Vietnam's lush landscapes are as fruitful as its fascinating culture, and the two blend seamlessly in the watery world of the Mekong Delta. Known as the rice bowl of Vietnam, we love this region for its green paddy fields, sleepy villages, fishing boats, stilt houses and floating markets selling the freshest fruit and veg. Hop on board a traditional wooden sampan boat for the best way to explore the channels of the mighty, life-giving Mekong River.
Despite its troubled history, Vietnam's resilient people are friendly souls, likely to share with you real life tales and traditions. Experience the Cu Chi Tunnels, legendary during the 1960s when nationalist guerrillas fought against the Americans, or visit the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, an incredibly moving testament to the region's tormented past. Going back to ancient times, Vietnam is scattered with Khmer and Cham ruins, royal palaces, tombs and pagodas.
Fresh and fragrant, the flavoursome food is a huge ingredient in Vietnamese culture. From a rustic bowl of pho on a street corner to an over-the-top imperial banquet, every meal offers a taste of the real Vietnam. For a lasting culinary experience, learn to cook some local dishes under the guidance of an expert chef, and then take your new skills home to recreate the flavours of your holiday.
The Vietnamese coastline is scattered with miles of virgin and uncrowded sands. From the spectacular dunes of Phan Thiet and the island hideaways of Con Dao and Phu Quoc, to the delightful little town of Hoi An and the bustling resorts of Nha Trang and Da NangDanang, you are simply spoilt for choice. Relax on powdery shores, catch a boat to nearby islands, explore surrounding coral reefs, or have a go at the plethora of water sports.
Feel the French influence in Hanoi's old quarter, adding an international flair to the charm of this destination, from the architecture to the delicious food. Experience the crowded markets and designer shopping malls of Ho Chi Minh City. Enjoy a cycle ride and let the rich heritage enchant you in the ancient imperial city of Hue. Or stroll along cobbled streets past tailors and shop houses in picturesque Hoi An.
Little can prepare you for the iconic sight of Halong Bay, with its thousands of limestone karsts and islands rising dramatically from the sea. Fill your camera with other breathtaking, distinctly Vietnamese panoramas like Sa Pa's terraced rice-paddies and hill tribe villages, the fertile landscapes along the mighty Mekong River, and the coffee plantations, mountains and waterfalls of the Central Highlands.
I remember sitting on the train to school looking at an advert for travel to China and being mesmerised by pictures of fishing junks and sampans, never imagining that I would have the opportunity of going to such exotic places. Working for Hayes and Jarvis for the last eleven years has enabled me to fulfil some of these childhood dreams and enhance my love of travel and adventure. One of my favourite places has been Vietnam - whether you want a relaxing chilled out holiday or a cultural extravaganza, Vietnam is an exciting choice for the inquisitive mind. I will never get blasé about travel - it still gives me a buzz every time I arrive at the airport!
I rode the rapids on the Colorado River.
Always pack an open mind
Elephant fish in Vietnam
We met Mr Chum Mey who was one of only seven survivors of the Tuol Slen prison in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. He signed a copy of his book entitled ‘Survivor’ which is his life story.
I’ve had the travel bug ever since I completed my studies, and have been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world, including India, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Brazil. Working in travel has enabled me to fulfil my dream of seeing the world and I truly love my job as it gives me the opportunity to share my experiences with other people and help turn their travel dreams into fabulous reality. One of my most memorable experiences was standing on The Great Wall of China. Only from there can you get a real sense of how long it actually is as you can see it snake through the hills for miles and miles, one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen.
A nature walk in Periyar, India – me and animals with more legs than me do not get on!
Take an iron – in case there isn’t one in the room because I always need to look sharp!
India – especially the contrast between North and South.
Non Veg Thali – a mixture of different meats in curry based sauces served in banana leaf.
While in transit in Mumbai, I bumped into a friend of mine who I haven’t seen since he moved to Zambia seven years ago!
I have travelled to lots of interesting places in my time, stepping on to a plane not knowing anything much about where I was going and coming back an expert and having fallen in love with the people, culture and cuisine of the place I've visited. When I first went to South Africa it was different, I thought I had it all sussed in my mind, but let me tell you I was surprised and delighted at every turn! South Africa offers something for everyone, from the wonderful range of cuisine and fine wines to the huge diversity of wild animals clients can see on safari.
The Great Wall of China, we were walking for around 2 hours and walked about 6 miles. It was an amazing experience but very hard work.
Take your camera!
China, as I could not believe how much of a diverse country it was, there is such contrast of historic and modern attractions. Also the food was so much better than expected.
Seafood from Cape Town is the best in the world.
South Africa, I went for 3 weeks and still didn’t do everything it had to offer. Would love to drive the Garden Route and do another safari.
I met one of the Chinese farmers who discovered the ‘Terracotta warriors’ in Xian.
Ever since I was little, holidays have been my favourite part of the year, jetting off to somewhere new and exciting always gives me butterflies of excitement! As a travel expert at Hayes and Jarvis I have had the chance to go to places further away and more exotic than I could have ever dreamed of, like India, a country that can't be done justice with words alone. It is a country that offers something for everyone, whether you want a luxury 5 star hotel on the beach, fascinating sightseeing, or an amazing adventure to somewhere off the beaten track.
I experienced an overnight sleeper train in China.
Take a pair of decent walking shoes.
Crispy Chinese fried ice cream.
I met a lovely old lady who let us have tea with her in her siheyuan house in Hutong in Beijing.
I have always enjoyed travelling and ever since my very first holiday I have been hooked! I’ve been to some amazing places including the Galapagos Islands, India and Ecuador, where I spent time with the people of a local village which really brought home how different their lives are from ours. I think it’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture and get a real feel for the destination. In India, I took an early morning bike ride through the streets of Udaipur and watched the locals setting up the street markets for the day. I love working in travel as I can share my experiences with people who have something in common with me - a passion for travel!
A two hour trek in the Ecuadorian Amazon and then tubing down the river, back to the hotel. The trek was well worth the views although it was so hot and humid and jumping into the river at the end and relaxing whilst tubing was an incredible experience!
Take a decent camera to capture great memories.
The Galapagos Islands as I was not expecting to see so much diversity in terms of wildlife. It was such a peaceful place to visit and there is so much to do and is a great destination for wildlife lovers.
Whilst in Ecuador, we visited a local community and had lunch with them. They cooked freshly caught fish, barbequed in a vine leaf. It was really fresh, tasty and really healthy!
I would love to go to Costa Rica and tour around and then a beach stay at the end. I enjoy holidays where there is lots to do and also the chance to relax.
When in Ecuador at the local community, I met an orphan who had been adopted by the local family and he keeps a pet snake! To say thank you to the family for adopting him, any tips he gets from tourists, he pays back to the family to help with food.
Travel is in my blood! As a child I was lucky enough to experience many places around the world, so what better job than working in the travel industry? My favourite destinations are South Africa and Colombia.
A jungle walk and zip wiring in Colombia.
Take a piece of home with you - I took Hossie, my teddy bear.
Nobody famous – but our ranger in Kruger was a really interesting person.
There are a number of carriers offering flights to Vietnam from the UK.
Direct Carriers: Vietnam Airlines offer a direct service from the UK to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as of Dec 2011.
Indirect Carriers: Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Air France offer indirect services to Vietnam.
Departure Taxes: An international departure tax of USD38/R15 must be paid at Vietnamese Airports.
Hepatitis A, B, Polio, Typhoid and Malaria immunisation are recommended. All travelers should be up to date on routine immunizations. If arriving from an infected country Yellow Fever is recommended. Please contact your GP for further information.
Holidays in Vietnam can get very hot, so pack accordingly. Opt for loose, natural fabrics, although you may need warmer clothing from October to April in the highlands and northern Vietnam. Remember to bring your trusty waterproofs; rain showers can pounce at any time of year.
A wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face;
High factor sunscreen;
Cool, lightweight clothing in natural fabrics like cotton or linen;
Long sleeved cover-ups for evening;
Comfortable walking shoes or sandals for exploring;
Warm jumper if travelling from December to February, especially in the highlands and northern Vietnam;
An electrical adapter (the power supply in Vietnam is 220 volts at 50 hertz);
PADI certificate and medical certificates if you plan to scuba dive.
An underwater camera for snorkelling;
VND - Vietnamese Dong
The official currency is the Vietnamese Dong. You can buy them before you leave the UK but you can only take 15,000,000 Vietnamese Dong in and out of Vietnam. Most major currencies, including the UK Pound, can be exchanged at banks and currency exchanges in the main tourist areas, but in other places you will need to use US Dollars to buy Vietnamese Dong.
Many places accept and quote prices in US Dollars, although you will need to use Vietnamese Dong in more remote areas. MasterCard and Visa cards are now widely accepted in cities and tourist areas, but a three percent commission charge is common so it's worth checking first. You will find plenty of cash machines in major towns and cities, and traveller's cheques are accepted in banks, currency exchanges and some hotels. You will need cash outside the main tourist areas, especially smaller notes as it can be hard to get change.
Tipping isn't expected in Vietnam, but it is becoming common in tourist areas. Salaries being low, it is also much appreciated. Restaurants and hotels may add a five to 10 percent service charge to the bill, but this may not make it into staff pockets. You should also consider tipping hotel cleaning staff, drivers and guides. Remember to make a small donation after visiting a pagoda.
June to October
Vietnamese cuisine is sizzling, steaming proof that food can be both good for you and packed with flavour. Dishes are built on rice, noodles, fresh vegetables, fragrant herbs and the essential salty soy or fish sauce. With a sprinkling of Chinese and French influences, a healthy serving of regional variations and a hint of sugar, chilli, lime, mint, and basil; Vietnamese cooking is starting to compete with Indian, Italian and Chinese cuisines as an international favourite, with restaurants popping up everywhere from London to New York.
Hungry in Hanoi? The smoky scent of this barbecued pork dish will have your mouth watering. Strips of pork are marinated in chilli, ginger and garlic; grilled over hot coals and served with rice noodles in a broth of fish sauce, vinegar, lime, sugar and herbs; usually accompanied by deep-fried spring rolls, garlic and chilli on the side.
A crispy crepe crammed with pork, prawns, onions, bean sprouts and aromatic herbs, this dish is named banh xeo (sizzling cake) after the tempting sounds it makes as it fries. The pancakes are made from rice flour, water, turmeric, and sometimes coconut milk; then stuffed with the tasty filling, wrapped in leaves or rice paper and dunked in a sweet and sour sauce.
These crispy spring rolls are made with ground meat and chopped vegetables rolled in rice paper, deep fried until golden and served with a tangy fish sauce. The exact ingredients vary from region to region and family to family, ranging from pork to crab, prawns, chicken or tofu. Cha gio are also known as nem ran, mainly in the north.
On any street corner in Vietnam, you will come across conical-hatted vendors offering you something to eat. Buy your snacks from bamboo baskets suspended from sellers’ shoulders, pull up a plastic chair at a makeshift roadside pho stall, or order noodles from a vendor who will stop to cook for you before moving on. Whether you are in a city, small town or seaside resort, the street is the best place to discover the tastes of Vietnam. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
Number one contender for Vietnam’s national dish, you simply must try this steaming, fragrant noodle soup. The most popular variations are pho ga (with chicken) and pho bo (with beef). The broth includes rice noodles and bean sprouts, with flavourings such as cinnamon, ginger, basil, cilantro, onion, lime and mint.
This sticky rice dish is shaped into a square and wrapped in a banana leaf like a tasty gift. Rice, pork and onions are cooked for up to 48 hours and can be eaten cold. Stuffed with mung bean paste and flavoured with black pepper, banh chung is traditionally eaten in the Vietnamese new year.
Prices on holidays in Vietnam vary widely depending on what you want to do and where you want to do it, however on the whole Vietnam is still incredible value compared to many places. With a delicious street food scene, you can eat like a king for very little cost. On average though, a three course meal in a mid-range restaurant will set you back around 280,000 Vietnamese Dong, with a bottled beer about 30,000 Vietnamese Dong. To stop you getting thirsty, a 1.5 litre bottle of water is usually around 13,000 Vietnamese Dong.
Worn by women since the 18th century, the Áo dài is Vietnam's most iconic outfit. It consists of a long, flowing silk tunic, fitted at the top and worn over wide-legged trousers. For men, traditional clothing comes in the form of the Áo gam, an elegant brocade tunic worn for celebrations and formal occasions.
In Vietnam's mainly Buddhist society, polite behaviour is highly valued, especially when it comes to the young showing respect for their elders. In general, women are expected to stick to stricter social codes than men, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, speaking quietly, and dressing modestly.
Vietnam's rugged mountains, dense forests, green plains and sweeping coastline are home to many different kinds of wildlife. Iconic creatures like monkeys, gibbons, elephants, leopards, bears, pythons and crocodiles can be found here, alongside critically endangered species such as the dhole, a small wild dog; and the sao la, a forest-dwelling antelope native only to Vietnam and parts of Laos.
May is turtle season in the Con Dao archipelago, when endangered green and hawksbill turtles clamber ashore to lay their eggs, which hatch from June to August. Join a turtle watching tour to see turtles lay up to 100 eggs each before covering them in sand and returning to the South China Sea. In hatching periods you may even see baby turtles taking their first steps towards the water.
Cuc Phuong National Park
Two hours from Hanoi, Vietnam’s first national park is a wilderness of forest-clad mountains roamed by monkeys, gibbons, flying squirrels and pheasants, as well as rarely-seen panthers and bears. The Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, Turtle Conservation Centre and Small Carnivore Conservation Centre focus on the breeding and protection of animals endangered by poachers.
Cat Tien National Park
A few hours from Ho Chi Minh City, this 70,000-hectare nature reserve is home to creatures like Asian elephants, rhinos, sun bears and yellow cheeked gibbons. Visit the Endangered Primate Centre to see rare langur monkeys.