The choices can be overwhelming when it comes to pinpointing exactly what to do in Vietnam. It’s a huge country with hundreds of worthy attractions. Each Vietnamese city has its own style, history and must-see sites. If you’re lucky enough to spend a month in this country, it’s possible to hit many of the highlights. Follow out guide to make sure you don’t go home without these must-have experiences:
1. See a Water Puppet Show in Hanoi
The country’s capital boasts a huge amount of interesting history and exotic culture. One of the most unique aspects of this can be found at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi. On a stage made from water and accompanied with a traditional Vietnamese symphony, puppets tell the legends and satiric stories about traditional celebrations and the rice harvest. Why a stage of water? It’s said to have started centuries ago when farmers would provide their friends and family with entertainment from the flooded rice paddies.
2. Visit the Imperial Palace in Hue
As Vietnam’s historic hub, Hue is a picturesque riverside city showcasing cultural significance at every turn. For travelers, there’s a perfect balance of old-world authenticity blended with a modern-day city. Situated on the Perfume River, the Imperial Palace in the center of town is the best example of just how prestigious this city once was. Visitors can appreciate the sprawling complex, monuments, and ruins that was once home to the powerful Emperors who ruled over Vietnam from this ancient imperial capital.
3. Trek in Sapa Valley
The easiest way to access this region in Northern Vietnam is via night train. If you book a tour from Hanoi, the train ticket, trekking guide, and a night in a local homestay should be included. Trekking amongst the infinite green rice paddies and cool temperatures is a serene experience and a far cry from the heat, hustle, and bustle of Hanoi. Travelers will also have a chance to interact with the local village people and buy handicrafts and souvenirs from hillside tribes.
4. Cruise through Halong Bay
Don’t leave Vietnam without visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Halong Bay will leave you breathless with over 1,600 limestone karsts and glassy emerald-colored water. The best way to experience this sprawling seascape is via boat cruise. There are many different kinds of boat cruises available, from daily trips to overnight cruises. The access point for the bay is about 3 ½ hours from Hanoi and any type of boat cruise can be booked from the capital as well.
5. Visit Hoi An’s Old Town
Hoi An’s Old Town is the most charming place in the city – maybe even the country. Filled with Chinese Temples, a Japanese-inspired bridge, and colonial homes, Old Town remains a perfectly preserve example of past times. Renting a bicycle and cruising along the canals that weave through the area is the best way to discover all Hoi An’s quirks, charms, funky shops, and riverside restaurants. Having a drink or a meal at one of the venues next to the Thu Bon River – all aglow with old-fashioned lanterns – is a magical experience you won’t soon forget.
6. Get lost in Dalat’s Crazy House
Dalat is a weird and wonderful little city tucked away in the mountains of Vietnam. From it’s funky youth hostels to it winding and weaving alleyways, there’s a lot of interesting things to discover. One of the strangest things is the Hang Nga Guesthouse, better known as the Crazy House. This bizarre building was created by a Soviet-trained Vietnamese architect and is a cross between the Lost Boys treehouse in Peter Pan and an amusement park funhouse. The structure has multiple split levels connected by twisting hallways and ladders. Climb to the top and you’ll get a great view over the city!
7. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh
This 120-kilometer tunnel system was used by soldiers during the Vietnamese War. More accurately described as a tunnel complex, these crawl spaces were transformed into living areas, kitchens, and storage units where soldiers could move about and live undetected. The system was meticulously designed with trap doors, hiding places, and secret entrances disguised above ground. Tourists can visit and crawl through a small section of tunnel still open to the public and watch a movie about the tunnels’ significance. If you’re not into museums, a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is an alternative way to learn about the country’s history.
A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without trying as much of the local food as possible. The number one must-try food has to be Pho, the national dish of Vietnam. The savory broth combined with chewy rice noodles, tender meat, and topped with sprouts and mint is delicious, filling, and best of all – cheap. A bowl will run you only a couple of dollars. Another must try food are the fresh spring rolls, often found at street stalls. These coriander, pork, and prawn rollups make a perfect snack or appetizer and are a healthy alternative to the deep-fried version. The best part is the salty dipping sauce flavored with crushed peanuts and chili peppers.