Vietnam is a country of opposites and contradictions. A melting pot of influences where the ancient sits side by side with the ultra-modern. A place where tumultuous history is not hidden or glossed over but displayed honestly for visitors to see. A country unlike any other, Vietnam is definitely worth visiting.
A trip to Vietnam is an opportunity to experience the vibrant culture, sublime natural beauty, unique sights, strange flavors, and more adventures than you could possibly have in one trip.
With bustling cities, 3000 km of coastline, 8 UNESCO world heritage sites, and some of the best food in the world, we’ll be surprised if you can’t find something to love about Vietnam. Here’s our list of the 11 top reasons why Vietnam is worth visiting at least once.
Vietnam is a country steeped in history with turbulent events in both its recent and ancient past. Lingering relics of the last royal dynasty rub shoulders with remnants of French Colonial rule which in turn are scarred by the effects of the Vietnam war. Layers of complex history make up the fabric of Vietnam, and a trip to the country is a chance to experience its richness.
Tour the prison built during French rule to house Vietnamese rebels on the remote Con Dao Islands. Wander the desolate landscape around the abandoned ruins of the My Son Cham Hindu temples. Take a visit to UNESCO protected Hue, to see the country’s ancient capital and seat of the last Vietnamese dynasty. Wander through the once magnificent Imperial City now damaged by the fighting of modern wars.
Visit The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City for an illuminating Vietnamese perspective of the Vietnam war. For a sobering account of the gruesome treatment of prisoners of war, visit Hoa Lo Prison nicknamed The Hanoi Hilton by the American soldiers imprisoned there. Squeeze through the Cu Chi Tunnels for an incredible, claustrophobic glimpse of the resilience of the Viet Cong soldiers who used them.
For more nuanced insight into this richly layered country, look out for the street sellers flogging bootleg books. They have stacks of autobiographies and literature about Vietnam’s history and its people.
Cosmopolitan, bustling, and bursting with life, Ho Chi Minh City is an absolute must-see for any visitor to Vietnam. With its eclectic mix of all things old and new, its mixture of cultures, and frenetic pace, Ho Chi Minh is a wild introduction to all things Vietnamese. It’s worth visiting just to try and cross one of the dizzying, scooter-filled main roads. Pro tip: Check for large vehicles like buses and trucks, then walk calmly across. Don’t run and don’t stop for scooters! They are more used to this than you and will dodge easily around you.
If you like your cities a little calmer but no less impressive, head to Hanoi in the North and soak up its timeless charm. Steeped in history, the country’s capital cannot fail to impress with its beautiful tree-lined streets filled with French colonial buildings alongside temples and pagodas. Visit the abundance of museums, galleries, cultural sites, and attractions. Save some energy for when the sun goes down. It may not get as wild as Ho Chi Minh but Hanoi has its fair share of nightlife.
If you want quieter still, visit ancient, well-preserved Hoi An with its UNESCO heritage status. Glimpse what life looked like in the 15th century, trading port as you wander the tiny pedestrian streets and canals. Stick around after dark to see the town lit up by colorful lanterns instead of street lights.
Find a city for every mood in Vietnam. Riverside Hue with its imperial history, remote Dalat for a romantic getaway. Coastal Da Nang combines city life with a beach resort. Whatever your city vibe, Vietnam has got you covered.
Beaches and Islands
Vietnam doesn’t have a big reputation as a beach destination and it is often unfairly overlooked in favor of Thailand. But with 3000 km of coastline and over forty islands to choose from, travelers are beginning to wise up to the fact that Vietnam is well worth visiting for its beaches.
You don’t even need to travel far to sample them. Two of the best ones are attached to major cities! Both Nha Trang and Da Nang cities have beautiful, endless stretches of beach that run alongside their cities’ promenades and offer every amenity you could wish for. Travel a little way along the coast from either city to discover quieter, less famous coves.
For an island getaway, head to Hoi An and visit the beautiful Cua Dai beach (worth a visit in its own right) and from there take a short boat trip to the Cham Islands. These eight islands boast sparkling azure waters, white sand beaches, an abundance of local seafood, and accommodation options from backpacker hostels to romantic resorts.
Or head south and sail over to the Con Dao islands. These remote islands were once used as a prison. But these days they’re becoming known for their isolated beauty and as a breeding ground for sea turtles.
Is there any better reason to visit Vietnam than the food? We don’t think so. Deceptively simple but packed with complex flavors, Vietnamese food is simply some of the best in the world. Distinctly different from all other cuisines due to the fusion of influences drawn from France, China, and South Asia. Fresh, healthy, delicious, and with a tiny price tag, it’s worth visiting Vietnam for the food alone.
For an example of the simple complexity of Vietnamese food look no further than the always abundant Pho. This clear broth with noodles, meat, and herbs, looks pretty plain but one sip will teach you just how many layers of flavor the Vietnamese can pack into their food. Every region and restaurant swears by a slightly different broth recipe, meaning that no two bowls of pho are ever quite the same. All the more reason to eat it over and over again!
Leave room for dessert though. With cakes, jellies, sweet soups, sticky rice, and donuts on offer Vietnam leads South East Asia on the dessert front.
As one of the world’s biggest Coffee exporters, Vietnam takes its beans seriously. You’ll find the French influence at work here again in the cafe culture that pervades the country.
The majority of coffee drunk in Vietnam is Robusta, a bean known for its high caffeine content so don’t be surprised if you get the jitters after a few cups! It’s brewed individually, your coffee will probably come with a single-cup filter placed on top. Take your time to sit and relax as the water is allowed to drip slowly through the grains, gaining the full flavor. Robusta can be bitter, so is often served with sweetened condensed milk to lighten the flavor. The result is a short, strong, sweet drink with an energy kick guaranteed to start your day right.
Try the iced version Ca Phe Da later in the day when the temperature starts rising. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try Ca Phe Trung or Vietnamese Egg Coffee. Egg yolk is beaten into a light sweet foam with condensed milk and served atop hot or iced coffee. It might sound like a recipe for disaster but the result is rich, creamy, and unlike anything you’ve ever had before. It should absolutely be on your to-taste list!
As with its history, Vietnam’s architectural wonders come from all its different eras. Visit the old in Hue where you can see how the Imperial Palace was built to Feng Shui principles, complementing the natural landscape around it. Look out for the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda and the Tomb of Khai Dinh built with a skillful blend of European and Vietnamese styles. Visit the ancient Japanese Covered bridge in Hoi An and the elegant pagodas of Vinh Trang temple.
In Hanoi enjoy the juxtaposition of old Vietnamese shopfronts pressed up against regal French Colonial creations like the Opera House and the Neo-Gothic wonder that is Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. Then, in Ho Chi Minh enjoy how similar colonial buildings like Saigon City Hall, the Post Office, and Notre Dame Cathedral, compare next to ultra-modern steel and glass skyscrapers like the Bitexco Financial Tower.
Spanning the hills near Da Nang, you’ll find the eerily splendid Golden Hands Bridge. And in the city, you’ll find the modern wonder of the neon-lit Dragon Bridge, proof that as Vietnam evolves it continues to create new monuments to its culture, people, and imagination.
It’s not all man-made charms, Vietnam has far more than its fair share of natural wonders and they’re all worth visiting. There are stunning beaches and remote islands aplenty but it’s the incredible scenery of Ha Long Bay that most tourists crave to see. Boat tours can be taken around this bay famous for its stunning green waters and the many towers of limestone that loom out of the water.
Elsewhere, visit the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Or take a stroll around the base of the imposing Marble Mountains. Visit Sapa in the North to hike through terraced paddy fields above misty valleys. Visit remote hill tribes and climb the highest mountain in Vietnam, Fansipan or ‘the roof of Indochina.
Take an exhilarating motorbike tour along the Hai Van Pass, the steepest pass in Central Vietnam. Marvel at the views and rolling sea mists that make this journey one of the best coastal routes in the world. Visit the tiny southern fishing village of Mui Ne to explore the surreally beautiful sand dune landscape nearby.
And don’t leave without seeing the Mekong Delta. A unique ecosystem of rivers, tributaries, swampland, and islets that have spawned their own culture and lifestyle. The delta is best explored by boat for a chance to see old Kymer towns and pagodas, fishing villages, floating markets, paddy fields, protected wetlands, and wildlife.
This natural abundance is not just beautiful to look at but has created an incredible adventure playground. Any adrenaline sport you can think of can be done somewhere in this diverse and beautiful country.
Snorkel or scuba dive with turtles off the Con Dao islands. Surf off the beaches of Da Nang. Kayak around stunning Ha Long Bay or down The Perfume River. Hike, slide, or 4-wheel drive your way down massive sand dunes or rise above them in a hot air balloon. Climb up to the very tops of the forests before zip-lining back down.
Rock climbing, mountain biking, river rafting, windsurfing, sky diving…. if you’re a thrill-seeker, Vietnam is definitely worth visiting for its abundance of adrenaline-fueled activities.
One of the biggest draws of Vietnam has long been its low prices. Although South East Asia is no longer as cheap as it once was, Vietnam lags behind neighboring Thailand when it comes to inflation. A holiday here can still be done without breaking or even bending the bank.
Budget accommodation is widely available, and budget transport is likewise. Internal flights are inexpensive and the rivalry between bus and train companies keeps public transport reasonable. Book overnight trains and buses if you’re traveling long distances and save yourself a night’s accommodation.
The cost of eating and drinking in Vietnam is as low as you wish to make it. For a cheap night out take part in the uniquely Vietnamese tradition of Bia Hoi. Most common in the north, Bia Hoi happens each afternoon from around 4 pm. Locals and tourists alike gather at popup pavement bars to sit on tiny plastic stools, drink extremely cheap, just-brewed beer, and chat about their days. It’s a very pleasant way to spend an evening and this being Vietnam, food is never far away. Vietnamese street food is not only delicious but served at a fraction of restaurant prices. Enjoy a few street beers and roadside meals to make your Vietnamese experience not only fun, authentic, and tasty but extremely easy on the wallet.
Vietnam has long embraced tourism as necessary to its economy and consequently welcomes visitors with open arms. The people are friendly, helpful, and happy to chat with tourists. The tourist route is well tracked so you’ll find transport and accommodation easily at all the tourist top spots. You’ll also find no shortage of guides willing to advise you on the best trips, attractions, and adventures, and plenty of travel agents to help you book onward travel. Vietnam is ideally located to be a base for further adventures. Trips from Vietnam to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and China are very common and easy to book.
English is widely spoken especially in touristy areas by tour guides, travel agents, and people working in restaurants and hotels. Any attempt to speak Vietnamese is always appreciated however so don’t be afraid to have a go!
Part of what makes Vietnam so worth visiting is the fact that there is something for everyone. Bustling cities, beautiful beaches, remote villages, mountains, jungles, rivers, and resorts. It is geographically diverse in every way possible and from north to south of this long thin country no two things stay the same. Climate, landscapes, recipes, dialects, influences, and even caffeine habits change from one end of the country to the other. Explore the entire country to feel like you’ve seen many different lands.
Or find the one spot that’s perfect for you. Whether you want to visit ruins and tombs or lie on a beach and sip cocktails. If you’re an urban explorer with a penchant for nightlife, or a mountain climber craving remote peaks. Vietnam has got the location for you. Foodies, shoppers, romantics, adventurers, sunbathers, cafe dawdlers, party animals, history buffs, and culture hounds will all find something to satisfy them in this amazingly diverse country.
Is Vietnam expensive to visit?
No, Vietnam is a budget-friendly country. There is a range of shoestring accommodation and travel options to be had and food and drink costs are very low.
What is so special about Vietnam?
Everything! The food, the people, the history, the climate, the culture, the natural beauty! Vietnam is full of wonders and definitely worth visiting.
Is Vietnam friendly to foreigners?
Yes, Vietnamese people are friendly and welcoming and the country fully embraces tourism. It’s a safe country with few dangers to worry about. So long as you use your common sense and don’t take any risks that you wouldn’t take in your own country, you should have nothing to worry about.