Vietnam is a small country situated on the Indochina Peninsula. Located in the southwest region of Asia, this country, along with Laos and Cambodia, is known as Indochina. The name Vietnam came into being in the 2nd century BC, and it means ‘a group of people’ living in the south of China. The geography of the country is as interesting as the culture and the places to visit as the country appears to be in the shape of a dragon. It is popularly called 'the ascending dragon’ with the head of the dragon being the capital of Hanoi and the tail being Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon.Explore Vietnam!
Vietnam was under colonial rule for a long time, starting from the Chinese who ruled for 500 years, followed by the French and the Americans. It was only in the 1970s that Vietnam came to being a free and independent nation. As a result of the external influences from these countries and other factors, such as great philosophers like Confucius, the country’s innate culture is incredibly rich. It is also a very tourist-friendly nation.
So, while you plan your trip to Vietnam, make sure you have enough days with you to soak in all that this intriguing country has to offer. Here are 20 places that you really should try and visit when in Vietnam:
Start your trip in the capital city of Hanoi. It is also the second-largest city in the country. Hanoi has a lot to offer, with its age-old architectural facades and carefully preserved museums that give you an account of what all the city has been through in the 1,000 years of its existence. Here are the places that you must visit when in Hanoi:
• Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this Imperial Citadel has a rich history associated with it. This site served as the political centre of the country for as many as 13 consecutive centuries and was the capital of the country for eight centuries. Relics spanning between the 6th and 20th centuries have also been found on this site, and you are sure to be in awe when you stand there and look around this seat of history.
• Water Puppet Theatre
An interesting and unique concept, the puppet shows in Vietnam are performed over a liquid stage. The Thang Long Puppet Theatre is the most famous one in the country and the entire show, with perfect lighting and reflections of the puppets on the water, will be something you will cherish forever.
• Hoan Kiem Lake
A popular destination for tourists, this lake is extremely serene and pristine. The centre of the lake has the Ngoc Son Temple that is linked to the edge by a bridge. The aesthetic beauty of the lake is something you are sure to appreciate.
• Bach Ma Temple
Built by emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century, this temple is the oldest temple in the city. The unique white horse that you will see in the temple has an interesting legacy to it. It also contains a shrine to Confucius, which was a later addition in the year 1839.
• Temple Of Literature
Straight out of Vietnamese history, the temple of literature is a complex where the Chinese sage Confucius imparted his teachings to his followers. A huge area, ornate pavilions, gardens, and shrine give this place an amazing aura that you cannot help but feel when visiting.
• Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex
‘Uncle Ho’, the great Vietnamese leader, is preserved and his body on display at this centre. It is generally frequented by locals and tourists all year long.
• National Museum of Vietnamese History
An architectural delight, this museum was built by Ernest Hebrard and used the best of Chinese and French designs. The things on display at the museum will guide you through the history of the country.
• Lotte Tower Observation Deck
A recent addition to the tourist attractions of the city, the Lotte Tower Observation Deck gives you a full view of the city of Hanoi from its 65th floor.
Find out more about tours and activities in Hanoi
Also known by its former name of Saigon, this city is famous for the role it played in the Vietnamese War. It has some interesting places and numerous tourist attractions that showcase the rich culture of the city. Here are some of the best places in the city:
• War Remnants Museum
The war between America and Vietnam that carried on for 30 years will be relived when you visit this place. There are tanks, planes, war machines, and written incidences of all that transpired between the armies of both nations.
• Cu Chi Tunnels
This is a tourist spot wherein tourists can go inside the tunnels to see how the soldiers planned, fought, and lived during the war. A guided tour and an informative movie tells you all about the tenacious Viet Cong soldiers’ tactics during the war.
• Bitexco Financial Towers
Standing at 262 metres (859.6 feet) tall and comprising 68 stories, this structure is a refreshing change from the historical places around the city. You can view the whole of the city from its sky deck and enjoy a drink at their refreshing bar, called Alto.
• Notre-Dame Basilica
This is a religious structure built by the French. All the material used for the its construction was imported from France. The statue of the Virgin Mary and the architecture of the place is similar to typical Gallic architecture.
• Saigon Central Post Office
The Post Office came into being in 1891, and since then it has been preserved in its original form. Built in a French colonial architectural style, it was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who was also the architect of the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.
• Reunification Palace
The Reunification Palace is where North Vietnam proclaimed victory over the Americans. This was also a headquarters during the war and many war strategies were discussed in these halls and rooms.
• Ho Chi Minh City Zoo
A delightful experience when visiting with the family, the zoo houses many Asian animals like elephants, monkeys, hippos, tigers, and exotic reptiles.
Find out more about tours and activities in Ho Chi Minh City
Hue, the capital city during the Nguyen Dynasty, located 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of Hanoi, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is strategically located on the banks of the river Song Huong, the Perfume River. It served as the capital city until 1945. As a result, it has a deep history associated with it. When in Hue, your itinerary should include:
• Hue Citadel
The citadel complex is huge, comprising four citadels that create the city, namely Hoang Thanh (Imperial City), Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Purple City), Dai Noi (Inner City), and Tran Binh Dai (ancient city). The complex reveals many historic perspectives and is a treat to experience.
• Emperor Tombs
Since the city has witnessed many dynasties, there are a number of tombs along the Perfume River. These include the tombs of Minh Mang, Khai Dinh, Tu Duc, Dong Khanh, and many more.
Thien Mu Pagoda is the most famous of all Hue’s pagodas, with its octagonal structure and a height of 21 metres (68.9 feet). Other pagodas like Tu Dam, Tu Hieu, and Huyen Khong are also worth visiting when in Hue.
Find out more about tours and activities in Hue
4. Hoi An
Hoi An, situated on the central coast of Vietnam, has a well-preserved ancient town, which is a contributing factor to Hoi An being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk in the town and you will be able to appreciate the influences of the French, Chinese, and Americans over the years. Here are the top places to visit in Hoi An:
• Japanese Covered Bridge
This bridge dates back to the 18th century when the Japanese created it to gain access to the Chinese quarters. It is an absolute delight to look at it in its original form.
• Museum of Trade Ceramics
This museum is the house of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese ceramics that have been dug up during archaeological digs. Each piece is unique to its nationality.
• My Son Sanctuary
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is a remnant of the Champa civilization that was prevalent in south Vietnam between the 2nd and 17th centuries. The entire site has many temples of Hindu Gods, most noticeably those dedicated to Shiva.
• An Bang Beach
A stunning beach in Hoi An, this beach provides you with good views of the Marble Mountains, Da Nang Bay, Da Nang, and Cham Island. It also gives you the option of indulging in various activities like swimming, paddle-boarding, and surfing.
• Cua Dai Beach
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cua Dai Beach is a 3 kilometres-long (1.9-mile-long) beach with crystal clear water and peaceful waves, which make it safe for swimming.
Find out more about tours and activities in Hoi An
5. Nha Trang
This beach city is a top place for sea-lovers. Apart from the beaches, Nha Trang can offer you these destinations:
• Nha Trang Beach
The pure turquoise calm waters and a 6-kilometre-long (3.7-mile-long) beach of golden sand translates into absolute relaxation and fun. Indulge in water sports or swimming and enjoy the seafood and the nightlife along the coast.
• Buddha Statue
This huge white Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom can be seen from all parts of the city. This structure is 14 metres (45.9 feet) high and has 152 stone steps leading up to it.
• Po Nagar Cham Towers
A temple built between the 7th and 12th centuries, you can still see Cham, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Buddhist devotees using it for worship. Originally, the temple complex had seven or eight towers, but only four towers remain today.
• Long Son Pagoda
A typical pagoda built in the 19th century, it has mosaic dragons, glass and ceramic ornamentation, and many modern structures in the main sanctuary of the pagoda. It is definitely worth a look when in this beach city.
Find out more about tours and activities in Nha Trang
6. Halong Bay
In the north-eastern side of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay has emerald waters and many limestone islands, islets, and rocks. Some have interesting names, such as Stone Dog and Teapot islands. There are many tourist attractions in this area, namely:
• Lan Ha Bay
With 300 or so limestone islands, Lan Ha is a beautiful and peaceful bay. Here you can see around 200 species of fish, 400 species of arthropods, 500 species of molluscs, and both soft and hard coral in the water. Go snorkelling in these waters and enjoy the sea life.
• Cat Co Cove
Cat Co Cove has three beaches, 1, 2, and 3, each offering a host of activities like kayaking, windsurfing etc.
• Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park is home to the golden-headed langur and many other species of wildlife. When in this city, ensure you set aside a whole day for enjoying the nature that this national park has to offer.
• Cannon Fort
Cannon Fort has tunnels and guns from World War II. Apart from the historical significance, it serves as the best view point of the city.
• Hospital Cave
Built between 1963 to 65, this three-storey structure has 17 rooms and served as a secret bomb-proof hospital during the War in Vietnam.
Find out more about tours and activities in Halong Bay
7. Cat Ba Archipelago
The southeastern part of Ha Long Bay consists of this archipelago of 367 islands. Around half of these island house Cat Ba National Park. The rest of the islands have locals of mixed origins and you can get a local flavour of the place when visiting these islands, whilst enjoying the seafood and music.
8. Phan Thiet
The capital of Binh Thuan province is in the south-eastern part of Vietnam. It is basically a fishing port with many vibrant markets and eating joints. The Rang Beach, the Fairy Stream, and the quaint villages of this city will make you totally fall in love with this place. An important landmark is the Po Sah Inu Tower, a group of temple ruins and a Cham tower from the Kingdom of Champa. The remains are on the ancient hilltop of Ba Nai, located in the centre of the city of Phan Thiet. The 17th-century Van Thuy Tu Temple, which houses some 100 skeletons of locally revered sea creatures, including whales, is also popular with tourists.
9. Ha Long
This city is a hub for tourism, attracting many tourists to its islets. The original occupation of the occupants of this city were coal miners until tourism really bloomed in a big way. There are plenty of resorts and authentic food as well as the numerous picturesque attractions.
Sapa is a popular hill station located in north-western Vietnam. The French established it as a hill station in 1922 with villas and estates. Although those villas do not stand today, there are still a few remnants of the past, like the Catholic church. The Hoang Lien Son range of mountains is also in this region, and Sapa is also, therefore, a base camp for trekkers.
Find out more about tours and activities in Sapa
11. Can Tho
Situated in the Mekong Delta region, Can Tho is the largest city in the delta and fourth-largest in Vietnam. The Can Tho bridge across the river is one of the many tourist attractions of the place. The others are:
• Cai Rang Floating Market
This is the biggest floating market in this region. A wholesale market, early morning is the best time to steal some deals here.
• Ho Chi Minh Statue
The majestic statue of Vietnam’s very own ‘Uncle Ho’, surrounded by hammer and sickle flags, is a must-see attraction.
• Bang Lang
This magnificent bird sanctuary is home to storks and egrets aplenty. Enjoy the 1.3-hectare (3.2-acre) expanse of the area and do some bird watching.
• Ong Temple
Facing the Can Tho River and housed in Guangzhou Assembly Hall, this is a Chinese temple built in the 19th century. The stories and legacies associated with the temple are enjoyable and somewhat entertaining.
12. Phu Quoc Island
The sleepy Phu Quoc Island, off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, is a perfect place to unwind. When on Phu Quoc Island, here are the places you must visit:
• Long Beach
Long Beach stretches the entire length of the island up to the An Thoi Port. Along the beaches, you can get yourself drinks and food and indulge in watersports or just put out your towels and relax in the sunshine.
• Phu Quoc National Park
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this park occupies a major part of the island. Perfect for biking trails and enjoying nature in its true form, it is a safe national park.
• Fish Sauce Factory
An interesting destination to go to while on this quaint island, the distillery of Nuoc Mam Hung Thanh is the largest fish sauce maker in the area. The huge vats in which the sauce is kept and the process of preparation are intriguing. A major portion of this sauce is exported to Japan, North America, and Europe.
• Coi Nguon Museum
A private museum, this is truly Vietnamese as opposed to the other museums that house exhibits from diverse cultures. Get a slice of ancient and modern Vietnamese life when you visit this place.
13. Vung Tau
This is the port capital of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province on the peninsula of South Vietnam. Once a French colonial town and a preferred destination by French high society, it now serves as a popular seaside destination for weekend getaways from Ho Chi Minh City. Vung Tau has a spectacular location with ocean on 3 sides, a long and busy stretch of beach, and the verdant Small and Big Mountains as its backdrop. It is also home to several imposing colonial-era buildings and broad boulevards.
14. Da Nang
Da Nang is one of the major port cities of Vietnam and it is currently evolving in a big way. This is a modern city with hotels, apartments, malls, and facades of the modern world. The dragon bridge over the Han River is a major attraction along with its coastline that stretches up to 30 kilometres (18.6 miles). The coast is quite popular for diving, yachting, water-skiing, and even fishing.
15. Ha Tien
This is a small town in the Kien Giang Province and it shares its border with Cambodia. It is a typical small town with rice fields, pepper plantations, and a network of limestone caves on its beaches. Enjoyment and relaxation are the two things that this place can offer in plenty.
Haophong is a port in the north-eastern part of Vietnam that has many French colonial era landmarks that make it a popular tourist destination. The places to visit when in Haiphong are:
• Du Hang Pagoda
Built and rebuilt over the passage of the last three centuries, this pagoda showcases Vietnamese architecture and sculpture at its best.
• Hai Phong Museum
The history of the entire city is captured in this small no-frills museum. The garden is an added attraction that adds more than just history to the museum.
17. Mui Ne
Windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing, and other watersports are what this resort town can offer to its tourists. Mui Ne is on the South China Sea in Southeast Vietnam. The low tide of the sea makes it an extremely friendly place and it is swarmed by tourists all through the year.
18. Qui Nhon
Located in Central Vietnam, this city is composed of 16 wards and five communes. It has friendly beaches and many promenades that offer the best of the local cuisine. Mostly a retirement town, tourists are attracted by the litter-free streets.
19. Cat Tien National Park
This national park is situated 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Ho Chi Minh City. It is a 72,000-hectare (177,916-acre) park of lowland tropical forests. Given the large population of Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros, it was made a rhinoceros reserve.
Cat Tien National Park offers hiking, mountain biking, and bird watching, but there is a limit to the number of visitors it can accommodate. So, before you plan your trip, ensure you book as far in advance as possible.
20. Mong Cai
A small city in the Quang Ninh Province of north Vietnam, this is a border city with China. It is slowly emerging to be the industrial hub of the country. For tourists, the points of attractions include the Ban Gioc Waterfall, the historical caves, and, of course, the breathtaking scenery around Cao Bang.
Vietnam is a perfect combination of natural beauty and historical legacies
Seldom will you find a place so rich in heritage and so culturally diverse, yet modern enough to cater to tourists looking for a complete package. Take a good amount of time for your Vietnam vacation and make the most of your trip by absorbing all the history, the natural beauty, and the multitude of activities that this amazing country has to offer.