There’s no denying that Vietnam is now a heavyweight on the Asian travel scene, with an estimated 11 million backpackers, tourists, and visitors every year. This narrow country running 1,025 miles north-south is also defined more by its geography than most nations. In fact, the country once notoriously known for the bloody Vietnam war has now reconciled (and is one of the safest countries to visit in Asia or the entire world!), but there are still vast differences between its two major cities. Hanoi in the north is the home of most governmental offices and is still markedly communist, which is the official political party of Vietnam. Far to the south, however, you’ll find Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), which is actually a bustling, cosmopolitan and vastly energetic international business community.
But forget politics, because Vietnam is all about the emerald green hills and countryside, gorgeous islands, endless coastline, picturesque culture, and amazing food! It’s truly a travelers’ dream and one of the most photogenic places you’ll ever visit.
I’ve had the pleasure of not only traveling to Vietnam but living there for a season. Most tourists end up flying into Saigon and heading north, eventually ending up in Hanoi, or vice versa. In fact, a lot of people are now renting motorbikes and touring the entire coastline that way, but you can also take trains everywhere, buses, or the lazy man’s favorite (me) – short flights.
Other than Saigon and Hanoi, here are my 5 best things to do and see for travelers:
Ha Long Bay
When you’re only about 80 miles out of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is a majestic, impossibly beautiful, and almost magical natural inlet with striking geological formations. Stay a few days and take plenty of boat trips and photo tours around the Bay, and you can even paddle board through it!
This is one of my favorites, as this historic city in Southern Central Vietnam is a culture lover’s dream. Walk the streets of this charming 2,000-year-old city and take in the architecture, waterways, temples, artwork everywhere, and lanterns and floating displays. Feel free to get lost, try the incredible street food and markets, and snap a million photos – but get ready for quite a lot of beggars and pushy salespeople!
This city on the banks of the Perfume River (no kidding – that’s really the name!) in the central party of the city, and was once the capital during the Nguyen dynasty. You can still capture that historic era in Hue’s architecture with countless temples, pagodas, shrines, and even royal buildings intact.
I’ve talked a lot about Nha Trang before, which is the southern-central city right on the sea where I lived. It’s a great, balanced place for expats and visitors alike, with amazing hikes in the mountains, gorgeous beaches nearby as well as its own immense bay, and tons of street food to try! Nha Trang also has one of the best party scenes in Vietnam!
There’s no denying that it can get hot and sticky in Vietnam’s tropical climate, so for a respite from the high temps, head into the hills of Dalat. There, you’ll find striking beauty with evergreen and pine forests, valleys shrouded in mist, and majestic vistas. Thanks to its more enjoyable climate year-round, Dalat was actually the summer destination for Vietnam’s royalty, rich, and important officials.
And of course, if you find yourself hungry in Vietnam, make sure to get some Pho! If you can’t make it to Vietnam, here’s another location that’s arguably the best in the nation, and it’s in Las Vegas.