Vietnam

Colonial and military history giving way to a vibrant street culture and sophisticated nightlife

Overview

“Dua hau…dua hau…dua hau!! “ I am not a late riser but for three days in a row, I was woken early by this alarming cry from far below my otherwise delightful fourth storey Hanoi guest house balcony in the winding streets of the city’s Old Quarter. Convinced the shrieking lady was being beaten or worse, I enquired with my host what all the yelling was about. “Watermelon madam,” came the smiling reply. Yes, that was all, Vietnamese marketing at its very best. If you’ve got something to sell, just go on and shout it out. Next day as I sunk my teeth into the delicious fruity pink flesh, I thought about this amazing destination, and how it totally overwhelms the senses. The noise, the smells, the colours, and the wonderful tales told by this unique population. I’d recommend Vietnam at any time of year and suggest you stay as long as you can.

Amidst the nation’s infamously chaotic streets, you’ll find your own haven of calm, but with traveller numbers increasing, it pays to be a bit smart and consider a low season adventure to avoid the crowds and maximise your dong. If you’re looking to take in the whole country, the low season period covers May through to October. However, the skinny elongated geography leaves visitors facing three distinct weather patterns and two monsoons which impact on regional seasonality. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to had, just be aware and keep your plans flexible if you can.

Hanoi & The North
Seat of Communist power and home to exquisite French colonial architecture, the capital is a fine starting point to tour the karst formations of Halong Bay and Ninh Binh or trek the Sapa rice terraces. The region has two main seasons, the very hot and humid summer which runs from May to September accompanied by heavy rainfall which marks the low season period, whereas a cold dry winter characterises November to March. In between, catch the lovely but short, blink and you’ll miss it, spring and autumn.

Central Vietnam
Travel mountainous passes with roadside cliffs falling away to the beaches below. The imperial city of Hue and the charming port town of Hoi An are the main draws, but the ancient Cham ruins, DMZ wartime landmarks and beaches around Danang are also worthy. This area is somewhat protected from early rains by the mountains leaving it overly hot in May and June and subject to later rains from September to December when flooding can be an issue.

Ho Chi Minh City & The South
Still known locally as Saigon, the bustling hub of the south has a laid back vibe despite its huge population, most of which seem to take to the streets by motorbike at all times of the day and night. Hot throughout the year, the south gets most humid and sticky in April to October when rain is frequent, especially in the afternoons. Take local advice if travelling to the Mekong Delta where flooding poses a real danger. Otherwise, dodge the showers in fascinating museums and wonderful boutiques and coffee shops.


Low Season Saving

Up to 40% off versus peak season prices


Tourist:Local Ratio

Peak Season

Low Season

1:10
1:10


Major Airport

Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport SGN

Low Season Months

Jan Feb Mar Apr May
28°C
150mm
7hrs
Jun
29°C
190mm
7hrs
Jul
29°C
210mm
8hrs
Aug
29°C
200mm
7hrs
Sep
28°C
160mm
7hrs
Oct
25°C
100mm
7hrs
Nov Dec

Hotels

Top Experiences

Hoi An

This historic port town in the central region is a perfect place to unwind and discover Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese past, fascinating architecture, full moon lantern festivals, and vehicle free zones. Hire a bike and explore the nearby rice paddies and the beach.

Tam Coc, Ninh Binh Province

Low season Halong Bay cruises can be cancelled at short notice, so try Tam Coc instead. Less frequented, and just as stunning, you’ll see limestone karst monoliths protruding mystically from the rice paddies. A sampan cruise with local rowers takes about two hours.

Cookery class

Take a taste of Vietnam home with you. There are some excellent classes starting from a half day, which include a market tour, recipes and of course a meal made by yours truly. Some of the best include Lua’s Kitchen in HCMC and Red Bridge in Hoi An.

Insider Tips

  • Don’t try to do too much. There are so many great opportunities here it is easy to rush through a tick list. You’ll get more out of staying a few days in one area, exploring the hidden gems, meeting the people.
  • If travelling the whole country, pick a north to south itinerary which starts in a cooler climate and you can adapt to the heat as you go. Finish with a Mekong River cruise across the border into Cambodia if time allows.
  • Keep your beach break for another adventure, particularly during low season. There is so much else to do in Vietnam. If you really need your fix of sea and sand, choose somewhere like Hoi An with coast and town in close proximity.

Good To Know

  • Overnight trains are a great way cover the country. A wonderful experience although many carriages are rough and ready. If you are travelling in a pair, make the journey more private by buying all four berths in your compartment.
  • Traditional Vietnamese breakfast is a delicious rice noodle soup or pho. Sitting at a tiny plastic table, there is no better way to start the day than over a steaming bowl of fragrant broth brimming with herbs, chilli and lime.
  • Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee, after Brazil. Visit a working coffee plantation, enjoy a freshly prepared brew in a local coffee shop, and take home a bag of beans as a special souvenir.

Food & Drink

Cha Ca Anh Vu, Hanoi

£££

One of the best when it comes to cha ca. Cha ca is a specialty of the north and consists of succulent chunks of white fish marinated in turmeric, grilled and served in the centre of the table with vermicelli rice noodles, and fresh green veggies.

Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar, HCMC

£££

This terrace atop the central Caravelle Hotel, offers a wide drinks menus and live music with great night time city views. Opened in 1959, it’s been a haunt for politicians, journalists and expats and retains a historic elegance to this day.

Bia Hoi, street corners everywhere

£

At the other end of the scale, light preservative-free draft beer is made fresh daily and thrown away at close of business. Join the locals on plastic chairs on bustling street corners to down as many as you can and enjoy the cheap, if unusual, accompanying snacks.

Reviews

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