25 Don’t-Miss Things to do in Vietnam (North and South)

Vietnam is one of South East Asia’s most beautiful countries.

Not only does the country have diverse scenery but there are so many different things to do in Vietnam. And with so many options, it can make planning a trip sound a little daunting.

Hoi An - One of the best things to do in Vietnam

To be honest, the list of what to do in Vietnam could almost be endless and every town, city and region will have its own special places that are worth visiting.

Fortunately, traveling through Vietnam can be both enjoyable and relatively stress-free.

This list is ideal if you’re looking for a flavor of the whole country. Below are 25 don’t-miss things to do in Vietnam including incredible places to visit in Vietnam from natural wonders, to historical sites and food and drink.

Where is Vietnam?

Vietnam (or Viet Nam) is on the easternmost coast of Mainland Southeast Asia.

It borders Cambodia and Laos to the west and China to the north. The capital of the country is the northern city of Hanoi however its largest city is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south.

The country has gone through many conflicts in its history most notably the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975 which split the country in two.

Vietnam reunified in 1976 and is one of the few communist states in the world.

How Long Should You Visit Vietnam?

To have a pretty thorough trip to Vietnam and be able to travel to both the north and south, I’d recommend spending around four weeks in the country.

Of course, this isn’t always possible.

If you’re only able to spend one or two weeks in Vietnam, I’d recommend focusing on fewer areas and not try to plan a tour of the entire country.

But if you can visit for longer, it’s ideal to fly into the north or south and then leave from the other end of the country.

Personally, I believe that North Vietnam is the real highlight. I would suggest starting your trip in the south in Ho Chi Minh City and working your way up the country. This way, things get better the longer you’re there.

Things To Do in South Vietnam

Saigon Skydeck

Saigon Skydeck

Found on the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower is the Saigon Skydeck, a viewing deck that offers fantastic views of the Ho Chi Minh City skyline.

On the floors above the Skydeck, you’ll find the World of Heineken, a small attraction giving you a history of Heineken in Vietnam as well as a few beers included in the price.

It’s well worth combining the two in one visit. I’d also recommend visiting in the evening close to sunset to see the city during the day and then lit up at night.

If you’re only visiting North Vietnam, Hanoi has its own observation deck in the Lotte Center which has a glass floor that sticks out from the rest of the building.

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

1. War Remnants Museum

There are war sites all over the Vietnam, many of which are on this list.

The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the best museums in Vietnam and focuses on the Vietnam War.

Visiting this museum may not be the most light-hearted of activities in Vietnam, but it is incredibly interesting and informative.

You’ll find displays on the impact of the American war on the Vietnamese including the lasting effects of Agent Orange and a courtyard full of planes and tanks.

If you want to learn more about the war before visiting the country, I recommend watching Ken Burns’ documentary The Vietnam War.

It’s especially useful if you plan on visiting either the Cu Chi Tunnels or the DMZ region in Central Vietnam.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a vast network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war.

They can be found around two hours from Ho Chi Minh City and there are plenty of half day tours available from within the city.

Visiting the tunnels gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the soldiers during the war and the chance to explore them yourself.

Although they’ve been widened and reinforced to accommodate tourists, the tunnels are still small enough to be somewhat challenging.

Noir – Dining in the Dark

Noir - Dining in the Dark

A lot of the best Vietnamese food can be found throughout the country but Noir is unique to Ho Chi Minh City.

The restaurant has its guests dine in pitch black to make you really think about how much you rely on your sight when eating.

Many people will recognize the concept from the film About Time where Tim and Mary meet for the first time at London’s Dans Le Noir.

Having been to both Dans Le Noir in London and Noir in Ho Chi Minh City, I can say this is a truly fantastic dining experience.

At Noir, you have the option of either the Asian or Western menu to choose from but you won’t know exactly what you’re eating until after the meal has finished.

Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta region of Vietnam is found to the south of Ho Chi Minh City where the huge Mekong River finally reaches the South China Sea.

The river flows through all of mainland South East Asia and is a popular route for tourists to take through Laos.

Day and overnight tours are run from Ho Chi Minh City where you’ll get to take a boat tour to see fruit plantations, fishing villages and floating markets.

Things To Do in Central Vietnam

Hoi An

Hoi An - Vietnam

 

Hoi An is one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam.

The city can be found about an hour south of Da Nang and is famous for its old town. Hoi An is the place for you if you’re looking for street shops, tailoring and a bustling night market.

I myself found it a bit too inundated with mass tourism, however, it’s clear to see the attraction to the city.

The streets in the old town are very pretty and quite quiet during the day. At night, the place is full of lanterns and plenty of food options to try.

The city is a great place to stay if you want to visit the My Son Temple complex, the Golden Bridge or the nearby beaches.

Golden Bridge

Golden Bridge

The Golden Bridge opened back in 2018 and has since become one of the top Vietnam attractions and Instagram hot spot.

The 150-metre long bridge is ‘supported’ by two stone hands and can be found at Ba Na Hills, close to Da Nang and Hoi An.

The only way to visit the Golden Bridge is to buy a ticket for the Ba Na Hills theme park which is further up in the mountains. This does mean it comes at a price.

The park itself is okay, there aren’t many rides and its main attraction is the French Village.

Ba Na Hills is only accessible by a network of cable cars. Vietnam has built a large number of Guinness World Record-breaking cable cars in recent years, one of which is found at Ba Na Hills boasting the ‘longest non-stop single-track cable car’.

Hai Van Pass

Drive the Hai Van Pass - Things to do in Vietnam

 

As featured on Top Gear back in 2008, the Hai Van Pass offers one of the most beautiful drives in the country.

The route goes from Da Nang to Hue and can only really be enjoyed by driving there yourself.

Unfortunately, this means driving in Vietnam which isn’t necessarily the best idea if you’re not comfortable driving abroad.

Also, if you take a bus between Hoi An or Da Nang and Hue, they don’t take the Hai Van Pass and instead use the tunnel route.

If you do decide to rent a scooter and do it yourself, you’re sure to have some of the best views during your trip to Vietnam.

Imperial City, Hue

Imperial City

Hue (pronounced ‘hway’) is one of my favorite places in Vietnam.

The city is much quieter than nearby Da Nang and Hoi An and has a lot to offer. Across the Perfume River is the huge Imperial City built in the early 1800s.

This is the place to go to simply wander around and explore. Inside are a number of historic buildings as well as gardens and fish ponds.

There isn’t much shade in the Imperial City so it’s the ideal place for a cloudy day.

DMZ Tour

DMZ Tour

One of my personal highlights of Vietnam was taking a tour of the former Demilitarized Zone and Vietnam War historical sites. Tours depart from Hue and last either half or a full day.

During the war, the north and south were separated by the Ben Hai River, almost 100km north of Hue. Today, there are memorials at the former border crossing as well as the remains of several US Air Bases.

Taking a DMZ tour is a long day lasting around ten hours but it’s a Vietnam must see if you have an interest in the war.

You’ll also have the chance to visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels, a system of tunnels used by villagers to live in and hide from airstrikes during the war.

Our tour was with Mr Vinh from Stop and Go Tours in Hue who was an excellent guide. Mr Vinh is a Vietnam War veteran so he had plenty of interesting facts and stories to share with us throughout the day.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha-Ke Bang is the place for adventure activities with a huge system of caves to explore.

You can go jungle trekking, kayaking and cave swimming as part of organised tours.

The area is also home to Hang Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest cave. However, you’d be forgiven for missing it out since visiting Son Doong Cave comes at the hefty price of $3,000 per person!

Things To Do in North Vietnam

Hanoi Street Train

Hanoi Street Train

Looking for unusual things to do in Vietnam?

Another one of the unique Vietnam tourist attractions is the Hanoi Street Train.

This narrow street is lined with cafes but every so often the tables and chairs are packed away to make space for the train to pass by.

This is a great place to go for people-watching in the city. Take a seat outside one of the cafes to enjoy an egg coffee and a Banh Mi and watch the world go round.

Although the train times vary by day, one of the most popular times for tourists seems to be for the 3:20pm train on weekends.

My favorite place to stop at is the Cafe Ga Dong Duong which is decorated inside to look like a train carriage.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh will always be in the hearts of the Vietnamese people after being instrumental in the country’s independence.

He died in 1969 before the end of the War and his embalmed body can be found in this mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square.

The Mausoleum is one of the top things to do in Vietnam and is free to enter and you’re able to see Ho Chi Minh for yourself.

The queue can get pretty long so it’s best not to go at the weekends. The whole area also has a dress code so you’ll need to cover your shoulders and not dress in anything revealing or offensive.

You’ll also find the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda within the same complex which are worth stopping by.

Thang Long Water Puppets

Thang Long Water Puppets

Looking for unique things to do in Hanoi?

I must admit, I was very surprised by the water puppet theatre in Hanoi.

Despite going in somewhat reserved, the show turned out to be funny and entertaining. The traditional show dates back over a thousand years where performances used to take place in the rice paddies.

The hour-long show has wooden puppets performing in a small pool of water as they act out scenes from Vietnam’s history and daily life.

If possible, you’ll want to sit close to the front for the best view although this does come at a higher price.

Shows at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre take place daily at 4:10pm, 5:20pm, 6:30pm and 8pm.

Occasionally, there are performances at 3pm but it’s best to check with the venue.

Tickets can be bought ahead of time to skip the queue, or at the theatre’s box office kiosk or using the self-service machines.

Military History Museum

Military History Museum

Although the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is the best war museum in the country, the Military History Museum in Hanoi is still worth visiting.

The difference is that this museum focuses on the entire history of the country and not just the war.

Like in Ho Chi Minh City, the courtyard is packed full of military vehicles. Also within the grounds is the Flag Tower, a 200-year-old building which flies the Vietnamese flag.

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison

What’s left of this French prison can be found in the heart of Hanoi. Originally built in the late 1800’s to hold Vietnamese prisoners, the prison later became the home for American POWs.

During the Vietnam War, the prisoners ironically nicknamed the prison the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.

The museum mainly focuses on the history of the prison before the war when it was used by the French and the guillotine used for executions is part of the exhibition.

Although most of the prison was demolished in the 1990’s, the main entrance still remains along with a number of cell blocks.

Like with the war museums, this isn’t a light-hearted attraction but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa - Best things to do in Vietnam

 

Another of my personal highlights of things to do in Vietnam is trekking in Sapa in the far north of Vietnam close to the Chinese border.

The area has become quite a popular place for tourists looking to experience the Vietnamese scenery and rice fields but there are tours out there that avoid the crowds.

Our experience in Sapa was fantastic and I’d highly recommend taking the same tour to see the best of Vietnam up north. You’ll get the chance to see mountains, waterfalls and endless rice paddies while being guided by a local tribes person.

Halong Bay (Bai Tu Long Bay) 

 Bai Tu Long Bay

Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.

Because of that, Halong Bay itself has become somewhat overcrowded with tourist cruises and many visitors report of dirty and polluted waters.

There is another option in Bai Tu Long Bay, a quieter area close to Halong Bay with much the same geography.

Cruises around Bai Tu Long Bay still leave from the Halong Bay ports but take a different route. There are also fewer tour companies permitted to run cruises in Bai Tu Long Bay.

I’d personally recommend taking a three-day cruise of Bai Tu Long Bay to maximise your time in the beautiful area.

Cooking Class

The food in Vietnam is quite special and good food always tastes better when you’ve cooked it yourself.

Taking a cooking class is a great opportunity to learn about Vietnamese cuisine and learn some new recipes.

We took a class at the Rose Kitchen in Hanoi where you can make classic dishes including Pho, Bun Cha and Egg Coffee – more about those coming up.

The class was fantastic and also included a market tour to pick up ingredients beforehand and gave us a taste of Vietnamese daily life.

Food & Drink

Like many cultures, the best of Vietnam can be experienced through its food.

Pho

Pho

Pho is noodle soup and one of Vietnam’s most popular meals.

The dish is a broth of rice noodles with either beef or chicken. You’ll find different takes on it all over Vietnam in restaurants and street food stands.

Bun Cha

Bun Cha is grilled or barbecued pork served alongside rice noodles and a dipping sauce.

The meat is usually pork belly or pork meatballs and the sauce is made from fish sauce, garlic, lemon juice, chilli and sugar.

To eat it, you’re often given leafy herbs to wrap the pork and noodles together before dipping in the sauce. The biggest problem with Bun Cha is how moreish it is so it can be easy to get carried away.

Spring Rolls

Fresh Spring Rolls
Fresh Spring Rolls

The only food in Vietnam I find more moreish than Bun Cha are the spring rolls.

For me, spring rolls are the best food in Vietnam. You’ll find both fried and fresh spring rolls with the fresh ones being healthier but the fried ones are usually tastier.

The Vietnamese wrap their fried spring rolls in rice paper giving them a unique crispy outside.

Fried spring rolls are often filled with pork, vegetables and mushrooms while fresh ones contain prawns and pork.

Banh Mi

 Banh Mi - Cafe Ga Dong Duong

With a lot of French influence in Vietnam, it’s unsurprising to find baguettes as one of their most famous foods.

A Banh Mi is a baguette often filled with pork, pâté and salad but most Banh Mi places will have a few different options.

Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An is often regarded to be the best in Vietnam after being plauded by Anthony Bourdain, however, we found it to be somewhat underwhelming.

The best Banh Mi we had in Vietnam was at the Cafe Ga Dong Duong in Hanoi, one of the Street Train cafes.

The best thing about Banh Mi is that it’s cheap, one baguette will cost about 20,000 VND which is less than $1 USD. It also goes perfect with an egg coffee.

Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee

Egg coffee, also known as Cafe Trung, is essentially a black coffee topped with egg custard.

It tastes similar to tiramisu and you can get them hot or iced. You’ll be able to find it all over Vietnam and every cafe has its own version.

The idea is believed to originate from times after the Vietnam War when fresh milk was sparse and so egg yolk was used in its place. Many cooking classes will also give you the chance to make your own.

Rice Wine

Rice wine tends to be homemade out in Vietnamese villages and you’ll come across it if you visit the rural areas such as Sapa.

They call it ‘happy water’ simply because drinking it makes you happy!

Although it’s called ‘wine’, it tastes more like a strong whiskey. The alcohol content can vary considerably depending on who has made it so it’s best to drink it slowly to avoid a tough morning the following day.

Vietnam Travel Tips 

Language

The official language is Vietnamese. However, English is understood and spoken in most tourist areas so it isn’t an issue getting by.

Religion

The primary religion is Buddhism with a very small percentage of Christians. If you visit any sacred sites such as temples or churches, you will be expected to dress and act respectfully.

Currency

Vietnamese Dong (VND) and US Dollars (USD). VND is not easy to get in advance, however, you’ll often get a better rate if you take USD in cash and convert it in Vietnam to VND.

USD is accepted in many places but not all. Prices will usually be displayed in VND.

Credit Cards

Accepted but not everywhere.

You will be able to use cards in many convenience stores such as 7 Eleven and Circle K. However, many small restaurants and cafes may not accept them so it’s best to carry cash wherever you go.

Visas

Depending on your nationality, you may require a tourist visa.

A few countries are exempt for single-entry stays up to 15 days such as the UK. However, most countries, such as the USA, require a tourist visa for entry.

Visas can be done online in advance as an e-visa or by getting a VOA (Visa On Arrival) at the airport. If you get a VOA, you will have to pay the fee ($25 USD) at the airport in USD cash only.

WiFi

Almost everywhere you go in Vietnam will have WiFi.

Most cafes and restaurants will have it too and usually at high speeds. You will only struggle to find WiFi in rural areas such as Sapa.

Scams

As with any country, there are people out there who prey on tourists.

Vietnam is generally a safe country but always be mindful of scams and anything too good to be true.

Some tips to avoid them:

  • Always double check your bills, receipts and change
  • Only use official taxis
  • Always check travel agency reviews – ‘copycat’ stores pop up from time to time
  • Never, ever buy drugs in Vietnam – it’s highly illegal and sellers may be working with the police

Getting Around

Transport - Vietnam Airlines

Moped/Bike

If you’re brave and experienced enough to get your own transport, you’ll find bikes and mopeds everywhere.

Renting can be cheap but always make sure to agree on the price upfront and check for any damage before accepting.

It’s worth pointing out that driving in Vietnam is really not for beginners. The roads aren’t always well maintained and the locals are renowned for bad driving.

If in doubt, don’t take the risk and use public transport instead.

And make sure your travel insurance policy covers moped/motor bike activity, as usually it’s an additional coverage option! 

Taxis

If you want to get around a city or travel short distances, taxis in Vietnam are a godsend.

The easiest way to get a taxi is by downloading the Grab app  to your phone. It’s essentially the same as Uber and covers most of Southeast Asia.

Prices on Grab are always clear so it takes away from any awkward negotiations with drivers. They’re also a safe way to travel around and you can pay using credit cards on the app.

Buses

Buses are a great option when travelling between towns and cities and they’re reasonably cheap.

You can also travel the entire length of Vietnam using various bus routes including long night buses.

Personally, I think these are great for short distances but the night buses are not the most comfortable despite many having bed-like seats.

Buses are fitted out to accommodate locals who are, on average, shorter than Westerners so you may struggle to lie down if you’re particularly tall.

Trains

Transport - Sleeper Train
Transport – Sleeper Train

Vietnam has an impressive train network connecting north and south.

The night trains are also a lot more comfortable than the buses but do come at a higher price. We used the night train in Vietnam and it was very clean in the sleeper cabins.

The only downside is that sleeper cabins on trains usually have four beds so you may be sharing with strangers if you’re travelling solo or as a couple.

Flights to Vietnam

The most comfortable and often quickest way to travel around Vietnam is by plane although it can be considerably more costly than any ground transportation.

Vietjet Air is a cheap, budget airline with many routes although they are renowned for having delays. Alternatively, Vietnam Airlines is a fantastic option although they are often a lot more costly than Vietjet Air.

The country has many airports, but the most important ones for the things to do in Vietnam on this list are:

  • Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) – Ho Chi Minh City
  • Da Nang International Airport (DAD) – Da Nang
  • Phu Bai Airport (HUI) – Hue
  • Dong Hoi Airport (VDH) – Dong Hoi
  • Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) – Hanoi

Map of Vietnam

All of the places mentioned above can be found on this map of Vietnam:

Planning a Trip to Vietnam 

Accommodation in Vietnam

For a wide range of Vietnam accommodation options from hotels in Vietnam to apartments, homestays and hostels, Booking.com can find you the best price with a no cancellation fee.

Find your ideal Vietnamese accommodation by using the search bar. Booking.com are an official partner of ours.

 

Popular Tours of Vietnam

  • Worried about traveling alone and the logistical hassle of planning a trip to Vietnam? G Adventures is our preferred recommendation for group tours for their quality, adventure and service to giving back to local communities. See all Vietnam group tours here. 
  • Our partner, the Get Your Guide tour company offers tour operators with many Vietnam tours and attractions tickets. They have the lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges.

You can pre-book tickets and skip the line at top attractions and cancel up to 24 hours before. Some best-selling tours are below:

 

 

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Not having travel insurance on an overseas trip (or domestic) is not worth the risk. Anything can, will, and sometimes goes wrong.

What happens if:

  • You need to cancel your trip unexpectedly
  • You get sick or injured on your trip
  • Your luggage is lost or stolen
  • There is a terrorist event
  • You lose your passport
  • A hurricane damages your destination

Travel insurance is designed to cover unexpected medical emergencies and events such as trip cancellation, your personal effects, lost, stolen or damaged luggage by an airline, and other related losses incurred while traveling.

We at yTravel Blog are ambassadors of Allianz travel, who want you to travel happy! Non-Americans might want to consider World Nomads for your insurance.

In Summary

Writing about Vietnam makes me remember just how many amazing places to visit in Vietnam there are!

The whole country is full of fantastic scenery and interesting history. Vietnam really is a highlight of South East Asia and I’m sure you’ll find something on this list of best things to do in Vietnam that you will enjoy.

Editor’s note: We agree with almost everything Oli says about Vietnam in this post. We traveled for 6 weeks through Vietnam in 2002.

We preferred the north to the south and our favorites were Hue, Hanoi and trekking in Sapa. Nha Trang and Mui Ne in the South were also amazing. Vietnam is an incredible destination to explore. Now I want to go back. – Caz

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2 thoughts on “25 Don’t-Miss Things to do in Vietnam (North and South)”

  1. Thank you for bringing very useful information about my country to international friends.
    But unfortunately, you did not mention DaLat, this is a place with impressive natural beauty in Vietnam.
    DaLat has both modern European culture and traditional culture of indigenous people that have been preserved for a long time.

    1. Yes. We love Dalat too! there’s so many amazing places in Vietnam, it’s hard to list them all. The post would never end!

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