This is your complete Vietnam travel guide, with a focus on mindful travel, eco-adventures,
and responsible travel.
We have visited Vietnam six times in the last ten years and we love the country!
This Vietnam Travel Guide includes our favourite Vietnam destinations, the best hotels in Vietnam for every budget, our favourite vegan and vegetarian restaurants, our favourite yoga studios, a list of essential items to pack, and tips on avoiding the worst tourist traps and annoyances in Vietnam.
If you need help deciding where to go in Vietnam or some advice for putting together the ideal Vietnam itinerary, this guide is for you.
We hope you love it!
Is Vietnam a good place for mindful travel?
In many ways, Vietnam is an ideal destination for mindful travel.
For a start, there are lots of places in Vietnam to enjoy nature — like the mountains of Sapa, the waters of Halong Bay, or the exotic beaches of the south coast. Most Vietnamese people are friendly and open, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a local and there’s lots of opportunity to learn more about the history of this fascinating region. Then there’s the food, which is plentiful and varied, with amazing options for vegans and vegetarians!
Hotels in Vietnam are budget-friendly, often eco-friendly and usually privately owned, so you can meet the locals and be sure you’re spending your travel dollars responsibly. Of course, if you want an exotic retreat where you can be massaged and pampered, Vietnam has plenty of those too!
Use the links below to jump to a specific topic about Vietnam travel.
Itineraries → Our favourite Vietnam travel destinations.
Hotels → Where to stay in Vietnam.
Restaurants → Vegetarian and vegan food in Vietnam.
Yoga → Where to practice yoga in Vietnam.
Tourist Traps → What to avoid during Vietnam travel.
Packing List → What to pack for Vietnam travel.
Itineraries: Our favourite Vietnam travel destinations.
Unless you’ve got months to explore this varied country, I suggest you focus your trip on a specific region. There’s far too much to see to pack north, south, and central Vietnam all into one visit. As a mindful traveller, you’ll want to take things slowly and immerse yourself in the culture (not spend all your time at airports!)
Here are a few suggestions for your Vietnam itinerary.
Northern Vietnam Travel
We’ve had so many adventures in Northern Vietnam that we absolutely love this part of the country. If you’re new to Vietnam and want to combine active outdoors activities with the bustle and culture of Hanoi, this is the itinerary for you.
- Explore amazing Hanoi.
- Go trekking in Sapa Vietnam.
- Take a 3-day boat trip on Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay (the quieter alternative).
- Stay with locals in Mai Chau.
- Kick back in Tam Coc.
Central Vietnam Travel
Last year, Jane took her first trip to central Vietnam and Stephen was devastated to miss it. Central Vietnam has culture, caving, and some of the best vegan food in the country. Central Vietnam is often overlooked but it really is a Vietnam must see.
- Go caving in Phong Nha.
- Eat your way around Hue.
- Take a motorbike adventure from Hue to Hoi An.
- Immerse yourself in the charm of Hoi An.
Southern Vietnam Travel
We haven’t spent much time in the south of Vietnam (except while volunteering for Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund).
- Soak up the culture in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Retreat to the beach in Mui Ne Vietnam.
- Float down the Mekong Delta.
- Visit the mud baths in Nha Trang
- Experience Dalat, the Paris of the East.
- Hike the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
Related: Taylor’s Tracks has a great guide for things to do in Nha Trang →
Vietnam hotels: Where to stay in Vietnam.
Accommodation in Vietnam is plentiful and excellent value. A luxury hotel room in Vietnam costs about the same as a room at a crappy Motel 6 in America! But you can also get a great place to sleep for under $10. Here are our best places to stay in Vietnam for every budget.
The Best Hotels in Hanoi for Every Budget →
Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City for Every Budget
Best Mui Ne Hotels for Every Budget
The Best Hotels in Hue for Every Budget →
The Best Hotels in Hoi An for Every Budget →
The Best Hotels in Phong Nha for Every Budget →
Restaurants: Vegetarian and vegan food in Vietnam.
Vietnam is by no means a vegetarian and vegan paradise. For a start, there is fish sauce hidden in just about everything and meat is a vital part of every meal. But if you know what to look for and where to go, you can get some of the best food of your life, animal-free.
Check out our guides for healthy food and vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam.
Hanoi Vegetarian Food: The Complete Guide for Vegetarians Visiting Hanoi →
Hue Vegan and Vegetarian Food: The Best City in Vietnam for Vegans →
The Myths and Legends of Vegetarian Food in Hoi An, Vietnam →
Hoi An Vegan Restaurants: Your Guide to Vegan Food in Hoi An, Vietnam →
Yoga: Where to practice yoga in Vietnam.
There aren’t a lot of great outdoor spaces to practice yoga in Vietnam. The air in the cities tends to be on the smoggy side and you will attract a lot of attention if you roll out your mat in a public park. However, there are lots of yoga studios in the big cities — though many of them offer instruction only in Vietnamese.
This is where we practice when we’re in Vietnam.
Hanoi at Zenith Yoga
Stephen has taught at Zenith several times and we practice there every time we go to Hanoi. Their two locations offer a variety of styles including Hatha, Iyengar, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga, with excellent world-class instructors. We always learn something new when we practice at Zenith!
ZCafe at Zenith Yoga is one of the best and cleanest places for vegetarian food in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh City at Mandala Wellness
We haven’t been to Mandala Wellness yet, but we’ve heard great things about it. Plus, Stephen will be teaching there this summer! In their wellness centre, they offer a variety of yoga classes and wellness workshops. They also have a line of delicious-looking cold-pressed juices that we can’t wait to try.
While Vietnam does not offer a lot in the way of yoga retreats, many resorts do have yoga as part of their wellness services. In Mui Ne, where we spent a few weeks this year, you can easily find daily yoga, at least in high season. You will also find inexpensive massages and spa treatments almost everywhere you go.
Tourist Traps: What to avoid during Vietnam travel.
What to avoid in Halong Bay Vietnam.
One of the most famous natural sights in the world, Ha Long Bay can get overcrowded with boats, especially during high season. If you decide to take a boat trip in Halong Bay, opt for two nights and three days — the second day usually includes a small-boat trip to a secluded bay. Also, don’t go too cheap with your boat trip or you’ll end up on an overcrowded and dirty ship.
Indochina Junk’s Dragon Pearl was great back in 2009 when I sailed on it and it still gets great reviews now. They also run tours to the less touristy Bai Tu Long.
Whatever you do, avoid staying overnight in the city of Halong Bay. It is particularly uninspiring.
What to avoid in Sapa Vietnam.
Avoid spending the night in the city of Sapa. The wall-to-wall guesthouses and tacky tourist restaurants are the epitome of “tourist trap”. Instead, arrange an overnight trek to a homestay in Hanoi and travel from there. A two-night trek will get you further off the beaten path! I booked with Lily’s Travel Agency in Hanoi and it was fantastic.
I wrote a complete guide to trekking in Sapa for NOMADasaurus.com. Read it before you go!
If you want to go independently, check out Topas Ecolodge for a more peaceful stay.
Should you avoid overnight busses in Vietnam?
I have read many horror stories about the overnight busses in Vietnam, but in my experience, they’re not that bad. They are far more comfortable than an overnight flight, with room to stretch out your legs and lie down. Just make sure you pack a very small bag to carry on board and stow everything else under the bus — you share your seat with whatever you bring onboard.
As long as you don’t expect to get much sleep and come prepared with lots of podcasts or music to listen to, the overnight busses in Vietnam are an efficient and eco-friendly way of getting around.
Avoid the street donuts in Hanoi!
You will not walk around Hanoi for long before a woman with a basket of tempting donuts approaches you. They look tasty but don’t be tempted. The locals won’t touch them since no one really knows what kind of oil they’re fried in or how they’re handled.
There are lots of great street foods to try in Hanoi. Just take a look at our Hanoi vegetarian food guide to find out where to eat!
How to avoid overwhelm during Vietnam travel.
Vietnam can be busy, noisy and dirty. It can also be peaceful and astonishingly beautiful. Make sure you plan some peaceful and remote activities (like trekking or boat trips) to offset the stress of Vietnam’s vibrant cities.
When in the cities, make time to chill out at a cafe or get a fresh squeezed juice to beat the heat. Don’t forget to use all your best yoga techniques for handling the hassle — stay calm, breathe deeply, and let go of the desire to control the situation.
Touts can be persistent but remember to treat them for what they are — fellow humans who are just trying to earn a living. It’s amazing how far a smile and a little eye contact will get you.
Above all, when you’re travelling in Vietnam, just go with the flow and leave some time for meditation!
Packing List: What to pack for Vietnam travel.
Travel yoga mat. Most hotels in Vietnam have hard cold floors, perfect for hot days but not great for yoga. Some are none too clean, either. It’s best to bring a mat if you plan to practice in your hotel room.
Don’t miss our guide to choosing the best travel yoga mats.
Loose and modest clothing. It’s not always hot in Vietnam but it usually is! Loose light clothing is a must. Even though many modern Vietnamese women wear revealing clothes, it’s best for tourists to cover up a little, out of respect for the more traditional culture — and to protect your skin from the sun.
Flip-flops. Flip-flops have endless uses in Vietnam, from wearing around the hotel, to beach days, to flipping your way around the cities. Everyone, locals and tourists alike, wears them just about everywhere.
Your own chopsticks. In Vietnam, chopsticks are usually wooden and most often not very clean. We travel everywhere with our To Go Ware Bamboo Travel Cutlery. It’s perfect for mindful travel in Vietnam (and an awesome replacement for plastic cutlery when you’re getting take-out back home)!
Vietnam travel packs a huge variety of experiences into a small space. Take your time, travel slowly and don’t try to fit too many destinations into too little time! You’ll want to reserve plenty of hours for sitting back and watching the vibrant culture in action. If you stay aware and remember to breathe, you’ll have an amazing trip in Vietnam.
What are your favourite Vietnam attractions? Which did you like the least? Please share them in the comments below.
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane