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A Traveler's Guide to The Very Best of Vietnam

by Jodi Lucas

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Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most compelling destinations, steeped in natural beauty, ancient landmarks and colonial structures that have survived throughout its bumpy history.

Unforgettable experiences are abounding while traveling in Vietnam, where Buddhist shrines can be found next to towering skyscrapers and maze-like streets bustle with delectable food stalls and markets rich in local crafts. And, when the swarming cities become a sensory overload, the region’s paradise islands beckon visitors for some sun-kissed ‘me time’ on golden sandy beaches.

Whether you’re traveling for a culinary vacation, fascinating cultural adventure or jaw-dropping natural wonders, our Vietnam travel guide highlights the best things to do and places to explore in this incredible destination.

Vietnam’s Best Cities

There’s no better way to really get to know a place than by exploring its local cities, and Vietnam is no different. From the bustling capital to the Old Quarter famed for its delectable food stalls and the UNESCO-protected town of Hoi An, here’s a list of the best cities to visit in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam City Travel Guide

From a small Khmer fishing village to Vietnamese refugee settlement and later a bustling French colony, this bedazzling city has lived many lives before becoming one of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations.

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, with its fascinating culture, classic French architecture and ornate temples, is the best city to explore in Vietnam. While there is so much to see and do here, there are a few must-have experiences that you cannot leave the city without trying.

First and foremost, practice your haggling skills at the Ben Thanh market, where you can pick up a range of quirky souvenirs like traditional Vietnamese lanterns, beautiful scarves, colorful fans and, of course, “lucky” cats.

When the bustling streets become a sensory overload, head underground to explore the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. These immense networks of underground tunnels enabled whole villages to stay safe during the war with the USA. And, if you’re a theatre fanatic, be sure to check out a traditional Vietnamese show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre.

Best For: Shopping
Must Try Dish: Banh mi (A French fusion Vietnamese sandwich)
Unmissable Festival: Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year Festival)

Hanoi Travel Guide

Traveling in Vietnam would be incomplete without a trip to its capital. Regarded as one of the most ancient capital cities in the world, Hanoi is known for its centuries-old architecture and multi-cultural community comprised of Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences.

The bustling city is mainly divided into two neighborhoods, the French Quarter and Old Quarter. Both are packed to the brim with epic attractions and are easily navigated by foot.

If it’s luxury you’re after, then the French Quarter is the best neighborhood to explore. Situated on the southeastern end of the Hoan Kiem Lake, this affluent area is home to the country’s foreign embassies, luxurious hotels and upmarket restaurants. Tucked among these, you’ll find plenty of historical landmarks and attractions such as the National Museum of Vietnamese History, Cho Hom Market and the Hanoi Opera House.

On the other hand, the Old Quarter is best suited for those who wish to travel back in time and dive into the city’s amazing culture and food. Once a bustling area where merchants and artisans gathered to sell their products, Ha Noi’s Old Quarter is brimming with well-preserved colonial buildings, ancient pagodas, unique museums and plenty of places to indulge in Vietnamese street food.

While you’re here, take a stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake, go shopping at the Dong Xuan Market, visit the Ngoc Son Temple and explore Cau Go Street, which is one of the original streets of the Old Quarter.

Best For: Food and history
Must Try Dish: Pho Xao (A Hanoi original of stir-fry)
Unmissable Festival: Perfume Festival (from the 15th day of the 1st lunar month)

Hoi An
Hoi An Travel Guide

                                                                                                                                    Image Credit: Travel Junkies

If you can’t decide between having a beach escape or a city break, then Vietnam’s Hoi An will be the ideal destination for you. Tucked away in the Quang Nam Province, this peaceful town once thrived as a trading port from the 15th to the 19th century, but today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best place to explore old school Vietnam.

While it doesn’t have an airport or train station, this dream-worthy town can be reached by taxi, bus or motorcycle from Da Nang City. Although it might be a trek to get here, the peaceful setting, traffic-free roads and amazing scenery make it well worth the visit.

Start off by taking a scenic walk through the Hoi An Silk Village before seeing other iconic attractions such as the Japanese Covered Bridge, Fukian Assembly Hall and the historic Phung Hung House.

End your day by lazing on the powdery sands of An Bang beach, before grabbing a freshly brewed bia hơi lager at An Hội islet and exploring the bustling night market.

Best For: Escaping the crowds
Must Try Dish: Cao lau (Hoi An’s signature dish)
Unmissable Festival: Lantern Festival (14th day of every month)


Must See Islands in Vietnam

When it comes to tropical islands, Vietnam is often overlooked, but it is home to some of the most heavenly natural settings, rivaling even the best of Thailand and Indonesia. So, if you’re looking for a sun-soaked vacation, here are just a few of the best islands in Vietnam.

Con Dao
Con Dao Islands Vietnam

The pristine islands of Con Dao are Vietnam’s best-kept secret. Once a political prison during the French rule and American-backed regime, these coral-studded waters have turned their turbulent history into one of Vietnam’s most paradisiacal escapes.

The main island of Con Son is flanked by lush jungles and rugged mountains, which fall under the national park, making it ideal for hiking and wildlife watching, while its crystal-clear waters and powder white shores call for days spent diving, snorkeling or strolling along the seafront promenade.

How to get there:
The quickest way to get here is by taking a 45-minute flight from Saigon; traveling by sea is a 12-hour voyage departing from Vung Tau.

Best time to visit:
February to July

Cat Ba
Cat Ba Travel Guide

Although this scenic island has had a tourism surge along its bay, the majority of Cat Ba remains untouched. Lakes, waterfalls, rugged mountains and limestone grottos make up the landscape of the island which was declared a national park in 1986 to protect its diverse eco-system.

The territory is primed for outdoorsy travelers, with activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, wildlife watching and kayaking, all within easy reach. When it’s time to relax, the balmy waters and white sands are perfect for a swim or just soaking up the sun.

How to get there:
The island is easily reached by boat from Haiphong.

Best time to visit:
April to May

Phu Quoc
Vietnam Travel Guide

This list would be incomplete without mentioning this Vietnamese island. Situated just off the coast of Cambodia, the Phu Quoc district is made up of 28 islands, most of which are completely uninhabited.

Although the number one activity on the island is to kick back under the shade of a palm tree, the island’s dense canopy of jungle is ideal for going on a wildlife safari in Vietnam’s Phu Quoc National Park.

Diving, snorkeling and boat trips to scenic islets are great ways to explore the area, while cultural fanatics can immerse in the local life by meandering through the bustling fish markets in Duong Dong town.

How to get there:
Phu Quoc is one of the most easily accessible islands in Vietnam, with dozens of domestic and international flights arriving daily at Phu Quoc International Airport.

Best time to visit:
December to April


Must See Natural Wonders

Not only is Vietnam an excellent destination for cultural and foodie adventures, but it is also a great place to immerse yourself in nature! Here are a few of Vietnam’s natural wonders that need to be on the top of your itinerary.

Sapa’s Terraced Rice Fields
Sapa Vietnam Travel Guide

What began as a hill station for the French back in 1922 has now turned into one of the most beautiful towns in Vietnam. Overlooking plunging valleys and lush mountains, this alpine town’s rice fields are a beauty to behold!

Hang Son Doong Cave
Travel Vietnam

Your Vietnam travel itinerary would be incomplete without visiting the Son Doong caves. Located in the heart of the UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam's Quang Binh province, this 3-million-year-old cave is the world’s largest.

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls
Ban Gioc-Detian Falls Vietnam Travel

Wedged between China and Vietnam, these iconic waterfalls are a truly impressive sight to behold. Not only is it the largest waterfall in Vietnam, but it is also the largest border fall in all of Asia, plunging a staggering 98 feet! Visitors in Vietnam can access the falls from Hanoi, which is the most common route.

*Hero Image Credit: Ly Hoang Long

Don’t just read all about this dazzling destination! Strap on your adventure boots and go on an unforgettable country tour in Vietnam!

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