Design your perfect Vietnam itinerary – How long to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hoi An, Halong, Nha Trang, …

Vietnam Itinerary

Vietnam Itinerary: How long should you stay at each location in Vietnam?

 

Because of the high cost of airfare from Europe and the USA and the low cost of traveling through Vietnam, travelers often take longer vacations than they would in other parts of the world. Multiple weeks are the norm and stays longer than a month are not uncommon in planning a trip to Vietnam. This leads to a very common question among people planning their Vietnam vacation, “How long should I spend in each place?” This blog post hopes to answer these questions and help you design the perfect Vietnam itinerary!

We’re going to give you a quick breakdown of the major places to visit in Vietnam, what there is to see and do, and how long you might need to budget in your vacation. These are rough estimates based on how much there is to see and do in a place. Be sure to adjust them to your own preferences. If you like peace and quiet and your Vietnam vacation is meant to be relaxing, get out of Saigon or Hanoi and get to Phu Quoc or Cat Ba island. If you’re a foodie with a penchant for adventuring, you’ll have a different itinerary than a beach bum who enjoys the sun and the surf. We’ll tell you which places appeal to which groups and let you make up your mind.

These length estimates are full days, not including travel time. If traveling by train (we recommend it!) or bus (we don’t recommend it!) , always try to book a night trip for anything over 4 hours. Not only will it save you valuable vacation days, it might save you money on a hotel room for the night.

Recommended length of stay for your Vietnam Itinerary:

Click on the links below to jump directly to the Vietnam location :

  1. Hanoi (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  2. Sapa (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  3. Haiphong, Ha Long Bay (1-2 days), Cat Ba Island (3-4 days)
  4. Phong Nha (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days) 
  5. Hue (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  6. Hoi An (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  7. Da Lat (2-week trip: 1-2 days, 4-week trip: 2-3 days)
  8. Mekong Delta (1-2 days)
  9. Nha Trang (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  10. Saigon (2-week trip: 2-3 days, 4-week trip: 4-5 days)
  11. Phu Quoc (depends on your love for beaches)

 


Hanoi (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

What is great about Hanoi?
Shopping, history, food

Who should skip Hanoi?
If you need tranquility. Or if you only have time for one city, visit Hoi An.

Vietnam’s capital city provides plenty of interesting sites, tasty meals and great places to shop. The negative side is the high level of pollution, frenetic traffic and the fact that the narrow streets of the old quarter wasn’t designed to accommodate large crowds. A few days wandering the old quarter, visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and drinking bia hoi by Hoan Kiem Lake are a must for any Vietnam traveler, but you don’t need to budget more than 5 days in Hanoi.

From Hanoi, go to: Sapa, Ha Long Bay

Ha Noi street in old quarter

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Sapa (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

 

The terraced hills of Sapa, The Tonkinese Alps

 

What is great about Sapa?
Opportunity to meet ethnic minority tribes, seeing incredible landscapes, shopping for interesting goods

Who should skip Sapa?
If you don’t like high-pressure sales tactics (see alternative suggestions below)

Sapa is a visually stunning town north of Hanoi, famous for terraced rice fields and ethnic minority tribes. Since becoming a major tourist destination, Sapa has become saturated with repetitive gift shops and overly insistent trinket sellers. The sights make up for it, though. Tour operators offer homestay and hiking packages with transportation from Hanoi. Unless you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, you should take this option.

If you want to get off the beaten path and explore, instead of going to Sapa visit the villages of Mai Chau for the Ethnic minorities and Mu Cang Chai for the beautiful landscapes.

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Haiphong, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island (1-2 days, unless you’re going to Cat Ba Island)

 

Ha Long Bay - the Bay of Descending Dragons

a fishing house, the beautiful sunset and a cruise from Ha Long Bay

 

What is great about Ha Long Bay?
Beautiful sights, good seafood

Who should skip Ha Long Bay?
If you’re looking for sandy beaches, nightlife or culture

Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s major attractions, but Haiphong and Ha Long City aren’t. The best way to see Ha Long Bay is with a tour package from Hanoi. If you’re making your own way and want to avoid the crowds, visit Bai Tu Long Bay, 30 km to the east. Unless you’re visiting Cat Ba island, the longest you need to spend in the area is the length of your cruise.

Cat Ba island does offer some interesting attractions for visitors. If you like the outdoors, you can budget 3-4 days for boat tours, trekking, kayaking, climbing, national parks and some small caves and beaches.

 

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Phong Nha (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Outdoor adventures and incredible nature from Phong Nha Ke Bang

Phong Nha Ke Bang will bring to you outdoor adventures and incredible caves

 

What is great about Phong Nha – Ke Bang?
Outdoor adventures, incredible caves, interesting Lao/Viet food, friendly locals

Who should Phong Nha – Ke Bang?
If you can’t be without global cuisines or cell phone reception

Phong Nha is the adventure capital of Vietnam. From the world’s biggest caves to motorcycle rides through the park, Phong Nha provides a lot of opportunity for getting your thrills, seeing the sights and making memories that will last a lifetime. A trip to Paradise cave is a must for all visitors, offering spectacular geology, as is exploration of the surrounding Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park. Local tour operators offer tours that show off many of the other caves in the area, from 1 day trips to 4 or more. Beyond caving, you can also spend time in Phong Nha trekking, bicycling, kayaking, swimming and camping.

There is a twice daily bus that connects Hue to Phong Nha. Other buses also run to Hanoi or Hoi An.

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Hue (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

Ancient temples, buildings, compounds and foods to explore in Hue

ancient temples, buildings, compounds and foods to explore in Hue

 

What is great about Hue?
Emperor’s tombs, food fit for a king

Who should skip Hue?
If you have kids, You don’t like history

Hue is the former imperial capital of Vietnam and the seat of the Nguyen dynasty. There are ancient temples, buildings, compounds and gardens to explore. There is the Perfume river promenade to stroll along in the evening. There isn’t a wealth of modern entertainment here though, beyond wandering the city or taking in a movie. There is the famous imperial cuisine, unique to Hue and some of the best in Vietnam. Hue also has a rich tradition of vegetarian food, a great stop for non-meat-eaters.

Hue Architecture from the Empire

 

If Hoi An is on your itinerary, consider a motorcycle tour between the two as a smart way to travel.

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Hoi An (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Hoi An's lanterns, ancient town street and the famous Cao Lau noodle dish

The Ancient Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site

 

What is great about Hoi An?
Well preserved architecture, pretty sites, family-friendly experiences

Who should skip Hoi An?
If you’re not buying souvenirs or suits, you want nightlife, hate touristy cities

The Old Town of Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a remarkably well-preserved port with examples of Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture. Hoi An is the best place in Vietnam to visit if you have young children, it’s safe, fun and easy to walk around. Unfortunately, it’s also become completely reliant on the tourist trade. Walking down any street in the city, you will be greeted with cries of “Come Inside My Shop! Buy Something!”. Prices for everything from food to transportation are much higher in Hoi An than most places in Vietnam. There is some tasty food, from some of the best banh mi in Vietnam to a regionally unique noodle dish called Cao Lau which can only be made using water from a specific well in the city.

If you want a change of scenery, XO Tours’ offers a fun walking food tour and a thrilling scooter tour that takes guests far away from the touristy ancient town and into the beautiful surrounding countryside! You can learn more about our Hoi An Tours by clicking HERE!

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Da Lat (If traveling 2 weeks: 1-2 days; 4 weeks: 2-3 days)

Waterfall, colorful garden adn Dalat nightlife

The Da Lat Highlands is the best way to escape hot weather in Vietnam

What is great about Da Lat?
Pretty architecture, mid-sized city life, cool weather

Who should skip Da Lat?
If you’re short on time.

Da Lat used to be a place for the French rulers to play, relax and escape the weather. It’s been built to feel similar to the French Alps and nowhere is this more visible than walking around the lit up city center at night. Vietnamese tourists in Da Lat leave loaded to the gills with flowers, coffee, fruit, wine and the many other products of the region. There are mountain biking and trekking trips offered, as well as the can’t miss one day canyoning experience, where you’ll get to repel down waterfalls.

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Mekong Delta (1-2 days)

Floating Market in Mekong Delta, Vietnam

 

What is great about the Mekong Delta?
River life, tasty food, incredible produce

Who should skip the Mekong Delta?
If you don’t like a slow pace of life

Tourists in the Delta enjoy the relaxed pace, watching local life along the river and trying the specialty dishes and regional produce. The floating markets of Can Tho have become a tourist destination instead of a working market, but, like Hoi An, it can still be fun to see. With the flat land, minimal traffic and lots to see out on the road, this might be the best part of Vietnam to explore by bicycle.

The Delta is often visited as an organized tour from Ho Chi Minh City. For an authentic tour to the Mekong Delta we would recommend booking a private tour with either Drive Vietnam or Water Buffalo Tours if budget is not an issue. Most of the group tours have very touristy itineraries and all visit the exact same places (coconut candy factory, bee farm, picture with a python, pony cart ride, etc.)

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Nha Trang (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

Nha Trang Ocean Activities

 

What is great about Nha Trang?
beaches, scuba diving, waterfalls, nightlife

Who should skip Nha Trang?
If you hate crowded beaches

Nha Trang is Vietnam’s number one resort town. If you like the quiet beach life, go to Phu Quoc, but if you want sand and sun during the day and dancing and drinks at night, come to Nha Trang. Every water sport you could want is available in Nha Trang, along with some of Vietnam’s best beaches. Even if the weather’s bad, there are plenty of other options for entertainment, including cooking classes, theaters and bowling. In recent years, the city has attracted hoards or Chinese and Russian tourists, so much so that many restaurants and hotels have signs and menus written in these languages.

Nha Trang white sand beach

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Saigon (If traveling 2 weeks: 2-3 days; 4 weeks: 4-5 days)

 

Saigon's cityscape, Ben Thanh market and City Hall

Saigon’s cityscape, Ben Thanh market and City Hall

 

What is great about Ho Chi Minh City?
Amazing street food, great nightlife, back alley wandering

Who should skip Ho Chi Minh City?
If you hate big cities.

Saigon has so much to offer, even though it has a limited number of tourist sites. You don’t need to get to the War Remnants Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace and the Cu Chi tunnels but all of them are worth a visit, depending on your interests. Skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh market and make your way to Ba Chieu market in neighboring Binh Thanh district. The food is much better, the sellers are less pushy and the prices are much more reasonable, though communicating can be a bit difficult. Nowhere in Vietnam offers better nightlife than Saigon, ranging from the world-famous club Apocalypse Now (called Apo by locals) to good sky bars such as Chill and amazing alternative venues like Saigon Outcast. During the day, be sure to get out of district 1; the food is the worst in the city and the priciest. Explore Districts 3, 4 and 8 for great food, Phu Nhuan for amazing coffee shops and District 5 (Cho Lon) for Chinese temples and giant markets.

Short on time? Book one of XO Tours’ famous scooter tours and we will show you the best that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer in a few hours. You can learn more about our fun tours by clicking HERE.

Saigon Cityscape with the iconic Bitexco tower

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Phu Quoc (How much do you like beaches?)

See-through water in Phu Quoc and Barrels of Fish Sauce that's in the making

See-through water in Phu Quoc and Barrels of Fish Sauce that’s in the making

 

What is great about Phu Quoc Island?
Sand, sun, surf

Who should skip Phu Quoc Island?
If you’re not a beach bum

Phu Quoc is the place to be in Vietnam for relaxing alone on the beach. Though it gets more and more developed every year, it is still much less modern than Nha Trang or Phuket, Thailand. It also may be the best place in Vietnam to rent a scooter, as the traffic is minimal and the island is easy to get around. If you’re a fan of the culinary arts, be sure to visit the local pepper farms and fish sauce makers, both of these products are the best in the world and well worth taking home as souvenirs. Snorkeling, diving and night fishing tours are also fun.

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Final advice:

If you have 2 weeks or less in Vietnam, we would recommend sticking to locations in either north or south Vietnam and not to try to cover the entire country. Vietnam is too big, and there is way too much to do, to try to fit in the entire country into such a short trip. You would spend so much time traveling that you wouldn’t have much time to enjoy each of the unique locations. We recommend only including a maximum of 3-4 locations for a 2 week Vietnam itinerary.

We hope you found this blog post helpful in creating the perfect Vietnam itinerary for your trip!

8 Reasons Hoi An Should Be Your Next Travel Destination

 

8 reasons Hoi An Should Be Your Next Travel Destination because of Food, Rice Fields, Beach and Silk Lanterns

Ask anyone who has spent time in Hoi An, the popular UNESCO World Heritage former trading village located in the middle of Vietnam’s sprawling coastline, and they’ll likely give you many reasons why this should be your next travel destination: souvenir shops, restaurants, ancient places, hip-looking coffee shops, nearby rice paddies and much more.

Considering both Hoi An’s size and population, this picturesque town has quite a lot to offer to its visitors. Whether you are a traveler passing by for a few days or someone who wants to explore the ins and outs of this historical destination, you will have your hands full with all sorts of entertainment.

8 Reasons to Visit Hoi An

So, why should you include Hoi An in your travels around Vietnam? Here is a list of 8 compelling reasons that will make you wish that you’d never visited this town in the first place because you will not want to leave afterward!

  1. Tailor Shops
  2. Silk Lanterns
  3. Art Street
  4. Local Food
  5. Rice fields and Tra 
  6. Que Village
  7. Beach
  8. Hoi An Impressions

Map of Featured Places


 

  1. Tailor Shops

When visiting Hoi An, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity of getting a bespoke suit, custom fitted shoes or a tailor-made dress. While needle masters in Savile Row (London) are quite renowned around the world, Vietnamese tailors also produce top-of-the-line designs that meet Western standards while using the finest fabrics. Yaly, Bebe, Kimmy and A Dong Silk are some well known Hoi An Tailors that offer quick turn around, and good service.

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  1. Silk Lanterns

Silk lanterns are everywhere in Hoi An. The reason why has to do with the legacy that Chinese and Japanese left back in the 15th and 16th century when this town used to be Vietnam’s busiest trading port. Some locals will tell you they hang them in front of their homes to bring health, happiness and good luck. The truth is that lanterns give Hoi An a charming and distinctive character at night when visitors wander around Ancient Town admiring the gorgeous street lighting. Every month on the night of the full moon, the Lantern Festival takes place while all transports (even bicycles) are banned from roaming the streets. Our recommendation is to pre-book a table at a riverside restaurant to watch all the fun go by.

Hoi An colorful silk Lanterns

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  1. Art Street

Originally named Courbert Street during the French times, Phan Boi Chau is considered the art and culture street in Hoi An. Once the main street of the French Quarter, the buildings along this avenue reflect French architectural styles with its shops and houses aligned in rows on a broad street. As a matter of fact, as you roam the numerous galleries and cultural spaces on Phan Boi Chau, look out for details of French architecture such as arches, pillars, balconies and the French-style wooden shutters. Here is a little secret: Mr. Duong who owns the house at 25 Phan Boi Chau has many stories to tell about the history of the area. You can ask at the March Gallery if he is available for a short tour.

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  1. Local Food

Hoi An also ranks pretty high on the food scene since it showcases a handful of regional dishes that you won’t find anywhere else in Vietnam. Cao Lau is probably the most renowned local delicacy and will not be found anywhere else but Hoi An. Why? Apparently, the water used for cooking the broth comes from an ancient well (called Cham well) that gives this dish its scrumptious, unique taste. Regardless of the water source, this is a must-try meal that you won’t find anywhere else but Hoi An. Besides this bowl of goodness, other local must-try dishes are Bánh Bao Vạc (White Roses), Com Ga (Chicken Rice) or the Mango Cakes sold on the streets. However, our all-time favorite is Banh Mi Hoi An. Unlike other versions of the popular Vietnamese sandwich, this one seems to have an acquired taste that we haven’t found anywhere else. Apparently, the key to a great Banh Mi is in the owner’s secret sauce. If so, head to Banh mi Phuong at 2B Phan Chu Trinh and try it yourself.

Mi Quang Noddle in Hoi An with green lettuce, shrimp and chicken

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  1. Rice fields and Tra Que Village

One of the most common things to do in Hoi An is cycling around town. While riding your bicycle in the Ancient Town can be a daunting task depending on the time of the day, we recommend heading over the surrounding countryside and enjoy the colourful rice paddies that are just a short ride away from the city centre. If you want to witness the real local experience, do it during the early morning (6-7 AM) when the sunlight shines beautifully over the fields creating amazing textures and colours. If you ride your bicycle along Hai Ba Tung street for about 3km, you will not only find rice paddies but also discover Tra Que Village, a uniquely quaint area of Hoi An full of vegetable gardens and ponds. You will get a glimpse into the country life as you watch the farmers cultivate, care for and harvest their produce. Plus you will suddenly come to the realisation why local dishes taste so good: it’s all about the greens!

Green Rice Field with Sunset in Hoi An

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  1. Beach

Like all of the above wasn’t enough, it turns out that this town is also a beach destination. In fact, if you keep cycling past Tra Que Village on Hai Ba Trung, you will end up at the nicest spot on Hoi An’s coastline: An Bang beach. Only 4 kilometres away from the city centre, head over here in the afternoon to cap off a busy day of sightseeing and souvenir shopping. Whether you want to sit back and relax under a sun umbrella or enjoy yourself knee deep in the water, this is the go-to beach in Hoi An since the once-popular Cua Dai beach is now suffering from severe erosion. On a clear day, you will be able to spot Da Nang’s coastline and its tall buildings, or even the mountains in Son Tra Peninsula if you get really lucky.

Hoi An beach with fishing boat and blue sky

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  1. Photography

This picturesque town is a photographer’s paradise. It doesn’t matter whether you are an avid photographer or someone who recently started taking pictures, your camera will fall head over hills in love with Hoi An. Its colonial buildings with wooden structures, the quays and canals that make up the townscape and the locals hanging out at every other corner simply make the best scene for your shots. And if you don’t believe us, pay a visit to the French photographer Rehahn’s gallery/museum called ‘Precious Heritage’ (located on the aforementioned Art Street, Phan Boi Chau) where visitors can enjoy looking at his beautifully taken photographs of Hoi An (where he is settled) as well as the shots of the 54 ethnic groups scattered across Vietnam.

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  1. Hoi An Impression Theme Park 

The latest addition to the entertainment scene, Hoi An Impression Theme Park is a long way off being finished but the lovely open-air theatre is already showing the play ‘Hoi An Memories Sceneries’. The show covers the history of this commercial trading port while offering a glimpse of what life would have been like from the 15th to the 19th century. Apart from the cast of over 500 actors and a 25,000 square meters, the lighting and sound put together an incredible show that makes this play an unforgettable experience that you don’t want to miss out.

 

 

We hope you enjoyed reading about the 8 reasons to Visit Hoi An! Once you’re done with everything on this list you might consider exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside! XO Tours offers an amazing morning motorbike tour and fun evening walking food tour that explores the island of Cam Kim, which has virtually been untouched by tourism. On both tours, you’ll get to each some delicious local food, while getting to meet the local people in their homes and places of work! You can book one or both of our Hoi An tours by clicking HERE. We hope to see you in Hoi An soon!

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5 Incredible Islands in Vietnam

When it comes to tropical islands in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is often overlooked in favour of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. But, as we shall see in this XO Tours Blog, the islands in Vietnam are equal to its neighbors in natural beauty, historical interest and, most importantly, wow factor. What’s more, because the beach-seeking masses tend to flock to other nations in the region, this leaves Vietnam’s pearls in the ocean relatively quiet in comparison. North, south and central regions all boast alluring islands, where velvet seas lap the white sands of hidden coves, and rugged, jungle-covered interiors form a mesmerizing tropical backdrop. Transport to these specks in the ocean is improving and so too is the infrastructure on the islands, making them more accessible and comfortable than ever before.

 

Vietnam's Islands

 

In this XO Tours blog, we’ve summarized the charms of 5 of Vietnam’s islands, including practical information to help you on your way. Click on an island from the list below to read more about it:

Here are the 5 Incredible Islands in Vietnam!

 


 

CON DAO ISLANDS:

Why go?

Isolated, seldom-visited yet easily accessible and utterly beautiful, Con Dao is a candidate for Vietnam’s best kept secret (so don’t tell anyone else!). The main island of Con Son is rugged and jungle-covered. At several points around the island, the rocks give way to soft sand backed by jagged, windswept mountains, like a scene from Jurassic Park. Once a penal colony run by the colonial French, many Vietnamese consider this a haunted island; stalked by the ghosts of tens of thousands of political prisoners who died while incarcerated here from 1862 to 1975. But, although the past is commemorated in the  museums (including the prisons themselves), Con Son’s future is all about pleasure: frolicking in the gin-clean waters, ambling under palms on the beach, trekking through the jungled interior, enjoying Vietnam’s best diving, strolling along the romantic seafront promenade backed by fading French villas, or pampering yourself in ultra-luxurious resorts.

 

Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

Beautiful beach on Con Dao

 

What to do?

Beaches are few but very scenic. They are best explored by renting a scooter or bicycle and riding the deserted coast road. Trekking is fabulous on Con Son Island, thanks to new walking trails through the jungles and mountains, which are all part of the national park. Visiting the prison museums will open your eyes as to what this beautiful island was once like for thousands of political prisoners, who were held in appalling conditions. Former inmates include some of Vietnam’s most famous revolutionaries. Diving (by far the best in Vietnam) and boat trips to the outlying islands is easily arranged. And simply walking along the seafront promenade of old Con Son town is a highlight: nowhere else in Vietnam will you find empty, quiet and charming streets like these (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Con Dao Archipelago is a group of 15 rugged islands, 80km off Vietnam’s southeastern-most coast.

 

When to go?

Being right out in the middle of the ocean, the Con Dao Islands get hit by both the northeast and the southwest monsoons. The best time to visit is from early spring to mid-summer (February to July). During this time of year, the water can be calm and clear as glass, and winds are relatively light, although monsoon downpours are common.

 

How to get there?

There are two options: by air or sea. The islands are just a 45 minute flight from Saigon. Vietnam Airlines flies 4 to 6 times daily in both directions on a propeller aircraft. By boat it’s a 12-hour voyage on a small, cramped vessel, departing Vung Tau every couple of days. The journey begins at dusk and ends at dawn. Boats are often cancelled due to rough seas.

 

Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

Seafront promenade of old Con Son town, Con Dao

 

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CAT BA ISLAND:

Why go?

Cat Ba is a large and arrestingly beautiful island in the middle of Halong Bay. From here there are marvelous vistas of the surrounding spectacle of limestone monoliths rising out of the blue sea. The island itself is a fantasy world of shimmering jungles, soaring limestone peaks, exotic bays and hidden coves. Staying on Cat Ba Island is a way to beat the crowds that descend on Halong Bay, mostly on overnight cruises. On Cat Ba Island, you can explore Halong Bay at a more leisurely pace, without being herded around like cattle from place to place on a tourist boat.

 

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

 

What to do?

Cat Ba is excellent territory for outdoorsy travellers. Hiking or biking in the rugged national park, kayaking in the gorgeous bays, and some of the best rock climbing in Vietnam (see image below), make it one of the best overall destinations for adrenaline seekers. But, for those with less energy, Cat Ba offers several lovely stretches of sand to relax on, and short boat trips to Lan Ha Bay, where isolated limestone islets prick the seas of the Gulf of Tonkin. A quick jump in the balmy waters and a seafood lunch on the beach is all the energy you’ll need to expend.

 

Where is it?

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay. It’s located 45km east of Haiphong and 50km south of Halong City. The island is surrounded by small limestone islets that make up the dramatic land-and-sea-scape that Halong Bay is famous for.

 

When to go?

Late autumn, just after the monsoon storms have passed and the holidays are over, is the best time to visit Cat Ba Island. November is our favourite month on the island, but the middle of spring (April and May) is also good. In the summer months, humidity is high, tropical downpours frequent, and tourist numbers (both foreign and domestic) are at their highest. In the winter months, it can be cold, drizzly and misty.

 

How to get there?

Cat Ba Island is most easily reached from Haiphong. There are usually four daily sailings in both directions on hydrofoils; the journey takes 1 hour. There is a ferry from Tuan Chau Island, just south of Halong City, but it docks at the ‘wrong’ end of Cat Ba Island, from where there is only skeletal transportation to the main town. Cat Ba Island is also well-connected to Hanoi thanks to an excellent bus-and-boat link operated by Hoang Long Buses.

 

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Rock climbing on Cat Ba Island

 

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PHU QUOC ISLAND:

Why go?

Vietnam’s most talked-about island, Phu Quoc has long been touted as the next Phuket. For years it’s been the darling of backpackers looking for long, deserted, tropical beaches to chill-out on. But now, with the completion of massive new infrastructure (an international airport and extensive road network), the island is firmly on the radar of mass tourism. The beaches are bright, the water is blue, the interior is green, and there are a great number of accommodations to choose from. Getting here is easy from anywhere in Vietnam and, increasingly, from regional hubs across Southeast Asia too. This is Vietnam’s biggest island and, despite all the development, there’s still room for exploration and finding your very own stretch of sand to lie out on.

 

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

White sand beach on Phu Quoc Island

 

What to do?

The number-one ‘activity’ on Phu Quoc is lying on the beach under a palm tree, with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other; broken only by fresh seafood meals and swims in the balmy, mirror-flat Gulf of Thailand. The island is covered by a dense canopy of jungle, of which the majority is part of Phu Quoc National Park. For a taste of the damp, life-filled jungle, take a trip to one of the waterfalls, or arrange a trek in the national park. Rent a scooter to explore the coastal and inland roads: you’ll be rewarded with stretches of empty beach, isolated fishing hamlets, and tidy little pepper farms. Diving, snorkeling and boats to outlying islands make an excellent day trip. At night, try a squid fishing trip on a wooden boat, complete with fresh-caught seafood dinner on-board. Local life can be experienced by taking an early morning stroll around the chaotic fish market in Duong Dong town (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is one of the most westerly points in Vietnam. 50km off from the southwestern Mekong Delta, it’s closer to Cambodia than Vietnam.

 

When to go?

By far the best time of year to visit Phu Quoc is the dry season, between December and April. During this time, the sea is as still and calm as an infinity pool. The skies are blue, the sun is warm, but mornings and evenings are fresh and cool. Temperatures begin to soar in late spring, and from July tropical downpours are common, seas get choppy and water can be murky.

 

How to get there?

Phu Quoc’s new airport receives dozens of domestic and international flights every day. Within Vietnam, there are direct flights to the island from Saigon and Hanoi. Competition among airlines keeps prices reasonably low. Because flights from Saigon to Phu Quoc are so regular, it’s easy to connect from any major city in Vietnam. An increasing number of regional hubs also fly direct to Phu Quoc, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Phu Quoc is also connected to mainland Vietnam by boat: both the Mekong Delta towns of Rach Gia and Ha Tien have several daily services to the island.

 

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Fish market in Duong Dong town, Phu Quoc Island

 

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CHAM ISLANDS:

Why go?

A tiny collection of islands just off the coast of central Vietnam, the Cham Islands have been accessible to foreign tourists for some years now. Despite being within easy reach of one of Vietnam’s most famous tourist spots, Hoi An, development has been slow. Only the largest island is inhabited and it’s here that you’ll find tantalizing ribbons of white sand, blue bays and densely forested hills. Most of the tourism here is based around day trips on boats from Hoi An, including beach-hopping, snorkeling and seafood lunches. However, for more intrepid travellers, it’s possible to escape the day-tripping crowds by travelling to the islands independently via public boat and then camping on the beach. But you’ll need time and patience to do this.

 

Cham Islands, Vietnam

Wooden dock on Cham Island

 

What to do?

Diving, snorkeling and swimming are the most popular activities on and around the islands (see image below). Most day tours from Hoi An have snorkeling equipment. Diving can be arranged through The Dive Bar in Hoi An. Cycling around the island on its beautiful (but very steep) coastal roads is the best way to explore the beaches. Hire a bike from Hoi An and take it on the public ferry to the island.

 

Where is it?

The Cham Islands are around 20km off the central Vietnamese coast, east of Hoi An and Danang. There are 8 islands in this mini-archipelago, but only one, Hon Lao, is inhabited but this is known to most travellers simply as Cham Island.

 

When to go?

Late spring to late summer is best: the weather is warm and sunny most days, but there are still plenty of tropical downpours around. During the winter months, seas can be rough and temperatures pretty chilly (for Vietnam). Avoid weekends and public holidays, when the island’s beaches become crowded with domestic tourists.

 

How to get there?

Many tour operators in Hoi An can arrange day trip packages to the Cham Islands, including transport. Alternatively, there is a daily local ferry (2 hours) leaving Hoi An in the morning, which allows you to travel to the islands independently. You can even take a bicycle with you to amble around the island on two wheels.

 

Cham Islands, Vietnam

Snorkeling around Cham Islands

 

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QUAN LAN ISLAND:

Why go?

Quan Lan is one of the thousands of islands that make up Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. What makes Quan Lan special is that, despite being easily accessible, extremely scenic, and having a handful of decent accommodation options, it receives a tiny fraction of the tourist traffic that has, in many cases, ruined the experience of other islands in the bay. Quan Lan is a thin slither of an island, with excellent beaches along its eastern shore, and two small, sleepy hamlets at its southern and northern tips. Its sandy bays are wide are long, the sea is blue and calm, local fishermen are friendly, and seafood is superb. If you want to experience Halong Bay off-the-beaten-track, Quan Lan is what you’re looking for.

 

Quan Lan Island, Vietnam

Isolated beach on Quan Lan Island

 

What to do?

Quan Lan Island’s main appeal is its slow pace of life and lack of things to do. Cycling or riding a scooter along the length of the island on the only road is a great way to explore. Swimming and relaxing on the beaches will occupy most of your time. But there are a couple of historical sites too: the ruins of Van Don, which was once an important trading post, lie in the northeast of the island, and there’s an attractive, two hundred-year-old pagoda in the south (see image below).

 

Where is it?

Quan Lan is a long and slender island in Bai Tu Long Bay (just northeast of Halong Bay). Its western shore looks out over other limestone islands in the bay, while its eastern shore looks onto open sea.

 

When to go?

As with Cat Ba Island and the rest of Halong Bay, Quan Lan is at its best in late autumn and high spring. The summer months can get busy with holidaymakers from Hanoi, and prices rise accordingly.

 

How to get there?

Quan Lan can be reached from either Halong City, on the mainland, or Cai Rong port on Van Don Island. The latter has the most frequent ferry connections to Quan Lan, with at least four separate sailings in both directions each day. Journey time is about 1 hour. From Halong City there is only one fast boat a day to Quan Lan Island (90 minutes), but the journey through the limestone karsts in the bay is glorious.

 

Quan Lan Island, Vietnam

Pagoda on Quan Lan Island

 

We hope you enjoyed this blog post showcasing the best 5 Islands in Vietnam! If you’re more interested in beaches, please read our post about the “Top 5 Best Beach Destinations in Vietnam.”

For more great Vietnam travel tips, please be sure to bookmark this XO Tours Blog. We hope to see you back soon!

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Top 5 Historical Sites to Explore in Hoi An Ancient Town

“It looks straight off a postcard!” That could easily be one of the first statements that someone would make when they visit Hoi An, Vietnam. Its streets full of lanterns and colorful colonial houses wow travelers when they set foot in its Ancient Town for the first time. This coastal town definitely holds a long-standing history where both indigenous and foreign influences have played a major role. This results in its various historical sites that make up a unique heritage of Hoi An.

Hoi An history: The Biggest trading port in Vietnam back in the day

Check out the top 5 sites in Hoi An

What makes Hoi An history so special? It represents a perfect example of a melting pot that has evolved over time in an international commercial port. Considered the most important harbor in Vietnam during the 16th century,  merchants from all over the world (China, Japan, Holland, and India mainly) found shelter in this small town located in Central Vietnam. As years went by, they forged a rich, diverse culture that still attracts thousands of visitors every year. During the years of Chinese occupation, Hoi An was known as ‘Hai Pho’ (village near the sea in Vietnamese). This later turned into ‘Faifo’ during the Indochina times under the French colonization.

Just by walking around its many historical sites, travelers will realize the tremendous cultural value contained in each aged facade or communal house around the Ancient Town. In fact, its authenticity proves to be a trademark trait since Hoi An has managed to preserve its traditional wooden architecture and townscape. Its original street plan with buildings backing onto the river as well as its layout made up of canals, quays and bridges remain as it once was.

Smiling Female tourist enjoy with Ho An friendly local street seller in Hoi An Ancient Town

A female tourist has fun with Hoi An local street seller in Hoi An Ancient Town

Top 5 Places to Visit

Japanese Bridge

Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall

Duc An Old House

Cam Pho Communal House

Thanh Ha Terracota Park

Visiting Map

Most of the spots are within walking distance so its a good day tour. You could stretch it out and really take some incredible photos and mix with the locals but most people find 1 day is sufficient to take it in.

Now that you know the story behind Hoi An history and what makes it a living museum, let’s explore the top 5 Hoi An historical sites that you shouldn’t miss out when visiting this picturesque coastal town.  By the way, you can enter up to five places when buying the ticket (120,000 VND) that gives access to the 22 buildings or points of interest spread around the Ancient Town, so this list is a perfect match to tear all coupons off your tourist pass. That sounds like a lot of places to visit! If you are traveling in a rush, these are custom itineraries so you can get the most of Hoi An in one day.

Lanterns with Japanese writings are lit all over Hoi An at night

Lanterns are the colorful and beautiful uniqueness of Hoi An

  1. Japanese Covered Bridge, the city originally named “Hai Pho” was divided in two parts. Why so? The iconic bridge separated the Japanese community from all the others, mainly Chinese groups that came from different provinces in the land of the Red Dragon. Besides its fascinating architecture, this bridge holds a hidden gem: there is a small pagoda in the middle where fishermen worship the northern god Tran Vo Mac De, considered to be the deity of weather. Make sure your cross this unique bridge and take a sneak peek inside the tiny temple before exploring the most artistic part of town on the other side.
  2. Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall (46 Trn Phú, Minh An) is the most famous and established hall in the Ancient City. Like we mentioned earlier, many Chinese settled in Hoi An during the 16th and 17th century. These merchants came from different provinces such as Guangzhou, Fujian, Chiu Chow and Hainan and they tended to huddle around pagodas that turned into their assembly halls.  in this place, the Chinese from Fujian would celebrate their cultural heritage while paying tribute to their ancestors. Inside this assembly hall, you will find three deities that are all related to fishing (Thien Hau, sea goddess; Than Phong Nhi, who listens to the sound of distant ships; and Then Ly Nhan, who sees those faraway boats).  On top of that, the place is beautifully decorated with ancient Chinese structures and, at the back of the hall, there is a large and very impressive dragon statue.

     The upper architecture of a Chinese temple in a Hoi An historical site

    Hoi An traditional Chinese Temple architecture can be seen on the entrance to Phuoc Kien.

     

  3.  Duc An Old House (129 Tran Phu) has done a genuine effort to present some real history and to remain intact despite the fact that 400 years have gone by. The surviving wooden structures scattered around the Ancient Town are original and intact, a living example of the traditional South East Asian trading port and commercial center that Hoi An once was. Unfortunately, many of these old houses have sold out to the tourist industry and turned into restaurants, cafes, bars, tailors or souvenir shops.  A nice step back in time, this building from 1850 portrays what life would be like in Hoi An two or three hundred years ago when this family hosted the most successful bookshop in central Vietnam selling renowned Vietnamese and Chinese texts along with the works of foreign political figures at the time. If you are lucky enough to meet one of the family descendants, they will show you around enthusiastically and tell you tales of their childhood times spent in this ancient house.
  4. Cam Pho (Communal House of the Cantonese Chinese Community)(52 Nguyn Th Minh Khai) is one of the oldest structures in the village (more than 200 years old) and an intrinsic part of the merchant heritage of this town. Communal houses in Vietnam used to be not only a place of worship but also an administrative center to hold meetings of the village’s officials. These buildings helped preserved the deep-rooted culture and served as meeting points for holding cultural activities and celebrations. Among the 23 communal houses in Hoi An, located about 100 meters away from the aforementioned Japanese Covered Bridge, this communal house worships the local golds of the village and its ancestors, thus its Vietnamese name Cam Pho Huong Bien (Ancestors of Cam Pho). If shopping in the vicinity, just enter and explore this colorful house that looks more like a temple nowadays. Plus there aren’t many tourists inside which makes the visit more enjoyable and peaceful.
  5. Thanh Ha Terracota Park is located in Than Ha Pottery Village -3km west of the Ancient Town of Hoi An. It might not be a historical site itself but it does represent the long-standing pottery tradition that craftsmen have developed over the years in Central Vietnam. In fact, this village became famous due to the distinctive Ying-Yang titles that fill many roofs in the old city of Hoi An. Apart from all the interesting terracotta models, ranging from unique artworks to impressive miniature models of world buildings and monuments, the architectural design of the park truly makes this place worth seeing. Ride a bicycle from the Ancient Town to the Terracotta Park to make the visit even more adventurous while you soak in all the green scenery and surroundings of Hoi An.  Besides the exhibits, visitors can also take part in the experience and make pieces of pottery themselves.

We include the individual maps of the 5 historical sites we mentioned above to help you navigate more easily:

  1. Map of Japanese Covered Bridge 

  2. Map of Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall (46 Tran Phu)

  3. Map of Duc An Old House(129 Tran Phu)


  4. Map of Cam Pho (52 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai)

  5. Map of Thanh Ha Terracota Park

     

What are your favorite historic places in Hoi An? Any other sites that we should include on this list? Let us know about the must-see spots that you would recommend visiting in this picturesque coastal town.

If you’re looking for something unique to do in Hoi An, you might consider booking one of the unique experiences offered by XO Tours. Both our morning motorbike and evening walking tours take guests far outside the touristy old town and into the picturesque Cam Kim countryside where guests will have a chance to visit the local people in their homes and places of work. You can learn more about both the “Dinner with the Nguyens” and “Riding with the Nguyens” tours by checking out their respective info pages in the footer below.

Money in Vietnam – How to pay for purchases, exchange currency and withdraw cash

 

Which currency (money) you should be used when you go to a specific country is one of the most important subjects travelers should research before visiting, because you’re not going to get too far without knowing which currency is most commonly accepted. The general rule is that it’s best to use the local currency when you travel because it should be accepted almost anywhere. In countries where the local currency is devaluing extremely quickly, however (e.g. Venezuela, Argentina), you don’t really want to be caught holding a currency that loses value every day. Additionally, many shops and restaurants in developing countries do not accept credit or debit card, so sometimes cash is the only option.

So, what’s the story on currency and money in Vietnam? Hopefully, this XO Tours blog post will take away most of the confusion regarding which currency to use in Vietnam, as well as the misunderstanding that usually comes with the topic of money in Vietnam.
Money in Vietnam Table of Content:

  1. How to pay for purchases in Vietnam?
  2. How to Exchange your currency to VND?
  3. How to Withdraw Cash at ATMs in Vietnam?
  4. Using Creditcard in Vietnam
  5. How Vietnamese Dong Papers look like?

How to pay for your purchases in Vietnam?

The official currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND). There is nothing that cannot be purchased in Vietnam with the Dong. It’s worth pointing out that it’s actually illegal in Vietnam to request payment in any currency other than Dong. If this is the case, you might ask why the prices for so many things in Vietnam (e.g accommodation and tours), are listed in US dollars (USD)? The main reason is for comparison purposes, seeing as few people would understand how the Vietnamese Dong compares with their own country’s currency. Whereas most people would have an understanding of how their currency compares to the USD. For reference, as at March 2018, $1 USD is worth approximately 22,800 Dong.

Now, the big question! Can I pay for things in Vietnam using USD? Yes, it is widely accepted by many hotels, shops and restaurants.

Now, the second part to the big question! Should I pay for things in USD when in Vietnam? While you can, there is a downside to doing so. The exchange rate will be one that will be set by the vendor, which is more likely to be to their benefit rather than yours. As such, whatever it is that you’re purchasing, it’s likely to cost you more than it should. Now that we know that we need Dong to survive in Vietnam, how do we go about getting it?

The saying ‘Cash is King’, is certainly very true in Vietnam. And because things are relatively cheap there, compared to ‘home’, it’s not difficult dealing solely with cash.

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How to exchange your own currency in Vietnam

First off, it’s important to mention that you will get a much better rate when you change your currency in Vietnam, as opposed to changing in your home country. So unless you like giving money away, it’s strongly recommended to wait until you arrive. Many currencies from around the world are widely accepted for exchange, including US dollars, Pounds, Euros and Australian dollars.

When it comes to exchanging foreign currency, you have a few options:

Banks and foreign exchange businesses being the main ones, but surprisingly some of the best places to exchange currency are gold shops / jewelry stores. Banks have more formal procedures which means you’ll need to show your passport, as well as fill out forms. You also might have to wait in line for awhile if there are a lot of customers at the bank. Foreign exchange stores are very straight forward, in that you hand over your currency, and instantly receive the equivalent in VND. Exchanging money at gold shops, while technically illegal, is also very simple. No forms to fill out, and passport not required; again, it’s a straight swap. If you’re in a small town and cannot find a currency exchange or gold shop, many tour agents will also offer currency exchange.

Interestingly, even the airport exchange booths are very competitive on rates when compared with the exchange stores and gold shops, dotted around the cities. So, all very straightforward, but is there anything else you need to be aware of before you exchange your hard-earned currency for a fistful of Dong?

Yes, a few things…..

  • First, have an idea of what the current exchange rate is for the currency you are about to change. You can do this by downloading one of the many currency apps found on most smartphones, or even just simply having a shortcut link to a currency exchange website, on your phone. What the app, or the website, states as the most current exchange rate, won’t be exactly what you will be offered. But, it will give you an idea of what the rate is, and what you are offered should be reasonably close to it.
    If it’s not, walk out and try another place.
  • Second, make sure the notes that you are going to exchange are in good condition. Torn and damaged notes may not be accepted, and even notes that have been written on may be a problem.
  • Third, make sure you are given a range of VND notes, including some lower denomination ones. ‘Breaking’ 500,000 dong notes can be a problem when purchasing low cost items, so having a range of notes that include 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 Dong notes will make life much easier.
  • Fourth, make sure you count out the notes you receive in front of the person you are exchanging with, before you leave the shop.
  • Finally, it’s best not to change too much money in one transaction.  Most likely, the Dong notes you receive are going to take up considerably more room in your wallet than your own currency.

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Using ATMs in Vietnam

ATM location Agribank, Sacombank, BIDV Bank

Withdrawing money in Vietnam

 

So, not interested in exchanging currency, or just don’t feel comfortable carrying around that much cash? Or perhaps you’d just like another option? ATM’s  are your answer, then.

ATMs are everywhere in Vietnam. You generally won’t have to walk too far in most cities to find one. But, like exchanging currency, there are some things that you need to know about Vietnam’s ATMs.

  • ATMs in Vietnam only dispense Vietnam Dong.
  • All ATM machines have varying withdrawal limits for each transaction.The limit varies from machine to machine, and from bank to bank, and can be anywhere between 2,000,000 and around 10,000,000 Dong, with most being towards the lower end of that range. This doesn’t stop you from making several withdrawals, one after another, but you do need to be aware that there is an ATM fee for each withdrawal. This fee again varies from bank to bank, but is usually somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 dong, per transaction.

What about the ‘hidden’ charges your own bank is going to sting you on international transactions? These charges could actually make the ATM fee look like small change. And if you’re using a low limit machine; needing to withdraw several times to get the amount you require, you could well be in for a rude shock when you check your bank statement when you get home. These charges will vary from bank to bank, but you could be looking at a fee of around $5 per transaction. This might not sound like a lot, but it quickly adds up if you’re restricted to withdrawals of around $100. So if you’re planning to use ATMs in Vietnam, try to apply for a card from a bank that does not charge you extra for withdrawing money internationally.

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How to use Credit Cards in Vietnam

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Although the number of businesses in Vietnam that will accept credit card has increased dramatically in recent years, aside from large Vietnam hotels, some tour operators, large supermarkets and some restaurants, most businesses in Vietnam still do not accept credit card. Even for businesses that do accept credit cards, be aware that some merchants will add a minimum 3% surcharge onto the purchase price in addition to the foreign transaction fees that your own credit card company may charge you. As with the advice we gave regarding ATMs cards, try to sign up with a credit card provider that does not charge international transaction fees before traveling. In summary, we would only recommend using credit card for large purchases where you can earn reward points or in case of emergency.

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VIETNAM DONG – NOTES

Vietnamese notes come in various denominations, with the main ones being of the plastic polymer variety.
The denominations in plastic include 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000.
There are also some older paper notes, and these come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000

WHAT THE PLASTIC NOTES LOOK LIKE

500000VND Note front

500,000VND Note front

500000VND Note front

500,000VND Note Back

500.000VND = 21.95 USD | = 29.07 AUD (May 2018)

200000 VND Note

200,000 VND Note front

200000 VND Note back

200,000 VND Note back

 

100000 VND Note back

100,000 VND Note front

100000 VND Note front

100,000 VND Note back

 

50000 VND Note front

50,000 VND Note front

50000 VND Note back

50,000 VND Note back

 

20000 VND Note back

20,000 VND Note front

20000 VND Note front

20,000 VND Note back

 

10000 VND Note

10,000 VND Note front

10000 VND Note

10,000 VND Note back

 

As you can see, there are lots of zeros. And that can be a little confusing at the start. Adding to the confusion is that some of the notes are of a similar colour, so make sure you are aware of which note you are handing over, as well as any notes you are receiving.

THE LOWER VALUE PAPER NOTES

1000 VND Note

1,000 VND Note

2000 VND Note

2,000 VND Note

5000 VND Note

5,000 VND Note

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You will receive the lower denomination paper notes quite often as change, and while they are worth very little, they do add up when you have a lot of them. These smaller notes can be very handy for low-cost items such as bottled water, either off the street from a vendor, or one of the many small convenience stores you’ll see on your travels. Which brings us to which are the notes that you always want to have on hand? While the 500,000 dong notes are great for larger purchases, like accommodation and paying for tours, they’re not so ideal for every day purchases like drinks, food, souvenirs, and even taxi fares. Many of the day to day things you’re likely to be buying will be less than 100,000 dong, and if that’s the case, then handing over a 500,000 dong note for a 50,000 dong purchase can be problematic when it comes to receiving change. Always try and keep a few 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dong notes in your purse or wallet for those smaller purchases. And if you’re finding yourself running low on those denominations, look for opportunities to ‘break’ a 500,000 dong note. Those convenience stores mentioned earlier, can be handy for that.

So, with a bit more of an understanding about your options when it comes to money, hopefully now you’ll have the confidence to go out and really enjoy Vietnam.

If you want some help in making the most of your time in Vietnam, you might consider booking one of more tours with XO Tours in Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An. XO Tours was recently named one of the top 9 food tours in the worlds by Forbes! You can learn more about all the tours XO offers by clicking HERE.