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 Nang, 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.
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.
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.
British Citizens are required to have a visa to enter Vietnam, which you can apply from the Embassy of Vietnam in London. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Vietnam. Please contact the Embassy of Vietnam for up to date country and visa information on 0207 937 1912.
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.
VND - Vietnamese Dong
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
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;
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;
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.