In today’s post I’m sharing insider tips for all the BEST things to do in Vietnam – the coolest places to visit and all the top activities and attractions. I’ll cover Vietnam must sees, must dos, and must eats – everything from daredevil motorbike tours, to sipping beers and slurping pho at street stalls, to jungle trekking, caving, luxury cruises, architecture, history, and more!
I lived here for a year and a half and still feel like I barely scratched the surface of everything Vietnam has to offer. But I did have the opportunity to explore many corners of this amazing country, hitting pretty much every main destination plus a few lesser-known gems.
Point being, I’m something of a Vietnam travel expert now! So I hope my list of the top things to do in Vietnam will have at least a couple surprises on it.
As of March 2022, the border is OPEN AGAIN and tourist visas are a GO (!!!), so GET YOUR *SS OVER THERE. Vietnam has it all and I’m SO EXCITED to share this incredible country with you. Here’s all my top recommendations.
(PS: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase I may receive a commission, at no additional cost to you. This post also contains sponsored content)
Central Vietnam Bucket List – Unique Things to Do in Central Vietnam
I’ve broken up this list into three expansive sections (central, northern, and southern) since there are SO MANY amazing things to do in Vietnam. I’m starting with central VN, my personal favorite part of the country. This is where you’ll find colorful Hội An (the literal heart and soul of central VN), busy beach town Da Nang, the magnificent imperial city of Hue, and so much more.
This section includes all the BEST things to do in central Vietnam and everything you absolutely cannot miss if you’re planning a trip. I recommend budgeting at least a week here if you want to comfortably hit the highlights, but you could easily spend two or three (or ten). Hope this gives you some GREAT Vietnam travel inspiration 🙂
Visit the Famous Hội An Ancient Town
It would be a crime to visit central Vietnam without stopping in Hội An. This beautiful little town dates allll the way to the 15th century, when it was a port city and key trading hub. Strolling through the historical town centre with its adorable yellow buildings genuinely feels like you stepped back in time.
I spent eight months living in Hội An and never got sick of it. There’s this inexplicable mix of chaos and calm that you really have to see in person to understand. Every region of Hội An has its own charm, but Old Town is the must-visit destination.
Visit the beautiful Japanese Bridge and Chuc Thanh Pagoda, stop by the lantern shops for an amazing souvenir (and an incredible photo), and make sure to take a dusk boat ride on one of the lantern-lit river boats.
Other must-dos: grab a Vietnamese coffee (92 Station has the famous rooftop view, but I personally just like all the local spots scattered throughout town) get some custom-made clothing at one of the local tailors, and visit one of Hội An’s famous bánh mì shops for a truly life-changing sandwich.
Or just go for a stroll and see where you end up (I recommend grabbing the seared tuna special and an ice-cold beer at Red Dragon, or a $2 USD G&T fishbowl from the lovely rooftop terrace at Market Bar).
Visit the Abandoned Waterpark in Hue
This is hands down one of the best things to do in Vietnam, and inexplicably left out of many travel guides. The waterpark is a creepy abandoned building shaped like a giant dragon, covered FLOOR TO CEILING in graffiti. You can actually climb up the winding, rusted staircase into the dragon’s mouth and look over the grounds before exploring the rest of the area. It’s dead silent up there and very eerie.
The waterpark was originally intended to be a mega-attraction in Hue, Vietnam’s imperial city. The project was completed to the tune of about $30 million USD, but it never took off, and was eventually shut down. Over the years it fell apart, grew over with weeds, and got absolutely blanketed with graffiti. It’s now one of the most desolate, off-the-beaten-track attractions you’ll find in your travels.
The waterpark is a short motorbike ride from Hue city and 100% worth a trip – easily one of the most interesting central Vietnam attractions. Tourists are technically “not allowed” to visit, so make sure to bring some small change with you to bribe the security guard. He’ll happily look the other way 🙂
Visit Da Nang’s Famous Golden Bridge
You’ve probably seen pictures of the famous Golden Hands Bridge before, but what you might not know is that the bridge is actually inside a theme park! Take a cable car up to Sun World Ba Na Hills, which is basically a mock European village complete with a Gothic cathedral (it’s actually a hotel – you can stay there overnight!), a Bavarian beer hall, and even a Swiss-style alpine slide. Why not.
Be warned that Na Hills is NOT a cultural experience. It is the opposite of a cultural experience lol. This is basically the Disneyland of Vietnam, so just know what you’re in for before you arrive. There are massive crowds, weird actors in weird costumes, everything is insanely overpriced, etc.
If you have a short trip I would actually not recommend visiting as I think there’s much better uses of your time, but if you have a spare day, I think it’s definitely worth the trip. Go on a tour to get the full experience!
Photography-wise, obviously Golden Hands Bridge is a vibe. For me visiting the park was worth it for the photo. If you want a pic of the bridge without people I suggest going early in the day or taking the last cable car up (the bridge has usually cleared out by then).
Motorbike (or Drive!) the Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass is one of the most scenic drives in Vietnam, taking you across 21 km of gorgeous coastal roads between Da Nang and Hue. The scenery is magnificent – you go along a sweeping, windy mountain pass with an incredible view of the coastline – and it’s also FUN to drive. Keep an eye out for the shipwreck along the coast (a new, post-pandemic development!).
Most people choose to drive themselves on a motorbike, but if you aren’t comfortable doing so you can book a tour instead to enjoy the views stress-free!
I saw the Pass 7 or 8 times via train, and only managed to drive it once (in the most horrific rainy weather imaginable lol). Even in dreadful weather it was still an amazing drive, so I can only imagine how nice it is when it’s sunny. There’s also a ton of photo ops along the way so make sure to dress cute 😉
Journey on the Vietage, the Most Luxurious Train of All Time
The Vietage, a newly opened train line running between busy Da Nang and the sleepy resort town Quy Nhon, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime awesome travel experiences. If you enjoy traveling by train you ABSOLUTELY MUST. DO. THIS. The 6-hour train seats just 12 passengers in cosy private booths and features a separate bar carriage, a massage room, a delicious 3-course lunch, stunning rice field and coastal views, AND free-flow drinks.
I made the trip for my birthday last year – non-sponsored – and it truly was perfection. They pretty much had to drag me off the train lol. The price is a complete steal for what you get – $225 USD from Da Nang to Quy Nhon, and $185 from Quy Nhon to Da Nang, with everything included (drinks, lunch, massage). Worth absolutely every penny and hands down one of the most unique things to do in Vietnam if you’re looking for some luxury experiences sprinkled in with your cultural ones 🙂
Quy Nhon is also a criminally underrated destination in Vietnam, but it’s on the up-and-up, so I suggest heading there before all the other tourists figure it out!
Sample Central Vietnamese Cuisine in Hội An + Take a Cooking Class
Vietnamese food is so, SO much more than pho and banh mi – it’s actually incredibly diverse! Central, north, and south all have distinct cuisines and specialty dishes local to certain regions. Central VN has by far my favorite food, and there are a couple foods you can ONLY get here. Take a cooking class in Hội An to sample a few local dishes in one go!
Must-try local specialties include cao lầu (noodles soaked in lye-infused water from ONE specific well, pork, a super-rich broth, tons of fresh herbs, & crispy pork crackling — mì quảng (pictured | rice noodles + turmeric broth, pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, & quail egg) — and white rose dumplings (delicate rice paper filled with prawns & pork + topped with crispy shallots).
Dishes not specific to Hội An but equally delicious and equally necessary to try: bún bò Huế (lemongrass beef noodle soup local to nearby Huế. OUTRAGEOUS flavor bomb), and bánh xèo (crispy turmeric pancake stuffed with prawn, pork, and beansprouts), topped with fresh herbs and served central Vietnam style, wrapped up in rice paper.
The diversity of Vietnamese cuisine is honestly unbelievable and you are MISSING TF OUT if you do not prioritise eating while you’re here. Make a concerted effort to try every dish you can (except mam tom. Trust me). I promise you’ll discover some new favorites.
Jungle Trek and Go Caving in Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park
Yet another entry in VN’s list of diverse landscapes, Phong Nha National Park is home to the country’s sprawling cave systems. The biggest known cave IN THE WORLD, Son Doong, was discovered here, but there are a ton of other caves in VN and most are located here in Phong Nha.
While you can only visit Son Doong via (insanely expensive) private tour, there are a ton of more affordable and accessible caving & trekking opportunities. My friend and I did a full-day tour with Jungle Boss through Elephant Cave, Ma Da Lake, and the pitch-black Tra Ang Cave (accessible by swimming only). Other than the leeches (lol), it was an AWESOME TIME. We also took a boat through Phong Nha Cave (you can get a ticket at the tourism centre), hiked up to the nearby Tien Song Cave, and explored Paradise Cave separately.
Base yourself at the Phong Nha Farmstay for a lovely getaway and some seriously fantastic food. While in town, check out the MUST-VISIT Pub with Cold Beer (best name ever) for some BOMB roasted chicken and, yes, ice-cold beer.
Take a Basket Boat Ride Through the Hội An Mangrove Forests
Vietnamese fishermen use round basket-shaped boats that seemingly defy all reason and laws of physics. The athleticism required to paddle one of these bad boys out to sea is honestly a sight to behold. They’re a joy to watch from afar, but even better on board, especially if you get one of the (many) crazy tour guides who spins the boat around at top speed.
In Hội An you can book a basket boat tour down the river, which takes you through some beautiful mangrove forests. Super unique activity in Vietnam and while it might be touristy it is SO FUN. You can book a ride through one of my favorite breakfast spots, the very aptly named Basket Boat Cafe – before or after grabbing a killer brekkie & some drinks!
Get Some Custom Clothing Tailored in Hội An
Hội An is Vietnam’s clothes-tailoring hotspot. You can get custom clothing made here for ridiculously affordable prices – design your own dress, replicate something you’ve seen online, get a suit made, you name it.
There are TONS of shops here and some truly talented tailors, with literally every fabric you can imagine in their collection. Come prepared with photos of what you’d like made, or you can work with the tailor to design a piece together. Definitely leave room in your suitcase!
You can also get custom leatherwork done including handbags, shoes, and more, all for crazy affordable prices. I got the cutest black leather backpack custom-made for a grand total of… $40 USD.
Watch the Dragon Bridge Fire Show in Da Nang
Da Nang is famous for Dragon Bridge, which is the longest bridge in Vietnam! You can’t miss it – it’s huge, yellow, and ultra-modern, and makes a great photo op during the day. But the best part is at night – the bridge comes to life at 9:00 PM when it starts breathing literal flamethrower-style fire from the dragon’s mouth. Not sure how this isn’t a massive safety hazard, but it is VERY cool to watch. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in central VN!
Relax at a Beachside Resort in Up-and-Coming Quy Nhon
One of my favorite long weekends was spent relaxing in sleepy Quy Nhon, which you can reach via the Vietage train I mentioned earlier. It’s a quiet beach town with resorts and not much else – although there are a couple “attractions”, like Thap Doi temple and Ong Nui Temple (featuring a GIANT white Buddha at the top of a metric f*ck ton of stairs).
However. The beach is gorgeous and I personally loved the quiet, laid-back vibes and delicious fresh seafood. This is a basically untouched destination and there are some DOPE resorts. Maia Resort (Ocean Pool Villa pictured) was obnoxiously beautiful & an insane value for money – one of my all-time favorite hotel stays.
There’s also an incredible fishing village/restaurant setup (Bai Xep) in one of the little bays near Avani Resort. Local fishermen set out their catches from the day in colorful plastic tubs – everything from blue crabs to giant prawns to every fish you could imagine. You pick out what you want to eat and the restaurants will cook it for you. Then you enjoy your fresh-caught dinner at a table right on the edge of the water. SUCH a cool experience.
Day Trip to Cham Island Near Hội An
There’s an island near Hội An which most tourists don’t know about, and it’s absolutely LOVELY and super laid-back. It’s a short 30-min boat ride from the main harbor. The beaches are gorgeous and you can arrange to go kayaking or snorkeling. Vendors sell coconuts and coffees at the beach so you can relax with a drink and tan. You can also grab some fresh seafood at one of the many beach restaurants.
Some friends and I had a really lovely getaway weekend here, but most people visit Cham as a day trip – which is totally doable as there isn’t much to see here. If you have some extra time in your schedule and enjoy some laid-back beach time, it’s definitely worth a stop!
Inhale Vietnam’s BEST Banh Mi in Hội An
If you’ve ever had a banh mi outside Vietnam and enjoyed it, the ones here will blow your f*cking mind. Hội An is home to the two best banh mi spots in all of Vietnam – perfect crunchy baguette, tons of grilled pork, rich pate, crunchy fresh veggies and herbs, a nice smear of sauce, and red-hot chillies. Yesssssss.
Madam Khanh, AKA the Banh Mi Queen, is my favorite. Get the pork with pate, and make it spicy if you can handle heat. The sandwich is literal perfection every time – they don’t call her the QUEEN for nothing.
The most famous spot is definitely Banh Mi Phuong, which is nearly as good as Madam Khanh – there’s ALWAYS a queue out the door but it moves fast. This was an Anthony Bourdain favorite and is now a local legend 🙂
Soak Up the Sun at An Bang Beach
Hội An has a GORGEOUS 4 km (!) coastline. I lived a 5-min walk from An Bang Beach for months and spent countless afternoons sipping coconuts and inhaling super-fresh seafood in between swims and watching fishermen head out to sea in their basket boats. Soul Kitchen, Kahuna’s, Shore Club, and Salt Pub are all great spots to post up for the day. And at sunset all the locals come out to fly kites and play soccer – it’s just a really lovely vibe 🙂
If you’re a beach bum I’d HIGHLY recommend staying in An Bang when visiting the area – it’s just 15 minutes from Hôi An Ancient Town and way outside the hustle and bustle of the city. You’ll also enjoy a GLORIOUS view of the rice fields on your way into town and back.
I lived at An Bang Coco Beach Villa for two months and would happily go back!! If you prefer rice field views, I think Terrace Villa has the nicest view in Hôi An and it’s only a 5-min nip from the beach.
Visit the Expansive Huế Imperial City
Huế’s Imperial City is one of Vietnam’s (literally) biggest attractions – a SPRAWLING complex once used by the royal family and their servants. The complex features a citadel + moat, old residences, temples, and gardens. The UNESCO heritage site is a full-day outing and you’ll cover a LOT of ground, so wear good walking shoes. The architecture is INCREDIBLE and there are some great photo ops as well.
While you’re in town make sure to also grab a bowl of bún bò Huế (literally, “Huế beef noodle” soup), the BEST local specialty – if you like phở, this soup will blow your mind! It’s a noodle soup with meat, fresh herbs, and a spicy lemongrass pork broth. So good. There are restaurants all over Huế so stop in anywhere for a bowl 🙂
Explore the Ruins of My Son Temple
Located about an hour’s drive from Hội An, this is another must visit central Vietnam attraction. A complex of red-brick ruins that were once important Hindu temples, My Son was largely destroyed by US bombers during the Vietnam War. The government has put significant money and work into preserving My Son in recent decades.
I would recommend visiting My Son reasonably early in the morning (the complex opens at 6:00 AM) to avoid scorching heat and aggressive crowds. The site is pretty small so this is definitely not a full or even half-day activity, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you have any interest in history.
Northern Vietnam Bucket List – The Best Things to Do in Northern Vietnam
Moving on to Vietnam’s beautiful NORTH! The northern regions of Vietnam feature some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes, especially the areas closer to the China border. Adventure-lovers will have a field day up here – the Hà Giang Loop is one of the best motorbike circuits in the world, and Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, and Ninh Binh regions all have incredible hiking & jaw-dropping views.
Exploring Vietnam’s capital, Ha Noi, is also a must – any fellow foodies will appreciate all the regional specialties, street foods, and local beers!
Again, I’d recommend a minimum of a week here, but the longer you can stay, the better!
Motorbike the Breathtaking Hà Giang Loop
Hà Giang is an under-the-radar GEM. A must-do for adventure lovers or anyone who appreciates jaw-dropping scenery, this multi-day motorbike circuit takes you across hundreds of kilometers of breathtaking mountain roads, all the way up to the Chinese border. You need a minimum of three full days for the loop (I’d suggest 5+), but I promise you won’t regret budgeting the time. It is STUNNING.
The sense of community here is just as wonderful as the scenery. The homestays along the loop are beyond hospitable – after a long day of riding you’ll be welcomed with home-cooked family feasts, free-flowing “happy water” (local rice wine), and good conversation with locals and fellow travelers. The accommodation is no-frills but the views you’ll wake up to are unbelievable.
This is easily my #1 req for top things to do in Vietnam – whether you know how to drive a motorbike or not. You can drive yourself or hire a guide to take you on the back of his bike (I recommend QT Motorbikes, for either rentals or tours!!). Just as a PSA, if you haven’t driven a bike before I would NOT recommend learning here – the roads and weather are challenging and can be dangerous & unpredictable.
Take a Luxury Cruise through Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is one of the best-known regions of Vietnam, and with good reason. The towering limestone islands are stunning, and boat tours are insane bang for your buck. Luxury cruises are the way to go – they’re basically a 5-star hotel room, on a boat, for stupid affordable prices. Yes. Yessssss!! This is a Vietnam MUST-DO.
I spent a few days cruising Ha Long Bay and nearby Lan Ha Bay c/o Orchid Cruise and it was such a magical experience. Every morning I’d sip coffee on my private balcony watching the scenery drift by, then enjoy breakfast in the open-plan dining room, followed by tanning and kayaking, seafood BBQs for sunset, squid fishing at night, and dirty martinis (back on my balcony lol) before bed. 10/10 WOULD RECOMMMEND.
Sip the Wildest Drink of Your Life at Ha Noi Train Street
Train Street is exactly what it sounds like. An active train barrels through this residential + commercial area twice a day! Shops and cafes are set up on either side of the tracks, and the street is full of kids playing and people taking photos, and when the train comes through everyone clears out. You can sip your coffee or beer literally RIGHT next to the train. It’s a WILD, once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Sit street level to experience the full terror of the train lol and then head upstairs to a cafe with a view (I recommend Hao Hao Coffee!) to people-watch and enjoy a few drinks. Great way to kill an afternoon in Hanoi.
Explore the Ha Noi Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake
VN’s busy capital, Ha Noi, is a must-visit! One of the top attractions in northern Vietnam is the Ha Noi Old Quarter, where you can see some gorgeous French colonial architecture, temples, pagodas, and some amazing cafes. The city is filled with amazing spots for pho & street food and shopping, so I recommend just going for a walk and popping in anywhere that looks interesting.
Other must-dos include a stroll around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake – there’s a ton of cafes/bars to post up for an afternoon, but my personal favorite is Ma Xo. Don’t miss the touristy but stupid-fun Beer Street for a great night out, the gothic St Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Ba Dinh Military History Museum & Hoa Lo Prison for any history buffs.
Enjoy Street Food & Coffee in Ha Noi
Now that we’ve covered activities, let’s move on to the FOOD!! This is my favorite part of Hanoi. The food scene here is amazingly diverse, with some fantastic local specialties. Book a half-day motorbike tour to try out some local favorites.
Top of the list is bun cha – chargrilled pork, tangy pork broth with pickled veggies and chilli, rice vermicelli, and a heaping portion of fresh herbs. There are tons of spots to try it, but a popular one is Bun Cha Hoang Lien, where President Barack Obama and the late, great Anthony Bourdain famously shared a meal. The table where they ate is preserved in a literal glass enclosure now lol which makes this spot a fun tourist attraction as well.
Other local specialities include cha ca (turmeric catfish fried up with tons of fresh dill/spring onion, served with vermicelli, crushed peanuts, and fish sauce – try it at Cha Ca Thang Long!), Hanoi-style pho, nem cua (fried crab spring rolls – BOMB), Vietnamese hot pot, and ca phe trung (egg coffee. Way better than it sounds – it’s sweet, creamy, and heavenly).
Trek Through the Sa Pa Rice Fields
Sa Pa, a small town near the border with China, is Vietnam’s trekking capital. There are some unbelievable views across the rice terraces, and trekking tours run frequently to different sites in the area. Sa Pa is a great place to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese culture as it’s largely composed of smaller local villages.
I suggest staying at a homestay here for some amazing food + a unique cultural experience – some favorites are La Beaute in town, and Mintu Home just outside Sa Pa for some amazing views.
Sa Pa’s highlights are trekking and the homestays but other must-dos include a drink at the beautiful (and aptly-named) Cafe in the Clouds and a trip up Fansipan Mountain via cable car.
The weather here is much chillier than the rest of Vietnam due to the elevation, so make sure to stop in for a lau (Vietnamese hot pot… AMAZING) at one of the many restaurants. Sa Pa is one of the few regions of VN that experiences an actual winter, so you can expect SNOW and/or super cold temperatures a few months out of the year, so do keep that in mind when planning your visit.
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Stay at a Topas Hotel for an Authentic, Eco-Friendly Experience in Sa Pa
You all know I love a good hotel lol, and two of the all-time COOLEST HOTELS EVER are located in Sa Pa. They’re both run by a travel company called the Topas Travel group and they’re both truly STUNNING and destinations in their own right. They offer completely different experiences so I’d recommend staying at both if you have time!
Topas Riverside Lodge is an absolute gem set along a quiet Sa Pa riverside. This is the more local experience, featuring an authentic menu of local specialties in a gorgeous riverside setting.
Their other property, Topas Ecolodge, is probably a little more familiar. You may have seen the Ecolodge on Instagram before – it has Vietnam’s most picturesque infinity pool, overlooking the full Sa Pa valley and some amazing mountain views. An amazing taste of luxury in VN and a great bucket list item while you’re here.
Hike Cat Ba Island
One of the many islands in the general Ha Long Bay area, Cat Ba is part of the quieter and equally beautiful Lan Ha Bay. The island is WAY bigger than I expected and you can easily spend a few days exploring – there are some great hiking spots, beaches, and local restaurants to check out. My friends and I spent three days and I think I would have enjoyed a couple more.
Top thing to do here – the Cat Ba National Park Hike. It’s absolutely stunning and gives you incredible views over the greenery of the island.
Also recommend renting a motorbike and touring the many beaches on the island. Make sure to grab a fresh seafood dinner at the main waterfront after a long day of beaching!!
Hike Up to Hang Mua
One of the best things to do in northern Vietnam is visit Ninh Binh, about two hours from Hanoi. Known as “Ha Long Bay on land”, Ninh Binh is one of Vietnam’s best outdoorsy areas and is full of incredible hikes and views. The top attraction, and the most photogenic, is Hang Mua, or “Mua Caves”, a hike up to a beautiful temple & a truly spectacular viewpoint over Ninh Binh.
The hike up is honestly pretty brutal if you’re out of shape – there are a lot of stairs and they are a f*cking B*TCH in the heat. I visited here at my fattest lol and I had to stop several times on the way up. The heat & humidity are truly oppressive, so I’d suggest visiting here earlier in the day rather than full afternoon sun.
But the views are 1000% worth it. There are two sets of stairs when you’re most of the way up, that branch off to different, equally pretty viewpoints – make sure to do both. There’s also a dragon statue way at the top where you can get a really magnificent 360 view of the entire surrounding area.
Take a Boat Ride Through Tam Coc
You CANNOT miss one (or both) of the boat rides through the Ninh Binh area – one is in Tam Coc, leaving from the main boat terminal in town, and the other departs from quieter Trang An. Make sure to organise one at sunset to take full advantage of the magnificent scenery.
I was staying in Tam Coc so did that tour and it was amazing. A unique feature of the boats in Ninh Binh is that they are rowed BY FOOT – I don’t know how or why this came to be, but it’s very entertaining to watch. For the price of your tour (about $8 USD), you’ll get paddled down the river past some gorgeous karst formations and through some unique caves.
Sample Some Fried Goat in Ninh Binh
Goat is a local specialty in Ninh Binh and it’s surprisingly delicious. The traditional preparation is to stir-fry the goat with lemongrass, shallot, and chilli, and serve with rice – it’s tender and super flavorful. Get some spring rolls also to make a full meal 🙂
I ate goat at a few different restaurants and the best was at Hoa Luan in Tam Coc! Perfect way to fill up after a long day of biking and exploring Ninh Binh.
Take a Night Train or Bus
Vietnam has surprisingly good transit options. Sleeper trains and buses are an unexpectedly lovely way to get around the country. The rail line spans pretty much all of VN, so you can literally take a train from Hanoi all the way to HCMC in the south! If you have time to spare and enjoy train travel I’d really recommend it.
I’ve taken probably 8 or 9 long-haul train journeys so far, many of them 15+ hour overnight trips. The scenery is lovely and it’s a very peaceful journey. The VIP cars have 4-person cabins with a thin but reasonably comfy mattress, a blanket, and a pillow plus reading lights & charging ports. There’s a restaurant car as well where you can get a snack or have a few beers while watching the world go by. A cockroach or two may join you lol – when in Rome, right?
Standard buses are pretty sh*t, but the FANCY buses (pictured) are next-level. The one I took from Da Lat to Saigon had lay-flat seats, plus built-in massage chairs and personal TVs.
Sip 40-Cent Beers at Beer Street + Local Bia Hoi in Ha Noi
Beer Street in Ha Noi is a can’t-miss experience – a giant alleyway full of bars with cheap, sh*tty blue plastic stools spilling out into the street. Street vendors walk by with balloons, local teenagers bum around trying to look cool, you will 100% witness a karaoke battle, and there are snack carts galore to satisfy any drunken cravings. Beer Street can’t legally operate past a certain hour (I think 11:00 PM), so bars will whisk all the stools away and literally lock you inside if you want to keep drinking late into the night. It’s a VERY fun environment.
But while fun, Beer Street is tourist central. If you want the real local experience, check out one of the many Bia Hoi around town. Bia Hoi is basically a dirt-cheap local beer that’s brewed daily – it’s served up in the same blue-tinted glasses everywhere. Pull up a tiny blue plastic stool, grab a 10K (~40 cents) note, and prepare yourself for a great night.
Honestly anywhere with a Bia Hoi sign and plastic stools is a good bet – there are loads in the Ba Dinh neighborhood in particular. There’s basically no tourists around so locals will chat you up, play drinking games with you, practice their English, and offer you snacks. I had some amazing, extremely hazy nights out here lol. It’s such a good time. Easily of the best things to do in Vietnam.
Visit the Mai Chau or Mu Cang Chai Rice Terraces
Lesser-known than Sapa, Mai Chau and Mu Cang Chai also have magnificent rice terraces you can explore and photograph. Mai Chau is more built up but Mu Cang Chai is more beautiful, so it depends what you’re looking for. Neither are particularly accessible so will be a detour from any standard tourist route, but for any photography lovers or adventure buffs this is one for the books.
Southern Vietnam Bucket List – The Best Places to See in Southern Vietnam
Vietnam’s incredible south is home to the chaotic *ss, wonderful city of HCMC (aka Saigon), the BEAUTIFUL Phu Quoc Island, quirky Da Lat, and the gorgeous scenery of the Mekong Delta & Mui Ne. Planning a visit here means prepping yourself for some amazing food and some major culture shock.
You know the drill – give yourself at least a week, but ideally more. Here’s all the BEST things to do in southern Vietnam.
Take the Phu Quoc Cable Car
Phu Quoc, an island paradise just south of HCMC, is home to the longest cable car in the world!! It takes you over 8 KM (!) of gorgeous coastline, fishing boats, and lush trees, before dropping you at your final destination, Pineapple Island! It runs from 8 AM to 5:30 PM, so you can plan a full-day outing.
The cable car is an activity in itself, but the island houses a full-on waterpark complete with some pretty aggressive slides, a wave pool, lazy river, and so on – definitely a fun day out. You can also take a buggy over to the beach to hang on a hammock and sip a coconut.
Visit Phu Quoc’s Starfish Beach
The northern tip of Phu Quoc has a gorgeous beach which is full of starfish! It’s a bit of a trek on your motorbike to get there, but you’ll be rewarded with crystal clear water and a beach literally COVERED in starfish. Great photo spot.
Super important caveat here and one which 99% of tourists seem to either not understand, or not respect — do not f*cking touch the starfish?? I can’t believe this even needs to be said lol but to be clear, disturbing natural wildlife is not a vibe. Starfish can’t breathe outside of water so picking them up for a cute photo is NOT OK. DO NOT DO THAT.
Otherwise, enjoy the beautiful beach, and take IG pics to your heart’s content.
Visit the Da Lat Clay Tunnels Sculpture Garden & Covid-19 Park
This is one of the lesser-known tourist attractions in Vietnam, but still VERY MUCH worth a visit. Clay Tunnels is a sculpture garden in Da Lat featuring some pretty impressive installations – the most famous one being the twin heads pictured above (also makes a fantastic photo op).
HOWEVER. I have NEVER seen the best part of this attraction mentioned on any blog or Instagram, and to be honest that snub is a f*cking crime. Because this is probably the best place I ever visited in Vietnam, lol.
And that is — Covid-19 park. Exactly what it sounds like. An adult playground on-site at Clay Tunnels, devoted entirely to the theme of… Covid-19. There are hand sanitiser water fountains beating up sculptures of Covid-19 germs. There is a boxing ring where you can beat up Covid-19 yourself.
I am not sure what absolute f*cking mastermind dreamt this place up, but it is BEYOND worth a visit for the novelty and hilarity of its theme alone. Thoroughly delightful experience. I really hope this is a permanent installation because everyone deserves to see this place for themselves.
Take a Street Food Tour in Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon is a street food paradise. Strolling or motorbiking through its bustling streets you’ll never be short of food options, and when you’re not overwhelmed by the grit and chaos of the city you’ll find time to slurp down a pho or an iced coffee with condensed milk.
I can’t even begin to list all the amazing places to eat in HCMC (that’s for another post lol) – there are truly too many to count. Your best bet is to go with an organised street food tour where you can sample a ton of local foods in one go!
If y’all made it this far, congrats.
I am tired (this post is already 6 thousand words… help) and I want this post to start ranking already LOL so we’re publishing this before I even finish the damn thing. A new low, even for me. Check back shortly to see more of the top things to do in southern Vietnam lol CHEERS FRIENDS. Hope you enjoyed this post and got some great ideas for things to do in Vietnam. More deets on the following to come this week 🙂
- Cruise Down the Mekong Delta
- Visit the Mui Ne Sand Dunes
- Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels
- Spot Monkeys and Rare Wildlife in Cat Tien National Park
- Tour the Mountain City of Da Lat
- Take a Sunset Boat Ride down the Saigon River
- Explore the Da Lat Crazy House & Maze Bar
- Eat & Browse at the Can Tho Floating Market
- Shop at Ben Thanh Market in Saigon
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