You’ve probably seen it in the background of countless war movies, but nothing can prepare you for the epic beauty of Vietnam. While it isn’t my favorite country in the world, it is very beautiful and there is no denying that.
From the natural beauty of Sam Mountain and Halong Bay to the manmade artistry of the sacred temples and pagodas, to the rice terraces and beaches, Vietnam has a lot to offer travelers. Vietnam has suffered a long dark history of colonialism, communism, war, and poverty. Recently, the tourist industry is growing and has become a major source of national revenue for the past 10-15 years. You cannot escape learning about the horrid history whose effects are still visible on the faces, bodies the locals even today. Like India, many travelers either love or hate it here. Admittedly, it’s a hard country to travel through, but despite the challenges, you will find a very interesting and visually-pleasing place to visit.
Some places to visit in Vietnam
Admire the pagodas
Vietnam’s most distinctive architecture can be been in the pagodas, which can be found all over the country. They are known for their beautifully intricate carvings. Pagodas are used as shrines and temples and are treasured by the Vietnamese people.
Wander around Hanoi
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi handsomely combines French colonialism with Eastern influences. Enjoy an afternoon exploring the narrow streets of the Old Quarter or visit the countless temples and galleries dotted around this bustling city. Don’t miss the History Museum which showcases artifacts from Vietnam’s colorful history and the Ho Chi Minh City Mausoleum. Hanoi is also a good base for doing multi-day tours to Halong Bay, Hua Lu and Tam Coc.
Relax or find adventure in Dalat
Dalat is nestled in the hills of the Central Highlands and is popular with tourists who want to relax in the mountain air, so people flock here for serenity. Others go to Dalat to participate in a host of adventure sports that happen within a naturally beautiful backdrop. The hills around Dalat are filled with traditional tribal villages, which you can tour, but there is plenty to do within the city itself too. Visit the imaginatively titled palaces: Palace I, Palace II and Palace III.
Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
Crawl through the extensive network of nearly 500 km of tunnels utilized by the Viet Cong in the war with the USA in the 1960s. Tours involve a description of the tunnels, after which tourists are allowed to crawl about the maze and fire AK47s at shooting targets. It’s a sobering experience and not one meant for anyone claustrophobic. However, if you want a better understand the terror of the Vietnam War, this is a must-visit. Enter for about 100,000 VND.
Hang out in Hoi An
Hoi An is one of the most popular destinations for tourists traveling to the country. The place is packed with historical homes and buildings and quaint cafes. It’s small and great for walking, buying suits (they have a huge fashion and tailor market), eating, nearby beaches, and relaxing by the river. It was easily my favorite place in Vietnam. It’s not unusual to find backpackers using Noi An as a resting ground while they recharge from constant traveling. This is a relaxing quality to it that makes staying for a while very attractive.
Explore Ho Chi Minh City
Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is definitely worth exploring. Like most cities in Vietnam, you’ll be met with the roar of motorbikes speeding through colonial streets. Ben Thanh market is a must-see for amazing food and there is a great buzz of activity within the place. If flying into the SGN airport, it’s worth spending a day or two exploring the city. I recommend spending the night at The Common Room Project for a great hostel experience.
Hike in Halong Bay
More than 3,000 islands sit within the emerald green waters of Halong Bay, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Cat Ba Island has great for hiking and many tourists find themselves taking one of the cave tours. Tours here usually leave from Hanoi and last 3 or 5 days. Try to find a good operator as many oversell or lie about what their boats look like (ask for advice from your hotel staff or travelers who have just returned for the trip).
Visit the caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang
Hang Son Doong is reputed to be the world’s largest cave, and is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It was discovered by a local in 1990, and “rediscovered” by a British caving team in 2009. You can arrange trips to see this stunning cave. You’ll be blown away by its beauty.
Dive in Nha Trang
This area is full of seaside resorts, and has a distinct urban feel. However, the beautiful sand and clear water make it a main spot for scuba diving in Vietnam.