The ultimate guide to Vietnam

A Vietnamese woman wearing a nón lá hat in a canoe gathering water lily blooms

Zoe MacFarlane

Posted July 20, 2023

Welcome to Vietnam, a country rich in heritage, natural wonders, and warm, friendly people. Follow this guide to Vietnam’s top eight destinations to create the perfect holiday.

Whether you’re exploring iconic landmarks, uncovering cultural relics, browsing vibrant markets, or sampling the varied delicacies from north to south, every stop fully activates your senses.

What to see, do and eat in Vietnam

An introduction to Vietnam

Vietnam’s history is a tapestry of resilience, struggle, and triumph. Across Vietnam, see evidence of its former ancient kingdoms, French colonial rule, and the challenges of the Vietnam War. Each monument and attraction visited reveals more what makes the country – and its people – tick.

Vietnam’s nickname, the Land of the Ascending Dragon, comes from the country’s long, skinny geography. Across its 1,650-kilometre coastline, Vietnam has two climate zones. This means there’s always a good time to visit at least one region! For the most idyllic weather across the whole country, visit in March and April.

Thanks to a raft of direct flights from Melbourne, including daily with Vietnam Air, most Victorians fly into Ho Chi Minh and then travel northbound to Hanoi in a little under 10 hours.


countryside in vietnam

Vietnam's nickname is the Land of the Ascending Dragon. Image: Pexels


Contemporary Ho Chi Minh City

While not Vietnam’s political capital (that’s Hanoi), Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it’s still referred to, is the financial and trend-setting centre of the country. This makes it an ideal first stop due to its blend of the familiar with the exotic.

Ho Chi Minh City’s main attractions - besides the fascinatingly chaotic choreography of some of the 7+ million scooters on the roads – include the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum, and, some 60 kilometres away, the infamous Viet Cong Cu Chi Tunnels.

The mellow Mekong

For an entirely different pace of Vietnamese life, take a side trip to the Mekong Delta. The intricate network of the Mekong Delta’s waterways is the region’s lifeblood, providing transport, trade, and food for its 21 million residents.

The lush landscapes, relaxed culture, and traditional Mekong way of life make for a fascinating visit. While long day trips are possible from Saigon, an overnight stay is recommended for true insights.

While here, witness the locals haggle for fresh produce from boats at the bustling floating markets, visit the Mekong’s famed Buddhist landmarks, and get lost in nature at the Tra Su Mangrove Forest. All while sampling the delicious exotic fruits and seafood, of course.



The Mekong Delta is the region's lifeblood. Image: Getty


Fabulous Phú Quốc

To experience the best beach in Vietnam, fly an hour to Phú Quốc. Off the coast of Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand, this island paradise offers more than gorgeous white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. Travellers can also enjoy the island’s verdant forests, gushing waterfalls, and diverse wildlife.

Only 10-15 years ago, Phú Quốc was an under-visited destination most known for housing 40,000 North Vietnamese prisoners of war. Now, enjoy beachside resorts, snorkel the turquoise waters, rejuvenate at a day spa, and discover the island’s rich cultural history on tour.

Vibrant Nha Trang

Some 435 kilometres northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, the appealing shores of Nha Trang await. With verdant hills on one side and an azure bay on the other, this high-energy destination offers the best of both worlds – city living and beach life.

Don’t let Nha Trang’s reputation as a party town lure you into thinking that’s all that’s on offer. The city has fabulous diving and snorkelling, fun-filled island day trips, a delectable culinary scene, and fascinating cultural landmarks. Like the iconic Long Son Pagoda and Po Nagar Cham Towers. The four local mud bath hot springs are a soul-soothing bonus for many visitors.

Nearby, Vinpearl Island is an incredible water theme park that you can get to via speedboat or cable car. The big Hollywood-esque Vinpearl Island sign on the side of the hill is visible from the Nha Trang mainland beach. Enjoy mermaid shows and fish feeding demonstrations, a wave pool, thrill rides and more!


ha long bay

Halong Bay is awe-inspiring. Image: Getty


Enchanting Hoi An

Charming Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, is a stand-out destination. Hoi An’s Ancient Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its lovingly preserved architecture from its time as an influential 15-19th-century Southeast Asian trading port.  

A fusion of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese influence, allow more time than you would expect to take in Hoi An’s sights. The town’s enchanting ambience, unique cuisine, and nearby gorgeous white-sand beach impress. As do the engaging activities on offer, from Vietnamese cooking classes to lantern-making workshops to farm tours.

Tourists can also have custom clothes or shoes made in Hoi An, with over 400 tailors ready and willing to make apparel to order. Choose from a pattern book, recreate garments from photos, or even bring in your favourite clothes for the tailors to replicate.

Historical Hue

Delve into Vietnam’s history in Hue, known as the cradle of Vietnamese culture. Smack in the centre of Vietnam, explore Hue's remaining landmarks from its glory days as the former imperial capital.

The highlight of any Hue visit is the magnificent UNESCO Nguyen Dynasty citadel. Take a tour to picture how life once was for the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Other Hue gems include the peaceful riverside tomb of Tu Duc and a slow-paced dragon boat ride on the Perfume River. As the centre of Vietnam’s Buddhist Culture, make time to explore the city’s temples and pagodas, including the stunning Thien Mu Pagoda.

Awe-inspiring Halong Bay

A trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Halong Bay will likely leave you awe-struck. It’s hard not to get swept up in the mesmerising landscape of over 2,000 limestone islands jutting from the typically still waters of the Bac Bo Gulf. Especially when touring on a traditional junk boat.

While you can take a long day trip from Hanoi, an overnight stay in Halong Bay is recommended. Besides affording more time to see the natural wonders of the bay, it also means more opportunities to sample the bay’s seafood delights and activities like swimming, kayaking, and exploring the caves. Plus, there is the pure joy of waking up among the Halong Bay’s towering karst cliffs.



Hanoi is Vietnam's culural heart. Image: Getty


Heritage Hanoi

The nation’s capital, Hanoi, is also Vietnam’s cultural heart. Tap into the city’s heritage as you wander the vibrant streets of the Old Quarter at leisure. Browse the area’s markets, vendors, and talented artisans, only stopping to enjoy the local delicacies - like phô, cha ca, and bun cha – en route.

Make time to explore Hanoi’s most iconic landmarks. This includes the historic Temple of Literature, famed One Pillar Pagoda, and revered Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

In contrast to Hanoi’s cultural relics, check out its more modern gems, including the world-class Hanoi Opera House, fascinating Vietnamese Women’s Museum, and panoramic Lotte Observation Deck views.


First-timer travel tips for Vietnam

Thanks to the warm, welcoming locals and rare instances of violent crimes, Vietnam is generally a safe country. Like any new destination, however, it pays to have your wits about you as you explore. 

Read these top travel tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday to Vietnam. 

On the road - On arrival to Vietnam, one of the first elements of cultural shock is the steady, never-ending stream of motorbikes. There are over 65 million registered bikes across the country! It’s utterly fascinating to watch their daily dance, but every first-time visitor feels concerned before they attempt to cross them, so follow these simple rules

  • Wait for a gap in the traffic if possible
  • Keep walking (don’t run) at a steady pace so the bikes can weave around you
  • Stay calm
  • Put your arms in the air if you’re worried about not being seen as you cross

Currency - The Vietnamese dong is available at banks, ATMs, and reputable exchange offices. Withdraw money from ATMs when the branch is open in case anything happens during the transaction. Do not exchange your AUD with street vendors, as scams are common. Consider loading a travel money card prior to departure for additional protection of your funds. 

Passport safety - While there is an Australian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s never a good use of your holiday time to need to make a visit there. With that in mind, consider these tips to keep your passport safe while travelling in Vietnam.

  • Get certified copies of your passport’s main page before leaving home and keep in separate places
  • Lock your passport in the hotel safe, keeping only a certified copy on you while sightseeing
  • When travelling between destinations use a money belt
  • Never place your important documents in an airline seatback pocket

Phone safety - Discretion is key to keep your mobile phone secure during your Vietnam travels. Keep it out of sight and stored in a zipped bag or front pocket while out and about to minimise the chance of it being swiped by an opportunist pickpocket or motorbike thief.

To keep your data safe, turn on a 6-digit passcode, biometric authentication, and a phone tracking app. 

Shopping scams - Shopping local is a fun way to give back as you explore a destination, however, there are some common tactics intended to part you with more of your cash in Vietnam.

To avoid inflated prices, always ask the price and check whether it’s in Vietnamese dong or the US / Australian dollar. Be mindful when purchasing leather goods, including tailored items, these are often fake or only partially made with leather. And if a vendor’s sales tactics feel too aggressive, walk away.

Overall, Vietnam is safe when you apply these commonsense measures, along with recommendations from the Australian government’s travel advisory for the region. 


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