One of the most stunning national parks in the world, we probably don’t need to tell you to check out Halong Bay – you’ve probably already booked your junk boat cruise. Only 3.5 hours by bus from Hanoi, a visit to the emerald waters and rocky islands of Halong Bay should be at the top of your Vietnam ‘to-do’ list. With junk boat tours and sea kayak expeditions leaving every day, the best way to see the Bay is to be in it. Of its thousands of limestone islands, many of Halong Bay’s islands are covered in rainforest. Row, paddle or hitch a ride over to Cat Ba Island, where you can hike up the lush rainforest tracks for a great view overlooking the bay.
Cruise the Mekong Delta
The longest river in Vietnam, which flows down the length of the country, cruising along the Mekong is one of the best ways to tour Vietnam. If you’re feeling adventurous, do it the authentic way and hitch a ride with a cargo boat. While you’ll get to drink up views of the passing islands, rice paddies and small villages along the way, this definitely isn’t ideal if you’re in a hurry. Option two is to take a commercial cruise down part of the river. If you’re looking to fill up one night, the route from Cai Be to Can Tho is a good one to do.
Dive into the world’s largest cave
If you’re looking to cram as much adventure as you can get in a Vietnamese holiday, this one’s for you. The thick jungle of Quang Binh province is littered with hundreds of deep caves, including one of the largest in the world. Hang Son Doong cave is so big that you can fit a skyscraper inside one of its largest caverns. That’s pretty epic. Turn up the intensity of your visit to this natural wonder by caving through some of its sweetest spots. Don’t worry about lugging all your gear around with you; you can rent gear – as well as a guide – from the nearby town of Phong Nha. Feel your adrenaline build as you lower yourself into the darkness of Hang Son Doong.
Learn about Vietnam’s bloody history
As soon as you step into Vietnam, you’ll be able to feel the impact the Vietnam War has left on this small-but-mighty nation. With reminders of the war everywhere – from images of Ho Chi Minh on bank notes, to propaganda posters in store windows in Hanoi – take some time to learn about how and why this little country was able to stand up to the might of the US Military. The best place to learn about the war? Ho Chi Minh City Museum. The museum recounts Vietnam's bloody past through photographs, artefacts and memorabilia from the war. The museum is ironically housed in Gia Long Palace, where Ngo Dinh Diem, the last President of South Vietnam, spent his final hours in power before his assassination in 1963.
Light a lantern in Hoi An
The beautiful UNESCO Heritage-listed town of Hoi An is enough of a draw card in-and-of-itself, but once it gets lit up for the lantern festival, it’s something truly spectacular. Coinciding with the full moon every month, this unique event brings Hoi An to a standstill as foreigners and locals alike turn to the river. Use a match to light a paper lantern to release into the air. While spiritual people would tell you to say a prayer before you release your lanterns, it’s more common for travellers to make a wish. Make it silently, then stand back and watch in awe as your colourful lanterns – along with thousands of others – float up into the night sky.
Things to do in Vietnam
Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year)
Much like other countries with Chinese roots, Lunar New Year is the most important celebration in Vietnam. Tet Nguyen Dan, also known colloquially as Tet, marks the beginning spring and the start of a new year. Usually occurring in late January or early February, parades, food and fireworks dominate the three days of festivities.
Held over six days between April and May, the Hue Festival celebrates the unique culture of the former Imperial city. With street parades, sampan racing and elaborate performances at different historical venues in the city – including the Hue Citadel and An Dinh Palace – this is one festival you won’t want to miss.
Music, Food & Culture
Known as a children’s festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is steeped in ancient myths and legends surrounding the moon. Watch the children of Vietnam perform traditional lion dances and lead the street parades, and enjoy giving and receiving the traditional mooncakes.
Hoi An Lantern Festival
Culture & Art
The beautiful UNESCO Heritage-listed town of Hoi An is enough of a draw card in-and-of-itself, but once it gets lit up for the lantern festival, it’s truly spectacular. Coinciding with the full moon every month, watch in awe as colourful lanterns are floated to the sky from the riverbanks.
Despite its history with communism, Vietnam is a predominantly Buddhist country. As such, Buddha’s birthday is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. On this day, temples throughout Vietnam hold colourful street processions followed by lots of feasting. Look out for the flower garlands and illuminated lanterns that locals float down rivers on this day.
Top 5 Festivals in Vietnam
With a culture that goes back thousands of years, olden traditions are still practiced and respected in Vietnam. From the Lunar New Year celebrations to honouring Buddha’s birthday, there are so many colourful festivals to get amongst in Vietnam. Here are our picks for our favourite Vietnam holidays.
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
With a huge collection of artworks and artefacts, the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is the premier art museum in Vietnam. Housed across two former French colonial buildings, the museum largely focuses on 20th century art depicting the glory of war. It also has works that depict early Vietnamese life and Buddhist traditions.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
Vietnamese women have played an active role in their country’s history and this museum is testament to that. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum showcases stories of heroism of Vietnamese women, as well as giving an insight to their traditions and culture. Discover traditional costumes, fabrics and other artefacts that tell the story of Vietnamese women through time.
Museum of Vietnamese History
Located in Ho Chi Minh City, the Museum of Vietnamese History takes a look into the evolution of life and culture in Vietnam. Beginning in the prehistoric period and moving through periods ending with the fall of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1945, learn about life in this country before the Vietnam War.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
History buffs, get excited. The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a unique look into one of the biggest personalities in 20th century history. A celebration of the life and achievements of Vietnam’s favourite leader, Ho Chi Minh, this museum recounts his childhood, his foray into communism and his contribution to the Vietnamese War leading up to his death.
Top 4 Museums And Galleries in Vietnam
From its roots in Buddhism to the invasion of China, the French and the US, the mighty country of Vietnam has a colourful and turbulent history. Learn more about this resilient country through its many museums. Here are our picks for the top four museums to visit in Vietnam.
The dish that put Vietnam on the culinary map, pho is a soup that’s loved by all. Fresh, slow-stewed beef broth is poured over oodles of rice noodles, with slivers of beef or chicken added on top. Add herbs, chilli and sauces to your liking. Down a bowl of homemade pho at Po Le in Ho Chi Minh City.
Best eaten at Pho Le, Nguyen Trai Street P.7,Q5, Ho Chi Minh City 70000
Known in the west as Vietnamese rice paper rolls, these light and healthy rolls are bursting with flavour. Stuffed with lettuce, bean sprouts and small slivers of meat and tofu, try all the different flavour combinations, including pork and prawn, fried tofu or lemongrass chicken. Pick up a few at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh in Hanoi Vietnam.
Best eaten at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh, 26B Tho Xuong Str, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi 10000
With the obvious French influences in this northern dish, banh xeo is a thin crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Eat banh xeo like the locals do cut it up into bite-sized piece, roll it up in the lettuce leaves and dunk it into the array of side sauces. Grab a serve at Banh Xeo Zon in Hanoi.
Best eaten at Banh Xeo Zon, 25 Lo Su Street, Hanoi 10000
Known in the west as Vietnamese noodle salad, bun cha is a noodle dish that comes from Hanoi. Fatty, grilled pork is fried up and served over a plate of white rice noodles and fresh herbs with a peanut-chilli dipping sauce. Dig into a bowl of bun cha at Bun Cha Restaurant in Hanoi.
Best eaten at Bun cha, lane 74, Hang Quat street, Hanoi 10000
Coming from the city of Hoi An in central Vietnam, cao lau is a noodle soup dish that’s often served as part of the Tet New Year’s celebrations. Braised pork, fried prawns and thick rice noodles are covered in a delicious pork broth, which is dressed with fried wonton wrappers and lots of fresh herbs. Simply delicious.
Best eaten at Ong Hai (Mr. Hai Restaurant), 6A Truong Minh Luong Street, Hoi An
Food in Vietnam
Despite influences from the French and Chinese, Vietnamese cuisine is distinctly its own. Fresh, light and packed-full of flavour and texture, get excited to eat your way through delicious Vietnam. With each region offering its own special dishes, here are our top five foods to eat in Vietnam and where to find them.