Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide

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Welcome to Sunny South Vietnam!

Welcome to sunny South Vietnam, a vibrant part of Southeast Asia known for its rich culture and stunning landscapes.  South Vietnam: a land of lush lowlands, tropical fruit plantations, and sunny beaches. At the same time, though, it is a land of progress, an economic hub, and home to the biggest metropolis in the country.

There’s a whole lot to explore. From minority tribes that based their religion on worshiping coconuts to cave systems used during the War to sunny beach resorts, this guide will take you to six of the best-known cities in South Vietnam and show you why they are so special.

The Best Time to Travel to South Vietnam

November through April is widely considered the best time to visit South Vietnam. There is usually very little rain during these months, and the climate is generally not too hot or humid. It’s also a good time of year to experience South Vietnam’s takes on Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, Women’s Day, and the famous Tet festival in late January/early February.

Keep in mind, though, that the weather patterns in Vietnam change a lot from year to year and even differ between provinces in the South. Make sure to check out a southern Vietnam weather guide before you finalize your trip itinerary.

Ho Chi Minh City – The Urban Jewel of the East

cities in south vietnam
View of Bitexco Financial Tower. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean

Discover the vibrant streets of Ho Chi Minh City, the economic hub of Southeast Asia, bustling with life and history, from the remnants of the Vietnam War to modern skyscrapers. Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam in terms of population and GDP. It offers travelers so much to do at all times that it’s a must-visit stop on any Vietnam trip itinerary. Explore the vibrant Ben Thanh Market, witness the grandeur of the Saigon Opera House, and get panoramic city views from the Bitexco Financial Tower’s SkyDeck.

A Bit of History

Saigon in the old days. Photo by Theme Tropole Blog - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Saigon in the old days. Photo by Theme Tropole Blog

Ho Chi Minh City has a torrid history of changing hands and being used as a home base in wars. Through it all, though, it has continued its development as South Vietnam’s cultural and urban center.

Before colonial rule, the area that would later become Saigon was a peaceful flatland inhabited by various tribes of the Khmer Empire. In fact, it was part of Cambodia until the Nguyen Lords seized it in the early 1600s. They used the area as a lively fishing port and the economic headquarters for their administration, laying the groundwork for what it would later become.

In 1859, the French conquered Saigon and developed parts of it significantly, constructing many of its now-iconic buildings and further cementing it as a bustling city and an economic doorway to the Western World.

During World War II, the Japanese took Saigon, which was one of the darker chapters of the country’s history. After that War, Vietnam was in a lot of financial and social turmoil, fertile grounds for the Civil War that most travelers will know simply as the Vietnam War. The War was obviously a horrendous event for many Vietnamese, but it was blessedly brought to a close in the mid-70s when North and South Vietnam finally unified. At that time, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

During its “modern era,” Ho Chi Minh City has developed more quickly than any other mainland Southeast Asian city. It’s now a bustling metropolis with the tallest buildings in Vietnam, the busiest nightlife districts, the best international food options, and some of the most interesting history. You can dive deeper into the city’s fascinating history at one of Ho Chi Minh City’s great centrally-located museums or a history-focused tour of Ho Chi Minh City.

Vibrant City Life

cities in south vietnam
Tan Dinh church. Photo by VIA Ambassador Benjamin Tortorelli

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s version of “The City That Never Sleeps.” The sprawling city offers visitors opportunities to explore:

  • A World-class Foodie Scene: Trying out street food is a very popular tourist activity in Saigon. But, simultaneously, the city is filled with high-end restaurants, fine dining, fusion eateries, and more! Although it’s fun to sample street food, you can try some Modern Vietnamese Contemporary Cuisine. Recent years have seen the opening of many unique fine dining concepts, like Vietnam’s first Capsule Restaurant in District 1.
A street food vendor in District 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
A street food vendor in District 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean
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Ho Chi Minh city night scene from above. Photo by Tron Le – Unsplash
  • Great Shopping: Wander the streets surrounding the bustling markets of Ho Chi Minh City, where modernity and tradition meet.. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the local markets in Ho Chi Minh City, which are dirty, crowded, and utterly exciting in a colorful fashion you’ll only find in a Southeast Asian metropolis. Conversely, luxury shopping malls like Takashimaya and Parkson Paragon sell imported goods and local handicrafts. Check out this guide of Ho Chi Minh City gifts and souvenirs that will interest visitors.
A wet market in District 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
A wet market in District 5. Photo by VIA Ambassador Adrien Jean
  • Amazing architecture: Because Ho Chi Minh City’s history is tinged with influence from so many different countries, the city’s architecture is a beautiful mash-up of styles. It’s an urban designer’s paradise, from the generations-old Vietnamese-style houses to the colonial French architecture of buildings like The Old Post Office and modern skyscrapers that define the city’s central business zone.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. Photo by Le Tu - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. Photo by Le Tu

A few of Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular attractions include:

  • The War Remnants Museum: This museum presents a poignant display of the futility of War. It has exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.
  • Cu Chi Tunnels: Located just outside the city, these tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Visitors can explore the tunnels and learn about the guerrilla warfare tactics used during the War.
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon: An iconic French-colonial cathedral known for its neo-Romanesque architecture and two bell towers topped with iron spires.
  • Ben Thanh Market: A bustling market in the city’s heart, famous for its wide variety of goods, including local handicrafts, branded goods, Vietnamese art, and local cuisine.
  • Saigon Opera House (Municipal Theatre): A fine example of French Colonial architecture, this opera house hosts a variety of performances, including ballet, musical concerts, and traditional Vietnamese dance.
  • Reunification Palace (Independence Palace): Formerly the presidential palace of South Vietnam, this building is now a museum and a historic site many visitors will recognize from live broadcasts from Saigon during the War.
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda: A beautiful and atmospheric Taoist pagoda filled with statues of divine and mythical figures. It’s an important religious site and offers a glimpse into local spiritual practices.
  • Chilling on Bui Vien Street: Known for its vibrant nightlife, this street is a hub for party-loving tourists, filled with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and hostels.
  • Saigon River Cruise: Offering a unique view of the city, these cruises are a popular way to see Ho Chi Minh City from a different perspective, often including dinner and cultural performances.
  • Touring District 1’s Rooftop Bars: For a more upscale experience, visit one of the many rooftop bars in District 1, which offer stunning views of the cityscape, especially at night, along with cocktails and entertainment.

There is a lot to do, and you could fill an entire book with all the popular things to do in Ho Chi Minh City (something which many have done), but this should be a good place to get started.

Travel Tips

When visiting Saigon, the best months to go are December through March. Southern Vietnamese fashion is casual, but locals dress up for evenings out. Research different neighborhoods and use ridesharing apps like Grab or Gojek. Learn a few basic Vietnamese phrases and explore the city, including hidden street stalls and cafes. Read up on navigating Saigon’s chaotic traffic before you go.

Visit our Ho Chi Minh City hub page and browse some more Saigon tours before you go there!

The Mekong Delta – Cultural Exploration

Man ride on boat on body of water. Photo by Victor Unsplash - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Man ride on boat on body of water. Photo by Victor – Unsplash

Explore the Mekong Delta, the heart of Vietnam’s enormous coffee industry and a labyrinth of numerous narrow canals. The Mekong Delta is arguably the best representation of Southern Vietnam. The landscape is flat and covered with greenery, the soil is lush, and the locals are extremely friendly and laid-back. It’s a colorful region with many welcoming communities based around agriculture and handicrafts. The biggest and most tourist-friendly cities in the Mekong Delta region include Can Tho and Ben Tre, but a tour of the entire Mekong Delta is needed to take in the unique vibes of the area. Immerse yourself in the local life at Cai Rang Floating Market and find tranquility at the Vinh Trang Pagoda.

  • Can Tho (Mekong Delta): Near the Mekong Delta, Can Tho is famous for the colorful Cai Rang floating market.
  • My Tho (Mekong Delta): My Tho is the capital of Tien Giang province in the Mekong Delta region.

A Bit of History

Scene of a Mekong Delta town in 18th century. Watercolour lithograph by Jean Francois Daumont circa 1760. Credit Wikipedia - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Scene of a Mekong Delta town in 18th century. Watercolour lithograph by Jean-François Daumont, circa 1760. Credit_ Wikipedia

The Mekong Delta was likely the first part of Vietnam to be civilized, with archeological findings showing that societies formed there in prehistoric times. It’s not too surprising, considering the area’s easy access to water and the lushness of the soil. In fact, the region’s agricultural potential is so great that it still serves as Vietnam’s premier destination for farming rice and other crops. 

For over 1500 years, the Mekong Delta region was part of Cambodia’s Khmer empire. Vietnamese settlers began moving into the area in the 1600s because of its lush soil, and the French colonialists used it as an agricultural hub for their Vietnamese operation during the 1800s. The French greatly improved the area’s infrastructure, building roads and canals throughout the region.

Then came the Vietnam War. During the 1950s-1970s, the Mekong region was torn apart. It served as a sort of stronghold for Southern forces, which made it the target for a lot of bombings from North Vietnam’s forces. Things calmed down after the War, and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has returned to a warm and friendly tourist favorite.

River Life

A group of people sitting on top of a wooden boat. Photo by Nathan Cima - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
A group of people sitting on top of a wooden boat. Photo by Nathan Cima

The culture of the Mekong region is quite distinct from the rest of South Vietnam because of the lush vegetation all around and the fact that people live in the middle of countless delta tributaries. Popular ways to explore the river life culture that is more or less unique to the area include:

  • Taking a Boat Tour: A boat tour is essential to experience life along the Mekong River. You can choose from various options, from small sampan rides through narrow canals to larger river cruises. Vietnam is Awesome offers a fantastic boat tour of the areas around My Tho and Ben Tre.
  • Visiting a Floating Market: The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, like Cai Rang and Cai Be. These lively markets are best visited in the early morning when they’re most active. You can see locals trading goods from their boats at the floating market, offering a glimpse into the traditional way of life. For example, check out this tour of Can Tho’s famous Cai Be floating market. Read more about the Top 5 Mekong Delta floating market experiences to decide which one you want to visit.
  • Exploring the River Islands: The delta is dotted with numerous small islands, each with a unique charm. Places like An Binh Island near Vinh Long offer serene landscapes, fruit orchards, and traditional handicrafts.
  • A visit to the Hau River in the Mekong Delta offers a glimpse into the lifeblood of this fertile region.
Tra Su Cajuput Forest An Giang Vietnam. Photo by diGital Sennin - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Tra Su Cajuput Forest An Giang Vietnam. Photo by diGital Sennin

Other than exploring the river life of the region, popular things for visitors to do in the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam include:

  • Exploring Historical and Cultural Sites: The Mekong Delta has several pagodas, temples, and colonial architecture. The Vinh Trang Pagoda and the Oc Eo Remnant Area offer insights into the region’s historical and cultural heritage.
  • Bird Watching in Nature Reserves: The delta is rich in biodiversity. Areas like the Tram Chim National Park are excellent for bird watching, especially for seeing the rare Sarus crane.
  • Visiting Fruit Orchards: The region is famous for its fruit orchards. You can walk through these orchards, learn about tropical fruit cultivation, and enjoy fresh fruits directly from the trees.
  • Sampling Local Cuisine: The Mekong Delta offers a rich culinary experience. Enjoy local specialties in village eateries or participate in a cooking class to learn how to prepare traditional dishes.
  • Agri-Tourism: Engage in agri-tourism activities like visiting a rice farm, learning about fish farming, or participating in a local harvest.

Travel Tips

Here are a few things to consider before heading to Vietnam’s Mekong region:

  • Stay at a homestay! It’s the best way to fully immerse yourself in the local culture, and many homestays in the Mekong Delta are very nice. [PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITY?]
  • Go off the beaten track. The Delta area has some cool cities, but most tourists report that the most memorable landscapes and interactions happen in the small villages they stumble upon. Don’t be afraid to explore a bit!
  • Rent a bicycle. As mentioned in the tip above, covering much ground without a specific destination is the best way to experience the Mekong region. Many homestays and hotels in the area rent bicycles.

Head over to our Mekong Delta hub page for more info on what to do and where to stay!

Mui Ne – Coastal Charisma

Mui Ne from a bird eye view. Photo by Anton Shuvalov - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Mui Ne from a bird eye view. Photo by Anton Shuvalov

Mui Ne is more secluded and peaceful than the previous places to visit in South Vietnam on this list. It’s a beach town with many fascinating geographical features, watersports, and seafood restaurants to enjoy. It’s a great place to go if you’re looking for peace and quiet. Experience the thrill of kitesurfing in Mui Ne Beach, and explore the ancient Po Shanu Cham Towers to delve into Champa culture.

A Bit of History

Cham peoples Kate Festival in Binh Thuan. Photo by Saigoneer - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Cham people’s Kate Festival in Binh Thuan. Photo by Saigoneer

Mui Ne used to be part of the Champa Kindom, and a lot of that culture’s Hindu-Buddhist symbology can be seen in the ancient architectural sites in the area.

After Vietnamese settlers began to move into Mui Ne in the late 1600s, though, the region’s history got fairly quiet. It has never been a major industrial or sociopolitical hub, and it has more or less remained uninvolved in Vietnam’s wars. It was in the past few decades, in fact, that Mui Ne came onto the map as a tourist destination.

Adventurous Escapades

Today, Mui Ne is a hub for the ultimate adventure in South Vietnam. It’s not the most famous beach town in Vietnam, but its low profile likely contributes to the wild and unexplored feel that lots of visitors love about it. Some of the adventure tourism activities that make Mui Ne a Southern Vietnamese paradise for nature lovers include:

  • Kitesurfing, Paragliding, and Windsurfing: Mui Ne is renowned for its excellent wind conditions, making it one of the best places in Asia for kitesurfing, paragliding, and windsurfing. There are numerous schools along Mui Ne Beach where beginners can learn and enthusiasts can rent equipment.
  • Jeep Tours: Take a jeep tour across the landscape for a thrilling adventure. These tours often include visits to the sand dunes, the Fairy Stream, and local fishing villages.
  • Riding an ATV: ATV rentals are available at the sandy dunes around Mui Ne (more on the dunes in the next section).
  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP): For a more relaxed adventure, try stand-up paddleboarding on the calm waters near Mui Ne Beach. It’s a great way to explore the coastline at your own pace.
  • Mountain Biking: The hilly terrain and rural landscapes around Mui Ne are ideal for mountain biking. There are trails suitable for both beginners and experienced bikers.
  • Hiking and Trekking: The surrounding areas of Mui Ne, including the Ta Cu Mountain, offer opportunities for hiking and trekking. The Ta Cu Mountain trek leads to a reclining Buddha statue and offers panoramic views.
  • Eating. It’s not exactly adventure tourism, but Mui Ne has some great seafood and exotic choices that will take you on a different adventure! Check out our guide to Mui Ne restaurants.
Mui Ne Phan Thiet Binh Thuan. Photo by Anton Shuvalov - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Mui Ne, Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan. Photo by Anton Shuvalov – Unsplash

One of the most appealing aspects of visiting Mui Ne is how many clearly defined points of interest there are. Planning a day there is almost like looking at the map of attractions at a theme park and deciding what rides you will visit in what order. Some of the popular landmarks that nearly all visitors make sure to see are:

  • The White Sand Dunes: Possibly the most iconic landmark in Mui Ne, these towering dunes are beautiful and a prime spot for sandboarding and riding the ATVs you can rent there.
  • The Red Sand Dunes: The red sand dunes are a bit smaller, but they’re closer to the town center. They’re also famous for their sunset views since their color adds to the scene’s beauty.
  • The Fairy Stream is a small stream running through a landscape of dunes and rocks. The stream is very shallow, and the floor is made of soft sand, so you can walk along the bottom of the stream as a path for miles as it snakes through interesting rock formations and a serene landscape that feels almost otherworldly.
  • The Fishing Village: This bustling village has colorful fishing boats and is a great place to see the daily catch brought in and observe local fishermen at work. It’s the best place in town to absorb the local lifestyle authentically.
  • Poshanu Cham Towers: This spot is for you if you’re a history buff in Mui Ne. These ancient Cham towers date back to the 8th century and reflect the rich history of the Cham civilization. They are set on a hill with great views of the surrounding area.
  • Mui Ne Beach: This long golden sand beach is known for its strong winds and waves. It’s the best spot to engage in the aquatic adventure sports mentioned above, and it’s right next to the city center.
  • Ta Cu Mountain: It’s a little over an hour West of town, but it’s worth the trip for nature lovers. The mountain is known for its beautiful trekking routes and the large reclining Buddha statue at the Linh Son Truong Tho pagoda.

Travel Tips

  • The best time to visit Mui Ne for weather and wind speeds is between December and April most years.
  • Mui Ne is only 4-5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City by bus or car. You should be able to book either of those modes of transport at any travel agency on Pham Ngu Lao Street in Ho Chi Minh’s city center. 

Setting your sails for Mui Ne? Peruse our Mui Ne hub page for more info about what to do and eat.

Vung Tau – A Local Beach Hideaway

Vung Tau by night. Photo by Thai An - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Vung Tau by night. Photo by Thái An – Unsplash

Vung Tau is a popular beach getaway for Southern Vietnamese from Saigon in Dong Nai Province. The weather is usually sunny and not too hot, the beaches are nice, and it has some incredible street food, from dried fish to “banh khot.” 

The town’s GDP per capita is also sky-high because of its burgeoning petroleum industry, which fuels local urban development and keeps the infrastructure strong. Climb the Christ the King Statue for breathtaking views of Vung Tau and unwind on the popular Back Beach.

A Bit of History

Vung Tau in old days. Photo by William Baker - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Vung Tau in old days. Photo by William Baker

Vung Tau has always been prized for its strategic coastal location. In the ancient past, the Champa used it as a hub for their trading empire. Later, the Nguyen Lords took advantage of Vung Tau’s location to make it a center for naval operations.

When France occupied southern Vietnam, they saw Vung Tau’s potential as a resort town. They made it a seaside getaway for the French and upper-middle-class Vietnamese and built the French colonial buildings that can be seen in the village today.

During the War, the Australian and American military used Vung Tau as a logistics and recreation site. The city’s port and airfield played crucial roles in military operations.

Since the War, the land off of Vung Tau has been exploited for the valuable natural resource found in spades there: oil. The massive income resulting from the oil trade funds the town’s rapid development.

Beachside Retreat

Vung Tau. Photo by Chu Chu Unsplash - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Vung Tau. Photo by Chu Chu – Unsplash

Vung Tau does an incredible job of combining a modern, developed city, authentic cultural experiences, and beautiful beaches. Unlike less developed and more rustic beach towns like Mui Ne, Vung Tau allows visitors to enjoy the sea views while walking along a well-kept boardwalk instead of down to the sand. Of course, there are sandy beaches, but they’re usually close to modern amenities and comforts like restaurants and shopping malls.

Some of the most popular beaches in Vung Tau include:

  • Back Beach (Bãi Sau): Back Beach is the largest and most popular beach in Vung Tau, known for its long stretch of golden sand and gentle waves. It’s a great spot for swimming and sunbathing, and the beachfront is lined with numerous restaurants and hotels.
  • Front Beach (Bãi Trước): Located on the city’s western side, Front Beach is known for its calm waters and picturesque views, especially during sunset. It’s a popular spot for locals and is less crowded than Back Beach. The area has a park and several statues, making it a pleasant place for a stroll.
  • Pineapple Beach (Bãi Dứa): This small and rocky beach is named after the pineapple plants growing along its coast. It’s known for its clear water and is a favorite spot for locals to swim and snorkel. While you’re here, check out the Hindu Niet Ban Tinh Xa Pagoda across the street. 
  • Paradise Beach (Bãi Dâu): Situated near the Big Mountain and the Small Mountain on the West of town, Paradise Beach is a more secluded spot known for its tranquil setting and beautiful scenery. It’s an ideal place for those looking for a peaceful beach experience.

Check out the top 10 beaches in Vietnam here.

Bach Dinh Vung Tau.Photo by Tri Thuc Cuoc Song News - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Bach Dinh, Vung Tau. Photo by Tri Thuc & Cuoc Song News

Popular ways for tourists to spend time in Vung Tau include:

  • Visiting the Christ the King statue: This large statue of Jesus, similar to the famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, offers panoramic views of the city and sea. Climbing to the top of the statue is a popular activity. 
  • Exploring the Lighthouse: The Vung Tau Lighthouse, one of the oldest in Vietnam, offers stunning views of the city and the coastline. The climb up is rewarded with a scenic panorama.
  • Golfing. Vung Tau is famous for golf and has world-class golf courses, such as Vung Tau Paradise Golf Course and Chau Duc Golf Course, which are 45 minutes from the city.
  • Enjoying the Cable Car Ride at Ho May Park: Located on the top of Nui Lon (Big Mountain), Ho May Park is accessible by a scenic cable car ride. The park offers various recreational activities and great views.
  • Visiting the White Palace (Bach Dinh): This colonial-era mansion, once a retreat for French governors, is now a museum showcasing artifacts and offering a glimpse into the region’s history.
  • Exploring the Worldwide Arms Museum: For history enthusiasts, this museum houses an extensive collection of weapons from around the world, dating back centuries.

Travel Tips

  • For a less touristy but slightly less accommodating vacation experience, try out the nearby town of Phuoc Hai. It also has beautiful beaches and an even more authentic fishing village culture.
  • For a more upscale resort experience, get a hotel on Ho Tram Strip, an area of Vung Tau specially developed for luxury travel.
  • Explore the West Side of Vung Tau and the East Side! There is a gap between the two, so it’s easy to forget both exist, but the truth is that they’re both really cool areas in their own ways. The East Side is older and looks more well-established, and the West is newer and more modern.

Phu Quoc – An Island Paradise

Phu Quoc. Photo by Khiem Antomy Unsplash - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Phu Quoc. Photo by Khiem Antomy – Unsplash

Phu Quoc is a paradisiacal island located off the southernmost tip of Vietnam. It’s known for its natural beauty, from its stunning beaches to its UNESCO World Heritage National Park. Although it has massive swaths of wild and undeveloped nature, Phu Quoc Island is also home to many thriving communities, including fishing villages and a small city.

A Bit of History

Dinh Cau beach in old days Phu Quoc. Photo by vbp - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Dinh Cau beach in old days, Phu Quoc. Photo by vbp

Until recently, Phu Quoc’s history was unremarkable. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times, first by natives, then by the Champa Empire, and then by the French colonialists. Until Japan used it as a base during the Vietnam War, though, the history of the area was relatively quiet.

During the Vietnam War, Phu Quoc was used as a prison island for captured Viet Cong. The infamous Coconut Tree Prison (Phu Quoc Prison) was a site of harsh conditions and is now a museum. After the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, Phu Quoc began to develop as a tourist destination. It has become known for its luxury resorts, international airport, and as a free economic zone. The island is increasingly popular as a beach and eco-tourism destination, receiving lots of foreign investment.

Natural Paradises

Lagoon in Phu Quoc. Photo by Darren Nunis - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Lagoon in Phu Quoc. Photo by Darren Nunis

When we say that large parts of the island are undeveloped, we aren’t exaggerating – you can often walk for miles along paths beside the jungle without seeing another person or even hearing the noises of civilization that are simply inescapable in almost any other part of Vietnam. During your travels, you might stumble upon one of the tiny fishing villages around Phu Quoc Island. Still, you’ll likely stumble upon some of the island’s wildlife or an untouched beach with coconut trees lining the forestline. From white sand beaches in the South to Golden Sand beaches up in Ong Lang, Phu Quoc has a range of beaches to explore! You can even take a boat trip on the southern islands and go snorkeling, and eating local seafood dishes at floating restaurants and hidden islands. 

If you’re the type that needs a destination in mind before exploring, a few of Phu Quoc’s most isolated beaches include:

  • Starfish Beach.
  • Bai Thom Beach.
  • Ganh Dau Beach.
  • The far ends of Sao Beach during the early mornings or late afternoons.

If you prefer thick forests to coastal adventures, you can check out Phu Quoc National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site northeast of Phu Quoc Island. The park is more than worthy of the distinction from UNESCO, offering ecotourism opportunities like:

  • Hiking and trekking.
  • Birdwatching.
  • Exploration of unique wildlife ecosystems.
  • Camping.
  • Mountain biking.
  • Entering the park’s marine environment.
Snorkelers do free dive to see coral in Phu Quoc Island. Photo by OnBird Phu Quoc - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Snorkelers do free-dive to see coral in Phu Quoc Island. Photo by OnBird Phu Quoc

Other than exploring the beaches and the national park, other popular activities for tourists on Phu Quoc Island include:

  • Exploring the Night Markets: The Dinh Cau Night Market in Duong Dong is a must-visit for local street food, fresh seafood, and shopping for souvenirs and handicrafts.
  • Fishing and Boat Tours: Joining a fishing trip or a boat tour to the smaller surrounding islands offers a fun and relaxing way to experience local life and enjoy the scenic beauty.
  • Visiting Pearl Farms: Phu Quoc is famous for pearl farming. Tourists can visit pearl farms to learn about the cultivation process and purchase authentic jewelry.
  • Touring the Fish Sauce Factories: Phu Quoc produces some of the world’s best fish sauce, the most popular condiment in Vietnam. Visitors can tour these factories.
  • Motorbike Exploration: Renting a motorbike to explore the island’s less-traveled roads and hidden spots is popular for more adventurous travelers.
  • Finding your way around fishing villages: Finding your way to Ganh Dau village and Ham Ninh fishing village and observing the daily life of locals is the best way to immerse yourself in the island’s culture.
  • Cable Car Ride to Hon Thom Island: The world’s longest overseas cable car ride, the trip to Hon Thom Island is truly breathtaking. On the other hand, visitors can go to the beaches to enjoy water sports or visit the cultural amusement park.
  • Sunset Watching at Dinh Cau Rock (Cau Temple): This site offers a great sunset view and is a significant spiritual place for the local fishing community.
  • VinPearl Safari is the best and most ethical zoo in Vietnam.

Hear about more things to do in Phu Quoc in this podcast with our local expert, Lily La, a health and wellness expert from Phu Quoc.

Travel Tips

Here are a few tips for Phu Quoc Island first-timers:

  • Try street food! Phu Quoc has some very distinct street food specialties you should seek out. Get started with “bun quay” and “bun ken.”
  • Rent a motorbike. As we mentioned, Phu Quoc is huge and has a lot of long stretches of open roads leading from place to place. So renting a motorbike is the most cost-efficient way to explore the island at your own pace. Luckily, there are a lot of motorbike rental agencies near the town center.
  • Consider Island-Hopping Tours: Exploring the smaller islands around Phu Quoc can be a great adventure.
  • Beware of Jellyfish: During certain times of the year, jellyfish can be prevalent in the waters around Phu Quoc. Ask hotel staff or travel agents about current conditions before entering the water.

Read over our Phu Quoc hub page and our list of the 10 best beach resorts in Phu Quoc for more recommendations about what to do and where to stay.

Con Dao – Tropical Ghost Isle

Con Dao, an island near the southern tip of Vietnam, is beautiful and offers adventure-seekers a lot of wild and untamed nature experiences. It also has one of the more interesting histories of anywhere in Vietnam.

A Bit of History – Legends of Con Dao Island

Con Dao island. Photo by Vinpearl - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Con Dao island. Photo by Vinpearl

Con Dao Island is steeped in fascinating legends that have contributed to its enigmatic charm. The myths include the tale of Lady Phi Yen, who drowned herself and whose spirit is said to haunt the island, and the belief that the archipelago was created by dragons. Pirates also supposedly hid treasures here in the past. Additionally, the island has a haunting history due to the brutal treatment of prisoners at Con Dao Prison during the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. These legends continue to add to the island’s allure today.

Con Dao 4738 1648708510 8192 1 7061 5148 165672702 - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
A girl exploring the Coral Mountain (located at Crystal reef) on her snorkeling trip in Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. Photo by OnBird Phu Quoc

Some of the most popular things to do as a visitor on Con Dao Island include:

  • Exploring Con Dao National Park: The park covers most of Con Dao Island and is a haven for nature lovers. It offers opportunities for trekking, wildlife watching, and exploring diverse ecosystems, including mangroves and coral reefs.
  • Enjoying the Beaches: Con Dao is home to some of the most pristine beaches in Vietnam. Nhat Beach, Dam Trau Beach, and Lo Voi Beach are particularly popular for their clear waters and serene settings. Sitting on the beach is popular, as are aquatic exploration activities like diving and snorkeling.
  • Taking to the Con Dao islands: For an even more secluded beach experience, take a tour or a private boat to one of the tropical islands surrounding Con Dao, like Bay Canh Island, Hon Tai Island, or Hon Cau Island.
  • Turtle Watching: Con Dao is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can watch sea turtles nesting. The best time for this is between June and September.
  • Visiting the Hang Duong Cemetery: This is the resting place of many Vietnamese revolutionaries and prisoners who died in the Con Dao Prison. It’s a place of reverence and historical significance.
  • Visit the Con Dao Museum: The museum provides a comprehensive overview of the island’s history, from its early days to its use as a prison island and natural history.
  • Hiking to Con Dao’s Lighthouse: For a panoramic view of the island, hike to the Con Dao Lighthouse. The walk is scenic, and the view from the top is spectacular.
  • Revisiting the Legends: You can visit the Con Dao Prison or the An Son Shrine on Con Son Island to get closer to the spooky legends mentioned above in the “Legends of Con Dao” section.

Travel Tips

  • Con Dao generally has the best weather (and the clearest waters) from November through April.
  • Book in advance. Con Dao has limited accommodations and fills up quickly, so you should book hotels in advance if you’re going during the peak season.
  • Bring a laptop and a good book. Con Dao isn’t Ho Chi Minh City and closes down early, offering very limited nightlife.

Headed for Con Dao? First of all, please send us your ghost photos if you manage to catch one on film. Second, check out our Con Dao hub page for more tips about places to stay and things to do.

Hidden Gems off the Beaten Path in Southern Vietnam

free photo of dau tieng lake - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Ho Dau Tieng, Tay Ninh. Photo by LSun NyShine from Pexels

Discover the lesser-known southern region of Vietnam, brimming with hidden gems and untouched landscapes. Venturing off the well-trodden tourist trails in Southern Vietnam reveals a treasure trove of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Buon Ma Thuot, nestled amidst the lush coffee plantations, is one of the region’s well-kept secrets, offering a unique glimpse into Vietnam’s thriving coffee industry. Journeying further south, Rach Gia beckons as the capital of Kien Giang Province on the far South of the Central Coast, inviting travelers to explore its coastal charm. Ca Mau, situated in the southernmost reaches of the country, is enchanted with its pristine landscapes and rich cultural heritage. As you continue your exploration, Chau Doc, Long Xuyen, Tay Ninh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Tra Vinh, and Tuy Hoa unveil their own distinctive wonders, each revealing a piece of Southern Vietnam’s hidden allure, from tranquil river life to cultural riches waiting to be uncovered.

Da Lat. Photo by Minh Tran - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Da Lat. Photo by Minh Trần

For a cool mountain escape, venture into the pine scented highlands of Da Lat. In the Central Highlands, Da Lat serves as a tranquil mountain escape and the region’s unofficial capital, making it an ideal gateway to explore the scenic beauty and hill stations of the Central Highlands. Meanwhile, along the South Central Coast, Nha Trang shines as Vietnam’s premier beach town, renowned as the region’s jewel. Nha Trang offers a perfect starting point to discover the South Central Coast’s stunning coastal landscapes, pristine beaches, and vibrant local culture. That being said, you can fly to any major tourist destination from major cities in Southern Vietnam. If traveling from South to North, look at the unmissable destinations in your next stop, Central Vietnam.

What City in Southern Vietnam is Worth Visiting?

Floating Market Flying Lettuce. Photo by Hamzy Selamat - Top Cities in South Vietnam: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Floating Market, Flying Lettuce. Photo by Hamzy Selamat

For travelers wondering which city in Southern Vietnam to visit, the region offers diverse options to suit various preferences. Urban explorers can immerse themselves in the bustling city life, historical landmarks, and vibrant street culture of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Cultural enthusiasts will find the Mekong Delta’s immersive cultural experiences, floating markets, and traditional river life captivating. Beach lovers and adventure seekers can head to Mui Ne for coastal adventures, water sports like kiteboarding, and unique natural landscapes, including sand dunes and fairy streams. Alternatively, Vung Tau offers a quieter seaside escape with serene beaches and historical landmarks, providing a more local experience. For island escapists, Phu Quoc Island beckons with its tropical paradise featuring beautiful beaches, diverse marine life for snorkeling or diving, and a relaxed atmosphere. Those seeking a secluded, pristine island escape away from crowds should consider the Con Dao Islands, known for their private beaches, historical significance, and peaceful ambiance.

Southern Vietnam is Waiting…

This guide outlines just a few incredible cities and places in Southern Vietnam. They’re good locations to use for a jumping-off point when constructing your South Vietnam travel itinerary, but they will hopefully serve as inspiration for other places to visit you find your way to. Whether you visit one of the locations in this guide or one of the other magical places in Southern Vietnam, we’re sure you’ll have an amazing time. Be bold and don’t explore; remember to hydrate and don’t spare the sunscreen! And if you’re visiting Southern Vietnam, why not begin your tropical experience with one of our tours in the South? We offer tours in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, and we’re always building our tour repertoire. In other words, we want to be your entryway to the awesome land of South Vietnam.

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Dustin Kemp
Content Writer - Vietnam Is Awesome
Dustin moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 2014 and quickly fell in love with the culture and people of Vietnam. He brings his passion to his writing and planning as the Content Manager at Vietnam Is Awesome.

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