Many people set off to Vietnam thinking it will be their short holiday but then end up spending way more time than they planned. It is the country to blame as there are so many things to see, do, and eat that it hardly fits in your 2-week itinerary. So, here we are, sort it out to 20 things you should not miss while traveling in the S-shaped country to make the most out of your time and still guarantee the best experience with the landscapes, people, and cuisine.
1. Visit one of the most beautiful ancient towns in the world: Hoi An
Hoi An is well-known as one of the World Heritage Sites recognized by UNESCO. Located in Central Vietnam, Hoi An reflects the profound influences of Chinese, Japanese and French culture over hundreds of years which could be seen through the architectural attractions and ordinary residential housing. This ancient town is a sweet juxtaposition of the bustling shophouses and a chill way of living of the local people. In Hoi An, you can experience not only the variety of cuisine which is, for us, the best across the country (My Quang and Cao Lau just to name a few); but also the shopping paradise from renowned tailored suits to bizarre patterned travel clothes; and of course stunning beaches; and delightful cafes along the tranquil river; and handcrafts; and so much more. Go to Hoi An, get on a bicycle to explore the town, and be ready to be amazed by the little serendipity hidden in every alleyway and every corner of the town. Hoi An is geographically small, but it has a lot to offer.
2. Embrace the tranquility on Con Dao Islands
Con Dao is a secluded destination off the Southern Coast and easily accessed from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Con Dao is often underappreciated, but trust us, it is a hidden paradise – a tropical island with turquoise coastlines: beautiful and quaint. In the eyes of the locals, however, Con Dao is more like a historical witness – where the French built Con Dao Prison or also known as “Hell on Earth” in the memories of the prisoners of war. Vietnamese people nowadays travel to Con Dao as a part of their spiritual experience, mostly to visit the graveyards of iconic national heroes. So, all the beautiful beaches are left to nature lovers. Con Dao is absolutely a less popular destination but if you are a culture vulture who would love to have the best of both worlds (tourism and history), this is the place to be.
3. Stay at least 1 night in Ha Long Bay
Visiting Ha Long Bay is seen as a must-do while travelling in Vietnam. However, if you want to fully embrace the mystique and majesty of the bay, we suggest you stay at least one night on the cruise ship which takes you through the meander waterways so you can see all the giant shapes of limestones at a close distance. You can watch the sunrise and sunset from the boat while surrounded by thousands of limestone karsts in all shapes and sizes. Beds & foods and other necessities are served on boats. If you are more into activities, you can also do kayaking or swimming in the bay. But overall, this is more like an enjoyable trip to treat yourself and immerse in nature.
4. Experience floating markets in the Mekong Delta
Compared to other parts of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta seems a bit behind regarding natural landscapes. Despite that, it is inherited with unique trade customs and practices. With a sophisticated system of water bodies well linked together, which the sellers and buyers take advantage of to sell their fresh produce. Since early dawn, the merchants from all over the towns have been gathering here to get ready for a working day. So, the best time to experience the authentic vibes is around 6 AM – 7 AM. There would be no other place that food is served to you by passing from boat to boat and you can eat a bowl of Hu Tieu on a canoe while watching the motorboats crisscrossing by. You would be overwhelmed by how busy and lively the sights could be. The noise from the mini boats’ engines accompanied with the clear and sharp calls from the vendor ladies: that is what Mekong life is truly like.
5. See the Golden Bridge
The bridge does not cross any rivers but is one of the attractions in Ba Na Hills (Da Nang). Being added to the complex recently, the attraction has stirred attention not only among travelers but also the architect community for its eccentric design. The pedestrian bridge hovers over 1,400 meters from sea level, guaranteeing a breath-taking view of the mountains and the sea. What’s special about the construction is the metallic yellow paint throughout the 150-meter length (which explains its name) lined with flowers. The highlight of the attraction is the weathered and mossy-looking hands supporting the bridge – a metaphoric image of the safeguard of Mother Nature. Walking on the bridge in the early morning in the misty fog will give you a sense of walking on clouds. The landscapes and the architecture itself are surely a photography experience that you cannot miss.
6. Eat a bowl of Pho in Hanoi
Pho could be found anywhere in Vietnam, but there’s nothing like eating Pho in Hanoi. Hanoi is believed to be where Pho originated from. Pho Hanoi has its own charm: the broth is light and has no side veggies. The right bowl of Pho has to have lots of blanched green onions and an extra egg on the side (Chen Trung Tran), accompanied with deep-fried Vietnamese-styled churros (Banh Quay). Hanoi features Pho vendors which have been existing for generations. Some truly authentic ones revolve around a simple pair of bamboo yokes with a couple of small stools. They open very early in the morning (4 AM – 5 AM) or late at night (1 AM – 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 skip it.
7. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
70km from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a historical destination that marks one of the most glorious victories of warfare in Vietnam. Cu Chi is a network of over 200-kilometer tunnels connected with full functions like meeting rooms, emergency rooms, kitchens, and so on; also known as the “underground city”. It took more than 20 years to complete the system divided into three levels with the deepest one up to 12 meters. During wartime, all daily, as well as military activities, took place here. When visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels, you will have a chance to go through a part of them (which was expanded for tourists’ safety) to somehow imagine and understand the living and combating conditions of the Vietnamese soldiers and what magically contributed to our victory. Only at this place can you try the unique snacks which used to be the main diet of people in the tunnels back then. Let’s go there and find out.
8. Drink a cup of Ca Phe Sua Da in Saigon
It is often said that Saigon is a multicultural city – it gathers all the highlights of cuisine from across the country, therefore, it lacks its own specialty. We would say that one thing that Saigon does better than anywhere else is its milk coffee (Ca Phe Sua). Coffee shops are ubiquitous in Saigon, but what all the good Ca Phe Sua recipes have in common are strong black coffee from high-quality coffee beans mixed with condensed milk and added with ice (Ca Phe Sua Da). It’s no exaggeration to say that it is the Vietnamese national drink as everyone loves it. It tastes good any time of the day; goes well with all kinds of food, and serves perfectly as a wake-up call. You can customize your own cup of milk coffee by requesting more or less milk. This drink will blow your mind at the very first sip.
9. Visit the Imperial Citadel of Hue
Talking a bit of history, over the course of a thousand years of feudal regime, Hue was the former capital of the Nguyen Dynasty in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Here remains spectacular royal architecture from the time. The complex is a collection of well-preserved palaces and royalty’s tombs: each has its own layout and architectural design to meet the strict requirements of Feng Shui principles. The location was also recognized by UNESCO in 1994. You will need to spend a whole day fully exploring the immense campus and celebrate the solemn yet peaceful atmosphere here.
10. Enjoy the nightlife in the unsleeping city – Saigon
Saigon people (Saigoneer) work hard but they also know how to enjoy their life to the fullest. Saigon nights are lit with a whole range of activities for every mood. You may have heard enough of the backpacker street Bui Vien which is now also a meeting-up location of the young in town. Apart from that, scattered around all the districts in the cities, there are rooftop beer gardens, hidden cocktail bars, and countless options of local street food, which are well catered for everyone’s palate. The energy of Saigon by night is unmatched and we would say this is where you can exceptionally live with your young, wild and free spirit.
11. Visit Phu Quoc Island
No matter how much time you have to spend in Vietnam, you should seriously add Phu Quoc Island to your travel list. It offers direct international flights and visa-free for up to 30 days. Phu Quoc features varied marine life and ideal weather for diving activities. There are many beautiful waterfalls hidden in the natural forest to be explored. You can have a glance at the traditional fish sauce-making villages to see how the one-of-a-kind condiment is processed before being served on the table. It is also rich in history and cultural festivals that cannot be witnessed anywhere else. This is indeed a paradise for sea lovers not only for the island itself but also the collection of unspoiled remote islands around it in case you would like to extend your stay on the charming island.
12. Explore the land of caves – Quang Binh
Quang Binh, or Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park to be specific, hosts a great number of caves, that come in all shapes and sizes (and prices as well). There are a couple of “baby caves” that suit all ages and physical levels (mentioning Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave, Dark Cave, etc.). A rowing boat will take you deep into the caves to marvel at the absurd formation of stalactites under the divine creation of Mother Nature. If you are interested in the more challenging caves, there are certain treks that are professionally organized for your safety and experience. The most popular ones to name of are Hang En (Swallow Cave), Hang Tu Lan (Tu Lan Cave) and of course Son Doong Cave – the world’s largest cave, where you push your limit to trek through the primeval forest, to cross the underground river, to camp in gigantic caves and celebrate one of the greatest natural wonders of our planet.
Entering the land of caves is one big step to the wonderland that you would definitely like to take.
13. Fall in love in Sapa
Sapa is the dream city in the Vietnamese people’s hearts that everyone wishes to add to their bucket list. So there must be some reasons for it. Sapa is gifted with magnificent landscapes and unique colors of ethnic groups. Although the central Sapa itself has been transformed with modern facilities to meet the demand of tourism, the villages around it still hold up their own beauty and customs. Couples love coming here due to the cold and misty weather (snowy recorded in winter) and the full bloom of seasonal flowers all year round; which creates a romantic atmosphere for lovers. This is also home of the highest peak of the Indochinese Peninsula claiming its nickname as “the roof of Indochina – Fansipan Peak”. Sapa brings out very different vibes compared to other highland cities that you have been to.
14. Explore Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island is the largest island, belonging to Lan Ha Bay (neighboring up the further part from Ha Long Bay), which is lesser known and with the same incredible scenery. One of the must-dos here is to set out to the crystal clear water of the island, do whatever water activities that you could imagine: fishing, kayaking, jumping off the boat, swimming at secret beaches, sunbathing on an isolated island in the bay and so on. And if you want to take a short break from the ocean view, you can wander the Monkey Island or Cat Ba National Park and venture in one of the most special caves on the island – Trung Trang Cave – where sights of the medieval Vietnamese were reported and preserved. At the end of the day, to fully take in the scenic landscapes of the island, there is a way up on the hill where used to be the fortress during wartime; from here you get a complete panoramic view of the Island with the sun setting on the fishing villages at a distance. Cat Ba Island is a true gem that you would regret not visiting.
15. Immerse yourself in Quy Nhon
Quy Nhon is a coastal city being recognized as a rising star on the tourism map in Vietnam. It is a peaceful city yet captures fascinating surprises from empty sandy beaches stretching across the city to bizarre statues and monasteries. Ky Co Beach and Eo Gio (Wind Hollow) are the two most visited attractions with a small amount of entrance fee. Quy Nhon gives you a sense of comfort through its open space and public areas, where you can easily sit down and chill while enjoying the cool breeze blowing from the ocean. The ride is also enjoyable with broad, new-built roads along the shoreline. And food, its seafood noodles are absolutely amazing as seafood is freshly caught from the sea.
Quy Nhon is gradually getting busier and busier, that is why we suggest you hurry up to visit this city before it becomes extremely touristy.
16. Visit the terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai
Mu Cang Chai is a small mountainous village in Northwest Vietnam. Its own economy is based on agriculture with an exclusive method of cultivation: terrace farming. Coming to Mu Cang Chai in summer and autumn (July – October), you will be left in awe when the lush rice terraces transform into enchanting golden ripening yellow. From a distance, each sinuous terrace dots on the hill like a charming ribbon that, under the sunlight, offers a picturesque surrounding. This is also where it concentrates on the thriving of the Black H’mong people, one of the active indigenous ethnic tribes in Vietnam. Watching H’mong people dressed in vibrant and colorful traditional clothes while harvesting the ripened crops will give you a glimpse into the town’s rich culture. If you intend to seize enthralling paddy fields on the hillsides, Mu Cang Chai is for sure unmissable.
17. Find a relaxing moment in Dalat
Dalat is a sought-after getaway destination and it captures our hearts no matter how many times we have visited. So we thought of insisting you visit this city of flowers and pines. Although Dalat has been very touristy lately, it is so stretched out that you can easily find some quiet spots for yourself. An ideal itinerary in this foggy city is (1) renting a motorbike and exploring the beautiful roads that weave around oval pine hills; (2) making a list of Dalat coffee shops that you would like to visit, which is not a simple task as there are so many cool ones out there with absolutely excellent menus and instagrammable decoration; (3) finding a cozy homestay with a view (which is Dalat’s ‘specialty’) to crash at night and gazing at the lit-up barns at the horizon, maybe with a chocolate bite and a glass of wine to spice it up if you’re keen on; (4) snuggling in the comfy bed and have a good night sleep while hearing the wind singing; (5) getting up the next day and repeat that set.
Dalat is where you become at one with nature and admire the calm pace of life.
18. Admire Tam Coc – Ninh Binh
It is hard to put this place into words. Tam Coc is like taken straight out of a storybook. It is best admired from a rowing boat with the splashing water lapping against two sides of the boats and oars. It will take you through incredible karst mountains surrounding the lavish paddy fields and stunning lotus and water lily ponds. There are many grottos with sparkling stalactites hanging from the ceiling on the way. After the boat ride, you will arrive at Bai Dinh Pagoda which is one of the largest ones in Vietnam and captures all the traditional essence of Buddhism. From here, you can just sit back and appreciate the grand design of nature. Or, read your own book and get lost in the hidden fairy site. Tam Coc is seen as “Ha Long Bay on land” and hence, sooner or later, it will get more attention from the travel community. So, let’s add it to your travel list.
19. Visit Nha Trang
Well, Nha Trang is probably not new but it remains one of the most chosen beach cities across the country thanks to the pleasant weather, warm water, and resort facilities stretching along the shoreline. The best reason to come to Nha Trang is to totally relax and chill by the beach and sip in cocktails while lounging on the beach chairs. There are also tons of different food options: both local and international dishes (basically anything that you could think of). In Nha Trang, you can experience a strange way of bathing – a mud bath, which is said to have healing effects. You can also find a hint of Champa through the images of Cham towers. To put it simply, Nha Trang is a huge party picture and a chill hub that you could spend your last couple of days at.
20. Marvel in Ha Giang
Ha Giang is supposed to be one of the most enchanting motorbike loops in Vietnam. Make sure to keep your eyes open and take in as much as you can since at every bend of the route is a spectacular picture frame of the mighty mountains and scenic rivers cut through the deep valley. It would be an interesting experience to drive through the Hmong villages and see them in their colorful outfits. And do not miss the best part of the trip: Ma Pi Leng Pass. This is where mountains, rivers, and skies all come together forming an epic scenery and definitely making it worth visiting once in your lifetime. The beauty of Ha Giang is just indescribable and that is why you have to go there and marvel at it with your own eyes.