The Best Destinations in Vietnam

The Trang An landscape complex, in Ninh Binh off Hanoi, is well worth a visit
The Trang An landscape complex, in Ninh Binh off Hanoi, is well worth a visit | © TAELY / Alamy Stock Photo

Vietnam might look small on the map, but this fascinating country has enough beauty to fill a continent. From jagged mountains in the north to tropical beaches in the south and the wealth of history and culture in between, these are the best destinations to visit in Vietnam.

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Hà Giang, for Spectacular Scenery

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Hà Giang is rugged, remote and spectacular. This area features some of the best views in the country, overlooking terraced rice paddies and deep valleys that have been carved into the limestone mountains for thousands of years. If you love motorbike rides, be sure to check out either the Quản Bạ Pass or the Mã Pí Lèng Pass for an exhilarating way to take in the area’s natural beauty.

Sa Pa, for a Relaxed Homestay

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Sa Pa has grown substantially in the past few years. While some are put off by the tourism boom in this once-quiet mountain town, there are still many great reasons to visit. Seek out a homestay in one of the surrounding villages to keep your experience authentic, and if the weather permits and you’re looking for an adventure, climb Fansipan, the tallest mountain in all of Indochina.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter, for Culture and Food

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Vietnam’s capital city is full of history and culture, especially in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake. This is the epicentre of tourism in the city, with market streets, a buzzing nightlife and some of the best Vietnamese food on the planet. There’s a lot to do here, but the most important thing is that you embrace the electric atmosphere of Hanoi’s beating heart. You can enjoy a guided walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive 12-day Vietnam adventure, led by our Local Insider.

Hạ Long Bay, for Sheer Beauty

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When it comes to Vietnamese tourism there’s no avoiding Hạ Long Bay. The rampant commercialisation of this natural wonder may have turned it into a bit of a cliche, but you can’t deny the sheer beauty of the Unesco World Heritage Site. Try to get on a reputable tour boat, or stay on Cát Bà island. For a similar experience with a little less hustle and bustle, try the nearby Bai Tu Long Bay.

Ninh Bình, for Adventurous Travellers

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Of all the excellent day trip options from Hanoi, this is likely the most popular – and it’s no wonder why. The limestone karsts, serpentine rivers and lush scenery of Ninh Bình are loved by adventurous types and make for great holiday photos. Most trips to the area are combined with a visit to the Tràng An caves and grottoes, too.

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, for the Largest Cave in the World

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Unless you’re making your way through all of Vietnam, this national park is pretty far out of the way. But those who do make the effort to get here will be rewarded with some of the most unique experiences in all of Vietnam. This park is famous for its caves, and even boasts the largest cave in the world, Son Doong, which at its tallest reaches 198m (650ft).

Huế, for Imperial History

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This city was once the capital of imperial Vietnam and much of its rich history still remains. The centrepiece is the Citadel and the enclosed Imperial City. Sadly, much of it was destroyed by American bombers during the war, but plenty remains to give you an idea of the city’s former splendour. Huế is also famous for its spicy cuisine, so be sure to check out some local versions of popular Vietnamese dishes. It also features on Culture Trip’s specially curated small-group Vietnam tour.

Hải Vân Pass, for Scenic Motorbike Rides

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The mountains that run along the Laos border jut out into the sea between Huế and Đà Nẵng. Here, the road climbs up into the clouds, with twists and turns and views you’ll never forget. In a country known for its motorbike routes, the Hải Vân Pass is definitely the most famous and arguably the most scenic.

Hội An, for Tailor Opportunities

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If you only have time to visit a few places in Vietnam, make Hội An one of them. Its Ancient Town is more captivating than the pictures suggest, and it gets even more beautiful at night when all the lanterns light up. The town’s past as a trading port on the silk route has also developed a rich history of tailoring, with hundreds of professional tailors still working today, so spend a couple of days here and have a nice dress or suit made just for you.

Nha Trang, for Adrenaline Junkies

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Though Nha Trang is significantly busier than some of the other beach towns in the south, that also means there is so much more to do. The nightlife here is a lot of fun, and there are a whole host of extreme activities waiting for adrenaline junkies among – try jet skiing, surfing or even flyboarding, if you’re brave enough.

Đà Lạt, for a Cool Climate

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If you’re looking to escape the heat then Đà Lạt is the destination for you. The city is built on a plateau 1,500m (4,921ft) above sea level and has a cool climate that’s hard to come by in Vietnam. The mountain town is a popular holiday destination for families and young couples from Ho Chi Minh City, which, along with its rich agricultural heritage, is why it’s known as the City of Love and Flowers.

Mũi Né, for Water Sports

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Come to Mũi Né, in Southeast Vietnam, for the water sports; windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing are often on the agenda for travellers. And, even if you aren’t a morning person, it’s well worth getting up early to see the sunrise at the sand dunes in Mũi Né. This sleepy little town is a popular escape from the Vietnam’s big cities like Ho Chi Minh City some four hours away. If you’re wiped out after exploring half the country then Mũi Né might be the perfect place to end your trip.

Ho Chi Minh City, for Vibrant Nightlife

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At the opposite end of the spectrum to Mũi Né is Vietnam’s biggest city Ho Chi Minh City, which is known for its chockablock traffic and noise pollution. Many are put off by the hectic pace of this city, formerly known as Saigon – but there is so much to love about this place. There are museums, world-class restaurants, rooftop bars, luxury hotels, street food stalls and as good a nightlife scene as you’ll find anywhere in the region.

Cần Thơ, for the Floating Market

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Most people opt for hour-and-a-half-long day trip to Mỹ Tho from Ho Chi Minh City, but if you have the time, venture further into the Mekong Delta and Cần Thơ. At this riverside city you’ll discover Cái Răng, the largest floating market in Vietnam, which is much more impressive than the others in the region; shop for everything from clothing to exotic fruits.

Phú Quốc, for Idyllic White Sand Beaches

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This island, just off the coast on the border with Cambodia, has been called a secret paradise island for its pristine beaches and beautiful natural landscapes. Think mountains and tropical jungles with exotic wildlife. There are parts of the island that cater to luxury with all-inclusive flashy resorts – but you can also do it on a budget and in seclusion, enjoying nothing but gentle waves and sound of your own voice.

Da Nang, for the Iconic Pink Cathedral

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The buzzing coastal city of Da Nang, sandwiched between Bà Nà hills and the South China Sea, has one of Vietnam’s most stunning skylines. It’s a great base to explore nearby attractions including the Golden Bridge, My Khe Beach, Lang Co Beach, Hoi An and My Son. But don’t miss out on what the city itself has to offer: see its impressive pink cathedral, built in 1923, grab a bargain at the bustling Han Market, and, as night falls, visit Dragon Bridge, the longest bridge in Vietnam, which lights up the city with dragon breath lighting effects.

West Lake, for Relaxing Near Vietnam’s Oldest Temple

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Lap up some calm in hectic Hanoi with a trip to West Lake, in the Tay Ho district. This is a beautiful spot to while away an afternoon by taking a stroll along the water, or renting a bike and cycling the 17km (11mi) loop around the lake. There are various points of interest alongside the footpath, including gardens, seafood restaurants, and Vietnam’s oldest temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda, dating back to the sixth century. If you fancy seeing things from a different perspective, rent a swan pedalo;at night the twinkling lights on the water make for a beautiful photo opportunity.

Vũng Tàu, for the Best Surfing

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This seaside resort is full of golden beaches and glistening blue waters, making it the perfect weekend getaway. It’s the closest beach destination to Ho Chi Minh City, with buses and ferries regularly running between the two cities. Hit Front Beach to watch the sunset or, if you’re looking for adventure, head to Back Beach, the best surf spot in Vietnam, where you can also try SUPing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. On land, there are lots of hiking opportunities along the coast, plus the city’s two mountains – Big Mountain and Small Mountain – serve up superb coastal views.

Phan Thiet, for Desert Landscapes

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You might not associate Vietnam with deserts, but the southeast coastal city of Phan Thiet is home to Saharan-like red and white dunes. This is just one of the geological gems this area has to offer – the Fairy Stream (a dramatic landscape of reds, oranges, whites and pinks) is another must-see spot; take comfortable shoes and wade through clear waters from Ham Tien’s Dinh mountain.The white sand beaches in Phan Thiet are equally photogenic and, if you’re into kitesurfing, this is the place to be.

Haiphong, for French Colonial Architecture

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Headto Haiphong in northeastern Vietnam to explore the French colonial architecture and nearby islets like Cat Ba and Halong Bay. It’s nicknamed the City of Flame Flowers, because most of the streets are lined with Royal Poinciana flame flower trees; visit between May and June to see the flowers in full bloom. The leafy boulevards have a real European feel; look out for the neoclassical Opera House and the elegant Queen of the Rosary Cathedral, dating to the 19th century. Meanwhile, the Do Son Buffalo Fighting Festival is a unique cultural attraction that draws huge crowds every year.
Sadie Whitelocks contributed additional reporting to this article.

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