Why is Vietnam a popular tourist destination

Vietnam: the best sights

Vietnam is a huge country and as such offers not only different climatic zones and great cultural diversity, but also an infinite number of sights. Here are the best Vietnam highlights at a glance.

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Many of them are of course relics of the eventful history of Vietnam, but there is also a lot to discover for those less interested in history. Vietnam's beautiful landscapes in particular regularly cast a spell on visitors, because Vietnam has everything in its portfolio, from national parks and mountain worlds to dream beaches and sand dunes. Below you will find a small selection of the wide range that Vietnam has to offer travelers.

Highlights and sights in Vietnam

Halong bay

Halong Bay is a classic among the sights of Vietnam and unique in the world. Without a doubt, the “Bay of the Descending Dragon” is one of the most beautiful water landscapes of all.

The bay and its surroundings are perfectly developed for tourism - so perfect that it can get quite crowded here in the high season. By default, travelers book a multi-day boat tour from Hanoi, which is about 170 kilometers away, and let them cruise through the bizarre rock formations for one to three days.

The costs vary depending on the duration of the trip and the equipment of the ship. Of course, you can also take the excursion individually, which is associated with more planning effort, but definitely takes place away from mass tourism.

The bay's largest island, Cat Ba, also offers many outdoor activities such as climbing, hiking and kayaking - there are also very beautiful beaches here.

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Ban Gioc Detian Falls

Far outside of tourist areas, about 400 kilometers from Hanoi, are the Ban Gioc Detian waterfalls. Here on the border with China, the Quay Son River flows, which drops in three cascades and thus forms the beautiful waterfalls.

As a visitor, you have the opportunity to go boating, hike and take great photos. You can reach the waterfall from the village of Cao Bang on a scooter tour or with public buses. If you want to stay longer, you will find many nice homestays in the nearby villages.

Reunification Palace (Ho Chi Minh City)

The former seat of government in South Vietnam is today, dubbed the “Reunification Palace”, a well-preserved piece of history and a popular attraction in Ho Chi Minh City.

At the time of the partition of Vietnam, the south, supported by the USA, fought against the communist north. Two tanks in the courtyard of the site today commemorate the conquest of the palace, which marked the end of the Vietnam War.

You can visit the Reunification Palace every day, and guided tours through the underground bunkers are also offered.

Mekong Delta

Deep in the hot south of Vietnam, the Mekong forms a delta and forms a landscape of swamps, islands and small rivers. Life here is rural and takes place partly on the land and partly on the water. Travelers are drawn to the Mekong Delta to immerse themselves in this very special microcosm of floating markets, orchards and country life.

Of course, you are no longer alone here as a tourist, a trip to the Mekong Delta is part of the standard repertoire of sights. The same applies here: If you want to move off the beaten track, you shouldn't necessarily join the crowds that are brought in from Ho Chi Minh City in coaches every day.

In the Mekong Delta you can move around in rented boats, but also by bike or tuk-tuk and enjoy the beautiful landscape.

Ha Giang Province

In the far north of Vietnam is the province of Ha Giang, which is actually the northernmost province of all and thus borders on China. Life in Ha Giang is simple and rural, the absolute majority of the population lives from agriculture. If you are interested in the unspoiled beauty of the country, in getting to know ethnic minorities and in great mountain landscapes, you have come to the right place.

Ha Giang can still be called an insider tip, because there are hardly any tourists here. Sure, the journey to the remote province takes a little longer, but you really have peace and quiet here and you will be rewarded with unforgettable experiences.

From Hanoi you can take a coach for little money to the provincial capital Ha Giang, where you will find some small hotels and hostels. The best time to travel to the Vietnamese highlands is from April to early June or from September to October.

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Perfume Pagoda

The Perfume Pagoda, whose real name is Houng Pagoda, is more of a temple complex than a single pagoda. This important religious pilgrimage site can be reached on a day trip from Hanoi, which is about 70 km away.

The Perfume Pagoda is located on a mountain and, despite the high degree of organization of the Vietnamese, is comparatively difficult to reach. After the car or bus ride, there is a boat trip, followed by an ascent up to the mountain (which can alternatively be done by cable car).

Once there, you will be rewarded with various temples, impressive caves and a great view of the landscape. Between February and March, the Perfume Pagoda Festival takes place here, for which Buddhists from all over Vietnam gather here and pray to Buddha. The temples are particularly festively decorated at this time.

Sapa rice terraces

Sapa (also spelled Sa Pa) is a small town in the highlands of Vietnam and is about 300 kilometers from Hanoi. Sapa owes its fame to the breathtakingly beautiful rice terraces that line the mountainous landscape.

The small town itself is peaceful, it is more of a starting point for multi-day trekking tours into the mountains. Many of Vietnam's ethnic minorities, such as the Hmong, Dao or Phu La, live in the highlands, and you will meet them on these tours, because you traditionally spend the night in their mountain villages.

Temple of Literature (Hanoi)

The temple of literature was once the first academy or university in Vietnam. Although the word "temple" is in the name, it has nothing to do with religion, it is a purely academic place. Lessons don't take place here today, but there is a lot to see.

Five inner courtyards, beautiful ceremony halls and many statues as well as the national university are part of the complex.

From the 11th to the middle of the 20th century, nobles and members of the military were taught in the temple of literature, and since then it has been open to visitors.

Dry Halong Bay near Tam Coc

The small town of Tam Coc is located in the province of Ninh Binh and is a popular destination for nature lovers. Here is the dry Halong Bay, so called because the landscape is very similar to the famous bay - only without the sea.

This refers to the karst rock formations that protrude from the landscape everywhere. Nevertheless, you can explore the dry Halong Bay by boat, because small rivers meander through the fertile landscape here too. If you want to explore the rice fields, caves and villages in Ninh Binh for more than a day, there are many nice little homestays here that are happy to welcome visitors.

Temple of My Son

At first glance, it might look like Vietnam doesn't have much to offer temple enthusiasts. But even if Vietnam is not exactly known for it, there are some really beautiful and, above all, surprisingly old specimens to visit - above all the temples of My Son in central Vietnam.

My Son is about 35 kilometers from Hoi An and can be easily explored on a day trip. The complex does not impress with its size, but with its age: The oldest of the temples here were built by the Cham in the third century, making them around 500 years older than the earliest temples in Angkor.

Anyone who has already been to Cambodia may feel a little reminded of Banteay Srei. This is no coincidence, because the temples of My Son may have sprung from a different culture, but are also dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and are made of similar building materials.

The entire complex consists of more than 70 individual, small temples and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

Forbidden City / Citadel (Hue)

Hue is a small town in central Vietnam, and as such a unique attraction. The old imperial city is characterized by a long and relatively bloody history, about which you can learn a lot when visiting the many sights. In Hue, for example, you will find the Forbidden City with the imperial citadel, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are also imperial tombs, pagodas, monasteries and bridges to visit, and the perfume river invites you to take a relaxing boat tour. In addition to all the culture and history, one of the best cuisines in Vietnam can be found here, which has its very own style.

Hue is not far from the seaside resort of Da Nang and the relaxed coastal town of Hoi An, and can therefore be easily combined with a journey from the north to the south (or vice versa).

Old town of Hoi An

Hoi An is now one of the most popular cities in Vietnam with tourists, and this is not least due to the particularly beautiful and historic old town. This consists of colorful buildings in colonial style, which are adorned with colorful lanterns that illuminate the city in the evening.

Countless canals run through the narrow streets, flowers overgrow the balconies and old bridges connect the streets. There is a relaxed atmosphere despite the steadily growing number of visitors.

In the old town of Hoi An you will find magnificent colonial buildings as well as beautiful markets and small shops that invite you to shop for souvenirs.

Colonial buildings in Ho Chi Minh City

The largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, has a wealth of colonial buildings and some very special examples. The advantage is that most of them are in the same district and you can visit them as part of a walk.

First of all, there is the famous and lovingly restored main post office, which is a sight, but is also used as an actual post office.

In the immediate vicinity you will also find the town hall, in which the Vietnamese People's Committee sits today, as well as the old opera house, in which performances also take place.

A little further away you will find the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral, which was even consecrated as a basilica by the Pope.

These are only the most famous colonial buildings, of course there are many more to discover in the city that may simply not have a special title.

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Golden Bridge in Da Nang

If you want to see a really crazy bridge, a trip to Da Nang in central Vietnam is highly recommended. The Golden Bridge Cau Vang is still a very young attraction and therefore not so well known abroad, but it is currently developing into a must-see in Vietnam.

The fact that the bridge is golden doesn't matter at all, because here the pedestrians are literally carried on hands. Huge, stone hands that look like they are several centuries old carry the golden pedestrian bridge, which offers a pretty great view of Da Nang and the surrounding area.

But why bother? Investors suspect that there is a lot of money to be made with golf and spa vacationers in the neighboring Bà Nà Hills, and to attract tourists to the region in the first place, they have combined the practical with the curious. It is not yet possible to say whether the concept will work, but the bridge alone is definitely enjoying growing popularity.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum in Hanoi

The personality cult surrounding the late politician and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh culminates in a mausoleum in Hanoi. The highly revered “Uncle Ho” lies laid out in an illuminated coffin and receives countless visitors every day.

Ho Chi Minh's former home can also be viewed on the site, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum is just a few meters away. Visiting these sights is not only a highlight for tourists, but also for Vietnamese who have come from all over the country to pay their respects to Uncle Ho.

So plan time and be there on time, because it often gets full here. Appropriate behavior and absolute silence are mandatory throughout the area, and the guards pay close attention to this. Testing your patience is expressly not recommended.

Cu Chi tunnels

The Viet Cong fighters hid in the tunnel system at Cu Chi during their actions against the US Army. So you could actually think that the tunnels are a relic of the Vietnam War. However, the first tunnels were built during the Indochina War against the colonial power of France.

Over time, the underground habitats developed into much more than just air raid shelters: schools, offices, kitchens and large storage rooms were built here. Today you can visit the Cu Chi Tunnels as part of a day trip, the small town is about an hour and a half drive from Ho Chi Minh City.

Sand dunes in Mui Ne

Mui Né is a quiet seaside resort in South Vietnam that offers some interesting sights and, above all, a lot of relaxation. But the real attraction are the red and white sand dunes up to 30 meters high, which lie directly in front of the coast and stretch inland.

The dry climate in the south of Vietnam has created a desert-like landscape that you would not expect in Southeast Asia at first. You can take guided tours to the dunes, but you can also rent a motorcycle and explore the landscape on your own.

If you hike through the dunes, you'll be offered plastic mats for little money pretty quickly with which you can surf down the dunes. Not exactly an adrenaline rush, but a fun experience nonetheless. Due to its direct location by the sea and the strong winds, Mui Né is also ideal for "real" surfing.

Train Street (Hanoi)

For some time now, photos of a railway line that runs through the middle of a fairly narrow residential area and on the side of which people hang their laundry and cook their food have been piling up on the Internet.

This backdrop, bizarre for us Europeans, can be admired in Hanoi. Two trains run here every day (at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.), otherwise the normal everyday life of the locals takes place here.

There is also a café on Ngo 224 Le Duan, which sets up its tables and chairs on the tracks outside of train times.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park

The Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is located in central Vientam, about halfway between Hanoi and Hoi An. If you feel like untouched nature, of which there is plenty in Vietnam, a stopover is really a good choice on your journey from north to south (or vice versa).

The national park is characterized by a beautiful landscape, formed by mountains, dense rainforest and small rivers. There are also some caves to visit here, including the largest known cave in the world.

Tourism is still in its infancy in this national park, so you don't have to push your way through the park with large tour groups. Day trips as well as stays of several days are possible, there are enough hotels and guesthouses nearby.

In the rainforest, with a bit of luck, you can come across some species of monkeys (macaques, langurs, gibbons) as well as black bears, pangolins and various types of birds. In 2003 the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fansipan

One day it could be the million euro question: “What is the name of the highest mountain in Vietnam?” If you then know the correct answer “Fansipan”, think about us for a moment. The Fansipan is located at 3,143 meters above sea level in the Yunnan Mountains and is probably not very well known because it can be found in the relatively untouristed north of Vietnam.

Here is also Sapa, a small town in the highlands, about 350 kilometers from the capital Hanoi and known for its beautiful rice terraces.

If you want to hike from here to the summit of Fansipan, you actually need days, but a six-kilometer cable car has recently started operating. It only takes 15 minutes to drive to the summit and makes it possible for even the least sporty of us to climb the roof of Indochina.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Hanoi)

In the midst of the hectic hustle and bustle and chaotic traffic of the metropolis of Hanoi, a true oasis of calm awaits you. The beautiful Hoàn Kiếm Lake is located between the old town and the French quarter of Hanoi and is not only very popular with travelers.

The residents of Hanoi also like to come here for a picnic, a walk or a game of chess, especially in the evening, when the lights come on, and many people can relax here after the busy day.

At the southern tip of the lake you can get a delicious Vietnamese Ca Phe (coffee) and stroll relaxed through the park. There are no special highlights waiting for you here, but you will definitely get a little closer to the Vietnamese leisure culture at Lake Hoàn Kiếm.

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Photos:

Fansipan cog railway by Ggamies / Shutterstock.com, Golden Bridge Da Nang by Vo Van Hoang / Shutterstock.com, Cu Chi Tunnel by Teo Boon Keng Alvin / Shutterstock.com, Hanoi Train Street by Jimmy Tran / Shutterstock.com

Ha Giang Province, Ban Giảc Detian Waterfall, Halong Bay, view from Tam Coc Rock, My Son, Tien Son Cave from Shutterstock.com

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About the author

Josie lives in Hamburg and lost her heart to Southeast Asia many years ago. Her main job is in the office, but whenever time permits, she takes the plane eastwards. In addition to her great loves Cambodia and Myanmar, to which she returns again and again, she and her camera also enjoy discovering new places, markets and food. You can find more pictures and stories from Josie on Instagram.

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