From top to bottom, Vietnam is a country with endless opportunities for exploration, both in its quiet hill tribe towns and in its bustling metropolitan cities.
From the country’s vibrant capital city of Hanoi in the north to its pristine beaches in Southern Vietnam, we’ve highlighted 11 spectacular things to do that can’t be missed when visiting this uniquely diverse Southeast Asian country.
1. Ha Long Bay
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is a popular tourist destination in Quang Ninh Province in northeast Vietnam, known for its emerald waters and thousands of soaring limestone islands covered by rainforests.
Situated in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay features nearly 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular landscape ideal for photo ops. The area’s many islands remain practically untouched and uninhibited by humans, mainly due to the precipitous nature of the terrain.
In Vietnamese, “Ha Long” translates to “descending dragon,” the reason the bay is also referred to as the “Bay of the Descending Dragon.”
Known for the millions of motorbikes zipping through the streets with what seems to be a total lack of traffic regulations, Hanoi is Vietnam’s chaotic and vibrant capital city, a great place for nightlife, some of the best pho in the nation, and an abundance of educational and historical experiences.
According to VietNamNet Bridge, Hanoi will have 6.1 million motorbikes by 2020, 7 million by 2025 and 7.5 million by 2030. Hanoi’s motorbike prevalence and hectic traffic is by far the city’s most manifest character trait.
While in Hanoi, be sure to indulge in its many cultural landmarks, such as Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Hanoi Temple of Literature.
3. Sa Pa
A lesser-known Northwestern Vietnam destination, Sa Pa is a small town in the Hoang Lien Son mountains, home to various hill tribes such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao that make up much of the population.
Known for its vast and lush rice paddies, Sa Pa is a popular trekking base that overlooks the terraced rice fields of Muong Hua Valley.
Go backpacking in Cat Cat Village, take a suspended cable car ride to Fansipan Peak, or visit the town’s Notre Dame Cathedral, built by the French in 1895.
4. Golden Bridge, Ba Na Hills, Da Nang
With its grand opening in June, Da Nang’s Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills is stunning travelers from around the world. Its a unique architectural curiosity not to be found anywhere else in the world.
Two enormous stone hands extend toward the sky from below, as if they were holding the bridge itself. The structure soars 3,280 ft. above sea level, with the hands representing the “giant hands of Gods.”
Golden Bridge is a 150-meter pedestrian bridge and this year was named one of TIME‘s “100 Greatest Places.”
5. Hoi An
Known for its limitless, colorful strung lanterns, lengthy canals, and its well-preserved Ancient City, Hoi An is situated on Vietnam’s central coast, a former port city known for its blend of cultures.
When walking through Hoi An, travelers can see the history etched in the city’s architecture, with remnants of wooden Chinese shophouses, ornate Vietnamese tube houses, the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge and French colonial buildings.
When traveling to Hoi An, don’t miss out on An Bang Beach, Fukian Assembly Hall and Phung Hung Ancient House.
Ben Kaplan of Green Global Trek agrees that Hoi An is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
“The combination of Chinese and Colonial French architecture is simply beautiful,” Kaplan says. “The yellow and blue town sits at the edge of a beautiful river that connects Hoi An to local islands that can be visited on the back of a scooter. Every street corner is an opportunity for aesthetic exploration. The high quality food markets and street food culture just adds an irresistible layer that make Hoi An the easiest claim to ‘most beautiful and affordable city’ that I have not only visited, but lived in for 5 months. Just go. Now.”
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Saigon was Southern Vietnam’s former capital before being captured by North Vietnamese troops in 1975 and subsequently renamed Ho Chi Minh City. It is now the country’s most heavily populated city with approximately 8.4 million residents.
A historical city, Ho Chi Minh is webbed with an immense network of connecting underground passages known as Cu Chi tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels are part of a much larger network of tunnels spread throughout the country that were dug by communist guerilla troops known as the Viet Cong in order to combat better-supplied American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War.
The Cu Chi tunnels combine as a great history lesson and day trip from Saigon, an experience not to be missed during any visit to Ho Chi Minh City.
Located in Saigon’s District 1, Ben Thanh Market is a large marketplace and one of the city’s earliest surviving structures.
An important symbol of the city, Ben Thanh Market was developed from informal markets by 17th-century street vendors near Saigon River.
Travelers visiting Ben Thanh Market will get the change to purchase traditional ao dai garments, local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs, Vietnamese art, and authentic cuisine.
With exhibits relating to both the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving French colonists, War Remnants Museum’s permanent exhibits feature 66 photos, 20 documents and 153 historical artifacts.
The museum is dedicated to cherishing the memories of the Vietnamese people’s great heroism in their struggle against foreign aggression.
Entrance into War Remnants Museum is 40,000 VND, or $1.70 USD, and free for children 6 years old and younger.
Vietnam’s Beaches & Luxury Resorts
9. Phu Quoc
A Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is known for its pristine white sand beaches and five-star resorts.
Salinda Resort Phu Quoc Island is a five-star boutique resort dedicated to providing outstanding hospitality, featuring 121 luxury rooms, suites and villas designed in a contemporary style.
This top-notch Phu Quoc resort also features various restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, boutique shop, Salinda Spa, a health club, business center and Kid’s Club.
10. Nha Trang
Known for its beaches, diving sites and offshore islands, Nha Trang is a coastal resort city in southern Vietnam stretching along Tran Phu Street, packed with world-class resorts, seafood restaurants and a promenade.
Set on Nha Trang Bay, Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang is a chic, five-star luxury beachfront resort with close proximity to Long Son Pagoda and the Vinpearl Cable Car linking to Hon Tre Island.
As Nha Trang’s only beachfront resort, Evanson Ana Mandara Nha Trang features 74 guesthouses with beautiful views of the water and touches of elegant Vietnamese decor.
11. Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a beach resort town in Southeast Vietnam along the South China Sea. Mui Ne features a long, palm-lined stretch of sand with steady wind conditions, making it a hub for windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing and other water sports.
One of Mui Ne’s only five-star resorts, Anantara Mui Ne Resort features several pool villas surrounded by tropical gardens and encompassed by the resort’s lagoon.
When visiting Mui Ne, be sure to visit the Red Sand Dunes, Mui Ne Harbor (Suoi Hong) and Muine Fishing Village.
We hope you take us up on some of these suggestions if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam — though, of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means! Happy trails.