If you’re looking to narrow down the best places to visit in Vietnam, it’s going to be a very tough decision. Vietnam has so much to offer any traveler that ventures to it, and is a mix of chaos and calm from the contrasts of Ho Chi Minh City to the mountainous regions of the Northern Highlands.
At one moment you could find yourself cruising through the endless creeks and rivers of The Mekong Delta and the next, sitting beachside at Hue or Nha Trang. Vietnam on a map is somewhat squeezed to the edge of the South China Sea to the east with China hugging the northernmost border of the country. While to the west Laos and Cambodia both share a large border with Vietnam.
Despite its rough history, Vietnam’s popularity among travelers far and wide has soared in recent years making it one of the most visited countries in South East Asia. At first glance, Vietnam might seem to be a place of constant activity but if you go to the right places, you will find the most magnificent vistas, people, food, and a peaceful way of life.
Whether you have one week or one month in Vietnam, this article is bound to give sensational ideas on the best places to visit in Vietnam!
The Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
The Mekong Delta
First up on the list of Vietnam places to visit is the mighty Mekong. The Mekong Delta is a biodiversity hotspot and a place of calm. With an almost endless system of rivers and creeks to follow, the Mekong Delta is truly special.
Getting to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh is rather easy and is worth weaving your way out of the chaotic morning traffic to do so. The Mekong is a very big place so there are many things to do and see.
The Best Things to do on the Mekong
To start off your adventure in the Mekong, I would recommend seeking out My Tho which is the closest town to Ho Chi Minh. My Tho is the gateway to the Mekong meaning that a lot of fresh produce passes through its doors. Rice, coconuts, and durian a few food items you will see a lot of here.
From My Tho, I highly recommend an early morning adventure by the aid of a boat through Vinh Long’s Cai Be Floating Markets where everything fresh sells by the kilogram or tonne, depending on what you buy!
If you are looking to truly experience the Mekong Delta, Tra Vinh is the perfect place to do so as it is located some distance from the main roads meandering throughout the delta.
Tra Vinh might not be well known to foreign visitors but it is secretly a spot dotted with hundreds of pagodas (a type of temple or shrine). Sunrise in Tra Vinh is a must see as a layer of morning mist covers the land making the shrines appear like they are on another planet.
Some of my most memorable moments came from a little place called Ben Tre. It was here that I was invited into a family home to watch a game of football on a tiny television.
I could not speak Vietnamese and the family could not speak English leaving a communication barrier, however, we could communicate through the game of football as we all knew exactly what was going on!
Another incredible moment happened during an early morning bike ride over the Ham Luong River. In the distance, a monstrous but beautiful storm cloud rumbled away as the morning sun turned the cloud into a bright orange as boats would chug away underneath the bridge I sat upon.
I would recommend spending at least 2 to 3 days at a minimum in the Mekong Delta as there are plenty of places to see and things to do. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Vietnam!
Ho Chi Minh City
My first impression of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) was chaotic and humid with a hint of charm, but after visiting I definitely think it is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. I was dropped off at my hotel in the central part of the city and the only thing stopping me from getting to the hotel reception was a myriad of zooming scooters, motorbikes, trucks, and cars.
Eventually, I learned how to cross roads when they are busy, which you’ll have to do too as a visitor. Once you graduate to crossing a street in a Vietnamese city the world is your oyster.
Ho Chi Minh’s population is 8.6 million spread over places known as ‘districts.’ These districts number up to 19 which is quite beneficial especially if Vietnamese isn’t your strongest language.
District 1 is the central most part of the city and will most likely be the area where you are staying. A few highlights of Ho Chi Minh City are…
The Best Things to do in Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam’s Notre-Dame Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh has many attractions which are relatively close to one another, the first being French/ Vietnamese version of The Notre-Dame Cathedral. Be warned this one is somewhat smaller, yet still intact to the one in Paris. Expect to see married couples posing outside of the cathedral on a daily basis.
Across from the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the pinkish building with a large clock in the middle is the General Post Office where most travel to even from foreign countries in order to post a letter or postcard.
During the Vietnam/ American War, the Reunification Palace is another landmark in Hoi Chi Minh. This palace, at the time of the conflict, held South Vietnam’s President only to have armored tanks storm and crash the front gates. These images at the time made news coverage globally.
Ben Thanh Markets
Ho Chi Minh City is known for its seriously enormous markets and the one that is bigger than them all goes to Ben Thanh Markets. These markets to be exact are 119,000 square feet, or a couple of football fields.
The Ben Thanh Markets sell almost everything – and I mean everything. If you like to shop you will definitely come out with more than you need. I went looking for street food and ended up buying a bag full of t-shirts.
War Remnants Museum
Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City, I highly recommend visiting the War Remnants Museum to get a perspective on just how terrible to war was to those living in Vietnam.
The War Remnants Museum houses photos from the war, planes, tanks and three levels within the building showcasing the terrors of the war.
Aside from the many tourist attractions in Ho Chi Minh City, simply walking around the streets during sunrise was an amazing thing especially at some of the local parks where locals would be stretching, playing football, chess or getting in a morning workout.
Ho Chi Minh City isn’t always busy so make the most of the mornings when everyone is still sleeping and if you want to get somewhere such as the Mekong Delta or out of the city to Dalat, leave early to avoid heavy traffic and lengthy delays.
Still wondering where to go in Vietnam? From the Mekong Delta to the far reaches of Vietnam, Sa Pa is about as far as you can go before you cross into China. Once you escape the city of Hanoi, Vietnam’s natural wonders shine and it’s truly one of the most spectacular off the track destinations you can go in Vietnam
Getting to Sa Pa is no easy feat taking 12 hours by train from Hanoi. I highly recommend purchasing a sleeper cabin because of this.
Sa Pa is known for its hillside rice paddy fields extending as far as the eye can see while Vietnam’s tallest mountain shows drastic contrast to the rest of Vietnam.
Mount Fansipan soars to 3.143 meters and is known as the ‘roof of Indochina’. Hiking to the top is an option, but a grueling one, otherwise opt for a gondola.
If you are traveling from south to north, make Sa Pa your last stop as it truly reflects what Vietnam is all about, Sa Pa is enriched in traditional culture, unattached from civilization and completely immersed in nature. Sa Pa is incredible.
Spending too much time basking in intense humidity can’t be too good for you, so for some relief, Dalat is the perfect mountain getaway. Dalat is perched 1,500 meters above the South China Sea and only a few hours’ drive from Ho Chi Minh making it a seriously idyllic city escape.
Vietnam is home to a variety of environments including mountainous areas and these are Vietnam’s best-kept secrets. Dalat is surrounded by forests of pines, agricultural farms, and many waterfalls which are 100% swimmable!
Dalat’s Central Market is the perfect place to go for a bowl of Pho; a vegetable or meat broth infused with noodles, meat, or vegetables topped with chilies, basil, and spring onions. Dalat’s produce will be immensely better than what you would taste in Ho Chi Minh, so eat your heart out!
Dalat is located on the shores of Xuan Huong Lake which is a fantastic morning stroll around the rather brown-looking lake. Hiring a bicycle is a good option if you plan on exploring Dalat but be prepared for hill climbs!
Relaxing by waterfalls is a must while in the Southern Highlands. One, in particular, that is my favorite is Tiger Falls, some 14 kilometers east of Dalat.
Tiger Falls is a solid half-day adventure that requires some gnarly navigation skills en route to the waterfall making it so much more fun. Having gone from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh to the natural wonders of Dalat, exploring Vietnam’s coast is a must-do!
From the mountains of Dalat, heading north, Nha Trang is a serious must-do. Nha Trang is a hidden gem located on Vietnam’s south-central coast where coral reefs flourish, beaches are relatively free of rubbish and the views are stunning!
A must-do while in Nha Trang is a day adventure and cruise out to the neighboring islands to go snorkeling or diving amongst the corals and tropical fish.o Or if you prefer to lay on the beach and do nothing I won’t blame you for doing so!
On land, Nha Trang has a place where you can go immerse your body in warm mud that is said to be beneficial to your skin at Thap Ba Hot Springs. Is being covered in mud, not your thing? No worries!
Nha Trang has some top-quality bars by the sea which are great for sunset drinks but if you prefer to tuck into Vietnam’s salivating street food, I would recommend Dam Market, a place generally void of tourists where prices are a lot cheaper than beachside restaurants.
Hoi An might be my favorite city in Vietnam with its gorgeous French charm, peaceful riverside influence, and exceptional fresh produce. It’s definitely one of the top places to see in Vietnam.
The best way to start off an adventure in Hoi An is at the Central Market Cho Hoi An for exceptional Vietnamese food. As Hoi An is heavily influenced by France, Bahn Mi never fails to deliver a baguette filled with fresh herbs, cucumber, and meat topped with a hot sauce.
A lot of tourism in Hoi An revolves around custom clothing, especially suits and pants. Some of Hoi An’s streets are dedicated to tailors and the end product is generally very good, and cheap, and the waiting time is usually less than a day for a custom piece to be made. A few top sites in Hoi An are:
The Best Things to do in Hoi An
The Japanese Bridge
While most of Hoi An is influenced by France, there is an exception with The Japanese Bridge, built during the 16th century. The Japanese Bridge isn’t for traffic; instead, it serves as a shrine on the inside to commemorate the Japanese Emperors of the time (that being the year of the dog and the year of the monkey).
For a few Vietnamese dongs, an incense stick can be purchased in order to pay respects.
Coastal Hoi An
Central Hoi An is very close to the East Vietnam Sea where spectacular coastlines spread from north to south. Most beaches in Hoi An have a bar or restaurant prime for cracking open a fresh, chilled coconut and watching the last rays of light disappear.
If you are keen on checking out Hoi An’s coastal areas, I suggest hiring a bicycle as the ride weaves through rice paddy fields as water buffalo frolic in mud. By bike, it takes about 30 minutes each way.
My Son Temple
One hour west of Hoi An, My Son Temple is a complex series of Hindu temples, pagodas and dense rainforest said to date back to the 2nd century. Guided tours operate on a daily basis and provide a look into the life of the Champa, an ancient kingdom.
My Son Temple has survived a lot of hardships including the recent war were the temple was targeted by bomber planes where craters the size of swimming pools are still seen around this historic complex.
My Son Temple is so important to the people of Vietnam and its culture that it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural values and being part of an Ancient Civilization in Asia.
Getting to Da Nang is an adventure in itself and if you were to ask a local where the most scenic views are in Vietnam they’d probably say the Hai Van Pass. The first time I saw the Hai Van Pass and The Lang Co Peninsula was on an episode of Top Gear.
Da Nang is located in central Vietnam and is very nearly equal in distance to both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Da Nang is a less-traveled destination and is generally bypassed due to it serving as a place of industrial and economic purposes however, don’t write it off just yet as there are a few things to do in Da Nang! My two favorites were seeing Dragon Bridge and exploring Cao Dai Temple.
Da Nang probably has the most awesome bridge anywhere in Asia, or the world with the so-called Dragon Bridge tailing over the Han River. The Dragon Bridge isn’t just something that is driven over, it sprays fire and water while changing color which would be very distracting when crossing on a scooter.
One of the more strange temples that can be visited is the Cao Dai Temple which is seemingly confusing especially the architecture. The temple doesn’t host just one religion, but I honestly cannot even tell you how many it does. The purpose of the temple states ‘all religions have the same purpose’.
Continuing north, Hue is known to most as the Imperial City or Citadel where a fortress was built in 1804. The Imperial Citadel at the time was impenetrable with a moat, the Perfume River while being protected by eight-meter-high walls.
Within the Imperial Citadel, there is a multitude of buildings, pagodas, temples, and courtyards of gigantic scale. Unfortunately during the war, a lot of damage was inflicted upon the citadel and to this day, repairs are still being made.
Exploring the citadel can be as short or as long as you want it to be. Guided tours in the citadel are also a good option as there are so many things going on with history, types of buildings, and war knowledge so having someone with local information join your day is truly worth it.
Halong Bay tops the list as the most beautiful place to visit in Vietnam. It is certainly a Vietnam tourist spots, but a worthwhile and unique one! I remember the first time I saw Halong Bay as I watched the hosts of Top Gear navigate the limestone islands on their boats/ scooters and the scenery they were in was incredible! A few years later, I got to experience Halong Bay for myself.
There’s no doubt, that Halong Bay is the most visited place in Vietnam by foreigners putting increasing pressure on the environment and resources however things seem to be improving.
So what do you do in Halong Bay? Halong Bay and its hundreds of limestone islands can only be accessed by boat or kayak. So the first step is to find a company to go with and decide if you just want to visit for a day or do an overnight experience.
The Best Things to do in Halong Bay
Kayaking in Halong Bay
Once you have decided on your trip, there are so many places to check out and the best way to do so is via a kayak. Cat Ba Island is one of the largest islands with a multitude of beaches, waterfalls, and hiking trails while precious reefs surround the shores of the island.
Kayaking by far is the best thing you can do in Halong Bay as there are endless places to explore with caves, waterfalls, and monkeys jumping from tree to tree trying to get a glimpse of you in the kayak.
Halong Bay is one of the most unique places in Vietnam and that is due to the people that live in floating houses, sometimes never setting foot on land. Most of the floating houses have markets where fresh vegetables, fruits and sometimes even poultry are sold so why not check them out!
Overnight junk boat cruise
If you have time, I highly suggest an overnight cruise! Overnight cruises are seriously the most chilled-out thing you can do in Halong Bay as there’s more relaxing on the sundeck and eating delicious Vietnamese food to be had.
A general cruise leaves from the town of Ha Long and set sail towards the islands usually around midday. Most of the boats have fairly good rooms, a bar, dining area and a sun deck along with kayaks making it the perfect way to get out and explore Vietnam’s natural wonders. We went on the Au Co by Bhaya Cruises and had a fantastic time – see the full review here.
For the best weather in Halong Bay, make sure to visit in the warmer months from April to October.
Hanoi is one of those Vietnam points of interest you can’t miss. The capital of Vietnam is a step back from the chaos of Ho Chi Minh with a charming vibe of old buildings, lakes, pagodas and intricate system of streets dedicated to selling a particular item. If I had to choose a city to spend more time in, Hanoi would be it.
I spent six days exploring Hanoi and surrounds doing a whole complexity of different things, but before leaving Hanoi to explore its wonders there are just so many places to see in the city first.
Getting around Hanoi is so much easier than that of Ho Chi Minh and that is partly due to a milder and cooler climate. The chances of breaking out into a sweat by 8 am are unlikely.
A few of the best things to do in Hanoi are:
Lake Hoan Kiem
My perfect day in Hanoi would start by Lake Hoan Kiem which once was home to a rare tortoise said to be sacred and if you spotted it, it would bring a lifetime of good luck! At one end of the lake, the Rising Sun Bridge leads to Ngoc Son Temple where a taxidermy tortoise remains the centerpiece to the temple.
The Old Quarter
Some of Hanoi’s Old Quarter dates back to the 13th century. Today, the Old Quarter has some of the best street food, beer and historic buildings in all of the city.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter might take the award for the most unique place to visit with 36 streets dedicated to selling specific items. For instance, Hang Chieu Street is solely dedicated to selling mats for houses or Hang Bo Street sells mainly bamboo baskets. If you are after something very specific, you are sure to find it in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum structure is unlike anything else in Hanoi, a building made from marble and granite to house the body of Uncle Ho. Uncle Ho is received by many Vietnamese as a hero showing courageous leadership throughout the American/ Vietnam War.
Uncle Ho is known to most as Ho Chi Minh and on certain occasions, his body can be visited at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Bia Hoi Corner
After a long days exploration, there’s no better way than to soak up the atmosphere than by taking a seat recommended for a child, delving into a bowl of pho and washing it down with Hanoi’s famous Bia Hoi, a preservative-free beer.
Bia Hoi Corner is quite chaotic and finding a seat is a challenge in itself as everyone rushes to get the first glass of freshly brewed beer as once the keg is empty, there won’t be any for another 24 hours.
A glass of Bia Hoi costs roughly 3200 dong and the best thing about the bia is that it will not give you a headache!
Whilst sipping away, Bia Hoi Corner becomes a haven for street vendors where Bahn Mi, household items and basically anything you can think of are sold. So sit back and watch Hanoi go by!
At first, I was unsure of what else to do other than to stick to Hanoi. However after going on an array of adventures within three hours of the city, it opened up a whole new world of places to visit in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Perfume Pagoda and Buddhist Temple; Huong Tich Grotto require an epic adventure into the depths of the Hoang Son Mountains to find a Buddhist Temple that almost seems hidden and getting there is by far the most extraordinary part of the day.
Starting off in a wooden canoe or kayak, you are rowed down the Perfume River in a unique technique as the rowers use their feet to steer and row instead of their hands, you really need to see it to believe it.
90 minutes later and depending on the flow of the river, you disembark the boat and stroll into a seemingly abandoned town where lots of restaurants line the cobbled street.
Ideally, you’ll want to fuel up on food before continuing on and there’s no better way to do so than eating fresh cuisine like rice-paper rolls filled with vegetables; banh trang cuon nuong or Vietnam’s famous jackfruit, a spikey fruit the size of a bowling ball!
Vietnam’s Perfume Pagoda including that of Thien Tru Pagoda is a collection of ancient Buddhism statues, pagoda’s, and shrines immersed into the lush forests surrounds. The Perfume Pagoda, named so due to the fragrant smells that are said to flow through the Hoang Son Mountains.
After visiting the temples of the Perfume Pagoda, Huong Tich Grotto is close by, so get back back in the boat and head up stream!
Buddhist Temple; Huong Tich Grotto
After the Perfume Pagoda, you may as well head to Huong Tich Grotto. The last part of the journey can be done according to preference; taking the scenic route on a gondola over the Hoang Son Mountains or the stairs…I definitely chose the stairs.
Once at the top of the mountains, the views are jaw-dropping! At the top of the mountain, a steep staircase takes you into the heart of Hoang Son Mountain to where the Buddhist Temple lay.
This particular Buddhist Temple is like no other in Vietnam or the world with stalagmites and stalactites are everywhere in sight. At the end of the temple, the Buddha can be seen as pilgrims pray under a dimly lit cave.
Ninh Binh is simply the best of Vietnam. In Cameron and Natasha’s opinion, Ninh Binh is the best place to visit in Vietnam. Just a short train journey away from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is ideal for anyone who only has a few spare days around the capital.
Ninh Binh was described by a fellow traveler as being like Ha Long Bay, just less popular and with less water, and that’s exactly what it is!
Once you arrive you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of limestone monoliths, topped with beautiful dense greenery that elegantly emerge right from the earth.
There are plenty of things to do in Ninh Binh like explore Bai Dinh and Bich Dong Pagodas. Another option is to climb Hang Mua Peak, or just venture around on a motorbike. Ninh Binh i picking up in popularity on the Vietnam backpacker trail too, meaning there are plenty of delicious places to eat. Make sure to get to Chookies for healthy vegan food and an iced coconut coffee!
Just near Ninh Binh Town, another fine day trip from Hanoi is Tam Coc. This is a truly stunning area of Vietnam that is best seen by the river. Much like the Perfume Pagoda trip, Tam Coc requires hiring a wooden boat and a rower to take you through Halong Bay like landscapes, rice paddy fields and a series of caves which are quite spooky.
Picking the right time of year to go Tam Coc is crucial as the scenes are much more beautiful when the rice paddies haven’t been harvested. Once everything gets pulled up, there’s a lot of muddy water and no lush green crops to see. However choosing travel times can be difficult as the harvest season is so broad so you may just have to be lucky!
Getting to Tam Coc is the hard part and although it might not seem far from Hanoi, the roads have seen better days so expect the journey to Tam Coc to take 2.5 hours. Or you can just stay in Ninh Binh!
When is the Best Time of Year to Travel to Vietnam?
Ho Chi Minh City
To avoid the monsoon season, October to April is recommended however temperatures will be higher.
September and October by far has the highest rainfall while temperatures peak from May to August.
Hanoi has the best climate in Vietnam making the best months to visit from December through to April.
How to Travel Around Vietnam?
Getting around Vietnam is easier than you think with trains, buses and bikes readily available. If you are planning on hiring a scooter or motorbike for a length of the country adventure, I highly recommend being an experienced rider as road conditions throughout the country can be terrible and scary at time. Always wear a helmet – it’s actually a law in Vietnam (although many don’t obey it).
If you are constrained by time, planes are a perfectly safe option in Vietnam. Opt for Vietnam Airlines over low-cost VietJet Air, which almost always runs with delays and cancellations.
Major airports are located in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi while smaller regional airports are found in all of the mentioned places apart from the Mekong Delta and Sa Pa.
Plan and Pack for Vietnam
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Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Vietnam so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps here is perfectly safe to drink. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well.
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Remember that Vietnam uses the Type C adaptor. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land.