Visitors come from all over the world to see Vietnam’s magnificent landscape, and experience the unique culture, cuisine, and warm hospitality.
Going from the north of the country to the south, here are some of the places to explore.
The North is known for its spectacular bays, rice terraces, and breathtaking scenery. Unlike southern Vietnam, where there are only sunny and rainy seasons, travellers can feel spring, summer, fall and winter in the North. This region is the cradle of the country’s thousand-year culture with various historic sites.
The capital city of Hanoi is the first destination that visitors should explore, as this is where the essence of Vietnam’s cultural history is preserved. It is home to many historic relics and symbolic architecture. The One Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature were influenced by an East Asian style while the Hanoi Opera House and Long Biên bridge showcase the graceful beauty of French design.
In the capital, travellers are treated with such unique dishes as cốm (young rice grains), bún chả (grilled pork with rice vermicelli), bún đậu (tofu, pork and rice vermicelli, with fermented shrimp paste on the side) and egg coffee.
Sapa is a small village hidden in a curtain of haze. It is nestled along the Hoàng Liên Sơn moutain range where Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam, is located. On “the rooftop of Indochina,” you can see endless blue sky and vast rice terraces between the tiny hamlets.
Sapa is where the highland markets take place. Here, the locals sell interesting souvenirs made from native materials. The most distinct are delicate brocade skirts, bags and clothes artistically woven by local women. If you come to Sapa between mid-December and mid-January, the picturesque, snow-covered space will demand you take a lot of photos.
Hạ Long Bay
Hạ Long Bay is recognized by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Area. Its exceptional scenic beauty and extraordinary view span 1,969 islands and islets formed more than 500 million years ago.
To start off your day trip, sail across the bay to see the seascape of limestone pillars, or go island-hopping and listen to the stories of each island.
Legend has it that Hạ Long Bay was created when the Jade Emperor sent dragons down from heaven to help the Vietnamese fight against invaders from the north. As the enemy fled, the dragons decided to stay in the mortal world, forming countless islands and islets. Trống Mái islet is a must-visit spot.
Central Vietnam is a narrow coastal strip of land. Although it is prone to devastating floods and storms, Mother Nature still bestows the land with stunning beaches, romantic islands, and wholesome specialties.
Located in the heart of the central region, Huế is known as an ancient and poetic cultural city. The Imperial City of Huế was the country’s capital for 140 years during the Nguyễn Dynasty. The Complex of Huế Monuments has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
Huế is also famous for its royal cuisine which includes spring rolls in the shape of a phoenix and a special tea. Other popular dishes include bún bò Huế (Hue spicy beef noodle soup), bánh bèo (water fern cake) and cơm hến (baby clam rice).
Around 100 km from Huế is Đà Nẵng, the most liveable place in Vietnam thanks to its fresh air and splendid sights. Here, visitors can experience the sea, rugged mountains and lush deltas. In addition to sunbathing on My Khe beach, visitors can see some of the most beautiful and iconic bridges in Vietnam. One not to miss is Dragon Bridge, which went into full operation in 2013. In the shape of a dragon, it set the Guinness record for being the “longest steel dragon” and has the most unique design in Vietnam, according to the World Bridge and Road Association.
Compared to bustling Đà Nẵng, Hội An is an ancient and peaceful city. Once the largest trading port in Southeast Asia, Hội An retains a rustic yet elegant beauty. Many antiquated houses with mossy walls stand side by side and there is a wide range of art galleries and boutiques. Other iconic sights are the lantern streets, Chàm Island, Chùa Cầu (Japanese Covered Bridge), and Cửa Đại Beach. The specialities to enjoy here include mì Quảng (noodle with meat marinated in turmeric) and cao lầu (rice noodle with pork and herbs in broth).
Without the majestic mountains of the North and the ancient architecture of the Central area, Southern Vietnam charms with its tranquility. Located nearer to the equator, this part of the country has a tropical climate and is warm all year round.
The South’s cultural, economic and political centre is Saigon. Once nicknamed the “Pearl of the Orient,” the city has never ceased to appeal to local and foreign visitors. One of the largest cities in Vietnam, it contains modern skyscrapers, amusement parks, and busy shopping malls as well as historic buildings. Some notable structures are the Rex Hotel (constructed in 1927 and renovated from 1959 to 1975) and Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (completed in 1880). There are also traditional markets that have been running for decades. Besides the familiar Bến Thành market in District 1, travellers will be surprised by the hospitality, warmth, and generosity of the Saigonese when they stop by Bình Tây Market in District 6 or Tân Định Market in District 3.
The Mekong Delta comprises 13 provinces in southwestern Vietnam, including Long An, Tiền Giang, Kiên Giang, and Cà Mau – the southernmost point of the mainland.
This region has vast rice fields, a complex river system that offers many freshwater fish and warm, hospitable people.
Southern flavors are sweet and bold. Try bún mắm (fermented fish noodle soup) and coconut candy in Bến Tre. When in the Mekong Delta area, don’t forget to shop at the floating markets – a distinct cultural activity of Southwestern residents.
Phú Quốc Island
The final stop on this long journey across Vietnam is Phú Quốc – an island located in the Gulf of Thailand, a part of Kiên Giang province. An alluring tropical paradise, the island is known for its captivating, unspoiled beaches. The most remarkable is Bãi Sao (Star Beach) with crystal blue water and white sand, where star fish can be found scattered along the seashore.
Rạch Vẹm is a tranquil fishing village that stands out with its untouched beauty. In other traditional villages you can learn how locals make fish sauce, produce pearls, and grow black and other peppers. You can also visit VinWonders, Vietnam’s largest theme park. If you are looking for a quiet place to clear your head, Hộ Quốc is the the most beautiful and sacred temple in Phú Quốc.
A Phú Quốc tour cannot end without fresh seafood. Shrimp, crabs, oysters, sea urchin, and squid are often minimally seasoned and cooked so diners can enjoy their full flavors.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt