What to see in Vietnam? First of all, let us congratulate you on choosing the most beautiful destination ever. Excellent choice! Secondly, you are asking the right question and we have all the answers.
Vietnam is a magnificent country for its landscape, culture and humanity. The Vietnamese are welcoming, helpful and smiling. Their culture and traditions are fascinating and the natural and urban landscapes are nothing less than evocative. If Thailand seems too touristy and you don’t think you’re ready for India yet, then Vietnam is the right destination for you. And with our advice on what is unmissable, you cannot go wrong. Given that Vietnam can be divided into three zones due to its narrow and elongated conformation. This article will be divided accordingly. Shall we get going?
What to see in North Vietnam
Where else can you start if not from the capital Hanoi? Among the things to see in Vietnam, it is undoubtedly at the top of the list. Hanoi perfectly represents Vietnam, i.e. the right blend of modernity and traditions that make it so captivating to travellers from all over the world. Among the streets of Hanoi, you can experience the chaos and frenzy typical of large Asian cities, while in the temples you can find peace and silence, almost as if these two realities were not part of the same ecosystem. The main element of Hanoi is water. The Red River crosses the city, and the Hoàn Kiếm Lake (aka Sword Lake), is an almost mystical place in the heart of the old town.
How to get around Hanoi? The most common vehicle here is the scooter. Put yourself in a Hanoian’s shoes and speed through the busy traffic of the city streets. What not to miss? Many recommend the temple of literature, founded in 1070 … and that’s why we list it, too. However, in our humble opinion, the best way to discover Hanoi is to wander its streets – to come across a temple or market where tasting local street food is pretty commonplace!
From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh: discover Vietnam from north to south!
If you think of Vietnam as traditional villages immersed in green paddies on the hills, then you are on the right track. In the north of the country, there are several areas where you can admire the enchanting rice terraces. Among these, the best known is Sa Pa. In a picturesque town where the landscapes do “all the heavy lifting”. The views here are really a delight for the eyes. Although Sa Pa has become one of the favourite tourist destinations for travellers over the years, here you can meet some ethnic minorities who survive thanks to the rice cultivations. An ideal stopover if you love nature and hiking but also want to get to know the area’s culture and traditions.
Ha Long Bay
Of all the enchanting places to see in Vietnam (and let’s face it, there is quite a number), Ha Long Bay is undoubtedly the first in the ranking. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, some consider it the eighth wonder of the world – and how can you fault them? The bay is dotted with stacks and islands that emerge from the water, covered with green vegetation and often surrounded by a light mist that makes the landscape even more enchanting. Legend has it that this bay was born during a battle between the Chinese and Vietnamese, where dragons rushed to help the latter by spitting out jewels that later formed the bay’s islets. Ha Long literally means “where the dragon descends into the sea”.
How should you visit the bay? You can take part in a cruise of one or more nights, definitely the most popular way to visit Ha Long. Thus, you can also witness a sunrise immersed in the bay’s magical atmosphere. We also advise you to rent kayaks and explore Ha Long independently, so you can enjoy its immense beauty in peace. For a breathtaking view, climb to the viewpoint on Poem Mountain. It’s a hike into the heart of nature that opens onto an incredible view of Ha Long Bay!
Ninh Binh, Tam Coc and Hang Mua
One last unmissable place in North Vietnam is the Ninh Binh region. The capital that bears the province’s same name does not really have much to offer, but just 6 km to the south is what many call the “Ha Long Bay of the mainland”. Here we find the village of Tam Coc, surrounded by rice paddies and mountains that look like stacks coming out of the ground. The most common but unmissable excursion to do in these parts is to get on board a boat and sail the river, exploring caves dug right along the riverside.
As for Ha Long Bay, there is another unmissable viewpoint: Hang Mua. To climb this mountain, you have 450 steps to ascend but believe us, the view is worth all the effort: from here, a 360° view of the entire surrounding area opens up. How to get around Tam Coc? Rent a bike and pedal through the rice paddies and mountains – you won’t be disappointed.
What to see in Central Vietnam
To discover Vietnam’s oldest history, Hue is the perfect place. This city was the capital of the country during the Nguyen dynasty empire and even today, it can be perceived that Hue is the heart of the timeless Vietnamese culture. Just pay a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Imperial Citadel, home to several buildings, including the Imperial Family’s residence. Hue’s second attraction is the imperial tombs, scattered along the river to the south of the city. In general, the atmosphere is that of an ancient Vietnam, linked to tradition. Decidedly unlike the experience in large cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City!
Your travel itinerary to Vietnam must include a stop at Hoi An, a picturesque town that rises practically above water. The old town is developed along the river and there is a multitude of shops, from restaurants where you can taste typical dishes to stores where you can purchase a custom-made dress/suit or a lantern. In the evening, this area is evocative thanks to the colourful lanterns that are reflected on the river. Hoi An was one of Vietnam’s main commercial ports between the 1400s and the 1800s and even today you can still sense the influences of other cultures, especially in architecture.
We recommend that you stay in Hoi An for at least one night, so you can fully experience the magic of this small town. If you feel like a day trip you can reach the ruins of My Son, about an hour’s drive from Hoi An. My Son was a noteworthy religious and spiritual centre during the Champa Kingdom and comprised over 70 structures including monuments, temples and shrines. The ruins are incredible, also thanks to the natural landscape that surrounds them.
Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam following Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and directly overlooks the sea. Renowned for its beaches, consider it if you also want to make a stop to enjoy some time beside the sea. This is an ideal starting point to visit the hills of Bà Nà just 45 minutes from the city, where there is an amusement park that mainly attracts locals. For a few months, however, travellers have also been visiting these parts, especially because they want to walk on the famous suspended bridge supported by two giant stone hands, the latest thing when it comes to trendy snapshots for Instagram feeds.
Like Da Nang, Nha Trang is also a seaside resort known for its beautiful beaches and islands. Let’s say that if you’re looking for authentic Vietnam, Da Nang and Nha Trang will be quite disappointing. The look of these two cities is decidedly western, with buildings and skyscrapers practically everywhere. However, if you want to make a stop at the sea on your itinerary without going to Phu Quoc, these are the ideal options. There’s no shortage of nightlife, and if you’re feeling nostalgic for the natural element, check out the Ba Ho Falls, just outside Nha Trang – you can even take a dip in some natural pools. Not too bad at all!
The desert in Vietnam? Yeah, there’s that, too. In Mui Ne, a less developed seaside town than Da Nang and Nha Trang, the main attraction is the dunes that seem to pop out of nowhere. They have two colours, white and red – although the latter, albeit suggestive, are no big deal. On the other hand, the white dunes, are extensive and allow you to do some excursions with a dune buggy or take a sandboarding lesson. Stay until sunset, the most special moment of the day.
Da Lat is a Vietnamese destination for those who are tired of Vietnam and want to visit Europe. This town is nicknamed “Little Paris” for the fairytale atmosphere that makes it an ideal destination for a romantic getaway. Consider that you can also find a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower. Definitely not what one looks for when making a trip to Vietnam, no matter how beautiful Da Lat may be. However, outside of Lat, there is the calling of nature: 30 km from the city is the Pongour waterfall. Being one of the largest in Vietnam, we feel we can safely include it among the things to see in Vietnam. There is also the possibility of canyoning: if you seek an obscure adventure, Da Lat could be the right solution for you!
What to see in South Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is the second most important city in the country after the capital Hanoi but holds the primacy of being the largest and most populous. Its official name was Saigon until 1975 and was the ancient capital of South Vietnam before unification. Ho Chi Minh City is back to the hustle and bustle of the chaotic Asian metropolises, and you can’t miss a stop here just to lose yourself in its streets. Not to be missed in Ho Chi Minh City is the excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. A good way to discover the country’s most recent history!
One of the biggest attractions in South Vietnam is south of Ho Chi Minh City and is surely among the things to see in Vietnam in the top rankings. The Mekong is an immense river and its delta has a huge reach. You can take part in a day tour (there are many of them starting from Ho Chi Minh), or spend a night on the delta. Here you can see how even today, this river is an essential resource for local communities – just take a boat ride to see it. One thing not to miss? The floating markets!
Among the things to see in Vietnam, a tiny, fortunately still little-known gem is the island of Phu Quoc located in the south, although it seems to be part of Cambodia at first glance. Phu Quoc is a tropical island where nature reigns untouched. More than in Vietnam, you’ll feel like you’re in the southern islands of Thailand. After a trip from north to south to discover the country, coming here is like putting the final touches on the cake. It takes three days to recharge your batteries and return home as fresh as a daisy.
Does Vietnam fascinate you? Discover WeRoad trip in this magnificent land!
Do you love South-East Asia? Then don’t miss our guide to Indonesia!