Amazing Experiences You Can Only Have in Vietnam

Bùi Viện is an infamous street in Saigon, Vietnam
Bùi Viện is an infamous street in Saigon, Vietnam | © Soma / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Matthew Pike
Writer4 September 2021

In our globalised world, you can get a taste of most cultures in any urban centre, but there’s just so much you’ll miss if you don’t get out and travel. Here are some experiences you can only have if you hop on a plane, train or boat and make your way to Vietnam.

You can now book an exclusive adventure with Culture Trip to take in all that Vietnam has to offer on our specially curated small-group Vietnam tour, led by our local insider.

Go to the Cái Răng Floating Market

Market, Vegetarian
Cai Rang floating market at the Mekong Delta, Can Tho, Vietnam, Indochina, Southeast Asia, Asia
© Yadid Levy / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
There are many floating markets throughout the Mekong Delta in Southwest Vietnam, but the Cái Răng Floating Market is the largest. It’s located in Cần Thơ, the fourth-largest city in Vietnam, which should be a stop on your tour through Vietnam anyway.

Ride a motorbike over the Hải Vân Pass

Natural Feature
Hai Van Pass, Da Nang, Vietnam
© Jeremy Graham / dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo

Lovers of the Top Gear television show will already know this is a must-do in Vietnam. For those who haven’t seen the episode, we assure you: the Hải Vân Pass should definitely be on your itinerary.

Visit a Hmong family

Natural Feature
Terraced rice paddies in broken sunshine from above near Sa Pa northern Vietnam
© Arthur Greenberg / Alamy Stock Photo

The moment you get off your bus in Sapa, in the north of Vietnam, you’ll be accosted in a friendly way by Hmong women in colourful garb. If you’re a seasoned traveller, your instinct might be to shoo them away – but don’t. They offer immersive tours where they bring you to their villages to show you their traditional ways of life. It’s an intimate experience, and you’ll be glad you didn’t wave them off.

Have a pho cocktail

Bar, Restaurant, Vietnamese
The Mojito Bar & Lounge Restaurant in Hanoi has taken the iconic bowl of noodles and made it into a cocktail. This drink will probably mess with your head a bit, but it’s actually pretty tasty.

Take a Xe Ôm ride

Natural Feature

All through Vietnam, you’ll see these leathery old men napping on their motorbikes, catching some midday snoozes in the shade. They’re motorbike taxis, and there’s no feeling that quite matches the full-on adrenaline rush of cruising through insane traffic on the back of a moto. Be sure to negotiate the price first, though. They’re notorious cheats.

Take a boat tour on the Saigon River

Aerial view of Saigon River with the city center, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
© Andreas Rose / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s surreal to watch palm trees and sheet-metal huts drift away to reveal the downtown skyline of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s like going through a time warp. There are numerous companies offering tours on the river, and most of them you can book through your hotel or hostel.

Kayak through Hạ Long Bay

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A tour boat sailing around Ha Long Bay
© Sebastiaan Hamming / Alamy Stock Photo

Although Hạ Long City is an underwhelming place, the limestone islands jutting out off the bay are a spectacular sight to behold. Lounging on a tour boat is a fine way to go, but a kayak is a more intimate experience.

Visit Hội An

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This Unesco World Heritage site is one of the most sought-after locations for tourists in Vietnam – and for good reason. It’s a special place, and, even though it’s about as touristy as you can get, it doesn’t feel wrong as the town has a sort of timeless charm. Keen to visit? It’s one of many fantastic destinations featured on Culture Trip’s specially curated Vietnam tour.

Eat seafood within sight of a turquoise fleet

Architectural Landmark

You can find quaint fishing villages along the whole length of Vietnam’s coastline. There’s just something very humbling about eating seafood in a place where you can see the boats that went out before dawn to catch your meal.

Visit the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

War planes in front of the War Remnants Museum relating to the First Indochina and Vietnam War in Ho Chi Minh City, District 3, former Saigon, Vietnam
© van der Meer Marica / Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

This is a sobering experience, but one which captures the visceral pain of the tumultuous years when tiny Vietnam fought against the strongest military in the world.

Ride on a cyclo

Natural Feature
Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam
© ICP/ incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

You can find these holdouts from the French colonial days near most urban tourist landmarks, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue and Hanoi. They’re a bit bumpy, but the drivers are excellent guides with detailed knowledge of your surroundings. On Culture Trip’s exclusive 12-day Vietnam adventure, you can enjoy a food tour by cyclo in Hue.

Go to an elephant race

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This is a weird one. Every March in Đắk Lắk province, there is an Elephant Racing Festival, with gongs and horns, and gentle giants competing for a wreath.

Climb Fansipan

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Stunning view of mountains and the temple from the summit of the Fansipan Mountain, Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam
© Elena Ermakova / Alamy Stock Photo

Looming over Sapa in North Vietnam is Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia. There are many options available for people who want a guided trek up to the summit, and, unless you’re a veteran hiker, you should try to spread it out over two or three days.

Visit the Củ Chi Tunnels

Natural Feature
Tunnel Entrance in the Cu Chi Tunnel Complex, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.. Image shot 12/2008. Exact date unknown.
© David Parker / Alamy Stock Photo
These tunnels were the hideouts of forces loyal to Hanoi, fighting against the Americans and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam – South Vietnam’s army. The tunnels are a stark reminder of how the war had to be fought, relying on subterfuge and guerilla tactics.

Check out Hanoi Train Street

Architectural Landmark

It’s amazing how the Vietnamese utilise space, and this is a perfect example of the pragmatism that seems to be in their DNA. Hang around long enough, and you’ll get to see a train roll through.

Ride the Reunification Express

Train Station
Beautiful landscape at The Reunification Express Railway in Vietnam
© Ismael Monfort Vialcanet / Alamy Stock Photo

If riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam sounds like your idea of hell, then, perhaps, a ride on the Reunification Express is more for you. Catch the train, and rumble through countless picturesque scenes.

Look out from the Saigon Skydeck

View over Ho Chi Minh City from the Saigon Skydeck in Vietnam
© Russell Mountford / Alamy Stock Photo
The Bitexco Tower in Downtown Ho Chi Minh City is an unmistakable landmark, and it also provides an amazing view of the sprawling city.

Check out Bùi Viện Street

Architectural Landmark
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Bui Vien street - Touristy Bui Vien street in District 1 in Saigon, Vietnam, Southeast Asia.
© Soma / Alamy Stock Photo

For a look at some debauchery, you can’t do much better than the infamous Bùi Viện Street in the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s the epicentre of vice in Vietnam, and pretty well anything goes. Be careful with your belongings, though. Petty criminals are always watching for you to let your guard down.

Try some egg coffee

Cafe, Vietnamese, $$$
Egg coffee is a speciality in Vietnam. Not too many coffee shops serve it, but it’s worth looking for because of its interesting texture and taste.

Explore the largest cave in the world

Natural Feature
Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
© Alvina Labsvirs / Alamy Stock Photo

The Sơn Đoòng Cave, which is 150m (492ft) wide and approximately 5km (3.1) long, was only discovered in 1991, when a man heard a whistling noise and rushing water. The entrance was impassible without climbing equipment, so locals never knew what was hiding from them.

These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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