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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions 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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460 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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673 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 Ga Choi Island (Fighting Cocks Island)
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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.

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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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Tra Que Vegetable Village
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Located between Hoi An Ancient Town and An Bang Beach, Tra Que Vegetable Village is an agricultural district that still uses traditional techniques to produce Vietnamese crops. The fertile farmland, which provides a welcome break from the crowds of Hoi An Ancient Town, is awash with fragrant herbs and home to numerous independent workshops.
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Tra Nhieu Fishing Village
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Those who enjoy the great outdoors and want to better understand the history and culture of Vietnam’s rural communities shouldn’t miss a trip to Tra Nhieu Fishing Village. Officially recognized as an ecological village in order to preserve its traditional fishing and farming life, Tra Nhieu Fishing Village is located along the banks of the Thu Bon River, not far from Hoi An.
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Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon)
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The Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) is a 100­-year-­old performance hall with architecture modeled on the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Nha Hat Lon was erected by the French colonial administration at the turn of the 20th century and is a landmark building in Hanoi. It was built in a typical French style with classic gothic features.

In 1997, the modernization and repair of the building was undertaken by Vietnamese French architects, and the decorative designs on the ceilings, arches, walls, and doors were renewed. Home to the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, the Opera House also hosts the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Ballet, plus both traditional and modern local productions.

No tours of the building are offered but the exterior makes for some good photo opportunities. In terms of atmosphere, the Opera House is best seen at night when it is illuminated by lights.

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Hue Citadel (Dai Noi)
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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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More Things to Do in Vietnam

Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam)

Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam)

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The Temple of Literature (or Quoc Tu Giam) was originally built as a Confucian Temple in 1070 AD. Six years later on the same grounds was founded Vietnam's first university to educate the administrative and military warrior Mandarin classes.

Over the years buildings have been added and renovated but much of the architecture dates back to the Lý (1010 - 1225) and Trần dynasties (1225 - 1400). The university operated for more than 700 years but today you can experience the tranquility without its warrior students, with its beautiful gardens and pavilions in a series of courtyards.

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Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME)

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME)

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Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

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Don't leave Hanoi without seeing a Thang Long Water Puppet Theater show. These musical stories portrayed are of historical legends and folk tales. These ever-popular performances are given by a troupe of talented actors and accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese pit orchestra. Great entertainment for all ages. Charming, curious, and enchanting - you'll be pleased you experienced it.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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322 Tours and Activities

At this mausoleum the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, founder of unified Vietnam and the country's liberator from Western colonialism, lies in a glass case for public viewing.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex was built with assistance from the USSR and the austere and impressive architecture is recognizably Soviet/Communist in design. Around the building lie 240 ordered squares of manicured grass cut with concrete walkways. This dedication to 'Uncle Ho,' as he is affectionately known, is unsurprisingly one of the nation's most revered sites and as such this is a moving, and eerie, experience. Nearby is the popular Ho Chi Minh Museum dedicated to his life and work.

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Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc)

Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc)

188 Tours and Activities
One of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam, and the oldest in Hanoi, Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc) was built in during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De (AD 541–547) and moved to its present location in 1615. Located on an islet within West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda offers beautiful architecture, historic relics and artifacts, and a serene and scenic environment.
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Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison

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Once used by French colonialists to house political prisoners—and later by North Vietnam to hold activists rallying for independence—what now remains of Hoa Lo Prison has become a popular destination for travelers visiting Hanoi.

Sometimes sarcastically called the “Hanoi Hilton,” Hoa Lo once held more than 2,000 prisoners in subhuman conditions within its crowded quarters. Prisoners included a number of leaders from Communist North Vietnam, as well as American pilots and soldiers during the Vietnam War. Hoa Lo became a school for revolutionaries once its prisoners were released, before being totally demolished in the 1990s. Today, the original gates to Hoa Lo lead to a replica of the prison, where travelers can tour cells, explore prison culture and better understand the conditions political captives lived under.

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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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Ben Thanh Market (Cho Ben Thanh)

Ben Thanh Market (Cho Ben Thanh)

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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.

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Hon Mun Island

Hon Mun Island

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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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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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Long Son Pagoda (Chua Long Son)

Long Son Pagoda (Chua Long Son)

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Founded in the 19th century, the Long Son Pagoda 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.

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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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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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Marble Mountains

Marble Mountains

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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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