You may be surprised that the small southeast Asian country of Vietnam has such a diversified and impressive list of sights, places, and activities. With a group of travel experts joining me, here are 18 amazing places for the unique Vietnamese experience!
Wander in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam. It is the hub of the country’s connection to the outside world, and also the cultural and political center. There are a number of unique things to see, eat and do in Hanoi: Unwind in Hoàn Kiếm Lake and look for the giant turtle, catch a water puppet show, ride a cyclo, explore Vietnamese cuisine, yes, other than Phở, sit on mini stools by the streets at night and enjoy a Hanoi beer, admire historic monuments where East meets West, follow the footsteps of Ho Chi Minh and learn about the country’s past… but if you are in the city for a limited time, I find wandering in Hanoi´s old quarter one of the most iconic experiences in Vietnam. The old quarter is the tourist center and it features a number of landmarks that represents the country and explain its past. Besides, take a stroll (and survive the insane traffic) as you will discover the locals’ way of living, through their food, activities, and so many more.
Visit the golden-colored rice terraces in northern Vietnam
Jackie and Justin from Life of Doing
Sapa, located in Lào Cai Province and nearby the north Vietnam-China border, is known for its gorgeous mountainous landscape with rice terraces, ethnic minority villages, and the highest peak in Vietnam, Fansipan.
Many locals and tourists visit Sapa as a quick escape from the capital, Hanoi. It takes 5-6 hours by overnight bus or mini-van.
The most popular time to visit is during September and October to see the golden-colored rice terraces before harvesting. The other times of the year are fine to visit. Just know that the winter and early spring months (November to March) are colder, so jackets are needed.
The best thing to include on a Sapa itinerary is to go trekking. Whether the trekking is one day or multi-days, it’s recommended to have a local guide take you through rice terraces and ethnic minority villages such as Cat Cat Village or Lao Chai Village. It’s a fun opportunity to meet the locals and see their lifestyles. If the trekking is multi-day, then staying overnight at a homestay and eating dinner with the local family will be included.
Another trekking opportunity is to Fansipan. One or two days are needed to climb Fansipan and reach the peak at 3,143 meters (10,312 feet). It’s challenging due to the altitude so training and having a guide are recommended. For those who do not want to hike, visitors can take the cable car from the Sapa city center. The cable car will drop off visitors close to the peak, but stair climbing is still necessary.
Definitely add a visit to Sapa on a future trip to Vietnam.
Mù Cang Chải
Mù Cang Chải district is a rural district in the south of Lào Cai and it is also one of the most popular destinations for tourists and those teaching English to have a view of the impressive rice terraces. The rice terrace fields in La Pan Tan, Che Cu Nha (Tsev Kub Nyiab), and Ze Xu Phinh have been recognized as national landscapes. The best time to visit these fields is during the rice harvest around the beginning of October.
Another popular location to go trekking is Hà Giang. It is located in the far north of Vietnam, at the border of China and the looping route is best explored on two wheels. If you are heading there for a trekking tour, you will get to see breathing sceneries, rugged mountains, winding rivers, and also, the country’s symbolic rice terraces. There are also a number of local ethnic minorities, preserving traditional culture and lifestyle. Sign up for a local trekking tour as the guide will take you on the way to some of these places.
Be humbled by the Ban Gioc Waterfall, the largest in Asia
Catherine from Nomadicated
Flowing majestically along the northeast border of Vietnam and China, Ban Gioc is the largest waterfall in Asia and the fourth largest straddling a border. Measuring 30 meters tall and 300 meters across, the main waterfall drops down into three terraces and is separated into two twin flows. And the picturesque setting of Cao Bang Province doesn’t hurt either – karst peaks and lush valleys surround the area, making it look like something out of a postcard.
Given its stature and beauty, Ban Gioc Falls, surprisingly, is often overlooked by tourists. Although Vietnamese and Chinese residents visit regularly, international travelers rarely venture to this remote location, an 8-hour journey north of Hanoi.
Although the waterfall is open all year, September to October is the prime time to visit as the nearby rice fields are vibrant yellow and green. The rainy season–between June and August–may bring heavy downpours that merge the waterfalls together. The fierce spray from this may make it nearly impossible to take pictures and stay dry.
Ban Gioc can be seen from the road, but visitors will need to pay a small entrance fee per person to get an up-close view. To get even closer, you can hire a short bamboo raft that paddles you right to the base of the falls.
Swimming is technically illegal as the waterfall is on the border of Vietnam and China, despite many people ignoring the posted signs. Drone use is also prohibited in this area.
Stay overnight on a junk boat at Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a Unesco World Heritage in northern Vietnam and it is probably one of the most recognized locations in Vietnam. It is an area covering 1,500 square kilometers in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The unique beauty of Ha Long Bay, with thousands of towering limestone islands scattered on emerald waters, is truly unforgettable. It’s quite easy to get to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi: Haiphong, the port to Ha Long Bay is about 180 kilometers away, making it a less-than-three-hour drive and a great option for a day trip from Hanoi.
Having said that, the beauty of Ha Long Bay is so much more than a glimpse. The scenery changes from day to night and there are so many caves, beaches, and fishing villages to explore. One of the greatest ways to have a taste and truly immerse yourself in the beauty of the natural wonder is hopping on a Ha Long Bay junk boat tour.
The program on the tour is phenomenal. From sunbathing on the deck of the boat to spa massage treatments, guests could explore some of the most stunning caves on the islands, swim on the beach, participate in an evening cooking class, and star-gazing at night on the balcony of their own private suite.
Cát Bà (Lan Ha Bay)
Cát Bà, in Vietnamese, means “Women’s Island”, and this hidden gem is not to be missed. The archipelago is located quite near Ha Long Bay, yet it enjoyed a lesser crowd with Ha Long Bay taking all the attention of the world. For those who are in the know, Cát Bà has nothing less than Ha Long Bay, featuring the same rugged, craggy and jungle-clad limestone islands. Now Cát Bà has more social media attention and it has had a tourism surge in recent years.
Soak in the beauty of Tràng An Scenic Landscape Complex
The scenic area of Tràng An is close to Ninh Binh, and it’s renowned for its boat cave tours. This UNESCO World Heritage is a spectacular landscape with limestone karst peaks permeated with valleys, many of them partly submerged and surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs. This dramatic landscape was created by a million-year process, and different levels of these cliffs offer rich archaeological evidence of human activities over 30 thousand years ago.
The boat cave tour is an exploration of Tràng An, learning more about its history and admiring its scenic beauty at the same time.
Explore the largest cave in the world in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng
Linda from Muy Linda Travels
Not yet on the main tourist trail, the stunning Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is a real gem in Vietnam. Majestic karst scenery is a feature of the area but the main attraction lies beneath the ground. Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is best known for its vast limestone cave system and has UNESCO world heritage status. The National Park also has a growing reputation with adventure seekers for caving expeditions into various spectacular caves, including Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.
But you don’t have to be a thrill seeker to enjoy visiting the area. Not far from town, Phong Nha cave is easy to access and magical to visit! A scenic boat trip along the Son River takes you to the cave entrance and from there, your boatman or woman will row the boat quietly through the cave. The beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are lit up and the still water shimmers, reflecting the remarkable formations. Dark Cave is also popular and fun to visit. Easy to access, Dark Cave astounds visitors with its phenomenal size. During the summer months, caving, swimming, kayaking, and hiking are popular in Phong Nha but seasonal flooding means some caves are inaccessible in winter (January).
A few kilometers outside Phong Nha village, The Lakehouse offers spacious bungalows, right on the lake’s edge and you can relax on the balcony and listen to the water lapping underneath. A convenient onsite restaurant and a bus stop at the front door make this a great choice for accommodation in the area.
Learn more about the Vietnam War at the DMZ from Huế
Marya from The BeauTraveler
Traveling to Vietnam isn’t complete without exploring a piece of history left from the Vietnam War. And this is why the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) can be your travel highlight when you visit the country.
What was once the dividing line between North and South Vietnam as a result of the first Indochina War, it is believed that the area is still quite dangerous to this day as there might be some grenades planted around the zone from back in the war era.
The easiest way to go to DMZ is by joining a day tour from Huế, where you can book the tour through your hotel or a travel agency nearby. Suitable for history buffs, visiting the DMZ in Vietnam will take you back to a few decades ago when you get a chance to stop by what was once the US combat base, which now can be visited as a museum that exhibits some relics from Vietnam War.
As a part of the tour, you will also visit the Truong Son Cemetery, the country’s largest war cemetery that has become the final resting place of over 10,000 Vietnamese soldiers.
Not so far from there, you can visit the Vinh Moc tunnels, the shelter complex built on the north of the Ben Hai River, where villagers used to shelter themselves from all the bombings during the war.
What makes Vinh Moc tunnels unique compared to the more famous Củ Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City is that while Củ Chi tunnels were where the combat took place, Vinh Moc tunnels would portray how Vietnamese lived during the war as you would see a few corners where there used to be a nursery and even a living room inside the tunnels.
Take stunning pictures and have fun at Ba Na Hills from Da Nang
Merry Allison from Virginia Vacation Guide
Ba Na Hills is a major attraction in Vietnam. It is located on Ba Na Mountain just west of Da Nang. It features the SunWorld theme park, which is a popular attraction among kids and families, however, Ba Na Hills has something for everyone.
Once you arrive at the entrance, you will take a cable car up high into the mountain to the park. The views of the greens hills and valleys are breathtaking as you ascend further and further into the clouds above.
One of the highlights of the park is the famous Golden Bridge, which spans 150 meters in length and features giant hand sculptures on either side that appear to be holding the bridge up. The curving gold bridge perched high in the misty mountains is a magical sight.
Another highlight further into the park is Le Jardin d’Amour (The Garden of Love). The photogenic garden actually includes multiple different gardens, including the Garden of Memory and the Garden of Eden.
Linh Ung Pagoda is another major attraction in the park. It features an enormous white Buddha statue measuring 27 meters in height.
Ba Na Hills is open daily from 7:00 to 22:00. It can be reached most easily by vehicle. There is a shuttle bus that travels between Da Nang and Ba Na Hills that runs from 7:30 to 19:00.
You can also rent a private car or book an organized tour that stops at Ba Na Hills, though these options will likely be more expensive.
Ba Na Hills is open year-round, though March to September is the busiest time of year.
There are numerous restaurants in the park, including Hoi An Restaurant (serving local food), Morin Restaurant (serving local and Eurasian cuisine), and Le Jardin Restaurant (serving a BBQ buffet.)
You can also stay right in Ba Na Hills at the Mercure Ba Na Hills French Village. The French-inspired resort features an indoor pool and four restaurants onsite.
Go back in time strolling in Hoi An’s Old Town
Becki from Meet Me In Departures
The photogenic ancient town of Hoi An is a must-see destination in Vietnam. The narrow, pretty streets are steeped in history and you’ll find an abundance of well-preserved traditional-looking buildings, over 800 of them!
Historically, Hoi An was a prominent southeast Asian trading port and dates back to between the 15th and 19th centuries. Although not so much trading happens now, the city kept its historical charm and even gained a UNESCO heritage status.
The town is perfect for exploring on foot, and canals and waterways intercept the town. You’ll find a mix of architecture here including traditional Vietnamese tube houses, Chinses, and French colonial houses as well the iconic Japanese Pagoda Bridge.
Aside from enjoying wandering around the old town, you’ll also find plenty of stalls selling traditional and locally made handicrafts as well as plenty of tasty street food. Nightly markets pop up all over the town.
One of the prettiest markets in the Lantern Market, here vendors illuminate their stalls with colorful, multi-shaped paper lanterns. As night falls, you’ll often see people placing floating lanterns on the canal, it looks magical, lit up with twinkling candles, and seeing hundreds of lanterns floating on the water is one of the most beautiful places in Asia.
One of the best places to find traditional food is in the central food market, it’s located next to the main central canal. If you’re staying in Hoi An for a few days then some easy day trips are to Bang Beach, My Son Ruins, and Marble Mountains. The area is relatively flat, which makes it great for hiking bikes, and to cycle.
Discover Hindu ruins on a day trip from Hoi An to Mỹ Sơn
Michelle from International Travelers
The My Son temple ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site less than an hour away from Hoi An, Vietnam. These Hindu temples give a unique glimpse of the region’s ancient history, dating from the 4th to the 13th centuries when the area was ruled by the Champa Kingdom.
There is a small museum with English translations inside the gates and then shuttles that drive you out a mile or so to the ruins. It’s always best to go early in the day, as it gets very hot under the sun.
You can walk around and through the different temple plots within an hour. English-speaking guides are available on-site for a small fee if you arrive without a tour leader and are looking for more historical context. There is a local restaurant, too, but many prefer to return to Hoi An or Da Nang for meals.
Unfortunately, many of the temples were heavily affected by the Vietnam-American war, and you can even see craters from the places where bombs landed, but a number of areas have been preserved.
What remains is small compared to more famous places like Angkor Wat, though you can certainly still get a sense of the significance of this ancient sanctuary and the mystery of what was lost. There are few places left in Vietnam that rival Mỹ Sơn’s ancient ruins.
Feast and sunbathe yourself in Nha Trang
Nha Trang, among the many other must-visit destinations in Vietnam, is known for its pristine beaches and scuba diving spots. Nha Trang is a tropical vacation hotspot for many travelers in the world. While the city is developed for tourism, it has excellent and well-rounded facilities, a beach promenade, world-class resorts, and most importantly, amazing food for all visitors to enjoy. Nha Trang is called the seafood capital of Vietnam for a reason. Teeming with marine life the waters of the Khanh Hoa Coast supply fresh fish and shellfish that are the highlight of many dishes.
Crawl through the straw-like Củ Chi Tunnels
Imee from Guide to Daytrips
A must-visit for history buffs, the Củ Chi tunnel complex is a popular day trip destination from Ho Chi Minh City. Here is where villagers hid from American shelling by digging underground.
The tunnels are located in Củ Chi District, 70 kilometers from the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Ben Dinh Tunnels and Ben Duoc Tunnels are two locations where the underground networks have been well-maintained.
A map, a tunnel cross-section, and a patriotic black-and-white film await visitors at the first stop of the guided tour of Ben Dinh, which begins in a thatched hut. Here, your guide will point out deadly booby traps, trap doors, and an abandoned tank. Several models depict the ingenious transformation of unexploded ordnance into lethal mines and traps, as well as the strategic dispersal of smoke from underground fires.
The shooting range features both M16 and AK-47 shooting lanes. Afterward, you have to stoop, crawl, and slog through a 140-meter tunnel section.
Ben Duoc’s tunnels are comparable to those at Ben Dinh, albeit with fewer foreign visitors. For an additional fee, you can don soldier gear and crawl through the enlarged versions of the original tunnels. Then you’ll be able to put some rounds through your rifle.
Note that the portion of the tour where you get to crawl through a tunnel may not be for you if you suffer from any degree of claustrophobia. Fortunately, there are several exits scattered throughout the tunnel in case things get too intense.
The Củ Chi Tunnels are only 1.5 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City by taxi, but the fare is quite pricey. Taking the bus is cheaper but getting to Củ Chi Tunnels will take about 2.5 hours.
Relive Vietnam’s colonial past in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh
Saigon was the capital of South Vietnam, the base of the anti-communist party, which in the end lost in the Vietnam War in the “Fall of Saigon” as North Vietnam united the country. Ho Chi Minh City, as a result, was named after the communist leader – Ho Chi Minh. Most people still use the original name of the city, Saigon, in lots of different contexts, and it’s widely recognized.
While the city has an abundance of landmarks and sites to explore, the War Remnants Museum captured the history of the war, with historic photos and weapons on display.
The Independence Palace, or Reunification Palace, is located in district 1 in the city and this site witnessed the history of Saigon. Originally served as the former Norodom Palace in French colonial times, it was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Why this site is so important in this War because it symbolized the end of the War when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gate on 30 April 1975. The palace was designed by Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. He studied architecture in Paris and won the first Grand Prize of Rome in 1955.
The palace is 4 stories high with a basement, and it’s a magnificent mix of the east and the west. While I was shown all the different magnificent rooms in the palace, the cold and dark basement left a lingering impression on me. The basement played a huge part in maintaining communications between the core department and the battles during the war – and many of the communications machines and tools were kept and are still on display.
It is also a saferoom for the president in case of attack, and I got tensed just walking through these narrow corridors as if I was at war.
Don’t forget to drop by Saigon Notre-dame Basilica (a replica of the actual Notre-dame), the monumental Central Post Office (which was completed in 1891), the opera house, and the other historic French-style buildings in the city center.
Scootering across the Mekong Delta
Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
The Mekong Delta is probably exactly what you picture when you hear “Vietnam”, thanks to the fern-lined Mekong River and its incredibly lush rice paddies. While found just a short drive away from the bustling Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta feels a world away, full of small markets, rural towns, and stunning nature. You can rent a scooter and bump along the delta’s dusty roads either as just a short day trip from Ho Chi Minh City or, alternatively, take a longer road trip through its jaw-dropping landscape.
Located about an hour and a half south of Ho Chi Minh, it’s best to visit the Mekong Delta (especially if you’re scootering!), in the dry season, which runs between October and February. The weather is the coolest and most pleasant in December and January and, if you’re planning on taking a multi-day trip, you’ll also likely benefit from the higher water levels along the river, which you’ll need for ferries and other boat crossings.
The fun of the Mekong Delta is puttering around its dizzying network of backroads and ferries. That being said, many of these tiny roads do not show up on Google Maps and can be quite confusing, given the number of times the river crisscrosses the landscape. Accordingly, if you don’t have time to carelessly wander or get a bit turned around here, you might consider going on an organized tour to save yourself a few headaches.
If you do have a bit more time to explore the Mekong Delta, be sure to add Cần Giờ, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to your bucket list. This cluster of islands is stunning, with mazes of mangrove trees and an island that’s home to over 2,000 monkeys.
Ride the longest three-rope cable car in the world in Phu Quoc
Jade from Two Tall Travellers
Riding the Phu Quoc cable car is definitely a must-do when you’re visiting Vietnam!
It’s the longest non-stop 3-rope cable car in the world at almost 8km long. At its highest point, it reaches 174m so you can just imagine the insane views that you get from being up there!
The cable car goes from Phu Quoc to Pineapple Island (Hon Thom Island) and takes around 20 minutes in total. The cars are sturdy and have huge windows, allowing you to stand up and take all the photos you want of the stunning waters and islands below
Included in your cable car ticket is access to the amazing Aquatopia which is a fantastic waterpark at Sun World Nature Park. You can also book a tour from the mainland that includes the waterpark access but also stops at a few nearby islands for snorkeling, beach bars, and water sports.
The cable car stops operating a few times throughout the day, so double-check the schedule and take a photo of it when you arrive so that you know which times to avoid on your return.
The cable car station is at the very south of Phu Quoc, so you’ll need to get a taxi to reach it if you’re staying elsewhere. Download the ‘Grab’ app to book your taxi, or ask your hotel to organize one for you.
We were nervous to ride the cable car but it was such a good experience and we’d do it all over again if we could! It felt safer than I expected and it was the perfect length of time to enjoy it without feeling like we’d been in the air for too long. I’d highly recommend having a go and spending the day at Aquatopia – you get two amazing experiences for the price of one, so it’s a no-brainer!