Vietnam is a country of diverse beauty. Besides its awe-inspiring mountains, lush green national parks and white-sand secluded beaches, the country also surprises visitors with mouth-watering food, warm hospitality and delightful culture.
With so many things to see and do in Vietnam, first-time visitors might find it challenging to build an ideal itinerary. “I only have 4 days in Vietnam. Where should I go? What should I see?”, asked many travelers whom I have consulted while I was working at a travel agency here.
To help travelers make the most of their time in this beautiful country, 12 bloggers from all over the world have collaborated on this article to suggest the best travel experiences in Vietnam. If you are looking for some Vietnam travel inspirations as well, check out this list and note down the experiences that you find most interesting!
Are you ready to discover what Vietnam has to offer? Fasten your seatbelt and start our journey to discover the 12 best travel experiences in Vietnam!
Hiking in Sapa
Suggested by Ella from ManyMoreMaps
Visiting Sapa in the far north was one of my best travel experiences in Vietnam during my three week trip there. Sapa is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities. You can marvel at
the picturesque landscapes, slow down and then do some great hiking.
Many visitors arrive in Sapa by overnight train or bus from Hanoi, and there are lots of tour operators in the town you can book a hiking tour through. I spent one night and two days in Sapa, and stayed in a
gorgeous hotel overlooking the iconic rice paddies. However, there is accommodation for any budget, including an array of homestays for a more
I booked two days of trekking, which involved walking along the Muong Hoa valley to Y Linh Ho and the Lao Chai village. This is where the indigenous people of the H’Mong live. It was fascinating to meet these people and learn about their age-old customs and traditions, and marvel at their colorful traditional dresses. Outside the villages, the hiking tour also took us to breath-taking waterfalls and through mile after
mile of rice paddies.
Hiking in Sapa is such a unique experience in Vietnam as it gives you a real taste of the northern highlands. This area of the country is completely different to anywhere else in Vietnam and is an absolutely
unmissable stop on any Vietnam itinerary.
Joining a Cooking Class in Hoi An
Suggested by Caroline Keyzor from CKTravels
Vietnam is a food lover’s dream with many affordable and delicious dishes available from all manner of street food vendors and restaurants.
One fun food-related activity to do when visiting Vietnam is a cooking class and we enjoyed a half-day experience with a highly rated company called Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. The school is located in the countryside just outside Hoi An old town and is surrounded by water coconut palms.
As part of the cooking class, you get the chance to ride through the palms in one of their traditional bamboo basket boats whilst fishing for purple crabs! This provided some great photo opportunities and was really good fun!
As the school is located a bit further out of the main town, transport to and from your hotel is provided and a quick visit to a local fresh market is included on the way there. The tour guide gave us a brief overview about the different and exotic Asian ingredients, then once we arrived at the school we were given a demonstration of some traditional Vietnamese cooking techniques including how to make our own rice paper rolls!
The main part of the class is preparing and cooking 6 different dishes which included popular Vietnamese foods such as Phở Bò (beef noodle soup), fresh spring rolls and Bánh Xèo (crispy pancake). The class was well staffed and the whole kitchen process worked well and ran like clockwork, plus food allergies are taken seriously and it was made clear how important it was not to mix-up your food and chopping boards.
Then in the end, you all get to sit down together and eat everything you cooked with an ice-cold beer – a great activity for foodies!
Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels
Suggested by Delilah from Our Travel Mix
One experience that really stood out to me during my first trip to Vietnam was exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City.
The tunnels are one of the top attractions in Ho Chi Minh City and are a must-visit in Vietnam. The network of tunnels was fabricated by the Viet Cong, the communist troops during the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975.
The Cu Chi Tunnels served multiple purposes, including a nexus for transport to and from the villages and a way to conceal and hide from American soldiers. Having the network of tunnels would have quite literally saved lives as the opposition would not have known of their whereabouts.
I had learned about the Vietnam war in high school, but only a brief introduction. It wasn’t until I booked a trip to Vietnam that I started reading more into Vietnam’s history, and the more I read, the more I became more intrigued.
Visiting the tunnels are a way to see what life was like for the Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. The tunnels are both short in height and narrow in width, making the experience quite claustrophobic. This was an eye-opener for me; not only did it provide me with a hands-on experience involving a part of history I find so interesting, but it also made me appreciate how fortunate I have been in my life, not having to endure a war or extreme hardships.
Visiting the Temple of Literature in Hanoi
Suggested by Stefanie from The Hidden Coconut
One of my favorite things to do while traveling is visiting historical sites. I love learning about all the places you read about in books, in real life.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is tucked away by high walls just outside of the Old Town. Its original purpose was a university to study under Confuscuis. It was very prestigious and only accepted the brightest students and scholars.
When you visit the temple you’ll learn about the 5 different areas or gardens that act as levels in a student’s training. Students were required to complete all the training in order to move into the next area. The most popular area is the turtle pond, known as The Well of Heavenly Clarity. There are large statues of turtles that are engraved with the names of graduates from the school. It is believed to be good luck to rub the turtle’s head before an exam, but in order to preserve the statues, guests are no longer allowed to touch them.
I happened to visit the temple near the end of the Vietnamese school year in April. So, many local graduates came to the temple to take their graduation pictures with their class. I also caught the attention of a little 8-year-old boy and his mother while I was sitting on a bench. He wanted to practice speaking English with me, and it made the visit to the temple quite memorable since I, myself, am an ESL teacher.
Escaping the crowds at hidden beaches in Quy Nhon
Suggested by Rose Munday from Where Goes Rose?
While Vietnam is a fantastic place to visit for culture and scenery lovers, there are some corners (Hoi An, looking at you) that have become mighty busy lately.
If you’re keen to escape the crowds and find peace, there’s nowhere better than Quy Nhon Vietnam, one of the best-kept secrets in Vietnam. This coastal area in Southern Vietnam is lesser-known to tourists so it’s the perfect place to observe colorful local life while relaxing on the beach and eating fresh seafood.
Part of Quy Nhon juts off the mainland, creating a peninsular with a large sweeping cove. You can arrive into Quy Nhon city by bus or train but I’d advise swiftly catching a taxi over the water to a small beach town called Nhon Hai. Aside from a few Buddhist temples and local restaurants and street food stands, there’s not a great deal here – that’s the beauty of the place! You can swim, snorkel, relax on peaceful beaches and watch as the locals play football once the school and work day finishes.
The best place to stay is Nhon Hai Beach Hostel which has both dorm and private rooms overlooking the ocean. The generous breakfast plates of tropical fruits and juices are delicious, and healthy too. Relax with a cocktail as you watch the sun go down to end a perfect day in Vietnam.
Exploring the Waters of Ninh Binh
Suggested by Lee Nelson from The Travel Scribes
Affectionately known as ‘Ha Long Bay on Land’, Ninh Binh or – more specifically the small riverside town of Tam Coc – is a jewel in Vietnam’s already crowded travel crown.
Think limestone karsts soaring from the land around you, endless fields of flowering lilies, temples hidden in the mountainside, and a relaxed, laidback way of life as you explore it all from the back of a bicycle or, better yet, a boat. That’s since Tam Coc, located easily between the larger cities of Hanoi and Hue, is best explored by taking a boat trip on one of the many glittering rivers and lakes.
Three are a number of different rivers to explore in the Ninh Binh area, the two most famous being the Tam Coc and Trang An tours. The first is accessible directly from the town of Tam Coc as you float down the Ngo Dong river, ably steered by a local using their feet (yes, their feet!) to guide you down the river. This breath-taking tour sees you cruise through three caves, miles of rice fields and of course those stunning limestone cliffs.
Further afield is the UNESCO World Heritage Area of Trang An which, like Tam Coc, sees you float down the exquisite river on one of three different routes. The longest of these will take you through nine incredibly impressive caves (or grottoes) that have been carved out by the gushing river, as well as a number of temples and pagodas that make for some very Instagrammable content.
Regardless of your itinerary in Vietnam, it’s definitely worth adding the waters of Ninh Binh to your agenda; a uniquely Vietnamese travel experience you will never forget!
Enjoying a Coffee and Pastry at the Famous Metropole Hotel in Hanoi
Suggested by Julie from The Red Headed Traveler
Anyone who’s read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American knows that a pilgrimage to the Sofitel Metropole, a legendary grand dame of hotel royalty if there ever was one, is a requisite stop during a visit to Hanoi, especially since for most travelers, having enough đồng to stay there is out of their reach (at least that’s how it was for me when planning my time in the Vietnamese capital).
I adored Greene’s iconic work ever since I was assigned to read it in high school, one of the rarely assigned readings I actually enjoyed and whose characters and story stayed with me all these years. I knew were I to ever get to Hanoi I’d definitely enjoy a glass of the ubiquitous Vietnamese iced coffee (or cà phê sữa đá when you want to look for it on a menu) at one of the patio tables of La Terrasse, the alfresco dining option of the Metropole. I’d imagine Thomas Fowler, Greene’s protagonist, sitting at a table beside me, also taking in the always bustling activity of the city’s historic French Quarter.
And naturally, to go with my iced coffee (since let’s be real the lone complimentary cookie I was given was not going to cut it) I ordered a pastry, one exquisite enough to grace the shelves of any Paris patisserie and with Paris prices to match too. But it was worth it.
My time in Hanoi had begun in the city’s chaotic and sensory overwhelming Old Quarter and ended in the tranquil French Quarter, oozing historic charm, all the while allowing my high school self to truly bring to life a literary work of art.
Reaching the northern-most point in Vietnam
Suggested by Fiona from Fiona Travels From Asia
One of my best travel experiences in Vietnam is definitely reaching Lung Cu Flag Tower, which is the country’s northern-most point.
Situated at 1470 meters above sea level, Lung Cu Flag Tower boasts a 360-degree picturesque view of vast terraced fields, breathtaking mountains and fertile river valleys. Climbing up to the foot of the tower and then to its top can be quite strenuous, but the view is totally worth it. Everything just looks so beautiful up there!
Lung Cu Flag Tower is located in Dong Van Ward, Ha Giang province. I made it there during my 4-day trip to Ha Giang from Hanoi. Ha Giang is one of Vietnam’s off the beaten path destinations, featuring mesmerizing natural landscape and rich ethnic minority culture. If you want to see some of the best scenery in Vietnam, Ha Giang is the place to be!
Crossing Vietnam by Motorbike
Suggested by Campbell & Alya from Stingynomads
I traveled in South East Asia for about 18 months and exploring Vietnam by motorcycle was still one of my favorite adventures.
The country is perfectly suited for a road trip. It is long and narrow so driving north to south you drive close to most of the highlights.
Traffic is insane, with more than 37 million motorbikes registered here driving is not for the fainthearted, but the upside is there is always someone who can fix your bike if you have mechanical problems! When we had a breakdown someone always showed up and could fix our bikes for only a couple of dollars.
We bought bikes on the streets of Hanoi for about$250 each. Two Chinese copies of the Honda Win 110cc manual shift motorbike. We had some awesome adventures, dodging trucks, or scooters transporting everything you can imagine; cages with chickens, pigs, and up to a family of 4 on one bike!
The trip crossing the country can be done in about 2 weeks, it however took us more than a month. We did it slowly, spending time in beautiful towns like Dalat, Hanoi, Hoi An and Nha Trang scuba diving, hiking and enjoying the food, culture and nature.
After about a month, 2500km later, we sold our bikes on the streets of Ho Chi Minh for $125 each, if you have patience or luck you can even make a profit when selling your bike.
Reaching the Highest Point in the Indochinese Peninsula
Suggested by Yara Mowafy from Tayaramuse
Big surprises come in small packages. My small package story began at a hotel. Imagine waking up to a sunny morning in the hills of Sa Pa, following an itinerary that your hotel put together, then suddenly finding yourself 3,147 meters or 10,326 feet high! This journey was a complete and utter surprise to me and by far one of the coolest moments of my life.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I had no idea what was going on or where I was headed. My hotel suggested I visit Fansipan early that morning since the sky was clear. I assumed it was an ancient temple or a viewpoint of the famous rice fields. I got my things together, received a small package including an entry ticket to the site and headed to the train station. Little did I know, that on the other end of that train track was just the beginning of a very elevated journey.
After boarding the train and riding for a short 10 minutes through the lush green mountains of Sa Pa, riders reach the welcome area for visitors. And right there, the adventure continued to unravel, and I was loaded onto a cable car!
Now let me tell you this cable car ride went on for at least 20 minutes, going straight upwards. Picture this – first, you’re a little above the ground, then you’re staring straight down at the rice fields, you’re over large hills, then mountains, and spending a decent chunk of time inside physical clouds all while sitting inside a completely see-through cable car.
And just like that, you go from touching the ground to reaching the highest point in the Indochinese Peninsula at the Fansipan Mountain, Vietnam.
Getting Clothes made in Hoi An
Suggested by Nicola Rae from Seenicwander
Hoi An is a must-see city in central Vietnam and one of my favorite places to visit in the country. With a charming old quarter that is illuminated by thousands of colorful lanterns at night, it’s no wonder Hoi An is popular among travelers.
One of my favorite experiences in Hoi An was getting clothing made. Hoi An has a famous cloth and fabric market where you can get custom clothing items designed for affordable prices. I visited the Sewing Bee clothing shop inside the market on a friend’s recommendation, and I was immediately awestruck by all the beautiful fabrics.
Bee, the owner of a sewing bee, had a book of designs I could choose from. I was also able to show her images form Pinterest and the internet. I had a few dresses I’d seen online that I loved and Bee was able to create them from scratch. We sketched out what the garments would look like and then Bee took me on a walk through the never-ending rows of fabric. Luckily, she was able to point out materials that would work well for our designs and patterns that she thought were flattering.
After I had chosen my fabric and Bee had taken my measurements, she informed me that I could come back for fitting in two days! I was shocked because I’d ordered three garments, but Bee was confident. Just two days later, I went back to the market and tried on each item for alterations. There were a few little tweaks to be made, but I was able to pick up the finished items later that same day.
My clothes turned out amazing and they were pretty much all I wore for the rest of my trip in Vietnam! The service and quality were fantastic, and now I have beautiful custom clothing that reminds me of one of the magical little city of Hoi An.
Watching Water Puppet Show in Hanoi
Suggested by Neha from Travelmelodies
One thing that you can’t leave Vietnam without experiencing is the Water Puppet Show. This traditional art form dates back as far as 11 th century and is still preserved and performed.
When we watched the water puppet show in Hanoi, we were left spellbound by the aura created by the talented artists. The best place to watch the show is at the Thang Long Water puppet theater, although there are many other places to watch the water puppet show. There was even a live music band playing traditional instruments and singing the story as the show progressed.
There are different show timings and the popular timings do get booked fast, so it is better to book the show in advance. The tickets cost around 100,000 VND (around 4.30 USD) for the 1-hour show.
There is a small water pond as the stage for these puppets and each puppet is tied to a long pole that is held by an artist from the back of the stage who is also in the water.
Most of the shows depict a mythological story or folktale from Vietnam. The different puppets carved out of wood are brought to life in the 1-hour show and you feel them talking, dancing and jumping around in the water.
Even though the story and songs are in Vietnamese, but art needs no language to connect. There is magic in the hands of these craftsmen who weaves a beautiful drama merely with lifeless puppets.
Enjoying wildlife at Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba National Park is a World Heritage Site and national gem that deserves at least a day on your Vietnam itinerary! It is home to the largest system of mangroves in the country, lush jungles and an impressive amount of wildlife.
One of the most endangered species in the world lives here, the Vooc (white-faced monkey), alongside other monkey species, deer, and squirrels. In the waters of Cat Ba National Park, marine life is abundant.
There are many ways to experience the park. You can travel on foot, climb the many mountains of Cat Ba National Park, or explore via water. The Ngu Lam Peak lookout is a popular hike within the park, which offers panoramic views from the top.
You can also explore the Trung Trang cave system, lounge on Khu du lịch đảo Nam Cát public beach or get out on the water near Cat Ba Island as we did.
We kayaked around Cat Ba Island and were stunned by the beauty of the area. However, the park is sadly often overshadowed or even skipped over in favor of nearby Halong Bay.
I hope this post has given you some fresh Vietnam travel inspirations. Which of these experiences would you like to try? Or if you have been to Vietnam and want to suggest other awesome experiences, feel free to share with us by commenting below!
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