Wild and less-touristed than its Southeast Asian neighbours, Vietnam is one for the travel journals. You can write novels about the rocky outcrops of Halong Bay, the deliciousness of a bowl of pho and the arresting beauty of the verdant rice paddies, lofty peaks and the meandering Mekong. Not just that, but there aren’t many places where you can feel like a pioneer these days. Here, all you need do is get out and about on foot and you’ll stumble across hidden gems that few others have clapped eyes on. Experience the country’s secret treasures and beloved tourist highlights with these things to do in Vietnam:
Eat street food in Hanoi
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is where it’s at. Here you can gorge yourself on pho, soup and delicious bun cha (grilled pork and noodles) ‘til your heart’s content. Thronged with street food vendors, this historic part of the city is renowned for having some of the best and cheapest casual eats in the world. For a real authentic experience, give Café Duy Tri ago – a local favourite set over three floors and open since 1936. Alternatively, if you want to explore outside the Old Quarter, head for Le Van Huu street to discover even more cafés and bars.
How to do it: Take our Gourmet Vietnam Journey and you can learn to cook in Hoi An, visit a coconut farm and of course sample Hanoi’s delicious food on a Street Eats tour.
Tour the Mekong Delta
Part of the longest river in Southeast Asia (2,700 miles), it’d be rude to visit Vietnam and not explore the Mekong Delta. Palm trees and floating villages dot 350 miles of channels and tributaries, home to bobbing boats full to the bow with tea, rice, spices and tropical fruit or veg. It’s a heady hodgepodge of diverse aromas, cultures and landscapes that offer a taste of the country at its most natural.
How to do it: If time is on your side, spend at least three days exploring ‘the rice bowl of Vietnam’, starting in Ho Chi Minh City. If your itinerary is short, head straight for the town of My Tho – the gateway to the Delta – for a snapshot of life on the river. Our tailor-made Cities, Waterways & Beach holiday includes a two-night Mekong Delta tour.
Wander the UNESCO-listed streets of Hoi An
As soon as you set foot in this ancient trading port you’ll quickly realise how it earned its UNESCO accolade. An atmospheric heritage town, it still showcases a fusion of Chinese, Japanese and European influence, its alleys are quaint and narrow, and timber-frame buildings dominate the streets. Wandering around is like stepping back in time.
How to do it: Visit this perfectly-preserved town on our Essential Vietnam (North to South) Journey, which offers the chance to walk across the town’s famous Japanese covered bridge (pictured above) and admire the ancient architecture.
Laze on Nha Trang’s beaches
There’s definitely more to Vietnam than its beaches… but then there’s Nha Trang. Located in the city of the same name, this sweeping bay stares out across the turquoise South China Sea, taking in a watery landscape punctuated by offshore jungle-clad islets. Despite being firmly on the tourist radar, the silica never feels swarmed, making it the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s busy towns, ports and markets.
How to do it: Our Classic Vietnam itinerary gives you the chance to relax on Nha Trang’s pillow-soft sands, as well as offering the opportunity to take a boat trip out to the islands. You’ll also explore Ho Chi Minh City, Cai Be, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay.
Ride a seaplane above Halong Bay
Drifting through an assault course of limestone karsts, thought to have been put in place by a dragon, is the stuff of travel legends. So it’s no surprise that, in 1994, Halong Bay was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. But when everyone else is exploring by boat, how can you still absorb the majesty of such a wonderful place? From the air of course! Gazing down at over 2,000 islands as they rise from the water gives a really unique perspective to such a well-trodden attraction.
Ride the Reunification Express Train to Hue
It may not have the luxury of the Rocky Mountaineer of The Ghan train, but the Reunification Express is a pretty fun way to travel. It’s also a rite of passage for tourists, with the locomotive squeezing through tight city streets and soaring past forested peaks to offer a genuine Vietnamese experience. It can be a more efficient way to travel too: the overnight ride from Hanoi to Hue can often save time when compared to taking an internal flight.
How to do it: Ride the rails overnight before spending a day exploring the charming UNESCO-listed Hue on our Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh Journey. And you’ll not only discover the crumbling fortifications of the Imperial City, but you’ll visit Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City in the same trip.
Crawl through the narrow chambers of the Cu Chi Tunnels
Vietnam has a fascinating, tumultuous past, but you have to dig deep to discover it – literally. During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong created a unique defence system in the form of a 150-mile underground network known as the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was the perfect place to hide or plan future attacks during the conflict, although it was also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria – sickness was rife down in this claustrophobic labyrinth. Of course it’s absolutely safe now and, despite being a bit unnerving, a visit here offers a unique snapshot of this divisive war.
How to do it: Visit the tunnels via speedboat ride along Saigon River on our Best of the South itinerary before stopping off at a local cricket farm to sample some cricket spring rolls – yum!
For more ideas on what to see and do in Vietnam, see our Vietnam holiday itineraries.