Vietnam Top Attractions
What you can expect to see in Vietnam
Many tourists who fly into Vietnam for the first time are simply amazed as they don't quite know what to expect. Vietnam is a country has something for everyone. If you are a nature buff then, with either the country's beaches, mountains, tropical forests and even a Sahara-like desert. this is the place to be.
If you are a history and culture enthusiast, you will be fascinated by all the ruins and pagodas located around the country. Or if you hunger for the charms of a simple life, you will fall in love with the Vietnamese lifestyle including the hill-tribes and farmers of the north and the fishermen in the middle and southern regions of the country.
1. Hanoi: With a population of four million and a more genteel style than its southern counterpart, Hanoi is the cultural capital of Vietnam and its heart and soul. A great place to explore on foot, there is a lot to see and do here. Vietnam's capital lies on the banks of the Red River, some 100 kilometres from its mouth. Human settlements here date back as far as the 3rd century BC.
Previously known as Thang Long, it was renamed Hanoi in 1831 at a time when Hue was the capital. Large areas of present-day Hanoi were built during the French occupation, reflected in its broad boulevards and French-inspired architecture, which give the city a definite charm.
2. Halong Bay is a beautiful natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The Bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 sqkm. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. For many tourists, this place is like something right out of a movie. The fact is that Halong Bay features a wide range of biodiversity, while the surrealistic scenery has indeed featured in endless movies.
3. Mai Chau is a vision in every season. In spring, it is a lush, bright green while in autumn, just before the rice harvest, it turns golden. Nowadays, people should count themselves lucky to get the chance to see such colours because before 1993 Mai Chau was an isolated farming town whereas now, it is a recommended stop for any traveller who wants to explore Vietnam.
Located in Hoa Binh Province, Mai Chau is in a valley about 139km from Hanoi. The town is situated between tall cliffs and is surrounded by bright-green paddies, making it a sight to behold; the beauty of the place is enough reason for many tourists to stay longer than expected.
Stilt houses are a common sight in Mai Chau. In fact, these structures line both sides of the road, with palm leaf roofs, bamboo-slat floors and large, patterned windows. Visitors can stay the night in these houses, especially in Lac, which is the village of the White Thai minority group near the main road. Here, one can live like the locals but with modern facilities.
4. Sapa is a town in Lao Cai Province in Northwest Vietnam close to the Chinese border. It is located about 350km Northwest of Hanoi. Here is where one will find the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains, which includes Fan Si Pan—the country's highest peak.
This quiet Vietnamese town is home to a population which consists mostly of minority groups. There are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. It is said that Sapa was first occupied by the first four groups, since the Vietnamese from the lowlands (better known as the Kinh) did not colonise the highest valleys.
It was only when the French arrived in Tonkin in the 19th century that Sapa was acknowledged and included on the national map. The site where Sapa would be became a key location for the French military as well as missionaries. It was also only in 1993 that Sapa became accessible to many, as this was the year its doors were opened to tourists.
5. The ancient city of Hue (pronounced 'whey') in central Vietnam was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty at the beginning of the 19th Century, and during the Vietnam-US war some of the most intense conflicts occurred in this region.
One of Hue’s main tourist attractions is the spectacular riverside Hue Citadel or Royal Palace of the Imperial City, built according to the practices of ‘feng shui’. Such is Hue’s historical significance that it is recognised today as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Although Hue is not strictly a coastal city, beach lovers will not be disappointed as there are several good beaches like Thuan An, less than 15 minutes away – you can even cycle there! In short, Hue is a perfect location to explore the cultural heart and soul of the Vietnamese people while still having easy access to the beach.
6. Hoi An is more than just a charming seaside town; it was one of the most important trading ports connecting Asia and Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Though large-scale trading had long moved elsewhere Hoi An has been successful in preserving and restoring its charming roots and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1999. The tiny and picturesque conurbation features many well-preserved buildings including pagodas, old canals and wooden shop-houses. The friendly people of Hoi An also light colourful paper and silk lanterns at night just like their ancestors did, making the town atmospheric and welcoming
7. Quy Nhon is the capital of Binh Dinh Province and was acknowledged as a city as early as 1898. However, the town has been in existence since the 11th century, in the time of the Kingdom of Champa. In the 15th century, it also served as the ruling centre of Emperor Le Thanh Ton. Quy Nhon was also relevant during the Vietnam War. Not only was it a site for intense battle, but it also was an important US military and naval base.
At present, Quy Nhon is a developing port city with a population of more than 260,000 people with plans to build infrastructure that would encourage more tourists to visit. Naturally, fishing is the main industry in Quy Nhon, making it a great source of exceptional seafood. This destination is highly recommended for all seafood lovers.
8. Nha Trang has a long stretch of beautiful coastline; miles of white, sandy beaches with mountains at each end, framed by the dramatic backdrop of mountain ranges, as well as several other good beaches close by (Doc Let Beach, Dai Lanh Beach and Bai Tru Beach) and more than 19 islands (of which serene Bamboo Island is possibly the best-known).
Scuba diving and snorkeling are two very popular pastimes, thanks to clear aqua waters, an abundant underwater life and colourful coral reefs. Beaches here are any beach lover’s dream with their white sand, and many types of boat trips are available to explore the surrounding islands. A smattering of seafood eateries in the road that runs alongside the beach serve up a wide selection of seafood and shell fish, and the many cafés and bars are favourite hang-outs for tourists to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and picturesque scenery. Bicycle tours are also very popular, or you can rent a cyclo for a tour of the Cham ruins, local market and Buddhist shrines.
9. About 200 km north of Ho Chi Minh City are Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. Together, these traditional fishing villages are fast becoming a popular leisure destination.
Resort-style developments have been rising along the coastline, though so far the lives of the fishing communities remain unchanged and Mui Ne’s long beach is quiet and serene, great for walks, jogging and spectacular sunsets.
Phan Tiet, which is rather larger, is famous for its fish sauce, an ingredient in most Vietnamese dishes. It, too, has a beautiful beach.
There is a wide range of accommodation, and restaurants offer a huge selection of seafood at very affordable prices. There are golf courses, beautiful pagodas, spectacular red and white sand dunes, and a variety of water sports.
10. Pleiku is the capital of Gia Lai province, which is located in the central highland region of Vietnam. It is about 50 kilometres south of Kon Tum and 200 kilometres away from Qut Nhon. Pleiku is located at the intersection of Routes 19 and 14, making it the starting point for any kind of exploration in the Highlands.
Pleiku is a historically relevant town, specifically in relation to the Vietnam War. The town was the end of the military supply logistics avenue which extended to the west along Route 19 and also the main centre of defence for the highland region. When the North Vietnam Army launched an attack in this city, Lyndon Johnson gave the green light for 'Operation Rolling Thunder,' a campaign marked by extensive bombing. It was the site where the first formal battle occurred, and the place was later left in ruins. After the war, Pleiku was rebuilt with the help of the USSR, which is why the town displays a Soviet influence.
Even with foreign intervention Pleiku retains its rural charm thanks to the mountainous and stunning countryside.
11. Buon Ma Thuot may not be as well known as other places in Vietnam such as Hanoi, but it is worth seeing. It is the provincial capital of Dak Lak (or Dac Lac) Province and approximately 360 kilometres from Saigon, deep in the Central Highlands of the country. Despite being one of the biggest towns in the Central Highlands, Buon Ma Thuot is only visited by a few tourists because it is off the beaten track. However, this town can serve as a starting point for those who want to see the attractions in the area.
Buon Ma Thuot is a small but busy place. With a population of about 300,000, it is home to ethnic minorities like the Jarai and Rhade peoples. The place is historically relevant because it was the site of the last major confrontation between the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese armies back in March 1975. These days, however, Buon Ma Thuot is better known for its coffee.
12. The hill town of Dalat (aka Da Lat) has long been the most popular location in the region for getaway holidays since French colonial times. Many people call it ‘Le Petit Paris’ and the town even features a mini-replica Eiffel Tower in its centre! Situated on a plateau 1,500 metres above sea level, this retreat town offers a good change of atmosphere with a refreshingly cool climate while other cities in Vietnam can be very hot and humid especially during summer. Trousers and jumpers are needed if visiting Dalat from November to around March as temperatures hover at about 10°C.
Dalat is famous for its wide variety of flowers, vegetables and fruit from its surrounding farmlands as well as countless nature sites; its beautiful landscape, evergreen forests and minority villages. The area’s main sources of income are from agriculture and the tourism industry but the city is also very proud of being an education centre that produces multi-field professionals each year including doctors and architects (Dalat University alone has more than 13,000 students). Therefore there’s a good chance that visitors will meet with young, enthusiastic and friendly Vietnamese from every corner of the country here.
13. Ho Chi Minh City is the business and financial hub of Vietnam, with a prominent history going back hundreds of years. The Khmers originally settled the region, with the Vietnamese taking over in the 17th century.
The French conquered Saigon, as it was then known, in 1859, and made it the capital of Cochin China in 1862. They extended and embellished the city with broad boulevards and elegant architecture. At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1969 the city had 4.5 million inhabitants. They were all evacuated when Saigon and the rest of the South fell to North Vietnam in 1975.
The city has recovered in the 30 years since then; the current population is over 7 million. It was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, after the spiritual leader of Vietnamese Communism, but the inhabitants were so reluctant to adopt the new name that the authorities compromised; the official name is Ho Chi Minh City but the city centre is still called Saigon. The Vietnamese government may be Communist, but it understands well the importance of the tourism industry to the economy, and has promoted the country vigorously.
14. Previously occupied by both the French and the Americans, Da Nang marks the halfway point between the capital in the north, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It’s the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Apart from some shopping highlights and historical sights, the main reason for most travellers staying here is its proximity to My Khe Beach, Lang Co Beach, Hoi An and My Son.
Lang Co Beach is lined with palm trees, the water of the nearby ocean crystal-clear and enticing, lapping onto white sand. It is a peninsula with a sparkling lagoon on one side, and the beach on the other. The area is fairly under-developed, although recent years have seen many new hotels opening.
My Khe is more developed, since it was a popular spot for American soldiers seeking R&R during the Vietnam-US War. Water sport activities here are in abundance, and it can get very crowded over weekends and holidays. Da Nang’s coastline stretches 30 kilometres, renowned for calm, cool waters and also popular for fishing, water-skiing, diving, and yachting.
15. An Giang is a province in Vietnam that borders Cambodia. It is most popular for being the place where one finds Chau Doc. The city is situated at the intersection of a tributary linking the Bassac and Mekong Rivers. Chau Doc may be a little city, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in colours and is probably the only place where pastel colours are chosen to beautify store fronts.
Chau Doc is close to the river border of Vietnam and Cambodia. Anyone who travels to and from Phnom Penh by boat will pass by the city, and staying overnight is highly recommended. Aside from the colours, visitors will also captivated by the locals; the people in Chau Doc, including the xe dap loi drivers, are nice and friendly. Foreigners need not worry too much about a language barrier—English is spoken in most hotels and guesthouses, while most restaurants have an English-language menu.
16. Phu Quoc is a stunningly beautiful island in the far south of Vietnam, the country's largest. 99 forested mountains dominate the northern part of the island while the southern part is better known for its beaches.
The island's beauty is often compared to Phuket (its also a similar size), but without the people and infrastructure. The Vietnamese government has big plans for tourism on the island, a new airport is planned and many larger resorts will be opening over the next few years. Many consider it paradise with aquamarine water, idyllic beaches, romantic sunsets and a serene island-style atmosphere.