Top 5 places to visit in Vietnam

VIETNAM is renowned in Southeast Asia for its gorgeous locales, cross-cultural landmarks, and exotic food. While it has opened up to tourists over the last few years, it remains largely an undiscovered country compared to its neighbors. Which is a shame, because the country is ripe with adventure and surprising little finds for the curious and determined traveler.

With that in mind, here are the top 5 places you should definitely visit in Vietnam … places that will leave you thirsting for more of the country.

Hoi An

Hoi An. Pic: Amirul Ruslan
Hoi An. Pic: Amirul Ruslan

An ancient trading port situated on Vietnam’s central coastline, Hoi An is replete with historical leftovers from the French colonial period as well as Chinese and Japanese traders. For example, the Japanese Covered Bridge (pictured above) dates back to the 1590s. Built by the Japanese community, it also functions as a temple, housing shrines dedicated to several deities. Overall, the city is a boon to history and architecture buffs. Its famous old town is deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, thanks to eclectic buildings that draw from both local and foreign influences.

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Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta. Pic: Amirul Ruslan
Mekong Delta. Pic: Amirul Ruslan

Located at the southwestern edge of the country, few places are more authentically Vietnam than the Mekong Delta. Visitors can expect to be amazed by a cornucopia of sights – from rivers and canals to paddy fields and orchards to floating houses and floating markets. Called the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Delta provides a fascinating portrait of agriculture, commerce, and water. You can easily grab a picturesque tour by boat, feasting at a floating market along the way. If you’re into something more fancy, go have a massage at the luxurious Victoria Chau Doc hotel, which has an excellent view of the waterway.

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Halong Bay

Halong Bay
Halong Bay. Pic: Pixabay.com

Deservedly popular with tourists, Halong Bay has some of the most breath-taking sights in Vietnam. Literally translating into “where the dragon descends into the sea”, Halong is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, not least due to its thousands of limestone karsts and remarkable biodiversity. There are a staggering 1,600 islands and islets in the area, setting the stage for endless adventure and discovery. It’s not hard to get around – cruises are readily available. We strongly recommend that you take your time and set aside at least a few days to explore the bay in detail. Make sure you stay long enough to observe Halong at its best – during sunrise and sunset.

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Sa Pa

Vietnam rice terraces
A view of the rice terraces in Sa Pa. Pic: Natasha von Geldern.

If you need a break from the hot and humid weather of Southeast Asia, you might want to head to Sa Pa, which some have aptly called “Southeast Asia’s version of an alpine resort.” Situated in northwestern Vietnam, it is home to rolling hills, lush vegetation, and rice terraces. Majestic views often give away to chilly mist, and vice versa – the mood of the place is delightfully slow-paced, as if built for a contemplative stroll or hike. Tours give you the opportunity to hike up mountains, stop by mesmerizing waterfalls, and explore villages and paddy fields.

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Hanoi

Hanoi. Pic: Amirul Ruslan
Hanoi. Pic: Amirul Ruslan

What trip to Vietnam is complete without a visit to its bustling, noisy capital? Hanoi is a glorious, schizophrenic combination of the old and the new – modern skyscrapers can be seen standing beside ancient temples and colonial-era shophouses. Hanoi’s iconic Old Quarter is the beating heart of the country’s ties to the past, home to Buddhist temples, pagodas, French colonial shophouses, and more.

It’s also where you want to go if you want to shop. You’re bound to come across lacquerware, old propaganda posters, art galleries, and more. If you’re feeling peckish or tired, stop at one of Hanoi’s many street food stalls and get yourself a nice, warm bowl of pho bo (Vietnamese soup noodles). You’ll soon have enough energy to continue on your adventures!