Breathtaking beaches, impressively terraced rice paddies, historic local villages and cosmopolitan cities await you in vibrant Vietnam. Steeped in history, and once synonymous with tragedy and conflict, it's easy to see why this country has become one of the most popular destinations in Asia.
Small Group Tours
Uncover the true highlights of Vietnam. Be captivated by the bustle of Hanoi, and cruise along the breathtaking Halong Bay.
These two countries are filled with intriguing cultures, friendly people and fascinating histories.
Discover the essence of Indochina on an in depth journey through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Immerse yourself in mesmerising Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Travel to the hills of Sapa and cruise along Halong Bay before visiting charming Hoi An.
Vietnam Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of cashew nuts, and black pepper.
- Many hotels do not allow durian, a fruit infamous for its pungent smell, in its rooms.
- What’s the difference between a pagoda and a temple? Pagodas are dedicated to Buddha and temples enshrine historical or mythical figures.
- The Vietnamese refer to the Vietnam War as the American War.
- Motorbike is the most common method of transport, with over 60 million motorbikes in the country.
- Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producing nation after Brazil.
- Hang Son Doong Cave, in central Vietnam, is the world’s largest natural cave.
- The surname of Nguyen (pronounced ‘Win’) is the most common surname in Vietnam – even Ho Chi Minh himself was a Nguyen!
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Vietnam need a visa at this time. An eVisa must be applied for before you travel online at: https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in Vietnam:
8 Dao Tan Street
Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Ph. +84 24 3774 0100
Fax. +84 24 3774 0111
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dông (VND; symbol ₫). Notes are in denominations of ₫500,000, 200,000, 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500.
The recommended currency to take to Vietnam is the USD. We advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Hanoi is approximately $1.50 USD
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately $2 USD
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately $9 USD
- The price of a beer (domestic) in a local pub is approximately $1 USD
Vietnamese cuisine is superb, as you would expect from a country that combines the best of their Eastern neighbours with French traditions brought by the colonisers and missionaries. Eating out is very inexpensive, and there is an array of dishes to choose from, available from street vendors all the way to fine dining restaurants. One of the most popular street foods is bánh mì, a crusty French baguette filled with mayonnaise, pâté, pickled carrot, cucumber, chillies, coriander, and meat or tofu. The national dish is Phở (pronounced ‘fuh’), a fragrant rice noodle-based soup dish with a clear meat-based broth (usually beef or chicken, but fish and vegetarian versions can be found), flavoured with spices and herbs. The flavourings will vary by region, as will the garnishes, but one thing you can guarantee is that you can find it everywhere and for any meal, including breakfast! Rice appears in many forms, from breakfast all the way through to dessert. Aside from normal everyday rice, there are rice noodles, rice paper, rice porridge, sticky rice, fried rice, puffed rice, rice cakes, and glutinous rice!
Nearly every city has its own specialty, such as Cao lầu (thick noodles in gravy, garnished with pork crackling) in Hoi An or seafood in Nha Trang. No trip to Hanoi would be complete without sampling chả cá Lã Vọng, bite-sized pieces of fish grilled at your table and served with rice noodles and various spices. Lẩu is a tasty hotpot cooked at your table (every restaurant seems to have a different recipe for this dish). And all over the country, ice cream is a staple—you'll find it in interesting flavours, from coconut to lemongrass.
Vietnam is also a coffee-lover's dream. It seems like every street cafe sells the thick coffee preferred by locals. The typical southern drink is cà phê sữa đá—sweetened condensed milk and strong coffee. Water should be drunk from bottles only; however, please ensure that bottle tops are properly sealed. Soft drinks and alcohol are not a problem but ice should be avoided. Eating at local restaurants is generally fine and it can be a great, fun experience. Choose restaurants that are busy as the turnover of food is likely to be higher. Take care with seafood, undercooked meat, ready peeled fruit and raw salads.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
From October to December the temperatures are relatively mild, and nights are cool (highs around 31C, lows around 22C). Temperatures are lower in the northern part of the country, so take along a sweater or a jacket. January to March is foggy and drizzly in the north. The mountains can be quite cold in winter, with occasional snowfall at higher elevations. May to September is the hot, humid monsoon season in the south, when temperatures reach 33C and only fall to about 24C.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
Walking is one of the best ways to get around Vietnamese cities, especially Hanoi and Hoi An as everything is close by. Plus, it is safe, and the locals are very engaging, creating an awesome experience. When crossing busy roads (particularly in Hanoi and Saigon), follow the locals – once you step onto the road, keep going at a steady pace and do not stop for any reason, the traffic will just flow around you! Rickshaws are another method if available and worth hopping in one for the experience—just remember to have some small change and set your price before accepting the ride. Alternatively, taxis are always available and inexpensive.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Vietnam…
Shop for hand-embroidered items, hill-tribe needlework and jewellery, baskets, wood and bone carvings, silk fabrics, marble boxes, wooden boxes with inlaid mother-of-pearl designs, papier-mâché and coconut-husk masks, water puppets, pipes, and other handicrafts. One interesting souvenir is a nón bài thơ hat, made from palm and bamboo leaves. If you hold these hats up to the light, you’ll see proverbs and poems printed on the inside. Hue is a good place to look for these hats, and Ho Chi Minh City is a good place for communist-era souvenirs and war surplus goods.
Ceramics with celadon-coloured pottery are classic buys, as is art. Hanoi has many galleries selling everything from woodblock prints to lacquer paintings. Especially prized are sơn ta lacquer paintings, which will last for centuries without fading if made the traditional way, but be aware that fakes abound, so ask for proof of authenticity of materials and workmanship.
War-era articles (vintage 1960s watches, counterfeit Zippo lighters, helicopters made from Coke cans, etc.) are still found here and there. But these once-abundant tourist items are becoming harder to find.
Be prepared to bargain in shops and with street vendors. If you’re offered the choice of paying with US dollars or Dong, you’ll usually get a better deal with dollars. It is worth remembering that the post offices offer packing services.
- When giving gifts in Vietnam, never give the number 4 as it means ‘death’, bananas equal ‘failed’, and if you are giving a gift to newlyweds, never give cups or glasses as they mean ‘separate’. Gifts should also never be yellow or black, or wrapped in either of these colours, as they are seen as bad omens.
- Never use your index finger to point at someone, as it is considered rude, it is best to use the whole hand. However, the 2-fingered ‘V’ sign means ‘hi’, because it is pronounced like ‘hai’, the number 2 in Vietnamese.
- Public displays of affection, mostly hugging and kissing, are not considered appropriate.
- Always travel with others, especially after dark. Travelling in groups of three of four is strongly advised. Keep to well-lit, public places such as shopping malls and restaurants. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, as street crimes are commonplace.
- Keep identification on you at all times – a photocopy of your passport page is sufficient.
- Don't take photos indiscriminately. Many people object to having their pictures taken, so ask permission first. Military installations, airports and bridges should never be photographed.
- Don’t carry around nonessentials and valuables. Use your hotel safe and don't flash expensive jewellery, watches and cameras.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Celebrations in Vietnam showcase the customs, myths and fun-loving spirit of Vietnam. Following the Lunar calendar, many festivals have Chinese origins but now with a distinctly Vietnamese flavour.
The Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year) is the most important event of the year, business and schools close, and everyone travels home to be with family. Known as Tet, which simply means Festival, this celebration of the Lunar New Year is the largest festival in Vietnam and lasts for a week in late January/early February. At this time, families get together to celebrate by handing our flowers and lighting candles at the temples during the day, at night there are food stalls, fireworks and parties.
The Hung Kings Festival (usually held in early April) celebrates the Hung King, Kinh Duong Vong who was the founder of the nation and Vietnam’s first king, back in 2879 BC. People from all over travel to Phu Tho to take part in the festival, with a flower ceremony before the huge procession from the bottom of Nghia Linh Mountain to the Upper Temple. Smaller celebrations take place in all the other Hung Temples around the country.
Buddha’s Birthday, Vesak or Phật Đản, is celebrated in early May. As one of Vietnam’s most widely practiced religions, temples and pagodas across the country are cleaned before being lavishly decorated with lotus flowers, and locals bring offerings of flower garlands, fruits, and local delicacies. Hoi An is considered to be the best place to celebrate, at Phap Bao Pagoda, where the day starts with a procession of monks, before people flock to the temple to burn incense, join prayer sessions, perform religious ceremonies, and listen to the monks. Street parades are held in the evening, then more flower garlands and lanterns are placed along riverbanks.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- International New Year’s Day
- Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar/Vietnamese New Year)
- Good Friday
- Hung Kings Commemoration Day
- Liberation Day/Reunification Day (30th April)
- International Labor Day (1st May)
- Vietnamese Family Day (28th June)
- Independence Day (2nd September)
- Vietnamese Women’s Day (20th October)
- Christmas Day
- International New Year’s Eve
Vietnam’s capital lies on the banks of the Red River, some 100 kilometres from its mouth. Human settlements here date back as far as the 3rd century BC. Like in other large Asian cities, busy commercial streets are filled with cars and bicycles, and are edged by shops, restaurants, bars and stalls. But you’ll also find wide boulevards lined with towering mahogany trees and winding lanes with French, Russian and Chinese architecture in varying states of disrepair. The overall effect is unexpected and charming. Hanoi is great place to explore on foot and there is a lot to see and do. Hanoi has museums to appeal to all tastes, including the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, which is all that remains of the “Hanoi Hilton,” where U.S. prisoners of war were held. Photo by Dennis Bunnik
Ho Chi Minh
With a population of 8 million, Ho Chi Minh City is the economic centre of the country. With lots of new hotels, chic bars and trendy clubs, Ho Chi Minh City is definitely not as picturesque or charming as Hanoi. That said, the old landmarks, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Rex Hotel and the Hotel de Ville are still there, and the blocks of colonial houses haven’t changed. There are nearly 200 temples and pagodas in the city. For lovers of recent history, the Xa Lao Pagoda is the site where a monk immolated himself to protest the Diem regime in 1963. In the reception hall of the Giac Lam Pagoda you can see the portraits of monks who passed away years ago. The Emperor of Jade Pagoda is filled with gilded figures and papier-mâché statues of Buddhist and Taoist divinities. Photo by Marion Bunnik.
Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 square kilometres. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Apart from the islands, another natural attraction is the series of boundless caves that have formed through the ages, many of which can easily be visited from the mainland. Spending a day admiring this magical bay by boat is an awe-inspiring experience and unmistakably the highlight of any visit to the area. More adventurous travellers can opt for kayaking. An overnight cruise is a great way to admire the bay close up and is a very unique experience. Nearby Yen Tu Mountain hides a Buddhist temple in a lovely setting. Photo by Adam Dickson.
Settled on the banks of the Thu Bon River, the colourful market town of Hoi An is absolutely worth a two-day visit. It was a major port in centuries past, with ships arriving from all over the world to obtain silk and other fabrics, sugar, tea and ceramics. Its traditional Vietnamese architecture has been preserved and there are many historic temples and pagodas in the area. The city of Hoi An is one of the quietest in Vietnam. Cars are not allowed in the old town and unlike in the rest of the country, motorcycles do not blow their horns all the time. Hoi An is also known for its silk lanterns. The flexible bamboo frames are designed to collapse, so they’re easily transported home as a souvenir. If you’re in town after dusk, you’ll see the streets beautifully lit with these lanterns. Photo by Dennis Bunnik.
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