Planning a Trip to Vietnam: 10 Step Travel Checklist

Planning a trip to Vietnam seems intimidating at first: the country is deceptively large, with so many incredible sights to see spread out all the way from north to south.

Of course, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi loom large on your itinerary wishlist, but other destinations – from Phu Quoc islands in the south to Da Nang and Hoi An and Hue on the central coast to Sapa and Halong Bay in the North – also beg for inclusion on the itinerary.

Add to that a perplexing currency with way too many zeros, a tonal language that’s hard to learn, and a visa requirement for virtually all visitors and you may be a bit overwhelmed with both excitement and confusion when it’s time to plan a Vietnam trip.

But planning a trip to Vietnam doesn’t have to be incredibly difficult, and it’s worth every minute of planning.

I’ve traveled there twice and I’ve spent a total of 5 weeks exploring the country and seen so many incredible places in the country. It’s one of my favorite countries in Asia by far, with incredible food, kind people, beautiful landscapes, and did I mention the food?!

So with all that being said, I’ll walk you quickly through the steps to planning a perfect trip easily through this Vietnam travel checklist, so you can tackle your trip planning one step at a time.

Planning a Trip to Vietnam in 10 Simple Steps

Step 1: Check visa requirements

One of the first places people get intimidated when planning a trip to Vietnam is that many countries who aren’t used to needing a visa to travel suddenly do.

If you’re American, European, Canadian, or Australian, you may find yourself in a visa process for the first time in your life!

Only a handful of fellow Southeast Asian countries are visa-free (plus Chile, as an interesting outlier!), and some European countries are visa-free only if your trip is less than 15 days. If you’re unsure if you need a visa or not, research the destination for your nationality.

However, don’t get too stressed: the Vietnam visa process is actually rather easy, and you can now apply for the e-visa online.

The e-visa takes 3 days to process and costs just $25 USD for a single-entry visa valid for 30 days. If doing a simple single-entry e-visa, you can just proceed straight to immigration with your e-visa without needing to pick up your visa on arrival.

If you need a multi-entry visa, you will need  to apply for the visa on arrival online ($25-50 USD depending on country), and you can pick it up when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam.This is the process I did on my last trip to Vietnam, and it only took about 30 minutes at the airport.

Step 2: Book your tickets

Once you’ve got your e-visa all sorted, it’s time to figure out your flights! The main airports in the country are Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon and Hanoi. I suggest looking into flights into both locations, though arrival in Ho Chi Minh City from overseas tends to be cheaper. You can find more information about Vietnam’s different airports here.

On my last trip to Vietnam, I booked a ticket from Sofia, Bulgaria to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam via Qatar Airways for approximately $550 USD roundtrip.

I generally use Google Flights searching for flights as I find their search engine to be the most intuitive, but Skyscanner has good search functionality as well.

You may want to take this time to decide if you want to book tickets for any travel within the country as well. Vietnam is a long, long country: the road distance between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is 1,700 km, a 31 hour drive in Vietnam traffic terms!

(Oh, and side note: you probably shouldn’t plan to drive in Vietnam if you want to stay sane. That’s best left to professionals – and the Vietnamese!)

So if you want to visit both the northern and southern parts of Vietnam, you’ll probably need at least one or two domestic flights as well. But we’ll get into this a bit in the next section.

Step 3: Decide your Vietnam itinerary!

This is the most fun part, but it can also be the most overwhelming: planning your Vietnam itinerary!

I’ll throw out a few suggestions for you based on my own time there.

If you only have one week in Vietnam, I suggest sticking to the Northern part of Vietnam. Fly into Hanoi and spend at least 3 days there, and plan for day trips or overnight trips to Ha Long Bay and/or Sapa, depending on your preferences.

If you have two weeks in Vietnam, I would suggest doing the North and Central part of Vietnam. Take your Hanoi-Halong Bay-Sapa itinerary and add Hue (optional), Da Nang, and Hoi An to it.

If visiting Hue, you can take an overnight train to save time, taking an overnight train from Hanoi to Hue, and then a daytime train from Hue to Da Nang, which is in my opinion one of the prettiest train rides I’ve ever taken!

If you have two weeks in Vietnam but can’t imagine skipping Saigon, you could also spend one week based around the North and then fly down south for a few days in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.

I absolutely love Ho Chi Minh City and spent three weeks there, but I admit it’s light on sights compared to Hanoi and other places in the North of Vietnam. It’s really cool if you want to see the heart of modern Vietnam and the country’s biggest metropolis, but if you’re more interested in landscapes and historic sights, I’d suggest spending more time in the North.

If you have three weeks in Vietnam or even a month, that’s perfect! You won’t have to make any concessions and you can visit pretty much all of the major destinations in the country if you don’t mind zipping around the country by train and plane quite a bit.

Step 4: Budget your trip

A trip to Vietnam can really be on any budget spectrum. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s one of the most budget-friendly places you can travel – but if you love a bit of luxury, you certainly will be able to indulge in that in Vietnam as well.

If you’re backpacking the country, you can definitely travel for about $20 USD a day, and on $30 USD a day you’ll be living like a king (think private room in a hostel and 3 meals out a day). It’s a pretty comfortable country to backpack in, and when I traveled Vietnam on a budget, I never felt like I was making any big sacrifices.

If you have a mid-range budget, you’ll be able to enjoy the country even more on $50-75 USD a day per person. Think 4-star hotels for $30 a night for a couple, amazing massages for $10-15 an hour, and eating in upscale restaurants instead of street food for a handful of meals (though of course, no matter your budget, you should definitely indulge in the street food scene! It’s one of the best parts of Vietnam!).

If you have a luxury budget, the sky’s the limit! Stay at the finest hotels, take only private tours, eat at the finest restaurants, and you’ll still find yourself struggling to max out your credit card.

I recommend deciding in advance what you want to spend in total, breaking that into a per-day, per-person cost. Allocate about 1/3 of that for accommodations, 1/3 for activities, and 1/3 for incidentals and extras like shopping, transportation between cities, and meals. That should give you a good benchmark for how to budget for Vietnam.

Step 5: Plan Your Activities

I love and hate tours in Vietnam.

On one hand, the tours save you a lot of hassle that would be nearly impossible to surmount independently: you probably don’t want to drive in Vietnam, and public transportation can be a tough nut to crack.

On the other, tours often can feel like you’re being ferried around from one point of sale to the next, often with uncomfortable experiences along the way, like an unexpected captive animal encounter or a really pushy market experience.

Despite my reservations with some of my Vietnam tours, I do recommend booking tour experiences while in Vietnam. It saves unbelievable time and headache, and it does provide a lot of local insight: just be prepared to dislike about 10% of your itinerary and you’ll be much happier having that baseline expectation.

Best Tours in Hanoi

Best Tours in Hoi An

Best Tours in Ho Chi Minh City

Step 6: Book your accommodations

Next step is to plan where you’re going to stay! This will depend largely on your budget and itinerary.

Keep in mind too when booking accommodations that many Vietnamese cities are very large and spread out! Location is important, so I recommend sorting your searches by closeness to a desired central attraction.

For example, Ho Chi Minh City has 24 districts – and District 1, the central district, is huge! I was staying in District 1, but I was still about a 30-minute walk or 20-minute cab ride to the central area with the Independence Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Hanoi is similar, and it’s easy to accidentally book something on the other side of the city! So I suggest searching by location first and then amenities second. While transportation around Vietnam is inexpensive, it is time-consuming and occasionally frustrating due to all the traffic, so I suggest being as close as possible to the heart of the action!

Step 7: Research any vaccinations you may need & prepare a travel medicine kit

I’m American, so the CDC is my guideline when checking travel vaccinations for international travel. The website recommends checking that you’re up-to-date in terms of boosters for the following common vaccinations: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), tetanus, chickenpox, and polio. This is standard for any trip.

They also recommend Hepatitis A and typhoid, both of which can be gotten from contaminated food or water.

If you’re traveling in rural areas of Vietnam, you may need to take anti-malarials. However, malaria is not present in any of the cities, and it’s rare in the Mekong Delta area, so it’s unlikely that you would need anti-malarials. I’ve never taken anti-malarials in Vietnam. Bug bite prevention is likely enough.

You should, though, pack your own travel medicine kit! While you can find pharmacies in Vietnam, you may not find the exact brands you want or it may be frustrating to deal with a language barrier while feeling ill.

My travel medicine kit always includes stomach tablets like Pepto-Bismol, motion sickness pills, painkillers, and rehydration packets. I also include sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a topical antibiotic, a few alcohol wipes, and band-aids in my mini kit.

Also, research a few private hospitals before going. My first trip to Vietnam, my friend got really bad food poisoning and needed to spend a few hours in the hospital with an IV drip. It was stressful trying to find the information at the moment to get her to the right place where we knew they would speak English and we wouldn’t have any communication problems.

It’s unlikely you’ll get sick on your trip, but having the name of a hospital in each city you plan to visit in case of emergency will ease your mind.

Step 8: Pack your bags!

It’s almost time to go – so logically, next step is to start packing for Vietnam!

I won’t get into it in too much detail here as I have a detailed packing list for Vietnam here, but I’ll give you a quick rundown here.

Depending on where you’re going in Vietnam and when, you’ll likely pack quite differently. In summer in Vietnam, almost everywhere is hot – though in Sapa, you might find it can get quite chilly (I found myself wishing I had a heater one night in August!), and air conditioning in vehicles can be intense, so you’ll definitely want to pack a few cozy things to warm you up, even if most days will be sticky and humid.

Waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket are essential for downpours which happen all throughout the year in Vietnam. Trust me when I say I’ve never seen rain like I have in Vietnam, and you don’t want to be wearing sneakers when you’re suddenly ankle-deep in rain!

If you’re visiting Vietnam in winter (December-March), you’ll need cool-weather clothing for the North, though the South will still be quite humid and hot.

Keep in mind that Vietnamese people tend to dress a bit on the conservative side and don’t love it when people show tons of skin, so aim for loose, flowy fabric rather than short shorts and skimpy tank tops. It’s actually more comfortable to wear and it’s more respectful to the culture.

Finally, Vietnam is absolutely notorious for its pickpockets. I was nearly pickpocketed in broad daylight walking in a park in Hanoi – luckily, my friend noticed the guy grabbing for my backpack and literally swatted his hand away!

I recommend this backpack with locking zippers which is made by PacSafe. It has some great security features: metal mesh under the surface that makes it slash-proof, inter-locking zippers that can then be threaded into a hard-to-open clasp, and RFID blockers so no one can steal your card data. It’s also very subtle and doesn’t look like a tempting, expensive bag, while also having visual cues that say “I’m hard to steal from, and frankly not worth it”. I’m obsessed.

Another safety note: one of the most common crimes in Vietnam is mobile phone theft, particularly by people on scooters who will snatch your phone on a street corner and zoom away. Never look at your phone while facing the street. I always found a discreet area and turned to the wall while I checked something on my phone.

Step 9: Prep for your arrival

There are a few things you should do prior to arriving in Vietnam that will make your trip start off on the right foot.

1) Download Google Maps offline for the city you’re arriving in. Just in case you don’t have data or don’t buy a SIM card right away, it’s extremely helpful!

2) Book a shuttle to get you to your hotel to save you stress and time. Here’s a trusted shuttle option from Hanoi Airport and one from Ho Chi Minh City Airport.

3) Buy a SIM card online in advance so you can easily access data while you’re traveling.

4) Have some cash in USD in case you have any issues with withdrawing money from the ATM upon arrival, or if you get flagged for fraud. Try to avoid this by notifiying your bank of your travel plans before leaving.

Step 10: Don’t forget travel insurance!

This is last on this list so that it’s first in your mind: you really ought to have travel insurance for your trip to Vietnam!

I’ve been a customer of World Nomads for years, and I love the peace of mind it gives me in case an emergency, accident, illness, or theft impacts my travels.

While Vietnam is a very safe country to travel overall, there are risks inherent to everyday travel, as well as a few risks specific to Vietnam (namely, food poisoning and pickpocketing/phone theft), and travel insurance backs you up in all those cases.

Get a free quote for your trip here.

12 Stunning Things to Do in Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa is one of the most photogenic hill station towns in northern Vietnam. It has everything you should expect for the adventure of a lifetime.

It has the highest mountain in the country, a stunning national park, beautiful rice terraces, and unique ethnic cultural experiences.

To soak up the highlights of Sapa, I would recommend the below activities as the best things to do in Sapa.

The Best Things to Do in Sapa

1. Trek along Muong Hoa Valley

Trekking is often the main draw for why people head to Sapa. With a wide range of mountain trails, Sapa has a lot to offer for any kind of hiker, from amateur to professional.

If you take a day tour from Sapa, then it’s best to start from Cat-Cat village, following the less-visited trail snaking through the local rice plantations to reach Lao Chai village.

If you’d rather combine trekking with a homestay, Ta Van is a great overnight destination. After seeing the rice terraces, uncovering the traditional life of Black Hmong people (an ethnic minority local to the area), Ta Van village offers a very serene atmosphere where you will be tempted by the hospitality of Giay people.

2. Ride the Cable Car to Fansipan Mountain

Your Sapa trip is incomplete without a visit to Fansipan mountain!

At an elevation of 3,143 meters above sea level, Fansipan is an iconic sight that you should definitely put at the top of your list of things to do in Sapa.

The easiest way to reach the top of this mountain is definitely taking a cable car ride. Over the course of 15 minutes, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a birds-eye view over the lush valley where many fascinating villages are located along the river.

The best time to take the cable car ride is in the morning or late afternoon so that you can behold the cloud covering the nearby mountains!

3. Visit Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall)

Technically, this is the highest waterfall in Sapa. The water cascades from Lo Sui Tung Peak, measuring more than 100 meters high with 3 tiers.

You may not be able to swim here, but your trip will be made well worth it by the awe-inspiring mountain panorama and falls.

There are food stalls right at the foothill so if you are curious about trying local Sapa food, this is a nice place to do it!

4. Ride a Scooter to Tram Ton Pass

Tram Ton Pass holds the record of being the highest pass in the country. Over a 15 kilometer trip, you’ll move from an elevation of 1600 meters up to 1900 meters quickly.

Undoubtedly, a motorcycle or scooter ride is the best way to experience the road. Doing so, you are free to drop by Silver Waterfall, sampling Sapa’s fruit garden, or travel further along 50 kilometers of the pass.

5. Taste Local Cuisine at Sapa Market

The food in Sapa is aromatic and distinctive from other regions of Vietnam.

Bring an adventurous spirit so you don’t regret not trying its famous salmon, horse hotpot, or seven-color sticky rice. The food in Sapa market comes from many different communities with different cooking techniques and traditions, which leads to a diverse array of foods you can sample.

For the real foodie, Sapa has some other options, from fine dining restaurants to cooking classes.

6. Learn about the Red Dzao Life in Ta Phin Village


While touring Sapa, it’s important to participate in sustainable tourism that preserves elements of local culture.

One of the most rewarding places to do that is Ta Phin Village. Here, you can see how Red Dzao women sew their colorful custom designs and create their eye-catching handicrafts.

Another well-known traditional work that happens only in Ta Phin is making herbal medicine, an interesting experience for curious travelers!

7. Find the French Colonial Relics

Sapa Town was first established by the French in 1902 as a summer escape from the humid climate in other parts of Vietnam. These days, you can still find some of the remarkable landmarks that remain from the French colonial era.

The very first piece of colonial architecture you should see is the central church. Known as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, this church was the practicing hub for Christians in the area. There are many other sites that reflect the style of French architecture, scattered across various communities in the Sapa region.

Another faded ruin worth seeking out is Ta Phin monastery. Though it is now abandoned, it has a really beautiful structure.

8. Join a Hmong Sewing Class

Want to learn something useful while in Sapa? Sign up for a sewing class at Indigo Cat Center.

Enjoy learning about the art of batik and be impressed by the attractive traditional patterns that Hmong people have been designing as part of their culture.

To take part in this workshop, you’ll need to book directly at their shop in Sapa town before heading to the “classroom” in Ta Van village.

9. Hike Ham Rong Mountain

Although Sapa has developed very fast, there is still one place that remains unchanged: the Ham Rong mountain.

This ecotourism site recalls the legend of Sapa, where according to the lore, a dragon returned to the sky from this mountain.

You can also watch cultural performances which take place at intervals throughout the day.

10. Shop Local at a Weekly Market

The most colorful markets in the area do not happen in Sapa town. You’ll need to travel to the adjacent district of Bat Xa or the further side of Lao Cai province where Coc Ly, Lung Khau Nhin, or Bac Ha market take place.

Depending on the day of the week, certain markets operate: Cao Son Market (Wednesday), Coc Ly Market (Tuesday), Bac Ha market (Sunday), and Si Ma Cai market (Saturday).

11. Treat Yourself to a Night at Topas Ecolodge

Listed as one of the most unique lodges in the world according to National Geographic, Topas Ecolodge provides dramatic views over the Hoang Lien Son National Park from its pristine infinity pool.

Imagine waking up with the morning fog right in front of your window, like you’re floating in a cloud, and closing each night with a mesmerizing sunset while sipping a cocktail in the mountains.

12. Take a Photography Tour

Capturing the authentic charm of Sapa is the dream of many photographers.

You may not be able to do that without a local guide, who can help you find the best photo spots, translate to ask for consent for photographs and give you pointers on how to improve your craft.

About Tan Nguyen

Tan is a Sapa local and an adventure-addicted traveler who is eager to see unique places. He enjoys traveling off the beaten track and blogs about his adventures at Travel to Work.

Vietnam Bucket List: 15 Places to Visit in Vietnam

Vietnam is a very diverse and beautiful country with something to offer everyone. The country is long, spanning several climates and geographies, meaning that there are so many different places to visit in Vietnam that feel vastly different from the next.

Nature-minded travelers like its cascading rice terraces in the north. Others prefer embracing the romance of Hoi An ancient town or relaxing on golden sands beside turquoise water on the Phu Quoc islands.

Whether you are looking for nature, culture, food, or just pure relaxation: Vietnam has something to offer you.

Here are some of the most remarkable destinations in Vietnam, all worthy of a spot on your Vietnam bucket list.

The 15 Best Places to Visit in Vietnam

Hanoi

The range of cultural sites in Hanoi is extraordinary, from the quaint Old Quarter to its fascinating ethnology museum, from the crumbling French colonial style Opera to the ancient Tran Quoc temple.

The capital of Vietnam is probably the ultimate foodie destination as well! From world-class noodles to the more adventurous grilled pigeon, the food cooked up by the local street vendors in Hanoi is truly some of the tastiest food you’ll find in Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay

This Unesco World Heritage Site needs no explanation, only photos! It is simply one of the must-see places in Vietnam for most travelers. With 1600 karst islands, Ha Long Bay is pretty much a screensaver-perfect backdrop come to life.

On a cruise in Ha Long, every photo is magic: picture vivid shapes of islands reflecting on its emerald waters. It needs no photoshop: imposing rocks, clear lagoons, water-level caves — it’s out of this world.

To make the most of your Vietnam tour, it is recommended to choose a 3-day trip or longer. You will be able to explore the more untouched parts of this magnificent natural wonder, ones that day-trippers and overnight visitors miss.

You can also visit lesser-visited places in the region like Cat Ba in order to have a more off the beaten path experience.

Ninh Binh

With various scenic back roads, beguiling historic sites and its status as UNESCO World Heritage site, Ninh Binh has something to please any visitor — even the most sophisticated ones.

If you enjoy cycling, the 24 km flat terrain around Hoa Lu ancient capital is a must-do. If you’re more a fan of wildlife, Cuc Phuong National Park will fill your days with impressive wildlife photography and inspiring landscapes.

When it comes to time to relax, seat on a sampan ride to observe the picture-perfect Ngo Dong river floating past.

Sapa

The best Vietnam views belong to Sapa, as it is home to Fansipan Mountain, the highest peak in the Indochina region (which today encompasses Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos). Thanks to the new arrival of the cable car, capturing Sapa’s panorama from above has become even easier.

For decades, it has been a magnet for trekkers and those in search of learning more about the culture of the many ethnic minority groups who call Sapa home.

The main charm of Sapa comes from its neighboring communities which you can only access through its breathtaking hiking networks. Some of the Sapa highlights you should put on your Vietnam bucket list: Lao Chai rice terraces, Ban Ho Valley, Cat Cat Waterfall, and Love Waterfall.

Unquestionably, the best way to appreciate Sapa’s scenery is to take a tour package with a homestay option to get a real sense of Sapa’s culture.

Ha Giang

No place in Vietnam can beat Ha Giang for road tripping! Each district of this province is tempting enough to tackle.

From Hoang Su Phi to Dong Van, you’ll have opportunity to delve into the national heritage of Ha Giang rice terraces and go through awe-inspiring pass of Ma Pi Leng.

There is another reason that you’ll feel in love with Ha Giang: its hospitality. No matter where you travel in the region, people are welcoming and happy to show you their life.

Do not miss Dong Van market which happens only on Sundays, serving as a beautiful meeting point for local hill tribes including the Hmong, Tay, and Dzao minorities.

Phong Nha National Park

Lying deep in the Truong Son mountain range, Phong Nha National Park has been stealing a bit of the spotlight in Vietnam’s tourism scene in recent years.

Since 2009, when the largest cave in the world was discovered in this national park, Phong Nha has become one of the hottest places for adventure and ecotourism in all of Asia.

To take part in a trek to Son Doong, you even need to register months in advance and pay quite a bit — we’re talking thousands in permit and excursion fees — making it a pricey but gorgeous addition to your Vietnam bucket list.

Hue

For a taste of old Vietnam, visit Hue, the last imperial city that served as Vietnam’s capital from 1802 to 1945.

The city is a perfect introduction to learning more about Vietnam’s feudal era, especially the Nguyen Dynasty. A visit to the Forbidden City, Khai Dinh Tomb, and Thien Mu Pagoda are all Hue musts: they are like stepping back into a time machine.

However, Hue has not its attractions but plenty of other excursions to enjoy to make your time in Hue even more memorable. Take a pleasant Huong river cruise, learn about traditional bonsai, attend a royal cooking class to learn to cook Vietnamese food fit for a king, or dive into Hue’s performing arts scene.

Hoi An

If you want to enjoy the most romantic place to visit in Vietnam, Hoi An is the place to be. If you’re choosing Vietnam as a honeymoon destination, Hoi An simply must be on your trip itinerary.

It has a beautiful location by the picturesque Thu Bon river, and it’s conveniently located next to the pristine sandy beaches of An Bang and Cua Dai.

Hoi An has a long tradition with the arts, and you’ll find opportunities to engage with its craft scene such as observing colorful lantern workshop and silk weaving houses.

Hoi An isn’t lacking a diverse and unique food scene, either! Many dishes are regional to Hoi An including tasty Cao Lau, Banh Bao Banh Vac (aka white rose dumplings), and aromatic Com Ga are widely available — often just for less than $2 USD a plate!

Con Dao Archipelago

With its tranquil lagoons, dense tropical jungles, and an incredible marine national park, this part of Vietnam has a landscape as dramatic as its history.

During the French era, it was a well-known prison and a military base. Nowadays, it’s a much more light-hearted place! Con Dao boasts the ultimate laid-back atmosphere with plenty of secluded, paradisiacal beaches.

It seems there is no better place to find your own slice of paradise without tourists than this archipelago, especially now that the secret is out about Pho Quoc!

Touring relatively unexplored islands is very much a possibility here, since 14 out of 15 are uninhabited and only visited by boat trippers.

Dalat

Dalat is arguably one of the most romantic places to visit in Vietnam, perhaps tied with Hoi An. With its crumbling French colonial relics, pine forests, beautiful lake, and mild weather, it seems a world away from other parts of Vietnam.

For those who enjoy adventurous activities, Dalat spoils for choice. From jungle safaris to navigating thrilling waterfalls, there is always something adventurous close at hand.

It’s also one of the most Instagrammable places in Vietnam! Head to the Buddhist Hand, Lang Biang mountain, or Datanla and Pongour waterfalls.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Your trip to Vietnam would be incomplete without including the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City. The contrast between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is stark, and while I love both cities, it’s certainly worth visiting both to compare the two and have a sense of what modern Vietnam looks like.

Although the city is very busy with millions of motorbikes and high buildings, it has no shortage of enchanting attractions.

To start your day, enjoy a guided walk in District One where French architecture remained unchanged like centuries ago — checking out the old Postal Office, Opera House, City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, and other colonial-era architecture.

Then, in the afternoon, learn about the history of the Vietnam War by exploring the tunnels of Cu Chi. Follow this up with a visit to the somber but worthwhile War Museum, where you can learn about the catastrophic consequences of the Vietnam War. Be prepared to be moved.

When you feel a little hungry, embark on a motorbike food tour to sample all the best dishes that Ho Chi Minh has! It’s a little scary to first get on the motorbike, but you quickly adjust to – and even enjoy! – the chaos of Saigon traffic.

The fun does not stop at sunset: nowhere else in Vietnam has such wide range of karaoke, night markets, restaurants, and bars.

Can Tho

Not sure where else to go in southern Vietnam? Head to Can Tho, where the fantastic floating market appears on the mighty Mekong river.

Save some time to mingle with locals in Ong Temple, where you’ll get a true insight into the local religious culture.

If you have the time, a 3-day trip combining all the Mekong Delta’s must-sees is a great way to spend some time, especially if you’re a craft lover! These trips often include visits to typical traditional workshops where you can learn more about Vietnamese handicrafts and souvenirs.

Nha Trang

When you ask the Vietnamese their favorite beach destination in Vietnam, Nha Trang will likely be their answer! The city itself beckons with charming fishing markets, gorgeous beaches, and vibrant life.

If you can, save some time to travel offshore from Nha Trang to one of its pristine nearby islands where you can go diving, swim, or simply relax on a sun-kissed beach.

Tasty and delicious seafood abounds here as well!

Phu Quoc

As soon as you kick off your sandals, step on the powdery sand, and behold the blue, transparent waters that surround Phu Quoc, you’ll understand why Phu Quoc is the premier beach hopping destination in Vietnam.

Some great places to hang out in this vibrant island chain are Suoi Tranh stream and Phu Quoc National Park, but there are also countless beaches worth exploring and discovering for yourself.

While the main islands have already started having a big tourism wave, there are still many islets which have barely been touched by mass tourism to explore in the Phu Quoc archipelago.

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Vietnam Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Vietnam in All Seasons

Vietnam can be a bit tricky to pack for. As a long, thin country with both mountains and beaches, the weather is quite different in the North and South, and on the beach versus in the highlands.

It’s worth remembering that the North of Vietnam borders China, which has downright frigid winters. Add altitude to that and you may be shocked at how cold Vietnam can get at times compared to other Southeast Asian countries, which are pretty much perpetual summer.

I visited Sa Pa in August a few years ago, and even in the middle of summer, it was freezing cold at night and I found myself seriously wishing that my hotel had heating.

Central Vietnam does not get so cold in the winter like Hanoi and Sapa do, so if you’re planning on cities like Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An, you’ll be spared somewhat of the winter cold. Generally, the temperatures in Central Vietnam are somewhat in between North and South. Generally, it will be hot year-round in Central Vietnam, with a rainy season from September to January.

Meanwhile, Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) is pretty much hot and sweltering at any time of year, with the only fluctuations being the likeliness of rain and just how ungodly the humidity levels are (hint: they’re the worst in April, but it’s humid all year round).

Rainy season runs, roughly, from May to October with drier weather from November to April. However, having just come back from a trip to Vietnam in November, there were definitely quite a few thunderstorms and downpours even in the purported “dry season” – so you’re going to want to be prepared for rain no matter what.

Don’t freak out if you see that it’s supposed to rain for every day of your Vietnam trip. Typically, rain storms in Vietnam last about 1-2 hours and feel like a dam is bursting in the sky… and then the sun comes out to dry everything up freakishly fast and the humidity level is actually lovely for a few wonderful hours before it gets soupy again. That said, you never know – when I was in Sa Pa it was raining buckets every day in August, which made for some fun hiking experiences. Plot twist: It was not fun.

Basically, I would advise packing for as many contingencies as you can without overburdening your bag. This packing list is assuming you’re spending at least a week in Vietnam, traveling North to South.

If you are spending the majority of your trip up North in the winter, throw in a few more long sleeve T-shirts and maybe an extra pair of pants. On a similar token, if you’re only visiting South and Central Vietnam, you can skip some of the layers I recommend, though do bring at least a cardigan or something as the air conditioning in a lot of Vietnam can be… aggressive.

If traveling in the North, mountains, or winter months, be sure to throw in a few extra lightweight layers – and waterproof the hell out of everything.

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Wondering what to pack for Vietnam? I've got you covered with these Vietnam packing list for winter, summer, wet season and dry season. From the cool rainy weather of Sapa to the warm beaches in the south to the buzzy humid cities of Hanoi and Saigon, this is what to wear in Vietnam for women and men .
Wondering what to pack for Vietnam? I've got you covered with these Vietnam packing list for winter, summer, wet season and dry season. From the cool rainy weather of Sapa to the warm beaches in the south to the buzzy humid cities of Hanoi and Saigon, this is what to wear in Vietnam for women and men .

What to Pack for Vietnam

What to Pack Everything In

I’ve been traveling for the better part of three years and my packing gear is always the same – a carry-on sized backpack from Tortuga organized with packing cubes, as well as a daypack with all my electronics and smaller items. However, I know that for some people, carrying a backpack is neither desirable nor practical, so if that applies to you, feel free to skip past my backpack recommendation.

However, let me just say that a backpack is ideal for Vietnam for a few reasons. For one, sidewalks in Vietnam are not always a given. If you try to walk with your luggage in Vietnam, you may find yourself dragging a rolling suitcase through a street as motorbikes zoom past you. The streets can also be a bit dirty because of litter and bike exhaust, so I don’t know that I’d love to roll my bag with all my clothes through it, especially if it is raining and the streets get particularly grimy.

However, most of these issues can be avoided by just taking a cheap taxi – just make sure you ask your hotel to call you a taxi or learn the reputable companies and how to spot a fake so that you don’t get taken for a fool. I got scammed a few times my first time in Vietnam and not at all my second, so partly it’s knowing what to look for and partly it’s luck of the draw.

Supposedly, Hanoi is the worst for taxi scams and my experience certainly supports that. I took Mai Linh taxis in Hanoi with no problems, and Vinasun Taxi in Saigon (and the occasional Mai Linh), and had good experiences. Grab is an app that works like Uber and is also great for avoiding scams – just hire a Grab Car instead of a Grab Bike if you are traveling with luggage, obviously.

Trust me – you don’t want to try crossing a street in Vietnam with a suitcase!
  • Travel backpack (carry on size or check-in size): I always use my Tortuga Setout Backpack so that I can avoid checking in my luggage, both to avoid fees and long waits for my luggage after a flight when I’m antsy as hell and just want to get to my destination/bowl of noodles. I’ve had this bag of a version thereof for several years and absolutely recommend them – they’re the only backpack I’ve used over the last 3 years of extremely frequent travel, including several month-long backpacking trips.
    • Why do I recommend Tortuga so much? Here’s why: this bag is 45L and has got three main compartments: one for a laptop and other flat objects, one giant rectangular compartment perfect for packing cubes stuffed with clothing, and one smaller compartment with pockets for passports, pens, odds and ends, etc. that I stash all my extras in – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to. It also has a water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside. Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.
    • However, if you are planning a longer trip and want a bigger backpack, I’ve heard only positive things about the Osprey backpack , so if I were going to upgrade my backpack capacity, that’s the brand I would go with. Of course, you could always just bring a suitcase as well. I don’t travel with a suitcase anymore for the reasons I listed above, but I have on occasion used hard sided luggage with spinners and I much prefer that to the older two-wheel suitcases that you have to drag behind you.
  • A rain cover for your backpack: I’ll be honest, I actually don’t have one of these because I am a horribly irresponsible person, but every single time I see a person with a backpack proudly trudging through the rain with a rain cover on, clearly not frantically panicking about the state of their electronics the way that I am, I vow to get one. Be like them, not like me. I’m a failure of an adult. This rain cover looks to have good reviews but again, terrible at adulting, 1/10 barely remember to feed myself, so do your own research if you’re so inclined. Alternately, the Outbreaker Tortuga Backpack is water-resistant, so that’d also be a good choice for rainy Vietnam.
  • Packing cubes: Whether you pack for Vietnam with a suitcase or a backpack, I definitely recommend packing cubes. Most people who visit Vietnam visit several cities during their trip or make their way from North to South via the excellent train system (seriously, guys, their trains are the best) or vice versa. Since you’ll need to pack and repack your bag several times if you do this, packing cubes make the organization so much easier. Plus, as it keeps your clothes rolled neatly, it prevents wrinkles and makes sure you’re utilizing your space the best way possible.  I use these packing cubes and love them, but packing cubes are pretty much idiot-proof – they are just a bag with a zipper, really – so anything will do.
  • Laundry bag: In addition to packing cubes, I also like to bring a laundry bag to separate out my dirty clothing from my clean clothes. Laundry in Vietnam is insanely cheap – about $1 USD per kilo – so do it and do it often, and save yourself some room in your suitcase or backpack. While you could certainly just reuse a plastic bag for this purpose, I do like having a cute one like this travel-themed one from Kikkerland though, because I’m impractical.
  • Hanging Toiletry Bag: I tend to pack a lot of toiletries with me because this is one area where I find it hard to claim my “light traveler” status. I can’t help it, I’m vain. I use a hanging toiletry bag to pack them in an organized way that takes up minimal space. It has the perfect number of separators, organizers, and pockets without taking up any excess space. It’s kind of a magical Mary Poppins bag – you’d be amazed at how many travel-sized toiletries you can fit in it and unlike other bags, it zips up flat like a bulky manila envelope, so it is really easy to slide into your backpack or suitcase without being a weird bulky shape that makes bags annoyingly hard to close. Love!
  • Backpack with locking zippers: To me, this is a non-negotiable for Vietnam, as my daypack was nearly pickpocketed in broad daylight walking around the popular Turtle Lake in Hanoi – luckily, my friend caught the would-be thief and slapped his prying hand away!! In a funny plot twist, the thwarted thief then walked briskly in front of us, whipped out his junk, and peed on a tree, because I guess that’s a way to make it seem like you had no intentions of pickpocketing someone? Sigh. Anyway, I bought this exact backpack after my trip and I’ve brought it to 30+ countries ever since because it is the best thing ever. I used it again on my most recent trip to Vietnam and was so thankful I had it. While I didn’t have any close calls in Saigon like I did in Hanoi last time, I think it’s because my backpack’s locking zippers make it clear to a potential thief that I am not a target to be f#*&ed with. It’s visibly quite difficult to get into this backpack with its double-locking zipper (the zippers interlock, and then you can place them through a gold clasp that is not only super cute but also insanely secure). Plus, it’s slashproof and since it’s worn on your back, it’s not as susceptible to the dreaded motorbike snatch-and-grab tactic that unfortunately is quite common in Vietnam. I swear by PacSafe for the combination of functionality and cute aesthetics, and I love their PacSafe Citysafe backpack. It’s actually cute in addition to having all the baller security features that make you feel pretty much impervious to theft (though still, you should definitely be careful with your belongings everywhere!). If you’re curious to learn more, I have a full review here – not sponsored, just irrationally obsessed.
Me and my lovable travel daypack in the Faroe Islands

Essential Things to Pack for Vietnam

I find Vietnam a bit more difficult to shop in than other countries. While there are certainly malls and convenience stores, the majority of shopping takes place on the street and in informal markets. While this is a cool cultural experience, it also makes simple things like restocking a shampoo you forgot to buy a little more difficult. Other things, like lightweight clothing (long live elephant pants?) and accessories like bags and sunglasses, are much easier to stock up on.

  • Travel insurance: Travel insurance isn’t mandatory for Vietnam, but in my book, it is. My friend got a particularly bad strain of food poisoning in Sa Pa when we visited several years back and ended up checking herself into a private hospital to rehydrate and check that it wasn’t anything more serious. Without insurance, that would have been a $500+ bill, but as she had travel insurance she was entirely covered. Road safety is also not fantastic in Vietnam, with 45 million motorbikes in the country all vying for space on busy streets and overnight buses with questionable safety standards. Crossing the stret in Vietnam is a Frogger-esque mission and I’m always glad to have insurance for peace of mind. While I haven’t had any problems in Vietnam personally, I would never travel there without insurance. I used World Nomads on my most recent trip to Vietnam, as I do with all my trips, and highly recommend them. You can get a free quote here.
  • Lonely Planet Vietnam: While obviously, I do a lot of research on blogs, I also like to have a digital copy of a Lonely Planet loaded up on my Kindle. It is more comprehensive than blog posts, which often give good information and firsthand experience, but sometimes don’t go beyond surface depth or top 10s. I like planning with a balance of both.
  • Kindle loaded with e-books: If you are traveling between cities in Vietnam by train or bus, you’ll find yourself with a lot of spare time. For travel, my Kindle Paperwhite is my best friend. Buy several books before you go so that you won’t run out of things to read and get bored! It’s not easy to find English language books in Vietnam, generally, so a Kindle is the way to go.
  • Contact lenses and solution, if necessary: It is not easy to restock contacts or even contact lens solution in Vietnam outside of major cities, so I recommend bringing more than you need for your stay. I’d also bring glasses as back-up, because all the exhaust from the motorbikes can irritate your eyes if you are a contacts wearer.
  • All your toiletries and cosmetics: It is unpredictable what international brands you will be able to find in Vietnam so I just say assume you won’t be able to find anything you need and bring all you need from home. While you can find things like sunscreen, shampoo, etc. if you are in any way particular about what brands you like to use, I’d bring it from home. In particular, Vietnam loads nearly all their beauty products, including sunscreens and moisturizers and deodorants, with toxic whitening agents as the country (similar to many other Asian countries) has a huge obsession with skin bleaching. So, bring what you need for your trip!
  • Sunscreen: The sun in Vietnam is no joke and sunscreen is not always the easiest thing to find. Vietnamese people tend to physically cover themselves from the sun with long sleeves and pants rather than wear sunscreen. Plus a lot of the sunscreen you will find has nasty whitening agents in it. To find the kind of sunscreen you’re after, you’ll have to find sunscreen in touristic areas and it likely will be overpriced. Personally, I love this  solid sunscreen stick from Neutrogena because I always max out on my liquid toiletry allotment…  but also need SPF 70 because I’m half ghost.
  • Mosquito repellent: Vietnam has seriously persistent mosquitos, especially in the rainy season and the time immediately afterwards. I definitely recommend bringing some strong mosquito repellent from home as again, it’s not the easiest thing to find in Vietnam. Vietnam has an extremely low chance of malaria (mostly in the Mekong Delta – cities are safe) but there is definitely a big problem with dengue fever, which is definitely NOT enjoyable according to my friends who have contracted it in Southeast Asia over the years. Be safe and don’t slack on the mosquito repellent. Dengue mosquitos bite during the day, so you’ll want to wear repellent pretty much all day and not just at dusk or night when other, less-diseasey-but-still-annoying mosquitos come out to play. I bring a bottle of spray, but I also like to keep a few of these super-handy mosquito repellent wipes with me if I need to reapply on the go. I also highly recommend bringing some After Bite mosquito bite treatment since it’s inevitable some of those buggers will get you at one point and this will take some of the sting out of the itch, though this won’t prevent any potential illnesses or infections as a result of bites.
  • Water bottle with built-in filter: Vietnam’s tap water is definitely not drinkable, so if you are concerned about plastic consumption – and you should be – I recommend purchasing a Lifestraw water bottle with a filtration system inside of it that gets rid of 99.9% of nasty bacteria and viruses. Another option is the Steripen, which uses UV light to sterilize tap water. The bonus of a Steripen is that you can also use it in juices or smoothies that you aren’t sure are made with safe water, though I never got sick from drinking any smoothies or juices or drinks with ice during my time in Vietnam.
  • Bandana or face mask: If you are sensitive to constant exhaust, a bandana or face mask will come in handy – you’ll see people with face masks pretty much everywhere in Vietnam. I didn’t use it often but it was nice to have my bandana a few times when I rode motorbike taxis with Grab – the air quality especially in Saigon is not great and you get hit with the brunt of it when you’re on the back of a motorbike zipping through the city.
  • Basic medicine: While Vietnam will likely have most medicine you need, I still always stand by having a basic first aid and medicine kit for common travel woes – especially stomach medicine, as I find a lot of countries don’t have my preferred medicine (salicylate bismuth, aka Pepto) and instead have things like activated charcoal which work okay but not nearly as well as Pepto for me, personally. Here’s what’s in my arsenal for every trip and what I brought to Vietnam:  Pepto-Bismol tablets for standard stomach troubles, Imodium as a nuclear option for diarrhea or severe food poisoning, some sort of painkiller like ibuprofen for headaches and minor pains, and some sort of motion sickness tablets. Of course, if you have any specific medical needs, you will want to bring that as well, especially anything that may require a prescription.

What to Wear in Vietnam (For Women)

This part of my Vietnam packing list is specific to women, so men, feel free to skip this part and go on to the next section, where I attempt to guess what you should bring.

Vietnam is culturally a bit conservative, despite the heat, so I try to wear slightly longer dresses and skirts in general and nothing too skimpy. Leave your tiny tank tops, short shorts, and minidresses at home and opt for cool fabrics that are slightly longer but still thin and breathable. I actually find that I feel cooler when I am wearing longer, loose skirts and

Saigon is a little less conservative than Hanoi, but still, people tend to cover up even in the heat.
  • 3-5 lightweight summer dresses: Dresses are great for Vietnamese weather, plus they pack up small, so bring as many as you can get away with. Aim for something that hits around the knee (a few inches shorter is fine, but avoid tiny mini dresses). I love maxis and midi dresses for this climate.
  • 5+ tees & tanks: You will sweat a lot, so opt for black, navy, and other dark colors. Yes, they attract heat, but they also avoid the telltale yellow pit stains that seem to be my constant vibe whenever I attempt to wear white.
  • 1 pair jeans: If you travel in northern Vietnam in the winter months (November to February, roughly) you may want jeans for cooler days and nights. And if you visit the highlands (Da Lat, Sa Pa) at all, jeans will come in handy. I also recommend picking up a few pairs of loose cotton pants when you arrive in Vietnam, which can be bought for around $5 USD a pair or less.
  • 1-2 pairs thin cotton leggings: Great for making yourself less appetizing to mosquitos at night and also for cooler nights up north or in the mountains
  • 1-2 long-sleeve tees or thermals, if traveling in the north’s winter, or in the mountains.
  • 2-3 skirts: I suggest bringing one black skirt and one printed skirt for flexibility. I especially love having midi or maxi length skirts, which feel great and coincidentally look nice in photos! As a bonus, the extra fabric around your legs traps some cool air, making you feel less hot.
  • 1 pair sneakers: Vietnamese streets are generally quite dusty and dirty, so I found that I liked having a pair of lightweight closed-toe shoes that were comfortable to wear for long stretches when I planned to walk a lot. I usually wear a pair of black Nikes as I find they look cute even worn with my dresses and I’m all about having options.
  • Moisture-wicking socks, preferably made of wool or something that is odor-absorbent like these ones from Smartwool
  • 1-2 pairs sandals: I suggest bringing one pair of rubber flip flops like these Havaianas and another pair of more stylish or dressy sandals. I’m obsessed with my Birkenstocks and will never go back. These are great for when it’s just too hot to put on sneakers, and rubber flip flops are great for days when rain is in the forecast.
  • 1 rain jacket: Even if you don’t plan on traveling in the rainy season, trust me, the rain in Vietnam often has other plans – namely, ruining yours. I love my Marmot rain jacket and bring it with me on every trip because it packs up small and offers pretty much complete waterproofing. Plus the underarms have zippers underneath which you can open, making the jacket more breathable, which is a must in humid Vietnam.
  • 1 cardigan: Great for if you travel in the winter months in the North or anywhere in the highlands, and also good for buses with overzealous air conditioning in summer. Trust me, even though it seems like the weather in Vietnam would make a cardigan ridiculous, you’ll use it at least once on your trip. And in a pinch, it makes an awesome travel pillow.
  • 1-2 bras: I personally brought 1 regular bra and 1 sports bra and switched between the two, but the cleaner people amongst us may object to that and want to bring more. You do you.
  • 7+ pairs of underwear: Laundry is so cheap in Vietnam that it’s silly to bring too much, but I like having about a week’s worth of underwear so I don’t always have to plan out my laundry days.
  • Bathing suit: If you plan on going to Da Nang, Nha Trang, the islands, or anywhere beachy or with a pool, you’ll definitely want a bathing suit. If a lot of your trip is on the beach, you should bring two bathing suits so one can dry overnight and you can use the other the next day. High humidity means that wet things often take a while to dry out, and nothing is grosser feeling to me than putting on a wet swimsuit, so having 2 is key.

What to Wear in Vietnam (For Men)

Full disclosure, I am not a dude. But if I was, this is what I would bring, I guess.

  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1-2 pairs thin, lightweight travel-friendy men’s pants
  • 2-3 pairs shorts
  • 7+ pairs underwear
  • flip flops
  • comfortable walking sandals
  • sneakers
  • a few pairs of moisture-wicking socks
  • sturdy waterproof rain jacket
  • swim trunks
  • sweater for colder weather + too much AC

What to Pack for a Hostel in Vietnam

If you’re backpacking through Vietnam, there are a few extra things that you should bring that you might not need if you were staying in hotels.

  • 1 pair flip flops: For communal bathrooms, you’re definitely going to want a pair of flip flops to avoid funky foot issues!
  • 1 travel towel: Some hostels will provide a towel, but it’s not always a given. You can usually rent one for a small fee, but I find it handy to carry my own XL quick-dry travel towel – they fold up quite small, are great for beach days, and are generally just a nice thing to have.
  • 1 eye mask: Great for when you want to sleep but your roommates don’t!
  • Some earplugs or good noise-canceling headphones: Vietnam is a LOUD country, even – especially – in the mornings, when the motorbikes start to roar to life around 5 AM. I love Hearos — they’re the gold standard for ear plugs.

What Toiletries to Pack for Vietnam

Basically, anything you use on a daily/weekly basis you will need to bring with you, as Vietnam is not the easiest country to stock up on familiar brands in. I went into a little more detail above in the “essentials section,” but here are a few more ideas.

Hand sanitizer is always a good idea when you travel, especially in Vietnam!
  • Hand sanitizer: I sometimes found that bathrooms in restaurants or cafés didn’t have soap, so I was glad to have hand sanitizer.
  • Kleenex packets: Like above — public restrooms may be lacking in the toilet paper department, so having some Kleenex in a portable sleeve is always a good move. Vietnam is also land of the “bum gum” – aka, a water gun that you use to er, hose yourself down, rather than use toilet paper. While this is definitely more eco-friendly, I find it hard to go without toilet paper, having grown up with it. For that reason, I bring some Kleenex with me as a replacement for TP if I need it.
  • LUSH solid shampoo: Life-changing. Just trust me.
  • Sunscreen: Vietnam is sunny AF and sunscreen without whitening agents can be hard to find. My skin is really sensitive on my face, so I use this fancy Japanese sunscreen to prevent acne, and a general sunscreen for my body.
  • Travel medications: I listed them above, but just to reiterate — stomach medicine, motion sickness pills, and some sort of painkiller are my standards.

Electronics to Pack for Vietnam

Vietnam is generally safe for travelers, but you’ll want to really mind your smartphone if you bring it. Motorbike thieves who target tourists using their smartphones on the street are a big problem in the major cities. At the guesthouse that I stayed at in Saigon recently, a girl had her phone snatched from her hand two days prior.

Never get out your phone to use while facing the street! Instead, walk back from the curb quite a bit so that it’d be hard for anyone on a bike coming through to snag it, and just keep your wits about you. Yet another reason to have travel insurance. World Nomad (the company I use) has two levels of coverage, one which protects you at up to $500 per item and one at up to $1500 per item, so if you have an especially pricey smartphone (looking at you, iPhone X users who I am endlessly jealous of) or camera you may want to go for the upper tier of coverage due to the relatively increased threat of theft. Again, you can get a free quote here.

Never get out your phone on a busy street, especially night, unless you are a few feet away from the bike traffic!
  • Laptop, if necessary: I bring my Macbook Air everywhere but other people may prefer a tablet or an inexpensive netbook. I work on the road so a user-friendly, lightweight laptop is a must.
  • Unlocked smartphone: Despite my warnings about phone snatching, I still think that’s no reason to leave your phone at home. I loved having a SIM card in Vietnam – they are insanely cheap (I paid about $5 USD for a month of basically unlimited data, 4 gigs of data per day!) and allow you to look things up on the road, hire a cheap taxi via Grab, order delivery, etc.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: Books are heavy and often hard to find exactly what you want on the road. I love the Kindle Paperwhite because the screen is glare-free, making it easy to read at the beach or in direct sunlight.
  • Travel camera: I use a Sony A6000 because it’s lightweight for a professional caliber camera, inexpensive, and a HUGE step up from a smartphone. You may want to replace this or add a GoPro if you are doing adventurous activities on your trip.
  • Portable charger: I like to carry a portable charger everywhere I travel and Vietnam is no exception.
  • Adaptor, if necessary: Vietnam is super convenient for plugs, actually, as their outlets accept both US + European prongs – I tested both as my electronics are a mix, and both worked fine. If you are from the UK you’ll need adaptors. If you have an adaptor, bring one anyway, just in case!

***

Well, nearly 5,000 words later, I think I’ve finally exhausted all the things you need to bring for Vietnam. While this sounds like a lot, I was able to fit it all into a 44L backpack (carry-on size) and daypack because I chose lightweight fabrics and packed carefully.

Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Is there anything else you’re wondering if you should bring to Vietnam? Let me know in the comments!

15 Interesting Things to Do in Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City)

Saigon (also called Ho Chi Minh City) is a vibramt, dynamic city that is the heart of Southern Vietnam. While Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the most important city of the north, Saigon is the largest city in all of Vietnam and also the busiest and most bustling.

Saigon is a city people either love or hate. There’s a lot going on there – the constant motorbike traffic and the ever-present smog accompanying them, the litter on the streets and the general loudness of the city, especially in the morning. But in spite of Saigon’s flaws, I found myself loving the city, enthralled by its constant hum and rhythms.

In Saigon, I loved how sunset didn’t mark a time of quiet and people hurrying indoors off the streets but rather a time of renewed energy and focus. The punishing sun finally down, the humidity slackening just a bit, Vietnamese people of all ages would grab a plastic chair, sit in an alley, and laugh and drink into the late night hours. Contrast this with the winter in Bulgaria that I was escaping, and you’ll see why I found Saigon such a treasure.

Meanwhile, the people of Saigon are in my opinion its greatest asset. I had some challenges on my first visit to Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi. I was nearly pickpocketed in broad daylight walking in a city park – mere hours after I was scammed by a taxi driver, overcharged nearly 20 times the amount the ride should have been. While of course you can’t judge a city of millions by the actions of a few assholes, I did find Saigon people to be far more pleasant to tourists – less bent on fleecing tourists, more friendly and free with their smiles, more honest. I spent three weeks solely in Saigon with not one issue, taking a few minor precautions which I’ll go into detail on shortly. 

One quick word on the city’s name: The city is officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, but many people still call it Saigon, and locals typically still call it Sài Gòn when speaking about their city. For stylistic purposes, I’ve primarily chosen to use the word Saigon, but I call the city by its official name (Ho Chi Minh City) at times in this post, in order to respect both points of view. Thanks for your understanding.

Get acquainted with the city on motorbike

Getting thrown headfirst into the crazy flow of Saigon traffic on the back of a motorbike is hands down one of the most fun things to do in Saigon! I booked a combination sightseeing and street food tour by motorbike, and it was a fantastic experience.

We tried bun bo hue (a spicier and more flavorful take on Vietnamese soup), visited the oldest apartment block in Saigon, ate banh xeo (an enormous savory Vietnamese coconut pancake), visited a flower market and the Cambodian market, tasted a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) and headed to District 4 for some seafood BBQ.

It was a fantastic evening and despite the complete madness of Saigon traffic, I felt very safe with my experienced and very funny, friendly driver. Seriously, these guys drive in this traffic every day – you are in good hands! If you don’t have the money to spend on a street food/sightseeing tour, you can always just do as the locals do and hire a motorbike taxi for as little as 50 cents using Grab Bike! It was my primary way of getting around the city and while some of my drivers were a little less cautious than my driver was on my motorbike tour, it was always a lot of fun!

Take a cooking class at M.O.M. Cooking School

Salty, sweet, sour, full of umami, and a hint of spice:  it’s no wonder that Vietnamese food is some of my favorite in the world. So obviously, one of the top items on my list of things to do in Saigon was to take a cooking class! I took a class with M.O.M. Cooking School and had a fantastic experience – I’d highly recommend taking a class with them if you have any interest in cooking or bringing home some Vietnamese recipes, or just learning about Vietnamese culture in a hands-on way and getting a break from the relentless Saigon heat in an air-conditioned and comfortable kitchen.

Each cooking class lasts about 3 hours and covers 3 dishes. I learned to make pork and shrimp summer rolls (goi cuon) with a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce, fish-stuffed pumpkin blossoms with a fiery fish sauce-infused nuoc mam cham sauce, and the most delicious lemongrass and chili chicken stir-fried to be impossibly soft with the addition of coconut water. Most of the prep work was done for us, so we were able to focus on technique – so the fun stuff, basically!

The menu changes daily so if you have any dietary preferences or restrictions (or just want to know what you’ll cook in advance!) be sure to check on Klook. They’ll give you a sample menu of what dishes will be prepared on each day. If you’re a huge fan of Vietnamese cooking you could even go for more than one day and learn even more dishes as all 3 dishes you prepare change daily.

Pay your respects at the War Remnants Museum

While not an easy or light thing to do in Saigon, visiting this museum about the Vietnam war is essential viewing in my opinion — especially if you are American or are from a country that was allied with the Americans in the war. No matter what side of the ideological divide you fall on, you can respect the senseless loss of human life and the ongoing tragic impact this war has had on generations of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Americans, and other victims of this brutal war.

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is an excellently laid-out museum, full of photographs and articles documenting the worst abuses of the Vietnam War. As an American, visiting this museum was hard, knowing the pain that my country inflicted on this country that is now welcoming me, but I know that the pain I felt in bearing witness to the awful acts my country committed is nothing compared to the pain of those who lost their limbs, their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved one as collateral during this war.

For me, it was particularly heartbreaking to see the effects of Agent Orange and dioxin on the population of Vietnam, and the effects it continues to have, causing birth defects and severe illnesses even in the fourth generation of survivors. There’s no doubt that the U.S. committed serious war crimes in Vietnam and that the war here was one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century. It’s hard; it’s heavy; it’s essential to see in Ho Chi Minh City.

Seeing this museum then going into the streets of Ho Chi Minh City – where the locals welcome guests openly and proudly – can be a bit of a shock to the system, making you wonder if you deserve their kindness. It’s a dose of humility and an important reminder of the power of forgiveness and the human ability to survive.

Get lost in beautiful smells at the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Another stop on my motorbike tour, I loved visiting the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market in District 10. Our stop here was brief but definitely worth it, and if you’re a huge fan of flowers or want to bring something home to decorate your hotel room, it’s definitely worth a visit all on its own.

I learned that white and purple flowers together symbolize death and are the appropriate gift for a funeral – so don’t make that mistake when buying flowers if you’re trying to woo a Vietnamese girl or make a good impression on a host family!

My guide explained to me that many of the flowers come in daily from Da Lat, a mountainous region about 6-8 hours away by truck. Seeing the effort that these markets put in to constantly have fresh flowers, despite the punishing Saigon humidity, is really beautiful.

Walk over to the Cambodian Market

Just a short distance from the Ho Thi Ky Flower Market, you can find a local Cambodian market (Le Hong Phong Market), which is a little different than all the other markets in Saigon.

This was also a stop on the motorbike tour I did as it’s literally right next to the Cambodian Market – we walked over from the flower market. So if you’re traveling by Grab Bike or taxi, this is a great way to see two outer-district sights in one if you’re not going as part of a tour.

There’s a ton of delicious Cambodian food offerings here, as there is large Cambodian population living in Saigon, who fled the country during the genocidal reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The market has been here since not long after, as the heart of the Cambodian refugee community, and it is now a spot for Vietnamese, Cambodians, and curious tourists who make the trek out to District 10 to explore.

Explore the vibrant craft beer scene

When I first visited Vietnam 4 years ago, craft beer wasn’t even a thing – it was pretty much just Tiger or Saigon everywhere you went. Now, there’s a number of excellent craft beer bars and even microbreweries located in the heart of Saigon.

I got the chance to visit three during my stay in Ho Chi Minh City – East West Brewing Company, BiaCraft, and Pasteur Street Brewing. While all were lovely and had different vibes and atmospheres, my favorite by far was Pasteur Street Brewing – don’t miss their jasmine beer, it’s so fantastic and delicious.

I wanted to write a guide to craft beer in Saigon… but my low alcohol tolerance, especially in the hot humid weather, meant this was a job better left for professionals! Check this post out for a complete guide to craft beer in Saigon.

Walk around Ben Thanh Market

This is the most popular market in Vietnam, and while it is touristy and slightly more expensive than other markets in Ho Chi Minh City, I think it’s still worth walking around. That’s mostly because it’s so close to many of the other sights that you will see in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, rather than of itself being essential viewing.

It’s a great place to buy Vietnamese souvenirs, if you have friends or family back home who you’re thinking of shopping for. Rather than get a kitschy T-shirt or, god forbid, a pair of elephant pants, here are a few authentic Vietnamese souvenirs that I recommend: Vietnamese drip coffee pots and Vietnamese coffee from the highlands (Da Lat), any sort of specialty cookware or non-perishable goods if you have a friend back home who loves cooking (or for yourself!), and an ao dai, a beautiful Vietnamese traditional dress-like garment typically worn over trousers.

See a piece of history at Independence Palace

Independence Palace is also called Reunification Palace – you’ll find that like Saigon itself, many things in this city have two names, an indicator that the North-South divide is not merely a thing of the past.

Whatever you call it, Independence/Reunification Palace is a must-see in Saigon, as one of the most famous buildings in the city. Tickets cost 40,000 dong, less than $2 USD. I visited right after it reopened at 1 PM and thought that was perfect, as it was pretty peaceful when I was there and easy to snap photos without massive groups of people crowding it. By the time I left, huge groups were arriving, so I think I had good timing.

The building looks as if it is standing still in time – its 1960s architecture along with its kitschy vintage furnishings have barely changed since the tanks from the North arrived in 1975, when the city of Saigon officially fell. 

Personally, I regret not having an audio guide as I didn’t really know what I was looking at, even though it was visually interesting. I thought there might be more signage about why each room was important, and what was the general history of the place, but I didn’t find this to be true, so if I came back I’d spend the extra 50,000 or so dong on the audio guide. Alternately, you could visit it (alongside a lot of the other sights on this list, such as the Post Office Building and the Opera House, on a guided walking tour).

Notre Dame Basilica

Unfortunately under construction during my visit, I still think Notre Dame Basilica is well-worth a visit while in Ho Chi Minh City, especially given its prime location near Independence Palace and the beautiful Post Office building. In fact, it’d almost be harder to not visit Notre Dame than not!

Notre Dame has its roots in the French colonial period which is responsible for a lot of the architecture that you see in southern Vietnam, and it’s well worth making a small circuit when downtown to see the other French colonial buildings. I’ve included the Central Post office across the street, as well as the City Hall and Opera House in this post, but there are others – this can be done easily independently or with more context on a guided walking tour.

Saigon Central Post Office

I found this to be the most beautiful building in Ho Chi Minh City – but maybe it’s because my favorite color is yellow.

Located right across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral and truly in the heart of Saigon, Buu Dien (aka the Central Post Office) is so central that it’s almost impossible to miss.

Unfortunately, this gorgeous building has been thoroughly converted into a tourist mecca, with endless rows of booths selling tours and two souvenir shops. However, if you can look past the touristic angle and appreciate the beautiful architecture, I think it’s still worth visiting.

Admire the lovely Ho Chi Minh City Hall

Another colonial-era building from the early 1900s, it’s unfortunately not possible to go inside the City Hall as a tourist. While it’s still in use, it is strictly for civil servants and staff of the Peoples Committee in Ho Chi Minh City.

It was another one of my favorite buildings in Saigon and since it’s just a short walk from the Saigon Opera House it’s easy to tack on to your Saigon to do list.

See a show at the Saigon Opera House

One of the most essential places to visit in Saigon is the Saigon Opera House, which is both a prime example of the French colonial architecture but also one of the few colonial buildings still in use for its original function (or close to it) today.

The Saigon Opera House is home to the AO Show, a performance which combines elements of dance, circus arts, and a distinctly Vietnamese twist, as folk instruments, costumes, and bamboo are all utilized during the performance. Shows run just about daily at 6 PM so it’s a must-see in Saigon if you’re a lover of the arts.

You can see just a performance of the show or you can combine a showing with a dinner for an even more special night out! Whichever you pick, it’s a recipe for an incredibly memorable night out.

Drink some fantastic Vietnamese coffee

One of the most unmissable things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is indulge in the city’s coffee culture (though I have no idea if $nob Coffee is any good – I just thought it was hilarious).

The traditional way to drink coffee in Vietnam is over condensed milk either hot or cold – and in Saigon, you’re probably going to prefer cold, unless you’re a crazy person like my boyfriend who thinks iced coffee is the devil’s work.

I warn you, there’s nothing quite like the double-whammy of a shot of extremely concentrated coffee plus the sugar rush of all that condensed milk, so drink with caution or prepare to stay up all night!

Check out Saigon’s hidden Hindu temples

Vietnam is often associated with their own syncretic blend of religions that include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, with elements of folk religions mixed in.

But naturally, as Saigon is the most diverse city in Vietnam, there are plenty of religious buildings that don’t fall under the pagoda umbrella, such as Hindu Temples, Catholic churches, and even Islamic mosques.

There are actually a handful of Hindu temples right downtown. I particularly liked visiting Temple Goddess Mariamma, but Sri Thenday Yuttha Pani Temple is not far away, either.

Check out the Saigon City Museum (Gia Long Palace)

This museum traces the development of Saigon as a city, but in my opinion, the museum doesn’t quite reach its full potential. This is a city with so much history that it should be hard to tell a boring story about it – but the collection of artifacts inside don’t do justice to the tumult and changes that have marked Saigon since its early days.

So why am I even including this on a list of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City? Well, the building itself is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s super cheap to enter. The building was designed in 1887 by the very same French architect who designed the beautiful post office that’s now iconic of Saigon’s colonial style. However, its intended purpose (an exhibition hall) never came into fruition.

Instead, it was, at times, a lieutenant governor’s residence, the residence of Japanese occupiers, and then it was the residence of Emperor Bao Dai…. which promptly ended when the revolutionary Viet Minh, Ho Chi Minh’s crew, came in. Later, the British held it, then the French, and then eventually the South Vietnamese president…. before finally being part of the North’s sweep of the city during the fall of Saigon, and eventually being turned into a museum post-reunification.

Indulge in a spa day

Vietnam is one of my favorite places to indulge in a day of R&R and I took advantage of their affordable spa prices several times during my 3 weeks in Saigon.

Be cautious when booking a spa day – some spas are really, well, ‘massage parlors’, aka prostitutes. Always check the Google reviews and make sure it’s the kind of place you’re actually meaning to end up.

Another word of warning… many massage centers and spas offer insanely low prices when inviting you in (around $6-8 per hour for a foot massage, say) – then, after your massage, which may or may not have been satisfactory, demand tips of up to nearly 100%, therefore doubling the price!

I have no problem with tipping masseuses – they do hard work for little pay or security – but I do have a problem with being duped into paying double the expected cost disguised as a “tip,” when I generally tip 10-20% depending on quality of service.

Instead, I recommend going to a more reputable and slightly more expensive spa where you can be guaranteed you won’t get the tip hustle. I went to Cat Moc Spa several times during my stay in Saigon and loved it each time. The massages are reasonably priced, around $15-20 USD for an hour, and there is no tip hustle (though of course you are free to tip and tip well!).

I highly recommend them, as the atmosphere is a step above what you’ll usually find in Saigon and the quality of masseuses is extremely high. They’re very friendly and experienced, so it’s worth the extra expense in my mind (which doesn’t actually end up being that much extra when you consider that you are getting an honest price from the get-go).

The Affordable Luxury Guide to Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days

Vietnam has a reputation for being one of the most affordable countries in the world to travel. It’s become a bit of a Shangri-La for backpackers, but what I found was that if you stretch your budget just a bit, that’s where you’ll find incredible value. Travelers looking for some affordable luxury will be in heaven in Vietnam’s cosmopolitan capital, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and often still known as Saigon).

If you’re heading to HCMC (as it’s often abbreviated), get ready for a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and scents. This city is an assault on your senses in the best possible way: flickering neon lights from the surrounding skyscrapers rivaling those of Tokyo, wafts of warm, fragrant smoke from street food stalls, and the constant hum of motorbikes in a city that rarely rests.

The city’s energy is infectious, and it’d take a lifetime to truly explore Ho Chi Minh City to its core. If you’ve set yourself the near-impossible task of seeing the best of Ho Chi Minh in 2 days, here’s a quick guide to do it in style.

Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days: Day One

Start the day with a Vietnamese coffee

Start off your two days in Ho Chi Minh with coffee!

As a self-certified coffee snob, I can safely vouch that Vietnamese coffee is some of the best in the world. It’s always strong, and best over condensed milk or ice (or both!).

My personal favorite way to drink coffee in Vietnam is ca phe sua da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk). It’s so delicious, thick, and sweet that it’s practically a dessert!

Get acquainted with the city with a vintage Vespa tour

2 days in Ho Chi Minh

If you’re keen on an adrenaline rush, why not swap two feet for two wheels with a ride on a vintage Vespa? You’ll be exploring Ho Chi Minh in the most Vietnamese way possible, as scooters are virtually synonymous with this country.

Riding around the city by scooter is a wonderful way to get a feel for the beautiful chaos that is Ho Chi Minh City. Rather than taking a sedate bus tour, a guided Vespa tour gets your adrenaline flowing as you rapidly discover all the major historical sights and explore the surrounding areas. A few of the sights you’ll likely see include the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Basilica, Central Post Office, and Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Explore the food scene in Vietnam

Tip for conquering Ho Chi Minh in 2 days -- eat your heart out!

Whether you have the budget for five-star restaurants or street stalls, you’re in for a treat either way. Food is what Vietnam does best – it’s among my favorite cuisines in all the world.

Vietnamese cuisine is all about contrast and vibrant flavor. Fresh herbs feature front and center, whether it’s torn mint leaves in a bowl of bún cha or fresh basil in a piping hot bowl of pho. Sweet and sour nuoc mam (a blend of fish sauce and palm sugar amongst other ingredients) liven up the simplest of rice dishes and fried goodies.

If you’re looking for a fancy meal out, Ho Chi Minh City certainly delivers. Restaurants like Xu offer fantastic value with their tasting menus, where you can try 5 courses for just about $40 USD.

Meanwhile, there’s delicious street food on virtually every street and alley for those who’d rather save their money and eat like a local. The local markets are also well worth a visit for food lovers. The biggest and best of HCMC’s markets is Ben Thanh in District 1, where busy stalls sell delicious Vietnamese fare cooked to order. Just pick stalls that look busy with lots of customers – tourists and locals alike – to ensure food safety. Real foodies may opt to book a cooking class, so you can learn how to use the local ingredients to recreate your favorite dish back home.

Check into a 5* hotel for a 3* price in District 1

Stay in luxury for two days in HCMC

The greatest thing about Vietnam’s affordability is that experiences that would normally be way out of your price range are suddenly rather affordable. For a 5* hotel in Vietnam, you’ll pay about as much as you would for a mid-range room in London or NYC.

If you’re looking for luxury, you’ll find it in District 1, home to the city’s finest hotels, restaurants, and shopping. One of the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, the Reverie Saigon, is full of ornate grandeur that will almost transport you to a European palace, with a luxe spa to match.

Vietnam also has a thriving fashion and tailoring scene (Hoi An further north of Ho Chi Minh is especially famous for its affordable, custom-tailored suits and clothing), and District 1 is the center of this scene. Here, you can check out boutiques from up and coming designers who are driving a dynamic fashion scene in HCMC.

Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days: Day Two

Explore villages along the Mekong Delta river

Even if you have just 2 days in Ho Chi Minh, a cruise along the Mekong Delta river is well worth it. You can either go with a tour or charter a private long-tail boat to take you beyond the chaotic capital city into the sleepy riverside villages of south Vietnam.

Depending on what cruise you select, you have the opportunity to stop off on small islands and local villages to experience a more authentic side to daily life in Vietnam, and still be back in time to enjoy the rest of your last afternoon and evening in the city.

Check out some of HCMC’s museums

Ho Chi Minh City has a wealth of amazing museums. The War Remnants Museum is a can’t-miss window into the experience of surviving the Vietnam War. In my opinion, it’s especially important for American travelers to come here and see the war’s history portrayed from the Vietnamese perspective.

Other museums worth visiting at the Southern Women’s Museum and the Fine Art Museum, so choose whatever suits your interest and schedule best.

Catch a traditional Vietnamese performance

If you’re interested in Vietnamese culture, don’t miss the chance to watch a water puppet show at The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. I know, seeing a puppet show may seem strange, but I can vouch for these: the performances are artfully done, exquisitely lit, and surprisingly beautiful.

These uniquely traditional puppet shows tell tales from Vietnamese folklore and are performed in a large pool using the water as a stage. You won’t find performances like these anywhere else in the world.

If you’re not into the idea of a puppet show, the Saigon Opera House is another fantastic cultural event space. Home to the HCMC Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, the venue also hosts performances by world-renowned artists – popular shows often sell out, so look in advance and book early if you see something that catches your eye.

Rooftop cocktails at Chill Sky Bar

 

I’m of the belief that the vastness of a city is best appreciated from up high – preferably with a cocktail in hand. There are several rooftop bars in Ho Chi Min City, but I’d recommend Chill Sky Bar for its central location in District 1 and general happy hour.

Cocktails here are definitely more expensive than your 15 cent street bia hoi (fresh beer brewed daily and sold on street corners everywhere), but it’s worth the cost of admission to have such a wonderful view of the city.