There’s a little something for everyone in Vietnam, a dynamic Southeast Asian gem which packs all manner of sights and sounds across its narrow landscape. From Hanoi in the North to the Con Dao Islands south of the Mekong Delta, these are the top destinations you should add to your itinerary, each brimming with intoxicating experiences – whether snorkelling in Ha Long Bay’s glistening waters, slow-sipping cocktails at a sky bar in Ho Chi Minh City, or climbing up to the country’s highest mountain pass.
Best for: overwater thrills
Located about three hour’s drive east of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is an ever-popular and strong contender for water babies looking to cruise along beautiful waters. Dotted with limestone islands and surrounded by mountains, it’s a true haven whether you’re looking to discover the bay by yourself – with kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving all on hand – or hop on board a leisurely junk cruise, to let someone else do the steering as you take in the views. If it’s sun, sand and sea you’re after, make for central Vietnam’s coastline, where Da Nang and its miles of beaches await with parasailing, snorkelling, jet-skiing, banana boating and flyboarding opportunities. There’s even Sun World Danang Wonders water park, open Monday to Sunday for all the family-friendly fun you could need.
Best for: rich foodie experiences
A flavour-packed but often less celebrated mecca for foodies, Vietnam rises up as a strong contender to its Southeast Asian neighbours when it comes to offering palate-pleasing experiences. If you’re staying North, don’t miss Hanoi’s sensational street food culture – head into the old quarter to sample a steaming bowl of pho noodle soup, get your fix of Vietnamese iced milk coffee at a bustling café, or team a spicy hot pot with a refreshing local beer. Those holidaying in the south will find heaven at the floating markets in the Mekong Delta – Cai Rang is the largest, its wooden workboats brimming with fresh fruit, vegetables, coffee and plenty more edible delights.
Best for: picturesque outdoor pursuits
From Northern Vietnam down to the Mekong Delta, lovers of the great outdoors should find no trouble kicking into their hiking boots for a day of exploring. Vietnam’s national parks are as rich and diverse and they come, and are home to 16% of the world’s species – including around 16,000 varieties of flora and more than 300 mammals. For impressive scenery, wander Ba Be National Park’s hidden trails or venture past waterfalls and outstanding viewing points along Tram Ton Pass – Vietnam’s highest mountain pass at 1,900 metres between Lai Chau and Sa Pa. If it’s wildlife-spotting you’re after, take a boat tour through Su Cajuput mangrove to spot birds amidst abundant flora, or visit Cuc Phuong National Park for a chance to spot clouded leopards, Asian black bears, Delacour’s langur and myriad butterflies.
Best for: history buffs
Known as Vietnam’s Imperial City, Hue holds a long history as the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the country’s national capital from 1802 until 1945. Located in central Vietnam, it is home to royal tombs, pagodas, temples and the UNESCO-listed Imperial Citadel which, despite enduring wartime damage and destruction throughout the 20th century, remains a significant showcase of architectural, religious and historic wonder. A little further down along the coast is the port town of Hoi An, whose architecture and old centre reveal a blend of European, Japanese and Chinese heritage untouched by modernisation – and thereby offering a true glimpse into the past.
Best for: romantic rural escapes
Escape the big city bustle to find tranquillity in the hill town of Da Lat, known as the country’s most romantic destination. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking the peaceful Xuan Huong Lake, attractions here include swan paddle boating, strolling through landscaped flower gardens, sampling aromatic local wine, seeking out the best panoramic viewpoints (Pinhatt peak affords emerald vistas across Tuyen Lam Lake while Trúc Lâm Buddhist temple, reachable via a scenic cable car ride above forested valleys, overlooks the city’s colourful rooftops), and bedding down for a night in an old French-style villa. Elsewhere, the glorious rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai are a popular tourist site, yet also make for a terribly romantic backdrop if you’re seeking out rural idylls and memorable views.
Best for: buzzing nights out
There’s no end of entertainment to be found in energetic Ho Chi Minh City, where streets are lined with all manner of venues to suit your mood – from sleek sky bars serving up cocktails alongside neon-lit skyline vistas, to hip-and-happening hotspots where live music performances steal the show, to all-night party hubs in the less glamorous but no less fun backpacker district. Belt your heart out at one of many karaoke bars, or spend a more romantic night on board an evening cruise, complete with wining, dining, live music and dance performances. If you’re yearning to knock back a few beers on a glistening coastline, the city of Nah Trang in southern Vietnam is the name of the game.
Best for: unbridled rest and relaxation
If barefoot, toes-in-the-sand relaxation is all you’re after, grab a boat ride or flight to Phu Quoc Island or the archipelago of Con Dao for a chance to kick back in paradise. Located off the southwestern coast in the Gulf of Thailand, the former is home to white-sand beaches backed by a dense tropical jungle, and is your go-to for a blend of culture, nature and romantic resort holidays. The latter sits off the southeastern coast and comprises 16 mostly uninhabited islets dotted across gloriously clear waters; head here to discover a rich and expansive nature reserve, coral reefs teeming with marine life, and sea turtle nesting grounds.