With a rich history, fascinating cultures, stunning natural landscapes, and delicious cuisine, Vietnam is a popular tourist destination. It borders China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest, making it an ideal stop if you are travelling across Southeast Asia. Thailand and Bali for example are just a short flight away. In this post, I will explore the top things to see and do during your trip to Vietnam.
From the bustling cities to the tranquil countryside and picturesque beaches, Vietnam has something to offer every type of traveller – solo, couples, families with young kids or elder people. Despite being one of the most populous countries in Southeast Asia, with a population of over 96 million people, Vietnam is safe for tourists and easy to get around by bus, train or plane.
Upon arriving in either Ho Chi Minh in the south or the capital city of Hanoi in the north of Vietnam, it becomes readily apparent the vast number of individuals (and especially motor scooters!) present.
A rich culture and history
The impact of diverse influences throughout Vietnam’s extensive history, including Chinese, French, and American, is evident in the country’s customs, cuisine, and architecture.
History enthusiasts will appreciate must-visit attractions such as Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the Hỏa Lò Prison, and the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi, the Hue imperial citadel and My Son sanctuary in central Vietnam, as well as the War Remnants Museum and Củ Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam’s tourism industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years, with millions of visitors coming to explore its attractions and experience its unique culture. The country fully reopened after the pandemic in the summer of 2022. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient temples and historical sites, relaxing on pristine beaches, or sampling some of the world’s best street food, you’ll fall in love with Vietnam.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the top things to see and do during your trip to Vietnam, so you can make the most of your visit to this fascinating and beautiful country.
Vietnam’s Top Must-See Destinations and Attractions
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, is a vibrant and bustling city with a rich history and culture. There are many things to see and do in Hanoi, including visiting the Old Quarter, which is famous for its narrow streets and traditional architecture. This is also the perfect district to stay, as it offers a wide choice of hotels (I stayed at the newly opened May De Ville Premier Hotel & Spa), restaurants and shops, and allows you to get around on foot.
In the Old Quarter, you can find many street food vendors, markets, and shops selling everything from souvenirs to clothing. You can also take a stroll through the French Quarter, which features beautiful French colonial architecture, or join a walking food tour with Ha Food Tours, our guide Minh Do was fantastic!
Other popular attractions in Hanoi include: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hỏa Lò Prison, and Ethnology Museum.
Ninh Bình is a quaint city located in the northern region of Vietnam’s Red River Delta. Despite its small size, it boasts an abundance of natural beauty and cultural attractions. The region is home to stunning karst mountains, winding rivers, and verdant rice paddies, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Visitors can bicycle through ancient temples and pagodas in Hoa Lu ancient capital, take a boat ride along the Tam Coc River, or hike to the top of Hang Múa to visit the caves and for panoramic views of the surrounding scenery.
Sapa is a mountainous region located in the northwest of Vietnam, known for its stunning scenery and traditional hill tribe culture. The region features many hiking trails, with stunning views of the rice terraces and mountain peaks. You can also visit the local hill tribe villages and sleep in local homestays to fully experience their unique way of life and culture. Sapa makes this a great 2-day or 3-day trip option from Hanoi, book your round trip Hanoi – Sapa.
Located in northeastern Vietnam, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stunning scenery. The bay features thousands of limestone islands and islets, with many caves and grottoes to explore. You can take a boat tour to see the stunning scenery, go kayaking or swimming, or even stay overnight on a cruise ship.
Typically, when choosing a Halong Bay cruise, you’ll have the option of a half-day tour, a one-night stay, or a two-night stay. I would suggest going for the latter option since it offers the opportunity to visit Lan Ha Bay and Cat Ba Island, which are less frequented but more stunning.
Da Nang is a coastal city located in central Vietnam, known for its stunning beaches and modern infrastructure. The city features many attractions, including the Dragon Bridge which, every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm, undergoes a fascinating transformation where it shuts down and unleashes rounds of fire and water. To witness this impressive display, head to the DHC Marina, a prime location to watch the show, and arrive early to secure your spot. I also loved Da Nang for its cool vibe, nice beach, seafood restaurants and hip coffee shops. I stayed at Minh Boutique Hotel which was ideal to get around on foot or by Grab taxi.
The top attraction near Da Nang is Sun World Ba Na Hills, a hill station and amusement park, famous for its Golden Bridge, French Village and giant white Buddha statue. Easily reached by cable car, Ba Na Hills features stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
Hue Imperial Citadel
The city of Hue is located in central Vietnam, and was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty. The city features many historic attractions, including the Citadel, the Imperial City, and the Thien Mu Pagoda. Hue is also known for its delicious cuisine, including the famous Hue-style beef noodle soup. It is approximately two hours by car (94 km) from Da Nang.
Hoi An is a charming historic town located in central Vietnam, known for its well-preserved architecture, traditional culture, paper lantern tradition, unique cuisine and nearby beaches. The town features many ancient temples and pagodas, as well as Japanese bridges and Chinese-style shops. The Old Town of Hoi An is famous for its lanterns, which light up the streets at night, and for its highly skilled tailors (I recommend Tuong Tailor for beautiful custom-made dresses ready in just 24 hours).
In Hoi An, Cozy Savvy Boutique Hotel is a lovely, comfortable accommodation with rooftop swimming pool and friendly service.
Some of the main sights to see in Hoi An are the Ancient Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Japanese Covered Bridge, the most iconic landmarks which dates back to the 16th century; Cua Dai Beach; Hoi An Night Market; and Thanh Ha Pottery Village. Foodwise, when in Hoi An you should try the best banh mi sandwich at Madam Khanh.
Nha Trang is a coastal city located in central Vietnam, known for its beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. The modern city centre spans alongside a beach promenade, lined with high-rise buildings, luxury hotels, seafood restaurants and beach clubs. Nha Trang is certainly a destination for lovers or water sports activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, and jet skiing. You can also visit the local mud baths, hot springs, and spas for a relaxing experience.
I recommend Nha Trang as a place to relax for a few days why touring across Vietnam. We stayed at Mia Nha Trang which is a boutique cliffside resort nestled in a secluded bay surrounded by lush tropical gardens and the clear sea waters, ideal for a romantic and memorable holiday.
Nestled in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Dalat is a picturesque city known for its scenic beauty, temperate climate, and charming French colonial architecture. Dalat is a popular destination for those seeking a cooler climate and a slower pace of life. One of the highlights of a visit to Dalat is a trip to one of the area’s many coffee farms.
Vietnam is one of the world’s top coffee producers, and the region around Dalat is renowned for its high-quality arabica beans. Visitors can take a tour of a coffee farm – Son Pacamara speciality coffee farm is the best – learn about the cultivation and roasting process, and sample delicious brews prepared on site.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, and is located in the south of the country. The city features many historic attractions, including the Reunification Palace, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the War Remnants Museum. You can also visit the Ben Thanh Market, which is a bustling market selling everything from food to souvenirs.
District 1 is the central urban district of Ho Chi Minh City and where you’d want to have your hotel in order to conveniently walk around the main sights and shopping malls. For eating out, my go-to places are Saigon Pho 39 for pho, Pasteur Street Brewing Co. for craft beer, 43 Factory Coffee and Hoff Coffee speciality cafés and Maison Marou for bean-to-bar chocolate.
Cu Chi Tunnels
From Ho Chi Minh City, go on a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex network of underground tunnels located outside of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, and are now a popular tourist attraction. You can take a tour to see the tunnels and learn about their history and significance.
The Mekong Delta is a vast region in southern Vietnam, known for its rice paddies, fruit orchards, and floating markets. You can take a boat tour to see the floating markets and experience the local way of life, or go cycling through the rice paddies to see the stunning scenery.
Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc Island is located in the Gulf of Thailand, south of Cambodia and on the west of Vietnam. It’s a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City and a popular destination for a relaxing beach holiday. We spent four nights in Phu Quoc at Cassia Cottage and had the most amazing holiday!
The island features beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and stunning coral reefs, making it a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s also home to the world’s longest cable car, Sun World Hon Thom. You can also visit the Phu Quoc National Park, which features diverse flora and fauna.
Explore the Flavours of Vietnamese Cuisine
No trip to Vietnam would be complete without trying the delicious Vietnamese cuisine. It’s one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world, with a rich history and a fusion of influences from China, France, and neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
From broths and noodles to fresh spring rolls, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Here’s a short introduction to the best dishes of Vietnamese cuisine, their unique flavours, and how to enjoy them. Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and unique blend of influences from China, France, and other neighboring countries.
First on the list is Pho, Vietnam’s most iconic dish, bowl of piping hot broth, rice noodles, and beef or chicken is typically served with an array of herbs, lime, and chili peppers.
Bun cha is another classic dish, featuring grilled pork served with rice noodles and fresh vegetables.
Banh mi, a French-inspired baguette sandwich with pate, pickled vegetables, and meat, is a favorite street food snack.
Vietnamese coffee (ca phe) is unique drink made by dripping dark roast coffee through a metal Vietnamese coffee filter mixed with condensed milk. It can be served hot, but more often you’ll see it with lots of crushed ice. Finally, Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty made of egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and robusta coffee.
In conclusion, Vietnam is a beautiful and diverse country with something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, nature, or food, Vietnam has it all. So, pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Vietnam.
Also, remember, most travelers to Vietnam will need a travel visa. However, visa requirements vary depending on your country of origin and the length of your stay. Some nationalities are exempt from visa requirements for short stays, while others may be able to apply for a visa on arrival or online. It’s recommended to check with the nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate for specific visa requirements based on your nationality and travel plans.