Where should you go on your trip to Vietnam? While our suggestions aren’t exhaustive, they give you an idea of the discoveries you can make in this often overlooked country.
Hanoi and Halong: Hanoi is a great place to start a trip in Vietnam. You have a chance to experience a vibrant city and learn about Vietnamese culture, including a city tour on a cyclo (a pedi-cab) and a traditional water puppet show.
Outside of Hanoi many visitors love Ninh Binh and Tam Coc, often called “Dry Halong Bay”. Limestone karsts rise from rice fields and winding streams. You’ll enjoy the spectacular scenery during a leisurely boat ride in traditional sampans. A trip should also include a one or two-night cruise on a Junk in Halong Bay – the perfect chance to relax and explore an amazing landscape.
We also recommend a cycling tour in Mai Chau, located in the Hoa Binh province, approximately 135 km from Hanoi. Mai Chau is surrounded by a green valley with a patchwork of rice paddies and stilt houses. The area is home of many ethnic minorities, including the Muong and the Thai. While biking you will meet the local hill tribes pursuing their daily routine, such as planting/harvesting rice, herding buffalos or building houses.
Many of these trip are featured in our 13-Day Northern Vietnam Adventure.
Far North and Sapa: This area is a great place for trekking and to explore hill tribes. You reach the area along the border with China on an overnight train. From Sapa there are great day hikes and the opportunity to visit local villages and markets. The gorgeous terraced rice paddies and verdant hills are worth the journey!
Central Vietnam and the Hoi An Area: For culture and the beach Hoi An is a great stopover! Cultural tours in Hoi An, My Son, Hue and Danang will give you a better sense of Vietnamese culture and its imperial past of the Nguyen Dynasty. Nearby you can visit islands and fishing villages, opting to bike through this tranquil landscape. Hoi An is also the perfect spot to try a cooking class!
If you love art and architecture you should definitely visit My Son, an imperial city during the Cham dynasty, between the 4th and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious relics that comprises more than 70 architectural works and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
South: The Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is Vietnam’s second great city. With its proximity to Cambodia it can easily be visited before or after a trip to Angkor Wat. To get the most out of the area combine a city tour with at least one day in the Mekong Delta. Travelers with more time should consider spending a night on an island or a visit to the Nam Cat Tien National Park to view delta wildlife in the coastal jungle.
In Ho Chi Minh City visit a vibrant city that was known as the “Pearl of the East.” A discovery of markets and architecture will take you to the colorful Ben Than Market and traces of the French colonial past: a 19th century cathedral and the Post Office designed by Gustav Eiffel and resembling a grand railway station.
Close to Ho Chi Minh City visit the Cu Chi Tunnels (70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City), an amazing complex of underground tunnels used during the Vietnam War. Also try a cooking class if time allows!