In this post
- 1 What to See in Vietnam – Travel Guide 2018
- 2 What to see in Vietnam Northern region?
- 3 What to see in Vietnam Central region?
- 4 What to see in Vietnam Southern region?
What to See in Vietnam – Travel Guide 2018
Vietnam is one of the top destinations in South East Asia. No wonder why, as this gorgeous country has so much to offer. And with the Vietnam tourism rising more and more people keep asking us, what to see in Vietnam. There is no short guide for that as you can easily spend a month in Vietnam (as we did). However, we have compiled the best places to go in Vietnam regardless of the length of your vacation. These places are the Vietnam highlights. Either way, you plan to travel across Vietnam (North to South or South to North) you can visit these Vietnam top tourist spots.
What to see in Vietnam Northern region?
Getting to Sapa might be painful, as you will have to take an overnight bus from Hanoi. That is if you do not want to spend a fortune for a private transport. However, the buses are okay and the only downside is that you arrive around 4 am and are left in destiny’s hands. Until you reach your accommodation at the check-in time. You can rent a motorbike and explore Sapa on your own. That is what we did. However, be extremely careful as the roads are very bumpy and when it rains (quite often) many roads are just flooded. We recommend getting a good travel insurance, better safe than sorry!
Apart from that Sapa is amazing, this region is home to Vietnam’s highest peak Fan Si Pan. Recently a cable car was built that takes you up to the Fan Si Pan peak. The views are stunning, but the cable car ride costs $ 27, so if you are with a family, the price for the ride adds up. Yet, how many times you will ride the longest cable car of its kind in the world up to the highest peak in Indo China? It’s a must! While in Sapa you have to stay at a homestay with the locals, it is an amazing, raw experience. You will learn how the locals live and enjoy their never-ending hospitality! Many of the homestays can be found on booking.com, so you do not have to book via a travel agent. Be aware that it gets cold in the night and it is rainy most of the year, so dress warm and be patient. The sun will come out eventually!
Ba Be Lake
The same as Sapa, Ba Be Lake National Park can be easily reached from Hanoi. You can reach Be Be Lake with a minivan from Hanoi for $ 15 within 5 hours. You can hop on a public bus, save some bucks and get there in around 6 hours. In the National Park, you can enjoy beautiful natural landscapes and escape the city hustle. You can visit Pac Ngoi village and spend a night there to experience the magic of the park. Hua Ma cave is one of the highlights of the Ba Be Lake and not to be missed. The whole National Park experience is great for nature lovers and people wanting to learn about the rural life in Vietnam.
Either you choose to start or end your trip here, Hanoi is a must. Strong socialism history’s presence and draught beer for 10 cents. Here you go, already some reasons to visit! All jokes aside, Hanoi has strong traces of communist influence so there are many museums you can visit to learn about the history. One of the must visit places is Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Note that it is open only from 8 am till 11 am, so come early.
One of our favorite things to do was to wake up very early and go to one of the Hanoi central parks and watch the city wake up. All the locals go out to exercise in the park and some even attend public dance classes. It is amazing to see how the always busy city wakes up from the night nap. If you are around the park area, go visit the Temple of Literature. Stroll through the city and to Hanoi’s old quarter to indulge in some Bia Hoi, which is brewed fresh every night and delivered to bars around the area every morning. It is less than $ 0.17 per glass. There is no wrong way.
Cat Ba island instead of Halong Bay
From Hanoi, you can reach Cat Ba Island within 4 hours (bus + ferry). It is a great alternative to overly touristy and overpriced Halong Bay tours. From here you can reach and enjoy Halong Bay from the other side, thus avoiding the tourist crowds. The one day tour cost us $ 15, instead of $ 60 the usual Halong Bay tour would cost. It includes snorkeling, kayak rides, and a delicious fresh lunch. Also, Cat Ba offers some great seafood for the fraction of the price. We ate oysters every day, for $ 3.50 (80 VND) a plate. You can go to the local market there, purchase the freshest seafood you would ever get directly from the fishermen families and ask them to cook it for you. So good. We highly recommend seeing Halong Bay from Cat Ba island, especially if you crave for some authentic experiences.
What to see in Vietnam Central region?
Imperial City, Hue
UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the most massive structure being built in the history of Modern Vietnam. And when we say it’s massive, it is! The Imperial City, Hue has a circumference of 10 km, so you will easily spend the whole day here. Once you enter the main gate you will get the feeling of being in almost like a sacred place. The feeling of seeing something so beautiful and realizing people actually lived here in the early 19th century. Just imagine people dressed in royal attire walking around the parks of the city, greeting mandarins from China, exchanging cultures and performing ceremonies. The entrance fee is $ 6.50 (150 000 VND).
Marble Mountains in Da Nang
The Marble Mountains can be easily reached from Hoi An within 30 minutes. You can negotiate a driver, jump into a taxi or drive a scooter yourself. The Marble Mountains consists of five mountains each named after natural elements. Fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. There are several caves and shrines in the mountain complex. One of the most spectacular caves we have ever seen is hidden in the Marble Mountains. A huge cave with at least 4 meters tall Buddha statue filled with smells of incense and the pleasantly cool air all contribute to the perfect atmosphere.
You should wear sneakers when exploring Marble Mountains as often the stairs are very slippery. Also, there is a considerable amount of hiking to do. However, there is an elevator which brings you up to the main entrance to make it less tiring. Elevator up is $ 0.70 and the entrance fee is $ 0.70 as well.
This city is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. Hoi An is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Rich ancient architecture, romantic vibe, and great tailor-made clothes. There are so many things that make up for Hoi An’s reputation, and it all cannot be explored in just one day. Another great thing about Hoi An is that it serves the best Vietnamese foods from all over the country. Vietnamese cuisine is not to be missed and Hoi An is a perfect place to indulge.
We recommend renting a bike and exploring Hoi An’s countryside. Outside of the city, you will find fishermen villages, beautiful beach, and lush rice fields. In Tra Que Village nearby Hoi An you can experience real farmers life. If you want to see how locals live and to learn how the amazing Vietnamese dishes are made, this is a great place to do it. You can go on your own or buy a tour for around $ 20. Great raw experience. If you are a romantic, stroll to the lantern-lit streets in the evening. You might want to go to the riverside and rent a boat to cruise through the river and observe the city from a different angle.
What to see in Vietnam Southern region?
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City, more commonly known as Saigon, never sleeps. Pham Ngu Lao (District 1) is the most popular place amongst tourists. It is similar to Khao San Road in Bangkok and mostly attracts younger travelers. Many hostels, massage salons, and bars will keep you awake and cozy. District 1 is the center of Saigon’s energy.
Thien Hau Temple is a must visit to soak up some culture. From the outside, the Temple does not look spectacular but do not get disappointed too early. Carvings on the walls and ceiling depicting the daily life of people living centuries ago are something spectacular. The smell of incense makes this place even more magical. We can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised. The entrance is free so it is definitely worth having a visit.
Visit either Ben Thanh or Binh Tay markets. Ben Thanh is more touristy compared to Binh Tay, so we would suggest visiting the second. Most of the products sold in both markets are quite similar. The advantage is that Binh Tay has fewer tourists and friendlier prices, as it predominantly caters to locals. Binh Tay market is located in the China Town area thus you can visit China Town as well. Both markets are open from 6 am to 7 pm, so do not be too late, as these are not the typical night markets.
Ho Chi Minh city is packed with skyscrapers, thus you should not leave without visiting a rooftop bar. Most of the rooftop bars are quite expensive because you pay for the view. However, we have found our favorite, and it has a happy hour! Chill Skybar is located close to District 1, so you do not have to travel far. They have a happy hour from 5:30 pm to 8 pm. Drinks start from VND 88 000, which is less than $ 4 (EUR 3). The cocktails are good and the views stunning. Dress smart casual, they have no flip-flops policy.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels tour is one of the most popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh City. It is one of the musts if you are into history, however, we recommend it to anyone who visits Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi Tunnels is an elaborate 250 km (155 mi.) long underground network. People lived, ate, studied and planned their attacks underground during Vietnam War. The visit to the Tunnels gives you an insight on how people functioned during these times. It is quite incredible just to think of a life underground but experiencing it as part of the tour is something out of this world. The Cu Chi Tunnel visit will take you half a day and costs around $ 7, similar to Mekong Delta tour.
The last but not the least in our what to see in Vietnam list is a beautiful place – Mekong Delta. Usually, people decide between Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels for a day trip, if they cannot do both. You can visit the famous Mekong Delta for as little as $ 7 and ride a boat through the river jungle.
The tour includes picking you up from the tour office, taking you to the Mekong Delta, including guide and a nice lunch. On the way, you will stop a local produce shop where you can buy some natural goods as coconut oil, charcoal toothpaste, and handmade clothes. Then, it will be the time you were waiting for the most – Mekong Delta tour. It is a beautiful experience and certainly one like no other. After that, you will have the chance to visit coconut candy production site and indulge in these sweet treats. You will see how the locals live and earn their bread and will be able to taste all the natural good.
In the end, on your way home you will stop by a beautiful Buddhist Pagoda to see the Big Happy Buddha (picture above). It does not really matter which tour operator you choose as all of them provide a similar itinerary and service. Shop around to find the best price, as you know that you can arrange this tour for $ 7 (VND 160 000). If you have more time on your hands you could spend a night in the Mekong Delta region and visit the floating market, it is a great experience and many people recommended us to do the 2-day tour. However, we did not have enough time for that. Either way, the experience was amazing.
What to see in Vietnam? The possibilities are endless! In this Vietnam guide, we pulled together our favorite places from Northern, Central and Southern Vietnam. Do not take this recommendation as definite, there are so many more places to visit in Vietnam. Do not forget to take stunning photos and videos of your adventures! Go and explore to find some hidden places no one has yet told you about!
If you are planning on buying some travel gear before you go, we have listed the best travel gear we use so you can get inspired. Also, if you do not have your ticket yet, you can check out how to find cheap flight deals, the same as we do!