Imagine hunting for rare trinkets at bustling markets and exploring ancient cities built by rich dynasties. With holidays to Vietnam, you have a treasure trove of unique experiences available at your fingertips.

The country in Southeast Asia is teeming with natural landscapes of lush rice fields and mammoth limestone karst rocks. So, whether you hope to explore its iconic UNESCO World Heritage Sites or go mountain biking through its spectacular reserves, there's an unforgettable activity ready to wow you.

Our Vietnam Travel Specialist, Nicola Brereton shares her top five things to do in Vietnam.

Honourable Mentions

  • Tour the Mekong Delta
  • Adventure to Phu Quoc National Park
  • Discover Hang Son Doong, the world's largest cave
  • Visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
  • See the Thien Mu Pagoda

1. Watch the Halong Bay Sunrise

One of the top things to do in Vietnam is to watch the sun rise over Halong Bay.

During my visit here, I awoke nice and early to head on up deck. As soon as the sunlight hits your eyes, you'll be amazed by the beautiful sight of dawn inching its way over the limestone rocks in the distance.

A Halong Bay sunrise is the closest thing to heaven on earth. The turquoise water surrounding you sparkles and shimmers, the fishing villages spring to life with a lovely atmosphere, and the diverse marine life begins yet another day of navigating the coral reef ecosystem. All in all, it's a moment you won't forget!

While in northern Vietnam, you also have a wealth of experiences. Cat Ba island archipelago is made up of 1,133 islands and islets, each one as picturesque and unspoiled as the last. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is perfect for exploration and harbours ‘Monkey Island’, where you can see long tailed macaques.

Bai Tu Long Bay is home to towering cliffs, white sand beaches and some of the biggest caves in the country. The best way to explore this popular spot is by joining a boat tour, cruising and meandering through the calm waters and past the lush forestry, vibrant mangroves and schist scenery.

Throughout your exploration of Halong Bay, you can even head to Sung Sot Cave on an overnight cruise. Adorned by stalagmites and stalactites, the cave is a natural wonder and is lit up by multicoloured lights.

"The one memory that stands out most to me during my time in Vietnam was a trip to Halong Bay. I got up at 4:30am to watch the sun rise behind the limestone karsts dotted around the bay, the rock formations casting their silky silhouettes out onto the sparkling sea – it was simply magical."

2. Drive the Exhilarating Hai Van Pass

Made famous by Top Gear, the exhilarating Hai Van Pass is a must not only for petrol heads, but also those hoping to witness central Vietnam's breathtaking views. This coastline route comprises various popular destinations such as Hoi An, Danang and Hue, which you can stop to explore along the way.

Hoi An fascinates me with its ancient pagodas, Buddhist temples and regal assembly halls. Travelling down the charming streets and Thu Bon River is a joy to experience, immersing you in local everyday life. While here, I got to make my own colourful lantern, which you can light up and use during Lantern Festival!

From there, take the costal road, comprising of Cua Dai Beach and An Bang Beach to the Marble Mountains and My Khe Beach in Danang. The coastal city and its 30-kilometre stretches of sand make for an ideal stopover in the middle of your journey, inviting you to relax among the tropical coconut trees.

Hue would be the final port of call on your adventure. The imperial city is famous for its historic sites, including Thien Mu Pagoda and Khai Dinh Tomb. Plus, you can cruise the Perfume River and admire how the Vietnamese sunset paints the sky a gorgeous golden glow – an incredible end to any self-drive.

Promising beautiful landscapes and experiences, the Hai Van Pass is a trip unlike any other.

3. Experience the Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

The Cu Chi Tunnels tour in Vietnam will astound you with the sheer amount of ingenious measures implemented by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War, a conflict which was long, costly and divisive.

Located in Ho Chi Minh, south Vietnam, this historical site is a maze of underground routes which were used to house troops and transport supplies. They were even utilised to lay booby traps, surprising enemies during combat. It covers 250 kilometres, from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border.

Nowadays, you're able to enter the tunnels and discover just how tight the spaces are, built small enough only for the Vietnamese to fit in. Crawl distances through the tunnels that were used by the guerrilla fighters and learn from your guide about their historical and cultural significance to the country.

During the war, the tunnels housed over 16,000 people and included living spaces, kitchens, classrooms and even hospitals. This hidden world feels like the complete opposite to Ho Chi Minh up above. Its squalid conditions led to mass sickness, which was the second cause of death next to battle wounds.

Additionally, why not head northwest to Tay Ninh? Not only can you explore the area's spectacular landscapes, from stunning lakes to mystical forests, but you can also join in with the festivities.

"Continue your exploration into the Vietcong with the Saigon Alleys and Secret Weapon Storage tour. When I went, I found the houses with stalls selling different types of food to be amazing."

4. Savour the Best Street Food in Saigon

Vietnamese cuisine is a balance of ying and yang, incorporating fresh, fragrant and aromatic flavours.

In southern Vietnam, this authentic and delicious cuisine can be found all over the bustling city of Saigon. Ride on the back of a scooter as it snakes its way through the busy streets, stopping now and then to savour the many street food stalls that make this city what it is, indulging all your senses in the process.

The best street food Saigon has to offer includes bun cha ha noi, a dish comprised of seasoned pork patties and thin slices of pork belly with rice noodles, as well as banh khot, mini knots of fried rice cakes. Every single morsel of food bursts with fresh ingredients, many of which will be brand new to you.

On Van Kiep Street, neon signs shine bright in the dead of night, indicating various specialities like pho, banh mi and nem nuong. Over towards Co Giang Street, you'll come across streetside barbeques and bubbling cauldrons along a straight road, serving up everything from bo la lot to hu tieu xao.

Vietnamese food will open your eyes to just how varied the city's dishes are, as it did mine. Different diets are also catered to; the vegan banh mi is a mouth-watering take on the original while the pho chay is a famous meat-free food featuring soft flat noodles bathed in a broth of simmering vegetables and spices.

5. Stroll Around Truc Bach Lake

Enjoy an early morning stroll around Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. When the sun rises over north Vietnam's beautiful Quan Thanh Temple, watch daily life take place as the city's elders practise their Tai Chi.

The waters beyond you sit very still, reflecting the glorious sunshine from its tranquil, peaceful surface. Starting from the temple, walk around the lake and take in incredible views of the city. From there, head southeast to Duong Thanh Nien and finish at Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi.

Alternatively, you can hop on a swan pedalo and cross the lake on a relaxing boat trip. These peculiar-looking boats make for a unique way to see the city, ideal for when you have a spare hour to do some sightseeing. Listen to the distant sounds of music from the local cafés and take a moment to unwind.

Following your experience on the lake, take your stroll further to the local Vietnamese markets. These bustling stalls open as early as 6am and offer a range of fresh produce, quality textiles and household supplies. By travelling southeast, you'll end up at Cho Hang Ma – the most colourful market in Hanoi.

During my time here, I also explored the railway of Hanoi on a wonderful walking tour. Being able to discover the real life of the city behind the main sights was a fantastic opportunity I'll always remember.

Extend your adventure by heading to Ninh Binh province for a day trip of exploring the Tam Coc rice fields.

"Hanoi is a real culture shock. Bikes zoom along the busy roads, food stall vendors serve up steaming hot meals and locals inhabit the crumbling buildings above. So, while experiencing its local markets, stop and appreciate the slow life along the narrow streets hosting the rails."

Discover the best things to do in Vietnam

This list is just the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty more breathtaking experiences in Vietnam. From north to south, the bustling cities are home to some of the most beautiful temples while the range of UNESCO World Heritage Sites make for unforgettable viewing.

So, whether you want to explore the Mekong River along the Mekong Delta or head to Nha Trang for its beautiful beaches, speak with our Travel Specialists to discover how we can tailor-make your perfect trip.

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