and some basic food.
Rumor: Rumor has it, that there are crocodiles living in this area and the water park. When we visited we have seen nothing no evidence of this. Plus, we could not find any information on this.
15. Enjoy Da Nang and the Dragon Bridge
A bit more south of Hue you find Da Nang. Da Nang is a big city, just a few km away from the tiny, yet famous village of Hoi An.
Da Nang is non-touristy!
There is no other city where you can see the growing times of Vietnam. Come here, enjoy the beach and endless awesome coffee shops.
Also, you can visit here roof top terrace with infinity pools.
The fire-spitting Dragon Bridge is another thing you have to see in Vietnam.
The Memory Hostel is the best place to admire the Dragon Bridge. It has a roof top terrace with a direct view to the bridge. EPIC!
Check here my full guide on best hostels in Da Nang.
16. Visit Sa Pa (trekking and family)
Up in the North of Hanoi, right at the border of China, there is Sa Pa.
It’s a wonderful experience to admire the scenic landscape. Stay with a local family, play with the kids, and mingle with the locals.
Sa Pa is known for the
- rice fields in the mountains
- the magical views and
- trekking experience
You can stay either in the Sa Pa Village itself in a better guesthouse. Or you can stay with a local family.
I totally recommend the local family experience.
The locals will approach you when arriving to Sa Pa. You will go for a trekking with your guide, all the way to the families village and house. Here you hang out in the kitchen, near the fire, can take beautiful photos of the landscape and try rice wine.
Rice wine? It is the drink of the simple people. You have to try this when you visit!
How to get to Sa Pa?
You can take:
1. Night Train: This is one of the best and most adventurous things to do in Vietnam. Book a night train and go over night to Sa Pa. Here’s a blogger guide to get from Hanoi to Sa Pa by sleeper train.
Very good to know: As a foreigner you cannot book tickets on the official train website with your foreign credit card. There is only a website to buy EXPENSIVE tickets to Sa Pa.
BUT: You can buy your cheap tickets directly at the train station. We paid only 7€ per person, while others who paid online bought a ticket for 50€ – each way.
2. Bus: There is a bus leaving from Hanoi to Sa Pa everyday. There are as well sleeping buses. I am not a big fan of buses, this is why we took the train.
Find our guide to traveling in Sa Pa here. We included our own photos!
Read: all our 99 travel photos from Vietnam here.
17. Enjoy Ha Long Bay (starting from Cat Ba)
Head over to the stunning Ha Long Bay. For me, this is one of the BEST things to do in Vietnam.
There is no way around it, do not SKIP THIS!!
You can take a cruise ship and soak in everything there is. We recommend spending at least 1 night here. It is really something special and unique!
You can book your day cruise tour in Ha Long Bay here.
My best recommendation is actually staying overnight. Book a 2 day cruise with sleeping in the Ha Long Bay on the boat.
This tour includes a private 4 star boat with a bar, spring roll cooking classes , kayaking and much more.
Planning to stay in Ha Long Bay?
Instead of staying at the not-so-beautiful-city of Ha Long City, I highly recommend Cat Ba Island. It is directly located in the Ha Long Bay – exactly the same landscape!
This island has a cave hospital, a small village, a national park to visit and really nice restaurants.
18. Enjoy coffee – over and over again!
Sure, we are big coffee lovers. In fact, we summed up our tips on how to find design coffee shops all around the world.
Vietnam is a country you will start to get into the coffee world as well.
There are many wonderful coffee shops around. But, you can get a regular coffee basically everywhere and it will be fantastic!
You can try the typical Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, coffee with egg or coffee with coconut. YUMMY!
19. Go off the beaten path
The best places to visit in Vietnam are:
- Ha Long Bay
- Hoi An
- Saigon /Ho Chi Minh City
Those are the absolute basic recommendations you will get over an over again. Okay, I get it.
However, if you have enough time, take the pass less traveled.
Visit for instance Kon Tum or the 3 borders triangle between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There is so much to see apart from the big tourist spots.
Go for it!
20. Take a motorbike tour from Hanoi to Saigon
We spent 3 full months in this amazing country. This gave us the time to fall in love with it, to “hate” it, to admire it, to enjoy it, to be annoyed by it – all that in the same day sometimes!
If you bring at least 4 weeks with you (and enough confidence), buy a motorbike and cruise from Hanoi to Saigon.
Travel the world-famous Ho Chi Minh Road. It is a life time experience!
Good to know: We recommend to plan at least with 3 weeks for this trip.
You can also rent a bike and only do a part of the trip. This is also an option and life-time experience. You can do easily 25k strong trips, but on average we drove about 100km per day.
We did not drive every day of course. We took our time and enjoyed a lot Da Nang for instance, Hoi An and more beach towns. But the days we took the bikes from A to B it was between 25k and 150km.
The biggest distance we drove in one day was around 200km. The average travel speed with motorbikes is 60km/h.
If you have any questions on how to buy a motorbike in Vietnam, itineraries or whatever, I am happy to help.
Just leave a comment below, happy to give you handy websites and facebook groups to find your motorbike.
21. At least: Take a motorbike along Hai Van Pass
But okay…we get it, not everyone wants to do this bike trip.
The most scenic road we’ve traveled here was the Hai Van Pass between Hue and Hoi An.
In the map below you can find the destinations and cities we are talking about.
Back in the days of the American War, this was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. There is a former American bunker on the top, and the views are just WOWing you. Have a look on the photo below.
You can join as well organized tours with other travelers from Hoi An to Hue, just ask your accommodation.
22. Visit a roof-top terrace in Saigon
When we think of Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon, we think about FUN nights out. Oh my god, it was EPIC!
The biggest city in the country comes with amazing roof top terraces.
We had quite some parties here with our friends from The Common Room Project.
Therefore, highly recommend it! Go for a drink at a roof-top terrace.
There are cheaper places for the nightlife, but it is well worth it! The whole hostel moved to the roof top disco, and we stayed until the club closed.
A super fun thing to do!
Update: The Common Room Project now opened their own roof top to the public. Come here even when you are not staying here, it’s fun!!
23. Stay at awesome hostels
The quality of hostels varies a lot. There are a bunch of dirty backpackers hostel to crazy party hostels to stunning 5 Star Hostels.
If you are a female solo-traveler, opt-in for the 5 Star Hostels.
You find all Top Hostels in Vietnam here. We even included an backpacking itinerary for Vietnam.
Actually, we recommend everybody to stay at the 5 Star Hostels.
You can still join the Party Hostels for their nightlife -even without staying there!
And remember, hostels are the gateway to make lifelong friendships.
Below, you can find a list of accommodations in Vietnam we recommend.
24. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels (near Saigon)
Impressive, terrifying, curious, crazy, wow…
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a MUST-VISIT in Vietnam, no question about it.
You can take day trips from Saigon or go there by your own.
Just ask the hostel for recommendations. You can ask the team at The Common Room Project. It is the 5 Star Hostel in town. They will help you to organized this trip.
FYI: You can also fire an old machine gun. It was around $15, and it’s real bullets.
Although we are no fans of guns, to hear the gun fire in the background when walking around the area adds a special, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s quite an experience!
Read: 24 best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
25. Visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi
Did you know you can visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh? He is in the Mausoleum and every thousands of people visit him.
This is a free thing to do in Hanoi.
Just check the schedule and plan enough time.
Also: Do NOT try to take a photo of Ho Chi Minh. There are 4 to 6 soldiers in the room. It is forbidden to take a photo.
If you do take a photo, then, well, you will be most likely arrested. Do not risk it!
We mentioned this earlier before in this list. I consider this a must-do, this place tells you a lot about the country. The past, the present and the future!
Read: 41 things to do in Hanoi – for families and solo-traveler
26. Visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels
We told you we will share with you the less known tunnels. But impressive in the same way.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels are located in the “North”, or shall we say, the former North Vietnam.
These tunnels were used to hide from the bombings. The Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon were used to hide and fight.
You see, in the American war, the North was bombed, while they were fighting man against man in the South.
Not many tourists come here since it is not easy to get here. It is in the area of Hue. You need a motorbike or hire a driver to get here.
The entrance fee is very low and there is a guide you can hire.
I would recommend the guide since he or she will share incredible stories e.g. how many babies were born here, how many tunnels were destroyed and so on. There is as well stories of underground villages that were bombed, and destroyed.
Incredible, terrifying stories.
27. Tour with the Hanoi kids
The locals know their way around the best places to visit in Hanoi.
As such, you will get chance to take some of the Hanoi kids with you in an effort to get the most out of your visit.
It involves signing up for the tour which is organized by an organization that seeks to pair the kids or students with the travelers. The students are learning English and thus offers a great opportunity for them to interact as they show travelers around.
It is a fun experience and you get to learn more during the tour.
Read: our first 24 hours in Hanoi meeting local students.
28. Water Puppet Show
One of the best things to do in Vietnam and Hanoi with kids is this one: A water Puppet theatre!
See a unique art form that originates over 1,000 years ago in the Red River Delta. In the past, water puppetry showed the daily life of villagers such as farming, fishing and romance. Now, watch plays about ancient Vietnamese legends, myths and history.
How did this get started?
The world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi has its roots in an art form that dates back to the 11th century.
The tradition of water puppet theater stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would create entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water. Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.
The entrance is only around 8€, and the show lasts around 45 minutes.
It is family-friendly and a great cultural experience.
I am adding here a video abut the theatre for you.It’s kind of spoiler alert, so don’t watch it if you want to be surprised yet by the actual show.
29. Tam Coc/ Ninh Binh and the “dry Ha Long Bay”
Tam Coc and Ninh Binh are located a bit more than 100km south of Hanoi.
The two villages are next to each other, part of a giant National Reserve.
You can also come here by bus or by your motorbike.
It is known as the “dry Ha Long Bay” and this is the area you can find locals paddling with their feet.
It is certainly true and super interesting to watch!
Just have a look on the photo below.
The lime stones here are as gorgeous as in the Ha Long bay, yet surrounded by rice fields.
There are even day trips from Hanoi. The tour includes the Mua Caves, the village of Hao Lua and even lunch.
If you bring the time, I would rather suggest staying at least 1 night, since the area is really big and beautiful. You can also take a boat tour with locals.
We did not do this because the waters were so full of all the boats. We stayed on solid ground and watched it from the outside.
I recommend staying at Tam Coc Bungalow. It is tucked away, super calm and easy-going.
30. National Park and Monkey Reserve
Unfortunately monkeys are becoming a rare species in Vietnam. There is many influences on this.
We visited the Cuc Phuong National Park and Monkey reserve. It’s a reserve for many different types of monkeys where they try to help monkeys to survive.
It is a really interesting place to visit!
It is around 30km from Ninh Binh. There is day tours from Ninh Binh you can book.
We have visited by mid of March and there were millions of butterflies. Literally, millions!
I have never seen anything alike.
The funnies part though: The guys from the Reserve told me there are not many butterflies at the moment, May is the season! Keep that in mind 😉
Map of all the things to do
A map is always handy, right?!
Therefore, I created a Google Map with all the mentioned activities and some more. It gives you an idea of how to get around and how to plan it.
As you can see, the main sights and activities are sprad around the South, the Central part and then North again.
The parts inbetween are AMAZING and those are non-touristy things, mostly.
Yet, if you have 14 days in Vietnam, I would focus on the list I put together here.
2) Smart and Basic Travel Tips for Vietnam
Okay, here you have the absolute best things to do in Vietnam. Remember, if you have any questions, just drop them here.
In your quest to prepare for a visit to Vietnam, there are things which you should know as part of your plans, prior to visiting.
To make this list complete, we thought we should cover all the basic tips. These travel tips Vietnam are really essential so I recommend reading through them.
1. It is very cheap, you won’t believe it
It is cheap, from the food they serve to the transport and fly costs.
You can fly using FlyVietnam, which is less costly as compared to the usual ones.
When it comes to food, you can opt for the street food, which is cooked and served while you watch it. Life is cheap in Vietnam, all you need to do is know where to get what, as not all transport means, flying and food will be affordable.
In short, there are no fixed prices and you pay whatever amount you will pay.
For accommodation you can pay as little as 10€ for a private double room.
You can eat for as little as 1€.
A Banh Mi cost me everything from 7.000 Dong to 55.000 Dong.
Read more about the currency.
2. People are friendly
As a foreigner, you will feel like home. In most parts of the countries you visit, if you are foreigner you may feel out of place.
This is especially the case when you look confused while on the streets.
In Vietnam, the mood is totally different as everyone is minding their own business.
The people are friendly and when you ask for direction, they offer a helping hand while they go on with their business.
In short, it will feel like home away from home.
Bear in mind: Some people see you as a walking wallet – those are the more touristy areas. This can bean you can be easily overcharged for a tour, some food and so on.
Don’t worry, this happened to us a lot. And the “overcharging” is not a lot of money in the end. Just keep it in mind.
The non-touristy areas are different. The people will approach you, want to help and give recommendations.
3. Do your homework
You have to know what you are getting yourself into once you are in Vietnam.
You can take time and learn their culture. The most important thing is to know the prices of things in the marketplace and also the cost of transport. As such, ask the hotel and hostel staff from where you are staying about the transport cost from one location to the next.
This will protect you from the taxi scams, for instance which are plenty in this country.
Also, make sure you only stay at safe hostels like the 5 Star Hostels in Vietnam.
And always: Ask the price first BEFORE ordering or jumping in the cab.
This way you can avoid a lot of unpleasant discussions.
4. Be ready to bargain hard
You have to be ready to bargain. Here is a simple step by step guide:
- ask for the price
- clarify if it is in dollar or dong (never pay in Dollar)
- tell them you are ready to pay 50% of it
and then either
- you both agree and you buy
- or you walk away
- or the seller sends you away (happens as well!)
- you both disagree – you leave, s/he curses you
Even if you are a tourist you have to bargain up to a price that you feel they should charge either for food or transport. There is this notion that tourists are rich and this they should be charged high. Ensure that you have prior knowledge of the price of an item before you go out to buy it.
The price range will help you to bargain.
You thus have to be prepared to walk away if you are not satisfied with how much the vendor is charging.
This will save you a lot of money depending on how much you want to buy or how often you want to travel while in Vietnam.
If you want to become a business man in life, then go to Vietnam!
You will learn here the hard way!
Very good to know: Bargain with a smile on the face. No need to get mad. Bargain is a game here, it is expected.
5. Opt for the tourist bus instead of local transport
Local transport will include taxis and motorbikes.
Also, there is the tour buses which are cheaper and safer as compared to the local transport. Taxis tend to overcharge, especially if you are foreigner.
Once they realize that you are not a local, you may end up paying double than what you would have paid if you opted for the tour bus.
Do use the app Grab cab to get around, many taxi’s will try to scam you by not using the meter. This goes more for the big cities though.
6. Travel late at night to save accommodation cost
If you are planning to travel for a long distance, the best way to do it is to use the late night travel buses.
This means that you will get to your destination the following day and pay less as compared to traveling at any other time of the day.
Also you will save on the cost of accommodation which will prove to be effective on your part.
The so-called sleeping buses are surprisingly modern and comfortable.
Personally, I am not a big fan of buses. We traveled by our motor bike and train.
BUT, I was told the sleeping buses with actual comfy beds in them, are really a great way. They are obviously a bit more expensive than the local transport, but are a great way to go a long distance.
7. It is very well connected to WiFi
How about I tell you the WiFi here is faster than the WiFi we experienced in France, Germany and Spain. Probably all combined…
No, I am not kidding.
It has some of the best hotels and restaurants plus shopping malls.
If you are any of those hotels or dining in a fancy restaurant, there are high chances that it is connected to WiFi. This means that you do not have to use your SIM to browse.
You can simply connect to the internet with the help of the WiFi depending on the establishment you are into. The fast WiFi is usually for free, I have never paid any WiFi.
This will help you to save on the cost of accessing the internet since Vietnam is well connected to WiFi.
Anyway, I recommend buying a SIM Card for your phone when you arrive. We had
Update: when we got back to Europe, we had to laugh. Vietnam is better connected than every European country we know. The fastest internet connection of my life I had in Saigon.
I may have downloaded the whole internet in a few seconds…
8. The traffic is pathetic
In most cities of Vietnam, such as Hanoi and Saigon, you will have to deal with the heavy traffic.
If you are not used to crossing a street with heavy traffic, you might suffer a panic attack. It is almost impossible to cross the street if you choose to wait for the roads to clear so that you can cross.
The best way to deal with such traffic is to cross slowly, keep calm and make sure the drivers see you, to prevent you from being run over.
Again: Slow wins here to get through the traffic.
Never run fast crossing a street in Vietnam!
Nobody here wants to have an accident, so cars and motorbikes will drive around everything. In our experience, nobody complained when you were not in your line or whatever. The traffic is chaotic and at the same time organized.
9. Walk with your head help up high
You have to be bold all the way.
Smile when you can and walk like you are one of the locals in the region.
Although the Vietnamese are friendly, they can be intimidating from the how they carry on their business. Do not be shy or intimated to reach out in the case you want to ask for direction.
Also, when crossing the road, you have to do it in a bold manner. It can be scary and dangerous crossing a street that is heavy with traffic.
However, with the right confidence and knowledge of what you are doing, you will be able to safely get to the other side without much hustle.
10. Be careful where you eat
There are multiple cases of stomach illnesses among visitors due to the food they eat in Vietnam.
As a first time visitor you have to take care of where you eat.
Although Vietnam is a favorite destination for food lovers, there is a need to know where is the right place to eat. Avoid restaurants which have very few customers as their food may not be freshly cooked.
Go to those that have high frequency of customers as they replenish their ingredients and foodstuffs, now and then, making it healthy to consume.
Good to know: Food poisoning mostly comes from undercooked or bad meat. It may be a good idea to leave the meat away on your food. Do whatever you want, just saying!
Also, remember, they eat dog in Vietnam. You can walk around and find grilled dog on a spike – like Western people do with pigs, just with dogs.
I am not adding here a photo………
Update: 11. Tipping in Vietnam
Locals do not tip in Vietnam, and tourist tip 50-50. What I mean with this is easy.
You can have an awesome friend in Vietnam by tipping. It is highly appreciated, sometimes even expected.
If it is expected, you know you are in a touristy area.
Remember, the Vietnamese dong is not strong and prices are so low, tipping is really something everybody can afford.
My best tip I can give you for tipping in Vietnam: do it, but be smart about it!
If someone treats you not well, do not give him/ her a tip. This way they understand they’ve to treat tourists better. Use tipping as a tool and don’t do it automatically just because you know it from your own country.
Little background story: We got scammed when we traveled with our bikes to Cat Ba by ferry. They took 3 times the money for the ticket from us. When we arrived, they even wanted another payment just for giving us the bikes back. We told them we already paid. The guy seriously hit me hard on my arm, yelled at me in Vietnamese and I had to take my own bike by myself.
This, however, was a big exception.
I never experienced anything alike. Don’t worry!
Update: 12. Scams in Vietnam
Let us talk about scams in Vietnam.
First of all, whenever someone charges you more, it does not HAVE to be a scam. We have to make a huge difference between tourist areas and local areas.
Truth be told, many times a Vietnamese does not know the value of its service like repairing your bike. So they suddenly charge you only 10.000 Dong for it; that is 40 cents.
Then the next time you pay suddenly 4 times more.
Many many many Vietnamese actually do not think they scam you. It is just the way they do it.
My story: a very handy mechanic with a limited English fixed my really bad bike. I asked him how much, and he showed me a $5 dollar bill in his wallet. I told him I do not have dollar. Which was true. Again: Never pay in dollars!
Then he showed me $2 Dollar bill. Again, I do not have dollars.
And then he pulled out 20.000 Dong. That is 80 cents. So he went down from $5 to 80cents in 30 seconds. I am sure he was not trying to scam me. He just wanted dollars, he seemed to have no idea of its actual value.
Okay, but now: There is SCAMS in Vietnam. And nasty ones too. Annoying ones!
Overpay the bus or ferry
We already talked about this, overcharging foreigners for buses, trains and ferries is common. Try to see the actual prices, and you could even negotiate.
Sometimes the driver claimed the price is for locals only. That is not true There is no such thing as prices for locals and tourists; unless it is written.
In the War Museum in Da Nang, locals pay less than tourists for instance. But again, that is official. It makes sense in a way.
Unless you have a motorbike in Vietnam, you do not have to worry about the police. They don’t care about tourist.
Then driving a Motorbike in Vietnam, some hot spots are known for corrupt police. The most famous scams due to corrupt police is in Mui Ne. Scroll up for more details.
Taxi Scam with no meter
Number three on this list of Vietnam scams is the world famous No Taxi Meter.
Nothing new, nothing ground-breaking. We took several caps in Vietnam, and we made sure they use the taximeter.
A fellow traveler once used Vinasun in HCMC as recommended by the hostel. They got in a taxi where the meter was rigged and was jumping up really fast in front of them. The driver locked the doors and wouldn’t let them out until they paid about 5 times the normal fare. Just be careful with taxis in general… we reckon grab is the best bet!
A great app to use is GRAB and GoViet.
They have also scooter and the time is tracked by the app. A great way to get a fair deal and save money. On that note, this is a handy app for traveling South East Asia.
Park here – no further
In touristic areas and some local areas you will need to pay a parking fee. So far, so normal.
What is not normal is that a lady jumps in front of you near a tourist sight and tells you you HAVE to park here. She was quite aggressive about it. The first time it happened, we had no idea and parked there; for a whopping 20.000 dong (80 cents).
We walked then 5 minutes to the sight.
And you know what?!
There was free parking at the sight. As mostly all the time in Vietnam, it was not about the money really but about being taken advantage of.
Lesson learned, do not let people push you into anything.
The fruit ladies wandering around the Hanoi lake are walking scams. They will charge you for a bunch of bananas like $2-$5 dollars. The actual worth on a market is like 50 cents. Pay attention, do not reward these ladies.
They will try to confuse you with the prices. I would never buy anything from them.
Photo Posing Charge/ Fee
I would not really call this one a scam, but a common practice that is quite annoying.
When taking photos of people in touristic areas, you can end up in a discussion about a posing charge.
This is really not something only happening in Vietnam. It happens around the world.
Ask before taking a photo, and be ready to give them like 10.000 for a photo. That is fair, I guess.
Learn the bills: 10.000 and 100.000 look similar
Make sure you know the difference between the dong bills. Since the currency is so weak, you will see a lot of zeros.
Pay attention to the Dot between the zeros.
It will save you money!
The scam here is to give you back less, and hope you won’t notice. In 6 months, this happened only once to me. So maybe it is not a scam, since it could be a mistake simply. I am sure this happened to many people back home as well; without screaming SCAM.
This scam is more known around Thailand, but it spread to Vietnam. Do not buy drugs on the street. It can happened the police is around the corner just to get some bribe from you to let you go again.
We are not your mommy, but come on, you are way too cool for drugs anyways.
Restaurants with no price lists
A big red flag! Always ask the price first and eat at restaurants with a price list. We would never ever eat at a place without one. Not in Vietnam, not in Paris, not in Bali, not anywhere in the world.
The travel agency called “Tripadvisor”
This scam is probably the only one I appreciate. Because it has a sign on it and you can smell it from far. Any tour agency with names like Tripadvisor, Bookings or whatever is a big red flag.
A great rule of thumb: Always stay in cool hostels or hotels and book the tours with them; if you trust them!
Dollar vs Dong
By now you know you should never pay in dollar. The conversion you get is terrible, you will overpay always.
When bargaining and negotiating on a price, make sure you talk about Dong. Always, always, always dong! It happened to us once that even one guy told us after a tour, the price was in EURO. Since the EURO is stronger than the Dollar, it was even more money.
Paying anything in EURO outside of the European Union is ridiculous! Pay attention.
Tour Guide asking for more money
Do you want to take a boat ride around Tam Coc and Ninh Binh? The ladies paddling with their feet. It is awesome!
However, you paid the guide already and during the tour it happened to several of our friends: The lady kept asking for more money. If you don’t give more money, they stop paddling, will turn over and go back etc. ANNOYING.
Passport at the reception
Imagine you leave you passport and suddenly you have to pay to get it back?! It never happened to us, since we were careful where we stayed – and lucky. But we heard this story a few times.
The beautiful cyclos will always overcharge you. While the experience is pretty cool, I always stayed away from them, because we only heard big scams. They are not cheap. If you want to take one, fix the price before. However, even if you, afterwards they might try to get more, do less time etc. Annoying!
Here is a great video with common scams in Hanoi and Vietnam.
3. 10 Things NOT to do in Vietnam
We already covered the fabulous and most awesome things to do in Vietnam.
We also shared basic travel tips. This means you already did half your homework.
In this list we want to share with your the 10 things NOT to do in Vietnam. Some of them are really important, others are just important to have heard of.
Again, this is your list of what to AVOID in Vietnam.
This is really interesting, so keep on reading.
1. Cross the road without looking
Again, slow wins!
If the driver can, they will drive around you, not in to you! Nobody wants to have an accident here.
Do not try to run like a crazy person crossing the street. This will most likely end up in an accident.
Try to walk slowly over the street. You can make also signals to motorbikes to slow down, but always with respect!
2. Ordering food or drinks without asking the price
Seriously, don’t do this.
Never. This is actually a good advise for every country in the world, wherever you travel!
First ask the price. If you are not sure what she or he said, then write it down. Make sure you are both on the same picture.
3. Sleep in a $5 accommodation
Accommodation in Vietnam is really cheap. Compared to Thailand it is even cheaper, and the quality can be really good!
When looking around for hostels and homestays, you will find as well $5 dollar accommodations.
Well, don’t come here. Skip them. Seriously!
It is always worth it to go with the 2nd cheapest accommodation. The cheapest, in our experience come with dirty bed linen and cockroaches. That’s an experience for sure, but one you might want to skip. We did this a few times, it was not worth it at all!
This is one of the things NOT to do in Vietnam to have a good night sleep.
Here we list the BEST hostels in Vietnam.
4. Plan and book everything ahead of time
Other than different destinations like Spain, you don’t really need to book and plan everything ahead of time.
In fact, booking everything online will end up being more expensive.
That goes for accommodation as well as tours.
However, that being said, many popular quality hostels are often sold-out. Most likely you cannot show up on the reception desk and get a bed. Then it’s worth it to book ahead of time and pay 50cents more.
In this article of the coolest things to do in Vietnam, we also over accommodations. Just keep scrolling.
5. Always bargain, always!
As a western traveler, bargaining is something we’ve to learn first, right?!
Let me tell you, Vietnam is the place to learn bargain like a boss. You will learn fast. You will win, you will lose.
Sometimes the vendors even refused to ell at all, because I did not want to pay their price. Fair enough.
If there is something you really, really want to buy, don’t let the vendor know. If the vendor realizes you want this souvenir or tour badly, you will lose.
But, quite frankly, Vietnamese people are tough traders so you will lose once in a while for sure.
Take it with a smile, and remember, Vietnam is cheap anyway.
6. Visit all sights in the city
There are a lot of cool things to do in Vietnam.
In fact, there are many tours to join and sights and places to visit in Vietnam, it can be overwhelming.
My best advise would be to slow down.
There are couple of absolute MUST-VISITS such as
- Ha Long Bay
- Old Town Hanoi
- Sa Pa
- Hoi An
- and the Cu Chi Tunnels
Everything else, in my opinion is an awesome add-on. Do not get stressed and don’t feel pushed to do everything.
I must admit, I did not enjoy the old town, ancient city of Hue at all. It was around 10€ entrance fee, which is a lot of Vietnam. Take it sower, more intense!
7. Skip or ignore other travelers
One of the coolest things to do in Vietnam is talking to other travelers. Since there are basically two ways to travel, you will always meet someone coming from the other direction than you.
The two itineraries in Vietnam are:
- South to North (from Saigon to Hanoi)
- North to South (from Hanoi to Saigon)
Simple as that. There is always someone that can recommend you one of the coolest places to visit in Vietnam, a fun thing to do in Vietnam or simple a restaurant, for instance.
This tip goes hand in hand with #4, booking everything ahead of time. Stay spontaneous. I know you might have a limited time here, but still leave some space for the cool stuff.
Seriously, this way we were able to visit so many amazing places to see in Vietnam.
8. Skip the street food – Cooking class?
Vietnam is a foodies paradise. No doubt about that! Therefore, this is one of the things NOT to do in Vietnam: Skipping street food!
Again, I mean: Try and eat Street Food. It’s awesome!
A few things you have to try are:
- Banh mi
- Cha ca
- Hot Pot
- Goi cuon
I really loved the food here, but I could not go into the details. Other than Banh Mi and Hot pot. I basically lived on this!
The cheapest Banh mi I got for 7.000 Dong, the most expensive one I got for 55.000 Dong. The most expensive one I got on my first day…I learned my lesson, but hey it was good tho!
Find a food guide to Hanoi here.
What about a cooking class?
I encourage you to take a cooking class as well! The coolest and most unique cooking classes might be in Hoi An.
There is this Market Tour, Basket Ride and Cooking Class. This one is super fun. You explore the local market which is already interesting. The basket ride is just pure fun! And if you are into Vietnamese food, that cooking class will change your cuisine skills!
Good to know: Are you vegetarian or have allergies, special requests? Ask beforehand. These tours are usually super fleixble!
9. Take a photo of Ho Chi Minh Corps
As mentioned in the most incredible things to do in Vietnam, you can visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi.
This is where you can see the corps of the real Ho Ch Minh.
He is still the #1 hero of the country.
You will see his face everywhere. EVERYWHERE! SO it is better to know who this personality was and what he did.
When entering the Mausoleum, you are not allowed to take photos. If you still want to take photos, against my advise, get prepared for 6 soldiers with machine guns tackling to the ground. There are 6 soldiers guarding the corps.
I am not sure what happens to people that intended to take a photo, but most likely you might end up in jail.
So, again, this is one of the main things NOT to do in Vietnam.
[Now guess why there is no photo here…]
10. Remember, it’s a Communist country
Yes, it is a safe country and yes, it is amazing with so many awesome places to visit in Vietnam.
But, please, remember that Vietnam is a communist country. There are many restrictions and lots of military power all around. Do not take photos of soldiers holding their Kalashnikov, for instance.
When I visited Vietnam, I was so keen to take a photo of a soldier. One day I was standing right in front of a military building with my motorbike without realizing it. A solider approached me. He asked me very kindly to stop on the side, not right in front. His English was very basic, but he smiled – I think he noticed I was lost and did not do this intentionally.
However, I saw the opportunity, one of the unique things to do in Vietnam, to take a photo of a solider with a Kalashnikov. I asked him politely if I can take a photo. He agreed. When I reached for my camera, he walked away.
To be fair, since his English was not the best, I don’t think he actually understood what I wanted.
Read: More short travel stories from the world.
4. Shopping: Things to buy in Vietnam
Vietnam is a kind of shopping-paradise.
You can find so many things to really cheap prices.
The markets here offer everything from delicious coconuts to fake North Face jackets and backpacks. You can even buy here fake football jerseys.
However, I would recommend buying fake football jerseys in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town.
So, what about the things you can buy in Vietnam?
There’s the following main things I consider worth it to buy to bring back home.
If you want to make me really happy, send me over a bag of real Vietnamese coffee.
If you want to make yourself really happy, buy one for yourself – as well!
The coffee here is incredibly good. It’s creamy, and strong, and really different from the European standard of coffee. Give it a try.
Coffee is a big part of the Culture here. Try the famous Egg-Coffee and of course the refreshing Ice-Coconut coffee.
The coffees you have to try in Vietnam are:
- cà phê sữa đá – traditional Ice Coffee with condensed milk, very strong.
- Egg Coffee
- Coconut Coffee
- Specialty Coffee
Once you tried it, you will realize why I am so excited about it. Therefore, this is my #1 recommendation for things to buy in Vietnam.
FYI: It goes without saying, buy the coffee at the end of the trip, so you save the space in your luggage.
Read: our favorite 14 best coffee shops in Danang.
Vietnam is known for its silk. So head over to the markets and get the silk of your choice. Every city hand village has at least one market. Night markets are also very common, although I recommend the day markets to choose the silk.
This way you can see the colors of the silk properly in day light.
If you want some tailor-made clothing, have a look on our #4 and #5 on things to buy in Vietnam.
You will find endless options to buy souvenirs. This can be the typical magnet to put on your fridge back home.
But it can be also a snake-alcoholic drink you can buy at the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Propaganda Posters are also very popular to bring back home, same as the famous red-star-t-shirt. All that are classic souvenirs from Vietnam.
Especially in Hanoi you can find plenty of these propaganda poster shops.
I found a different, cool souvenir. This guy below made handmade stamps in every forms and shapes. Just keep walking around the old town in Hanoi or the markets in Saigon. You will get a lot of inspiration.
Personally, I still think Vietnamese coffee is the best thing to buy in Vietnam!
4. Handmade shoes
How about some handmade shoes? Walk in one of the many stores in Hoi An and ask for handmade shoes for you.
You can choose the color, material, look and feel.
Personally, for me it was overwhelming since I don’t know what kind of shoes I really love. I know, odd.
Give it a try. handmade shoes are a unique souvenir for yourself. You can bargain the price. After all, negotiating and bargaining is one of the most important things to do in Vietnam.
5. Wedding dress and a suit
Same as for the shoes goes for wedding dress and suit.
Many, many, many tourists come to Hoi An to admire the small, typical Vietnamese village at day and night, and to get a handmade wedding dress and suit.
There are numerous of tailor shops around, so you won’t have trouble finding a tailor.
We even were approached during our breakfast if we want a suit, shoes or whatever.
6. Vietnamese coffee maker
When ordering a coffee, you will for sure spot the Vietnamese coffee maker. This typical way of making coffee is quite interesting and cute to watch.
The Vietnamese coffee maker is also a popular Souvenir to buy
5. What to pack – Things to bring to Vietnam
Vietnam is a narrow, long country. There are different climate zones, and therefore, you will have to pack a lot of things.
Read: our perfect hostel packing list
Let us have a look on things to bring to Vietnam:
1. a real jacket – warm and water resistant
It can get warm, it can rain. All the time!
Therefore, bring a jacket that covers both weathers. The best jacket would be a convertible jacket where you can add another layer to keep yourself warm.
You can find a Jacket with detachable hooded 3 In 1 jacket like this here.
2. Dry Bag
A dry bag is a real good idea to bring to Vietnam.
A dry bag is perfect to keep your belongings, well, dry! This is useful since you never know if it is going to rain. Also, since you end up joining a tour on water for sure (meaning, Mekong Delta, the Ocean, rivers, Ha Long Bay), you can put your phone and wallet here when joining the tour.
We explain all this in our packing list.
3. A lock for your backpack/ suitcase
Make sure you stay safe and lock your suitcase or backpack properly. Best way to do so, is a padlock.
Get a padlock that fits all lockers and suitcases, like this padlock here.
That brings us to the net topic, should you bring a suitcase or a backpack?
4. Bring a backpack and a day bag
We would vote for a backpack to bring. It is easier to travel around, no doubt about it! You will end up carrying your suitcase more than you will role it. This is way more uncomfortable at the end of the day.
I travel with a light backpack, the LOWE ALPINE.
Find more information on my backpack here.
As we mention in the things NOT do do in Vietnam, you should consider bringing a day bag with you. It can be a small one, obviously.
You can put your most valuable things here, not leaving them behind in the hotel, resorts or hostel.
When you are staying in hostels with proper lockers, then you are fine. Remember to bring your own padlock.
5. Remember your visa
We will go into detail later in this article.Keep scrolling!
Remember you NEED a visa to enter Vietnam. You already need your invitation letter when checking in at the Airport.
Most countries need a visa for Vietnam. I love to use ivisa.com to check if I need a Visa. And if so, how much it will be and what it requires.
It is by far the easiest way to get your visa situation sorted out.
6. Short pants and swim suit
Vietnam has some beautiful beaches, so you will end up having a dip in the ocean.
Pack your swim suit!
As said, one of the nicest things to do in Vietnam is wandering around. It can be really hot, short pants are important.
7. Comfy shoes (maybe even hiking boots)
Some travelers we met made the huge mistakes of only packing flip-flops.
We even met a girl driving her motorbike in Flip-Flops. Needless to say, she got hurt badly and burned her feet when riding. Seriously, how can you do that?!
Anyway, that is one of the things again NOT to do in Vietnam.
Pack proper shoes. If you are considering hiking in Sa Pa for instance, pack some hiking boots.
If you prefer traveling light, you can also buy your new hiking boots in Hanoi, for instance. IN the old town, you will find endless shops selling fake North Face boots and jackets. Some of them are actually good quality.
So, get yourself a pair of waterproof hiking boots, they will come in handy.
BUT: Try to wear the boots before traveling. Your feet will get use to the new shoes and you will avoid blisters .
Read: 10 common backpacker mistakes everybody does
8. For the girls: Think about the menstrual cup
In Vietnam it can be hard to find tampons and to buy them. So if you use Tampons, buy a few ahead of time. You will find pads all over though.
However, travel girls use an alternative to tampons and pads.
It is called menstrual cup.
It is really a great long-term solution for girls traveling the world.
Good to know: Same as tampons, it takes a bit of time to get used to it. We recommend to start using it at home before you travel. It will be much easier this way.
Accommodation in Vietnam
Accommodation in Vietnam is really cheap and the quality can be really high.
You can sleep as cheap as $5. However, I would not recommend these places. You can stay at really awesome places for as little as $11 for 2 people. Those are the basic, clean hotels.
Everything less than $11 per night is a bad choice (cockroaches and dirty bed linen included).
You can stay in the following accommodation types:
- Home Stays
So, here is my list of accommodations in Vietnam we reviewed and stayed in person. All of them are recommended!
Best though, read my big guide on best hostels in Vietnam.
There I also included small guesthouses and such in destinations I did not find any cool hostel or only bad ones.
5 Star Hostel: NEXY Hostel
Full guide to the best hostels in Hanoi.
Ha Long Bay:
Woodstock Beach Camp in Cat Ba Island
5 Star Hostel: Memory Hostel
Read: 3 best hostels in Da Nang – compared
Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Hoi An – for some social time near city center
Under the Coconut Tree – chill vibes near the beach
Read: 3 best hostels in Hoi An compared – and put on a map
Tropic Hostel in Mui Ne
Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City:
5 Star Hostel: The Common Room Project
Read: 3 best hostels in Ho Chi Minh City – compared with location
Insurance for Motorbiking Vietnam
Update: Since many of our readers for this article asked us about insurances, here’s an update on that topic.
We totally recommend having an insurance when you bike through Vietnam on a moped. It can be dangerous, in fact, I had many dangerous situations. Nevertheless, 100% worth it. Pay extra attention, drive slowly and with concentration.
What’s not covered (with World Nomads)?
- If you’re on drugs or have been drinking alcohol excessively
- If you’re doing an activity the policy doesn’t cover
- If you’ve been acting illegally
- If you ride a motorbike without a helmet or the correct licence
Safetywing is another popular and cheaper insurance. Here is what they say:
“You must ensure the activity is adequately supervised and that appropriate safety equipment (such as protective headwear, life jackets etc.) are worn at all times.
Am I covered for moped / scooter accidents?
Yes, as long as the accident does not fall under any exclusions, such as the exclusions for racing and intoxication.” – quote end
Make sure you have an actual valid drivers license, at least in your home country and the international one. In most countries of the world, an international drivers license is enough to drive a car or moped.
So, do you need an international drivers license to drive a motorbike in Vietnam?
Yes, no, maybe. No joke! The situation is a bit weird since the police has a list of internationally accepted countries within the police stations. This list differs from the official Vietnamese government websites, which differs from various news sources.
Want more details? Read this guide.
What does it mean then? 98% of foreigners drive with an international drivers license. This should be enough since the UK says, their international drivers license is valid in Vietnam, for instance.
Besides the legal situation, please check precisely that issue with the travel insurance you are about to buy!
And please, always remember: The best travel insurance is the one you never need!
My personal experience: I had a small motorbike accident in Vietnam. I almost broke my arm, but I got luck on my side.
I have seen others who had a broken leg, arm r both. Serious injuries you do not want to have! Therefore, please please please:
- Drive slow
- do not be an idiot and wear your helmet at all times
- Get insurance
- make sure you know how to ride a bike
- Stay safe and drive in a passive way
- Enjoy the ride; it is freaking awesome!
“Every one in Vietnam is a millionaire!“, said our guide on the way to the Cu Chi tunnels.
Of course, this was a joke in a way. Let me explain.
The local currency in Vietnam is DONG, in fact Vietnamese Dong. They value is roughly 25.000VDN to 1€.
You can find current exchange rate of Dong to Dollar here.
I recommend to download an exchange rate app for your SmartPhone. It helps you to understand the value of the currency better.
Read: our favorite smartphone apps for traveler
You can pay with American Dollars almost everywhere in the country. BUT….this is usually much more expensive! I recommend you to get Dong from the ATMs and always pay in the local currency, the Dong.
However, having dollars with you as a backup is a good idea.
VND is the shortcode for Vietnamese Dong.
Other than Indonesia, we had no issue when getting money from any ATM machine. It is safe in this sense!
Visa to Vietnam
For entering Vietnam, you always need a Visa.
Usually you can hire some visa agency on the internet. They will prepare an invitation letter for you, and it can costs something between $40 to $80.
Some of the fellow travelers we met even got a last-minute invitation letter. It was done in 30 minutes.
When flying to Vietnam, you already have to show your Vietnam Visa on the airport BEFORE departure.
Good to know: The Visa situation always changes. Unfortunately I cannot give you a perfect answer. But, I can give you a super simple website to sort out your Visa: iVisa.com
It is by far the easiest way to get your visa situation sorted out.
You can directly check what kind of Visa your nationality needs.
A great way to find cheap flights is Kiwi.com
Read: our review of Kiwi.com and how to use it
Safety in Vietnam
How safe is Vietnam?
It is very safe, even for female-solo travelers.
We did not hear a single story of physical harm done to any tourist. We always felt very safe, even at night walking back home to our hostel or hotel.
That being said, there are many scams you will be aware of.
For instance, when leaving the Airport , the taxi driver might tell you your hotel does not exist anymore. They want to bring you to a great hotel. This is a common scam, not just in Vietnam. Don’t fall for it.
Also, in Hanoi some people randomly started to talk to us, asking for our plans and if we want to book the Ha Long Bay tour with them for instance. Skip this and ask your hotel reception for help. Although they get their cut as well, they are more likely to help you.
We felt for a Scam a Hai Phong, North Vietnam.
Here is the story:
We took our bikes from Hanoi to Hai Phong. We planned to take the ferry from here to Cat Ba Island. The “official ticket desk” was closed – all the time. One woman walking around sold the tickets. She claimed the bikes were the same price as a person. Well, we had no other chance than giving her the money. It worked, we got on the boat with our bikes. However, it was WAY to expensive. We realized, or better, this was confirmed, when we were leaving again Cat Ba Island, it was not even 10% of the price for the bike.
There are much more scams out there.
Just pay attention.
And remember, all the scams are usually “only” about your money.
So, one of the things NOT to do in Vietnam, fall for scams!
The only concern we had was about the accommodation.
We read a lot about hotel cleaning ladies or men that take money out of your wallet, when you leave it lying around. You probably won’t even realize when a couple of thousands dong are gone. So, always take your wallet and money with you, and don’t leave valuables back in the hotel. Just in case!
10. Things to do in Vietnam in 15 days (Itinerary ideas)
Vietnam is a long country, distances can be challenging. The bus and plane is the fastest way to get around. The main spots you want to discover in 15 days are accessible in this time frame.
For 15 days I would focus on the following spots:
- Saigon with roof top terraces and Cu Chi Tunnels
- Da Lat for coffee tastings
- Nha Trang for beaches and diving
- Hoi An for Shopping and ancient town admiring
- Da Nang for Dragon Bridge and a non-touristy city
- Hue for the Old Town and water park
- Hanoi for Food and Old Town
- Ha Long Bay to fall in love with the landscape (lime stones)
- Sa Pa to fall again in love with a different landscape (rice terraces)
We are currently working on such an itinerary for 15 days in Vietnam. If you have any questions, just leave a comment.
Please refer to the map for the itinerary.
30 days is a perfect time window to travel by motorbike from Ho Chi Minh in the South to Hanoi in the North. Basically get a rough idea for your itinerary in the map below.
Instead of making fix plans, I would stay flexible.
11. Tet holiday in Vietnam
Traveling during Tet Holiday in Vietnam?
Well, then you need to prepare a few things to avoid some bad mistakes and disappointments.
First of all, Tet Holiday is the same as Chinese New Year, at least the dates are.
Check the dates before you go. Tet Holiday is always around February.
During Tet the cities empty out , because most people travel back to their villages and hometown or go away on a holiday. This means at the same time, many restaurants are closed, even accommodations close and bars and regular shops.
Tet is not a good time to visit unless you just want some quiet time to relax.
On the other hand, it is a very interesting time to visit Vietnam. The streets are decorated, people are even more smiling and you can experience culture first hand.
Especially Hoi An is even more gorgeous during Tet.
During Tet the Vietnamese burn many things like fake money, shoes, clothes, paper etc. They believe their ancestorsdifferent world and there they need the fake money etc. Thanks for the burning, they send all these things to their ancestors.
So you see, we like being in Vietnam during Tet holiday, but again you need to prepare yourself since it lasts about a week. Make sure you have an accommodation confirmed, and check if restaurants are open in the area. If not, stock up a bit of food.
I make it sound like nothing is open. Truth it, you will not starve. There is always restaurants open, you may have to look longer though and cannot be picky.
You can compare it a bit to our Christmas. Imagine Christmas would last for 7 days, mostly everything is closed and you want to travel from A to B with a bus, and eat at restaurants. Difficult, but possible.
12. Map with Vietnam Itinerary and Sights
We can already share the rough itinerary and map.
Use this map to plan your trip.
13. Guide Books to Vietnam
Obviously, we are not the only ones with a guide.
14. Questions? Please bother me!
I want to keep this article as useful and great as possible.
If you have any questions, please please bother me. Drop me a comment below.
I am more than happy to help you.
We traveled this country for 3 months and know it pros, cons and the sights to see. If you have any questions, it means, we missed to cover it in this article. That’s a shame. Every one of your questions will make this article more useful!
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About the author:
This is an article by Hostelgeeks in cooperation with William Benetton. William is a blogger, traveler and writer. He writes about range of sports and tourism attractions. He has recently launched his own project, vuelta.club, a site dedicated to all things Vuelta de Espana.
pint it for later
Hostel Packing List
It is time to see what you should pack in your backpack or suitcase. Make sure you always pick a quality hostel, it totally reduces the things you need to pack. Here is our ultimate hostel packing list. It features 23 items you should really throw in your backpack.The most important things to pack are:
- eye mask
- key chain flashlight
- the right backpack, the Nomatic (our review of Nomatic here) or Lowe Alpine Lightflite 45 Pack
- packing cubes
- generic padlock (fitting all locker types)
- quick-dry travel towel
- universal power adapter
- travel-sized toiletries