Vibrant Vietnam is a country filled with bucket list-worthy sights and experiences. These amazing places to visit in Vietnam, highlight the nation’s fascinating history, rich culture, natural beauty and lip-smacking cuisine.
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Special note for Vietnam travel
The one tip I give everyone planning a trip to Vietnam is to travel south to north if you can. The north of the country has seen significantly less Western influence than the south and therefore provides a more unique cultural experience. Though the south has plenty to offer, it felt less exotic and there was more of that “tourist hustle” going on. Our itinerary was north to south because we were crossing the Mekong Delta into Cambodia, but if we did it again, we would definitely reverse the order.
Vietnam’s capital lies on the banks of the Sông Hồng (Red River) in the country’s north, and over time has been occupied by the Chinese, French and Japanese, all leaving their indelible mark on the city. Among the best things to do in Hanoi include a wander around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter, visit to the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site, exploring the Temple of Literature and taking in a water puppet show.
Take an overnight cruise on Ha Long Bay to see the jade waters and vertical limestone islands and islets of the World Heritage Listed site. One of the iconic images of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay’s unique national park is made up of an archipelago of roughly 1900 islands in the Bay of Tonkin, near the Chinese border. Ha Long, meaning “Where the Dragon Descends to the Sea”, is the place to explore traditional floating fishing villages and limestone features such as Sung Sot “Surprise” Cave.
At the foothills of the Annamese Cordillera mountain range, just inland from the South China Sea, stands Hue. Though like me, you may have never heard of Hue before planning your Vietnam travel, I can tell you it is a must-visit. Hue was once the seat of power in the time of the Nguyen dynasty’s rule over Vietnam from the mid-16th to mid-20th century. A great legacy of that time is the Imperial Citadel, the remains of an impressive walled palace complex, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other significant sights in the area include the elaborate tombs of various Emperors, Thien Mu Pagoda and Dong Ba Market.
Hoi An is a former trading port where among others, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, French and British ships stopped to buy products. Hoi An, nicknamed “Lantern City”, was known for quality textiles as well as paper, porcelain, tea, sugar, nuts, pepper, mother-of-pearl and Chinese medicines. The UNESCO listed Old Town streets showcase the diverse influences of traders visiting the region with Indochine shophouses, a Japanese Bridge and the ornate Chinese assembly halls. Though some come for the nearby beach resorts, you’ll gain more cultural insight with a walking tour of the Old Town, cycling the rice paddies and taking cooking class.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the largest city in Vietnam by population. It was the capital of French-occupied territory in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, then again for almost a decade between 1945 and 1954. Ho Chi Minh City is the financial centre of Vietnam, and it shows, with a much more international vibe than the north. Honestly, HCMC has some very worthwhile sights but don’t plan to spend more time there than necessary. Be sure to visit Ben Thanh Market, the various French colonial buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the War Remnants Museum, as well as day trips out into the Mekong Delta to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and fascinating Cao Dai Temple.
If you plan to cross the border into Cambodia by land or boat, you might find yourself exploring the Mekong Delta in more than a day trip. The Mekong River is the world’s 12th largest river, winding from its source on the high Tibetan Plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, finally draining into the South China Sea via Vietnam. Along the way, you will find orchards bountiful in tropical fruits, Binh Thuy Ancient House, floating markets and Sam Mountain.
Plan a trip to Vietnam
Are you ready to explore Vietnam yet? I for one have had my bags packed and ready to return since the day I left. It is truly an incredible part of the world and one of my personal favourites. I hope you get visit all of these amazing places in Vietnam. For more details see these posts on Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,