Things to Do in Vietnam
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Incredibly exotic and unbelievably exciting, Vietnam is one of those countries that never ceases to amaze its travelers. Every nook and cranny is filled with historical delights and fascinating heritage, and the country soon begins to grow onto its visitors to the point that it feels like an addiction.
The list of things to do in Vietnam is very impressive, for it really does offer something for all sorts of tourists. Its unique shape also means that you can start off your journeys in Hanoi in the north and traverse the country as you proceed to your final destination – Ho Chi Minh City – in the south. In between these two world class cities, you can enjoy all sorts of delights such as deserted beaches, floating markets, historical ruins, natural wonders, ancient cultures, and dreamy villages.
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Visiting Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam is another must-do on a tour in Vietnam. You can easily take a one—two or even three nights cruise in the bay as there are plenty of things to do. Such a cruise would normally start with a delicious Vietnamese feast while the boat slowly proceeds along the romantic Halong Bay. Relax on the sun deck or enjoy activities such as cooking classes, exploring the Ti Top Island and Sung Sot Cave, swimming and kayaking. You are also accompanied by friendly and knowledgeable guides throughout the tour. Tours depart daily from Halong Bay or Hanoi.
2. Escape to the Con Dao Islands
Visiting the Con Dao Islands is among the top things to do in Vietnam. This isolated group of islands used to host the undesirables and political prisoners during the French rule and during the American-backed regime but is now beginning to attract travelers from all over the world because of its breathtaking natural beauty. Con Son, the largest island in the chain, is famous for its secluded beaches, beautiful hikes, diving adventures and mesmerizing coastal roads. The place is also full of exotic wildlife such as bow-fingered gecko and the black giant squirrel. About 80% of the islands belongs to the Con Dao National Park, which is responsible for preserving some of the most important sea turtle nesting grounds on the planet. Dugong, another rare marine mammal, can also be seen in the region.
3. Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels is a network of tunnels close to Ho Chi Minh City that spreads over 250 km and is famous as one of the main highlights of the Vietnam War. The tunnels were created in the year 1948 to assist the locals as they fought against the French for independence and are full of storage areas, weapon factories, kitchens, living quarters, command centers, and field hospitals. Thousands of people lived underground during the war years, and many also led normal lives including raising children and getting married. In the year 1988, two sections of the tunnels were opened up for tourists, and a Cu Chi Tunnels tour lets you explore the very best experiences of the Cu Chi tunnels.
Insider's tip: If you’re interested in firing one of those war era Ak47s or M16s, there is a nearby firing range that lets you fire off rounds for a nominal fee.
Hoi An is really one of the must-visit cities in Vietnam because it is different, calm, peaceful, and very rejuvenating. It is one of these cities where you can choose to embark on a lot of different activities, but certainly also choose to do nothing at all other than a stroll through its charming streets, and perhaps take a tour to the beach when you’re feeling too warm.
The best way to explore Hoi An is on foot. It lets you breathe in the city’s charm while enjoying its various sights and delights at your own pace. Hoi An boasts of an extremely calm and peaceful atmosphere that combines elements from the Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures and this makes it incredibly special. Some of the biggest highlights of such walking tour include tasting local street food, walking around the old quarter and visiting attractions such as the Hoi An Museum, Diep Dong Museum, Japanese Covered Bridge, handicraft workshops and Ancient Houses.
5. Go Back to Nature at Cat Tien National Park
The Cat Tien National Park is a bio-diverse region of tropical rainforests that is spread over 72,000 hectares and is known to be one of the best natural treasures in the country. The place is full of bird-watching opportunities and is known for its mountain biking and hiking adventures. The national park is also home to tigers and rhinos, but most tourists never get to see the larger mammals residing in the park.
Insider's tip: Don’t forget to book your tours as early as possible as the park accommodates a limited number of visitors on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Sapa is particularly attractive for trekkers and adventure travelers searching for unique local cultures, exploration activities, and uncommon landscapes. A tour to Sapa includes cooking classes, foot massages, walking food tours, homestays and a city tour of Sapa. From exploring local villages to understanding the traditional cultures that populate the area, from those rustic native dwellings to beautiful terraced rice paddies, this tour brings you closer to the very best of Sapa.
Phu Quoc Island is full of dense tropical jungles and beautiful white sand beaches that combine to make the place irresistible for the modern-day traveler. The growth of tourism in Vietnam has transformed the island from a sleepy island to a coveted beach escape and all kinds of resorts can now be found along the Long Beach. That said, the island is still largely undeveloped as close to 70% of the island belongs to the Phu Quoc National Park, so there is always more than enough room for exploration and adventure. Some of the top things to do here include kayaking, diving, sun worshiping in a beach and feasting on exotic seafood.
8. Learn History at War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vietnam. Very few museums manage to depict the brutality of war and the kind of effect it has on civilians, and this is what makes the War Remnants Museum unique. The museum actually documents the atrocities of the war, things that hardly ever get published, and offers another side of the story. The museum is covered with disturbing photographs, including photos of the My Lai Massacre, artillery pieces, infantry weapons, armored vehicles, and bombs. Other popular artifacts include the tiger cages that were used to house Viet Cong prisoners, and the guillotine, one of the most iconic French appliances.
Insider's tip: Don’t miss out on the Requiem Exhibition that has been compiled by world-famous photographer Tim Page in the upper floors of the museum.
9. Visit the Mekong Delta Floating Markets
The Mekong Delta became famous as home to the anti-American war but is now known to attract visitors from all over with its beautiful floating markets. Hop on a motorized boat and explore the two popular floating markets located here – Phung Hiep and Cai Be. The Phung Hiep is the biggest floating market in the delta and is open from 04.00 AM to 11.00 AM. You can always expect to find things like coconuts, pot-bellied pigs, turtles, snakes and mangoes in the market. Cai Be, another popular floating market, is equally busy and is more famous for showcasing unique characteristics of local Vietnamese life. The market specializes in selective vegetables and fruits and is also known to be extremely photogenic.
10. View Waterfalls at Dalat
Dalat may be young when compared to other cities like Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, but it still emerged as one of the top holiday destinations in Vietnam. The city was established in the 1980s as a holiday resort, and this certainly played a role in attracting travelers over the years. Dalat is particularly famous for its interesting waterfalls and lakes, well-preserved French chalets, and villas. It is next to impossible to come across travelers who visited Dalat and missed out on exploring the Crazy House, also known as the Hang Nga Guest House and Art Gallery. This bizarre attraction was designed by Dang Viet Nga and is home to a number of rooms that have been designed in a unique theme. You can also find a number of ladders, tunnels and concrete bears and kangaroos in the complex. Finally, don’t miss out on Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, the most visited imperial building in Vietnam. The palace still hosts much of its original furniture and offers great insights into the life of Emperor Bao Dai.
11. Hike Through Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island offers an amazing escape from the crowds. There are many things to do on the island, but hiking is the biggest draw. This scenic island is home to many trails of varying lengths and levels and some of them are located within the national park that encompasses a large part of the island.
Butterfly Valley Trail, Lookout Summit, Zoo Trail, Lookout Tower, Cang Viet Hai Trail, and Waterfall Sunset Trail are some of the trails on the island. Besides stunning natural features such as Hospital Cave and the Cat Ba Beaches, the island is home to waterfalls, lakes, mangroves, and coral reefs. You will also come across other attractions during your journey, including a museum, zoo, floating village, and the Cannon fort.
12. Taste the Best of Pho and More
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Vietnam’s vibrant culture is by sampling its delicious cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is thought to be one of the healthiest in the world, and its fusion of vegetables, herbs, spices, beans, rice, and fish also makes it one of the tastiest. Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and it is highly likely that you will try it during your travels. Other popular dishes you will find on most menus include bun cha, che, goi cuon, hu tieu, mi vit tiem and banh xeo.
A lesser-explored region in Vietnam, Da Nang is certainly worth checking out. This coastal city is known for its 20 miles of sandy beaches, lavish sunsets, beautiful bridges, delicious street food, and gorgeous mountain scenery. Some of the must-see attractions in Da Nang include the Marble Mountains, Phap Lam Pagoda, Cham Museum, Da Nang Cathedral and the Fifth Military Division Museum.
There are plenty of outdoor activities that you can enjoy in the area like fishing, boating and scuba diving. For a more memorable experience, we suggest that you go driving to the Hai Van Pass.
As Vietnam’s capital and the biggest city in the country, Hanoi is the perfect place to jumpstart your adventure from. There is so much to see in the city, but there are many amazing day-trip opportunities outside the city as well. For those interested in learning more about some of the local history, places like Duong Lam, Hoa Lu, and the Mai Chau Valley are top picks.
Other destinations worth checking out include Cuc Phuong National Park, Tam Dao, Trang An, Tam Coc, Mua Cave, Ba Vi National Park, and the Ha Long Bay. If you wish to immerse yourself in local religion and culture, you might want to opt for the Phat Diem Cathedral, Perfume Pagoda, Thay Temple, and Bat Trang Village.
15. Go Caving in Paradise Cave
Paradise Cave is a fascinating cave system that is located deep within a national park and is entirely surrounded by karst peaks and forests. Although visitors only get to see the first kilometer of this 31 km maze, a trip to Paradise Cave is entirely worth it. The sheer scale of the complex is known to be mind-numbing and climbing down those wooden staircases to check out monstrous formations of stalactites and stalagmites is one of the most fascinating experiences that Vietnam has to offer.
Insider's tip: To really explore the Paradise Cave, book a trekking trip which penetrates deep into the cave system and also includes lunches under light shafts and swimming in underground rivers.
We really hope the above insights gave you a good idea of some of the top 11 best things to do in Vietnam. From cruises along with the majestic limestone islands and islets to the historic landmarks, a Vietnam tour will open your senses to an exciting adventure.