Nestled in the southern highland region of the country, picturesque Đà Lạt is a refreshing break from the south’s tropical climate. Cool temperatures and fresh air – not the mention the gorgeous surroundings – make Đà Lạt a must-see destination. You can catch a quick flight from Saigon or hop on a 5-7 hour bus journey (depending on traffic, of course).
Cát Bà Island
Cát Bà Island lies on the southeastern edge of Vietnam’s iconic Ha Long Bay and is a regular top choice for travelers. Pristine beaches, clear waters, and dense jungles make this island extremely popular during high season, so it’s best to try and visit when the crowds are low outside of June-August.
Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city and lies approximately 30 k.m. north of Hoi An. This is the city you’ll fly into before driving south into the colonial town, but Da Nang is also a great city to explore. Like any coastal Vietnamese town or city, Da Nang’s white sand and clear water beaches are a must for beach lovers and it has some fabulous nightlife as well. The Dragon Bridge is illuminated at night and the whole city looks incredible from the vantage point of one of its many rooftop bars.
Charming colonial Hoi An is another top choice for Vietnamese and foreign vacationers. The old city is full of colonial architecture and is a lovely place to take in an early morning or late afternoon stroll, when the sun is no longer at its blistering peak. Lush gardens, illuminated lanterns glowing after dark, good food and gorgeous beaches await at this dreamy, ancient spot in central Vietnam.
Phú Quốc island is undergoing massive construction to accommodate the recent flood of domestic and foreign tourists and is predicted to become Asia’s top vacation destination in the coming years. However, with tourism comes trash, and unfortunately plastic waste is increasingly being washed ashore. Phú Quốc is home to dense jungles and stunning waterfalls and the northern beaches are still relatively untouched by tourism.
This northern province shares a border with China and is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes in Vietnam. Terraced rice fields, forested limestone and granite mountains, and magnificent caves are this province’s claims to fame, as well as Quản Bạ pass – also known as Heaven’s gate for its panoramic views of terraced rice fields.
Sa Pa is a town situated in northwestern Hoàng Liên Son Mountains and close to Phang Xi Pang, Vietnam’s highest peak. The town is home to some of Vietnam’s indigenous tribes, such as the H’Mông people, who regularly offer authentic homestays and guided tours of the surrounding glorious landscape as well as climbs up Phang Xi Pang.
Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’ is a huge maze of rivers, swamps, small islands, and lush greenery everywhere you look. The inhabitants’ main modes of transportation are small boats. When visiting you’ll have tons of options: stay in a quaint homestay on the river, visit the bustling town of Can Tho, tour ride paddies, or even visit a crocodile farm! Keep your eyes peeled on the river, though – thousands of families breed crocodiles in the region and unknown numbers of the giant reptiles have escaped into the mighty Mekong.
Sơn Đoòng Cave
Located near Vietnam’s border with Laos in the north-central province of Quang Binh, Sơn Đoòng Cave is known as the largest cave passage in the world. Stretching more than 5 k.m. and large enough to house an entire block of New York City, Sơn Đoòng Cave is an unparalleled adventure.
However, the cave currently sits in the center of controversy as developers contemplate installing a cable car system to accommodate more tourists. Environmentalists strictly oppose this proposition as it will undoubtedly damage the cave’s fragile environment. Perhaps its best to embark on a virtual tour instead and keep this rare, pristine ecosystem to be protected from the masses.
Ban Gioc Waterfall
This is actually the name for two waterfalls on the Quây Sơn River lying within the UNESCO-recognized Cao Bang Geopark in northeastern Vietnam. The falls straddle the border of Vietnam and China and measure an impressive 30 meters. These falls are in an extraordinarily scenic location and they are one of the few places best to see during the monsoon season between May-October, when the river’s flow is at its maximum.
Côn Đảo Islands
The Con Dao islands form an archipelago southeast of Phu Quoc, with Côn Đảo its largest. The island played a significant role during the Indochina war as it was where many French political prisoners were held and executed. It is also the location where Vietnam’s national heroine was put to death at age 19. Make sure to visit her tomb and nearby museum before, or after, enjoying the island’s splendid beaches.
Huế is a historical city in central Vietnam that housed the last emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. The ancient citadel is a spectacular sight to behold, especially during the annual Huế festival. There are temples, pagodas, and delicious cuisine famous throughout the country. Along the Perfume River are multiple tombs of former Nguyen dynasty emperors – make sure to visit the architecturally ornate tomb of ancient emperor Khải Định.
Mũi Né Sand Dunes
Vietnam really has it all – you can even experience the desert. The red and white sand dunes of Mũi Né are very popular with tourists and locals on a weekend trip from Saigon. Quad bikes and dune buggies are abound, so don’t expect any peace and quiet. Check the time before you schedule a trip there – no one wants to be on the dunes when the sun is at its peak. It’s best to go super early to avoid the scorching heat.
Cát Tiên National Park
This protected, tropical forest is a 3-4 hour bus ride north of Saigon and is home to diverse wildlife, including several endangered species of monkeys and rare tropical birds. Some of the gigantic trees are hundreds of years old and there are ancient temples and artifacts lying on the edge of the park. Beware, the park is also home to venomous snakes and scorpions so exercise caution when on the trails.
Hạ Long Bay
Translated as “The Bay of Descending Dragons,” this iconic Vietnamese landscape deserves its fame. Embarking on an overnight cruise though the azure waters is an experience like no other. Sunsets over the bay are magnificent and the mist rising off the waters adds an eerie, mysterious element to this geological wonder. It’s the number one tourist destination in Vietnam so it can be crammed during high season, but gazing at the limestone formations in the water is worth it.