Vietnam is a great combination of natural beauty and cultural diversity. The country’s landscapes range from jagged peaks seen from windswept mountain passes, to rice paddies painted in all shades of green. In turn, the long history of Vietnam, as well as the presence of a huge number of small nationalities, mean that connoisseurs of cultural recreation will definitely find something to do.
Hikers, bicycles and nature lovers can safely venture into the countryside, where there are many national parks. However, even the laziest tourist should get acquainted with the beauty of the karst landscapes of Halong Bay, at least as part of a comfortable cruise.
If rural areas are filled with delightful panoramic views of nature, then cities are seething with modern life, and provide excellent opportunities to get acquainted with the delicious cuisine of Vietnam.
This stunning country is full of surprises and is without a doubt one of the underrated gems of Southeast Asia.
1. Halong Bay
The karst seascape of Halong Bay is one of the most enchanting marine species in the world, appreciated for its inclusion on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The bay (which belongs to the Gulf of Tonkin) contains thousands of limestone islets. The wind and water that had affected them for millennia turned the islets into jagged rocks.
The local beauty is best revealed from boat tours, and therefore there are a lot of different cruise ships. We advise you to choose an overnight cruise, as one day trip will not be enough to fully enjoy the beauty of the bay.
On its territory, by the way, there are many caves that you can go into. Among them, for example, the Khan Sung Sot caves, consisting of three huge dungeons, or the Khan Dao Go caves with their strange stalagmites and stalactites.
Be that as it may, many tourists prefer to simply swim along the bay, enjoying its magnificent scenery.
2. Ho Chi Minh City
For fans of big cities, a visit to Vietnam would be incomplete without a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, which is the country’s bustling commercial center. Its streets are a crazy jumble of motorcycles and cars. Its restaurants and cafes are strikingly diverse, and its shops are some of the finest in the country.
The center of the city is the small and pleasant area of Dong Hoi, where most of the attractions are concentrated. Here you will find the City Museum with an excellent collection of artifacts related to the history of the city. In this area there is also the Cathedral of Our Lady of Saigon, built at the end of the 19th century.
If you walk into the nearby Da Kao area, you will see excellently preserved examples of French colonial architecture. There is also the Jade Emperor Pagoda, where you can get acquainted with the traditions of Buddhist and Taoist iconography.
Finally, all history buffs should visit the Historical Museum, which displays various antiquities from several archaeological sites.
For many visitors, the city has two must-see attractions. Both are located just slightly outside the central area, on Nguyen Thi Minh Hai Street.
The first attraction is the Unification Palace, formerly known as the Palace of Independence. This was the residence of the President of South Vietnam. Basically, it is known as “the very place” where the North Vietnamese tanks stopped on April 30, 1975, marking the end of the war. This is a very interesting place, which still houses furniture from the 60s.
The second attraction is the War Victims Museum located not far from the palace. Despite some obvious bias, the museum demonstrates the horrors of war and sheds light on the many atrocities committed by American forces during the Vietnam War.
3. City of Hue
Hue is considered one of the most historic cities in the country. Probably because it is filled to capacity with relics from the reign of the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th century.
The city is located on the banks of the Huong River (Fragrant River). The Imperial Citadel is a huge area surrounded by a wall, the length of which is 2.5 km. Once inside the complex, pay special attention to the magnificent Ngo Mon Gate, the Tai Hoa Palace with magnificent interiors and the Dien Tho Residence, where the emperor’s mother lived. The Halls of Mandarins are no less interesting, mainly due to the preserved ceiling paintings.
There are also several historical sites outside the walls of the Imperial Citadel.
The best way to see the sights scattered around the city is by taking a boat tour of the Huong River. A day cruise will take you to several royal tombs and temples.
If you are limited in time, know that the best tomb in the region is Tu Dok, and the best pagoda is Tien Mu with its 21 meter high tower.
4. Fongya Kebang National Park
This park, included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is a real dream of a speleologist. It is a karst rock formation, somewhat reminiscent of a honeycomb, consisting of huge caves, which are full of stalactites and stalagmites.
The most popular point of the park is Paradise Cave, whose dungeons stretch for 31 kilometers. The area’s gaping caves are truly magnificent. For example, Tu Lan Cave is a “wet cave”. A visit here involves sailing on an underground river.
Another popular place among tourists is the Fongya Caves, which you can swim to by boat.
Trips to Fongya Kebang Park are made from the village of San Trach.
Surrounded by forested mountains, the Michon complex is the ruins of a Tian temple city that dates back to the 4th century. It is an ancient Hindu religious center that was actively used from the 7th to the 10th century. It fell into decay only in the 13th century.
There are still about 20 temple structures built of bricks on the basis of sandstone. Their architectural style can be traced to the influence of various Asian civilizations, including Indian and Malay.
Temples of group B are older than temples of group A. On the territory of the latter there was the most important monument of the entire complex, but it was destroyed by American aircraft during the Vietnam War.
Michon has a good museum offering a lot of information about the Chan people.
You can get to Michon from Hoi An.
6. Hoi An City
The beautiful city of Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric city with tons of historical architecture. The area of the old city is extremely interesting for hiking, as there are preserved old merchant houses, reminiscent of the times when Hoi An was a thriving trade center (somewhere in the 15th century). Traders from China and Japan met here and purchased local silk.
Many merchant houses are open to the public, allowing you to experience the atmosphere of bygone times. Tan Kiy is rightly considered the best of such houses, which boasts both magnificent architecture and interesting decorative elements.
The real symbol of the city is the Japanese Bridge at the western end of Tran Phu Street. Nearby is the Assembly Hall of the Chinese Congregation, which is considered to be the most ornate building in the entire area.
There are several small pagodas scattered around the city, but the main charm of Hoi An lies in its old streets, along which you can simply walk, admiring the beautiful facades.
7. Quality District
Sapa is surrounded by green rice paddies surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Hoanglien Mountains (also known by their colonial French name “The Tonkin Alps”). In general, this area is almost the most beautiful rural region in all of Vietnam.
The vast valley is inhabited by various small ethnic groups of the country, and the surrounding hills are occupied by rice fields. Vietnam’s largest mountain peak rises above all this.
The whole area is an excellent area for hikes, both daytime and longer. You can just travel from one village to another, along the way, enjoying the mountain views.
The town of Sapa is an excellent base point for accommodation. It is an old French station that has become a vibrant tourist destination that contrasts surprisingly with the tranquil countryside around it.
The capital of Vietnam is the real heart of the nation and a place where travelers will be thrilled and enchanted at the same time. The abundance of crazy motorcyclists, constant air pollution, the noise of street vendors – all this can drive an unprepared tourist into a stupor. However, if you want to experience urban Vietnam, there is no better place to be.
Particularly enchanting is the quarter of the old town. Connoisseurs of history, by the way, will find a lot of great museums here. The Vietnam Ethnographic Museum and Fine Arts Museum is an excellent introduction to the country’s diverse culture. Tribute to the memory of the founder of modern Vietnam was expressed by its inhabitants in the form of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
9. Nha Trang city
If you love sandy beaches, then you need to go to Nha Trang. The six-kilometer zone along the coast is a continuous, well-maintained beach. In summer, there is a buzz here, caused by both local holidaymakers and foreign tourists.
Around there are excellent conditions for swimming, in terms of both the preparation of the beaches and the generally well-groomed area. Here you can calmly relax on the sand on a hot day, periodically plunge into the sea.
If you get tired of sunbathing, you can walk to the ancient Po Nagar Temple, which is located north of the Xom Bong Bridge. The temple has been used for worship since at least the 7th century, although many historians claim that the site has been sacred since much more ancient times.
Also noteworthy is the museum dedicated to the French physician Alexander Yersin, who discovered the causative agent of bubonic plague and founded the Pasteur Institute in Nha Trang (which is still engaged in vaccination in Vietnam).
10. Tunnel Kuti
These tunnels guarantee a lot of experience for all visitors, not just those interested in the modern history of Vietnam. This is an extensive network of tunnels, the length of which reached 250 km during the Vietnam War. With the help of this network, interaction was established between Viet Cong fighters (partisans of South Vietnam) in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City.
Two short sections of tunnels are open to the public. Together with a guide, you can go deep into a narrow, unlit dungeon, which obviously will not please people with claustrophobia. In some places, you literally have to crawl on all fours.
The tunnels can be accessed from the village of Ben Duoc or Ben Dinh (more popular option).
11. Ba-Be National Park
The tranquil Ba Be National Park boasts three linked lakes located in its very center. The lakes are surrounded by rocky peaks and wooded mountain peaks.
Most tourists come to the park for a relaxing boat trip on the lake or kayaking. In the process, you can look into local caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites. For more active visitors, we recommend hiking in the surrounding hills, where there are villages of various small ethnic groups.
The park is one of the most tranquil places in all of Vietnam. Travelers staying overnight are accommodated in traditional stilt huts in family guesthouses. They are located right on the shore of the lake, which allows you to touch the simple life of the country’s rural population.
12. Mekong Delta
In the very south of Vietnam, the mighty Mekong River finally finds its way to the sea, forming a maze of waterways that traverse floodplain meadows. The delta of the river is a very attractive place for tourists, because there is a lot of interesting things here. For example: lush rice paddies, mangroves, vibrant local flavor and chaotic floating markets that can only be reached by boat.
The most popular city in the delta is Can Tho, which is often used by tourists as a base. The Fong Dien and Cai Rang Floating Markets are nearby, while boat tours from Kamau allow you to discover the Yumin Mangrove Forest and Kau Mau National Wildlife Refuge.