15 Ridiculously Amazing Places to Visit in Vietnam
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Are you trying to decide on where to go in Vietnam? You’ve probably heard of the usual places like Saigon, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. But you’re not sure where else to visit after the big three. In this blog post, I’m going to tell you what other destinations you should add to your itinerary with this list of 15 best places to visit in Vietnam.
1. Hanoi (2 – 3 Days)
My favorite place on the list of places to visit in Vietnam is Hanoi. In my opinion, it is one of the top 5 cities to visit in Asia. It’s got a bit of European charm mixed with Vietnamese energy and culture. It’s got some of the best food in Asia as well. One bite and you’ll turn into a Vietnamese food fanatic. I’m serious.
When in Hanoi, you MUST join a food tour. This is the best way to really discover ALL that Hanoi has to offer when it comes to food. The dishes you’ll try won’t be the typical ones that you get in Vietnamese restaurants in your home country (those are owned usually by Southern Vietnamese).
Once you’ve tasted the local cuisine, just go off walking around and exploring the old quarter of the city with its narrow winding lanes. Here you’ll find some incredible architectural gems from the French colonial period.
Then mix up the rest of your visit with some traditional history with the temples and some communist history by visiting the Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison (better known as the Hanoi Hilton).
Finally, in the evening attend a water puppet show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theater and find somewhere to drink bia hoi (fresh draught beer) before it sells out.
PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I've used for short-term travel. When I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They're very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.
2. Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay (3 Days)
You cannot leave Vietnam without taking part in a cruise of Halong Bay, the less touristy Lan Ha Bay, or both. The photos of these limestone karst-filled bays are deservedly iconic. You can visit the bay by taking a 2-day / 1-night cruise or a 3-day / 2-night cruise. Most cruises involve kayaking, visiting a cave, eating, and just cruising around the bay. You can book your cruise with Booking.com or Agoda before your trip or once you get to Vietnam.
I went with a 3-day / 2-night cruise with Signature Cruises and got to do both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay. On the first day and a half, we went to the crowded Halong Bay. Then those who had chosen the 2-day 1-night cruise got off the boat, and our boat visited Lan Ha Bay, where we saw only ONE other boat the whole time we were cruising. It was an unforgettable experience!
3. Hoi An (2 – 3 Days)
The third must-see place to visit in Vietnam is Hoi An. If you only have time for one week in Vietnam, add this charming city to your itinerary. Until the river leading into the city silted up, Hoi An was a major trading port, attracting merchants from all over the world. This environmental disaster kept Hoi An from “modernizing,” thus saving the city’s traditional architecture. Luckily, the city’s buildings did not become collateral damage during the American-Vietnam War.
Today most visitors to Hoi An spend their time walking around and admiring the traditional buildings in the old town. Most get an outfit or two or three or four made by one of the many tailors in the city.
The cuisine of central Vietnam is also as delicious as that of Hanoi and Saigon’s. Like Hanoi, Hoi An has many wonderful restaurants where you can try many dishes that you’ll never see on a menu in your home country.
I highly recommend taking part in a cooking class that involves a market tour. Book early!
4. Hue (2 Days)
Hue is the perfect destination in Vietnam for both history buffs and foodies. I still dream about the food I had in Hue—foods I’d never had before like banana blossoms or in ways that I’d never eaten before like adding pomelo to a salad
Hue has played an important part in Vietnamese history. It used to be the capital of Imperial Vietnam. So you’ll find palaces, temples, and pagodas around Hue. Sadly, the city was also the sight of a devastating battle during the Vietnam War, resulting in the loss of many of Hue’s historic buildings.
My favorite experience (or second favorite after the food) happened outside of Hue on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ), the line that separated North and South Vietnam during the America-Vietnam War. You can take a tour to some of the famous battle sites and to the underground tunnels of the North Vietnamese.
In order for the tour to be worthwhile, it’s a good idea to do some reading up on the war. You can check out my list of books on Vietnam here to get some ideas on what to read. It’ll help you understand what you’re looking at and it’ll make the tour more meaningful. Also, you need a good tour guide. I think part of the reason why I enjoyed my tour so much was that the guide was amazing—informative and passionate about the history of the war.
PRO TIP: Don't travel anywhere without bringing these essential items with you to keep you safe and secure:
Combination lock - The one thing you MUST bring with you to Asia if you're planning on staying in hostels is a combination lock. Hostels provide lockers and you provide the lock.
RFID Blocking Sleeves - Another great item to use is an RFID sleeve for your credit and debit cards and passport so that thieves can't scan your credit and debit cards and passport.
Anti-Theft Messenger Bags - Anti-theft messenger bags are great because they're made of a material that is difficult for thieves to slash. They've got lots of pockets as well and a way to lock the zippers.
Privacy Screen Protectors - Privacy screen protectors prevent people from seeing what's on your screen while working cafes, hostels, or co-working spaces. You can buy one for any type of laptop.
5. Sapa (4 Days)
Another must-visit place in Vietnam is the old French hill station of Sapa, located near Vietnam’s border with China. Even though getting there takes twelve hours by bus, try really really hard to add Sapa to your Vietnam itinerary. Just seeing the terraced rice fields along with the mountains and plunging valleys is an experience that you won’t forget. For those who like to get out in nature and do some hiking, this is the perfect destination.
Most people do a trek through the valleys and rice terraces. The hike involves stops in different villages with an overnight stay with a local hill tribe family. One not-to-miss hike is the one through the scenic Muong Hoa Valley. Along the way, you’ll see stone paintings that are over 3,000 years old. One of the most challenging hikes you can do is to Fansipan Mountain.
You can also visit the local markets where the hill tribes sell their handicrafts and fresh produce.
You can also add a few days onto your itinerary with a visit to Bac Ha. I didn’t travel here when I was in Sapa, but I’ve heard it’s definitely worth a visit.
6. Ho Chi Minh City (2 – 3 Days)
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a typical bustling and noisy Southeast Asian City—too many motorcycles, untrustworthy taxi drivers, pollution that takes several years off your life, and traffic that seems to live by its own set of rules. However, HCMC is such an important city historically that it should not be skipped on any tour of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City was the capital of South Vietnam, so there are a number of museums and historical landmarks covering this period. The most important is the War Remnants Museum, a museum that highlights the atrocities committed by the American military during the war between the North and the South. Another interesting war sight is Reunification Palace, the home of the South Vietnamese government. Visiting it feels really surreal, It’s as if you’re stepping back in time to the 1960s. Finally, make sure to head out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which the Viet Cong used to infiltrate the South and to launch attacks on the American and South Vietnamese troops.
For architecture lovers, stop by Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office.
And whatever you do, don’t leave Saigon without eating pho, a dish that I think the South beats the North by a mile
To make your travels to Saigon more meaningful, I highly suggest reading up on Vietnam’s history. You can find a list of both fiction and nonfiction books here.
7. Phu Quoc (3 – 5 Days)
Although Vietnam’s a great country to visit, it’s also so different and so chaotic from most travelers’ own country that it’s easy to get sensory overload, and you start to feel like you need a vacation from your vacation. The perfect place to destress at the end of your trip is the island of Phu Quoc. It has all that you need—white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, super healthy and fresh food, and a laidback atmosphere.
And travelers of any budget level can find somewhere to stay. The island has some great boutique hotels with bungalows on the beach and some great hostels for backpackers to chill out at.
There’s not much to do on Phu Quoc. And that is NOT a bad thing AT ALL. Basically, you can spend your days as you would on any other island paradise: snorkeling and diving, kayaking around the island, lying on a beach, getting a massage, or chowing down on some fresh tropical fruit and seafood.
The best way to get to Phu Quoc is by plane from any major city in Vietnam. If you’ve got plenty of time but not plenty of money, you can also get there by bus and then boat from Ha Tien.
8. Phong Nha-Ke Bang (3 Days)
After you’ve gone to the above places (Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, etc), try to squeeze in a stop at Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. I had such a fabulous time here riding my bike through the Vietnamese countryside and spelunking through some of the most amazing and bizarre caves I’ve ever seen. Phong Nha Ke Bang is located in the northern half of Vietnam (but south of Hanoi) near the town of Son Trach. The area is famous for its caves including having the largest cave in the world, Hang Son Doong (in order to tour it, you need to pay thousands of dollars).
Usually, people visit the caves (Paradise Cave) on an organized tour. There is one cave (name unknown) that is completely filled with mud that goes up to your chest. An added bonus is that you get to it by zipline. It’s the most amazing and bizarre experience I’ve ever had. You can also go on jungle hikes, boat rides, or bike rides through the countryside.
PRO TIP: The best time to visit Vietnam is not an easy question to answer because it depends on what part of the country you’re visiting. In the South, the weather is best from November to February. In central Vietnam, it’s from March to September. And in the North, the weather will be best from March to May and September to November. (Lonely Planet, 2019)
9. Mekong Delta (1 – 3 Days)
The Mekong River begins somewhere in Tibet and winds its way down through China, Thailand, Cambodia before it gets to the Mekong Delta where it branches off into distributaries eventually emptying into the South China Sea. Travelers often visit the Delta through day tours from Ho Chi Minh City. But I recommend staying overnight in a rural homestay along one of the canals, instead. The Mekong Delta is a great place to relax in a hammock along a riverbank, float down one of the numerous canals, visit a floating market, or bike ride along the back roads of this flat, bike-friendly region.
The Mekong Delta has a number of towns that make for good places to visit on a day trip or to use as a base to explore the area. One town, Vinh Long, is one excellent base to explore the floating markets and islands of the Delta and to stay in a rural homestay along a river. Another popular town is My Tho. It’s got a pleasant riverfront and canals dotted with islands. Nearby is Phoenix Island, the home of the Coconut Monk. But probably my favorite town in the Mekong Delta is bustling Can Tho. Here you can take a boat ride down one of the canals to a really cool floating market.
PRO TIP: Download these apps onto your phone for your trip to any country in Asia. They will make your life so much easier!
- Grab: - Grab is the ride-sharing service that people use in Southeast Asia. It's a must-have for getting around Manila, Hanoi, Singapore etc. It's not so necessary on the smaller islands.
- Klook - Klook is a tour-booking website used by lots of travelers in Asia. You're more likely to book with an honest tour company through Klook than through anyone else.
- WhatsApp: What's App is the best service to use for getting in touch with other travelers, tour guides, and businesses in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
- Booking.com: I think Booking.com is the best website to use for booking accommodations in Asia.
- MAPS.ME & Google Maps: I have both of these apps on my phone. Sometimes MAPS.ME works better than Google Maps and vice versa. Make sure to download your maps to your phone before you start your adventure so you can view them offline. If you switch SIM cards, you might lose your downloaded maps.
10. Danang / Da Nang (2 Days)
Danang has become more popular with tourists recently thanks to the construction in 2018 of the Sun Bridge at Ba Na Hills. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen so many pictures of this on Instagram that I’m beginning to think that this is the most popular tourist attraction in all of Vietnam. But there are more things to do in Danang than just the bridge. It’s got some great beaches, ancient Cham ruins, and mountains with great views nearby. Danang is located on the central coast of Vietnam and about one hour by bus from Hoi An.
Except for a museum that has a large collection of Cham artifacts and the light show at Dragon Bridge, most of Danang’s attractions are outside the city. First, climb Ba Na Hills for the views of the surrounding area and for the Sun Bridge. Next, visit Marble Mountain, five limestone mountains, where you can find pagoda, caves, and some Buddhist and Cham carvings. Monkey Mountain is another popular spot to go for spectacular views of the area. For history lovers, head outside of the city to the Cham ruins of My Son. Finally, if beaches are your thing, head to Non Nuoc Beach or China Beach.
11. Ha Giang Province (4 – 5 Days)
Located in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border, Ha Giang Province is the ideal destination for the truly adventurous traveler. Unlike its more well-known neighbor Sapa, Ha Giang is harder to get to and harder to get around without your own wheels or a private tour. BUT if you have the time, it’s well worth it. It’s a very mountainous area filled with picturesque rice fields, windy cliff-hugging roads, and remote hill tribe villages.
Start your travels in the city of Ha Giang. Then make your way to Dong Van. Along the way, stop at Quan Ba Pass to view the spectacular and dramatic Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. Dong Van is a great place to chill out for one or two days. Explore the old quarter, visit the old French fort and the Vuong Palace, and if you’re there on a Sunday, the Sunday Market. Finally, make your way to Meo Vac along the steep and windy Ma Pi Leng Pass where you can see a river cutting its way through the valley far below.
RELATED POST: 25 of the Best (and Worst) Books on Vietnam
12. Ninh Binh (2 – 3 Days)
Number twelve on my list of best places to visit in Vietnam is Ninh Binh. Ninh Binh isn’t a very picturesque city, but the area around it is. It sort of reminds me of Halong Bay but on land. You’ll find a countryside of rice paddies with islands of limestone mountains placed amongst them and a winding river that cuts through all of it. It’s an ideal destination for those who are looking for a place to chill out, take photos, and go on a leisurely bike ride. AND it’s just a short distance from Hanoi.
The best thing to do when you’re in Ninh Binh is to leave Ninh Binh. Instead, find a homestay or guesthouse in the countryside outside of the industrial town. Then grab a bike and just travel around the countryside stopping off at the various temples and sights all while taking in the view. Another unforgettable thing to do is to climb up the stairs to Hang Mua Peak for drop-dead gorgeous views of the river cutting its way through the rice fields and limestone mountains. You can also take a cruise to the overly touristy, Trang An Grottoes.
13. Dalat / Da Lat (2 – 3 Days)
Dalat is the perfect destination for those who are tired of the sweltering heat of Vietnam. It’s located at an elevation of 1,502 meters (4,928 ft) above sea level, so temperatures are a spring-like 14 to 23 degrees Celsius (57-73 degrees Fahrenheit) all year round.
Dalat is a young city having been created by the French in 1890 as a resort town. Fortunately, during the war, the North and South Vietnamese governments agreed to leave Dalat alone. As a result, you’ll find a French Quarter with a lot of French villas, old pagodas, and even the Emperor’s Summer Palace still intact. Dalat is also known for its waterfalls and lakes.
It’s about seven to eight hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh City.
What should you see in Dalat? In the city, the most popular tourist sights are the Gaudi-like Hang Nga Crazy House, Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, and the colonial villas in the French Quarter. Outside of Dalat, the best religious structure is the Truc Lam Pagoda. Two other popular destinations are Datanla and Elephant Falls. You can also join tours of the countryside, go canyoneering, hiking, and kayaking.
14. Ba Be National Park (3 Days)
Another worthwhile place to visit in Vietnam is Ba Be National Park. Located about six hours from Hanoi (change buses), the park is another destination in Vietnam with great scenery, lots of trekking opportunities, and interesting minority villages. At the center of the park are three lakes (Ba Be) that are surrounded by limestone mountains and dense rainforests. Like other areas of Vietnam, you’ll find your supply of waterfalls, caves, and pagodas.
Your first order of business when getting to Ba Be is to make sure you’re staying in a homestay in one of the villages along the lake. The most popular village is Pac Ngoi, but you can also stay at Coc Toc and Bo Lu. Then see Mr. Linh, a local travel agent who organizes tours around northern Vietnam, about organizing a multi-day trek around the area. Most people take a boat ride around the lakes visiting An Ma Pagoda, Puong Cave, and Ao Tien Lagoon. Make sure to check out Hua Ma Cave and Dau Dang Waterfall as well.
15. Con Dao Islands (3 – 5 Days)
The best thing about Con Dao Islands is that they’re so remote (located off the southern coast of Vietnam) that they don’t get so many tourists like Phu Quoc. This means that the sandy beaches and heavily forested interior are uncrowded and undeveloped.
Most of the 16 Con Dao Islands are part of the Con Dao National Park, so the waters around the island are protected. This keeps the waters around the island crystal clear and the coral reefs healthy, thus making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and diving.
You can fly into Con Dao from Ho Chi Minh City or take a ferry from the mainland.
The island is also a worthwhile destination for history buffs as these islands were home to Vietnam’s most notorious political prisons under the French and Americans. There were eleven prisons here, but the three most important sights you should visit are Phu Hai Prison, the Tiger Cages, and Hong Duang Cemetery.
Other popular experiences include turtle-watching tours, hiking to Bamboo Lagoon or Ong Dung Bay, and diving around the waters of the Con Dao Islands.
Con Son Town with its renovated French villas is also a pleasant place to wander around in.
There you go! Those were my 15 favorite destinations in Vietnam. If you’re looking to fill your itinerary for Vietnam, these 15 are great options for you.
Or if you’re looking for a place to travel to once this pandemic is over (I have to believe), then I hope this post has inspired you to consider Vietnam. It’s got great food, beautiful scenery, and fascinating history and culture.
Out of all the places I’ve been to, Vietnam definitely gives you the best value for your money. You can stay in some pretty nice hotels and get treated like royalty for less money than anywhere else in the world.
You may be wondering why I haven’t included Nha Trang or Mui Ne in this list. It’s because I was only in Nha Trang for a couple of hours. For Mui Ne, I really disliked my time there.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave one in the comment section below.
Thanks for visiting the Bamboo Traveler! ♥
Looking for more info on travel in Southeast Asia?
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