Vietnam is one of the most popular places to visit in Southeast Asia because of its beauty, peaceful local life, charm and stunning landscapes. There’s also so much to do in Vietnam. You can go visit the islands, lay on one of many beaches, cruise around Halong Bay, go shopping in the big cities and eat some of the tastiest food you’ll ever had.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Vietnam anytime soon, you might want to take a look at this list of the most famous tourist attractions in Vietnam. If you only have a limited amount of time, it can be good to have an overview of the big attractions around the country. Here are the main natural, historical and scenic sights you must visit.
1. Halong Bay
Not only is Halong Bay one of Vietnam’s most important sites, it’s also one of the most beautiful. It’s one of the top things you must visit when you’re in northern Vietnam. Halong Bay comprises of thousands of limestone islands and islets where you can cruise around for one day or more, on overnight boats. Legend has it that when the Vietnamese were attacked in Halong Bay, a dragon mother and her children came and fought alongside the Vietnamese. Impressed by the surroundings, they decided to stay in the bay and descended into the sea. Halong Bay means “descending dragon” in ancient Vietnamese. In 1994 it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage. In the area, you can also find a number of underground caves you can explore, or hop onto the biggest island of Halong Bay, Cat Ba, and lay in one of the pristine beaches.
Further north, you’ll find the magical Sapa, with its ethnic tribes and rice fields as far as the eye can see. Sapa is for the people who loves to be surrounded by nature and wants to get to know a different part of Vietnam. This mountainous area is perfect for trekking or doing day hikes. One of the most popular things to do in Sapa is to stay at a homestay with the Hmong, eat authentic local food and immerse yourself in their culture and traditions.
3. Mekong Delta
To the south, you have the lovely Mekong Delta, where you can visit the floating villages, pagodas and visit the Can Gio Biosphere Reserve, which is listed by UNESCO. The river starts in the Himalayas and passes through numerous countries in Asia such as Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, before finally reaching Vietnam. The river is vital to the Vietnamese diet and economy because more than half of the country’s rice and fish comes from this region.
1. Hoa Lo Prison
The famous Hoa Lo Prison, also famously known as “Hanoi Hilton”, is one of Vietnam’s most important historical museums. Nothing can really prepare you for this visit. It’s both creepy, fascinating and horrifying. The museum is not for the faint hearted, yet it’s such an important part of Vietnam’s history that it should be a shame if you missed out on visiting the Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was built by the French in 1886 and completed its renovation 1913. The museum takes you back to the French colonialism times to the Vietnam war. If you want to visit the prison, it’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day with a lunch break from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
In the former capital city of Vietnam, you can walk around the ancient Imperial City, explore palaces, tombs and marvel at the amazing architecture. If you’re a history enthusiast, Hue is the perfect place for you to visit. Even if you’re not, it’s still an incredibly beautiful place where you get to know more about the Nguyen dynasty.
3. Hoi An
Arguably one of the most popular and beautiful cities in Vietnam, Hoi An is a feast for your eyes and it’s difficult to leave once you get there. Although the city itself is quite small, there’s so much to do and see in Hoi An. It was also classified as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The ancient town is where most travelers go to and stay at. During the day, you can see all the colors of the city, visit some of many beautiful souvenir shops, snap a few photos by the main sites and cool down in a bohemian café. At night, the city lights up with thousands of lanterns and it’s impossible to not get impressed by Hoi An then.
4. Cu Chi Tunnels
Just outside of Ho Chi Minh City, there’s the Cu Chi Tunnels which was used during the Vietnam war. This amazing tunnel network was constructed during both the French and American wars. Inside, you can find hospitals, schools and living quarters. Today it’s an important piece of history where you can walk around with a guide who will explain you how and why the tunnels were being used. If you’re brave enough, you can even crawl through the tunnels yourself. Beware though – it’s not for people with claustrophobia.
1. Hai Van Pass
The famous Hai Van Pass runs from Hue to Hoi An, or the other way around, and can be done on a scooter or train. The most famous option though is to go with a company where you can either get your own scooter or ride along with an experienced driver along the Hai Van Pass. On one side, you’ll see the mountains while on the other side, you’ll see the unspoilt beaches. It’s a breathtaking and impressive ride along one of Vietnam’s most scenic routes.
2. Ma Pi Leng Pass
Far up in the north is the Ma Pi Leng Pass in Ha Giang. The people who find their way this far north often recalls it as the most scenic pass in the entire Vietnam. Thanks to the lush mountains and the unspoilt landscapes, it’s hard to not fall in love with Ma Pi Leng Pass. The best way to do this route is by motorbike but if you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can always use the local motorbike taxi (xe om), go with a local bus or take a taxi.
Before you arrive to Vietnam, make sure to apply for a visa in order to enter the country. If you are not on the visa exempt list, or you wish to stay for longer than your visa-free days, you are obligated to apply for a visa. Depending on the country you’re from, you have three options: either you get one of the online visas, Visa on Arrival or E-Visa, or you go to the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate and apply with them.