How I planned our trip to Vietnam

Dre Roelandt

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 12.06.2024

Last spring my wife and I finally made it to Vietnam, and we were honestly so blown away. Being a travel editor here at Rough Guides, it’s always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. At the same time, I hadn’t been before and didn’t really know what to expect! Here I’ve collected some tips and advice on how I planned my trip to Vietnam. 

When to go to Vietnam

We decided that we wanted to visit Vietnam in the spring because the weather is usually the most mild then.

The temperatures during our trip seem to range from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F), and I heard that the humidity was a lot lower compared to the summer months.

A close second choice would have been to visit during the autumn, and next time I’ll probably come back then to see the harvest season in full swing.

We wanted to avoid the rainy season, from May to October. If you go during this time, you do get the benefit of it being less crowded. However, you have to be ready for heavy and frequent rain. To us, it was worth dealing with more people and slightly higher prices to be in comfortable weather. 

My tip: see the Rough Guide to when to go to Vietnam for a more detailed breakdown.

Hanoi Train street, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Hanoi Train street, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Choosing how many days

Our trip ended up being around two weeks, and for us that was a perfect amount of time. We were able to explore multiple regions, including Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City, without feeling rushed. 

I think if we had cut it any bit shorter, it would have been a bit stressful, as there is so much to see and do in Vietnam. 

Of course, more time would have always been nice! If you are planning a trip to more than one country in Southeast Asia, I would say a bare minimum would be 10 days in Vietnam. This allows you to experience the highlights and adjust from jet lag comfortably. 

Linh Phuoc Pagoda in Da Lat, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Linh Phuoc Pagoda in Da Lat, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Deciding what region of Vietnam to visit

This is by far the hardest part of planning a trip! Our trip was 14 days, and we spent 8 days in the North and 6 days in the South. Most start in the South and travel North, but we did the opposite to avoid crowds. It was also cheaper for us to fly home from Ho Chi Minh City.

Picking the best things to do during your trip can be hard to narrow down. Here’s some of our favourite things we did:

In the north, we started in Hanoi and visited the Old Quarter. From there we took a cruise in Ha Long Bay which was absolutely stunning.  We also visited Ninh Binh, often referred to as "Ha Long Bay on land," with gorgeous landscapes and ancient temples.

In the central region, we explored Hue, because of its rich history and beautiful pagodas, and the charming town of Hoi An, known for its well-preserved ancient town and lantern-lit streets.

In the south, we of course made our way to Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), visited the Cu Chi Tunnels to learn about Vietnam's wartime history, and took a boat trip through the Mekong Delta to see the lush, tropical landscapes and floating markets.

My tip: if you’re looking for ideas of how to spend you time, take a look at our Rough Guides Trip Gallery. There are plenty of amazing trips here that are created by local travel experts. 

Railway Hai Van Pass, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Railway Hai Van Pass, Vietnam © Shutterstock

How do you get around Vietnam?

There is public transportation in larger cities in Vietnam (most of which is cash-only, by the way).  Most people fly into Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and transport from there. We opted to have a taxi pick us up from Hanoi Airport to our accommodation.

Once in the country, Grab was super handy. If you’re familiar with Uber, it’s the same idea. You can use Grab for cars and motorbikes. It was a super convenient option for getting around cities. 

We also took trains at points, which was a comfortable and scenic way to travel between cities. The buses were certainly an experience but quite a bit less comfortable. Renting motorbikes for a few days allowed us to explore more remote areas at our own pace and was a lot of fun. 

How we connected to the internet

Most hotels, restaurants, cafes, and tourist attractions in Vietnam offer free Wi-Fi access. Still, it’s important to have some kind of service in case of emergency or in case of getting lost.

We ended up going for a prepaid SIM card when we got to Hanoi. These are widely available across the city, and they usually come with a generous data allowance and options for calls and texts. We picked up one at the airport. The process was straightforward, and the connection was reliable.

That said, double check that you have a phone that allows you to insert a SIM card, as some smartphones don’t have this feature. 

Thung Hang Ca in Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Thung Hang Ca in Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam © Shutterstock

How we budgeted

Luckily, Vietnam is known for being pretty affordable. The conversion rate was a little confusing from Vietnamese Dong to US Dollar (1$ = 25,500 VND). 

On average, we ended up spending about $60-100 each per day. This budget allowed us to stay in comfortable accommodations, enjoy a variety of meals, and use mostly public transit. We could have easily spent more if we had stayed in a resort or booked more private tours. Seasoned backpackers and budget travelers could definitely get by on less. 

In general, we tried to plan our itinerary to be prepared for extra costs. It’s not often that we are able to come to Vietnam or south east Asia in general, so we wanted to make the most of the trip.

Don’t miss the street food

Since we both love to research before a trip, we ended up spending a lot of time finding the “best” places to eat. In reality, our favortie meals came from when we simply walked around and found a street food stall. Instead of finding reviews online, we simply went to places that seemed crowded. 

Each region in Vietnam has its own specialties. Don't miss the chance to try unique dishes like banh xeo (sizzling pancakes) in the south or bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) in the north.

Vietnamese vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Vietnamese vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Pack for the weather

You’ll want to bring a versatile set of clothes, especially if you plan on hitting both North and South Vietnam in one trip. 

In the North, it can get a tad chilly, especially during the cooler months. Layers are key, so pack lightweight sweaters or jackets that you can easily add or remove as needed. 

In the South, you’ll find that the weather is a lot more tropical. You’ll want to bring lightweight and breathable shorts, t-shirts, and lightweight dresses or skirts.

If you’re planning on visiting historical sites or temples, it’s important to dress modestly out of respect. Consider bringing long, lightweight pants or skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. This will help you stay comfortable in the heat while also adhering to local customs. 

No matter where you go, don’t forget the essentials: comfy walking shoes, a hat or cap for sun protection, sunscreen, and bug spray. Personally I’d rather pack light rather than having to carry large suitcases in the heat. 

Fansipan mountain at Sapa north of Vietnam © Shutterstock

Fansipan mountain at Sapa north of Vietnam © Shutterstock

Tours are worth every penny

We debated whether to opt for guided tours or take our own DIY approach. Every tour we ended up paying for turned out to be worth it. 

Especially the day we spent on the Mekong Delta, the tour wasn’t particularly expensive, and we were able to see so much more than we would have on our own.  Not only did we visit remote villages and floating markets, but our guide also shared fascinating anecdotes and historical context.

Our tour also included the cost of transportation and came with meals — definitely worth it!

Halong Bay, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Halong Bay, Vietnam © Shutterstock

Mistakes were made

Making mistakes while traveling is all part of the process, but to save you some grief, here’s a few things I wish I had considered before we left. 

Overnight trains

We both agreed that next time we go to Vietnam, we will plan our train rides at night to save money. This tip is especially useful for heavy sleepers.

We did this twice, and both times we were excited to have more time to spend at our destination. Traveling from one place to another takes longer than you might think, so overnight trains can be convenient and cost-effective, if you don’t mind sleeping on a train.

Itinerary overload

Being our first time in Vietnam and being avid travel enthusiasts, we ended up with a long list of things we wanted to do. In retrospect, we didn’t get to everything we had planned. 

The heat and jet lag definitely slowed us down (the journey from California took us 33 hours!). We could have easily added an extra week to our itinerary to allow for a more relaxed pace.

Make sure to add Ninh Binh to your Vietnam itinerary

Make sure to add Ninh Binh to your Vietnam itinerary  © Shutterstock

Low crime: but look out for scams

While violent crime is extremely rare in Vietnam, petty theft does happen from time to time. You’ll want to keep an eye on your valuables, and keep any bag your carrying with you on your front.

One taxi we took let us know once we had arrived to our destination that the meter was broken, and we ended up paying a lot more than usual. After that, we stuck to using mostly Grab for taxis. That said, we both felt pretty safe the entire time we were in the country. 

Get to the airport early

If you’re choosing to fly domestically in Vietnam, you’ll want to arrive ideally three hours before your flight. Check in and security took us a while to get through, and we really could have benefited from showing up a tad earlier.

Dre Roelandt

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 12.06.2024

Dre Roelandt is originally from the United States but lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Dre is a freelance writer and artist with a passion for travelling. They are an in-house Content Editor at Rough Guides.

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