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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Gothic twin bell towers of this classic cathedral stretch high into the skyline, marking this as a destination for those looking to escape the buzz of Ho Chi Minh and find some quiet contemplation. Saigon Notre-Dame’s striking red façade and towering stone archways were constructed with materials imported from France in the 1800s. But its unique architecture is not the only draw to this iconic city landmark. In 2005, visitors reported seeing tears flow from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary here, making it a destination for Catholics on religious pilgrimage.
The Reunification Palace is an important site of political and cultural significance, built by the French in 1868 to mark the newly established colony of Indochina.
In 1945, it briefly became the headquarters for the Japanese after their defeat of the French. In 1962, two Vietnamese rebel pilots bombed the palace - the president survived but the palace did not. He commissioned a new one to be built. It was renamed Independence Palace and the design became a Modernist icon. In 1975 the palace was the symbolic site of the triumphant liberation of Saigon. Vietnam was then reunified; since then the building has been known as Reunification Palace. Today it is a working government building as well as having areas open to the public. Tour the private quarters, the president's former office and the War Command Room. You get a real sense of what happened here and its importance in Vietnamese history.
The Cholon neighborhood, Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown, is dotted with traditional Chinese-style pagodas and temples, including one of the neighborhood’s most popular places of worship, the Thien Hau Temple. Built by Cantonese immigrants in the early 19th century, this temple honors the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau (more commonly named Mazu).
Located on a busy street, it would be easy to walk right past Thien Hau, but it’s well worth stopping in to see the architecture and interior. On the outside, the temple roof is adorned with delicately worked porcelain figures depicting scenes from Chinese legend. You’ll find even more of these porcelain dioramas on the interior walls of the temple as well. Before you even step through the exterior gate of the temple, the smells of burning incense should already be apparent. Dozens of huge conical coiled incense hang from the ceiling over the main worship area, permeating the space with a smoky haze and an intense odour.
A distinctive pair of karst islets jutting out from the calm waters of Halong Bay; the unique Hon Ga Choi Island has become one of the bay’s most memorable landmarks and among the most photographed attractions for cruise visitors. Located right in the heart of the bay, the jagged rock formations loom 12 meters over the water, improbably perched on narrow, weatherworn bases and appearing to lean towards each other.
It’s this peculiar creation of nature that afforded the island its name - Hon Ga Choi (Fighting Cocks Island), or Trong Mai Island (Cock and Hen Island), depending who you ask. For the full effect, pass by the islands at sunrise or sunset, when the dreamy sunlight casts a red hue over the rocks, further enhancing their cockerel-like appearance.
The Lake of the Restored Sword holds as big a place in local folklore as it does in Hanoi’s city culture. According to local legend, an ancient emperor was once floating along the lake when the Golden Turtle God requested his magic sword. It’s an age-old story that locals still tell to curious tourists who wander the lake’s scenic shores. It marks the divide between Hanoi’s Old Quarter and French Quarter and is also home to an endangered species of massive soft-shell turtles that gave nearby Turtle Temple its name.
Today, travelers flock to the lake to escape the hustle of the city. And while the morning hours prove a calming way to greet the day (locals like to gather at one of the many quiet cafes to sip cups of strong, sweet coffee as the sun rises), it’s worth sticking around after dark to capture pictures of Hanoi’s skyline aglow with glittering white lights.
Designed by Parisian architects and built between 1899 and 1902, Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge was the first steel bridge spanning the Red River and has long been a point of pride for the Vietnamese. During the war against the French in 1954, the bridge served as a vital transportation link for moving food into Northern Central Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the bridge was bombed by American air attacks, and yet today, it still stands as a testament to the nation’s tumultuous history.
Apart from its historical significance, the bridge has a pedestrian path where vendors often set up stalls selling some of the city’s tastiest street foods. It’s also one of the best spots in Hanoi for watching a sunrise or sunset, and it’s not unusual to see young couples having their wedding pictures taken on the historic structure.
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.
Few major cities count the post office among their top tourist attractions, but the classic interior of Saigon Central Post Office continues to be a favorite destination among travelers visiting Ho Chi Minh City for the first time.
Completed in 1891, the design of this architectural landmark mimics an old world European railway station with mile-high ceilings, a larger-than-life portrait of Ho Chi Minh and a centrally located clock face. These rich details are what manage to draw even the travelers who arrive with plans to purchase stamps or mail postcards, to pause and soak up the brilliant interior, which includes hand-painted maps of the old city.
Opened in 1975, just a few months after the liberation, the War Remnants Museum is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Laid out in 8 themed rooms are different aspects of the war from imprisonment, to chemical warfare and military might.
In the grounds there are military equipment, weaponry and aircraft on display including fighter planes, helicopters and tanks. Some of the exhibits are shockingly gruesome, explicit photos and prisoner cages detail a war-torn history. This is the story of the Vietnam War told from the other side which mixes the atrocities of war with the reality of military hardware.
Let the spirit of Ho Chi Minh City lift you up and carry you through this network of colorful bustling activity. Cho Ben Thanh, or Ben Thanh Market, comes alive every evening with a thrum of tireless energy that never ceases to enthrall.
This is the most celebrated and regularly visited of the markets. It is also the most central, located in one of the liveliest parts of the city where the streets and alleyways surrounding the market place fill with food stalls.
At Ben Thanh Market you can expect to find almost everything that the locals might need in their day to day lives: from fresh meats and vegetables to clothes, domestic items, pots, woven baskets and bamboo ladders. This is a feast for the senses.Take in the sounds: the excited chatter of shoppers and the pitch of vendors’ voices rising into the steaming night.
Breathe in the sweet spiced air - chili, tamarind, ginger - and witness the bright array of colors from exotic fruits to beautiful silks.
East meets west at this stunning example of French Colonial architecture in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. The gleaming white municipal theater, which is home the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, was built in 1897. Its well-lit façade casts a brilliant glow on nearby city streets. Visitors can file into the 1,800 seat theater to catch regular dress rehearsals, or buy a ticket for one of the weekly cultural shows the theater is known for. On weekends, free public performances take place on the opera house steps and the nearby park offers travelers a perfect spot to stop and enjoy the music.