There's a lot in Vietnam to cover in one vacation.
Vietnam astounds with its contrasts, from bustling metropolises brimming with energy to serene beaches and enigmatic, mist-covered mountains that transport you to a realm of ethereal beauty. It's a land where the pulse of contemporary life harmonizes with timeless landscapes, creating a mosaic of vivid experiences.
Read our 10-day itinerary for Vietnam
Here’s a list of Vietnam’s highlights, from bustling cities to historical locations that feel like going back to ancient times.
Hanoi is the go-to start for any Vietnam adventure. It's more than just a city; it's a place where you can crash in budget-friendly spots, munch on amazing food, and soak up a ton of history. It’s your doorway to the dreamy Halong Bay and lush mountain paths up northwest. Dive into the street food scene, chill in quaint cafes in the Old Quarter, and juggle between sightseeing buzz and laid-back vibes. Hanoi’s got the whole package – it’s all about that cool mix of city beats and chill spots.
Planning tip: It's a great city to start in Vietnam. To enjoy the night market visit Hanoi during the weekends.
2. Halong Bay / Lan Ha Bay
Sure, Halong Bay is the big name, but honestly, the bays up north and down south have their own cool vibe. Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay are less about the touristy rush and more about laid-back exploring.
Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay? They're chill. You won't be jostling for space with a fleet of boats. Imagine kayaking peacefully between the outcrops, without a cruise ship photobombing every scene. Over at Cat Ba Island, the gateway to Lan Ha, lush tropical trails are waiting for you. And Bai Tu Long? It's a paradise with places like Co To Island, where you can just lounge on pristine sands and forget the world.
Planning tip: Stay a night in Cat Ba Island or overboard the cruise. The early mornings are surreal in the Bay!
Sapa's like a little slice of heaven up in Vietnam's northern highlands. Picture this: cool misty mountains, crazy green rice terraces, and a bunch of different cultures all mixed. If you're into hiking and digging cool views, Sapa's your spot.
Then there's the Ha Giang Loop – basically a motorbike road trip on steroids. It's way up in Vietnam's hidden corners, with these wild steep valleys and rugged mountains. You'll cruise past villages where life's all about vibrant traditions and see some of the most awesome views Southeast Asia has to offer. Trust me, it's the kind of trip you tell your grandkids about.
We couldn't cover this wonder during our vacation, but plan to head here the next time in Vietnam.
4. Ninh Binh
Embark on an unforgettable Ninh Binh Day Tour from Hanoi, discovering the historical marvels of Hoa Lu, the natural beauty of Trang An, and the spiritual ambiance of Bai Dinh Pagoda. Marvel at ancient temples, cruise through breathtaking landscapes, and soak in the tranquility of this picturesque region. This was a splendid welcome to the Vietnamese natural wonders.
Planning tip: Visting during the winters, the boat ride is in the open and can get pretty hot during the summers.
5. Hoi An
Exploring Hoi An is like stepping into a living museum, where centuries of history and a melting pot of cultures converge. Originating as a vital trading port controlled by the Champa people, Hoi An flourished from the 15th to the 19th century. This period shaped its unique architectural landscape, blending Vietnamese, Portuguese, Dutch, Malay, and Indian influences.
Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a photographer's paradise, thanks to its remarkable preservation. The city is adorned with vibrant, colorful lanterns that create stunning visuals throughout the day. However, it's in the evening when these lanterns are lit that Hoi An truly transforms. The illuminated streets offer a magical, almost ethereal atmosphere, casting the city in a whole new light.
Planning tip: The ideal time is from February to March, with cool, dry weather, making it comfortable for exploring.
6. Ho Chi Minh
I didn't get a chance to explore Ho Chi Minh City this time, but it's definitely on my list for the next Vietnam trip. It's the heartbeat of South Vietnam, a perfect base to delve into the Mekong Delta and the island paradise of Phu Quoc. The city is steeped in Vietnam War history, offering a profound glimpse into the past. Plus, I've heard the nightlife is electric – a vibrant mix of rooftop bars and bustling streets. As a gateway to Vietnam's south, it's an ideal start for any adventure in this region. Can't wait to experience it all!
Vietnam is a rollercoaster of experiences, from Hanoi’s historic charm to Halong Bay's surreal beauty, the ancient allure of Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City’s electric pulse, and Sapa's tranquil hills. But hey, there’s more beyond these gems. Uncover hidden beaches, remote villages, and local markets.
Planning Your Trip:
Best Time to Visit: The weather's a bit of a mix. Up north, places like Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are best in spring (March to May) or fall (September to November). Down south, it's pretty tropical all year, but the dry season (November to April) is prime time for places like Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. Just dodge the public holidays for better deals and less crowds.
Transportation: Get adventurous with motorbikes, or use buses and trains for longer journeys. In cities, take a Grab or try the local Cyclos for short trips. When taking the local taxi or cyclo - a bargain from the first thing they quote.
Accommodation: From hostels for backpackers to luxury resorts, Vietnam caters to all. Book ahead in peak seasons and consider homestays for a local experience.
Embrace the unexpected in Vietnam, and let every turn reveal a new adventure!