Vietnam – The Next Top Destination?
Why visit Vietnam? Vietnam is at that sweet spot as a travel destination where unique luxury resorts meet cheap street eats, where untouched rural nature gems are increasingly well connected to hyper bustling cities.
On the cusp of becoming the next top global travel spot, Vietnam offers an array of holiday options. From pristine beaches to historic sites, from mountain ranges to skyscrapers, these are the top 12 best places to visit in Vietnam.
Majestic Mountain Destinations
For a country strongly associated with the hot, humid, equatorial climate and flat landscape of Ho Chi Minh City, actually, Vietnam has many amazing mountains to offer.
Most of the mountain ranges lie in North Vietnam, the tallest peaks are close to the Chinese border. You can even experience snow here during winter. Central Vietnam is also home to some mountains, offering a refreshing escape from the surrounding cities.
1. Fansipan, Sa Pa
Fansipan is the tallest peak in Indochina, often called the roof of Indochina, standing at an impressive 3147 metres in height.
Adventure lovers should take hiking Fansipan as a challenge in stride, with options to conquer it in a day, or two days with camping. From the peak, you will get incredible sweeping views of Sa Pa, of rice paddies etched into the mountain ranges, buffalos and children at play, and unique villages belonging to the ethnic minorities.
There is also an easy way to the top – by cable car! If you choose this method, you will find a scenic landscape complex comprising of temples, amusement areas, and restaurants.
Fansipan is 9 kilometres away from Sa Pa town, a mountain town, which most foreign tourists used as a base to visit the Lao Cai province region, one of the most remote and untouched places to visit in Vietnam.
Love hiking in mountainous paradises? Check out our article on the best hiking and trekking in Sapa Vietnam
Based in Ho Chi Minh City and looking to escape to the mountains? The good news is Da Lat is just around the corner.
Da Lat is one of the popular tourist destinations from Saigon because of its ideal temperate climate. Sitting at 1,500 metres above sea level, Da Lat is a blend of natural beauty and man-made landmarks. Come here to visit beautiful flower gardens, wild pine forests, and vast peaceful lakes.
Da Lat is the fresh food capital of the country, coffee, wine, strawberries, avocados, and many other fruits and vegetables, are all grown in this fertile area. Make sure you set aside some time to visit the local market to taste everything the region has to offer.
Hungry for more? Explore the best food in Da Lat.
3. Ha Long Bay
Ha Long, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a place of mystical beauty, a myriad of limestone karsts and blue waters. Legend has it that this is the place where dragons decided to descend to rest, as ‘ha’ means to descend in Vietnamese, and ‘long’ is dragon.
Taking an overnight cruise through the ancient channels of Ha Long Bay is the best way to explore this breathtaking wonder of the world. There are 3 general zones of travel – the three neighbouring bays of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Visitors are free to explore thousands of limestone mountains and islands of Ha Long Bay, with plenty of opportunities to go swimming, kayaking, or caving. One can also visit floating villages, pearl farms, and One could even Sun World Halong Complex, an amusement park in North Vietnam.
Most cruises start off from Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the region. Cat Ba Island will give you a taste of local life and is home to a variety of bars, hotels, and restaurants. It also houses the Cat Ba National Park, which is definitely worth a visit. A trip to Halong Bay isn’t complete without trying out the food. Top dishes include chả mực (squid sausage), sam (horseshoe crab). These specialties are unique to this region of Vietnam.
The legendary beauty of Halong Bay makes it one of the wondrous places to visit in Vietnam.
Planning a trip? Here’s our round-up of the best attractions in Halong Bay
4. Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is Vietnam’s well-kept secret. Often skipped over for Halong Bay or Ninh Binh, Phong Nha has a lot to offer. Picture limestone formations, underground rivers, overland lakes, tropical lush jungles, and over 100 kilometres of caves. The natural wonder of Phong Nha is not to be overlooked.
The limestone formations here have evolved since the Palaezoic period, 400 million years ago, making Phong Nha home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia.
The gem of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is Paradise Cave, often called the underground royal palace for its majestic awe-inspiring beauty. It is 31.4 kilometres in length and has a height of 60 metres, it is an impressively large cave, and is in fact the longest dry cave in Asia. Filled with stalactites and stalagmites, it is illuminated with floodlights. You can book a tour to go deeper into the cave, and this includes a swim through the underground river and lunch under these ancient rocks.
Sun and Sea Destinations
With well over 3,000 miles of coastline coupled with several reputable island destinations, Vietnam has no shortage of gorgeous beaches. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to white sand beaches, snorkelling, tourist attractions, and all-around tropical paradises.
Whether you are looking for laidback full-service beach resorts or adrenaline-packed water sports, Vietnam has it all.
5. Phu Quoc Island
Seating at the tip of southern Vietnam is the idyllic Phu Quoc Island. A densely forested island shrouded by clear blue waters, this beach lover’s paradise is less than an hour’s flight away from Ho Chi Minh City.
The largest island in Vietnam, Phu Quoc boasts infinite stretches of beautiful white sand, thriving coral reefs, and lush green forests, it is also home to a number of Cao Dai and Buddhist temples, vibrant local markets, traditional fishing villages, and pepper plantations – perfect for visitors looking to try their hand at island living.
Of course, the main attraction of this sunny island is its immaculate beaches. Some are quiet pristine white sandy stretches, and some are packed full of life with fishing boats and seafood restaurants. The best way to see some of the loveliest beaches (and sample the catches of the day) is by motorbike, we suggest you take day trips to the northern side and another to the south, to experience them all!
Feel like a vacation in paradise? Check out our guide to the best beaches in Phu Quoc.
6. Con Dao Islands
The Con Dao archipelago is a collection of 16 islands famous for its unspoiled beaches and lagoons. The great thing about the Con Dao Islands is that it is off the beaten path and not that easily accessible as one can only reach there by a 45-minute turboprop flight from Ho Chi Minh City.
Con Son Island is the main island in the Con Dao archipelago, with only 5000 locals living there. This rustic getaway is filled with white sand beaches and amazing seafood.
Only a single main road goes about halfway around Con Son, and the best way to get around is of course by motorbike. Catch views of jaw-dropping cliffs, tropical plants, and the perfectly calm sea. Best places to visit include the small fishing village and fresh seafood market.
War history is embedded into the everyday life of Con Son Island. During the Vietnam War, prisoners were kept in poor conditions by the French in Phu Hai Prison. The main prison walls is still a landmark in Con Son Town and is regarded as a monument to those who died during the war and to Vietnam’s resilience. Come here to enjoy beautiful beaches while taking in important lessons from history.
Con Doa is a hidden gem. Discover more in our guide to the best activities on Con Doa Island.
7. Nha Trang
Nha Trang offers a six-kilometer stretch of beautiful coastline where one can enjoy a day of scuba diving, swimming, island hopping, or just relax and take in the lovely sunset views. This coastal town has been a well-kept secret of Vietnam and has only recently become a tourist hot spot.
There are also 19 untouched islets that are just a short boat ride away. Popular things to do in Nha Trang include mud baths, cooking classes, bicycle tours, boat cruises, and scuba diving. Nha Trang’s vast countryside is also great for exploring on foot, by bicycle and motorbike. Take a day trip out to find new beaches on the tourist trail.
For those who are looking beyond sunning on the beach, pay a visit to the salt fields at the nearby Hon Khoi Peninsula. Take in the amazing sight of women in conical hats farming salt mounts along the incredible coastline. Otherwise, spend some time at closely historical sites including the Po Nagar Temple, a remnant of the Cham kingdom.
Discover more in our guide to the best beaches in Nha Trang
Culture Filled Destinations
Vietnam is home to some of the world’s earliest civilisations in the early Bronze Age, which started to cultivate rice along its rich and welcoming riverbanks. With this long history and 53 different ethnic groups living here, Vietnam is a fascinating destination to learn about different cultures and ways of life. Travel to understand Vietnamese culture through food, dress, language, architecture, crafts and art.
The ancient imperial capital Hue in Central Vietnam is considered the historic treasure chest of Vietnam, and the top destination to discover the fascinating culture of the country.
Hue was the capital of the imperial Nguyen Dynasty for 143 years till 1945. Sitting on the banks of Perfume river, the waters shroud Hue in charm.
At the heart of Hue is of course the Imperial City – a must-visit for all visitors to this old town. It is ringed by a moat fed by the Perfume River and houses a complex series of gated courtyards, gardens, pavilions and palaces. The most important monument is the Forbidden Purple City, a term identical to the Forbidden City in Beijing, reflecting its Chinese influence. This is the innermost enclave, which was restricted to the imperial family.
In addition, tourists must visit the mausoleums and tombs of old emperors, the Thien Mu Pagoda, and the Trong Tien Bridge.
Central Vietnam has some of the most unique cuisines in Vietnam, here are the must-try dishes of Hue.
9. Mekong Delta
Hailed as the rice bowl of Vietnam, over 50% of the country’s rice is produced in the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta has more than 2000 years of history and is home to Vietnam’s early civilisation along its fertile banks. Understand and experience the riverine culture of Vietnam by visiting the Mekong region.
Ben Tre is one of the best places to visit in the Mekong region due to its cultural diversity. Known as Vietnam’s coconut capital, you will see many handicrafts and trade-related to the coconut industry. The lush greenery of Ben Tre also produces plenty of other fruit. Depending on what is in harvest, do make time to visit different fruit farms, and get to experience picking ripe fruit off trees!
The floating markets are a great cultural symbol of the mighty Mekong river, being the trade lifeline of many who have lived along its banks for centuries, and for other seafaring visitors in the region. The Cai Rang floating market is the largest of its kind in the Mekong Delta. Boat trips are the way to go here, jostle with the other boats selling fruits, freshly cooked Vietnamese food, flowers, knick-knacks, and more, and get ready to haggle!
Today, the Mekong remains an important symbol of power and prosperity in Vietnam and is called the ‘River of Nine Dragons’ (Song Cuu Long) in Vietnamese.
Looking for a cultural adventure? Follow our guide to the best things to do in the Mekong Delta.
Amazing City Destinations
Vietnam is a nation developing at a rapid pace. Its cities are overflowing with cultural richness, which includes Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and other global influences.
Cities are attractive to Vietnam’s young, eager, and ambitious population, and the Vietnamese youth flock to the country’s hubs for further education and better career prospects. Likewise, many foreigners come here to join up-and-coming industries. It is no wonder Vietnam’s cities offer an exciting snapshot of ongoing life.
10. Da Nang / Hoi An
A coastal city along the central coast of Vietnam, Da Nang has something for everyone. A bustling city tropical paradise known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port, it has good restaurants, upmarket shopping, and plenty of cultural sites to visit. Popular beaches include An Bang Beach and My Khe Beach, which are known by travellers of Southeast Asia as some of the most beautiful destinations.
A short half hour’s drive away is Hoi An ancient town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a prime example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th century. Its unique architecture includes Chinese assembly halls, French colonial buildings, Vietnamese timber shophouses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge.
Both Da Nang and Hoi An are popular bases for visiting the Bà Nà hills to the west of the city. Here the hillside Hải Vân Pass offers stunning views of Da Nang Bay and the Marble Mountains, which are 5 limestone outcrops topped with pagodas and hide caves containing Buddhist shrines. The Ba Na Hills also has the famous Golden Bridge which is a 150-metre-long pedestrian bridge.
Looking for the best spots in Da Nang? Check out the best beaches Da Nang has to offer.
Located in northern Vietnam, the capital city Hanoi is well over a thousand years old. Hanoi offers everything from temples to ancient pagodas, unique art, culture, and amazing wilderness within a day-trip distance.
The old quarter is the heart of Hanoi and also the most fascinating part of this ancient city. The old town is a maze of craft streets, where lanes and lanes of streets specialise in only selling one item. Here you can find silk street, traditional medicine street, paper street, and more.
The history of Vietnamese street hawkers has its origins in pre-colonial Hanoi, and here you can try the widest variety of delicious street food in Vietnam.
The list of things to do in Hanoi is endless. This can include visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, The Perfume Pagoda, Hanoi Old Quarter, Ba Vi National Park, Thăng Long Imperial Citadel, and Hanoi Opera House. Traffic is hectic and fast-paced in this bustling city, but you’ll be happy to know that Hanoi can be explored easily on foot or by bicycle, especially the famous and stunning west lake.
12. Ho Chi Minh City
Economic hub Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. It’s a place where the old meets the new with striking contrast. Temples are hidden among skyscrapers and cuisines with Vietnamese and global influences are consumed with gusto.
Each district of Ho Chi Minh City has its own unique flavour. District 1 is of course the city center neighbourhood and home to many of the famous historic and cultural sites, such as Ben Thanh Market, the Independence Palace (Reunification Palace), and the War Remnants Museum. It is also wonderful to simply walk around this district and take in the mishmash of brutalist and French colonial architecture.
Take a day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, to see the large network of tunnels used by Communist troops in the war against Southern Vietnamese and American forces in guerrilla tactics. You can even try to wriggle through one of the tunnels for a memorable experience.
There are endless places in Vietnam to discover. From spots with majestic natural beauty to cities pumping with nightlife, there is something for everyone. This bucket list of 12 best places in Vietnam covers the wide spectrum of delights Vietnam has to offer.
Whether you are an expat living in Vietnam, a holidaymaker planning your next heart-stopping vacation, or simply someone who is curious about Vietnam, discover the culture of Vietnam in our handy guide.
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