Vietnam Tours and Travel Guide
Vietnam Attractions & Landmarks Guide
For those whose impressions of Vietnam were formed in the wartime 1960's, a visit to this beautiful Southeast Asian country may yield some real surprises. With the vast majority of Vietnamese born after the war, it's largely ancient history here, and visitors (certainly including Americans) are warmly welcomed. There's much to explore, too, from stately Hanoi to bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), gorgeous Halong Bay, the Mekong River (best seen by river boat), deep green rice paddies, golden sandy beaches, and some of Asia's best cuisine. Once you come to Vietnam, your impressions of it will never be the same.
Vietnam can generally be divided into three regions: North, Central, and South.
Northern Vietnam is often overlooked for the warmer coastlines of the south, but the region is not to be missed. Not only is the northern region home to the nation’s capital, Hanoi, it is also where you can find unique rice terraces, bustling markets, and stunning bays.
Farther up north are mountainous regions, where you can find towns, like Sapa. Here you’ll meet people from several hill tribes who are more than eager to share their heritage with you. Northern Vietnam is also known for Halong Bay, Mai Chau, and Ninh Binh.
The central region of Vietnam is saturated with history, culture, and nature. This are is incredibly diverse when it comes to attractions — you can revel in the centuries-old beauty of Hoi An that nestles riverside, explore the remnants of imperial Vietnam in Hue, or discover the deep caverns of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park that are about 400 million years old!
You can also learn about Vietnam’s more recent history at the Vinh Moc Tunnels, an expansive underground network that provided sanctuary for families when American bombs rained down during the war. Often compared to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Vinh Moc Tunnels are unique, as they shed light on how violence and war affected innocent civilians.
Southern Vietnam is home to the rapidly-developing city of Ho Chi Minh. It also boasts the wonders of the Mekong Delta — an expansive ecosystem that is characterized by a maze of rivers and floating markets. Turquoise water and white sand beaches are abundant in Southern Vietnam, so take your pick. However, if you have a taste for adventure, check out Mui Ne, which is a famous spot for windsurfing, kitesurfing, and sailing.
From South to North (or opposite)
Perhaps the best way to tour Vietnam is to start at either the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh, aka Saigon, or the northern capital city of Hanoi. If starting in HCMC, the first thing you might notice is the buzz of motorbikes all around you.
To cross the street, just be brave and go against everything you were ever taught - slowly but purposefully, walk out into the street and maintain a steady pace. Amazingly, the motor bikes will swerve around you until you find yourself, harried but unscathed, on the other side of the street. Once you’ve mastered that, be sure to check out Ben Thanh market. At first, what looks like a glorified flea market opens up to reveal all sorts of Vietnamese culinary stalwarts like Pho. Go in the morning to escape the crowds (and the heat!).
Other highlights in HCMC include the War Remnants Museum, the exhibits of which might be offputting to many American travelers, Cu Chi tunnel system, and the various historic hotels in the city center.
Heading north, visit Nha Trang, which is a typical beach destination for tourists and locals alike. Enjoy a day-cruise where snorkeling and scuba diving are among the options for activities. Fresh seafood is the specialty in this city by the sea.
Next stop, Hoi An, and its labyrinth of ancient buildings and pathways. Historically rich, the city was influenced by the French, Japanese, and Chinese, which is apparent in the architecture and cuisine. Go in search of the famous Hoi An noodles, Cao Lau, which can only be authentically enjoyed in this town. Many different galleries and craft shops offer everything from custom-made shoes to vibrant oil paintings.
A short drive brings you to Hue, or the ‘imperial city’ as it was here that the Nguyen dynasty ruled from before ceding power to the French in 1945. Explore the old, walled citadel and also book a tour to visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ) for a bit of war history.
Last stop is the capital of Hanoi. With its beautiful urban lakes and government seat, Hanoi is calmer relative to HCMC, but still quite the urban center in its own right. For history buffs, a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a must, where one can see the body of the former Vietnamese ruler lying in state. Also of interest is the Temple of Literature and One Pillar Pagoda.
There is more to Vietnamese cuisine than just pho and spring rolls. Combine the country’s diverse landscape with its rich history of trade and cultural diversity, and you’ll get Vietnamese cuisine: distinct, varied, and fresh.
Although tastes are different throughout the region, the essence of Vietnamese cuisine lies in the perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spice. And no matter where you are, nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce, is a staple in any Vietnamese kitchen.
Some top foods to try in Vietnam
1. Ban xeo can be described as an eggy crepe. The outside is crispy, while the inside is stuffed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. Locals typically wrap the ban xeo in rice paper or lettuce, and dunk it in Vietnam’s quintessential fish sauce.
2. Banh mi is the perfect representation of the fusion that occurred as a result of French colonization. The contents of this stuffed baguette varies by region — in the north, banh mi simply contains margarine and paté, but are more colorful in the south. In this region, banh mi is usually made with cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, fried eggs, fresh herbs, or chili sauce.
3. Bun cha may be familiar if you’ve watched Parts Unknown; Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama shared a beer over this dish back in 2016. They were blown away by the flavour of the dish — for good reason! Charred patties of seasoned pork and pork belly are marinated in a rich broth (of course, seasoned with fish sauce) and are served with thin rice noodles and a basket of herbs and vegetables. Delicious!
4. Seafood is where Vietnamese cuisine excels, and with cha ca, this is no exception. Marinated white fish is sauteed in butter and dill, ginger, green onion, and other herbs. The fish is then served along with rice noodles and coriander, fennel, leeks, chili paste, and topped with peanuts. It’s so good that Hanoians named a street after it!
5. Pho is Vietnam’s more popular noodle dish, but don’t overlook mi quang. The dish originates from the central region, specifically Da Nang. A hearty bone broth is seasoned with, you guessed it, fish sauce, pepper, shallot, and garlic.
Topped with yellow rice noodles, shrimp, boiled quail egg, and roast pork, this noodle dish is sure to warm your soul. Garnish your bowl with the heaping basket of herbs that accompany your meal!
Need a drink to wash all this food down? Try bia hoi, Vietnamese draft beer that is usually poured straight from a large barrel. While the beer is weak, it’s the perfect way to refresh yourself after a hot day.
If you need more energy to keep exploring all the wonders Vietnam has to offer, try ca phe trung. Sweetened condensed milk is mixed with Vietnamese dark-roast coffee that is so dense that it can hold up the whipped egg-white layer that perches on top. Maybe it’s the sugar, or maybe it’s the caffeine — either way, this drink will definitely give you a boost when traveling!
Is it safe to eat street food in Vietnam?
Vietnamese street food is AMAZING… less so when it’s viciously coming out the other end. Some people may have stronger stomachs, some weaker. You never know how your body will react to food in a new country, so it’s beneficial to take some precautions.
Vietnamese water treatment infrastructure is underdeveloped, so contaminated tap water is common. Always drink bottled, filtered, or boiled water. When drinking with ice, use your judgement, as it could have been made with contaminated water. However, most restaurants buy their ice from companies, rather than freezing it themselves.
When choosing a stall to eat at, high volume and turnover rate usually means that the food is safer. Street vendors rarely make their food ahead of time, so more customers typically signify fresher ingredients.
Eating at the same time the locals eat also means fresher produce and meals. Also, take note of the hygiene of the stall. If the vendor cutting the ingredients also handles the money, it’s probably a good idea to move on to the next stall. Additionally, if cutlery is used without properly drying after washing, the water droplets could carry bacteria that could trigger illness.
When eating, make sure the dish is made properly. If it’s supposed to be a hot dish — especially soup — make sure that it’s piping hot.
In countries with high pollution and questionable water systems, avoid eating fruits that don’t peel. Instead, choose fruits like rambutan, mangosteen, mango, banana, papaya — the choices are endless so you won’t be missing out!
While these precautions won’t 100% guarantee that you don’t get food poisoning, it can minimize the chances of spending your holiday exploring the underside of a toilet.
Traveling in the Vietnamese countryside
Traveling in the Vietnamese countryside will give you a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Immerse yourself in the tranquility, as you take in the neverending greenery of the rice fields, the majestic water buffalos, and the temples that dot the landscape.
Not only will the landscapes take your breath away, but you’ll come across amazing people on your travels. Guided by values of tradition, family, and community, you’ll usually come across locals who are hospitable and willing to share their experiences with you. It is not uncommon to be offered a spot at the table for dinner — even if you’ve just met! However, English is usually uncommon in areas away from tourist destinations, so a tour guide may be beneficial.
To travel in the countryside, the most common mode of transportation are bicycles and motorbikes. Vietnam’s transportation infrastructure is great, so you’ll usually be able to find a bus from cities that will connect you to the countryside.
Vietnam for Seniors
Ingrained in several Asian cultures — particularly Vietnamese — is respect for the elderly. As a senior traveling in Vietnam, you will be able to see this respect throughout your interactions.
However, you may encounter some other problems if you are a senior traveling through Vietnam. For starters, senior discounts are rare, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Secondly, if your legs don’t work as well as they used to, it may be difficult to travel around without proper planning.
Accessibility is an issue in Vietnam. You’ll encounter tactical problems like: crossing the anarchic streets through a hoard of motorbikes, not having easy access to elevators and ramps, and narrow doorways.
The lack of accessibility also limits your transport options — train-travel is not equipped for wheelchairs, and neither is boat-travel. This is not to say that it’s impossible; again, it is important to communicate your accessibility restrictions with your tour-operator and accomodation. With the proper preparation, anything is possible in Vietnam, and the people are more than happy to help.
Vietnam for History Buffs
If you’re a history buff, Vietnam is the place to be. Walking through the streets of Vietnam is a lesson in itself. Several streets are named after important moments — rebels who fought against invasion, battles that solidified Vietnamese strength, and emperors who led the country into prosperity.
Even the food reflects history — banh mi is the lovechild of Franco-Vietnamese influences, mi vit tiem has obvious Chinese influences, and cha ca was used as a cover up for clandestine meetings between revolutionary soldiers.
This tiny Southeast Asian nation has deep-rooted record of struggle against titanous foreign powers, such as the Chinese, Mongols, Indians, French, Japanese, and Americans. Vietnam's integral location as a port brought Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Catholicism to the budding nation. It also created economic ties with countries like Portugal.
In the 20th century, the rise of communism was led by Ho Chi Minh, who brought independence to the nation, ostensibly freeing it from the shackles of European rule. Violence soon ensued, as Vietnam was split between the communist north and the anti-communist south. After over a decade, the northern forces sought to liberate the south from foreign influence.
American resistance to communism led to a horrific and grueling two decades of war, which left 3 million Vietnamese dead. To this day, Vietnam carries the scars of what they call the American War, as civilians live with war injuries, and dormant mines detonate decades after. Typically, civilians do not like talking about this dark period in Vietnamese history, but several sites are dedicated to the proper education of such topics.
Despite the nation’s tumultuous history and its lasting scars from recent wars, Vietnam has exhibited strength and resilience. Today, its economy is increasingly growing, boasting prosperity and impressive infrastructure.
Souvenirs from Vietnam
From Ho Chi Minh City’s Ben Tanh Market, to Hanoi’s Dong Xuan market, there are countless opportunities to bring home unique Vietnamese souvenirs. Shopping in Vietnam is an experience like no other, as beautiful handicrafts are aplenty.
Here are a few iconic Vietnamese souvenirs that many people bring home
1. A symbol of Vietnamese agricultural life, a non la is a cone-shaped hat made of bamboo. Protecting locals from rain and the harsh sun, various styles are available throughout the country.
2. Vietnam specializes in silk, so you will be able to find different patterns, colors, and sizes made on traditional handlooms. The quality is excellent throughout the country, but the best places to buy is near silk villages, such as Van Phuc in Northern Vietnam.
3. Want a gift that is both beautiful and practical? One of the most popular souvenirs from Vietnam are the hand-crafted paper and bamboo fans. In some regions, you can also find fans made of silk paper. Not only are they beautiful, but they also represent centuries of Vietnamese culture and history.
4. For a souvenir that’s easier to transport, why not get a pop-up card? A handcraft typical to Hanoi, you can find these impressive and intricate cards in the Old Quarter, or at night markets.
All Vietnam tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.8 for all Vietnam trips.