Vietnam is a jewel in the crown of South East Asia, boasting everything from vibrant cities and ancient culture to verdant highlands and idyllic beaches. With so many tempting options, it can be tough to know where to start. To help you get inspired for a trip to this captivating country, we’ve put together a list of our favourite things to do in Vietnam.
1. Enjoy the Historic Charm of Hoi An
The quaint town of Hoi An is a melting pot of Chinese, Japanese and French influences. Its unique cultural identity is reflected in ornate pagodas, open-air craft museums and ancient architecture set along the banks of a tranquil river. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a charming Old Town where motorised traffic is banned, making it the perfect place to explore on foot or by bike. Every evening its streets are illuminated by beautiful lanterns – but the monthly full moon lantern festivals are especially magical.
2. Explore the Mekong Delta by Boat
Outside of Vietnam’s bustling cities, the Mekong Delta offers an escape into the slower pace of life on the water. This stretch of the massive Mekong River is lined with rice paddies, fruit orchards, fish farms and floating markets. You can see it all on a luxurious river cruise, with daily trips to some of the Delta’s loveliest villages. This is a fantastic way to experience the authentic culture of rural Vietnam, and to take a relaxing break from the busier cities.
3. Sample Incredible Street Food
One of the best ways to get to know any country is by trying its cuisine – and in Vietnam, the most essential dishes are also some of the simplest. We highly recommend taking a street food tour to get an authentic taste of Vietnamese culture, from the iconic phở (soup with rice noodles) and bánh xèo (savoury rice pancakes) to indulgent cà phê trứng (egg coffee). You can follow a local guide through the narrow streets of Hanoi to find hidden delicacies, or hop on the back of a Vespa to zoom through Ho Chi Minh’s exuberant street food scene.
4. Cruise Through Bai Tu Long Bay & Cat Ba Island
Most travellers flock to the shimmering green waters of Halong Bay, but just around the corner you’ll find one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets: Bai Tu Long Bay. While its neighbour is packed with tourist boats and thousands of daily visitors, Bai Tu Long offers a much quieter alternative off the beaten track. Rest assured that you won’t be missing out on any scenery; it’s just as breathtaking as Halong, with 1,600 limestone karsts rising out of the sea.
5. Trek Through the Hills of Sapa
If you’re looking for beautiful landscapes and opportunities for adventure, head northwest to the gorgeous town of Sapa. The region around it is replete with rolling green hills, rice terraces, remote villages and panoramic views. True trekking enthusiasts can ascend the imposing Fansipan: the tallest peak in Vietnam. In between routes you can strike up a chat with the local residents, many of whom belong to ethnic minority communities.
6. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) is full of can’t-miss attractions, but make sure the Cu Chi Tunnels are at the top of your to-do list. Dating back to the 1940s, this extensive underground network played a pivotal role during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used to store weapons and food, to house soldiers and medical facilities and even to organise surprise attacks. Today you can take a fascinating tour of them at the city’s war memorial park.
7. Discover the Secret Wonders of Ninh Binh
Located in northern Vietnam’s Red River Delta, the province of Ninh Binh is an adventurous traveller’s dream. Most people overlook this intriguing area in favour of more popular places, which lends it the air of an undiscovered secret. Here you can float down rivers on traditional sampan boats, winding through limestone mountains and serene paddies. Climb 500 steps to reach the summit of Hang Mua, where you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the region.
8. Cross the Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills
Ba Na Hills is a mountaintop resort outside of Da Nang, set almost 1,500 metres above sea level. The park itself may be a bit flashy, but it’s worth a visit for spectacular views and its star attraction: the unbelievably picturesque Golden Bridge. Nearly 150 metres long, this graceful curve of golden steel appears to be held up by two enormous stone hands – a symbol of modern Vietnam.
9. Immerse Yourself in the History of Hue
Set on the banks of the Perfume River between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once the heart of an empire. The ancient Imperial City built by the Nguyen Dynasty is now a perfect blend of the past and present, with citadels and pagodas set against sleek hotels and a fantastic restaurant scene. Spend some time exploring the many historical sites here, dating all the way from the 4th century to the Vietnam War.
10. Marvel at the World’s Largest Cave in Phong Nha
The Quang Binh province in north central Vietnam is a wild land of jungle, waterfalls and wildlife. It’s here that you’ll find Hang Son Doong, a positively massive cave that’s 200 metres tall and 175 metres wide. Shafts of sunlight illuminate a dazzling ecosystem of giant trees, abundant animals and impressive stalagmites, creating a truly one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Apart from venturing into the depths of the cave, you can also explore its scenic surroundings.