Vietnam reopens its borders to foreign tourists this week, following two years of Covid-19 restrictions. The hotly anticipated move means outside visitors will once again be able to sample the delights of this fascinating South East Asia country, from the elegant capital Hanoi to buzzing Ho Chi Minh and beyond.
(Fancy visiting? Find out more about Flash Pack’s adventure to Vietnam).
Vietnam’s natural landscape is hard to beat; it’s mountainous and lush with a vast selection of sandy beaches. If you like hiking, there are plenty of options for trails and climbs (including the trekking capital of Sa Pa), but if you’re after something more thrilling, there’s also scope for diving, kayaking and other sport activities.
This captivating corner of the globe is also home to fabulous shopping – think lanterns and tailor-made clothes in the coastal hub of Hoi An – along with ancient pagodas and a vivid sense of historical legacy that dates to the Vietnam war.
Vietnam’s range of cultural influences, from French Colonial to Chinese and beyond, also means its culinary scene is a force to be reckoned with. Dive into the myriad of street food stalls, visit the floating markets, or try a homestay to experience food that will make your taste buds tingle.
If you’re trying to figure out your itinerary for a trip to Vietnam, we’ve put together a selection of the best places to visit and what to do when you’re there – so you can make the most of your travels in this rich and varied country.
Most popular sight: The Old Quarter
Top recommendation: Thanh Chuong’s Viet Palace
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is an eclectic melting pot full of history and culture. Bustling markets and ornate temples provide both a buzz and peaceful tranquillity, while the wide range of street food means you can feast your way across the capital.
Hanoi Old Quarter is a huge tourist draw thanks to its varied history and wide array of cultural offerings. It’s also where you’ll find some of the best Vietnamese food – including steaming bowls of phở noodles – across the whole of Vietnam.
Experience Vietnamese art and culture at Thanh Chuong’s Viet Palace, a tranquil spot that houses an extraordinary collection of antique art and historical artefacts that span provinces as well as dynasties.
Most popular sight: Dau Go Cave
Top recommendation: Thien Canh Son Cave
Halong Bay is a must-stop spot for any traveller in Vietnam. An expanse of sheer natural beauty, this archipelago of islands is best experienced from the water itself. You will have to jostle with the crowds a bit but hop on a reputable boat tour to escape and explore from the water.
We particularly like a leisurely sail around this UNESCO World Heritage Site on an Indochina junk boat, or more active travellers can opt for a faster-paced kayak between secluded lagoons and hidden grottoes.
The Dau Go Cave is particularly popular. There are a lot of steps to climb, but the view from the pinnacle makes it worth the effort. We’d also recommend a trip to the lesser-known Thien Canh Son Cave. A trip here will make you feel like you’re entering another world altogether; one filled with eerie stalagmites and a myriad of natural statues.
Most popular sight: Hoi An Ancient Town
Top recommendation: Fujian Assembly Hall
The coastal town of Hoi An has to be one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. Anyone that has stepped out from its Ancient Town towards the river will tell you so. For sheer spectacular beauty alone, it’s a must-visit.
Formerly a major port, Hoi An boasts stunning ancient architecture and natural beauty in spades. Displaying its multicultural heritage through a scattering of Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses alongside French-colonial houses, and old canals, Hoi An is a great spot to explore Vietnam’s heritage.
Take a trip to Fujian Assembly Hall to experience an icon of Hoi An architecture alongside beautiful statues of Buddhist deities, carvings of ornate dragons and a whole range of Fujian artistry. Make sure to take in Jinshang Golden Mountain temple, dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea and caretaker of sailors.
Don’t miss the great tailoring in this town, too: you can get tailored suits and dresses made-to-measure in a matter of days.
Ho Chi Minh
Most popular sight: Cu Chi Tunnels
Top recommendation: Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
Ho Chi Minh has everything you would expect from Vietnam’s biggest city; museums, stunning rooftop bars, street food stalls aplenty, as well as nightlife that surpasses any other spot in Vietnam. Much has been said about the madness of Ho Chi Minh’s traffic: be prepared to fight your instincts when crossing the road.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the most popular sights in the Ho Chi Minh region. They’re part of a massive war museum dedicated to highlighting the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers. You can follow in their footsteps by tracing the narrow routes through the tunnels.
Ho Chi Minh City Opera House (also known as Saigon Opera House) is another majestic sight not to be missed. Built in 1898, in the flamboyant style of the French 3rd Republic, the architecture is a work of art. It’s also worth taking in a performance, from bamboo cirque to contemporary dance, while you’re there.
Most popular sight: Po Nagar Tower
Top recommendation: Hon Ba Nature Reserve
Nha Trang is a beautiful beach resort with plenty to keep you busy. Go diving, visit the offshore islands or partake in some of the more adrenaline-filled activities. The abundance of things to do it’s one of the busier resorts in the south, but if you don’t like to sit still, Nha Trang is well worth the visit.
For a spot of culture, travel a little north to Po Nagar Tower, a series of temples situated on a knoll at the river-mouth of the Cai River. Built sometime between the 7th and 12th centuries, there were originally seven or eight towers, but now only four remain. The magnificent 28m-high North Tower, with its terraced pyramidal roof and vaulted interior masonry, is a wonder to look at. The towers are still in use for worship by Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists.
Take in nature in all its glory with a trip to Hon Ba Nature Reserve. Hike to the top of Hon Ba Mountain to experience views you won’t find anywhere else, before swimming beneath a waterfall in the Hon Ba rainforest.
Most popular sight: Cable Car Station
Top recommendation: Sa Pa Lake
This once remote mountain town – located about 350 km northwest of Hanoi and close to the Chinese border – has seen a boom in tourism recently, but it’s still well worth a visit if you’re interested in experiencing rural Vietnam. The far-flung location does mean it can be a bit difficult to get to, but the boost in tourism makes the journey less challenging each year. Plus, the countryside train route up into the hills here comes with wow-worthy views.
Many seek out a homestay in one of the surrounding villages, or when the weather is good you can climb the tallest mountain in Indochina, Fansipan. One of the most popular attractions is the Cable Car Station, where you can travel from Sapa to Fansipan Peak, taking in the mountain views without breaking a sweat.
The surrounding nature is just as peaceful and picturesque viewed from Sa Pa Lake. Beautifully clear water and a mountainous backdrop mean the lake is the perfect spot to rest and recharge.
Most popular sight: Cai Rang Floating Market
Top recommendation: Ong Temple
If you’re thinking of venturing towards the Mekong Delta, make sure you stop at Can Tho. The floating market, Cai Rang, is the largest in Vietnam and it alone is worth the trip. It finishes at 10am, so you’ll need to get an early start. Take a boat ride to the market so you can take a glimpse at rural life along the shores. Go with a guide, who can help you weave through the long stretches of busy boats while making your purchases.
While taking a wander along the riverside at Ninh Kieu, make sure you pay a visit to the small but ornate Ong Temple. A vibrant red temple with great coils of burning incense hanging from the ceiling, you will be greeted with fragrant smoke as you enter. We recommend waiting around to see new coils of incense lit and hung up with long poles.
Find out more about Flash Pack’s Secret Vietnam adventure, with Vespa rides, private sailing, food safaris and more.
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