Planning a journey through Vietnam can be quite a challenge. There are so many beautiful places in the country that many travellers do not know where to start. This article describes a route along some of the highlights Vietnam has to offer. In addition, this article contains tips for preparing a tour, including information about applying for the Vietnam visa.
Travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam is one of the most visited holiday countries in South-East Asia. The country is popular with backpackers, but also with travellers who are a bit more fond of luxury. It has exclusive hotels, resorts and restaurants, but travellers with a smaller budget will also find plenty of hostels and cheap street food dishes throughout the country. Vietnam also has plenty to offer in terms of activities for all target groups. Both the rice fields of Sapa and Halong Bay in the north of the country are an absolute must for nature lovers, and adventurers can enjoy numerous outdoor activities in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. A must for culture lovers is the imperial city of Hué, and those travelling to Vietnam to relax can choose between several pearly white beaches in the south of the country.
Vietnam is an elongated country: the distance from the far north to the south of Vietnam is about 2,000 kilometres, while the distance from the border with Laos to the coast in the middle of Vietnam is less than 100 kilometres in many places. The most logical route for a journey is therefore from the north to the south of the country or vice versa. Below is a route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City that runs along the most famous highlights. In addition to mapping out the route, do not forget to apply for a Vietnam visa.
North Vietnam: beautiful nature and the bustling city of Hanoi
The starting point of most journeys through Vietnam is the capital Hanoi. Hanoi is also the base for many attractions in the north of the country. It is definitely worth staying in this city for a few days and visiting the old centre (Old Quarter), the many temples, pagodas and parks. One of the absolute highlights of Vietnam is Halong Bay, located about 150 kilometres from Hanoi. Halong Bay is a fairytale bay where thousands of rocks rising from the sea provide stunning views. The staging ground for Halong Bay is Cat Ba, the largest island in the bay. You can travel from the Old Quarter in Hanoi to Cat Ba in roughly four hours by bus. Explore the bay by boat and sail along beautiful rock formations and floating fishing villages.
Another highlight in the far north of Vietnam is the mountain village of Sapa. From Sapa, you can trek through beautiful valleys and rice fields, for example to the highest point in Vietnam: the summit of Mount Fansipan. Sapa can be reached from Hanoi in about 6 to 8 hours by train or bus. The train journey from Hanoi ends in Lao Cai, at the border with China. From Lao Cai, buses leave for Sapa.
The middle of the country: immense caves and atmospheric coastal towns
The route continues towards the centre of the country with the first stop being the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam: Hué. From Hanoi, Hué can be reached by plane in an hour. Those who prefer not to take a domestic flight can travel from Hanoi to Hué by night train or night bus in about 12 hours. Although part of the city was destroyed during the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War, most of the buildings have been restored and the citadel of Hué is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its most famous landmark is Tu Cam Thanh, or the Forbidden City, which is inspired by the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Forbidden City is situated on the banks of the Perfume River, which owes its name to the pollen and blossoms that float on the river's waters in spring.
From Hué, you can visit the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Here you will find forests, waterfalls, underground rivers and the largest cave in the world: Hang Son Doong. From Hué (or from Hanoi), you can travel by train to the nearest station Dong Hoi and from there by bus to Phong Nha.
Not far from Hué are Da Nang and Hoi An. Da Nang is also known for its beautiful beaches. Many travellers therefore choose to interrupt their round trip for a few days to relax at the beach. A well-known sight in the vicinity of Da Nang is the Golden Bridge, an impressive footbridge at an altitude of some 1,400 metres above sea level, built in 2017 and opened to the public in 2018. Another favourite city in the middle of Vietnam is Hoi An. This atmospheric former port city has a car-free centre and colourful streets with Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European influences. Once a month (according to the lunar calendar) a lantern festival is held in the city and the city gets an even more fairytale character.
South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City and beautiful beaches
The route ends in Vietnam's largest city: Ho Chi Minhstad (formerly Saigon). From Da Nang, the city can be reached by train in about 17 hours. Ho Chi Minh City is a hectic, modern city with western influences, skyscrapers and sky bars. From Ho Chi Minh City, you can take a boat trip on the Mekong Delta or visit the Cu Chi tunnels, a network of tunnels that was the operating base of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.
Those who prefer to end their tour in peace and quiet on the beach will find Nha Trang to be the perfect spot. This city is also called the ultimate beach destination in Vietnam, which makes it a popular tourist destination. A quieter coastal town with beautiful sand dunes near Ho Chi Minh City is Mui Ne.
Apply for a Vietnam visa online
British and Irish tourists need a visa to travel through Vietnam. The visa can easily be applied for with an online application form. On average, applications are approved after a week. The visa is then sent by e-mail and only needs to be printed. To apply for an e-visa for Vietnam, certain requirements apply. For example, there are only a limited number of locations in Vietnam where you are allowed to arrive and leave the country. Both the airport of Hanoi and the airport and port of Ho Chi Minh City are included. The journey described in this article can therefore be made with an e-visa without any problems. There are a number of other airports, harbours and border locations where you can enter and leave the country with an e-visa.
Bear in mind that the e-visa for Vietnam is a single-entry visa. This means that you can only enter the country once with an e-visa. Individuals who are travelling through several countries, cross the border to China, Laos or Cambodia in the meantime and then want to travel to Vietnam again need a visa for their second arrival. With an e-visa you can stay in Vietnam for a maximum of 30 days. This gives you enough time to follow the above route from the north to the south of Vietnam or vice versa.