Once clouded with conflict and war, Vietnam now boasts a rich history and also many intriguing tourist attractions. Most travellers to Vietnam are attracted by the country’s wonderful natural beauty: From the green rice fields in the north to the fascinating bustle of the Mekong Delta in the south. Vietnam is also a country with ancient, fascinating traditions, coupled with delicious food it is indeed a must-visit destination.
Among the incredible places that are mandatory visits in Vietnam include;
- Marble Mountains
South of Da Nang, Vietnam, are the Marble Mountains. These five peaks are named after the five elements of earth, water, wind, fire and wood. The mountains are picturesque on their own, but they are also home to countless caves, some of which house incredible Buddhist sanctuaries. Some caves contain Confucian or Buddhist shrines, and others were used as sanctuaries and hospitals during the Vietnam War.
- Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
In Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, stands the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral. Built in the late 19th century, the cathedral is brick, neo-Romanesque and clearly influenced by European architecture of the same time period. In fact, many of the materials used in construction were imported directly from France. While the exterior is impressive, the interior is also worth exploring. Look for the surviving stained glass panels as well as carved tiles and a statue of the Virgin Mary.
- Tam Coc
In the Ninh Binh province of Northern Vietnam near is Tam Coc, which translates to English as three caves. The three caves are nestled in a scenic landscape of limestone cliffs and rice paddies, and the river winds through the region. The caves are called Hang Cả, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba, and they serve as the area’s main attraction. Guided boat tours take you to the caves and along the Ngo Dong River, which is often dotted with floating vendors capitalizing on the tourist visiting on a day trip from Hanoi.
- My Khe Beach
The most scenic spot in Da Nang is arguably My Khe Beach. Also known as China Beach, this was where US servicemen were helicoptered in for R&R during the Vietnam War. These days people come here however for tis pristine white sand, blue water and sunny skies. Visitors can rent a lounge chair on the sand, relax in the shade under a thatched umbrella or rent a kayak from nearby vendors. Many hotels and cafes are within walking distance of My Khe Beach, making it a hub for visitors as well as locals in search of incredible views.
- Hang Son Doong Cave
One of the largest caves in the world, and certainly the largest in Vietnam, is Hang Son Doong. Approximately three million years old, Hang Son Doong Cave is an incredible destination unlike anywhere else on the planet. The cave is enormous, and it is possible for dozens of people to camp within it at a time. Bright blue water pools are located in the cave, and a river runs through it. Lush greenery lines the walls, thanks to erosion that lets in beams of sunlight. The cave is ethereal, and guided tours are available to best explore this amazing landmark.
- Temple of Literature in Hanoi
In the city of Hanoi, there is an incredible temple dedicated to Confucius. Built in the 11th century, the Temple of Literature honors scholars and the many academic achievements of the Vietnamese, past and present. The Temple of Literature was even the site of the very first university in the nation. Among countless statues of Confucius and his disciples, there are impressive pagodas and a pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity.
- Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
Located in the historical center of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as the locals’ favorite leisure spot. Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later he returned the sword to the Golden Turtle God in the lake.
- Phu Quoc
Located in front of the Cambodia coast, Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam. Phu Quoc is what Phuket would be if it hadn’t been overrun by development. The island features pristine tropical forests, undamaged coral reefs and great beaches. One of its beaches, named Bai Dai (Long Beach), was chosen by the ABC News as one of five beautiful and clean beaches. Phu Quoc is famous for producing the best nuoc mam or fermented fish sauce in the world.
- Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue
With seven stories, the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam. The pagoda overlooks the Perfume River and is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the former imperial capital. The temple was built in 1601 during the rule of the Nguyễn Lords. The initial temple was very simply constructed, but over time it was redeveloped and expanded with more intricate features.
- Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is situated in north Vietnam round a 120 kilometer long coast line and is literally translated as “Bay of Descending Dragons”. The top tourist attraction in Vietnam, Ha Long Bay features thousands of islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves, others islands include lakes and some support floating villages of fishermen.
The Indochina war and US invasion left lush history in Vietnam,looking in retrospection;
- Con Dao Prison
For 42 years since the prisons of Con Dao were shut down, horrific memories still cast a forbidding shadow over this quiet town. Known as “the true hell on earth,” this used to be home to tens of thousands of Vietnamese prisoners who suffered and died at the hands of French colonials at first and later the US-backed South Vietnamese government between 1863 and 1975. Fettered and contorted mannequins bring the bone-chilling experience to reality.
- Hoa Lo Prison
While historical museums in Hanoi are mostly rather propagandist and perhaps superficial, Hoa Lo Prison can be a good fit to catch up on the city’s back story. Despite many modern restorations, it offers a real sense of the past. Head to the gloomy rooms to see erstwhile prison cells which witnessed the incarceration of the US pilots, including Senator John McCain and more importantly, the ghastliness and barbarity that many Vietnamese nationalist leaders and revolutionaries suffered during the French colony.
- Khai Dinh Tomb
Among plenty of royal tombs in Hu, the Vietnam’s former capital, Khai Dinh’s tomb sets itself apart from other Nguyen Dynasty tombs with an appealing fusion of Asian and European touches. Constructed over 11 years, the tomb is more like a monument of his excessive wealth which stayed true to his reputation as a puppet of the French colonial government.
- Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels, a complex network of underground tunnels were firstly built in the late 1940s during the French colonial period and later were expanded in the early 1960s when the US escalated its military presence in South Vietnam to support a non-Communist regime. Read more about Cu Chi Tunnels here to understand their significant role in the country’s war history.
- My Son Cham Ruins
My Son sanctuary which houses Vietnam’s most extensive Cham ruins once served as the religious and political centre of the kingdom of Champa for centuries. The fact that it is constantly compared with Angkor Wat of the Khmer kingdom may cause the misleading impression of the natural beauty of My Son Cham ruins. The temples were discovered by the French archaeologists in the late 19th century but later suffered from a heavy destruction from the US bombs.
- Hue Imperial Citadel
Compared to Beijing’s Forbidden City, Hue Imperial Citadel was first constructed in 1804, home to the Nguyen Dynasty – Vietnam’s last royal dynasty for 143 years. The complex of the Emperor’s residence, gates, temples, and pagodas was severely damaged under the French rule and during the Vietnam War, and only 20 out of 148 buildings survived.
- Cannon Fort
Cannon Fort was first installed by the Japanese in Cat Ba, its military outpost during the World War II, and later used by the French during the Indochina War and finally the Communist force during the Vietnam War to defend the city of Haiphong. The underground tunnels and trenches are well worth a visit not only because of its crucial role in the country’s war victory but also because of its amazing panoramic views overlooking the Cat Ba Island’s hill and sea landscape.
- Vinh Moc Tunnels
While Cu Chi Tunnels mainly served the military purposes for Viet Cong guerrilla, the impressive network of Vinh Moc underground tunnels, built between 1966 and 1967, were used as bomb shelters for civilians. 300 people sought protection from the US bombing, living and working in the three-level tunnels for six years
Also there are a bunch of magnificent items only available in Vietnam:
- Vietnamese Coffee
Coffee is one of the most popular and high-quality product in Vietnam, selling almost everywhere. However, if you want to avoid the slight chance of scam and cheaper price, it is possible to buy great coffee in Hanoi, Da Lat or Tay Nguyen (Vietnam Central Highlands). Otherwise, you can find this type of souvenir in any big cities without much trouble. Just ask the local or your tour guide for the trusting providers.
- Ao Dai
Ao Dai (long dress) is perhaps extremely well-known over all the world as the traditional clothes of Vietnam. Its elegant and beauty are loved by plenty fashionable tourists and obviously Vietnamese woman. Nonetheless, be sure to look up at different types of Ao Dai such as trendy ao dai, hippy ao dai, or mini Ao dai. Moreover, tailors also need about 24 hours to complete an Ao Dai. However, this will both be a nice present for your friends, family member or simply kept as a memento.
- Conical Hat
For 10 or so years ago, the conical hat (or straw hat) was a familiar garment to Vietnamese. It provides not only a protection from the heat but also added to the charm of the wearer. Today, it is usually used as decorations and presents. The conical hat may have few differences between regions yet all the basic features are the same. This souvenir can be found in many parts of Vietnam at a reasonable price. So, the conical hat is one of the special gifts that you should add it on your Things to buy in Vietnam list.
- Wooden Puppets
The water puppet show has been the greatest art in Vietnam for several centuries. If you love the authentic wooden puppet after participating in one of the shows in the theater, you can purchase some to bring home. It is pretty hard to locate which mainly sold stores around Hanoi Old Quarter and Van Mieu. However, this rare kind of souvenir will obviously worth your time and money anyway – one of the best things to buy back from Hanoi.
- Watercolour Painting
For those who love paintings, even though they may visit the national museum in the country to contemplate the unique watercolour paintings, it is possible to buy a work of art showing the magnificent scene in Vietnam. This is one of the main products in souvenir shops resulting in easy trade for tourists. The price is reasonable ranging from RM 40 to RM 100 with lots of topics, styles and themes.