After decades of conflict that defined Vietnam as a country severely suffering from the aftermath of war, the country’s reputation for being a fascinating, tourist-friendly destination is once again beginning to flourish, thanks to positive media attention. Popular street food item bun cha was made famous after US president Barack Obama tried it during his visit to Vietnam last year, and Hollywood blockbuster Kong: Skull Island (2017) was shot against the spectacular backdrops of the country’s central provinces. Here we highlight the best historical and and action-packed activities to do in this part of Asia.
Tam Coc, which literally means “Three Caves” is one of the set locations for the movie Kong: Skull Island. Sit on a sampan and make your way downstream, meandering through serene rice paddies and enjoying the sound of the water lapping at the side of the boat. The relaxation sets in after just a few minutes of looking across the horizon toward limestone outcrops.
The beauty of Hoi An goes beyond its nickname “The Venice of Vietnam”. Every moment in this city paints a vibrant picture of Vietnamese culture; from the early morning when the locals set out their street businesses at a slow pace, to the late afternoon when tourists make their way to the riverbank for sunset drinks. In the evening, colorful lanterns turn the city aglow.
Hoi An is justifiably celebrated for its old buildings, with different constructions painting a picture of architectural developments throughout the centuries. The ancient town, however, has embraced its natural beauty as well, especially when it comes to An Bang Beach. The essence of tranquillity and serenity makes this place a meditative experience, allowing visitors a break from the hectic touristy atmosphere in the main town.
Instead of elbowing your way to the crowds of tourists in Sa Pa, head to Ha Giang, Vietnam’s far north province. Nothing beats the thrill of driving along a narrow road and passing through breathtaking slopes and valleys. Ha Giang’s identity is rooted in a well-preserved tribal culture that fortunately has not been disrupted by modern development.
If you plan to travel to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, why not hop on a motorbike and lose yourself in the constant stream of traffic at the heart of the city, squeezing cars, scooters, and busses. Though it sounds risky, driving around the city like this can allow you to catch a glimpse of everyday, fast-paced local life.
Vietnam’s street food scene has no shortage of distinctive flavors—from Vietnamese beef noodle pho to banh mi, popular dishes which has made their way all around the world. More recently bun cha, a dish of charcoal-grilled pork patties and pork slices served with rice vermicelli, has dominated the scene, due to the fact that Obama ate them during his visit to Hanoi last year.
One hundred years of French colonization in Hanoi led to local architecture having a distinct European look, and this can especially be seen in the capital’s Old Quarter, or “French Quarter”. Take a walk around; everywhere you look, you’ll catch a glimpse of the country’s rich history.
If you’re looking to delve further into Vietnam’s history, Cu Chi Tunnels is a must-visit. This extensive network of underground tunnels didn’t just serve as hiding spots, but also as a network for communication and relaying messages, as storage facilities, and even as a field hospital for Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Take a boat ride that passes through the Cai Rang floating market, where you’ll see dozens of merchant’s vessels and stilt houses perched on the riverbanks. Try to glide past the main towns and wind your way into smaller farm areas, and you’l encounter a peaceful atmosphere.
Da Lat, located in the central highlands of Vietnam, is home to more than 1,000 French colonial style buildings and houses as well as various coffee plantations. It also boasts a spectacle of different canyons and waterfalls, making for a picturesque exploration spot.