Vietnam is a beautiful combination of cultural diversity and natural highlights. The country’s astonishing number of ethnic minorities give culture-vultures plenty to admire. At the same time, the scenery from verdant paddy fields to jagged peaks from the mountain will leave visitors with their breath taken.
With big cities breathing with contemporary life and providing enough opportunities to get stuck into the nation’s tasty culinary cuisines and the rural areas brimming with phenomenal panoramas, Vietnam is a fascinating country filled with surprises.
Here are some of the top tourist spots to visit when traveling the country.
Ho Chi Minh City
No visit to the country is complete without going to Ho Chi Minh City, the crazy and buzzing commercial hub of Vietnam. The café and restaurant scene is highly cosmopolitan, the streets are insanely clogged with cars and motorbikes, and the shopping is the best in the nation.
Dong Khoi is at the Ho Chi Minh City’s center, a comparatively small and easily navigatable central district, which offers most of the city’s sights. Here you’ll locate the HCMC Museum, with an excellent collection of artifacts that intertwines the city’s story and the grand Notre Dame Cathedral, constructed in the late 19th century.
Visit the old district of Da Kao nearby to see some of Ho Chi Minh’s French colonial architecture’s best surviving examples and go to the Jade Emperor Pagoda with its fantastic array of Taoist and Buddhist religious iconography. Afterward, the History Museum is a must-visit for history fans with its heaps of relics on display from different archaeological sites.
For many tourists, the two big-hitter sites that shouldn’t be missed are just a bit out of the center, along the Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. The Independence Palace, now known as the Reunification Palace, was the presidential residence for South Vietnam’s president. It’s mainly famous as the area where North Vietnam‘s tanks halted on 30 April 1975, officially finishing the war. It’s an entirely fascinating place to tour, complete with 60s furnishings still in situ.
Close-by is the War Remnants Museum, which, although heavily biased, depicts a disturbing image of the war’s brutality and the many atrocities done by the US Forces during the Vietnam campaign.
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site offering one of the most spellbinding seascapes in the world. Thousands of limestone islands rest within the bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, eroded by water and wind action into jagged pinnacles over millennia.
The bay’s scenery is best viewed by boat, making it a prime cruising territory. To witness Halong Bay’s iconic views, go for at least an overnight tour as the day trip won’t do it justice.
You can enter many caves in the bay, including the Hang Dao Go, with strange stalactites and stalagmites, and the Hang Sung Sot, with three gigantic caverns. Although, for most people, the main feature is simply cruising amidst the karsts and absorbing the changing spectacle of pinnacles while passing by.
Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric city, with packs of surviving historic architecture. The beautiful old town quarter is a delight to explore, filled to the edge with well-preserved merchant houses that evoke images of Hoi An’s trading center in the peak of the 15th century when the town was a central meeting point for Chinese and Japanese merchants who gathered here for the local silks.
Many of the old merchant houses are open to the public so that you can have a taste of these times. The best one is the 17th-century Tan Ky House, with decorative and fascinating architectural elements.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
The World Heritage-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of the best places to go to Vietnam for caving. It’s a dramatic karst mountain formation riddled with hug caverns home to some breathtaking stalagmite and stalactite displays. The Paradise Cave is the most popular spot within the park, extending for an unbelievable 31 kilometers below ground.
The yawning caverns in the National Park are absolutely spectacular. The Tu Lan Cave is a “wet cave,” and a trip here includes paddling through the cave-systems river. The other popular tour is to the Phong Nha Caves, where you can access the interior by boat.
Being one of the country’s most historic towns, Hue is filled to the edge with relics from the reign of the Nguyen emperors from the 19th century. The Imperial Enclosure, sitting along the grand Perfume River banks, is a massive site set within walls that spread for 2.5 km.
While strolling the grounds, visit the Halls of Mandarins and its preserved ceiling murals, the impressive Ngo Mon Gate, the Dien Tho Residence where the Queen Mothers would reside, and the Thai Hoa Palace and its finely lacquered interior detailing. Also, there’s an astonishing number of historic sites lying outside the Imperial Enclosure walls.
One of the best ways to visit a group of outlying sites is by going on a riverboat cruise by the Perfume River. You can visit multiple royal tombs and some pagodas by taking a day cruise. If you don’t have enough time, the best tomb to see is the Tomb of Tu Doc, and the Thien Mu Pagoda is the most important pagoda on the site, with its tower that soars 21 meters high.