I've been to Vietnam 5 times since 2008, and will be there again in March '14. Saigon is fine except that it's very westernized, and very large and spread out. I prefer Hanoi and the north since it's more exotic, and I know more people there. Hoi An on the central coast is the favorite resort city of most travelers, and close to the larger cities of Danang and Hue. The most colorful area is the NW Highlands because the local minorities all wear their native dress full time, and it's also just plain beautiful country. I like to use domestic air travel since highway travel can be dangerous in VN. English is widely understood on the tourist trail, and the Vietnamese people are extremely outgoing and friendly. Petty crime against travelers is most often found in Saigon and Nha Trang.
Anyone visiting this country should do extensive research prior to travel - the culture is considerably different from the rest of SE Asia, and when the traveler understands the culture, current scams, visa information, etc. - just makes for a more successful trip. The best online resource for all SE Asia travel can be found at Travelfish.org.
[ Edit: Edited on 17-Dec-2013, at 09:18 by Daawgon ]
Flights from Vietnam to Thailand are not as cheap as you may think, so remember to check that before you make plans. Internal flights are rediculously cheap with Jetstar and Vietjet doing all the major routes for around $40 all in. Make sure you check other airlines for the flight to VN and not rely on Air Asia as they have so many add ons, it is often cheaper to fly with a national airline (eg. Vietnam Airlines).
Visa on arrival is the easiest way, but remember you MUST fly in to qualify for this visa. You cannot change your plans and use it overland.
HCMC felt more like a base to explore the surrounding areas, as others have listed, whereas Hanoi is like an attraction in itself. You can then easily visit Halong Bay, or fly down to Danang, taking a shared taxi to Hoi An.
We travelled for about 3 and a half weeks through Vietnam so please have a read of my blog if you want more information on a specific place.
With 5/6 days in Vietnam, I recommend you travel in Hanoi – Halong Bay – Sapa (North Vietnam), Sapa has many natural sites such as Ham Rong Mountain, Silver Waterfall, Rattan Bridge, Bamboo Forest and Ta Phin Cave. Sapa is also the starting point for many climbers and scientists who want to reach the top of Fansipan Mountain, the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143m. I recommend an itinerary as suggestion:
- Day 1: flight to Hanoi, around the city, then transfer to train station around 8pm to have a train to Lao Cai, overnight on board
- Day 2: come to Lao Cai at 6am, take coach to Sapa. Visit Y Linh Ho village, Muong Hoa Valley, Lao Chai village, Ta Van village
- Day 3: Visit Giang Ta Chai village, Muong Hoa River, Suspending Bridge, Supan village. In the afternoon, transfer to Lao Cai and take a train to Hanoi
- Day 4: Come Hanoi at 6am, you transfer to Ha Long Bay, overnight in Halong Bay
- Day 5: transfer from Halong Bay to Hanoi, around city, overnight in Hanoi
- Day 6: Hannoi Departure