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Things to Do in Vietnam

As chaotic as it is captivating and as fast-paced as it is traditional, Vietnam is a country of contrasts. However, one thing is indisputable—there’s no place on earth quite like it. Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, with its atmospheric Hanoi Old Quarter, striking Do Temple, and West Lake, is best explored on foot or by motorbike, cyclo (three-wheeled taxi), or scooter. Hanoi is also a convenient jumping-off point for junk boat cruises on Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Red River Delta, home to remote tribal craft villages. Continuing down the east coast, the Forbidden Purple City in Hué is a glorious reminder of Vietnam’s Imperial past; the Old Town of Hoi An—arguably Vietnam’s prettiest city — is a hotspot for Vietnamese street food; and Nha Trang is known for its idyllic beaches. Hanoi’s southern rival, Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s largest and most modern city in which sightseeing tours reveal cultural treasures such as the Saigon Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Vietnam Cookery Center—great if a cookery course is on your travel menu. Plus, just a short drive away from Ho Chi Min City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a poignant reminder of the tragedies of the Vietnam War, and the winding canals, lush rice paddies, and traditional villages of the Mekong Delta stretch all the way to border of Cambodia, allowing you to continue your South East Asia adventure with ease.
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Cu Chi Tunnels
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406 Tours and Activities

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of underground passageways that run to more than 120 miles (200 kilometers) in total length in this area alone. Work by the Viet Cong commenced in 1948 as a means of shelter from the French air attacks during the Indochina conflict.

The network provided vital access and strategic control over the large rural area surrounding Ho Chi Minh City; over the following two decades the tunnels became a complex underground city including hospitals, defenses and living quarters. This meant despite all the bombings in the area many of the local people could still continue to live underground. In its prime and at its most impressive the Cu Chi Tunnels stretched from the southern Vietnamese capital all the way to the Cambodian border to the west, and in places was dug to 3 stories deep.

Much of the original tunnel system was destroyed in bombing raids during the 1970s but existing parts have been restored and opened.

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Hoi An Ancient Town
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625 Tours and Activities

History lovers flock to this 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Hindu, Arab and Chinese influences are reflected in breathtaking architecture, eclectic food and rich culture.

Naturalists will appreciate the quiet beaches just a short bike ride from the city center, while wanderers will love the pedestrian-only streets of Ancient Town lined with quaint shops and bustling vendors.

Urban skyscrapers and big-city development have yet to touch this former shipping port, which means travelers can enjoy a taste of what Hoi An once was and what Vietnam used to be.

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Hon Mun Island
32 Tours and Activities

This stunning island is located in close proximity to the hot-sea currents that rise from the equator. As a result, it’s home to incredible underwater coral reefs that attract topical fish, sea turtles and other rare and beautiful marine life. The warm waters that draw diverse wildlife also bring researchers, oceanographers and snorkelers to the shores of Hon Mun Island.

It’s possible to explore the waters from the safety and comfort of a glass bottom boat, but travelers say that dipping below the surface and getting up close with local wildlife is the best way to truly experience the beauty of Hon Mun. Almost every dive shop in the vicinity offers trips to the crystal clear waters of Hon Mun, where visibility is almost always ideal. Rainbow Reef and Tiger Wall are two of the most popular dive sites near Hon Mun Island.

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Marble Mountains
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500 Tours and Activities

The five limestone hills that make up Vietnam’s famed Marble Mountains are each named after one of the five elements: fire (Hoa), wood (Moc), metal (Kim), water (Thuy) and earth (Tho). And while their shadowy caves and hidden tunnels draw thousands of travelers to wander this destination each year, its proximity to beautiful and ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes and access to a stunning summit are other reasons to make the voyage.

Travelers can climb the more than 150 steps that lead to the summit of Thuy Son, where incredible views of natural landscapes as well as access to these grottoes. Visitors can explore Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, as well as the Tam Thai pagoda, which was built in 1825. These ancient religious monuments showcase the region’s age-old tradition of stone carving, thanks to relief work chipped away from the mountain’s marble façade.

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Ha Long Bay
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You can be forgiven for thinking that Halong Bay couldn’t possibly be a real place. After all, beauty like this only exists in movies, where high-tech equipment can create a landscape that is mesmerizing, awe-inspiring and perfect. Not only is Halong Bay real, however, but it’s a convenient side trip from fast-paced Hanoi that should be on the itinerary of any traveler passing through North Vietnam.

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the seven New Wonders of Nature, Halong Bay contains over 1,900 islands and jagged limestone islets. Cruise in silence on a traditional junk through the morning Halong Bay mists, and watch as vertical karst formations appear and then fade from view. In addition to the islands and turquoise waters, Halong Bay is riddled with grottoes that feel like hidden lairs. Dock the boat at Bo Hòn Island and descend into Sung Sot Cave, a 130,000-square-foot chamber that drips in dozens of stalactites.

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Ninh Binh
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399 Tours and Activities

Ninh Binh, a city located in the Red River Delta of Northern Vietnam, is a famous base for exploring the nearby limestone karst scenery, particularly at Tam Coc 4 miles (6 kilometers) away. At Tam Coc, or “three caves” in English, limestone formations tower above verdant rice paddies in what is considered one of Vietnam’s most spectacular places. The area is best experienced by sampan on the river meandering through the landscape.

Also close by to Ninh Binh are the Trang An Grottoes, a series of caves similar to those at Tam Coc an easy bike ride outside of town. Bich Dong Pagoda, located just west of Tam Coc, dates back to the 15th century with temples built directly into the limestone caves. Phat Diem Cathedral, located a bit farther afield, was built during the late 19th century using typical Vietnamese temple architecture. History lovers should make time for a visit to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam 9 miles (15 kilometers) outside of Ninh Binh town.

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Hue Citadel (Dai Noi)
272 Tours and Activities

Constructed in 1804, this massive fortress designed for the Gia Long Emperor, is surrounded by a zigzag moat and defensive barrier that’s 21 meters thick. But visitors to this citadel-in-a-citadel-in-a-citadel won’t need to swim across rivers or scale towering walls to get a look inside. The Imperial Enclosure is accessible by crossing one of the 10 pedestrian bridges into the once royal land. Pass through Ngo Mon (Noon) Gate, once reserved for those in power, then wander through Flag Tower (Cot Co) and stare up at the nation’s tallest flagpole before weaving through the Nine Dynastic Urns representing different Nguyen kings.

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Nha Trang Beach
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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.

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Lan Ha Bay (Vinh Lan Ha)
553 Tours and Activities

Sprawling off the southeast coast of Cat Ba Island, the remote Lan Ha Bay is an idyllic spot to escape the crowds of Halong Bay and those looking to venture off-the-beaten-track will find a natural playground ripe for exploring. Like the rest of Halong Bay, the best way to get around Lan Ha Bay is by boat and the startling turquoise waters are peppered with more than 300 karst islands and dozens of white sand beaches.

Aside from swimming, rock climbing, hiking and kayaking are the most popular activities in Lan Ha Bay. Additional highlights include the Monkey Island resort, so called for its boisterous population of free-roaming monkeys; camping on Hai Pai Beach (Tiger Beach); and visiting the Cai Beo floating village, one of the oldest of its kind in Vietnam.

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Hoa Lu
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More Things to Do in Vietnam

Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

274 Tours and Activities

The dramatic karst cliffs and iridescent waters of Bai Tu Long Bay are just as mesmerizing as the neighboring Halong Bay, but the comparative lack of crowds adds a tranquillity often lost amidst Halong’s sea of junk boats. Part of the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage site and largely dominated by the lush Bai Tu Long National park, Bai Tu Long Bay makes a worthy addition to any cruise, and with such striking scenery, it’s unlikely to stay off-the-beaten-track for too long.

Highlights of Bai Tu Long Bay include Van Don Island, the bay’s largest and most visited island; the traditional fishing village of Vung Vieng; the white sand beaches of Quan Lan Island; and the remote Co To Island, while popular activities include trekking through the jungle in the Bai Tu Long National Park, spotting wild butterflies on Tra Ban Island and kayaking to Thong Thien Cave.

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My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary

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My Son Sanctuary is more than just the "beautiful mountain" its namesake describes. These Hindu ruins, which were constructed between the 4th and 13th centuries, pay homage to deities like Vishnu, Krishna and Shiva. Ancient and impressive towers and temples sit upon emerald hills in the Duy Xuyen District of the Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site can wander through eight groups of 71 structures, which some visitors say are less impressive than Cambodia's Siam Reap.

Still, what was once considered the homeland of the Cham people today remains an incredible example of Vietnam's indigenous culture.

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Bach Ma National Park (Vuon Quoc gia Bach Ma)

Bach Ma National Park (Vuon Quoc gia Bach Ma)

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Encompassing more than 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) of an old French hill station, Bach Ma National Park protects one of the most visually stunning natural areas of Central Vietnam. More than 1,400 species of plants grow in the park — a fifth of the total flora in the country — alongside 132 species of mammals and 358 species of birds. Among the rarer residents, many of them nocturnal, are the douc langur, leopard, stump-tailed macaques and Asiatic black bear.

The ruins of French resorts and villas lie scattered throughout the park, evidence of the era when French residents of Hue retreated to the cooler climes of the park during the hottest parts of the year. Well-marked trails wind through the park, and there are a few guesthouses at the summit.

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Po Nagar Cham Towers

Po Nagar Cham Towers

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Situated at the mouth of the Cai River in Central Vietnam, just a few kilometres north of Nha Trang, is the ancient Po Nagar Cham Towers complex. Constructed between the 7th and 12th centuries by the Cham people who once ruled the central plain of Vietnam, the towers were built in honor of Yan Po Nagar, the ruler of this area, who later came to be identified with the Hindu goddess, Bhagavati. Today, only four of the original towers in the complex remain. The tallest of the temples, Po Nagar Kalan, is the most impressive in terms of architectural prowess. It stands at over 25 meters tall and, according to the inscriptions, was the place where Po Nagar was worshipped, with animal sacrifices made in her honor. In the center of the complex is at the Cri Cambhu tower, representing the goddess of fertility, with the remaining two temples serving as shrines to the Hindu gods, Shiva and Ganesh.

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Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

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One of Da Nang’s more unusual and unexpected attractions is a bridge in the likeness of a dragon spanning the River Han. If the golden dragon slithering across the water isn’t impressive enough, on weekend evenings its body is illuminated by 2,500 LED lights and its head spouts fire and water over the river’s eastern bank.

Opened in 2013, the Dragon Bridge carries a six-lane roadway and two sidewalks over the river. The bridge measures 2,000 feet (610 meters) long and 123 feet (37.5 meters) wide. As the shortest road link between the Da Nang International Airport and the bulk of Da Nang city, visitors arriving or departing by air often pass over this bridge.

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Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda

204 Tours and Activities
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Titop Island (Dao Titop)

Titop Island (Dao Titop)

145 Tours and Activities
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Minh Mang Tomb

Minh Mang Tomb

79 Tours and Activities
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Lady Buddha

Lady Buddha

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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.

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Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi Old Quarter

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The Old Quarter is the cultural heart of Hanoi where the pulse of life has constantly beat for nearly 2,000 years. Daily routine starts early and builds to a friendly bustle. Streets have distinct character and are named after the crafts once made there - silver, ladder, silk, paper.

St. Joseph's cathedral rings for mass regularly throughout the day, follow the bells to check its Neo-Gothic style. Huyen Thien Pagoda is another of the many temples peppered around this part of town. The Old City Gate is one of four original entrances to the heart of the Royal City to survive over a thousand years.

Take time to sample the spirit, atmosphere and shopping on offer here - nothing says Hanoi like its Old Quarter.

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