Top 10 Places to Visit in Vietnam
Boasting over a thousand years of history, including periods of domination by the Chinese and later the French, Vietnam has a rich cultural heritage. With over 50 ethnic minority groups combined for a population of around 95 million people spread across a country that borders China in the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, the Gulf of Thailand to the south, and the East Sea along its over 3,000 km-long coastline, you could travel for weeks in Vietnam and still see something new every day.
With soaring mountains, deserted islands, sandy beaches, and lush countryside, it’s virtually impossible to narrow it down to just Top 10 Places to Visit in Vietnam. Hopefully, though, this list will spark your wanderlust to come visit this beautiful country where you can put together your own list of memorable places to visit.
Part 1: Northern Vietnam
- Old Quarter
- Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Hanoi Opera House
- Temple of Literature
Why it’s awesome: The seat of Vietnam’s government for the better part of a thousand years, Hanoi is imbued with ancient history. There’s the Temple of Literature, built in 1070 as a place of worship to Confucius but later home to Vietnam’s first national university. There’s more modern history to be seen in its French colonial-era heritage buildings, including the gorgeous Hanoi Opera House. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a solemn monument to Vietnam’s most beloved leader whose well-preserved body can be viewed inside.
What to do: Wake up early one morning and join the locals around Hoan Kiem Lake for a brisk walk or some Tai Chi. Spend a few hours just wandering the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, each named after the wares traditionally made and traded there. Pay close attention to the building facades, as many show Juliet balconies and flourishes from Indochina times. Pull up a stool and enjoy a steaming bowl of “pho”, Vietnam’s de facto national dish, which originated in Hanoi, or “bun cha”, the dish famously eaten by Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama.
Recommendation: Experience the historical and culinary highlights of Hanoi on the Best of Vietnam itinerary from Victoria Voyages
- Homestays with ethnic minority groups
- Terraced rice fields
- Trekking at all fitness levels
- Mount Fansipan
Why it’s awesome: Established as a hill station by the French in the early 20th century as a place where colonists could go and enjoy cool temperatures and fresh air, much of what drew the French to Sapa remains intact. Its location overlooking a plunging valley allows for spectacular views while the many ethnic minority groups add color to the already lush landscape with their hand-dyed, hand-embroidered traditional garments.
What to do: The town of Sapa has a certain charm with its centrally-located old stone church, a gathering place for locals and visitors alike, along with its many boutiques and spas. However, to experience Sapa’s real charm, head out to the surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and quaint villages on a soft trek, followed by a soak in a bath infused with medicinal herbs collected by hill tribe people. Climb up Mount Fansipan (or take the convenient cable car) for views from the ‘roof of Indochina’.
Recommendation: Get into the spirit of Sapa with an overnight vintage-inspired train ride from Victoria Express Train, arriving refreshed and ready to sightsee right away. Or pair the vintage train journey with a Sapa trek and a Halong Bay cruise in the Ultimate Northern Vietnam Experience from Victoria Voyages.
- Nearly 1,700 mostly deserted islands
- Day, overnight, and multi-day cruises
- Scenic seaplane flights
- Kayaking, swimming, cycling
Why it’s awesome: Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its gorgeous seascape of jungle-clad islands surrounded by emerald water, Halong Bay has an otherworldly feel to it. While the islands can be viewed from a ship, there is still lots to do on shore excursions, including exploring caves, swimming, kayaking, and hiking on Cat Ba Island. Halong is also home to the extremely endangered Cat Ba Langur, of which there may be less than 80 animals remaining.
What to do: For an overview of the islands, take a scenic seaplane flight where the islands really do look like the emerald body of a “Descending Dragon”. Hop aboard a cruise ship for close up views of the islands. Itineraries will typically include opportunities to kayak, swim, and go ashore to visit caves, pearl farms, and floating villages.
Recommendations: Skip the road trip and take a 45-minute flight from Hanoi instead aboard a 12-seater Cessna with bonus views over the Red River Delta. While there are nearly 300 boats to choose from, the 3-star L’Azalée Cruises gets good reviews for its intimate, friendly set-up, while the 4-star Emeraude Cruises offers a stylish, vintage vibe. The Ultimate Northern Vietnam Experience from Victoria Voyages combines an overnight Halong Bay cruise with tours of Sapa and Hanoi.
- Tam Coc
- Van Long Nature Reserve
- Hoa Lu Temples
- UNESCO-listed Trang An Landscape Complex
- Cuc Phong National Park
- Cycling opportunities
Why it’s awesome: Just two hours (100 km / 60 mi) south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is packed with natural and cultural attractions, including the nation’s biggest pagoda, gorgeous limestone karst peaks surrounding picturesque green valleys, and protected reserves where the endangered Delacour’s langur and rare birds can be spotted.
What to do: Whether in Ninh Binh on a day trip or on a longer stay, you’ll want to center your activities around the outdoors in the region known as “Halong Bay on Land”. The flat valleys are ideal for cycling along impossibly green rice fields. Spend some time exploring the Trang An Landscape Complex which includes ancient temples and pagodas from the 10th and 11th centuries in the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, taking a boat trip surrounded by limestone outcrops and tranquil rice paddies of Tam Coc, and some wildlife spotting in Van Long, Northern Vietnam’s largest wetlands.
Recommendation: Don’t forget to try the goat meat in Ninh Binh which is said to be extra tasty from being raised in the hills. Consider adding Ninh Binh as an extension to your Ultimate Northern Vietnam Experience from Victoria Voyages.
Part 2: Central Vietnam
- Royal Tombs
- Boat Trip on the Perfume River
- Imperial Citadel
- Thien Mu Pagoda
Why it’s awesome: The imperial capital of Vietnam from 1738-1945, Hue has a slow charm all its own. Its tree-lined streets and riverside promenade offer a lovely contrast to frenetic Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the mountains, beaches, and lagoons while history buffs can take their pick from imperial tombs and temples to Vietnam War-era battlegrounds. It’s also said that the majority of Vietnamese dishes originated here in Hue, meaning you’ll find a thriving foodie and streetfood scene to tantalize your palate.
What to do: The UNESCO-listed 19th century Hue Citadel with its palaces, shrines, and moats is a must-see, either by day or atmospherically lit up at night. The tombs of the emperors are also a highlight, ranging from the over-the-top ornate to the serene, often blending traditional Chinese motifs with Western design elements. The garden houses of imperial court officials offer a look into the past while a boat trip down the Perfume River is a must, stepping ashore to admire the iconic, seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda. Don’t forget to sample “Bun Bo Hue”, the spicy beef noodle soup with hints of lemongrass that originated here.
Recommendation: Less than three hours by car from Hoi An, Hue is easily combinable with a trip to Danang or Hoi An. The Taste of Vietnam tour from Victoria Voyages features extensive culinary exploration in both Hue and Hoi An.
- Cua Dai and An Bang Beaches
- Historic Ancient Town
- Japanese Covered Bridge
- Hoi An Night Market
- My Son Temple Complex
Why it’s awesome: The UNESCO-listed town of Hoi An is quite unlike any other place in Vietnam. Its history as a medieval trading port lives on in its Chinese, Japanese, and French influences and remarkably well-preserved Ancient Town whose narrow, pedestrian-only streets are perfect for strolling. It’s also blessed with quiet beaches, idyllic countryside, and literally hundreds of talented tailors and leather craftsmen, all within a compact area.
What to do: The lantern-lit streets of Hoi An’s Ancient Town are some of the most photogenic in all of Vietnam. Arrive early morning before the crowds and you’ll have this lovely backdrop all to yourself, including its clay-tiled shophouses, colorful boats moored along the riverside, atmospheric temples, and iconic Japanese Covered Bridge. There’s plenty to do in Hoi An, including cooking classes set in the middle of organic gardens, a visit to the Night Market where you can send little paper lanterns down the Thu Bon River, and a day trip to explore the Angkor-like ruins of Cham-era temples at UNESCO-listed My Son.
- Long, quiet beaches
- Mui Ne fishing village
- Sand dunes
- Fairy Stream
Why it’s awesome: The beaches of Phan Thiet and nearby Mui Ne are just four hours away from Ho Chi Minh City by road. A sleepy fishing village 20 years ago, the area is still known for its low-key vibe with a friendly expat community, cheap international eats, and family-friendly attractions. It’s also Vietnam’s kitesurfing capital with lots of watersports on offer. Plus, Phan Thiet is famous for its fish sauce, so feel free to pinch your nose while touring a fish sauce factory and bring home a bottle as a souvenir.
What to do: The best thing about Phan Thiet and Mui Ne (10km from each other) are the quiet, palm tree-lined beaches. Spend the day lazing by the clear blue-green water and then walk up to the only main road for fresh seafood cooked to order or to poke around in the many beach boutiques. Right in town, the Fairy Stream is a great spot to get your feet wet while walking through the red and yellow canyons. Or rent a plastic mat and slide down the Red Sand Dunes. For a nice day trip, head south to the windswept beach and wild rock formations by the Ke Ga Lighthouse or head north to the giant White Sand Dunes which can be explored on foot or by ATV.
Recommendation: Because there are so many places to visit within Vietnam, it’s understandable why many visitors try to cram as many destinations into a packed schedule as possible. Not only is this exhausting, but it severely impacts on your enjoyment. Victoria Voyages offers the Best of Vietnam itinerary covering the country’s major destinations including Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City while building in a 3-day beach retreat in Phan Thiet to decompress and provide an opportunity to reflect on all the amazing sights seen along the way.
Part 3: Southern Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon)
- Ben Thanh Market
- Central Post Office
- Reunification Palace
- Bui Vien Backpacker Street
- Cu Chi Tunnels
Why it’s awesome: The largest city in Vietnam, it sometimes feels like all 8 million people are out and about on 8 million motorbikes at the same time. This frenetic energy, however, is all part of Ho Chi Minh City’s charm. Named after Vietnam’s beloved revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh City’s universities and work opportunities draw people from all over the country, leading to a sensational street food scene where you can sample literally hundreds of different dishes. While Hanoi is the historic capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is its beating heart, where modern skyscrapers overlook tree-lined boulevards, the winding Saigon River, and lovely colonial-era heritage buildings.
What to do: Get to know Vietnam’s more recent history with a visit to the sobering War Remnants Museum followed by the Cu Chi Tunnels, a vast network of tunnels in the countryside employed by the Northern Vietnamese during the American War, complete with hospitals, schools, and kitchens. Tour the French-built Reunification Palace which served as the headquarters for the South Vietnamese government before a tank famously crashed through its gates in 1975, and with it, the end of the Vietnam War. You’ll also want to test your bargaining skills at the iconic Ben Thanh Market which sells practically everything under the sun, including kitschy souvenirs. In the evenings, Bui Vien (also known as Backpacker Street) comes alive with a lively bar scene and inexpensive, international restaurants. Don’t leave Ho Chi Minh City without trying “hu tieu”, a delicious noodle soup with pork, shrimp, and fresh veggies incorporating Chinese and Khmer flavors.
Recommendation: Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta are all on the Ultimate Southern Vietnam itinerary operated by Victoria Voyages. Or do all the above as well as sail through the Delta aboard a stylish 35-cabin river cruiser all the way to Phnom Penh on the Cruise and Stay from Saigon to Phnom Penh itinerary.
- Cai Rang Floating Market
- Can Tho Old Market
- Tay Do Night Market
- Truc Lam Zen Monastery
Why it’s awesome: The largest city in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Can Tho makes a great base for exploring the many surrounding sights. It’s an easy three hour bus or car ride from Ho Chi Minh City and has everything you’d want from a Mekong Delta trip – great museums, Chinese and Khmer temples, floating markets, and of course, endless rice fields that define the “Rice Bowl” of Vietnam. Once known as Vietnam’s “Western Capital”, it draws people from neighboring provinces in the Mekong Delta and with them, delicious regional specialties, giving Can Tho an excellent foodie scene.
What to do: Can Tho’s main draw is the Cai Rang Floating Market, the largest in the Mekong Delta. While floating markets are not as common as they used to be, this is your best chance of seeing dozens of boats, big and small, trading wholesale produce grown in the Delta. The width of the river enables boats to better maneuver for great photos. Downtown Can Tho centers around the Ninh Kieu Pier with a pretty park and the Old Market, a terracotta-roofed building from French colonial times and a good place to bargain for souvenirs. In the evening, wander around the Tay Do Night Market with its stalls filled with clothing and knick knacks as well as delicious street food. A Can Tho specialty is the yummy “chuoi nep nuong”, sticky rice that’s been wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, then doused with creamy coconut milk.
Recommendation: See the Cai Rang Floating Market on a breakfast cruise and then sail on a sampan to the quaint Indochine-esque town of Sa Dec on the Deep into the Mekong Delta itinerary by Victoria Voyages.
- Chau Doc Floating Market
- Tra Su Forest
- Cam Mountain
- Cham villages
Why it’s awesome: Situated right on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, many visitors unfortunately treat Chau Doc as an unremarkable stopover. However, this town on the banks of the Hau Giang River is a fascinating destination in and of itself. Its location deep in the Delta means there are Chinese, Cham, and Khmer communities harmoniously living side-by-side with the Vietnamese. This cultural diversity is also evident in its many mosques, temples, pagodas, and churches making Chau Doc a popular pilgrimage site.
What to do: The town of Chau Doc is home to several fine museums as well as a vibrant wet market where you’ll find its pungent specialty, “mam” or pickled fish and crabs, commonly used as a base for hot pot. Boat trips are also popular here to visit the small Chau Doc Floating Market and floating homes which house fish farms underneath. There are several easy day trips from Chau Doc, including Cam Mountain, featuring panoramic views of the Great Buddha Pagoda all the way to the sea on a clear day, as well as the 800,000 hectare Tra Su submerged forest, a favorite among birdwatchers and naturalists.
Recommendation: Hit all the highlights of the Mekong Delta with Victoria Voyage’s Ultimate Mekong Delta Experience. Start from Ho Chi Minh City and visit Can Tho with its famed floating market, and travel on to Chau Doc with a scenic lunch on Sam Mountain overlooking the surrounding rice fields.
Inspired by our list? Let us take care of your Vietnam journey & check out these Victoria Voyages’ Experiences: