When many travelers visit Vietnam, they mistakenly assume they’ll be able to see most or even all of the country in a relatively short period of time. However, traveling in the nation, like in any developing nation, takes time. Visitors with a limited number of days should choose a region and explore it. For travelers heading to the South, these are five can’t-miss cities.
The economic backbone of Vietnam and the nation’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh is one of the most fun places to visit in the country. The sprawling city is officially home to some 8 million residents, yet in reality, it’s far more populous than that. The central business zone or District 1 is the area of the city that’s most traveled by tourists. However, for the adventurous types, head to the less explored, more authentic and interesting neighboring districts: Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan or District 3. The city is home to a number of great centrally-located museums, endless shopping and vibrant nightlife. Anyone spending time in Ho Chi Minh should explore Nguyen Hue, Ben Thanh Market, Bui Vien, the Bitexco Tower, the seafood restaurants along the canal and Binh Thanh’s maze of alleys.
The most famous beach town in Vietnam, Nha Trang is an increasingly popular destination for foreign tourists. Lively nightlife and excellent seafood make a great addition to the white sand beaches and calm blue sea. Scuba diving has skyrocketed in popularity in the area and the bay is warm and clear year round. The city is one of the more family-friendly destinations in Vietnam, home to a number of amusement parks, water parks and resorts. For an unparalleled view, take a ride on the mile-long Vinpearl Cable Car.
Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta and home to some of the country’s most interesting markets. The commercially-friendly location along the banks of the Hau River has made this an important trading center for centuries. Anyone visiting should set aside a day to rise early and visit the wholesale Cai Rang Floating Market and the retail Phong Dien Floating Market. A day trip exploring the numerous narrow canals and tributaries of the region, with stops in rice paper factories and crocodile or python farms, is also highly recommended.
A lively fishing port along Vietnam’s South Central Coast, Phan Thiet serves some of the best seafood in the country. Spend the day exploring the mishmash of streets surrounding the colorful harbor. Just north of the city center lies the increasingly well-traveled ward of Mui Ne, famed for its Sahara-esque sand dunes and miles of picturesque coastline. Like almost everywhere in Vietnam, the best way to explore is on two wheels. Those with a motorbike should also take the opportunity to ride south from the city along the great coastal roads.
Check out this cool mountain escape when motorbike madness becomes too much. Dalat can be reached by bus or motorbike from the country’s largest urban center in 4–6 hours and is a peaceful pine-scented alternative to Saigon’s concrete sprawl. The city itself can be explored in a day; just make sure not to miss the central market, or Hang Nga Guesthouse. The outlying areas offer even more to see. The region is the epicenter of Vietnam’s enormous coffee industry and the hills and valleys surrounding the city are blanketed in coffee plantations. For nature lovers, the areas’ forests offer some great canyoning through dense valleys and over misty waterfalls. On the way in or out of the city, make sure to stop at Elephant Falls, the most famous waterfall in the Central Highlands.