Many people travel to Vietnam with the intention of a short holiday, but end up spending more time there than planned. The country is to blame, as there are so many sights to see, activities to do, and foods to try, that it’s difficult to fit it all into a two-week itinerary. So, let’s sort it out and highlight 20 things you should not miss while exploring the S-shaped country. This way, you can make the most of your time, while still having the best possible experience with the landscapes, people, and cuisine.
1. Visit one of the most beautiful ancient towns in the world: Hoi An
Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Central Vietnam and is well-known for its rich cultural influences from China, Japan, and France, which can be seen in its architectural attractions and residential housing. This ancient town offers a unique blend of bustling shophouses and the relaxed lifestyle of the local people. In Hoi An, you can enjoy a variety of cuisine, including some of the best dishes in the country, such as mi Quang and cao lau. The town is also a shopping paradise, offering tailored suits, unique patterned clothing, handcrafted items, and much more. To truly experience Hoi An, rent a bicycle and explore the town, where you’ll be amazed by the small surprises hidden in every alleyway and corner. Although small in size, Hoi An has much to offer.
2. Embrace the tranquility on Con Dao Islands
Con Dao is a secluded destination off the Southern Coast and is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Despite being underappreciated, Con Dao is a hidden paradise, offering a tropical island with turquoise coastlines that are both beautiful and quaint. In the eyes of the locals, however, Con Dao is a historical witness, home to the Con Dao Prison, also known as “Hell on Earth” to the prisoners of war who were held there. Vietnamese people now travel to Con Dao as part of their spiritual journey, often visiting the graveyards of iconic national heroes. As a result, the beautiful beaches are left to nature lovers. If you’re a culture vulture who wants the best of both worlds – tourism and history – then Con Dao is the place to be.
3. Stay at least one night in Ha Long Bay
Visiting Ha Long Bay is a must-do while traveling in Vietnam. To fully embrace the mystique and majesty of the bay, we suggest you stay on a cruise ship for at least one night. The cruise will take you through the meandering waterways, allowing you to get up close to the giant limestone formations. You can watch the sunrise and sunset from the boat, surrounded by thousands of limestone karsts of all shapes and sizes. The boat provides beds, food, and other necessities. If you’re looking for more active activities, you can go kayaking or swim in the bay. This trip is a treat for nature lovers, providing an enjoyable and immersive experience.
4. Experience floating markets in the Mekong Delta
Compared to other parts of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta may seem a bit lacking in natural landscapes, but it is rich in unique trade customs and practices. The well-linked system of water bodies allows sellers and buyers to sell their fresh produce. Merchants from all over the region gather here at dawn to prepare for a busy day of trade. The best time to experience the authentic vibes is around 6 AM to 7 AM. Nowhere else can you eat a bowl of hu tieu on a canoe while watching the motorboats crisscrossing by and be served food from boat to boat. The noise of the mini boats’ engines and the clear calls of the vendor ladies create a lively and bustling atmosphere, truly reflecting life in the Mekong Delta.
5. See the Golden Bridge
The bridge at Ba Na Hills (Da Nang) is an attraction that doesn’t cross any rivers. Recently added to the complex, it has garnered attention not only from travelers, but also from the architectural community due to its eccentric design. The pedestrian bridge hovers over 1,400 meters above sea level, offering a breathtaking view of both the mountains and the sea. One special feature of the bridge is its 150-meter length of metallic yellow paint, adorned with flowers, which inspired its name. The highlight of the attraction is the weathered and mossy-looking hands supporting the bridge, a metaphorical representation of nature’s protection. Walking on the bridge in the early morning mist creates a sense of walking on clouds. The combination of landscapes and architecture makes it a must-see photography experience.
6. Eat a bowl of Pho in Hanoi
Pho can be found anywhere in Vietnam, but there’s nothing like eating pho in Hanoi. Pho Hanoi has its own charm: the broth is light and has no side veggies. The right bowl of pho should have lots of blanched green onions and a side egg (chen trung tran), accompanied by deep-fried Vietnamese-style churros (banh quay). Hanoi boasts pho vendors that have been operating for generations. Some of the most authentic places consist of just a simple pair of bamboo yokes and a couple of small stools. They open very early in the morning (4 AM to 5 AM) or late at night (1 AM to 2 AM). So, the best feeling is to snuggle down in your warm jacket while waiting for a steaming bowl of pho in the chilly weather of the capital city. Make sure you don’t miss out.
7. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
A mere 70 km from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) lies the renowned historical destination – Cu Chi Tunnels, attracting millions of visitors annually. This network of over 200 kilometers of tunnels, known as the “underground city”, was designed with functional spaces such as meeting rooms, emergency rooms, kitchens, and more. It took over 20 years to complete the system, which is divided into three levels, with the deepest reaching 12 meters. During the war, all daily and military activities took place within these tunnels. When visiting Cu Chi Tunnels, you will have the opportunity to explore a portion of the tunnels (which have been expanded for tourists’ safety) and gain an understanding of the living and combat conditions faced by Vietnamese soldiers and what contributed to their victory. You can also try the unique snacks that used to serve as the main diet of the tunnel dwellers. Come and find out!
8. Drink a cup of Ca Phe Sua Da in Saigon
It’s often said that Saigon is a multicultural city, gathering the highlights of cuisine from across the country and lacking its own specialty. However, we would argue that Saigon excels in one particular dish: milk coffee (ca phe sua). Coffee shops are abundant in Saigon, but the best ca phe sua recipes all have one thing in common: strong black coffee made from high-quality beans, mixed with condensed milk, and served over ice (ca phe sua da). It’s no exaggeration to say that this drink is beloved by the Vietnamese people and can be considered the national drink. It’s delicious any time of day, goes well with all types of food, and serves as a perfect wake-up call. You can even customize your cup by asking for more or less milk. One sip of this amazing drink will surely leave you in awe.
9. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Hue
Talking about history, during the course of a thousand-year feudal regime, Hue served as the former capital of the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There still remains spectacular royal architecture from that era, including a collection of well-preserved palaces and tombs of royalty, each with its own unique layout and architectural design, designed to meet the strict requirements of Feng Shui principles. The site was recognized by UNESCO in 1994. To fully explore the immense complex and experience its solemn yet peaceful atmosphere, a full day is recommended.
10. Enjoy the nightlife in the unsleeping city – Saigon
Saigoneers work hard, but they also know how to fully enjoy life. Saigon’s nights are full of activities to suit every mood, from the bustling backpacker street of Bui Vien, to rooftop beer gardens and hidden cocktail bars. The city also offers countless options of delicious local street food to cater to all palates. Saigon at night is unmatched in energy, making it the perfect place to embrace a young, wild, and free spirit.
11. Visit Phu Quoc Island
No matter how much time you have to spend in Vietnam, Phu Quoc should definitely be added to your travel list. It offers direct international flights and a visa-free stay of up to 30 days. Phu Quoc boasts a diverse marine life, making it an ideal location for diving, and there are also numerous hidden waterfalls in its lush forests waiting to be explored. You can even take a look at traditional fish sauce-making villages to see the unique condiment being made. In addition to its natural beauty, Phu Quoc also has a rich history and cultural festivals that cannot be found anywhere else. This island is truly a paradise for sea lovers, not only for its own charm, but also for the collection of unspoiled remote islands that surround it, in case you want to extend your stay.
12. Explore the land of caves – Quang Binh
Quang Binh, specifically Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, is home to a vast array of caves of varying shapes and sizes. There are several “baby caves” that cater to all ages and physical abilities, including Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave, Dark Cave, among others. You can take a rowing boat to venture deep into the caves and admire the stunning formations of stalactites, a creation of Mother Nature. For those seeking a more challenging experience, professionally organized treks are available for your safety. Some of the most popular options include Hang En (Swallow Cave), Hang Tu Lan (Tu Lan Cave), and the world’s largest cave, Son Doong Cave. This cave is a true test of one’s limits, as you will trek through the pristine forest, cross underground rivers, camp in massive caves, and witness one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders.
Entering the land of caves is a giant leap into the wonderland that you won’t want to miss.
13. Fall in love in Sapa
Sapa is a city that holds a special place in the hearts of many Vietnamese people, and is often a must-see destination for travelers. It’s no surprise, given the city’s breathtaking landscapes and unique cultural influences. While the center of Sapa has modern amenities to accommodate tourists, the surrounding villages have maintained their traditional beauty and customs. Sapa is a popular destination for couples, thanks to its chilly and misty weather (with occasional snow in the winter) and an abundance of seasonal flowers, creating a romantic atmosphere. It is also home to the highest peak in Indochina, nicknamed “the roof of Indochina” – Fansipan Peak. Sapa offers a unique and different experience compared to other highland cities you may have visited.
14. Explore Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in Lan Ha Bay, which is located just beyond Ha Long Bay and boasts similarly stunning scenery. Visitors can participate in a variety of water activities such as fishing, kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing on isolated islands in the bay. For a break from the ocean, they can explore Monkey Island or Trung Trang Cave, which contains historic Vietnamese artifacts. Finally, they can take a trip up to the hilltop fortress for a breathtaking panoramic view of the island and its fishing villages at sunset. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem.
15. Immerse yourself in Quy Nhon
Quy Nhon is a rising coastal city in Vietnam that is gaining recognition for its stunning beauty. The city is peaceful yet offers fascinating surprises, from its empty sandy beaches to its unique statues and monasteries. Ky Co Beach and Eo Gio are two must-visit attractions with a small entrance fee. Quy Nhon provides a comfortable atmosphere with open spaces and public areas where you can sit and relax while enjoying the ocean breeze. The city also offers enjoyable travel, with wide, newly-built roads along the shoreline. Additionally, the seafood noodles in Quy Nhon are exceptional, as seafood is freshly caught from the sea. As Quy Nhon continues to become more popular, we suggest visiting this city before it becomes too touristy.
16. Visit the terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai
Mu Cang Chai is a small mountain village in northwest Vietnam known for its agriculture, particularly terrace farming. Visit during the summer or autumn (July to October) to see the lush rice terraces turn into enchanting golden fields. The area is also home to the thriving Black H’mong people, an indigenous ethnic tribe known for their vibrant traditional clothing. Observing them as they harvest the crops gives a glimpse into the rich culture of the town. If you want to see stunning paddy fields on hillsides, Mu Cang Chai is a must-visit.
17. Find a relaxing moment in Dalat
Dalat is a highly sought-after getaway destination that captivates our hearts no matter how many times we visit. That’s why we want to highly recommend you visit this city of flowers and pines. Although it has become quite touristy in recent times, it is so spacious that you can easily find quiet spots for yourself. A recommended itinerary for your trip would be:
- Rent a motorbike and explore the scenic roads that wind through the oval-shaped pine hills.
- Make a list of the many excellent coffee shops in Dalat that you would like to visit, each offering unique and Instagram-worthy decor.
- Stay at a cozy homestay with a scenic view, a specialty of Dalat, and gaze at the illuminated farms on the horizon. If you’re feeling adventurous, treat yourself to a glass of wine and some chocolate.
- Snuggle into the comfortable bed and have a good night’s sleep while listening to the wind sing.
Dalat is where you can immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the slow pace of life.
18. Admire Tam Coc, Ninh Binh
It is hard to describe Tam Coc in words. This place seems straight out of a fairy tale and is best viewed from a rowing boat, with water splashing against the sides and oars. You’ll journey through breathtaking karst mountains, surrounded by lush paddy fields and stunning lotus and water lily ponds. Along the way, you’ll encounter grottos filled with sparkling stalactites. After the boat ride, you’ll reach Bai Dinh Pagoda, one of the largest pagodas in Vietnam and a true representation of Buddhist tradition. Here, you can relax and admire the grandeur of nature or get lost in your own book in this hidden fairy site. Tam Coc is considered “Ha Long Bay on land” and is sure to attract more attention from travelers in the future. So, add it to your itinerary.
19. Visit Nha Trang
Nha Trang may not be new, but it remains one of the most popular beach cities in the country due to its pleasant weather, warm water, and resort facilities that stretch along the shoreline. The best reason to visit Nha Trang is to completely relax and lounge on the beach while sipping cocktails and enjoying the sun. There is a wide range of food options available, including both local and international dishes. In Nha Trang, you can also experience the unique experience of a mud bath, which is said to have healing properties. You can also see the influence of the Champa culture through the Cham towers. Overall, it’s a place to have fun and unwind.
20. Marvel in Ha Giang
Ha Giang is considered to be one of the most captivating motorbike routes in Vietnam. Make sure to keep your eyes wide open and take in as much as possible, as every turn in the road presents a stunning view of towering mountains and scenic rivers running through deep valleys. It is an exciting experience to drive through Hmong villages and see the residents in their vibrant outfits. But the highlight of the trip is the Ma Pi Leng Pass, where mountains, rivers, and skies come together to create breathtaking scenery, making it a must-visit destination at least once in your lifetime. The beauty of Ha Giang is indescribable, so you must go there and witness it for yourself.