Brimming with an exotic vibe, Vietnam is an ideal Southeast Asia destination for thrill-seeking travellers. The country is divided into four regions, namely Northern Vietnam, Central Coast, Central Highlands and Southern Vietnam. If you are planning a trip here, you should consider coming during spring, which is from February to April, or autumn which is from August to October.
Each of Vietnam’s major cities offer travellers unique experiences ranging from food tasting, sightseeing, cruising, and nature tripping, among others. Read on and learn more about the most exciting tours you can try in this country!
1. Go around Ho Chi Minh aboard a motorbike
Motorbikes are a quintessential part of Ho Chi Minh’s bustling street culture. You will get to know more about this when you join a motorbike tour, where guests are brought around the famous spots in the former French colony aboard a lightweight motorcycle. Some of the places you may visit are the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, Central Post Office, and Ben Thanh Market. For your own safety, you would have to ride on the back of the vehicle and let your guide drive. Make sure you wear a helmet too!
2. Explore a historic tunnel network
Located 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) away from Ho Chi Minh, the Cu Chi tunnels makes for an interesting day tour. These 250 kilometers (155.3 miles) of tunnels are a part of a large network of underground passages that were used during the Vietnam war. Get a feel for what it was like during the war as you walk through track loops or crawl in certain sections. There are also examples of war materials, like residues of bomb craters and traps. Cu Chi tunnel tours are not recommended for the claustrophobic.
3. Cruise through one of Vietnam’s most popular UNESCO sites
Ha Long, which means Bay of the Descending Dragons, is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site recognized for its great ocean karsts. The best way to explore this rare beauty is by joining a Ha Long Bay cruise. For a quick glimpse of the islands and the limestones, you may join a day cruise. However, if you want to fully appreciate Ha Long Bay, choose an overnight cruise — think of beautiful sunsets, starry nights and refreshing sunrises as the junk boat slowly makes it way into the bay!
4. Visit the famous Perfume Pagoda
Buddhism remains one of Vietnam’s main religions. A visit to the country would not be complete without at least taking a peek at their pagodas. From Hanoi, you can go on a Perfume Pagoda tour, which visits an ancient Buddhist pilgrimage site. Full-day trips usually include a boat ride to the main site and a one-way cable car ride. Upon reaching the top, you will see Buddhist shrines and statues within a huge limestone cave, as well as grottoes and temples. Take note: the Perfume Pagoda is not easily reachable by public transportation, making group tours a more convenient option.
5. Cross the Thu Bon River
Hoi An’s ancient town is worth a walking tour, but for those who are not fond of taking long walks, you can go on a sampan ride along the Thu Bon River instead. Although tourist boats are widely available, a sampan is a more local way of exploring the waters. These flat-bottomed boats are usually rowed by women — prepare to be amazed by how fast they can paddle! The best times to go on a Thu Bon River tour is during early mornings or sunsets. Avoid coming during mid-day, especially during the summer as it can get too hot.
6. Taste fresh spring rolls, sticky rice and duck embryo
Explore Vietnam using your tastebuds! Can Tho, a bustling area located in the heart of the Mekong Delta, is an ideal destination for a street food trip. Various food tours are available in Can Tho, bringing guests to the small eateries and even street carts selling local favorite foods. Some of the Can Tho food you should not miss are fresh spring rolls, sticky rice, and — not for the faint-hearted — duck embryo. Tip: finish off your Can Tho street food experience with a sip of Vietnamese iced coffee!
7. Take a plunge and see beautiful coral reefs
Located in the southern coast of Vietnam, the beautiful island of Con Dao is home to a throng of underwater creatures and giant coral reefs. If you are into diving, this is a place you should consider visiting. Diving tours in Con Dao are offered by professional and PADI certified instructors. They provide boats, necessary equipments and even diving lessons for beginners. Most dive operators also offer snorkelling activities.
8. Meet locals of the hill tribes
Vietnam is not just about the bustling cities. Its countryside is also worth a try for adventure-loving people! There is Ha Giang for an instance, a province located in the northeastern part of the country. Trekking and hiking are the most recommended activities in the area. These tours give guests a glimpse of natural gems such as karst plateaus and lush hills, as well as Ha Giang’s ethnic diversity. If you wish, you can even arrange tours that will let you mingle with the locals of the hill tribes and experience their way of life by staying overnight in one of the villages.
9. Ride an army jeep to explore Hue
So you have tried walking tours, biking tours and cruises. You might be asking: is there anything new and exciting to try in Vietnam? Definitely! In Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, you can go on a jeep tour — not just an ordinary jeep but an army jeep for that matter! It can bring you to Hue’s most renowned tourist spots like the Royal Tombs, Thien Mu Pagoda, Thái Hòa Palace, the Forbidden Purple City, as well as mountains, villages and secret spots that only locals know. If you have a personalized itinerary, let your tour provider know in advance and see if they can tailor the tour based on your preference!
10. Buy goods at a floating market
The town of Cai Be belongs to the Mekong Delta region and is famous for its colorful floating market. Ride a sampan and experience the local market life for yourself! Located along the Tan Phong Island, hundreds of sellers in boats gather here to trade products. Most of the items you will find here are fresh produce like fruits and vegetables. Unlike other floating markets in the Mekong Delta, you can also get items at Cai Be’s floating market. Make sure to come early in the morning because the sellers wrap up around mid-day.
11. See ruins of temples
Here’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site you shouldn’t miss when visiting Vietnam: the My Son Sanctuary! Composed of ancient ruins from the Cham Empire, it is recognized as the longest inhabited archaeological site in Vietnam. It is a common day trip destination for travellers coming from Hoi An and Da Nang. The best time to visit My Son Sanctuary is during early mornings. You can join a “sunrise tour” for example, but it doesn’t exactly mean you will get to watch the sunrise at the park. It means you will get there as the gates open, around 6:30 AM. Such tours usually include fewer people than regular tours that begin to arrive from 8:30 AM onwards.
12. Explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta doesn’t run out of surprises for travellers. Take a longtail boat tour along its waterways and discover the unique way of life of its inhabitants! The region is known as one of the largest producers of Vietnam’s agricultural products. Another thing that sets it apart is that the locals here prefer travelling on the river than by the road. Meanwhile, visitors who prefer exploring on their own can get a private longtail boat instead of joining a big group tour. Some of the activities you can do aside from the boat ride include a fish farm and fruit farm visit, and sampling the Mekong Delta’s local food.
13. Appreciate "Paris of the East" while riding a cyclo
Hanoi, dubbed “the Paris of the East,” is Vietnam’s bustling capital known for its string of French-inspired buildings, lively markets and colourful nightlife. Aside from its architecture, another French influence still evident in the city are the three-wheeled bicycle taxis called cyclo. It was first introduced in Hanoi during the French colonial period and today it remains a popular tour option for visitors. Up to two people can usually fit in one cyclo. For your safety and convenience, booking a cyclo tour in advance is recommended instead of hailing one as you go.
14. Have your dinner while sailing on the Saigon River
The Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh can get pretty romantic at night. If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the views, one option is to join a Saigon River dinner cruise. In such tours, authentic Vietnamese food is served and you can choose whether you want a buffet dinner or a plated meal. For better views, choose a boat with an open-air deck. Meanwhile, good music and entertainment are also usually included in the dinner packages. These range from bands, to solo performers and even groups performing traditional dances.
15. Experience a speed boat ride
The Can Gio Biosphere Reserve tour is a must-experience for every nature and wildlife lover. Tours usually come from Ho Chi Minh City, which is 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) away from the wetlands. Boats are a common transportation option in Can Gio, but eco-friendly speedboats are also popular among travellers. Here you will visit a lagoon, explore a mangrove jungle and see a crocodile reserve. If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot gibbons, monkeys and rare bird species as you cross the waters. Bring your own binoculars for a more exciting sightseeing experience!
16. Learn about local cuisine
Once you’ve tasted Vietnam’s rare and delicious fare, the next step is to learn how to cook it by yourself. You can join a culinary tour like those in Hoi An, which commonly includes a market visit, tips on how to pick the right ingredients, and a hands-on cooking lesson. Culinary tours in Hoi An are offered by local restaurants while more organized and up-scale ones are offered by established cooking schools. Some of the most prominent Hoi An food you can learn to prepare are Cao lầu, a dish of rice noodles, and White Rose, a shrimp dumpling.
17. Visit the Marble Mountains
When you are in Da Nang, you wouldn’t have to go too far just to catch a glimpse of nature. Located 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) south of the downtown, you can easily find the Marble Mountains — a group of five hills representing different elements, namely Thuy Son (Mountain of Water), Moc Son (Mountain of Wood), Hoa Son (Mountain of Fire), Kim Son (Mountain of Metal) and Tho Son (Mountain of Earth). Trekking tours mostly cover only one of these five mountains but you can visit other attractions in the area like Buddhist temples, grottoes and caves. Feeling extra adventurous? Try a Marble Mountain tour that includes rappelling!
18. Cycle along rice fields
Ninh Binh in Northern Vietnam has beautiful cycling trails passing through rice fields and karst towers. The trails are beginner-friendly, making cycling the best option to explore nearby sites. Cycling tours are widely available in the province and you can go as far as Bich Dong, a pagoda dating back to 1428, and Phat Diem, which is a Roman Catholic cathedral with a mixed Vietnamese and European design. Other must-see places you can reach by biking are Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, Bai Dinh Temple, Trang An, and Cuc Phuong.
19. Experience Vietnam’s nightlife like a local
The fun never stops in Da Nang! At sundown, the city becomes even more alive thanks to its booming nightlife scene. If you are staying here for a few days, make sure you don’t miss the popular night spots! There are Da Nang nightlife tours, which bring visitors to various bars, clubs and lounges open until late night. Meanwhile, for foodies, you can visit restaurants or go on a night food tour instead.
20. Watch the sunrise or sunset in Tam Giang Lagoon
Running along quiet villages in Hue is the Tam Giang Lagoon, where three big bodies of water meet: the O Lau, Huong and Bo rivers. Spending some time here to escape the fast-paced life in the city is a must. Small group tours usually meet with fishermen and farmers at work, play with children on the grass, and experience living in one of the local houses. Aside from the memorable experience of immersing yourself with the locals, another privilege you will get when staying at Tam Giang Lagoon is its beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Don’t forget to ask the locals for the best viewing spots!
21. See the beauty of Hoi An’s shore
Occupying a long waterside stretch, the city of Hoi An often becomes a stop for cruise ships. The most common starting point for shore excursions is the Tien Sa Port. There is a beautiful street along My Khe Beach where you can take a stroll. It leads to the city proper where you will learn more about the history of the old port town. See buildings with Chinese and Japanese influences, enjoy traditional music and go shopping for local items before returning to your cruise ship!
22. Spend time in a Ceramic Village
Bat Trang is Vietnam’s largest producer of ceramic products. This industry was first introduced in the 15th century, and today the locals mostly rely on making ceramics for their livelihood. You will see how the people dedicate themselves into this intricate craft when you join a Ceramic Village tour. Apart from traditional items, some of the new items they are producing to meet demands are ceramic cups, dishes and even building materials. These are exported to various countries in Asia and Europe. If you want to try your hand at pottery, you can also join a pottery-making class!
23. Check out Mui Ne’s white sand dunes
Mui Ne’s white sand dunes should be on every thrill-seeker’s bucket list. Also known as “Bach Ho” or “Bau Sen,” the dunes are surrounded by freshwater and low forests, as well as with lotuses, which adds to its mysterious charm. The best way to explore is by a pre-arranged 4x4 vehicle tour. Meanwhile, if you are a painter or a visual artist, this picturesque geological wonder could also be an inspiration for your next masterpiece!
24. Understand different religions in Vietnam
Aside from Buddhism, Vietnam has other indigenous religions. There’s Caodaism for instance, which originates from Tay Ninh, a city located in southwestern Vietnam. Most Tay Ninh tours include a visit to the Cao Dai Temple, where masses are held three times a day: one each for the early morning, mid-day, and midnight. The temple is mostly filled with tourists during the mid-day mass. Other things to look for at the temple include an orchestra that performs traditional Vietnamese music, the Divine Eye, which is shaped like the triangle of Justice, and the domed ceiling painted with stars.
25. Learn about the process of silk-making
Interested in fashion and design? Hoi An has some of the best silk cloth producers in Vietnam and you can pay them a visit by joining a silk village tour. Silk-making in Hoi An has been a Champa tradition for almost 300 years now. From gathering silkworms to dress making itself, the silk tours serve as a crash course for fashion enthusiasts. There is also a Quang Nam-style house-turned-showroom, featuring 100 variations of the Vietnamese national costume called ao dai. If you wish, you can even get your own tailor-made silk clothing for affordable prices!
26. Practice your photography skills
Hanoi is home to approximately six million residents. The busy streets and the chaotic yet colourful markets of the city are the perfect places to observe the local culture. Just like the fruits and vegetables sold at Long Bien Market, the scenery here is as raw and as fresh as it can get. You can go people watching, but you can also try to see things through your camera lens. There are market photography tours you can join, which usually start during early mornings. Experiment with different camera settings, find the best vantage points — there’s just so much you can explore here, making the tour worth getting up early in the morning for!
27. Experience Vietnamese farming and fishing life
Wear a Vietnamese conical hat and get ready to experience farming and fishing life when you stay in Hoi An. There are tours visiting the Tra Que Vegetable Village, where the crops and herbs are purely organic. Learn traditional methods of planting straight from the experts and try it for yourself! Accommodating both kids and adults, this is a hands-on experience that gives insight into the local livelihood. For a complete farming experience, don’t forget to ride a water buffalo! Meanwhile, for fishing, head to the Cua Dau River and go paddling aboard bamboo basket boats before you meet with fishermen who will teach you the traditional fishing methods.
28. Go kayaking amidst beautiful islands
Cat Ba, the largest island in an archipelago with the same name, is a haven for adventurers who love exploring the water. Most tours coming from Hanoi and heading to Ha Long make Cat Ba an overnight stop. If you wish to stay longer here, there are various island activities you can try, including kayaking, snorkelling, swimming and caving. It has beautiful limestone forests, serene beaches and lagoons, as well as mangroves and willow swamps. Meanwhile, if you are looking for cheap boat tours, head to Bến Bèo, which is one kilometer (0.62 miles) away from Cat Ba’s main strip.
29. Sip aromatic Vietnamese coffee
Drink coffee, Vietnamese-style! Da Lat, located in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam, has the ideal soil type and climate for coffee growing. If you love coffee, dedicating a day to visit to one of the plantations in Da Lat just seems fitting. Coffee tours in Da Lat give guests a glimpse of how the coffee beans are picked, sorted out and processed for commercial purposes. There are many kinds of coffee available here, but one of the most unique is luwak coffee. These are made of the ripest coffee beans eaten, but not fully digested, by luwak (civets) running around plantations. Of course, don’t forget to have a sip and enjoy the cool surroundings!
30. Try your hand at squid fishing
Try squid fishing at Phu Quoc, where there are plenty of fishing spots and opportunities for relaxation! Tour groups for squid fishing leave at sunset and usually stop by a seafood market. Meanwhile, just outside the harbor, the squid are just waiting to be caught. Learn fishing techniques from your guide and try as hard as you can, but don’t forget to have fun! If all else fails, just sit back and enjoy your freshly-prepared dinner. Tip: check with your tour provider if meals are included in the fee or paid for separately!
Pick your own adventure
The good thing about visiting Vietnam is that there are lots of ways to explore — specific cities cater to specific interests, which makes planning a trip in the country a little easier.
This article was originally published on Apr 22, 2016
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