Vietnam may appear small on a map, but this fascinating country contains enough beauty to fill an entire continent. The best Vietnam destinations range from choppy mountains in the north to tropical beaches in the south, with a wealth of history and culture in the middle.
One of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations is Halong Bay, with its stunning combination of karst limestone peaks and sheltered, shimmering seas. However, with over 2000 islands, there is plenty of breathtaking scenery to go around. Make time for your own special moments on this World Heritage wonder, such as rising early for an ethereal misty dawn or piloting a kayak into grottoes and lagoons. Do you favor less congested karst landscapes? Try the less visited but equitably remarkable Lan Ha Bay to the south, or Bai Tu Long towards the north.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park- Vietnam Destinations
The jaw-dropping Hang Son Doong, one of the world’s largest caves, is located in the heart of Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The images of ant-like travelers shining head torches around the vast, empty caverns pique the wanderlust, but you won’t be able to enter this subterranean marvel unless you have a cool $3000 to spend on a tour. But don’t worry, Phong Nha-Ke Bang has a plethora of other caves to clamber, crawl, boat, or zipline through for a fraction of the price, including Hang En, which has its own beach.
Above ground, there are numerous attractions, such as guided treks through Asia’s ancient karst mountain ranges, which are home of tigers, elephants, and more than 300 bird species.
Ho Chi Minh City
Former Saigon has a visceral energy that will delight big-city devotees. It is increasingly international but still unmistakably Vietnamese. You’ll either be drawn into its exhilarating vortex and enraptured by the permanent whir of its orbiting motorbikes, or you’ll find the entire experience overwhelming (and some visitors seem to be perpetually seesawing between the two). Dive in and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of history (the War Remnants Museum is a must-see), delicious food, and a vibrant nightlife that includes everything from beers on street corners to swanky cocktail lounges. In Saigon, the heat is always on; loosen your collar and enjoy.
Phu Quoc, in Vietnam’s south, is ideal for slowing down, reaching for a seaside cocktail, and toasting a copper sun as it dips into the sea. If you want to take it up a notch, rent a bike and ride the island’s red-dirt roads: the island is relatively compact, with areas of natural, unblemished jungle alongside some newer, less-serene additions (a Vietnamese version of Disneyland and the world’s longest over-sea cable car, for example).
Vietnam’s wealth is a city with one foot firmly planted in the fascinating past and the other firmly planted in the future. Wander the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, sipping an egg coffee (coffee prepared with egg yolks) or slurping on a hearty bowl of bun rieu cua (a sour crab noodle soup) while watching businessmen eat noodle breakfasts or play chess with goateed grandfathers. After that, visit the crumbling decadence of the French Quarter, then zip up to the cosmopolitan Tay Ho for fine dining options and information on Hanoi’s growing art scene.
Hoi An Ancient Town is the most atmospheric and charming town in Vietnam. It was once a major port, and it retains the grand architecture and enticing riverside setting that befits its history. The Old Town’s face has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, elaborate Chinese guildhalls, and ancient tea storage facilities – though inhabitants and rice fields have gradually been replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, hotels, travel agencies, a plethora of tailor shops, and large numbers of day visitors are all part of the scene here. If it all becomes too much, hop on a bike and explore the town’s outskirts and pristine surroundings, where life moves at a much slower pace.
Ba Be National Park
Ba Be National Park, an essential destination for adventurous travelers, is a detour off the regular Vietnam tourist trail. The scenery here swoops down from 1554m limestone mountains into plunging valleys wrapped in dense evergreen forests and dotted with waterfalls and lakes. The park is home to hundreds of wildlife species, including monkeys, bears, and pangolins (the only mammals entirely covered in scales), as well as the critically endangered Vietnamese salamander, and birders should keep an eye out for the stunning crested lizard eagle and the oriental honey buzzard, which can be seen on boat trips or trekking excursions. After a day of animal-spotting, unwind in the picturesque homestays and village hostels of the Tay ethnic minority.
Nha Trang’s high-rise, high-energy beach resort is surrounded by a necklace of hills, with an aquamarine bay studded with tropical islands. The shoreline is defined by a sweeping crater beach of white sand, which is backed by a remarkable esplanade studded with parks and sculpting gardens. Inland, there’s a cosmopolitan selection of boutiques and dining options, but as restaurant service ends for the evening, the nightlife heats up – central Nha Trang is a party town at heart. Looking for a more tranquil atmosphere? The city is also an excellent starting point for a beach crawl up the coast to the city of Quy Nhon, with stops at Doc Let, Bai Bau, and Bai Xep along the way.
Hue, the nation’s capital in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is perhaps the simplest Vietnamese city to fall in love with and spend time in. Its location on the banks of the Perfume River is sublime, its complex cuisine is well-known, and its streets are comparatively free of traffic. Not to mention the Imperial City, a citadel inside a citadel that houses the emperor’s residence, temples and palaces, and the main courthouses within six-meter-high, 2.5-kilometer-long walls. Discover the city’s outskirts to find some of Vietnam’s most remarkable pagodas and royal burial sites, many of which are set in beautiful natural settings.
With dizzying ascents up the Quan Ba Pass (Heaven’s Gate), jaw-dropping vistas on the epic ride between Dong Van and Meo Vac, and the opportunity to venture to Lung Cu, a hilltop flag tower that marks the country’s most northern point, Ha Giang province is Vietnam’s spectacular destination for intrepid cyclists. With better roads, new trekking routes, and a broader selection of guesthouses, places to stay, and food outlets in the province’s rural towns, Vietnam’s far north is firmly establishing itself as a destination for bikers and non-cyclists equally.