The karst landscape and seascape of Halong Bay is one of the most breathtaking vistas in the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Theformation of the region dates to more than 500 million years ago. Over time Halong Bay went through drastic changes that resulted in the spectacular natural wonder that we have today. With the bay’s stunning scenery best viewed on board a boat, it is certainly a prime cruising territory.
While you are contemplating on visiting Halong Bay, why not consider a short stint in other Vietnam tourist destinations. They are no less spellbinding and you’ll have a memorable time…that’s a promise! Vietnam has majestic landscapes ranging from the lush rice terraces in the north to the lovely valleys of the Central Highlands and the beautiful beaches and fertile delta of the south.
So, let’s get straight to the meat of the matter and take a look at the top destinations in Vietnam…
Tourist Spots in Northern Vietnam
Vietnam’s capital city is the frenzied heartbeat of the country and a place that bewilders visitors as much as it baffles them. The gazillion motorbikes and the plethora of street vendors can be a handful for some, but to those who wish to dive into Vietnam city life, Hanoi is the best place to do it. The Old Quarter offers lots of rickety charm, while history fanatics must make a beeline just to see the menagerie of magnificent museums. The Vietnam Fine Art Museum and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology are equally superb introductions to the remarkable artistry of the nation, while the iconic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square pays ethereal homage to the founder of modern Vietnam.
This town in northwest Vietnam is home to the nation’s most spectacular rural vistas. It is surrounded by verdant rice fields and is bordered by the imposing peaks of the Hoang Lien Mountains. Sapa’s valleys are long time dwelling places for a diverse mix of ethnic minorities including the Dao, Hmong, Giay, Tay, Giay and Red Dzao people, while the rolling hills are terraced with rice paddies and overlooked by the nation’s tallest peak, Mount Fansipan. Sapa also takes pride in being Vietnam’s top trekking destination, with heaps of options to day hike or trek between traditional villages and experience the stunning mountain views.
This small city in the Red River Delta is an excellent place to visit for those who want to spend time in some of the daintiest and most unspoiled parts of the country. It is typically used as a jumping-off point to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc, Trang An, and Van Long, and while it is not as popular as other areas in Vietnam, it is a superb spot for folks with a love for nature thanks to its impressive limestone scenery.
This is the northernmost province of Vietnam and has one of the most magnificent mountain landscapes in the region. It is best known for its thickly forested limestone and granite mountains. Travelers who have been here absolutely love the ambiance and claim that their visit was like a journey back in time because unlike other places such as Sapa, the ethnic minorities have not been ‘commercialized” yet. This means you’ll get a much more authentic experience of the local culture and the captivating landscape that Ha Giang has to offer.
Mu Cang Chai
A rural district of Yên Bái Province, this is home to some of the most remarkable cultivated topography in Asia. It is renowned for its ‘golden’ rice terraced fields in autumn. The breathtaking scenery lures photographers, hikers, and avid motorbikers. Aside from its picturesque landscape, Mu Cang Chai will also impress you with the unique H’mong culture and an assortment of fascinating activities like traditional food festivals, gliding competitions, and musical renditions from the local ethnic minorities.
This is a commune in Ban Yen district of Sơn La Province. It is known for a unique kind of adventure – cloud hunting – an experience that you should not miss especially if you visit anytime from December to March. Ta Xua is also the name of the 10th tallest mountain in Vietnam, rising 2,650 meters above sea level. During winter, tourists are treated to mesmerizing seas of fluffy clouds from the mountain top. The place is absolutely surreal! When you first see the breathtaking seas of clouds, you’ll think you’re in heaven!
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park
A protected area in Quang Binh Province bordering the Hin Namno Reserve in Laos, this is more than just a National Park. In 2003 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for having the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed 464 million years ago. The park is known for its tropical forests, underground rivers, and a vast network of caves, including the Phong Nha cave and Sơn Đoòng, the world’s largest cave. It is definitely a speleologists’ heaven on earth!
We conducted interviews with travel bloggers and Jane Mountain of My Five Acres has this to say about Vietnam, and Phong Na in particular:
Which destination in Vietnam did you love the most and why?
My favourite thing about Vietnam — and the reason I’ve returned more than half a dozen times in the last 10 years — is the variety of experiences you can have here. From the frantic pace of busy cities to the laid-back vibe of exotic beach resorts, from the high mountain passes in Sapa to the water-logged lowlands of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam continues to surprise me. After so many visits and experiences in Vietnam, I have fallen in love with destinations all over the country but the one place I find myself recommending again and again is Phong Nha. This small village is in central Vietnam, not far from Hue. It’s the gateway to Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park, which holds one of the worlds largest and most impressive cave systems. In Phong Nha, taking a cave trekking tour is a must — you’ll get to explore deep underground and discover the awesome beauty created by something as simple as water dripping through rock. Make some time in your Vietnam itinerary to visit Phong Nha and experience a side of the country that few people ever see!
Pu Luong Nature Reserve
This is one of Vietnam’s lesser-known trekking and ecotourism spots. Remote, rustic and undeniably beautiful, Pu Luong Nature Reserve may be one of the last places in the country where you can truly hang out and unwind. Trekking along the rice paddies, cycling through the reserve and visiting the small villages are among the top activities recommended by travelers. Part of the charm of Pu Luong is the bamboo waterwheels that litter the landscape. Constructed by the Muong and Thai ethnic groups, the wheels divert water from low-lying streams to irrigate the vast rice fields. They are a sight to behold so don’t forget your camera and snap some Insta-worthy photos!
Central Vietnam Holiday Destinations
This coastal city is popular for its white sandy beaches and its history as a French colonial port. It is currently experiencing an economic boom and is considered as one of the fastest developing Vietnam cities. Danang is actually the nation’s third largest city. Travelers who make the trip here get the perfect blend of contemporary and traditional touches. They get to enjoy one of the most stunning skylines in the country as well as a tranquil riverside promenade and some gorgeous gorges. Some of the notable attractions include the Ba Na Hills, My Khe Beach, Marble Mountains, Dragon Bridge, Cham Museum, Hai Van Pass, Son Tra Mountain, Linh Ung Pagoda, Non Nuoc Beach, Phap Lam Pagoda, Danang Cathedral, My Son Sanctuary, Ho Chi Minh Museum, and a lot more!
Arguably the most atmospheric and romantic city of Vietnam, thanks to its collection of surviving historic architecture. Take a leisurely stroll along the Old Town Quarter which is teeming with well-preserved merchant houses that date back to the city’s trading center peak during the 15th century when it served as a major meeting place for Chinese and Japanese merchants who came in droves for the local silk. A lot of the old merchant houses are now open to the public, so you can get a glimpse of those times. By far the best is the Tan Ky House, a nearly perfect example of a 17th century merchant’s residence.
The major symbol of Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge at the western section of Tran Phu Street, while just a stone’s throw away, the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation is regarded as the most finely adorned temple in the Old Town. There are scores of museums and pagodas that dot the city, but the true charm of Hoi An can be experienced by simply trudging the streets of Old Town and appreciating the well-preserved facades.
This prosperous coastal city in Bình Định Province has everything that an ideal trip to Vietnam should have: fabulous beaches on beautiful islands, peaceful fishing villages, captivating mountainous landscapes, fresh sumptuous seafood, and cultural landmarks. And best of all, it is non-touristy! If you want an off the beaten track experience, this is the perfect place to visit. It’s almost unbelievable that such a wonderful destination remains unpopular among tourists. Some who have been here actually claim that Quy Nhon is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
Vietnam Tourist Destinations Down South
Ho Chi Minh
Commonly known as Saigon, this bustling city is popular for the crucial role it played during the Vietnam War. It is also famous for its French colonial landmarks, including the 19th-century Central Post Office and the grand Notre-Dame Cathedral which is constructed completely of materials imported from France. At the heart of the city is Dong Khoi, a small district that’s home to most of the sought after sights like the iconic HCMC Museum. Nearby is the district of Da Kao where you’ll find the Jade Emperor Pagoda with its amazing array of Buddhist and Taoist iconography. Another must-see is the History Museum with its collection of relics from different archaeological sites.
For most travelers, the two top attractions are located along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. The War Remnants Museum portrays a disturbing image of the brutality of war and the atrocities committed by American troops during their campaign in Vietnam. Nearby is the Reunification Palace, formerly known as Independence Palace, which served as the official residence of South Vietnam’s president. It is famous because it was here where the tanks of North Vietnam stopped in April 1975, officially putting an end to the bloody war.
For fans of the big city, no trip to Vietnam will be complete without a visit to Saigon. It is packed with rooftop bars and fancy restaurants offering a mix of French, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Just like in Hanoi, the streets are clogged with motorbikes and it’s here where you can find the finest shopping experience in the country. Don’t forget to check out the food stalls that line the streets, especially around the frenetic Ben Thanh Market.
Known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ because of its temperate climate, the French colonizers developed this hill town as a resort during the early 1900s. Its year-round pleasant weather and idyllic landscape of verdant rolling valleys, colorful flowers and lush pine trees explain why Dalat once served as the preferred summer vacation spot of French colonials and Vietnamese emperors. Today, this enchanting town is a much sought after destination in Vietnam for travelers looking for a respite from the heat. It is a picturesque scene of French colonial architecture set amid fabulous landscapes.
Tourists from all across the globe are drawn to this region because of its floating markets, rice paddies, fruit orchards, sugar cane groves, and bird sanctuaries. Dubbed as ‘Vietnam’s Rice Basket’, the Mekong Delta is made exceptionally fertile by the network of canals and streams fed by the mighty Mekong River. It is vital to the economy and food supply of Vietnam because more than half of the country’s rice and fish come from the region.
As for tourists, it is in the Mekong’s multitude of waterways that they find some of the most iconic images of Vietnam: emerald paddy fields, countless coconut trees, farmers harvesting fruit and sugar cane, and markets doing business from daintily-painted boats. It’s no surprise that the delta was voted as one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. The town of Can Tho is the most commonly used base because of its close proximity to the floating markets of Cai Rang and Phong Dien, while boat trips from Ca Mau allow travelers to explore the Cau Mau Nature Reserve and the U Minh Mangrove Forest. Given the seasonal flooding in the region, the ideal time to visit the Mekong Delta is during the dry season, which runs from late November to May.
This province on Vietnam’s south-central coast is characterized by pristine beaches like Vung Ro and Long Thuy. It is a true hidden gem located not too far from Nha Trang, and just like Quy Nhon, it also wows visitors with its captivating coastal landscape. Phu Yen is famous for its Da Trang Buddhist pagoda and the Roman Catholic church of Mằng Lăng. It is the perfect place to hang out for those who want to experience something similar to Nga Trang but a lot less crowded. A few tips before traveling: there are daily flights from Hanoi and there are 5-star hotels to choose from. Once you arrive, eat as much as you can because the local cuisines are awesome and very cheap when compared to other big cities in Vietnam.
Con Dao Islands
Also known as Con Dao National Park, this is an archipelago of 16 islets located off the southeast coast of Vietnam. Collectively, they are known for their white sandy beaches and diverse marine life. The shores of Bảy Cạnh Island serve as breeding grounds for turtles, and there are several scuba diving sites in the surrounding waters. If you want a serene vacation on an island unspoiled by mass foreign tourism, Con Dao is an excellent option. A day trip will suffice and you’ll surely fall in love with the place.