Vietnam is a land of magnificent sights, exciting sounds and exotic tastes. Each region in this narrow S shaped country offers you such diversity of experience. The sheer abundance of choice as to what to see and do means anyone advising you on the preferred options under-takes a most dangerous effort. Below is our list of top ten destinations, though keep in mind that the best ones are often the hidden gems you discover on your own.
The order here does not refer to ranking. Wherever you choose to go, embrace the local spirit and the local delights that await you.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
I love Saigon, I just do. What makes Saigon so irresistible is its essential vitality. As the biggest commercial hub of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City has a special vibe that pulsates and refuses to rest. Thanks to its complex blend of different cultures, historical traits and Western influences, the city offers a mix of architecture, culture and street life that will at times fascinate and at other times thrill. While in Saigon, make sure you explore the Vietnamese coffee culture and experience the exciting nightlife, with plenty of street restaurants where you can have fruit, ice-cream, barbeque and hotpot, all late at night when the local Vietnamese finish their work and populate the lively streets.
In Ho Chi Minh City there are great opportunities to immerse yourself in the kitchens of Vietnam, with a wide range of cuisines that come from all over-the-country. Also, don’t miss the chance to enjoy the very affordable-luxuries you can’t find at home, such as romantic dining on a boat, healing therapy massage, a feast of fresh seafood, tailor-made suits and many other nice treats at surprisingly good prices.
Hanoi can charm you so effortlessly with its poetic and romantic feel, especially in autumn. It must be the reason why there are so many beautiful songs and poems written about the capital. This city is a must-go destination if you want to discover Vietnam’s historic and cultural delights. Take time to enjoy the unique blend of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, historical and cultural museums, local shows, concerts and various temples and pagodas.
While in Hanoi, try to explore as much exotic local cuisine as possible but be sure not to miss the delicious and authentic Pho, which is every local’s staple dish. Also don’t miss the unique and surprisingly pleasant tasting “egg coffee” – one of the 10 best drinks in the world. After that feast of flavors, you are ready to engross in the fascinating maze of streets in the Old Quarter – the heart of Hanoi.
Mekong Delta – the “Rice bowl of Vietnam” is a land of enchanting floating markets, lush green rice fields, bird sanctuaries, fascinating villages and endless fruit gardens. A typical one-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City is not merely enough for you to explore the most fertile region of the country. There is no place else in Vietnam where you can enjoy such an abundance of fruit, vegetables and river fish of all kinds. There is an endless list of treats to sample the local taste, but do your best to try the fish hotpot, grilled snails in black pepper sauce and the famous Ben Tre coconut.
If you have a chance to stay with a local family then don’t be surprised (and shouldn’t refuse) when the host just gets everything they can find in the house (or in the market) to treat you to a proper feast. Warm and sincere hospitality is the core nature of Mekong people. Pamper yourself with cruising the delta at dusk, dining with grilled fish and enjoying a refreshing beverage while watching the sunset – it’s about as good as it gets.
This off the beaten path area is my absolute favorite. The region boasts a transcendent beauty of landscape and colorful minority hill tribes. Dazzling sceneries of rice terrace fields, splendid mountains and beautiful hill tribes will not only strike your sights but also deeply touch your heart.
Being in the middle of the most far-off land makes you feel like you were travelling back to an ancient time when people had to walk on foot from mountain to mountain. Well, the minorities here still do!
It is thrilling to gaze at the raw natural beauty, and heart breaking to witness how tough it is for people here to survive in this indigent frontier. You suddenly feel like all your troubles just “melt like lemon drops” like in the song Over the Rainbow.
This tropical paradise is a perfect destination if you long for some peace and romance. Floating aimlessly in crystal clear lukewarm waters of the Gulf of Thailand is just the best way to calm your mind and ease your body. Walking barefoot on silk-soft white sands and emerald green waters or simply lying back in a hammock with a good book, are other great ways to immerse yourself in this beautiful and untouched marine environment.
Phu Quoc is as peaceful as it gets, and yet, this astonishing island is full of entertainment that will delight your adventurous side. Beach sports and water activities here are fantastic. Check out jet skiing, wind sailing, fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. For more daring souls, don’t miss the chance to experience squid fishing. And when the night falls, the seafood night market is a must-go. Steamed wild fish and many local specialties found here definitely offer you a feast of heaven on earth.
Ladies, while here, check out the famous pearl farm. Properly adorned with the local accouterments, you will look so stunning after a wonderful trip to Phu Quoc.
What makes Hue one of the best places to visit in Vietnam probably is its special look and feel. This ancient capital of Vietnam is the home of the emperor’s residence. The glorious time of Nguyen Dynasty is still impressively reflected today, in its culture, architecture and cuisine.
Hue is well known for delicate royal cuisines and the gentlest ladies in the country. Beautiful slim girls in traditional Ao dai riding bicycles along the Perfume river is the signature image of this city. If you are fascinated by historical and cultural discovery, the city is perfectly filled with palaces, royal tombs, pagodas and temples to explore and admire. And don’t leave Hue before you taste Bun bo Hue (beef noodle soup), Com la sen (rice with lotus seeds in lotus leaf) and various yummy rice cakes. Hue is famous in the country as the place that boasts the largest collection of various rice cakes. If you have some extra time to spare, explore an off the beaten track place not too far from Hue – Lang Co. It is a beautiful tranquil beach village.
With over 2000 islands, aqua-green water and a cluster of lush limestone karsts, Ha Long evokes a fantasy look and feel. This magnificent bay is often in the list of top 5 best destinations in Vietnam. Be ready to get on a junk boat and sail to the sea for a most thrilling trip. Spending overnight on the ocean, feeling the tranquil beauty of the sea at night and enjoying sunset on the bay are some of the extraordinary experiences that on-land tours just can’t offer.
Don’t hesitate to be a bit adventurous and take a kayak among the hundreds of karst outcrops or cruise around the jungle-covered islands. Explore caves, lakes and grottoes in this magnificent area and you might find your own little gem here.
Dating back over 2000 years, little alluring Hoi An is a dreamland for those who wish to have an ancient town experience. Walking around its atmospheric Old Town’s winding lanes is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the blend of Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture and culture.
Filled with charming shops, traditional wooden houses, flower garlands and lanterns, this town boasts an elegant beauty and was voted one of the best cities in the world. Many consider it to be Vietnam’s culinary capital for its famous Cao Lau, various tasty street foods and plenty of cooking courses.
Lavish forested hills, rice paddle fields and fishing villages are just a bit outside the town waiting for you to discover. Also, golden sandy beaches in Cua Dai, An Bang and China Beach are not to be missed while you are here in Hoi An.
Ninh Binh – widely referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land” will immediately charm you with its serene beauty and natural landscape. The destination boasts various fascinating attractions for you to explore such as Trang An Grottoes, Van Phong Nature Reserve, and Hoa Lu – the ancient capital of Vietnam.
One of the most alluring scenes in this area is the complex of tropical limestone mountains scattered on flat green rice fields. Dazzling countryside and peaceful villages will give you a sense of Vietnam rural life.
To fully explore and enjoy the place, be ready to bike, hike and boat. Cruising through caves during the lotus flower blooming season will be an unforgettable experience for your eyes and soul.
Among special local cuisines here, the two most outstanding are De nui – tender mountain goat in various cooking styles and special spices and Com chay – crispy poprice served with a tasty sauce. Don’t leave the place without this taste and smell lingering in your memory.
This favorite spot of “sun and fun” seekers is located on one of the most beautiful bays in Asia. Adorned with lush islands, beautiful turquoise coastline and colorful coral reefs, Nha Trang is a great fun place for various water sports and outdoor activities.
Want to enjoy Nha Trang the local way? Sail to the ocean, catch fish, grill and enjoy them on board!
Here is a challenge for foodies, find the most special dish: Bo La (stewed beef in 5 spices over a sun dried egg served with Vietnamese baguette). It’s an amazing mix between French and local tastes. You can be very proud of yourself if you can have this delicious dish, not only because of the taste, but also because this rare dish is mostly unknown, even by the locals. A feast of fresh seafood cooked in spectacular local recipes is another must while you are here.
A bit further out from town, Cam Ranh Bay – one of the world’s finest deep-water harbors, is a hidden gem that is worth the 40 kilometers drive. And if you want to add a touch of romance to the trip, spend a night at Ninh Van Bay. It’s a golden sand paradise for honeymooners set along the bay with beautiful green hills.