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Vietnam travel guide

Travel to Vietnam with our recommendations on where to go, what to do and dishes you need to try.

Find out where to go and what to do in our Vietnam travel guide.

Image: Getty Images

With one of the richest cultural heritages in Asia, Vietnam is a fascinating country of contrasts.

Ho Chi Minh City in the north, also known to some travellers as Saigon, offers visitors a thrilling rush of dynamic energy apparent in its never-ending traffic. But this is tapered with the gentle, slower pace of its capital city, Hanoi in the South. Other must-sees include sandy beaches, ancient ruins and other intriguing sights. Before you visit, check out some of our top recommendations in Vietnam.

Vietnam travel restrictions

While travellers to Vietnam will not need to present any COVID-19 test results or health declarations, they will still need to:

  1. Download and use Vietnam’s COVID-19 app on the Apple or Google Play store.
  2. Purchase COVID-19 travel insurance with a minimum coverage of US$10,000

In addition, Singapore travellers are encouraged to e-register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) before going. They should also purchase travel insurance beyond the requirements to avoid any out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Vietnam at a glance

You can describe beautiful Vietnam as where the past and present intersect.

A Southeast Asian country known for its pristine beaches and bustling cities’ histories, Vietnam is a fascinating place to visit. It’s worth noting that many people still refer to its biggest city, Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon even though it was renamed in 1976.

The Vietnam War and its aftermath are still a sensitive topic for its citizens, but visitors can find out more about the country’s history through historical artefacts in many museums around the country.

Its iconic Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, who passed away in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, is preserved in a vast marble mausoleum in Hanoi. One can also find traces of its French colonial history imprinted in much of the city’s architecture.

History aside, veggie-lovers will also delight in Vietnamese cuisine. The famous Vietnamese pho (beef noodles in soup) and Bahn mi (a French baguette stuffed with ingredients) are typically served with plenty of fresh vegetables.

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Top things to see and do in Vietnam

If you travel to Vietnam, here are some of the coolest things you can add to your itinerary:

Understand Vietnam’s past in Ho Chi Minh City

    • Travel to Saigon, Ho Chi Min City in VietnamHo Chi Minh City Museum, housed in the Gia Long Palace, has many informative exhibitions that cover much of the country’s past through photographs, artefacts and memorabilia. Post World War II in 1945, the country struggled with its independence, torn apart by civil strife and culminating in the Vietnam War.
    • Another recommended visit is The War Remnants Museum, which offers a grim look at the horrors of the Vietnam War.

Cycle around Hue

      • Old Quarter, Hanoi (Travel to Vietnam)Hue is a city located between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Rent a bicycle to trace the history of Vietnam. Check out the Tiger Fighting arena, which used to be a stage for battles between elephants and tigers during Vietnam’s monarchal rule. Stop at Vong Canh Hill to enjoy panoramic views of the Perfume River, which borders Hue.
      • From there, cycle downhill to reach Tu Hieu, an ancient pagoda located in a tranquil pine forest. It is also a hot spot for anyone looking to learn meditation. Finally, cycle to the Imperial Citadel. The UNESCO world heritage site in the centre of Hanoi celebrates the past dynasties of Vietnam before French colonialism. Alternatively, you can also hire a cyclo driver to take you on a cycling tour around Hue.

    Set a lucky lantern afloat a river in Hoi An

      • Picture not describedIf you’re looking for a leisure experience, magical Hoi An is the place to be. Stay near the Old Town in the centre. Since vehicles and bicycles are prohibited here, you can walk around unhurried to shop for handicrafts or pop into restaurants to enjoy a sumptuous meal. Street performances line the cobbled pathways, and friendly locals might even strike up a chat if you stop outside their houses.
      • The most breathtaking sight is the river that flows through the heart of Hoi An. Enjoy a serene ride along the river in a sampan boat, or set a lantern afloat at night. These colourful paper lanterns signify good fortune, love, health and happiness.

    Book a romantic cruise that goes along Halong Bay

      • Picture not describedHalong Bay is famous for its stunning limestone towers that rise out of the calm turquoise waters. Plenty of cruise ships offer trips that circle the bay. If Halong Bay is too crowded, you can also visit the nearby Bai Tu Long Bay. Explore caves and tiny stretches of beach without squeezing with other visitors.
      • For travelling with your special half, do consider booking a 2–3 day luxury cruise ship that glides around these limestone features. Indulge in the comfortable service and stunning landscape that offers a scenic escape from the world.

    Descend into one of the largest caves in the world

    Picture not described

      • This option is for thrill-seekers. While not overly dangerous, it’s best to check with your travel insurer for extreme sports coverage before you are strapped up to descend into Hang Son Doong.
      • One of the largest caves in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site, Hang Son Doong is located in a wild jungle relatively near Laos. There are plenty of deep caves to explore, but since this entails certain risks, it’s always good to check whether your insurance policy covers such activities.

    Walk around the Old Quarter in Hanoi

      • Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a maze of 36 different streets. Each network of lanes is dedicated to a particular trade (such as porcelain, silk or silverware), honouring the 36 guilds that were set up in the 11th century to supply high-quality handicrafts to the royal family staying nearby.
      • Today, the streets have not changed much. You’ll find yourself in a place packed with lively energy, the sights and smells of old-style Saigon around you. Shop for Vietnamese handicrafts or souvenirs and admire the traditional architecture here.
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    Best time to visit Vietnam

    Generally, the best time for travel to Vietnam is from March to April, when rainfall is low and temperatures are milder. The weather in Vietnam varies from north to south, from a temperate to a tropical climate. May, June and September are the best times to visit Vietnam to avoid the crowds.

    North Vietnam has distinct winter and summer seasons. The cool but mostly dry winter lasts from November to April when temperatures average between 17°C and 22°C, with the coldest months being January to March. October to December is warm and sunny, while it can get unbearably hot from March onwards. July to September are often the wettest months, affecting trips around Halong Bay.

    The weather is hot and dry in central Vietnam from mid-January to late August. Rainfall increases from October to November. Hue in Central Vietnam is often cooler than Hoi An earlier in the year, so it’s best to travel to Vietnam before June.

    In the south, temperatures are fairly consistent with only 2 distinct wet and dry seasons. The dry season lasts from November to early May. During the wet months from May to November, the rainfall is often brief but heavy.

    Do I need to apply for a tourist visa to visit Vietnam?

    Singapore nationals do not need a visa to enter Vietnam for up to 30 days.

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    Travelling to Vietnam

    Vietnam has several airports, so when you want to embark on your travel to Vietnam, you will need to check which is the nearest airport for your destination. Travellers from Singapore can fly directly to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Da Nang. In addition, most major airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Air New Zealand offer direct flights from Changi Airport to Ho Chi Minh City. From there you can travel interstate to several cities.

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    Do I need travel insurance for Vietnam?

    As of 1 August 2022, travelling to Vietnam requires compulsory COVID-19 travel insurance with a minimum coverage of US$10,000.

    Even without the requirement, having travel insurance will offer a greater peace of mind. For instance, traffic incidents in Vietnam are high, with around 11,500 incidents in 2021.

    Therefore, it’s better to be insured so you don’t have to pay for unexpected medical expenses or even minor inconveniences such as a passport or luggage theft.

    Do check the official Vietnam tourism website for more information before you go.

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    Where to exchange Vietnamese đồng (VND)

    The unit of currency used in Vietnam is the đồng. The currency code is VND and the currency’s symbol is ₫.

    Changing a small sum of money is advisable before you travel to Vietnam. While you will be able to find money changers in Vietnam, anticipate that you might need cash while travelling there. Although local money changers often offer better rates, we recommend heading to a local bank when you are in Vietnam.

    This is because Vietnamese money tends to look very similar if you’re unfamiliar with it. For instance, 10,000 VND and 100,000 VND are both in green colour. 20,000 VND and 500,000 VND also look very similar and are identical in length. To avoid getting confused and short-changed at a local money changer, heading to the bank is probably a better idea.

    If you prefer to travel without cash, consider a digital multi-currency wallet or bank account when you travel to Vietnam. Read our comparison of YouTrip versus Revolut versus Wise to find the best digital wallet for when you travel.

    Tips to remember when exchanging money in Vietnam

    • Polymer notes are stickier, so be careful that you don’t accidentally overpay when you take out your notes.
    • Tipping is practised in Vietnam. A 5,000 VND tip is the minimum.
    • Vietnamese coins valued at 100, 200 and 500 VND are available both as metal coins and printed on cotton paper. Be careful to pay the correct amounts in coins.
    • Make sure the notes you’re going to exchange are in good condition, as damaged notes will not be accepted at most markets.
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    Top cities to visit in Vietnam

    DestinationDescription
    Ho Chi Minh City

    Ho Chi Minh City, also referred to as Saigon, is the largest city in the country. It is also the business and financial heart of Vietnam. Here is where you’ll have the chance to explore and understand the history of Vietnam through its many museums and old buildings. Go on a walking tour or hop onto a rented cyclo with a driver to witness the city’s intricate mix of classic French colonial architecture and towering office buildings.

    If you are walking, bring your best walking shoes and be prepared to weave through traffic. You can also join a tour to travel to the Mekong Delta just 2 hours away by bus, where the floating markets are located. Another option is to visit Cu Chi Tunnels, a historical site to mark the remnants of the Vietnam War. Expect a 2-hour drive to reach the war site.

    Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon
    Hanoi

    Hanoi ranks highly on a Vietnamese travel itinerary and is definitely worth visiting. With a slightly slower pace than busy Ho Chi Minh City, it still bears lingering marks of the French. Examples of such buildings include the Opera House, Presidential Palace and the National Museum of Vietnamese History.

    Apart from the amazing architecture, the winding streets of the Old Quarter offer visitors an endless choice of shopping and photographic opportunities. Don’t skip Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or the Museum of Literature. Finally, get a bird’s-eye view of the cityscape at the Lotte Tower Observation Deck.

    Sapa

    Vietnamese traffic is famous for its unspoken rules, so you never know if it’s safe to cross. If this traffic wears you out when you travel to Vietnam, head for the mountains in Sapa. With cooler temperatures than the rest of Vietnam, Sapa overlooks the rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley. It is also near the 3,143m-tall Phang Xi Pang peak, which is typically a half-day hike if you’re accompanied by a guide.

    Locals and tourists often visit Sapa for hiking and its scenic beauty. You can also visit the surrounding villages and book a homestay to experience local Vietnamese life. Get an overnight train from Hanoi. It’s a relaxing experience to see the most authentic version of the country.

    Da Nang

    Da Nang is a coastal town in central Vietnam that’s popular amongst travellers from Singapore. It used to be a French colonial port, so don’t be surprised at stumbling upon a little European town lookalike in the middle of Ba Na Hills, located in west Da Nang. The artificial French village was recreated for tourists to relive its French colonial past, although these used to be French villas that overlooked the city.

    To get to Ba Na Hills, cross the 150-metre Golden Bridge that has received much international media attention. The uniquely designed pedestrian walkway stands at 1,414 metres above sea and appears like a lifted bridge, held in the clouds by 2 giant hands carved from stone. That aside, the Marble Mountains in South Danang are also worth a visit. This famous natural attraction is made up of a cluster of limestone outcrops, peppered with pagodas and Buddhist shrines.

    Hue

    The Imperial City of Hue is a fortified complex within the citadel of the city of Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Be sure to visit this majestic site when you travel to Vietnam.

    Besides the Imperial City, the other popular sights are the tombs of the emperors, which are stretched out along the Perfume River to the south of Hue. Hire a taxi, ride a bike or visit them as part of a boat cruise. If you’re heading along the river, look out for the striking Thien Me Pagoda.

    Hoi An

    Rustic Hoi An is a must on your Vietnam travel list. At the hub of Hoi An lies The Ancient Town, a world-renowned UNESCO site. The Old Town houses Chinese shophouses and temples, colourful French colonial buildings, decorative Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Old Bridge built by the Japanese. You can spend hours just wandering or biking along quaint streets filled with shophouses, hipster cafes and funky art galleries.

    A quick tip: don’t leave Hoi An without taking a lantern-making class and getting a tailor-made outfit. For those seeking to venture beyond the Old Town, you should bike to the nearby An Bang Beach.

    Dalat

    Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring, Dalat’s warmest months range from June to August, when it reaches an average of 30 degrees Celsius. For other months, the place is fairly cool. Initially developed as a resort town by the French, the city still has many French-style villas. There’s even a mini Eiffel Tower erected in the city centre.

    Do visit the Elephant Falls, a rock formation with multiple waterfalls. It is aptly named as the shape of the rock looks just like an Elephant’s head! You can also visit Pongour Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Vietnam, featuring 7 stunning cascading pools. Another place to check out is Linh Phuoc Pagoda, the country’s tallest bell tower featuring a 49-metre-long dragon statue constructed from 12,00 recycled beer bottles. Write your wishes and ring the bell for them to be heard!

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    Vietnam food guide

    Here are some of the most delectable Vietnamese dishes you should try when you travel to Vietnam.

    Mì Quảng

    Mì Quảng is a popular Vietnamese dish consisting of noodles, peanuts, rice crackers, pork and turmeric broth. It originated from central Vietnam but is served everywhere in the country.

    Phở

    Pho is a bowl of glass noodles in a light beef broth. It’s usually served with fresh greens such as mint, cilantro and basil. You can find it everywhere in Vietnam, be it in high-end restaurants or roadside vendors.

    Bánh Mì

    A popular local breakfast choice, Banh Mi marries the French baguette with Asian flavours. For just 10,000 VND at roadside stalls, get a chunky slice of toasted bread jammed-packed with a generous portion of meat and vegetables

    Bánh Xèo

    Bánh Xèo are pancakes made with a batter of rice flour and turmeric. Fresh greens and beansprouts are added for a lush snack.

    Vietnamese coffee

    Enjoy locally grown robusta beans dripped from a metal coffee filter, then served with condensed milk and crushed ice.

    Goi cuon

    Try these healthy spring rolls if you want a light appetiser to start your meal. The outer layer is made from rice flour, packed tightly around a slice of meat and coriander. Best enjoyed with fish sauce.

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    Vietnam shopping guide

    Shopping in Vietnam is an exciting experience of sights and sounds. Many of the shops are also located in well-preserved historical buildings, so bring your camera along with you when you shop!

    • Ben Thanh Market. Ben Tanh Market is located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. It has the city’s second-largest indoor wet market, with over 1,500 stalls selling clothes, bags and shoes. You can also get souvenirs here. There are 4 main gates in the north, south, east and west directions. Should you lose your bearings, simply head towards the food court in the middle of the market.
    • Central Market. This Hoi An market is known for its fresh flowers and spices. But visitors typically make a beeline for the tailors, known for their highly efficient service such as same-day alterations. If you have a design in mind, you can also get tailored outfits in just a day. Silks or handicrafts are also widely available here.
    • Cai Rang floating market. Hop on a boat tour to get to Cai Rang floating market. The Mekong delta is 3 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. The market is an energetic and lively sight as many of the vendors sell their wares on floating sampans. The best time to visit is before 8am since it’s not too warm and you can find many of the vendors still hawking their goods. It’s an unforgettable experience to shop for food, handicrafts or souvenirs while floating on a boat down the river.
    • Dong Ba Market in Hue. The oldest market in the city, Dong Ba opens as early as 3am, so if you can’t sleep, head over there to pick up some fruits, vegetables and handicrafts.
    • Sapa Market. For those who venture to the mountains in Sapa, there’s also a market worth visiting. Sapa Market is popular for its fresh produce, but you can also find a wide variety of Chinese crafts and souvenirs.
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    How to stay safe in Vietnam

    Vietnam is a friendly and safe place to travel as most locals go out of their way to make overseas visitors comfortable.

    You can expect pleasant service from most shops and tour operators when you travel to Vietnam. However, note that disreputable tour agencies are notorious for operating scam tours, and there are often complaints about over-pushy street vendors.

    The traffic in Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, can get extremely chaotic on weekday mornings and evenings. So when crossing the roads, be extra careful of oncoming traffic that may not stop even when the traffic lights turn red. A good tip is to follow the locals when crossing the road to get a sense of when it’s safe to go.

    That said, as long as you exercise common sense and book from reputable tour operators, you shouldn’t have to worry.

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    Images: Getty Images

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