Our guide to Vietnam
A captivating and stunning country, Vietnam begs to be explored. Before contacting our specialists, you may want to whet your appetite with this guide to Vietnam.
Vietnam’s geographic and cultural treasures, intriguing differences from north to south and rich history secures it as an unfaltering favorite in Southeast Asia. Although only opening its borders to the rest of the world in the 1990s as a country left scarred by conflict, Vietnam offers both vibrancy and peace and a winning blend of remarkable hospitality, exquisite cuisine, breathtaking scenery, charming people and incredible experiences.
At Scott Dunn, Vietnam is a much-loved destination amongst guests of all ages and interests who adore its temples and pagodas, lively markets, unforgettable landscape and evidence of its intriguing history. The charming towns of Hue and Hoi An are a popular addition to many itineraries, as are the country’s wonderful national parks and soaring limestone karsts of iconic Halong Bay. Getting across the country between the myriad of highlights is relatively easy, although if getting off the beaten track is more your style it will certainly not disappoint. Vietnam boasts miles of dazzling beaches of white sand bathed with crystal waters and a trip to the north of the country is a great opportunity to witness the magnificence of its mountains, rice terracing and meet its hill-tribe inhabitants.
When is the best time to visit Vietnam?
Vietnam is a great destination to visit throughout the year with the advantage of three different microclimates due to the length of the country; the weather can vary dramatically from the north to the south. November to April is regarded as the most ideal time for visiting the country due to low rainfall, however take a look at our When to visit Vietnam guide for a more detailed overview.
How do you get to Vietnam?
Vietnam is easily accessible by air from all over the world. Scott Dunn can simply arrange your flights with British Airways or Vietnam Airways, or even one of the Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates or Qatar. Do just let us know if you would like to combine your enlightening journey to Vietnam with any other destination in Southeast Asia, as it is an exciting and popular option.
How to get around Vietnam?
Exploring Vietnam by road is a fantastic way to see the variety of landscapes the country offers, and fortunately roads have improved somewhat in recent years, making this a little easier. We can arrange for you to have a private air-conditioned vehicle so that you are as comfortable as possible. This ensures everything goes smoothly for you and there’s always someone to answer your questions in English. The vehicles we use are spacious and comfortable and ideal for couples, families or larger groups of five to eight. However, most travelers find themselves flying from one highlight to another, as this saves time. It’s stress-free to fly between Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). If you are planning to visit the rolling landscape surrounding Sapa, please note that this is normally done by overnight train, an experience in itself.
The national currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). US Dollars (USD) are often accepted in shops and restaurants but are easy to exchange on arrival however ATMs/cash points are widespread throughout the country, particularly in cities.
What are the main highlights of Vietnam?
Northern Vietnam is home to Hanoi, the bustling capital of the country and fascinating illustration of its French Colonial past. Explore the intricate streets of the Old Quarter or escape to Hoan Kiem Lake with a coffee and patisserie and watch morning Tai Chi. Travel east to the renowned limestone landscape and emerald waters of Halong Bay and further towards the border with China and Laos to the far north and the spectacular hills and valleys around the town of Sapa, peppered with waterfalls, hill- tribe villages and blanketed in striking rice terraces.
If visiting the central coast of Vietnam and its beaches we recommend spending some time in the historic trading town of Hoi An, a popular stop to visit one of the many tailors and a delight to explore its streets, lined with well-preserved merchants’ houses. Traveling inland and on the Perfume River is the former imperial capital of Hue, essential in Vietnamese history and home to a handful of sights including the Thien Mu Pagoda and Imperial City. Further south, soak up the atmosphere and sun in the coastal city of Nha Trang. A destination famed for relaxing swathes of sandy beaches and great scuba diving in its turquoise waters and nearby marine reserves abundant in tropical fish, corals and turtles.
Reaching Southern Vietnam, you are met by the largest city in the country, Saigon, also named after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh and home to historical landmarks aplenty and the hub of modern-day Vietnam. Continue exploring south and land gives way to the picturesque Mekong Delta, a delight to explore by bike, boat or perhaps a traditional sampan. You may hear this area affectionately referred to as the rice bowl of Vietnam due to its fertile agricultural land. This is an undeniably delightful place to watch local life unfold and visit Can Tho’s animated floating markets. From this part of Vietnam, a short flight can transport you to the idyllic and beaches of the southern coast & islands, including the halcyon Con Dao Archipelago and Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Thailand.
Luxury hotels in Vietnam
The majority of Vietnam’s most luxurious and sensational hotels are found in the more central regions and mainly on the coast where 5* accommodation is at its finest. However if your voyage through Vietnam includes the more metropolitan, The Sofitel Metropole offers an exceptional base from which to explore Saigon and Hanoi. Four Seasons The Nam Hai offers an indulgent hideaway on the coast near the UNESCO world Heritage town of Hoi An, whilst Six Senses Ninh Van Bay and Amanoi at Vinh Hy Bay afford further tranquillity along the Vietnamese Coast. For those wishing to venture a little further for their picture-perfect beachside retreat, travel south where Six Senses provides bare-foot luxury in the Con Dao Archipelago.
Boutique hotels in Vietnam
There are a few notable, intimate and stylish hotel options across Vietnam, many boutique hotels here are characterful reminders of the country’s colonial past such as Anantara Hoi An. One of the most stylish properties in the town, it blends effortlessly into surrounding architecture and its riverside location. Further afield, colonially inspired and the finest property on the lesser frequented but pristine island of Phu Quoc, La Veranda is ideal if you want real escapism.
Lodges and guesthouses in Vietnam
Found mainly in the north of the country and ideally located for those wishing to explore the wilder and less-touristy areas, lodges and guesthouses in Vietnam are lesser-known but nonetheless outstanding in their uniqueness. Topas Ecolodge is a favorite at Scott Dunn, offering magical mountain views and the perfect base for exploration and relaxation less than an hour from Sapa.
Scott Dunn’s classic Vietnam itineraries
We always tailor-make our itineraries, but have created a few suggested journeys for the inspiration of your own bespoke journey. Imagine Vietnam provides a definitive introduction, traversing the country from north to south and enchanting visitors with the highlights of Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Saigon. Beguiling experiences and a variety of hotels are interwoven to create an unforgettable trip for first timers.
Vietnam for families
Vietnam is a great destination for families, with plenty to explore and a different culture to discover. Younger guests will love exploring the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, Trekking from Sapa to visit the hill tribes of Northern Vietnam, witnessing the extravagant Water Puppet Show in Hanoi, experiencing life as a local in villages around Hue, or jumping on the back of a Vespa for an exhilarating food tour around Saigon. Our itineraries can really be adapted to make a family trip truly extraordinary as well as educational and there are many hotels and resorts throughout Vietnam that cater for children and have interconnecting rooms or villas. Our Culture and Beach in Vietnam itinerary is a great example of how really getting under the skin of a place can also be combined with rest and relaxation to cater for all members of the family. For older children Temples and trekking for teens takes families on an active journey through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, seeing the main highlights without sparing incredible experiences. Ending in UNESCO protected Hoi An there are many local villages to explore and the opportunity to learn about traditional silk making and bamboo craft with local experts. Try your hand at fishing or see the town from a different perspective by kayaking along the Thu Bon River.
Vietnam for honeymooners
Vietnam has some of the most beautiful vistas in Southeast Asia; its beaches are amongst the region’s most idyllic and it is bursting with unique experiences and luxurious hotels. Whatever pace you want for your honeymoon, Vietnam can accommodate. Our top picks for a romantic once in a life time trip include the beach resorts of Six Senses Con Dao and Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, The Nam Hai and Fusion Maia Danang. Further inland Anantara Hoi An and La Residence Hotel and Spa provide an indulgent boltholes in the historic cities. Finally, what could be more romantic than a stay on either the Aqua Mekong as it sails between Vietnam and Cambodia or weave your way through the islands of Halong Bay on Halong Violet.
With much to see and do in Vietnam, we try to include those experiences guests love time and again, but also some unexpected options so you can see the authentic Vietnam as you travel through the country in style. Journey like locals on the back of a Vespa through the streets of Saigon, through the central coast countryside by bike or buffalo cart and learn to fish Vietnamese style. In Hanoi meet a Feng Shui master or have a pre breakfast Tai Chi class and explore its colonial streets by jeep. Further north, trek from Sapa to Ta Giang Phinh across the waterfall scattered and undulating landscape past numerous villages, home to lesser-known ethnic groups and charming stilt houses. With such a variety of experiences we are able to craft an itinerary really suited to your particular interests and tastes.
Vietnam and food
Vietnam has hundreds of traditional dishes, some eaten for centuries, others shaped by French colonial influence and some such as Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and Goi Cuon (translucent spring rolls) that are national dishes with international recognition. As with much of Vietnamese culture and geography, there are regional variations between gastronomy and ingredients; at Scott Dunn we consider food another exciting aspect of a destination and an experience in itself.
Learn about the likes of Cha Ca (sautéed white fish) and Bahn tom (deep fried shrimp cakes) during our Street food experience and Hanoi highlights combination or Whole day culinary experience in Hanoi with dinner in Cha ca La Vong. Further south, Hoi An’s culinary experience a Cooking class with Mr Duc Tran or trip to the Red Bridge Cooking School will begin with a stroll through the city’s effervescent market before you learn the essentials behind tantalising meals such as the town’s signature noodles, Cao Lau. If one of these classes gives you a taste for more, tour Hoi An’s street food by Vespa or with a culinary expert and experience the best backstreet delicacies as the locals do in casual eateries. In the celebrated city of Hue, savor its royal tea and learn about local dishes like Banh Nam (steamed rice cakes), Banh Bot Loc (clear shrimp and pork dumplings) and Banh Khoai (Hue pancake) in a fascinating Culinary Experience. For first-hand history and a gastronomic experience to remember have Dinner at Former US Ambassador’s Residence in Saigon. Enjoy a cocktail reception and sophisticated fare in this stylishly restored home. For some culinary comparison in the city, combine this with our incredible Saigon food tour by Vespa or Foodie walking tour of Saigon.
Shopping and customizing in Vietnam
To truly get under the skin of any part of Vietnam, head to the nearest market. Frequented by locals for almost anything, they are well worth exploring and offer fascinating photographic opportunities and the exciting chance to bargain for a variety of goods. We offer an array of retail experiences across the country that range from the informal Mekong Delta’s floating markets at Cai Be and Can Tho where you are met by boats laden with colorful fruit, vegetables and fish to a Bespoke shopping trip in downtown Hanoi. Expand your wardrobe with customized clothes of high quality Vietnamese silk. Despite Hoi An’s slow pace of life, express customizing of made-to-measure suits and dresses is a popular choice amongst visitors and locals. For those with a deeper interest in Asian textiles, discover how Vietnamese silk is created from silkworm to the ancient looms of the Champa women.
Combinations with other countries
Vietnam combines well with Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand. There are also direct flights to Singapore, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Philippines. At Scott Dunn we can expertly craft transnational itineraries suited to your dream trip, such as the luxurious Epic Indochina, discovering the region in style or discovering the Mekong Delta and Temples of Cambodia with our Exceptional Vietnam and Cambodia itinerary.