Vietnam Travel Guide – where peaceful countryside meets chaotic cities

Vietnam has something for everyone – incredible mountain tours in the 4-season North, captivating history for the history buffs, and some inspired nightlife scenes in the city. Here’s what one traveller experienced as she wandered open-minded into Vietnam, and emerged a lover of all things Vietnamese.

Brightly lit Vietnam street at night

Image © Simran Kabotra


Where did you stay in Vietnam and why?

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

In Ho Chi Minh’s namesake city (previously known as Saigon), I stayed in an Airbnb apartment on the 9th floor. This was not your usual apartment in that each floor had a different purpose – one floor had a nursery, another had a cafe and one floor had a nail salon. I chose this because it was cost-effective, being just outside of District 1 (a key hub to visit tourist attractions), as well as its proximity to local shops and transport.

Hoi An

In this coastal trading town turned tourist hotspot, I stayed with a lovely family in their homestay, Qua Cam Tim Homestay. I picked this because it was cost-effective with bike rentals and breakfast included in the price and it was just a 5 minute walk from the night market and the centre of town.

Ninh Binh

For this stay, I wanted to venture out into nature and be away from the busy town. I stayed at Sierra Homestay and had breathtaking mountain views from my room. The homestay hosts were so kind and offered free use of their bicycles. The location was very serene and had almost no tourists – allowing me to immerse myself in the locals’ way of life.


In this chaotic and hectic northern city, I opted to stay in Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel as it was cheap and the location was perfect if you want to be close to all the tourist attractions in the city.


In the North Vietnam’s countryside, I stayed in a beautiful homestay called Surelee Homestay, surrounded by rice paddies, tall green mountains and crisp, fresh air. This was really far from the hustle and bustle of the main city that was clearly targeted at tourists. It was a little difficult to get to, but the stay was worth it as I enjoyed peace and tranquillity for 5 nights.

Lake surrounded by mountains in Vietnam

Image © Simran Kabotra

What is there to do in Vietnam?

In Ho Chi Minh City:

Bui Vien Walking Street – an 850 metres long walking street full of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. This is the quintessential asian city nightlife and buzzing atmosphere that you want to experience.

War Remnants Museum – a war museum depicting the history and consequences of the Indochina and Vietnam wars. Whilst it is emotional, it’s important to learn about the history of Vietnam and the atrocities of war. You can easily spend 3-4 hours here, reading and absorbing all the information and images.

Củ Chi Tunnels – an extensive network of tunnels over 120km (75 miles) dug by the Vietnamese during the Indochina war (1945-1954) and the Vietnam war (1955-1975). It’s so interesting to learn about the tunnels and how they lived in there. You can also go into the tiny tunnels yourself!

In Hoi An:

Clothes tailoring – Hoi An is known for its extensive range of tailoring shops that are at an affordable price range. To make your trip worthwhile, it’s best to get clothes tailored that would otherwise be expensive back home such as suits, gowns and dresses.

River boat tour with lanterns – a pretty vision of lights at night. Whilst this is quite touristy, cruising down the river in Hoi An with the lanterns is a very beautiful sight and surprisingly peaceful.

In Ninh Binh:

Trang An River Tour –  discover ancient limestone karsts, caves, and ancient temples on a 1.5 to 3 hour tour. The entire experience is on a boat with occasional stops to visit temples. As an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a must-do! Very serene and picturesque, you can sit and take in the beautiful nature. This was also where Kong: Skull Island (2017)was filmed!


Train Street where shops have been set up along the train tracks and you get VERY close to the trains passing through. It’s an exhilarating experience that you’ll do once but it’s worth doing for the adrenaline rush.

Ride through the Ha Giang Loop – a 3-4 day motorbike loop taking you through Vietnam’s beautiful mountains and countryside. It was a highlight of my trip and I would definitely recommend doing the Ha Giang Loop Tour with easy riders as the mountain roads have sharp turns and some roads aren’t very well-maintained. You get to see geological UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as the Hmong people (one of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam). I did a 4 day tourwith a small group of easy riders – they were fantastic in every regard and extremely safe and careful.

Ha Long Bay cruise – a UNESCO World Heritage Site only 1-2 hours drive away from Hanoi. I opted for a 5* cruise with Sapphire Cruise for 3 days and 2 nights as I wanted to do as many activities as possible and have a luxury cruise experience. Cruising around Ha Long Bay was truly beautiful with its impressive cliff structures and it’s also where they filmed Kong: Skull Island (2017).


Hikes, hikes and more hikes! Sapa is a great place to hike by yourself or with a local guide. I chose to hike by myself as the routes were easy to follow and weren’t too challenging. If you’d like to know the history and learn more along the route then you can hire a local guide. With green mountains, red clay soil and clear flowing rivers, you’ll see a range of colourful terrain and landscapes!

Image of brightly lit boats on a river at night in Vietnam

Image © Simran Kabotra

What did you love (and not love) about Vietnam?

I loved how easy and tourist friendly everything was. From transport to food, all signs were in English and it was easy to communicate with vendors. I also loved how easy it was to book things online and on an app – very handy when you want to go somewhere quick!

Unfortunately, I didn’t love the amount of littering all over Vietnam. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the tourists leaving trash behind but the locals themselves! I saw a Vietnamese woman take her carrier bag of snack wrappers and dump it all out into the street – even though she already created a bin bag out of the carrier bag! I’ve been told there have been efforts to educate the locals but it seems like there is a long way to go.

Top tips for visiting Vietnam

Carry antibacterial soap and toilet paper with you. While I didn’t come across any squat toilets, the many western-style toilets often didn’t have toilet paper or soap in the bathroom. Best make a habit of bringing soap and tissue with you every time you leave your house!

Learn basic phrases – it lights up people’s eyes. Learning basic phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘let’s go’ or ‘where is…’ can bring you closer to the Vietnamese people and they’ll really open up to you.

Bring some layers for the North – it can get cold! You’ll be forgiven for thinking all of Vietnam is really hot but due to the mountainous region in the North, there is a lot of cold air circling around – especially if you’re visiting between January and April.

Avoid the burning season (January – March). Burning season is when the countryside is full of smoke due to farmers burning their crops to make the soil more fertile. The smokey haze will restrict your view of the landscape and you won’t be inhaling much of the fresh mountain air.

Would you go again?

Absolutely! I would love to visit other areas of Vietnam I didn’t get to see such as Dalat and Da Nang. I also would love to see the North again in the summer to experience nature in a different light (literally) with golden rice fields and clear blue skies.

Image © Simran Kabotra

Travel Writer Bio

Simran Kabotra is a writer, avid reader & crocheter who loves travel. She is currently travelling across Southeast Asia, searching low and high for new adventures, beautiful landscapes and rich history.

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