Vietnam’s top 10 places to visit

Vietnam is one of our favourite South East Asian contries to date. It’s so expansive and varied when it comes to landscapes, food, religion and history. A few weeks to a few months will still seem not enough.

Many travellers start from the top and work their way down. We went from the bottom up which worked well with our border crossing from Cambodia at Ha Tien. This trip was based on a 30 day e-visa which was easily obtained via this link on the UK gov site. There are agencies who can set this up for you but this was the cheapest way at $25 each if you have a spare 15 mins to fill out all the info accurately. Alternatively if you only have a short stay you automatically get a 14 day free visa but if you want to stay longer than 30 days you’ll need an sponsor letter and will have to enter the country via an airport. It’s one of the best countries to visit it is also the trickiest in regards to visas.

Phu Quoc

Slightly off some of the backpackers radars especially for those who have been to Thailand’s and Cambodia’s islands. However this is still a must see if you have the time in the south. An extensive island of night markets, fishing villages, temples and dreamy beaches you can easily bike around the island or hire a driver if you’re not too keen on bikes.

Our highlights

  • Fishing village – the east side of the island. Head there for lunch and walk out along the pier out to numerous restaurants. All serve fresh seafood and cost is per weight in kilograms.
  • Night market – town centre
  • Snorkling – we had to get a tour for this were we visited three different locations – Johns Tours offer a great range of days out
  • Truc Lam Ho Quoc Zen monastery – one of the newest pagodas in Phu Quoc that has an incredible view over the sea. Chill here in the afternoon and listen to the chimes tingle away whilst watching the boats go past.

Many people recommended the waterfalls but unfortunately it was at the of dry season when we went, so no waterfalls 🙁 Beaches are also fantastic but head more to the north of the island as the south can get very touristy.

Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon )

This is one of Vietnam’s most modern and vibrant cities, we found people either loved it or left it. We loved the place. From sky scrapers to traditional neighbourhoods, Ho Chi Minh had something for everyone. We stayed in Boholand Hostel in the old town which had a great range of local food as well as some of the best coffee shops we had ever visited in Vietnam. Read our Vietnam coffee review here.

Our highlights

  • War Remnants Museum – this museum will give you a deeper insight into the war, prepare yourself for a visually intense exhibition.
  • Motorbike taxi – there were plenty of motorbike tours for this city but they were a little pricey for us. Download the Grab app (Uber for Asia) and ‘grab’ a bike to anywhere in the city!
  • Walking around the city – We set off from Ngoc Hoang Pagoda in the north of the city and wandered back into town. One of our favourite areas was Book Street packed full of books and crafts.

Dalat

Said to be the Paris of Asia, a hot spot for many young locals to head for their honeymoon or a weekend away. Set in the highlands the weather is considerably cooler here that the rest of Vietnam. Dalat has a charming cafe culture as well as a considerable night market. Being set in the highlands there are many adventure activities and national parks to visit in the surrounding area.

Our highlights

  • Hiking and kayaking in Tuyen Lam lake.
  • Heading to Datanla on the cable car and jumping on the ‘rollercoaster’ for a whiz to the waterfall.
  • Drinking coffee in one of their many cafes.
Datanla

Hoi An

Tourists top destination when visiting Vietnam. An old trading town consisting of orginal Chinese, Japanese and French architecture. Truly a beautiful spot to walk around, especially at night with all the lanterns. Also enjoy delicious food in one of their many restaurants. However be warned this is a very touristy spot and authentic Vietnam seems to have been lost here many years ago ….

Our highlights

  • Walking around the town in the evening and enjoying the lanterns, river boats and night market.
  • Cooking class! This was a great activity especially as we had family coming to visit during our stay here. Check out Thaun Tinh Island Cooking Tour for a great day out.
  • Visiting My Son ruins Set a good 45 min outside if the city. It’s a beautiful location to visit if you’re into your ancient history.
  • Treat yourself at the amazing Calm Spa and massage. Pricey but definitely worth it.
  • The motorbike company we used to do the Hi Van Pass, Le Family riders were great! We rode on the back to really enjoy the views. Great food.

Hue

The ancient imperial city can sometimes be overlooked but is certainly worth a few days visit if you can make the time. The centre of the city used to be the palace with many original buildings still standing that survived after the war as well the original moat and water canals still in place. Hue also has a thriving nightlife, being a little cheaper than Hoi An it’s a great place to meet fellow travellers.

Our highlights

  • It was pretty hot when we were in Hue so our favourite mode of transport was the bicycle buggies! We payed 100 .000 VND each for an hours tour of the imperial city as well as a stop off at Ho Chi Minhs house.
  • Imperial city museum, a great way to learn about the royal family and culture of Vietnam.

Phong Nah

This place was a sleepy little village until a few years ago when the national park was opened up to allow tourists to explore the local caves. In fact the worlds largest cave is located in Phong Nha but be prepared to pay a hearty price to visit. Phong Nha national park will require a qualified guide to take you out and for a good reason! This place was one of the heaviest bombed locations in Vietnam due to the location of the Ho Chi Minh trail. If you don’t fancy trekking through the jungle then rent out a bicycle and head to the local villages and surrounding rice fields. There’s plenty of drinking and foodie stops to visit as well as the odd quirky tourist the attraction.

  • Phong Nha cave is the local pride and joy. Used as a hospital and equipment storage during the war it turned into a key bombing sight for the Americans. Lucky for the locals they never succeeded. To visit you can hire a boat from the jetty (ask any local they will know) The price is per boat so it’s best to go as a group as it keeps the cost down but you can also access the mouth of the cave via a motorcycle, however travelling by river is a much more memorable experience.
  • Swim in a cave – there are many caves to explore however the experience of swimming deep into a cave is must. Remember to bring a torch! We booked our tour through our hostel Easy Tiger, a fantastic hostel which also has a great range of information and tours for the area.
  • The Duck Stop – located in one of the villages outside the town. This place has been designed so tourists can experience the tradition of duck throwing, a tradition that takes place when a new house is to be built, ducks are thrown onto the plot of land for good luck! Not to worry the ducks are very well looked after!

Ninh Binh

The Halong bay but on land, this is a very special place to visit. With rice fields, waterways and temples dotted around this part of the country side it will constantly make you think you’re in film. Avoid the main town of Ninh Bình and head straight to the village of Tom Coc, even better stay in a home stay (basically a Vietnamese B&B) on the outskirts of this village in between the rice fields. There’s plenty of local restaurants for food but also rent out a bicycle or motorbike and head out to the surrounding area.

Our highlights

  • Catch a boat tour tour at Trang An, where you will be rowed by one of the locals around the waterways to visit caves and temples hidden between the rocks. It will cost you 200.000 VND per person. There are 3 tours to pick from taking around 3/4 hours for the whole trip. We were recommended tour 1 and it didn’t disappoint.
  • Bai Ding pagoda, the largest pagoda in SEA – we’ve seen ALOT of pagodas but this place still rates top on the list just from the variety of architecture and view points in this one place. Head to the ancient pagoda at the top of the hill for a great point and the wander the new pagoda featuring hundreds of golden Buddhas.
  • Hang Mua – is one of the most beautiful pagodas with a view point! Prepare yourself for a hike to the top but it’s certainly worth the effort (there’s also motorbike parking next to the entrance, saving you an initial long walk to before you begin the ascent)

Hanoi

This is Vietnam’s capital city. A vibrant and busy city but still keeping the authentic Vietnam charm that has been lost a little in Ho Chi Minh city. We mainly stayed in the old quarter and walked around it’s winding streets, eating local food, and taking pictures of the crazy motorbike traffic on every corner. This is also a great spot to head to other locations such as Sapa, Halong bay as well as other tourist sights on the outskirts such as Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum, where they have preserved his body for people visit and pay their respects.

Our highlights

  • Eating Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodle soup) and Cha Ca La Vong (catfish hot plate)
  • Sitting in a coffee shop and watching the traffic go by.

Halong Bay

Named Dragon Bay due to erratic cliffs looking like a dragon swimming in and out of the water. The bay is incredible and although it’s one of the top tourist destinations, unfortunately a trail of carnage that can follow. It is certainly is a must do as an overnight cruise to get away from the main sights and delve a little deeper into the bay.

We jumped on a one night two day cruise with Rosa Cruise. This was a mid range cruise at £143 each covering all activities and food. You can find cheaper or more expensive cruises but this was perfect price point for us backpacking without having to young a crowd or being too over priced. It was OK, just remember the price/quality balance!

Sapa

Vietnam’s hiking spot where rolling paddy fields and bamboo forests litter the highlands with small indigenous villages in between. The town Sapa is a beautiful spot to start your trip, especially if you take the famous nightrain from Hanoi. From there you can either day trips out or multi day hikes with tour groups. Personally we stayed in a home stay around 8km from the town and hiked from there. More on Sapa soon with our ‘Sapa on a budget’ post.

Our highlights

  • Nightrain to Sapa – great way to travel plus the carriages are adorable being very Harry Potteresqe.
  • Hiking – wether that’s with a guide or by your selves, make sure you spend a day just walking around the fields and view points.
  • Indigenous textiles – you may find many locals selling you crafts but the majority of these have been either hand woven, stitched or hand dyed with local Indigo to create some beautiful pieces. If you’re into textiles make sure you check out this traditional local craft.

About the author / Siy & Emma

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *