Vietnam is our favorite country in Southeast Asia. It’s a real blast! You won’t be short of beautiful places to visit in Vietnam: from the more than famous Ha Long Bay to the beautiful caves of Trang An. Vietnam is a very complete country. It offers all kinds of attractions to its visitors: very interesting historical cities, beautiful beaches and natural sites of unquestionable beauty. And best of all, it is a much cheaper destination than its neighbors Cambodia and Thailand.
In this post we tell you about 25 essential places to see in Vietnam, a country that stole our heart.
1. Hanoi, the chaotic but beautiful capital of Vietnam
Hanoi is a super interesting city. It has a fascinating mix of Chinese, French and Russian influences. It was our first contact with the country and at first we were a bit scared. It took us almost 2 minutes to cross the first pedestrian crossing because the traffic is unheard of! Despite the chaos and the fact that it welcomed us with rain, we enjoyed it a lot.
Hanoi’s Old Town is the main attraction of the capital. Lose yourself for hours in its streets, bargain in its shops, markets and marvel at the beautiful Lake Hoan Kiem, because Hanoi could not miss in this list of essential places to see in Vietnam!
2. Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, one of the most curious things to see in Vietnam
In the heart of Hanoi’s political centre you will find this typical communist mausoleum. There rests the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, a hero in the process of the country’s independence. The leader died in 1969 and against his own will (he wanted to be cremated) he was embalmed following the footsteps of Lenin and Stalin and later exhibited. Surely if you have been to Moscow, you have already seen Lenin embalmed in Red Square.
Entrance to the mausoleum is free and it is one of the most impressive things to see in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh looks like wax! As a curiosity, during the months of October and November, the leader’s body travels to Russia for maintenance.
3. Halong Bay, a movie location to see in Vietnam
What else can we add about this wonder? It’s the most famous place to see in Vietnam. You’ve probably seen a lot of pictures on TV. It’s spectacular! Halong Bay has about 3,000 rocky islands that make up a very picturesque landscape. There you can enjoy spectacular caves and even some very interesting fishing villages.
Halong Bay is quite close to Hanoi. In fact, most tours start from the capital. To get to know it, we recommend taking a cruise of at least one night. Going to sleep listening to the silence of Halong Bay is a real luxury. In addition, you can do various activities such as visiting a fishing village, caves and canoeing.
4. Cat Ba, to learn more about Halong Bay
If you have several days in Vietnam, we advise you to dedicate a couple to Cat Ba. It’s the largest and most developed island in Halong Bay. There are many hotels to sleep on and you’ll find plenty of activities to get to know this natural wonder in more detail. Although over the years the tourist infrastructure on Cat Ba has grown, there are many parts of the island that are still protected, so it’s a perfect place to get lost and explore nature!
5. Bai Tu Long Bay, a good alternative to Halong Bay
If you don’t have enough of Halong Bay you can always discover the beautiful neighbor Bai Tu Long Bay. It has some advantages and disadvantages compared to Halong Bay. For example, the tranquility. In Halong Bay many boats sail, while in Bai Tu Long only the most exclusive ones. So, if you are looking for relaxation, Bai Tu Long will be the ideal place. And although it is also very beautiful, the islands are not as close together as in Halong Bay. Ideally, we should visit both, but if we have to stay with just one, we’ll stay with Halong Bay.
6. Sapa and its rice fields, one of the best things to see in Vietnam
The rice fields of Sa pa are spectacular. They are very close to the border with China in a very beautiful mountainous area.
We think it should be a must if you like nature. There are many interesting treks in the area where you can enjoy the privileged environment. But it is very important that before visiting Sapa you take into account the climate. All activities are outdoors and it is essential that there is little rainfall and good visibility. Therefore, we recommend that you visit Sapa from March to May and from September to November.
7. Tam Coc
Tam Coc is one of the most spectacular places in Vietnam. Tam Coc means “three caves”. During the boat ride on the river you will pass by three beautiful caves (Hang Cam, Hang Giaua and Hang Chateau). All of them were created by the erosion of rocks. The French film Indochine (winner of an Oscar in 1933) made this place fashionable. Many scenes were filmed in Tam Coc. The landscape is like a film! The boat ride takes about 2 hours. You can make a day trip from Hanoi, although we recommend you to stay there for at least two days.
8. The Trang An caves, our favorite place to see in Vietnam
We were in Vietnam for 15 days and if we had to stay with just one place, we would certainly stay with the Trang An caves. We’ve never seen a place as beautiful as this in our lives. No wonder UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.
These caves are the main attraction of the province of Ninh Binh. As with its neighbor Tam Coc, you must take a boat ride to see them. This one costs 200.000VND per person (about 8 Euros) and there will be a person who will row for you, although at the end of the trip we wanted to help her because it is super tired!
You will have to choose between three itineraries. The first and the third have a duration of three hours while the second has only two. We chose the last one because it was raining and cold but in the end we regretted it.
During the journey you will pass by several temples and caves. Moreover, during the whole journey you will be surrounded by karst rocks. It’s a great experience! Without a doubt, the most beautiful place to see in Vietnam.
9. Bai Dinh Pagoda
During your trip around the country, you’ll get tired of visiting pagodas. However, we believe this is one of the most beautiful to see in Vietnam. It is also located in the province of Ninh Binh, a few kilometers from the Trang An caves. So you can’t miss it!
This set of Buddhist temples is the largest in Vietnam. Many say it’s the largest spiritual space in Southeast Asia. In the compound, you can visit two main pagodas and many smaller temples. As a curiosity, there are over 500 Buddha statues inside. Almost nothing!
10. Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam
Quite close to the Bai Dinh pagoda you can visit Hoa Lu. This city was once the capital of Dai Co Viet (now Vietnam) during the Dinh and Tien Le dynasties. So it is one of the most important historical sites to see in Vietnam. It was the first capital of feudalism in the country until 1010, when it was moved to Thang Long (now Hanoi).
As a curiosity, Hoa Lu was not chosen out of curiosity. Its privileged geographical location, surrounded by limestone mountains, protected it from possible invaders. In fact, it never suffered any attack during the years it served as the capital of the country.
11. Hang Múa, one of the most spectacular landscapes to see in Vietnam
During your visit to Ninh Binh Province, you cannot miss the Hang Múa lookout point. From the top you will have a spectacular view of the Ngo Dong River and the surrounding rice fields. You will have to climb 486 stairs. However, the effort is worth it when you get to the top and you are speechless with the view.
12. Imperial City of Hue, a historical place to see in Vietnam
Hue was the former capital of Vietnam and is a city steeped in history. Until 1945 the power of the country was concentrated there by the Nguyen dynasty. During the 19th and 20th centuries the emperors lived in an impressive walled enclosure in the purest Forbidden City style in Beijing. There are dozens of temples and palaces with majestic decoration.
13. Imperial Tombs of Hue
As it is home to the imperial Nguyen dynasty, in Hué you can also visit their tombs. Although it doesn’t sound like a very appetizing plan, we assure you that they are not conventional tombs. They are huge spaces, with temples, gardens and spectacular constructions. There are seven imperial tombs in Hué, although the best known are those of Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh.
14. Ba Na Hills, an amazing theme park to see in Vietnam
Just outside Da Nang is a theme park suspended on a hill. To get there, you have to climb a funicular railway with a beautiful view. It is set in a medieval castle, where you will find attractions, fairground games, restaurants and even a couple of luxury hotels. But the most striking thing is the bridge called the Golden Bridge. Two huge hands of stone pretend to hold the bridge suspended over a beautiful landscape. It is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places to see in Vietnam.
15. Hoi An and its lanterns
Hoi An is a must-see place to see in Vietnam. We found it to be the most coquettish city in the country thanks to the colorful lanterns that flood its streets. Walking around its historical centre dominated by yellow facades is a pleasure both during the day and at night. Hoi An is one of those places where we could have stayed for a month without getting tired.
16. Chàm Islands, a paradise very close to Hoi An
Near Hoi An there is a great place to enjoy the beach. We’re talking about the Cham Islands, an archipelago made up of eight small islands. They are considered biosphere reserves by UNESCO for their fascinating marine life. If you like snorkeling or diving, you cannot miss an excursion to this small paradise from Hoi An or Da Nang.
17. Ngu Hanh Son, the Five Element Mountains
On the central coast of Vietnam, there is a group of five very famous hills. They are known as the Marble Mountains or the Five Element Mountains. Each is named after an element: metal, water, wood, earth and fire. The interior is full of caves and tunnels that can be visited. You can even climb to the top of one of them to take in the views. The entrance costs 40,000 VND (1.50 euros).
The marble mountains are a very common stop if you travel between Hué and Hoi An by road.
18. Nha Trang, to lie on the beach for a few days
Nha Trang is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Especially by the locals. Its beaches attract thousands of tourists every year. Honestly, they’re nothing fancy, but the hotel infrastructure is very large and makes it a perfect place to lie on the beach for a few days and unwind.
19. Da Lat, one of the most beautiful villages to see in Vietnam
Da Lat has something special. We think it’s one of the most beautiful villages to see in Vietnam. It’s located on a hill 1,500 meters above sea level. In fact, during the French colonial period, it was their favorite vacation destination. As a curiosity, some people call it “Little Paris”. There is even a replica of the Eiffel Tower in its center (although a bit shabby).
The most interesting thing about Da Lat is its surroundings. It is surrounded by beautiful forests, waterfalls and fields of flowers.
20. The dunes of Mui Ne
Chaotic cities, beaches, dream bays, rice fields, even dunes! As you can see, Vietnam has everything. Mui Ne is a fishing village with a beautiful beach. But its biggest attraction is not that, but the incredible dunes. Just three kilometers from the beach there is a landscape worthy of the most beautiful desert. You can rent quads or plastic boards to have fun sliding down the dunes.
21. Ho Chi Minh City, Old Saigon
It’s the most populated and modern city to be seen in Vietnam. Hanoi is the political center while Ho Chi Minh City is its economic engine. Having been under Western influence for so many years, it has a very different feel to its capital Hanoi. We loved the contrast between its traditional markets and its huge skyscrapers and shopping malls. Also in Ho Chi Minh City you can visit several interesting museums.
As a curiosity, it is called Ho Chi Minh City since 1976, after the reunification of the country. The politicians wanted to pay homage to Ho Chi Minh, who had died 7 years before so that the new generations would always remember him. Even so, Saigon is still quite used. If you look, many hotels still bear this name.
22. Museum of the Remains of War
Saigon played a key role in the Vietnam War. In fact, with the fall of Saigon in 1975, the war period ended and the reunification between South and North Vietnam began, which eventually led to the present Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
So in Saigon you will find many museums about the war. The most interesting one is this one. There you will learn a lot about that black period in the history of Vietnam. You can see original tanks and planes, documents from that time and many photographs. Without a doubt, one of the most interesting places to see in Vietnam.
23. Cu Chi Tunnels
Very close to ancient Saigon you can visit a huge tunnel system that was key to the outcome of the Vietnam War. These tunnels were the base of operations for the Vietcong guerillas. It’s amazing the ingenuity they had during the war! They got rid of the Americans without using guns. Because never more so than necessity sharpens the wits. They hid in the tunnels, kept their food and weapons, among many other things. What impressed us most was to see the traps they set for their enemies.
We walked only 40 meters inside and it seemed to us that we had suffered there for 5 minutes. It’s very claustrophobic and there’s a lack of oxygen. The best way to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels is through a guided tour as you will understand all the points much better. If you have little time, you can combine this tour with the one in the Mekong River Delta. Without a doubt, one of the most curious and interesting places to see in Vietnam.
24. Mekong Delta
This is another typical excursion from Ho Chi Minh City. With almost 5000km in length, the Mekong is the eighth longest river in the world. It rises in the Himalayan mountains and flows into Vietnam. But before that it passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and crosses Vietnam. Almost nothing!
Besides, the Mekong is very important for the locals. A very important part of the rice and fish consumed in Vietnam comes from the Mekong region.
When you’re at one end, you can hardly see the other end for how long it is. We advise you to take an excursion to the delta and see how the locals live. It’s very interesting!
25. The beaches and the environment of Phu Quoc
And to finish this list of 25 must-see places to see in Vietnam, we couldn’t leave the island of Phu Quoc. It’s in the southwestern part of the country, in fact it borders Cambodia. In Phu Quoc you will find many resorts where you can enjoy its white-sand beaches. They are not the most beautiful of Southeast Asia but they are perfect to rest from the chaos of the chaotic Vietnamese cities.