Eat on the Street: "Real" Vietnamese food is best at street side or in small market areas, and though it might be a little grungy or off-putting to some, dining alfresco in old Indochina offers the most authentic and delicious meals. Prepare yourself for some adventurous dining. If you're in Ho Chi Minh City, try Quan An Ngon Restaurant for a safe overview of Vietnamese fare.
Get Lost in the Markets: In Vietnam, the market -- spelled Cho and pronounced like the beginning of the word could -- is the epicenter of culture and commerce. The best market for tourists is Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, which caters to foreign visitors with low-cost T-shirts, souvenirs, and local treats. Every town has a market: Dalat's market, with its delicious strawberry preserves; Hoi An's busy riverside fish market and wholesale silk market; Hanoi's sprawling Dong Xuan Market; and the hilltribe markets of Sapa and Bac Ha in the far north.
Visit Hilltribe Groups: Vietnam's remote mountain regions, the Central Highlands and the far north, are home to a patchwork of ethnic minorities. Ethnic hilltribe people still practice their own brands of animistic religion and wear colorful traditional clothing. Travelers among them, in places like Sapa and Bac Ha in the far north or near Buon Ma Thuot or Kontum in the Central Highlands, can even experience a homestay in some villages through certain eco-tours and trekking companies.
See the Water Puppets of Hanoi: Okay, this is one for the tour buses, but the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi is magical. Intricate puppets emerge from the surface of a small watery stage as if by magic, telling tales of old Vietnam. Don't miss it.
Take a Wild Ride: Whether through Hanoi's narrow alleyways and mazelike neighborhoods or on the broad boulevards of busy Ho Chi Minh City, the traffic in Vietnam is a trip. Darwinian road rules mean that any ride by motorcycle, car, or bus is a test of faith, as drivers swerve and angle through some of the world's craziest traffic. In Vietnam, "getting there" is an adventure in itself.
Celebrate the Tet Holiday: This Lunar New Year celebration in early February is the most important event on the calendar. Should you be in Vietnam at this time of year, the greatest gift you could get is an invite to a family's Tet celebration. Bring a little something to eat as a contribution, and enjoy some of the most unique hospitality in the world.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.