If you’re in the process of planning a solo trip to Vietnam or comparing epic group tour options, it is important to know the basics of what there is to do and see. Whether you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures or beachside relaxation this list will give you a better understanding of all this beautiful country has to offer.
This guide takes you from the northern tip of Vietnam downward and describes some of the most popular and spectacular destinations along the way.
The town of Sapa is the tourist hub of northwestern Vietnam. It is a lovely place to use as your home base as you explore the breathtaking nature and vibrant culture in the region.
Muong Hoa Valley
One of Muong Hoa Valley’s most notable features is the bright green, yellow, and brown rice paddies that twist and turn along hillsides. These terraced fields are a spectacular sight and are maintained by some of Vietnam’s ethnic minority villages. The locals in Muong Hoa are very friendly and the women can be seen dyeing, sewing, and embroidering traditional clothes.
There are a couple of different ways to enjoy the peak of the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula. You can take a multi-day guided hike up the mountain. These treks usually take 2-3 days and are of moderate difficulty. If you’re looking for a more relaxed journey without sacrificing the unique views, catch a ride on the Fansipan Mountain cable car. However, you decide to go about it, try to see the sunrise from the top for an even more magical experience.
There are several waterfalls to discover in and around Sapa. Though swimming is not advised in most of them, they are well worth looking at. An easy nature-filled walk will bring you to Love Waterfall. A place honored with TripAdvisor’s coveted “Certificate of Excellence” stamp. Thac Bac Waterfall, also known as Silver Falls, is another beautiful waterfall that can be viewed from a bridge.
Traditionally, the love market in Sapa was a gathering of Hmong and Dao peoples to match up eligible singles. It is no longer used to find love but it is still a wonderful cultural spectacle. Every Saturday evening villagers from different areas come together and play traditional games and instruments and sing traditional songs. Though it is often tailored toward pleasing tourists and may not feel as authentic as it used to, it is still worth a visit.
Often referred to as the cultural capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is not to be missed.
Water puppet theatre
Hanoi is the best place in the world to witness this Vietnamese tradition. The art form stems from puppet shows that took place as people stood waist-deep in flooded rice fields. In the modernized version, puppets move around on a stage of water to tell Vietnamese folktales and legends as the puppeteers remain out of sight. The shows are accompanied by live music and vocals to create an immensely captivating and unique show. This is a must-see in Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, or Lake of the Restored Sword, serves as an oasis in the center of a buzzing city. It is the perfect place to enjoy a stroll and people watch as tourists and locals from all walks of life take advantage of this great place. You could easily spend an entire morning in the area trying to spot the giant softshell turtle, eating at one of the many surrounding cafes, and visiting the Ngoc Son Temple situated in the middle of the lake.
Temples are among the most picturesque and fascinating landmarks in Vietnam. They are one of the best ways to experience each new stop as you can take in their beauty while gaining a deeper understanding of the history and culture of any given area. The top temples to visit in Hanoi include the Temple of Literature, Bach Ma Temple (the oldest in the city), Quan Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda, and Ngoc Son Temple.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
These ancient grounds were once home to royalty in Vietnam and served as the capital for eight centuries. Though many of the original structures are no longer standing, what remains is remarkably preserved and beautiful. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is well worth a visit.
Perhaps the most popular way to enjoy this iconic bay, one-day or multi-day cruises allows you to gawk at the towering limestone karsts at your leisure. Paying for an included boat trip is one of the best ways to guarantee you’ll see the best of Halong Bay. With a range of budget and experience options, this is an option worth looking into for any type of traveler.
Halong Bay is surrounded by many islands and formations that offer unique and delightful adventures. Aside from the marvelous sight of the famous islets, there are many beaches, caves, and hikes to enjoy. With white sand and emerald water, Soi Sim Beach is one of the best places to chill out. Hanh Cave, Dark and Bright Cave, and Ho Dong Tien are amazing caves to wander and kayak through. Hike through Cat Ba Island or to the top of Titov Island for remarkable scenery and panoramic views.
Bai Tu Long Bay
If you desire the scenery of Halong Bay without the crowds, Bai Tu Long Bay is a worthy alternative. It is also a great option if you’ve already explored Halong Bay and want to see even more. Some of the multi-day cruises feature both bays so consider that if you’re interested in exploring both.
Lying Dragon Mountain
After a sometimes arduous climb up stone stairs to the dragon mountain viewpoint, you are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of Ninh Binh. The peak of the mountain is topped with a stone dragon statue and pagoda that add to the ambiance as you gaze out at the surrounding limestone cliffs and rice fields.
Trang An Grottoes
Once you’ve seen the spectacular nature of Ninh Binh from above, make sure to experience it from below. Take a ride on a wooden rowboat along the water in Trang An. The peaceful boat ride will bring you along bright green rice paddies and through water caves formed in limestone karsts.
Some of the most popular temples to visit in Ninh Binh include Hoa Lu, Bich Dong Pagoda, Bai Dinh Pagoda, and Phat Diem Cathedral. Phat Diem Cathedral is possibly the most unique of them all with its combination of traditional Vietnamese and colonial French architecture.
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park
The national park boasts rare wildlife and glorious caves, including the biggest cave in the world. You might recognize some of the 400 million-year-old karsts from the set of Kong: Skull Island.
Langurs (an adorable species of monkey), large-antlered muntjacs, and Asian black bears are among some of the endangered species that reside in the national park. Much of the jungle remains dense and not open to the public but guided treks are available if you want to spot the mammals, birds, and reptiles that roam here.
The caves at Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng can bring out anybody’s inner spelunker. The park offers every type of cave exploring experience- from ones that you can walk through leisurely on man-made pathways to caves that require multi-day guided tours and swimming through mud. Son Doong Cave is the largest known in the world and can only be traveled through a couple of times a year. The adventurous guided tour through Dark Cave (or Hang Toi) includes zip-lining, swimming, and kayaking. For a tamer encounter, you can see the stunning stalactites as you walk inside Paradise Cave.
A visit to Hoi An Ancient Town feels like traveling back in time. The quaint streets are free of cars and motorcycles and dotted with lovely shops and eateries. Highlights of this area include walking across the Japanese Covered Bridge and taking a nighttime riverboat ride among floating lanterns.
Hoi An Night Market
If you’ve ever seen stunning Vietnam travel photos of people surrounded by colorful lanterns, chances are this is where they took them. Though extremely picturesque, the night market is even more magnificent in person. It is an absolute delight to walk through as you munch on delicious Vietnamese street food and flex your bargaining skills while shopping for silks and souvenirs.
Also read: 5 Night markets to explore
Thanh Ha Terracotta Park
This park serves as both an exhibition of modern terracotta art and a museum about the history of terracotta art around the world. The terracotta park is just one of the many museums and art displays you will encounter on a trip to Hoi An. As you wander the city, be sure to keep an eye out for some of the many galleries to pop into or ask around to discover hidden gems.
An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach is a very different experience from much of Hoi An. It is a lovely place to soak up the sun, try a surf lesson, or simply eat with a view. You can opt to stay in one of the hotels and resorts along this white and blue strip of beach or just stop by for a relaxing day. There is a small nightlife scene here as well with bars offering happy hours and themed parties.
My Son Sanctuary
The My Son Sanctuary is home to the fascinating remains of ancient Hindu temples. Walking through the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a dramatic experience as you take in the spectacular structures, some of which date as far back as the 4th century. It is easily accessible by a one-hour car ride for a day trip from Hoi An.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
Linh Phuoc Pagoda is covered in intricate mosaics and statues made of all kinds of materials- from glass to terracotta to cobblestone. As you walk through the pagoda you can take in the beauty of the colors and details before ascending to the third floor for exquisite views.
Dalat is a great spot to book an adventure tour in a unique and inspiring setting. Go tubing, biking, or hiking along the rivers, waterfalls, and dirt roads. Or kick it up a notch and get your heart pounding with one of the many canyoning and white water rafting experience options.
Valley of Love
As the name suggests, the Valley of Love is a romantic area perfect for a serene walk among the flowers. A small lake lies at the center of the valley with the option to rent a swan boat. Much of the area around the lake has been built up to match its “love” title with heart-shaped archways and butterfly statues.
Ho Chi Minh City
Cu Chi Tunnels
This extensive network of underground tunnels was a key part of the Viet Cong’s military operations during the Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as the American War. Sections of the tunnels are now open to wander through for an immersive look into what life was like for Viet Cong soldiers during the war.
War Remnants Museum
The War Remnants Museum features eight exhibitions on the history of the war in Vietnam. The museum displays old warplanes, photo journals, and prominently remember atrocities committed by invading forces and those who fought against the Viet Cong. Once mainly frequented by foreigners, the museum is becoming increasingly popular for Vietnamese citizens from all over the country.
Ho Chi Minh City boasts the most lively nightlife scene in the country. Check out some of the city’s rooftop hotel bars for a glamorous experience sipping specialty cocktails. There are also plenty of designated pub and club streets that are flooded with backpackers looking to have a good time. For an all-in clubbing affair, head over to Lush Nightclub.
Mekong River Delta
Experiences along the Mekong Delta are one of the best ways to get a window into one aspect of life in Vietnam. Visit local villages for a day or participate in a homestay, get down in the mud alongside local fishers and catch catfish by hand, and ride along in the famous circular basket boats.