4 and a half years ago, I had the adventure of a lifetime when I travelled for the first time ever. Being the first country I ever visited, Vietnam will always have a piece of my heart. So you may call me biased when I say that this country is one of the best in the world. But it won’t take you long to find plenty of others who agree. The destination soars in popularity every year amongst all types of traveller. Whether you want a jungle adventure or a beach chill-out, travel in luxury or on a budget, Vietnam has something for you. From bustling cities to idyllic islands, use this list of unmissable destinations to plan your perfect Vietnamese adventure.
This was the first place I visited in Vietnam, and it really set the bar high. The capital of Vietnam has an atmosphere like nowhere else. The city is definitely lively, and you’ll never be short of things to see and do. Despite the fast-pace, locals will always make time for you if you let them. One of the many highlights of Hanoi is the Old Quarter, which you can find in the north of the city.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the Old Quarter truly captures the essence of this beautiful country. The mixture of colonial architecture, Confucian temples and modern buildings perfectly demonstrates the old and the new merging to create the unique identity of the city. Many of the streets in the district are dedicated to one specific craft, as all of them once were. It’s the perfect place to get yourself a souvenir (or several…), so make sure to leave room in your luggage! There are so many things to see and do in Hanoi. From exploring the temples to seeing the resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the list is endless. I’d recommend spending 5 days minimum in this city to explore as much as you can.
You’ll probably recognise Halong Bay, even if you’ve never heard of it. Every travel guide and tourism ad uses a picture of this famous landmark to draw in tourists from across the globe. This is hardly surprising — it’s a thing of beauty. The shimmering emerald bay is full of limestone islands draped in greenery. The water is calm, the surroundings are peaceful: it’s the closest to paradise that I’ve ever been. Most travellers book their trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi. This is what we did, and it couldn’t have been easier. We used Lily’s Travel Agency, and I can’t emphasise enough how helpful the team were. They explained each option to us in detail, and they were so patient when we took our time deciding.
When it comes to the amount of time you want to stay, that depends on what you’re after. If you don’t have much time or you’re more interested in exploring the cities, a day trip might be enough for you. We went for a 2-day cruise and it was ideal for us. We got to do plenty of exploring, without feeling like that we missed out on anything.
Once you arrive, you’ll get the opportunity to kayak around the bay and explore the depths of the caves. But the best part of the trip by far is the view you get from the top of Sung Sot Cave. From here, you’ll get to see those amazing images that are plastered all over Vietnamese travel guides in person. And believe me, it’s even better than it looks in the pictures. A visit to Halong Bay will make your trip truly unforgettable.
This is the underrated gem of Vietnam. Although many backpackers choose to skip it, some of my best memories come from the time I spent in this endearing town. Hue seems to move at a slower pace than the rest of Vietnam, and it’ll definitely be a welcome break after the hectic energy of Hanoi. Take some time to amble along the Perfume River and admire the view, or if you want to get out on the water then use a paddleboat to explore.
Make sure to pay a visit to the Imperial Citadel too. This fortress was once the capital of Vietnam and home to the emperor Gia Long. Although large parts of the citadel were destroyed in the American War, there’s still plenty for you to see. You’ll definitely leave the fortress with a lot more knowledge of Vietnamese history.
There’s so much to see and do in Hue, it’s almost impossible to pick my favourite experience, but exploring the abandoned theme park is definitely up there. This might not be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of all things creepy it’s a must-do. No one knows why the park closed or why it was left completely abandoned, which makes the experience even spookier.
If you want to get out of the town and get into nature, pay a visit to Bạch Mã National Park. This natural beauty was one of the main fighting grounds of the American War. As a result, it was declared a protected area in 1962. Explore the many trails that the park has to offer, and swim through the clear freshwater lakes. Just make sure that you bring a jacket since it can get pretty nippy thanks to the high altitude.
The third largest city in Vietnam lies slap bang in the middle of the country, between the two largest cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Although not the most visited tourist spot, it’s become a lot more popular in recent years since tourism to Vietnam exploded. This is in part thanks to the global sensation that is the Golden Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge wasn’t constructed until 2018 — two years after our visit. But from pictures alone, you can see that this is a remarkable feat of engineering. The bridge is held up by two hands on either side, made with fibreglass and steel. The 150-metre long bridge isn’t just a beauty in itself, but it offers amazing views too.
However, this isn’t the only impressive bridge in the city. The Dragon Bridge is one that we were fortunate enough to see, and it’s seriously impressive. A dragon was chosen to be on the bridge as a symbol of power and good fortune. Considering the growing popularity of the city, this definitely seems to have worked! Make sure to view it at night, as it’s even more impressive when it’s lit up.
Da Nang isn’t just about bridges — there’s plenty of other things to see too. Why not visit the city’s Cathedral? This picturesque pink building is the only church in the city — probably because no other church could possibly top it. Make sure to keep an eye out for the rooster on top of the bell tower. If you want to get out of the city, travel to Sơn Trà Mountain for some amazing views. You may even see a monkey if you’re lucky! Da Nang is the perfect place to have a chilled out day too. Head over to one of the many beaches in the area, slap on some sun cream and spend the rest of the day lounging around. You’re on holiday, you deserve it!
This picturesque riverside town is by far one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. It seems that every one who goes there falls madly in love with the culture, the aesthetic, the food, and pretty much everything else that this town has to offer. I have to be honest — me and Hoi An just didn’t click. This is through no fault of the town itself, but rather through circumstance. We only visited Hoi An as a day trip, and it ended up being one of those days where everything went wrong — I lost my purse, I felt ill the entire day and it was impossible to escape from the blistering 38° heat. My experience could certainly have been better. But in retrospect, I still have some very fond memories of this charming little town.
One of the things people love most about Hoi An is the range of independent clothes shops. The items aren’t only high quality, but you can get them for a great price too. My now go-to summer dress cost me the equivalent of £2! You can also get your clothes tailored for a reasonable price too. If you make enough room in your suitcase, you can even buy yourself a tailored suit for a fraction of the price that you would at home. But make sure to shop around before making your purchase, since quality and price can vary widely from shop to shop.
Another popular activity is exploring the ancient town. An entry ticket costs around £4, but for the amount of sites you get to see it’s definitely worth it. The colourful architecture is remarkable, with many of the buildings being over 5 centuries old. Highlights of the town include the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation. After you’ve spent at least half a day exploring the old town, the night will be drawing in. This is the perfect time to head down to the waterfront. My fondest memory of Hoi An was the boat trip we took along the river. Seeing the flickering lantern light hit the river made the whole day worth it… almost.
This popular seaside resort city is the perfect place to kick back and relax. Nha Trang is most well known for its beaches, and it’s not hard to see why. The white sandy coastline stretches for as far as the eye can see, and the shimmering blue sea looks even better in person. When you’ve had your fill of relaxing underneath the warm sun, check out some of the water sport activities available on the beach. You can try your hand at snorkelling, diving or even water-skiing! And make sure you check out some of the nearby islands too. Hon Mun island is particularly popular for snorkelling thanks to its calm waters and amazing coral. But don’t forget to visit Monkey Island too. As well as being home to some seriously cute and cheeky primates, the islands’ secluded location makes it one of the most tranquil locations in Nha Trang.
Of course, there’s far more to the city than just beaches — there’s a rich history too. Po Nagar Cham towers were constructed in the 11th century as a tribute to Po Nagar, a goddess who was ruler of the Cham Kingdom. Today, the temples are worshiped by the Buddhists, Cham, Chinese, and Vietnamese alike. The towers themselves are works of art, in particular the North Tower. Take the time to admire the amazing pyramid roof. And don’t forget to go behind the grounds to get some great views of the city.
Another place for remarkable views is on the platform of the Buddha statue. But you may find yourself a bit distracted — it’s impossible to take your eyes off the statue itself. Standing at almost 50 feet high, this giant white statue can be seen from across the city, so you definitely won’t miss it. At the base, you’ll find statues in commemoration of several monks who set themselves alight in 1963, in protest of the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. It acts as a sobering reminder of the history of the country, as well as the strength and bravery of the Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh
Whilst it’s somewhat more polished than the capital, this is still one of the most chaotic cities I’ve ever been to. Although Vietnamese officials changed the name of the city to Ho Chi Minh in 1975 after the American war, many of the locals still refer to it as Saigon. This acts as a reminder that although the war is finished, tensions still exist between the North and the South, more so than many of us realise.
Anyone who visits Vietnam must take the time to educate themselves about the war, and the War Remnants Museum is the perfect place to do just that. Outside the museum you’ll find various modes of transport and equipment used in the war, such as tanks and helicopters. When you get to the exhibits inside, prepare to be shocked. Gruesome pictures and documentaries show the audience the true price of war. Whilst the museum is upsetting, learning the history of the country is vital to understanding and appreciating it.
To soak up the culture and history of the city, make sure to check out the Jade Emperor Pagoda. This impressive Taoist shrine was built in 1909 to honour the Taoist God, otherwise known as the King of Heaven. The pagoda is surrounded by trees, making it an oasis of tranquillity in the middle of the bustling city. Admire the many statues and beautiful architecture, and remember to keep an eye out for turtles in the ponds around the pagoda! The shrine is still used by many of the locals, so remember to be respectful of your surroundings. To round off your day, make your way to the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower for a view like no other.
There’s so many other things that you must do too. The Mekong Delta, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Cu Chi tunnels — the list is endless! One thing’s for sure, you’ll never never get bored in this lively city.
Last but by no means least, is the paradise that is Phu Quoc. This island is located off the south coast of Vietnam, and it’s actually closer to Cambodia than the country itself. The island’s main attraction is its selection of stunning, sandy beaches. The laid back and tranquil vibe of the island makes it the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing on the beach. And if you’re a swimmer, you’re in luck. The sea is perfectly calm and it’s always the perfect temperature for a dip. A lot of the beaches have a restaurant nearby, or even on the seafront, if you need to grab a bite to eat or use the facilities. Make sure to head down to the beach for the sunset, you’ll get views like nowhere else.
If you’ve had enough of the beaches (although I doubt you ever will on this island), there are plenty of other ways to spend your time. Rent a moped for the day to explore as much of the island if you can. Or if you’d rather, get your partner to ride one and cling to the back of them for dear life like I did. If you’re a big foodie, check out some of the local markets that sell local delicacies and national dishes. You might also enjoy going to the fish sauce factory — just make sure to bring a nose plug! And if you’ve got a lot of energy, try hiking to the Suoi Tranh Waterfall. Take a picnic with you, sit back and admire the view.
Where do you want to go first? Let me know your favourite place in the comments!