Halong City (Ha Long) – about 3½ hours from Hanoi – is the main departure point for boat trips. It comprises two smaller towns, Bai Chay and Hon Gai: Bai Chay is the departure point for boat trips around the bay and is where the majority of hotels, tour agencies and restaurants are located. Shops here specialise in kitsch souvenirs fashioned from pearl, coral and limestone.
The best time to visit Halong is in warmer weather, from April to October, as you can swim off the boat and relax on sundecks. During the peak typhoon season in September, boats may cancel due to bad weather. Between January and March, the weather can be cool and drizzly, but even then, Halong Bay is a worthwhile excursion. It is important to note the weather before setting out as rough seas have led to serious accidents. Indeed, in 2011, two accidents, the first killing 12 tourists (the other, fortunately, had no fatalities), led to much new government oversight but little real development of safety standards.
Located in Ho Chi Minh City, you can pay your respects to the God Father of modern Vietnam at the mausoleum where his body rests. He only allows visitors for a couple of hours a day and is closed on selected days so it’s definitely worth getting there early as thousands will be flocking there throughout the early morning.
Nha Trang Beach
Nha Trang is a coastal resort city in southern Vietnam known for its beaches, scuba diving and offshore islands. Its main beach is a long, curving stretch along Tran Phu Street backed by a promenade, hotels and seafood restaurants. Cable cars cross over to Hòn Tre island and the Vinpearl Resort, with a golf course, water park and fairground.
Year-round cool weather and idyllic scenery of misty valleys, lush pine trees and colorful flowers are some of the reasons that Dalat was once used by Vietnamese emperors and French colonials as a summer retreat. Today, this charming town in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam is a popular destination for those looking for relief from the heat. A walkable city, Dalat is a beautiful scene of French colonial architecture and villas set amid picturesque landscapes.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Hanoi)
Located in the historical center of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as the locals’ favorite leisure spot. Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later he returned the sword to the Golden Turtle God in the lake.
Surrounded by pictorial mountains, rice terraces and a diversity of hill tribes in the remote northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a quiet town frequently used as a base for trekking in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains and touring rice paddies and traditional villages. From the town, there are many organized tours that aide tourists in mountain hikes and exploring the nearby rice paddies and remote villages. These tours present views of beautiful waterfalls and the opportunities to experience the food, customs and way of life among the local tribes.
Colorful floating markets, fruit orchards, rice paddies, sugar cane groves, bird sanctuaries and quaint villages are all what draw many to the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam. Nicknamed “Vietnam’s Rice Basket,” the Mekong Delta is an agricultural region made fertile by the maze of canals and streams fed by the Mekong River. Stretching from the Gulf of Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta feeds more than a third of the country from its rich plantations, orchards, rice paddies and fish farms.
This fishing-village-turned-tourist-attraction is situated on the coast of the South China Sea. Hoi An has been an international port from the 16th century although the serious shipping business has long since moved to the city of Da Nang. The heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shops. It is sometimes called the “Venice of Vietnam” because of the narrow canals that cut through part of the town.
Located on the central coast of Vietnam near the Duy Phú village is the important archaeological site known as My Son. One of Southeast Asia’s most notable ancient sites, My Son was once a significant center of religious Hindu ceremonies where the kings of the Champa Kingdom built numerous temples devoted to the worship of the god, Shiva, between the 4th and 14th centuries.
Cao Dai Temple
One of the most sacred attractions in Vietnam is the Cao Dai Temple, which was constructed in the 1930s. Caodaism is a uniquely Vietnamese religion that is influenced by elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and even Roman Catholicism. In the main building of the Cao Dai Temple, there are four prayers conducted daily, and visitors can watch or even participate in the ceremonies. In addition to the temple, which boasts beautiful murals, the complex is home to many additional residences, administrative buildings and even a hospital.
Phu Quoc Island
Located in front of the Cambodia coast, Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam. Phu Quoc is what Phuket would be if it hadn’t been overrun by development. The island features pristine tropical forests, undamaged coral reefs and great beaches. One of its beaches, named Bai Dai (Long Beach), was chosen by the ABC News as one of five beautiful and clean beaches. Phu Quoc is famous for producing the best nuoc mam or fermented fish sauce in the world.
Imperial Citadel (Hue)
For nearly 150 years until World War II, the Imperial Citadel of Hue served as the capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty. In the very center of these secure walls was the Purple Forbidden City, an area reserved exclusively for the royal family. The enormous Imperial Citadel was also a strategic hold during the Vietnam War, as it stands very close to the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam. This destination is significant for all those who are interested in the history of the nation.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during the Vietnam War, and were the base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system.