Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful and diverse country with an amazing landscape, lovely people, and delectable cuisine. It’s truly one of the most amazing countries in the world and if it’s not yet on your bucket list, it should be. But with so much to explore, deciding where to go in Vietnam can be overwhelming – especially if it’s your first time visiting.
Vietnam offers something for every taste – from trekking in the rugged rice terraces of Northern Vietnam to lounging on stunning white sand beachs in the South. Whether you choose to explore Vietnam’s history, delves deeper into its expansive food scene, or just get lost in the winding alleys and never-ending motorbike traffic, you’re sure to find plenty to do in Vietnam.
Having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for 2 years and traveled the country extensively, we have compiled a list of the best place to visit in Vietnam.
Starting in the North and working your way south you can explore all of these amazing Vietnamese destinations. Be prepared to fall in love with Vietnam just like we have!
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How Long to Spend in Vietnam
Vietnam is a surprisingly large country with a lot of amazing places to visit and fun things to do. We recommend spending at least a month in Vietnam which gives you time to explore a bit of Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay), Central Vietnam (Hue, Danang, and Hoi An), and Southern Vietnam (Saigon, Dalat, Mui Ne, the Mekong Delta, and Phu Quoc).
Of course, we realize that many people don’t have the flexibility to spend an entire month in Vietnam which is why we put together an awesome 2-week Vietnam itinerary for all of our friends and family that have visited while we have been living here. It focuses on North and Central Vietnam which is what most visitors to Vietnam seem to prefer for their first trip.
Visa Requirements for Vietnam
Unlike neighboring Thailand and Cambodia, most visitors can’t simply arrive in Vietnam and get stamped into the country. You’ve got a bit more work ahead of you. Even US Citizens will need a visa for Vietnam.
The two most common visa options for tourists are the eVisa and the Visa on Arrival, both of which require approval before your arrival in Vietnam.
If you’re planning to visit Vietnam for 30 days or less and do not require a multiple-entry visa then we recommend the eVisa. If your trip is longer than 30 days or if you need to exit and re-enter Vietnam for any reason then your only option is the Visa on Arrival.
Steps for Obtaining a 30-Day Single-Entry eVisa
- Visit this website; https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt. This is the only official government website, all others only look official but are run by tourist agencies.
- Upload your passport data page image and a passport photo (straight looking without glasses)
- Pay the $25 USD fee by credit card
- You will be emailed a registration code which you can use to check the status of your eVisa
- Wait 3 working days for processing
- Once approved, print your e-visa and remember to pack it in your carry-on luggage!
Steps to Obtaining a multi-entry 30-day or 90-day Visa on Arrival
- Find an online service like http://www.vietnamvisapro.net/ or one of the countless other options
- Complete the visa application
- Pay the fee
- Wait 2 working days (usually less) for the letter of approval
- Print the approval letter
- Get passport photos taken if you don’t have them already. If you forget this step you can get them taken at the airport for an inflated charge of ~$5 per photo (but it’s best not to rely on this option).
- Pack your approval letter, passport photos, and cash, Make sure they are all in your carry-on/hand luggage!
- At the airport you’ll pay a stamping fee – either $25 or $50 depending on the length of visa you’re applying for (see below). Be sure to bring US Dollars in reasonably good condition – bills with no rips or writing.
You can find more information about the Vietnam visa process in our must-read post on Vietnam Travel Tips.
Getting Around Vietnam
Vietnam is a large and rather long country which can make getting from the northern end to the southern end of the country quite daunting. We often find that traveling between major cities such as Saigon, Danang, and Hanoi is best done by airplane.
VietJet is a very affordable budget carrier with hundreds of low-cost flights throughout Vietnam, however, our experience has been that the flights are often delayed – sometimes for several hours. You’ll also need to pay for any checked luggage on VietJet and if you’re checking more than 1 bag it can get quite expensive.
Vietnam Airlines is a bit more expensive, but you’ll have 2 checked bags included in the price of your ticket and you’re much more likely to arrive at your next destination on time.
We always use Skyscanner.com to check flight prices when we travel – it’s our favorite comparison search engine.
When traveling between smaller towns and cities in Vietnam you’ll need to travel by bus or minivan. There are plenty of luxury bus companies companies that will get you where you are going on-time and in comfort. Unfortunately, there are also a number of less reputable bus companies that will claim to provide comparable service but then fail to deliver.
Bookaway also offers 24/7 support via phone or chat and you can even cancel your booking for free up to 48 hours before departure!
Weather in Vietnam
Vietnam has quite a diverse climate depending on which region you choose to visit. But overall Vietnam has a mild tropical or subtropical climate. Hot, humid, and occasionally rainy so be sure to bring an umbrella, especially if you visit from July to November.
Northern Vietnam has four seasons and during the winter months (December – February) it can get down to 40° F or even colder in the mountains. And the summer months of June – August are quite hot, in the 90° F range. The autumn time sees a bit of rain which can make a trip to Sapa quite a muddy experience.
Central Vietnam has warm temperatures year-round and in the summer months (June – August) it can be almost unbearably hot. The weather from November to April is a bit cooler and drier. And Southern Vietnam has a wet season (May – October) and a dry season (November – April).
Money in Vietnam
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). At the time of writing (August of 2018), the conversation rate was about 23,305 VND to $1 USD. So if we say that something costs 50,000 VND, that’s just about $2 USD.
Vietnam is a cash-driven country and it’s rare to find restaurants, bars, or shops that take visa. Most ATMs will only let you take out a maximum of 3,000,000 VND (~$130 USD), and many will only give you 2,000,000 VND (~$85 USD) at a time. You’ll be charged a 3% transaction fee each time you use one.
Be sure to check with your bank prior to departing to ensure that they refund international ATM charges. And that they don’t charge their own international fees.
We use the Chase card for booking hotels and tours and our Charles Schwab card for getting money out of the ATM.
The 15 Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the second-largest city in terms of population (Ho Chi Minh City is number one). It is the jumping-off point to visit the beautiful surrounding areas of Sapa Halong Bay, and Ninh Binh, but it’s worth spending a few days in this bustling city as well.
One of the highlights of Hanoi is the cuisine. You can eat what is possibly the best bun cha in all of Vietnam at the same restaurant where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama dined together. And you can try another local delicacy – snake!
Hanoi is a big city but it’s also full of charm. Hoàn Kiếm Lake sits in the center of the Old Quarter and it’s an idyllic place for an afternoon stroll. There are parks and local markets to explore as well as plenty of tourist hot spots.
During your time in Hanoi you absolutely must see the “Hanoi Hilton” where John McCain was held prisoner after his plane was shot down during the war. And the Temple of Literature is both beautiful and peaceful – it’s ideal to visit in the early morning. Read all about our other favorite things to do in Hanoi here!
The Sapa region (sometimes spelled Sa Pa) is home to several minority groups who earn a living through farming and tourism. The town is perched high on a hill and the views of the Muong Hoa Valley below are quite incredible. Lush green rice terraces stretch across the landscape as far as the eye can see.
Most people travel to Sapa to go trekking through the remote villages, but there is so much more to see and do here than most people realize. You can take a cable car ride up to the top of Fansipan Mountain – at over 10,000 feet, is the highest mountain in the Indochinese Peninsula. You can also do a self-guided (downhill) trek to the Cat Cat tourist village and then catch a motorbike taxi back up.
The shopping in Sapa is amazing and you should definitely purchase some of the colorful handmade textiles. And if you really want to treat yourself, consider booking a few nights at the Topas Ecolodge where you can gaze out at the rice paddies while lounging in the pristine infinity pool.
Sapa is one of our favorite places to visit in Vietnam and should definitely rank high on your list of things to see during your trip. Read all about what to do in Sapa and how to choose a trekking guide!
3. Halong Bay
Halong Bay is one of the most picturesque (and touristy) areas in Vietnam. In fact, many travelers have Halong Bay at the very top of their list of places to visit in Vietnam. Cruising on a liveaboard boat through the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay is definitely an experience that you won’t soon forget.
Choosing the best Halong Bay Cruise can be difficult. While there are dozens of boats to choose from, most of the cruises offer a similar itinerary. The difference is in the quality of meals and onboard accommodation. In Halong Bay, you’ll find everything from floating hostels that cater to those on a backpacker budget to luxurious 5-star cruises.
Since Halong Bay has such a unique landscape and there are few places like it in the world, we recommend splurging on a luxury cruise experience where you’ll be treated like royalty. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!
4. Lan Ha Bay
If you want to have the Halong Bay experience but without the crowds, consider booking a cruise around Lan Ha Bay instead. The scenery of Lan Ha Bay is quite similar to Halong Bay with stunning limestone cliffs rising out of the water, but it’s not as popular with tourists (yet).
There are many luxury cruise boats in Lan Ha Bay to choose from and you’ll love that the daily excursions are more personalized than the activities around Halong Bay. Lan Ha Bay is also a bit further from the mainland so you’ll spend a bit more time cruising on the boat. Because of this, we recommend a 2-day/3-night cruise.
If you’re looking for a relaxing cruise where you can sip wine at sunset on your own balcony while gazing out at the beautiful landscape, a trip to Lan Ha Bay is for you!
5. Ninh Binh
This beautiful region, just two hours south of Hanoi, is full of lush green rice paddies in the shadow of massive towering limestone cliffs. Life moves a bit slower here. The people are friendlier. Traffic jams generally involve herds of goats rather than cars. You’ll feel all around happier, relaxed, and more at peace.
You’ll want to rent a motorbike in Ninh Binh since it’s the easiest way to get around. You can hike up to the Mua Caves where the view of the landscape below is absolutely breathtaking. And you can enjoy the scenery from the water on a slow boat ride. The countryside surrounding Ninh Binh is also full of countless picturesque temples and pagodas.
Many people condense their time in Ninh Binh to only a day trip but we’d recommend spending at least 3 nights here if you have the time to spare. The region of Ninh Binh tops our list for our favorite place to visit in Vietnam so you definitely shouldn’t miss it!
Read all about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in the stunning region of Ninh Binh!
6. Phong Nha
One of the most unique places to visit in Vietnam, the Phong Nha region is famous for its massive national park – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, it is home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia as well as hundreds of massive, complex cave systems.
Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave, and Black Cave are the most popular and easily accessible caves in the area. You can visit all 3 on your own – no need to hire a tour guide.
Phong Nha is a bit off the typical tourist track so it’s a little more difficult to get to and much less crowded than some of Vietnam’s other top destinations.
If you enjoy adventurous cave explorations than you should definitely add Phong Nha to your Vietnam bucket list!
History buffs will love the Imperial City of Hue as it was the seat of Nguyễn Dynasty emperors from 1802 to 1945 and there is a beautiful walled complex to explore. Hue has so much history to learn about and gain a greater understanding of the history of Vietnam.
Hue was also right in the center of the clash of northern and southern Vietnam during the American War (or Vietnam War as you may know it) so many of the sites have had to be reconstructed. The longest and bloodiest battle took place here but thankfully many of the historical sites remain intact.
If Hue is on your Vietnamese travel itinerary, read all about what to do while visiting!
8. Da Nang
The city of Da Nang (also known as Danang) is full of lavish beachfront resorts and is the perfect place if you’re looking to get a little rest and relaxation. Da Nang is getting more and more visitors of late with the construction of the Golden Bridge – a giant bridge that appears to be held up by two hands.
It’s also the southern gateway to the spectacular drive over the Hai Van Pass. But there is so much more to see and do in this busy city so plan on spending a few days here during your trip. You can hike through the Marble Mountains, see a dragon bridge breathe fire, sample the delectable cuisine, or just lounge on the beach.
Read all about what to do and where to stay during your trip to Da Nang!
9. Hoi An
Hoi An is a darling little touristy town in central Vietnam that is a must-visit during your trip! The pedestrian-friendly downtown area is famous for the beautiful yellow French colonial-style buildings that line the streets.
Plus it’s full of cute boutiques, quaint coffee shops, and delicious restaurants. In the evenings the riverfront comes alive with vibrantly colored lanterns and a lively night market.
The most popular activities in Hoi An include taking a cooking class, biking through the countryside, going on a photography tour, getting a dress or suit tailored, taking a day trip to visit the nearby My Son ruins, and shopping! Hoi An also has some amazing dishes that are delicious and difficult (or even impossible) to find in other cities around Vietnam so you must try them all!
Hoi An is one of our favorite cities in Vietnam and not-to-be-missed during your trip. It’s our favorite place to take friends and family when they visit from out of town. Read all about what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Hoi An!
10. An Bang Beach
And when you get tired of the crowded, touristy Old Town, you can make the 10-minute drive to the neighboring An Bang Beach. Here you’ll find a peaceful sandy beach and quaint local restaurants and bars. Plus there are several beach clubs where you can use the pool for the day for a nominal fee if you’re looking for a change of scenery.
When we visit Hoi An we always choose to stay in An Bang Beach and just make the 10-minute Grab ride into Hoi An every evening for dinner and night market shopping. We love that An Bang has far fewer tourists and some really amazing beachfront resorts with pristine pools at really reasonable prices.
Even if you decide to stay in Hoi An, you’ll want to take a day trip to An Bang to enjoy the beach during your trip to Vietnam! Check out our complete guide to An Bang Beach that includes our favorite resorts, restaurants, and bars.
11. Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a little beach town that is incredibly popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders because of its perfect windy conditions and sandy beach break. Even if you aren’t into water sports, Mui Ne boasts a beautiful sandy beach, nearby sand dunes where you can enjoy the sunrise, a lovely hike through a stream, and ancient ruins to explore.
Mui Ne is the perfect place for a relaxing beach getaway during your vacation in Vietnam!
12. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Saigon (officially “Ho Chi Minh City”) is a bustling metropolitan city in the South of Vietnam. It has an amazing food scene, it is a popular place for westerners to open up craft breweries, and there are diverse neighborhoods to explore.
Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC as its often called, has a large international airport so it’s often a jumping-off point to explore other areas of the country. You can easily see the highlights of the city in just a few days so there’s no need to spend a lot of time here.
There are several tourist attractions in HCMC including the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. But we would argue that the best things to do in Saigon involve coffee, food, beer, and shopping! We visited the top craft breweries and the best coffee shops in HCMC and compiled our thoughts on the ambiance and options at each. Enjoy drinking your way through this big, busy city!
13. The Mekong Delta
Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is an area in Southern Vietnam that covers over 15,000 square miles where the many rivers provide ideal farming conditions. Many of the fruits and vegetables that are sold in markets around Vietnam come from the Mekong Delta.
Tourists love to visit the Delta to see the famous floating markets where the locals buy and sell fresh produce. You can also take a rowboat ride through the winding river canals. Most people visit the Mekong Delta as a day trip but since it’s one of the best places to visit in Vietnam, it’s definitely worth spending a few days here!
The city of Dalat is located in Southern Vietnam’s central highlands. It’s the perfect place to visit if you’re craving cooler temperatures and outdoor activities. If you’ve spent a bit of time in the concrete jungle that is Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find Dalat to be a breath of fresh air (literally).
Dalat is home to Vietnamese wine (it’s terrible, take our word for it), Dalat donuts, avocado ice cream, and other yummy culinary concoctions that are difficult to find anywhere else in the country. It’s also where you’ll find beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and gardens. Even though the weather in Dalat is typically colder than other parts of Southern Vietnam, you’ll want to spend most of your vacation enjoying the great outdoors.
Check out our list of the best things to see and do in Dalat to help you make the most of your trip!
15. Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is an island off the southern coast of Vietnam (well, technically it’s off the coast of Cambodia) and it is the place to go if you want to visit a tropical paradise during your vacation. Even though Vietnam has a huge amount of coastline, many of the beaches actually aren’t ideal for a relaxing getaway. But that’s not the case in Phu Quoc.
Here you’ll find white sandy beaches, ideal diving and snorkeling conditions, yummy seafood, and some fun activities to keep you busy. Rent a motorbike and cruise around the island, stopping along the way to explore the temples and enjoy an iced coffee on the beach.
And if you want to pamper yourself during your trip to Vietnam, Phu Quoc has some truly amazing hotels and resorts to splurge on! And since they have an airport on the island, it’s easy and cheap to book a plane ticket from HCMC.
That’s it – the best places to visit in Vietnam! Where you’re favorite Vietnam destination. Let us know in the comments below.
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!