Top things to do in Vietnam
Top things to do in Vietnam
From lush mountain landscapes and hill tribes in the north to karst landscapes in Halong Bay, from quaint colonial towns in central Vietnam to coastal areas and the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam has plenty to engage the senses.
Hanoi and Halong Bay
Vietnam’s capital city is energetic; full of street food vendors and buzzing motorcycles driving down wide boulevards and winding through the small streets of the Old Quarter. Visit the One Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum for an insight into the country’s history. Wander the outskirts of Hoan Kiem Lake for a taste of community life, with locals practising tai chi in the surrounding park.
A few hours’ drive away is stunning Halong Bay. Sail past dramatic limestone karsts, and explore cave systems in this Unesco world heritage site; stay overnight on a traditional junk boat for an encompassing experience.
Hue and Hoi An
The charming Unesco world heritage city of Hue is set by the banks of the Perfume river, and taking a boat ride to visit sites such as the Buddhist Thien Mu Pagoda is a highlight. Uncover historical remnants from when the city was the capital from 1802 to 1945, including the Citadel, Forbidden Purple City and the Royal Mausoleums.
Leaving Hue, the drive to Hoi An is a highlight in itself – the Hai Van Pass winds high through the mountains, featuring beautiful views of lush countryside and ocean below. Hoi An is a historical town with a beautifully preserved old town and a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets. Visit the Chinese Assembly Hall, the 200-year-old wooden merchants’ houses and the Japanese covered bridge. Take the time to attend a cooking school and visit the local market for an authentic experience.
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is a frenetic Asian city of markets, streets clogged with scooters, streetside food stalls, as well as foreign restaurants office blocks and shopping malls. The Reunification palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and the War Remnants Museum are all well worth a visit, as are the Cu Chi tunnels built by the Viet Cong, which can be visited in a day trip.
Nearby is the famous Mekong delta, the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam – a fertile region of flat farmland interlaced with thousands of waterways and tributaries of the Mekong. The majority can only be accessed by boat, so board a sampan to explore the maze of tributaries and fruit plantations, and perhaps enjoy lunch in the shade of coconut palms. Visit Cai Rang floating market, the largest of its kind in Indochina, and spend time in Can Tho, the jumping off point for a tour of the delta.
Uncover breathtaking mountain scenes and rural Vietnam in the top corner of the country. Drive along winding roads in the Ha Giang province, and head to ‘Heaven’s Gate’, a high mountain pass with spectacular views. Take to small towns along the way to visit markets, attended by local hill tribes.
Mai Chau and Sapa are perfect for walking, with rice paddies and stilted houses dotting the landscape.
The islands and coast
Nha Trang is an attractive town surrounded by green hills, and a deep-blue bay fringed with a glorious crescent of golden-white sand. There are many nearby small islands that protect the bay from the unpredictable South China Sea, and it is possible to take a boat cruise around this picturesque landscape.
Phan Thiet is located around 3 hours’ drive north of Ho Chi Minh City, and is a typical Vietnamese fishing town with some interesting museums and pagodas; plus Ho Chi Minh was once a teacher here.
Phu Quoc is a relatively undeveloped island with beautiful white sand beaches, lush forested hills and crystal clear waters – the perfect formula in which to relax.