You could enter Vietnam from one of it’s neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos or China, or make use of international flight travel. Probably you would have to apply for your travel visa online before you travel. For a full list of countries and application information, visit https://www.myvietnamvisa.com/visa-requirements.html
The arrival process is something to behold and depending on incoming flights, this could take a while. Everyone is required to hand their passports and visas in at a window and then wait for your name to be called. This is quite entertaining as the officials try to pronounce the names correctly. Certain nationalities might get through easier, but this was our experience.
When making travel plans for Vietnam, consider this, it is quite large in size, particularly in length so the travel distance between major cities such as Hanoi up north, and Ho Chi Minh City (south) is substantial. Depending on your time, you might want to think about flying between these cities, or choose one over the other. Each area has it’s own attractions, with Halong Bay close to Hanoi, and more of the war tourism situated down in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as easy access into Cambodia. If you are a backpacker and time is not important, then there are no worries and plenty to experience. Between these cities is also beautiful coastline which can be explored and enjoyed.
Either way, the people and their food are phenomenal…
We had a tough decision to make regarding the above as time would allow us to visit one region only. We chose south, as we had been advised that Halong Bay can be very “touristy” and busy, and we also planned to visit Cambodia. So our flights into Vietnam landed in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City has something for everyone. It is a modern, bustling city combined with traditional Vietnamese markets, stalls and activities.
In our opinion this city is best explored at night and at times, entire blocks of the city are cordoned off from traffic to allow tourists and locals a chance to experience what the city has to offer. Here you can find great shopping, from upmarket goods to street vendors and of course, multi-level complexes selling “quality” Chinese knock-offs and other cheap electronics. We explored these areas by foot and felt completely safe.
Here you can find great Vietnamese cuisine, either traditional street food, or if you choose, dine in one of the more upscale restaurants. We chose to order a takeaway pizza, purchased a bottle of wine from the night market, and found a nice spot to watch the excitement and activities in the streets. Please note: As we were not sure on local regulations, we kept the bottle well hidden and topped up into plastic cups. A great evening out…
With your base in Ho Chi Minh City, you can research, book and enjoy some of the city’s main attractions. From here you will be able to visit the tunnels at Cu Chi, take a trip down the Mekong Delta, visit the many rooftop bars, take a side-car tour (pretty pricey and not in our budget), shop at the night markets, watch a water puppet show, a dance show or a theatre show if you wish.
While we checked out some of our options, we came across a company that offers some of these activities by bicycle and decided to give them a go… We cannot recommend these guys enough and ended up doing two trips with them. You do not need to be super fit or a cycling enthusiast, and these trips include other sights along the way, as well as lunch. Find them at https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/ and check our trip details just below and the reviews at the bottom of this page.
After settling into our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City we started researching and planning our next few days. The tunnels, Mekong Delta and War Remnants Museum have been on my bucket list for years and is the main reason we chose Ho Chi Minh City over Hanoi. Now we just had to figure out the best way to visit these attractions. As mentioned above, we came across Grasshopper Adventures who offer cycle tours in many Asian countries. This appealed to us as we were looking for a way to visit without feeling too crowded and touristy. You complete your booking online and send your important information such as age, size etc. They will meet you at a designated meeting point, get everyone geared up, and after basic instructions and a bike check, you are on your way. The bikes are well maintained, safety gear is provided and the guides are amazing.
Just a little info on the tunnels and the tour that these guys offer. After the war, the tunnels were opened as a tourist attraction, as we all know. These tunnels stretch over a great distance and to make the attraction accessible to more tourists, a second site was opened which was closer to the city and therefore easier to get to. The second site became the preferred choice and the busiest of the two. The original site, however, still operates, but due to the distance away from the city, it is much quieter with little or no tourists.
The cycle tour starts with a boat ride trip along the river and during this trip we were offered fruits and beverages. The boat took us to the meeting point where our guide and bikes were waiting.This tour is 25km and winds through rubber plantations and other scenic areas. The ride is flat with no extreme hills to climb and is extremely beautiful. The guides will offer stops at certain times and give brief lessons regarding the surroundings and sights. We saw about 4 other tourists at these tunnels so it was relaxed, quiet and nice to be able to take your time.
The actual tunnel crawl is not too bad as the distance is not too long, it has lighting, and as long as you keep moving, not too claustrophobic. Here you start to get a slight glimpse into what the country went through during the Vietnam War, and other past wars. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly and make the experience highly enjoyable.The cycle continues on to a rice paper factory where the rice paper is still made the traditional way, a local village market and then on to a tasty lunch washed down with cold Saigon beer.
This trip is highly recommended..!!!
If you think of Vietnam you think of the war, and this museum offers a glimpse into what atrocities were committed during this time, as well as during the wars and occupations that preceded it. This can be troubling to some and the images can be shocking. Some survivors of the devastating Agent Orange still work in this centre and the results of this poison is still clearly evident. It’s not recommended to take younger children into this multi-level museum as the pictures are not censored in any way.
Take some time to slowly make your way through all the levels. This tour should not be about looking at the pictures. It’s important to learn what actually happened during this war, who was affected, and how this country bounced back from devastation. It offers insights from both sides of the war, including the anti-war movement back in The United States and the music that was created during this period.
The Mekong river is the twelfth longest river in the world and during the war it served as an important means of transportation for both local and enemy forces. This river is home to many riverside inhabitants and is crucial to their way of life. Many goods and supplies are transported up and down this river daily.
Along it’s banks you will find many small villages, markets and vendors among some very beautiful regions, ideal for our second cycle tour. This tour would only be slightly longer at 27km but again, it is on flat terrain with no challenging areas, and will include a visit to a local market (buy rats and snakes if you wish), a cocoa plantation, reed-weaving factory and of course, lunch with cold Saigon beer.
Once again our guide was friendly, informative and helpful. The trip ends with a trip down the river with coconut drinks and a chance for some relaxation.
Once again, we cannot recommend these guys enough (no we are not affiliated to them). Find them at: https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/
Our trip to Mui Ne was not a planned one, and we took this side-trip as we checked wind conditions which looked favorable. This coastline is a great wind destination for kitesurfers and windsurfers and although there are some upmarket hotels, it is mostly a mid-range, affordable area. The resorts which line this coast have ensured that this stretch is not overtaken by high-rise buildings and has kept it’s unique charm.
There a quite a few kite and windsurf centres along the coast, some bigger operations than others and some will offer more professional services than others. Take a walk around, speak to the operators and you will quickly find out the better options compared to the rest. That is, of course, if you need to rent gear or sign up for some lessons. The area we used was an intermediate area, which could be quite tricky for beginners due to the shorebreak. This could change according to seasons.
We also visited at a time when it could be considered as off-season. Check when the season gets busy, as the one thing that is obvious in Mui Ne, is the big Russian influence. The Russians love to spend their holidays in Mui Ne and it is clearly obvious by the Russian signage in the shops, and the many locals who speak the language. It’s not Russians themselves that are an issue, but apparently it gets very very busy…
Besides the wind and quaint fishing village, the coast is also lined with seafood buffet restaurants who proudly show off their live seafood, of all types, in tanks along the walkways. The food is amazing but you might be a bit shocked at some of the marine life on offer. It’s also quite affordable and you will probably find your self with a fresh lobster or two.
Please note: All Tripadvisor posts were updated shortly after our visits. We do not believe in giving negative reviews unless we have made a personal request or comment to senior staff, allowing the relevant designated persons an opportunity to respond and rectify any shortcomings we might have experienced.