Do you know the best places to visit in Vietnam for your next trip? Do you want to explore Ho Chi Minh City or take a historical tour of Hoi An? Or do you want to go deep into the very heart of Hanoi or follow the maps of the Mekong Delta/Mekong river as it traverses different cities? Whatever you want to do, Vietnam has tons of great things to offer.
Vietnam is a beautiful country that has continued to defy the odds. Despite its economic struggles, the country offers a great mix of offerings that attract many tourists. Not only will the country surprise you with its cultural diversity, but it will also treat you with its wide range of scenery—winding mountain passes with incredible jagged peaks to verdant paddy fields that mesmerise even the most experienced traveller.
From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, to Da Lat, to Da Nang, and Nha Trang, the country has one of the best UNESCO World Heritage site that continues to be featured as among the best places to travel.
Where Should I Travel in Vietnam?
Whatever places in Vietnam you explore will surely be an unforgettable expedition. Rural areas are rife with beautiful horizons, while the big city will show you that Vietnam does have a few tricks up its sleeves, particularly when it comes to its gourmet offerings.
If you want to explore the region for some exciting activities such as trekking, Da Lat, Ha Giang, and Cao Bang are some areas where there are plenty of nature reserves to enjoy. Visiting the floating markets of the Mekong River or Mekong Delta is a must-try as well. For those who want to explore the history, going to the Po Nagar Cham towers is something that one should not miss. Hanoi is one place where you can access tons of historical sites.
Vietnam is one of the best yet underrated tourist destinations, and if you want to explore what the country has to offer, read on.
What Are the Best Places in Vietnam for Tourists from North America?
Vietnam has always attracted a wide range of tourists from South America, Central America, the Middle East, but North Americans are known to have a deep connection with the country. North Americans love travelling to discover places and culture. Most of them are willing to get educated on what other cultures are up to. Of course, they wouldn’t miss exploring Hanoi, which will take them on a historical treat.
Here are some heritage sites and beaches that people from all regions will love:
Hanoi Old Quarter
While this area of Hanoi features mostly dilapidated medieval era architecture, it has its particular charm with its narrow alleys intermixed with modern commerce will take you deep into the very heart of Vietnam.
Hue (Thua Thien Hue)
You may not hear about Hue when people talk about places in Vietnam to visit, yet it is one of the best places and the most historic towns of the country that will indeed take you on a journey down memory lane. While inside, take time to explore the Thai Hoa Palace. Along the banks of the Perfume River is the Imperial City with its 2.5-kilometre wall.
Outside, there are tons of historical sites that you can enjoy, such as the Ngo Mon Gate. Beyond the walls, explore Hue via the riverboat cruise, where you can see the royal tombs located in pagodas within the sites. If you are pressed for time, go straight to the best tomb in the area, the Tomb of Tu Doc. The most important pagoda in Hue is the Thien Mu Pagoda, which stands at 21 meters high. The Thien Mu Pagoda is also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Quang Binh Province)
If you want to explore the best places to visit in Vietnam through its beautiful natural offerings, the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the best way to do it. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site that features a beautiful mountain formation with majestic caverns where you can feast your eyes on gorgeous stalagmites and stalactites. The park's most favoured location is the Paradise Cave, extending as much as 31 kilometres below the ground. The national park is about a day’s trip from Hanoi.
My Son (Quang Nam Province)
Vietnam is a diverse country. Not only is it rich in history, but it has unforgettable landscapes. And My Son is one perfect example. My Son is the site of the Cham era temple city ruins that came into existence in the 4th century. This area is surrounded by lush jungle-covered mountains and offers a feast on the eyes, despite its sad backstory. Much of the Hindu religious centre was still active from the 7th to the 10th centuries. However, its use was completely abandoned sometime in the 13th century.
When you head to My Son, you can still see roughly 20 temple structures built of sandstone blocks or bricks, showing strong influences of the Asian empires of Malay and Indian. Don't forget to visit the on-site museum for some useful information about the Cham civilisation.
Hoi An (Quang Nam Province)
If you want to see another side of historical places in Vietnam, you have to take a trip to Hoi An. It is the place where you can see some of the best architectures. This old town quarter is best enjoyed on foot as you can explore the well-preserved merchant centres that are reminiscent of the height of Hoi An trading centre in the 15th century. Hoi An used to be the central meeting spot for Chinese and Japanese merchants searching for local silks. Many of these Hoi An merchant houses are open to the public but make sure that you don't miss the Tan Ky House, with its 17th century architectural and decorative details.
Once you see the vibrant Japanese Bridge at the end of Tran Phu Street, you will know that you have reached Hoi An. Hoi An is only about an hour’s drive away from Hanoi.
Ba Be National Park (Nam Mau)
If you want some quiet time after a tiring visit in Vietnam's beautiful offerings, nothing will beat doing while exploring the tranquil Ba Be National Park. It has three interlinked lakes with forested slopes and karst peaks. Most tourists love taking quiet boat trips exploring the stalactites and stalagmites in the nearby caves.
For those looking for active pursuits, the area is also among the best places in Vietnam, with one of the best hiking and trekking trails between the area's ethnic minority villages. It is one of the reasons why this site receives tons of star, star, star, star, and star from tourists.
Long Beach (Phu Quoc Island)
Tourists can find Long Beach (Bai Trong) in Phu Quoc island, Vietnam. Phu Quoc is an island off the coast of Cambodia, and it is famous for its white-sand beaches. It has 20-kilometre long deserted beaches and coconut palms, which is best for sunset watching, swimming, and sunbathing. It also features lush tropical forest and mountains, good for hiking and witnessing wildlife.
Star Beach (Phu Quoc)
Star Beach (Bai Sao) is one of the best beaches in Phu Quoc, on the mostly undeveloped east coast of the island. It also features gleaming white sands with calm waters that are great for kayaking. Star Beach offers a few beach restaurants and some boat trips for half-day snorkelling.
City Beach (Nha Trang)
Nha Trang, a coastal resort city in southern Vietnam, is a popular tourist destination because of its offshore islands, diving sites, and beautiful beaches. It is the country's top beach destination, with six kilometres of curved stretch along Tran Phu Street with seafood restaurants, hotels, and a seafront to offer to its visitors. Tourists can also enjoy day trips by boat, plenty of watersports, and aerial cable cars to cross over to the Hòn Tre Island to experience nature reserves. Note that Hanoi to Nha Trang will take about an hour of a plane ride.
Hon Chong Beach (Nha Trang)
Located in the north of Nha Trang, Hon Chong beach also provides an excellent experience for its visitors, especially a night-time view at the city centre across the bay. You can also find cheap seafood restaurants and taste the best dishes they offer.
Doc Let Beach (Hon Khoi Peninsula)
About 33 kilometres north of Nha Trang is the Doc Let Beach. One of the places in Vietnam where you will be surprised at its outstanding seascape that will make you extend your stay for at least a week. Be ready to be captivated by its casuarinas and white sand where you want to spend the day frolicking under the sun and enjoying the sounds of the waves as they crash onto the shore. It is one trip to make if you want to flee the busy and noisy city.
Given all these, it is obvious that Nha Trang and Ha Long Bay/Halong Bay has some of the best places for beach lovers.
What is Vietnam Famous For?
If you wonder what else makes Vietnam famous aside from being the Miss Saigon the Musical setting, brace yourself. Vietnam is much more than that. Vietnam boasts of its Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi cities for its tourist destinations that can make your Instagram feed worth drooling for.
What Makes Vietnam Famous?
Travellers flock to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay/Halong Bay, Da Nang, and Mekong Delta. But many of them will also explore rice paddies/rice terraces/rice fields, the Golden Bridge Hands of Da Nang, and limestone islands.
While most countries have experienced war, nothing may be comparable to what Vietnam went through. Fighting for their freedom for almost a century, Vietnamese people have constantly been struggling. Everything they've been through allowed them to have such a rich and enduring history. Go to Da Nang, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne, and you will see that this region in Southeast Asia is brimming with history.
There is so much that people do not know about the country that they only discover once they make an extended visit to Vietnam and explore more than Ho Chi Minh City. They have such a rich culture that will immediately clue people in that it is indeed Vietnam. From the Ao Dai to the traffic jams, the Ben Thanh Market, the street food, and its people, Vietnam will surprise you.
If there is one thing that will set Vietnam apart from other countries, it would be their deep love for food. Almost any place you will go to will have at least one Vietnamese restaurant, and this shows that the region’s food is exemplary to leave a mark. Some of the food items you should try to include the
A simple noodle soup with exemplary aroma and taste. Sometimes, even non-Vietnamese restaurants would have delicacies from the region on their menu.
A Vietnamese spring roll.
Baguette with vegetables, sausages, barbecue, and spicy sauce.
A pudding made of bean and sticky rice.
Features a strong coffee taste and offers the experience of coffee drips.
A Vietnamese beer.
More than Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is also famous for Hanoi. Tourists from Europe, the Caribbean, Australasia, and Asia will often schedule a day trip to this side of Asia to explore tons of beautiful places, such as mountain towns and central highlands. Hanoi is adjacent to the Red River. It has served as the capital of Vietnam for more than 1,000 years. However, it has become a critical point in Vietnam for the many wars and invasions that the region has fought. Hanoi became the official capital city of Vietnam after it was reunified when the war ended in 1975.
Hanoi is popular because it offers one of the cheapest accommodations in the region. Tourists can also choose to take day trips to many different cities while they stay in Hanoi.
Should I Travel North or South Vietnam?
North or South? Both!
The decision to travel to Northern Vietnam or South Vietnam depends on how much time you have for your trip. Do note that the areas are highly different from each other and have their distinct charm that can blow you away. Ideally, you should have more than two weeks to complete the trip to both areas. If you don't have the time, you should stick to only one part of the region.
Travelling to South Vietnam
If you plan to go to South Vietnam, your itinerary should include Saigon. It is a vibrant city with bustling nightlife and great ambiance. Another place that should be worthy of your visit would be the Mekong Delta. Its life on the river, good food, and markets are the ones you shouldn't miss.
Travelling to North Vietnam
If you only have time to visit Northern Vietnam, you will enjoy Hanoi, which is much more historical than Saigon. There is just so much to explore in Hanoi that staying for at least three days would be necessary.
North Vietnam is best explored with a 3-day cruise of Halong Bay. Halong Bay/Ha Long Bay would add a nice touch to your visit. Sa Pa, in Hoang Lien Son, would also be an excellent addition to your itinerary. Add a trip to Ninh Binh if you have the time.
The Best Places to Explore in Ho Chi Minh City
Any tourists who visit places in Vietnam will miss out on the region if they skip exploring Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam's buzzing commercial hub. This is where you will see streets clogged with an insane number of motorbikes and vehicles of all kinds. Its food scene is highly cosmopolitan in nature, but the shopping experience is one you wouldn't forget. Here are some of the must-visit sites in Ho Chi Minh City:
At the heart of Ho Chi Minh City is Dong Khoi, which is a small and highly navigable district where you can find most of the popular tourist sites. You can visit the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Museum with an excellent collection of artifacts that weave a great story of how the city was formed.
The beautiful 19th-century Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon should also be one of your stops in Ho Chi Minh City. The cathedral was built sometime between 1863 and 1880, adorned with two bell towers boosting its height to 58 meters.
If you are keen on admiring some of the French-Colonial architecture, you should head to the old district of Da Kao. For some of the best examples of Taoist and Buddhist collections, you should check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda.
Another must-see for history enthusiasts would be the History Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Take a tour and be enthralled with their beautiful stacks of relics taken from a wide range of archaeological sites.
An immense network located in the Cu Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi Tunnel, which was primarily used to serve as the home for most VietCongs during the Tet Offensive in 1968. The soldiers would use these Cu Chi tunnels as hiding spots to station their communication and supply routes, food, and weapons.
Also known as the Saigon Municipal Opera House, this area is a distinct French-colonial architecture built in 1897 by Eugene Ferret. It has a 500 seating capacity that served as South Vietnam's Lower House after 1956. It was only used as an opera in 1975.
If there's one attraction that you shouldn't miss when you are in Vietnam, it would be the Reunification Palace (formerly the Independence Palace), which used to be the South Vietnam President's home. It is also popular for being the spot where the North Vietnam troops' tanks were stopped on April 30, 1975, signalling the end of the Vietnam War.
When in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the places to visit is the War Remnant Museum will show you the effects of the war, including the U.S. forces' atrocities when they ruled over the country. The museum would typically showcase exhibits of war chronicles.
Is Vietnam Cheaper than Thailand?
For those headed to Southeast Asia, most travellers will face the challenge of choosing between Thailand and Vietnam because they offer the best value for money experiences. Both countries have floating markets, but Vietnam has quick access to the South China Sea.
While Thailand has been quite famous for most, Vietnam is also rapidly gaining ground. If the decision will boil down to the cheaper option, then Vietnam is a sure winner. To give you some perspective, a week in Vietnam will only cost about US$284 per person.
If you are going to spend a week in Thailand, then you may need to spend about double that amount. The longer your stay, the higher your budget should be.
Most of the difference in the cost is in the accommodation rates. They are way cheaper in Vietnam. That's why most travellers working with a budget would stay in guest houses and inexpensive hostels, which are plenty in Hanoi. For families and luxurious travellers, nice hotels would be the option.
When it comes to food, it is much harder to compare prices because the two countries offer different cuisines. But the food is relatively much more affordable in Vietnam by as much as US$5, at least.
What Should I Avoid in Vietnam?
Vietnamese people can be excited to welcome tourists exploring their beloved country. However, like any place frequented by tourists, Vietnam may still have people keen on scamming people for some cash and valuables, so travel safety is a must. Here are some of the things you should avoid when visiting Da Nang, Hanoi, and other parts of Vietnam.
The Money Switch
The money switch scam is common to see in taxi drivers and motorbike drivers who would use the sleight of hand to switch the money you give them to make it appear that you have given them smaller denominations. They will often act as if you are the one trying to rip them off. Most commonly, they will switch a 500,000 VND and 20,000 VND because they are both blue. So whenever possible, you should pay using smaller bills. Have them exchanged in restaurants and convenience stores. If you are staying in Hanoi, there are money changers in the area.
Fake Taxi Scam
Vietnam has two major taxi companies, the Vinasun (white) and the Mai Linh (green). While most of their drivers are trustworthy, some drivers will try to imitate these taxi companies by matching colour schemes. Most of them will have taxi meters, but theirs would climb much faster, charging you more. And once you hand them your money, they will try the money switch strategy. Vietnam also has an available Grab and Uber. Use them whenever you are exploring faraway places. But if you are exploring the busy streets of Hanoi, it may be a better option to go on foot.
Tea Bag Marijuana
Vietnam has strict laws against marijuana use. However, it is pretty common for foreigners to smoke joints openly while in the country. In some cases, most taxi drivers will let you try real marijuana as you try to negotiate a price for a bag. Once you pay, they'll hand you a bag of tea and leave.
If you ever find yourself exploring Hanoi, you may find street vendors with baskets of coconuts and offer you their baskets to use for a photoshoot. Note that while you may be enjoying a fun time during the shoot, they will open a coconut and charge you an exorbitant price. You can't simply dismiss them because you'll only end up getting ganged up by locals who don't take it lightly when foreigners “cheat” Hanoi locals. But, don’t let this discourage you from exploring the innards of Hanoi. You just have to remember to be more careful when wandering around Hanoi.
Bait and Switch Massage
In Vietnam, you would commonly find alluring women attracting amorous men to come inside for a massage by flirting with them. Once paid, the beautiful woman will then be replaced with a cranky one who will do the massage. If you refuse to pay them, expect gangsters to intervene. So if you need a good massage, it will help to research online rather than following a pretty woman in a dark alley.
Most bus companies have porters who will try to pull some tricks on you. One common method they do is to tell foreigners that they need to pay a baggage fee when loading their items under the bus. In most cases, tourists will simply pay a small amount just to prevent getting into any kind of confrontation. Some foreigners who are yet to learn Vietnamese would assume that the fee is mentioned somewhere in the signs but just couldn't understand it. For your information, Vietnam does not have baggage fees. Simply refuse to pay and go to your seat.
Vietnam is a beautiful country to explore, and every day spent visiting heritage sites, and beaches will give you a different perspective of the country. Vietnam is more than just the country you will read in your history books. As always, make sure to have Vietnam travel with safety in mind. Vietnam can take your experience of street food, old town, and nature reserve to another level.