Things to Do in Vietnam
Built by the Viet Cong in the 1940s as protection from French air raids during the Indochina conflict, the Cu Chi Tunnels extend underground for more than 155 miles (250 km) in the vicinity of Ho Chi Minh City alone. This network of subterranean passageways later provided vital access to and strategic control over the rural areas surrounding the city during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War or the American War), when the tunnels housed living quarters, hospitals, booby traps, and storage facilities for the Viet Cong.
One of a cluster of islands that stud Nha Trang Bay, Hon Mun island is the epicenter of the Hon Mun Marine Protected Area. Spanning 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) of protected ocean, the zone is home to colorful coral and marine life. Visit to snorkel one of Vietnam’s favorite underwater spots.
One of Da Nang’s top attractions, the five outcrops that make up central Vietnam’s Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn) each are named after a different element: fire, wood, metal, water and earth. Visit the mountains to take in views of the landscape, to explore caves, Buddhist and Hindu grottoes, pagodas, and shrines, and even to shop.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay is renowned for its spectacular scenery. One of the most popular tourist attractions in northern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is home to sparkling emerald waters, more than 1,600 towering limestone islands and islets, caves, and traditional floating villages.
Constructed between the 8th and 12th centuries, the Po Nagar Cham Towers sit at the mouth of the Cai River in central Vietnam, on the outskirts of the beach town of Nha Trang. The towers were built to honor the region’s Cham rulers and incorporate Buddhist temples and shrines to the Hindu gods Shiva and Ganesh.
Surrounded by dramatic gorges and stepped rice terraces, the landscapes around Sapa (Sa Pa) are some of northern Vietnam’s most striking. Visit Sapa to hike scenic trails past tumbling waterfalls, shop colorful traditional markets, and learn about Vietnam’s cultural heritage of Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay, and Yi minority groups.
Remote Lan Ha Bay (Vịnh Lan Hạ), situated off the southeast coast of Cat Ba Island, is an idyllic spot and quieter alternative to the popular and often busy Halong Bay. The area features some 300 karst islands and limestone outcrops, as well as several white-sand beaches. Active travelers come here for swimming, rock climbing, hiking, and kayaking.
The towering spire of Stone Church—a cathedral that’s known by many names to locals—can be seen from almost anywhere in Nha Trang. Despite how it’s humbly known, this stunning stone structure is one of the most striking architectural wonders in this Vietnamese city and a nod to European influence in this land that’s otherwise filled with Hindu and Buddhist temples.
The church’s clock tower sits high above a beautiful archway with a circular window inlaid with stained glass. And while the exterior of this church is undeniably beautiful, it’s the towering interior that’s worth marveling at. Two separate paths lead visitors to the entrances of Stone Church and names of the dead are carved along the way in a call for prayers.
Ninh Binh, located in the Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam, is an ideal base for exploring the nearby karst scenery, particularly at Tam Coc (Three Caves). At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, limestone formations tower above verdant rice paddies in what is considered one of Vietnam’s most spectacular areas.
Though the name sounds old, XQ Historical Village was actually founded in the early 1990s by artists Vo Van Quan and Hoang Le Xuan as a way to showcase needlework and painting to travelers from overseas. More than 2,000 women work to create the intricate masterpieces that are put on display in this and other villages like it through Vietnam.
Quan and Xuan utilized age-old needlework traditions that hale from China and were once used to tell stories of the Orient, to instead tell the tales of Vietnam through brightly colored, handmade items. Visitors to this historically inspired village can witness craftswomen working in pairs over silk-draped tables creating some of the most colorful and intricate designs around. Travelers can purchase lavish wall hanging for their home or decorated scarves and greeting cards from the local shop. The picturesque tea garden offers the perfect place to check out more of the handmade works and relax in the natural beauty of XQ’s picturesque surroundings.
More Things to Do in Vietnam
Founded in the 19th century, the Long Son Pagoda (Chùa Long Sơn) has been attracting travelers thanks to its stunning façade, traditional peaked roofs and ornately decorated mosaic dragons. Its peaceful interior pays homage to seven monks who lit themselves on fire during the 1960s in an act of protest. Travelers will find hand-carved busts of these men surrounding a massive white seated Buddha, who’s perched in a lotus blossom looking out at these martyrs.
Visitors can explore the grounds and make their way to the top of the hill and platform surrounding the massive Buddha, where incredible views of nearby towns and the Vietnamese countryside do not disappoint.
Amid the lush islands and karst cliffs of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Halong Bay; Surprise Cave (Hang Sung Sot) is one of the most memorable highlights. The bay’s largest cave earned its name for its startling natural scenery—a trio of immense caverns adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and karst formations.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park nestle beneath some of Asia's most spectacular karst rock formations. While some of the caves—such as Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave—are only available on expensive multi-day tours, others, such as Phong Nha, are easy to visit on a day trip.
Impossible to miss, Lady Buddha dominates the landscape of Da Nang. The marble statue, perched on the side of Monkey Mountain and visible from nearly anywhere in the city, stands 220 feet (67 meters) tall and measures 56 feet (17 meters) in diameter. Inside the statue, a flight of stairs leads up to 17 floors, each representing a different aspect of the Buddha.
The name Lady Buddha is a bit deceiving. The statue in fact depicts Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy can be found in coastal areas throughout Asia, as she is believed to bring calm to the sea. The giant statue stands in front of the beautiful Linh Ung Pagoda, with its gardens and small souvenir shop operated by monks.
The renowned Hue Citadel (Da Noi) in Hue attracts history buffs from around the globe. The sprawling fortress, which was constructed in 1804 for the Gia Long Emperor, is surrounded by a 68-foot (21-meter) defensive barrier and is home to the tallest flagpole in Vietnam.
Used as an observation base in the American-Vietnam war, Son Tra Mountain (Monkey Mountain) overlooks Son Tra Peninsula near the city of Da Nang. Midway up the 2,790-foot (850-meter) peak, you find Linh Ung Pagoda, home to the Lady Buddha statue. Expect to encounter troops of monkeys dwelling in its jungle-covered cliffs.
Renowned throughout Southeast Asia for its antique charm, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An Ancient Town is a must-see for first-time visitors to Vietnam. The pedestrianized streets provide a calming break from chaotic traffic, while the colorful facades of lantern-clad houses harbor history that dates back more than 2,000 years.
Sometimes called the beach capital of Vietnam, Nha Trang is known for its scenic shores and few are more delightful than the yellow sandy stretch of Nha Trang Beach. This 6-km destination is ideal for swimmers, sunbathers and snorkelers, who will likely find uninterrupted turquoise blue waters to explore on their own. While a slightly more social scene can be found at jumping beach joints like Sailing Club and the local brew house, deserted island vibes can be found further down towards the south side. A popular promenade offers a scenic place for an evening stroll and the nearby town comes alive with plenty of entertaining nightlife options once the sun goes down.
The 7-story Thien Mu Pagoda towers over the banks of the Perfume River (Song Huong River). The pagoda, which sits among the buildings of a Buddhist monastery, became known as a site for anticommunist protests after Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist clergy member, self-immolated and brought attention to the plight of his people.
Visit the ruins of ancient towers and temples on the emerald hills of central Vietnam at the My Son Sanctuary (Mỹ Sơn), a complex of brick and stone temples built by Hindu Cham kings between the fourth and 13th centuries. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site makes an easy day trip from Hoi An or Da Nang.
The Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world at 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers), is the main artery of Southeast Asia. Its flowing waters are the beating pulse for a region that includes the fertile Mekong Delta around Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the scenic hills of Laos, and the jungle-lined waterways of Thailand and Cambodia.
Built in the early 1900s, this massive market is a hub for local life in Nha Trang City. Originally constructed on a seven hectare pond, Dam Market (Chợ Đầm) was damaged during the Vietnam War and later resurrected as a three-storey building that’s jam packed with souvenirs, meat and fish stalls. Locals make their way to the popular market in the earliest hours of the morning and comb through stalls manned by friendly men and women in search of the day’s freshest. Travelers will find just about everything inside this eclectic marketplace that’s ripe with all of the energy and excitement of Nha Trang City life.
Along the mountainous coastline north of Nha Trang, Hòn Chồng (Husband Rock) is made up of huge rock formations piled on top of each other that run from the land down into the sea.
The views are what people come here for, with a fantastic landscape of rocks, beach, ocean, and neighboring islands to feast your eyes on. Around 300 meters south of Hòn Chồng lies the tiny Hon Do (Red Island), which features its own Buddhist temple. To the northeast is Hon Rua (Tortoise Island), so called because of its tortoise shape, while the two islands of Hon Yen (Bird’s Nest Island) lie out to the east.
As the area is not particularly large and won’t take long to see, many visitors combine a trip here with a visit to the Po Nagar Cham Towers, which are around a five-minute taxi ride away.
Around a half-hour boat ride from Cau Da Port in Nha Trang lies little Hon Mieu Island (Hòn Miễu in Vietnamese). Much of the island won’t be of particular interest to the average tourist, although there are a few pleasant beaches plus a sprinkling of seafood restaurants close to where the ferries come in.
The main attraction on Hon Mieu however is the Tri Nguyen Aquarium, a unique boat-shaped building that, along with its surrounding waters, houses a large variety of fish and other marine life, including giant shrimp, sharks, and turtles. Visitors can even climb to the ‘top deck’ to check out the views.
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