Vietnam has come a long way over the past few decades, and an ever-growing travel industry continues to be a key part its ascent.
Much of Vietnam is simply gorgeous, and the country has become relatively easy to explore thanks to solid public transport, abundant tour options and visa restrictions that were relaxed for some nationalities in recent years.
The long and slender figure of Vietnam’s 331,000 square kms means that dividing your trip up based on its three primary regions is usually the way to go. If possible, give at least a week to two weeks to each region. The whole shebang is rimmed by a 3,260-km Pacific coastline—you will see countless fishing boats and beaches that extend for miles.
The south hosts Ho Chi Minh City, often referred to by its old name of Saigon. It’s one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia and a launching point for trips into the Mekong Delta. You’ll also find some islands down south with Phu Quoc, not far from Cambodia, being the largest and most popular.
Vietnam narrows in the central region, where Hoi An and Hue are both top-tier historical destinations. In the Central Highlands you’ll find the scenic holiday town of Da Lat along with serene villages in the hinterlands.
The cooler northern region is the historic centre of Vietnamese civilisation and home to the attractive capital, Hanoi. It’s the usual starting point for trips into Ha Long Bay, one of the more spectacular (and popular) natural destinations in Southeast Asia. Further inland you’ll find Sapa set high up in the mountains near the Chinese border. If you have more time, try a trip to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam’s remote northwest near Laos.
Train is a fun way to get around Vietnam, offering several scenic routes particularly in the central region. Domestic flights work well as strategic time savers, and buses are widely available too. Vietnam is popular for motorcycle adventures, but make sure you understand the risks first.
Flooding is common in places during the southwest monsoon from April to September. The northeast monsoon brings cool and misty weather to the north from November to March. Pack a sweater.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.