Things not to miss in Vietnam
1. Take your food fantasy to Hanoi
It is a haven for all the food lovers.
You can find in Hanoi the best delicacies in the country and at a cost friendly price. It is a big city which mean that there are multiple restaurants and places where you can get any type of meal you want.
If you love eating unique and tasty meals, then you need to take a tour to Hanoi. It is better if you have a tour guide to help you explore the city without much hustle while you enjoy the tasty meals which are readily affordable.
Food and Walking Tours in Hanoi
There are also plenty of Hanoi Waking Tours. Personally I love food walking tours combined. You can find great walking ours in Hanoi here.
Find more information on food tours in Hanoi here.
From pork to noodles and fish dishes, you will find all once you get to Hanoi.
Our absolute favorite restaurant in Hanoi is called NEW DAY in the old town.
Vegetarian Food in Hanoi
Also, Vegetarians will love the food in Hanoi. There are many many options. All over Vietnam you will find An Chay Restaurants.
“An Chay” means Vegetarian. Not everybody actually understands what vegetarian means, so they might want to put chicken on top of your “Banh Mi”, for instance. Keep an eye on it and let them know by gestures you do not want chicken on your food, for instance.
Vietnamese street sellers are happy to make you the sandwich you want.
2. Take a Tractor to the beach (central Vietnam)
One of the most adventurous things to do in Vietnam was taking a tractor to the beach.
This is one of the super-NON-touristy things to do!
This beach we went to is North of the Mui Dinh dunes. There was a street food stall near the street. We stopped there, asked, they sent the tractor.
This is the exact location on Google Maps.
No, I am not kidding. This is exactly how Vietnam works!
They brought us to the beach through the Vietnamese dessert.
We agreed they will pick us up again in 2 hours. We were beaching for a bit, took amazing photos, enjoyed the ambiance. There was also a small street food shop on the beach.
Again, this is Vietnam. This is the typical Vietnam experience when you leave the beaten path!
We stayed at the Hon Co Ca Na Resorts for $35 a night.
From here we took our motorbikes along the coast line to the dunes again and then took the tractor.
The resort is super cool as well. You stay 5 meters away from the beach in huge rooms. The food int he restaurant itself was also amazing.
The guy working there became our close friend, we chatted always with him and he gave us amazing tips. So, yeah, come over here!
3. Experience wind and kite surfing in Mui Ne
The region may paint a picture as being only a fishing destination, since it is famous for that.
However, it has a lot more to offer in terms of adventure.
Mui Ne has amazing sand dunes which you can take advantage of.
You can get your gear ready to surf with the wind and sand dunes. It is a magical experience which adds to the excitement once you tour the area. It ignites a sense of adventure and if you do not want to surf you can watch the beautiful sand dunes to make your trip worthwhile.
Important: If you are coming here by motorbike, pay attention to the police and avoid their scams.
4. Talking about Mui Ne: The Dunes
The dunes of Mui Ne are one of the top places in Vietnam.
Everybody knows about them. If you haven’t heard about it, well, you would have heard it soon enough.
The dunes in Mui Ne are super cool and you even sandboard here. Wherever you stay, a hotel, hotel or home stay, they can offer and organize the tour for you.
The dunes are about 200km East of Saigon aka. Ho Chi Minh City.
Good to know: Mui Ne is known for its dunes AND the corrupt police men. When you plan to come here with your motorbike, chances are the police will stop you. And even if you have all the needed paper work, they want some money from you.
5. Explore the Hang Son Doong cave
Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, the Hang Son Doong cave is the largest known cave in the world.
Hang Son Doong cave is the largest known cave in the world.
You will be treated to a rare site in the national park where the cave is found. Tourists flock this national park to see the amazing cave which is reputable due to its size.
However, you will have to pay an entrance fee to enter the cave and experience the beauty of greatness.
Good to know: You cannot enter this cave without any guide. You HAVE to get a guide and you can even sleep here.
You can book the tour with Oxalis.com. They are specialized in this cave tour.
Bare in mind, some tours can cost up to 3000$. During these tours you atually sleep in the cave. Now, that’s definitely amazing!
6. Have a Mud Bath in Dark Cave-Hang Tố(and Zipline)
In the same area, near the enormous cave of Hang Son Doong, you find the so-called Dark Cave.
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The Dark Cave is a long cave where you enter with a small group and you are armed with a helmet and a light. At the end of the Dark Cave there is a mud bath waiting for you.
It is pure fun!
The group is limited to 15 people (around about). You can also enjoy a bit of Kayaking and a tiny water park with the Dark Cave together. You start with a 400m Zipline, walk in the cave, have the bath and then enjoy the water park with zipline, water bikes and a few more fun games.
There is no need to book anything ahead of time. Just go to the Dark Dave, buy your entrance and enter.
The tour starts as soon as enough people are in.
7. Take a trip to the Vietnam capital
Hanoi has a lot to offer from art galleries to beautiful temples.
If you are a fan of architecture and historical ruins, the city of Hanoi has a lot to offer.
Visit the museums where you will get to learn about the history of the Vietnamese people which you enjoy the sights and sceneries.
While in Hanoi, make sure you visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh. Personally, I had no idea that this is even possible.
You can enter the Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh is placed. You can see the real dead body of him.
It looks like in the movies, very very interesting!
Many schools with young kids from all over the country visit. They hold a small ceremony, all are dressed accordingly.
You are not allowed to bring in a big camera. You can leave this free of charge outside, and can pick it up later. I did it, the camera was in perfect shape, no worries!
Inside you will find 4 soldiers, not moving at all.
Important to know: You are not allowed to take any photo. If you do, you can end up in jail! Behind the body you will see huge flags in red. One flag is the Vietnamese flag with a golden star on red background. The other one is the Sowjetunion/ Communism flag known as The Hammer and Sickle and The Red Banner.
The entrance is free.
Tuesday – Thursday: 07:30 – 10:30
Saturday and Sunday: 07:30 – 11:00
Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
8. See the pagodas
Get to know the religious culture of the Vietnamese.
The pagodas serve as evidence of a rich culture which is still respected in the region.
The pagodas are unique structures or buildings which are found everywhere you go within Vietnam. They are normally used as shrines by the people are which makes them important to the citizens of the country.
They have ancient carvings on them which will be worth seeing and exploring.
Not to worry actually.
You will come across religious buildings in
No need to add anything extra to the list.
The biggest Pagoda in all Vietnam is Bai Dinh Pagoda, in Ninh Binh province. This is around 100km south of Hanoi.
9. Find solace in Dalat (or Da Lat)
Set yourself up for a relaxing atmosphere on the highlands.
If you want a little action to go with this, you can participate in the sporting events on the hills of Dalat.
You can also tour the villages around which will open up the rich culture of the region while you find solace in that serene place.
We especially enjoyed the tiny, cute coffee shops all over the village.
Our favorite coffee shops in Da Nang are:
Me Linh Coffee Garden (for a day trip to the area)
Bicycle up cafe
ZEN Cafe Dalat – Villa
Dalat is also the region where they produce wine. Try a few local wines, they are tasty!
Another highlight is the night market directly in the city center. You cannot miss it!
10. Visit Hoi An for a shopping adventure
Get suited and put on your suit game as you will find tailor-made suits in Hoi An.
Hoi An is the cutest, typical Vietnamese village you will find. So, at least, it is in the book.
It is really cute, a river flows through the village, many small shops, cafés, restaurants. The whole village is surrounded by rice fields, perfect to take photos.
In this guide we cover as well the best things to buy in Vietnam.
The beach of Hoi An is around 5km away.
Hoi An is a small place where you can opt to take a walk as you explore the authentic suits they have in store.
Most visitors come to this place to shop, see historical building and have coffee at the most exquisite cafes it has to offer.
Also, you can choose to relax at the beaches after a long day of exploration and adventure.
Good to know: The first day we entered the village we went to a beautiful roof top restaurant. The next day we took the same street and suddenly there was a stand asking for an entrance fee. Apparently this is not a scam, but true. Around the city you find a few places asking for entrance fee.
We did not pay, since we thought it is a scam. We went to a different street, same story.
Then we went to the street with Cong Caphe, there we did not have to pay any entrance. I cannot assure you it will be the same for you, but give it a try.
To me it does not seem fair to pay an entrance fee to an ancient city, especially since i leave my money anyway here, buying at least a few souvenirs or coffees.
Anyway, this is just for you to know.
My best tip for Hoi An: Move around and keep walking. There are so many corners and tiny places you can explore. Do not stay only on the main street. At night, the city is lightened up. This is the best time to take beautiful photos.
Last but not least: I loved the Chinese Bridge, so beautiful and picturesque. Here is our photo from the Chinese Bridge.
Update: once a month, every full moon, there is the Full Moon Festival in Hoi An.
If you happen to be around here, stay in Hoi An. You can purchase little floating candles boats and set them free in the river.
Personally, I did not like this that much. When you walk a bit in floating direction, you will see all the trash. Not really adorable anymore.
11. Take a bike tour to Da Nang
Da Nang is the big city near Hoi An. It is in the north of Hoi An.
It has SO MUCH to offer, but it is less known, a real hidden gem in Vietnam.
If you know how to ride a bicycle, then Da Nang will be the best place to tour. A bike tour will go well if you have local guides helping you discover the beautiful landscape.
You will be able to go through villages as you wish away the sunlight.
The tour will start as the sun rises and may go on til the daylight is gone.
It is an adventurous tour, which educates you on what the area has to offer in terms of tranquility and unlimited adventures as you move along with a small crew.
The best hostel in Da Nang is Memory Hostel. Here is our full review of Memory Hostel in Da Nang.
Read: 12 best design cafes in Da Nang.
What to do in Da Nang?
You have to visit the infamous Dragon Bridge. Every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm then dragons spits fire – real fire!
Okay, the dragon spits as well water after spitting the fire… but I think the fire is way cooler!
Below you can find more information, #15.
During the day, hang out at the beach or drive to the peninsula. There is a gigantic Buddha statue.
In the area you find as well restaurants directly at the beach. Just keep driving – there is only 1 street – and keep an eye to the right side. Once you see a restaurant, climb down the stairs, sit down, enjoy the ocean!
Here is the street I am talking about. This will make it easier for you to find the place.
Bare in mind, wherever you park with your motorbike, you pay a bit for parking. It is kind of a tipping for the people watching over your vehicle.
12. Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
It is a favorite destination for all those visitors who love diving in the sea. If you are familiar with scuba diving you can apply for a certification and take a plunge into the sea.
However, if you are not a fun, you can dine and wine in the beautiful resorts found bedside the sea which adds value to your visit.
Vietnam has a lot to offer for your perfect vacation or holiday.
There is a lot to see and a lot of places to visit.
However, this will depend on how well prepared in terms of the necessities you need and the prior knowledge of the area you are visiting. This will prevent you from running into trouble and enjoy your stay while you make the most out of it.
The best hostel in Nha Trang is the container hostel CCASA Hostel.
Update: We wanted to give you even more insights to the essential things to do in Vietnam.
So, we at Hostelgeeks, updated this guest article by William Benetton with even more Vietnam tours and places to visit in Vietnam.
13. A vegetarians heaven
Are you a meat lover? No worries, there is LOTS of meat you can eat.
But, also vegetarians will love this country.
During our 3 months adventure, we enjoyed so much food.
This country is a heaven for vegetarians.
The Buddhist only eat vegetarian so there are tons of restaurants and food stalls specialized on this.
Keep your eyes open!
Every full moon, all Buddhist people only eat vegetarian foot. We had no idea and went to a Vegetarian restaurant in Da Nang. They were even out of food!
Try to learn as well the basic words for Vegetarian: AN CHAI!
I can even write you this without looking up the word. Here is a guide to eating Vegetarian in Vietnam.
14 Visit an abandoned water park
We visited Hue, the former capital.
Hue is located North of Hoi An. A bike trip between these two cities is the best you can do in Vietnam! It is one of my favorite routes in Vietnam! This route takes you along the Hai Van Pass. This is where you will find a former US military bunker. It was once one of the most dangerous routes in the world, today it is only beautiful.
It is also the former border between North and South Vietnam.
Hue is a nice place to visit in Vietnam and recommended by so many people. So, yes, it is worth, but…there is a but:
Our highlight was the abandoned waterpark in Hue.
It is right outside the city center, and there is a tiny entrance fee. This park was built in the 2000s and was never really used and adapted by the people.
Today, well, it’s a travelers dream to wander around this impressive scenery. Bring you camera, please please please!
Good to know: There is a tiny food stall around. Here you can get a coca cola and some basic food.
Rumor: Rumor has it, that there are crocodiles living in this area and the water park. When we visited we have seen nothing no evidence of this. Plus, we could not find any information on this.
15. Enjoy Da Nang and the Dragon Bridge
A bit more south of Hue you find Da Nang. Da Nang is a big city, just a few km away from the tiny, yet famous village of Hoi An.
Da Nang is non-touristy!
There is no other city where you can see the growing times of Vietnam. Come here, enjoy the beach and endless awesome coffee shops.
Also, you can visit here roof top terrace with infinity pools.
The fire-spitting Dragon Bridge is another thing you have to see in Vietnam.
The Memory Hostel is the best place to admire the Dragon Bridge. It has a roof top terrace with a direct view to the bridge. EPIC!
16. Visit Sa Pa (trekking and family)
Up in the North of Hanoi, right at the border of China, there is Sa Pa.
It’s a wonderful experience to admire the scenic landscape. Stay with a local family, play with the kids, and mingle with the locals.
Sa Pa is known for the
- rice fields in the mountains
- the magical views and
- trekking experience
You can stay either in the Sa Pa Village itself in a better guesthouse. Or you can stay with a local family.
I totally recommend the local family experience.
The locals will approach you when arriving to Sa Pa. You will go for a trekking with your guide, all the way to the families village and house. Here you hang out in the kitchen, near the fire, can take beautiful photos of the landscape and try rice wine.
Rice wine? It is the drink of the simple people. You have to try this when you visit!
How to get to Sa Pa?
You can take:
- Night Train: This is one of the best and most adventurous things to do in Vietnam. Book a night train and go over night to Sa Pa. Here’s a blogger guide to get from Hanoi to Sa Pa by sleeper train.
Very good to know: As a foreigner you cannot book tickets on the official train website with your foreign credit card. There is only a website to buy EXPENSIVE tickets to Sa Pa.
BUT: You can buy your cheap tickets directly at the train station. We paid only 7€ per person, while others who paid online bought a ticket for 50€ – each way.
- Bus: There is a bus leaving from Hanoi to Sa Pa everyday. There are as well sleeping buses. I am not a big fan of buses, this is why we took the train.
Find our full guide to traveling in Sa Pa here.
Read: all our 99 travel photos from Vietnam here
17. Enjoy Ha Long Bay (starting from Cat Ba)
Head over to the stunning Ha Long Bay. For me, this is one of the BEST things to do in Vietnam.
There is no way aorund it, do not SKIP THIS!!
You can take a cruise ship and soak in everything there is. We recommend spending at least 1 night here. It is really something special and unique!
You can book your cruise tour in Ha Long Bay here.
You can also ask the team at NEXY Hostel. They know the best tour providers and will let you know what tour operators to skip.
Planning to stay in Ha Long Bay?
Instead of staying at the not-so-beautiful-city of Ha Long, I highly recommend Cat Ba Island. It is directly located in the Ha Long Bay – exactly the same landscape!
This island has a cave hospital, a small village, a national park to visit and really nice restaurants.
For the backpacker, we recommend the Woodstock Beach Camp.
18. Enjoy coffee – over and over again!
Sure, we are big coffee lovers. In fact, we summed up our tips on how to find design coffee shops all around the world.
Vietnam is a country you will start to get into the coffee world as well.
There are many wonderful coffee shops around. But, you can get a regular coffee basically everywhere and it will be fantastic!
You can try the typical Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, coffee with egg or coffee with coconut. YUMMY!
19. Go off the beaten path
The best places to visit in Vietnam are:
Ha Long Bay
Saigon /Ho Chi Minh City
Those are the absolute basic recommendations you will get over an over again. Okay, I get it.
However, if you have enough time, take the pass less traveled.
Visit for instance Kon Tum or the 3 borders triangle between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There is so much to see apart from the big tourist spots.
Go for it!
20. Take a motorbike tour from Hanoi to Saigon
We spent 3 full months in this amazing country. This gave us the time to fall in love with it, to “hate” it, to admire it, to enjoy it, to be annoyed by it – all that in the same day sometimes!
If you bring at least 4 weeks with you (and enough confidence), buy a motorbike and cruise from Hanoi to Saigon.
Travel the world-famous Ho Chi Minh Road. It is a life time experience!
Good to know: We recommend to plan at least with 3 weeks for this trip.
You can also rent a bike and only do a part of the trip. This is also an option and life-time experience. You can do easily 25k strong trips, but on average we drove about 100km per day.
We did not drive every day of course. We took our time and enjoyed a lot Da Nang for instance, Hoi An and more beach towns. But the days we took the bikes from A to B it was between 25k and 150km.
The biggest distance we drove in one day was around 200km. The average travel speed with motorbikes is 60km/h.
If you have any questions on how to buy a motorbike in Vietnam, itineraries or whatever, I am happy to help.
Just leave a comment below, happy to give you handy websites and facebook groups to find your motorbike.
21. At least: Take a motorbike along Hai Van Pass
But okay…we get it, not everyone wants to do this bike trip.
The most scenic road we’ve traveled here was the Hai Van Pass between Hue and Hoi An.
In the map below you can find the destinations and cities we are talking about.
Back in the days of the American War, this was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. There is a former American bunker on the top, and the views are just WOWing you. Have a look on the photo below.
You can join as well organized tours with other travelers from Hoi An to Hue, just ask your accommodation.
22. Visit a roof-top terrace in Saigon
When we think of Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon, we think about FUN nights out. Oh my god, it was EPIC!
The biggest city in the country comes with amazing roof top terraces.
We had quite some parties here with our friends from The Common Room Project.
Therefore, highly recommend it! Go for a drink at a roof-top terrace.
There are cheaper places for the nightlife, but it is well worth it! The whole hostel moved to the roof top disco, and we stayed until the club closed.
A super fun thing to do!
Update: The Common Room Project now opened their own roof top to the public. Come here even when you are not staying here, it’s fun!!
23. Stay at awesome hostels
The quality of hostels varies a lot. There are a bunch of dirty backpackers hostel to crazy party hostels to stunning 5 Star Hostels.
If you are a female solo-traveler, opt-in for the 5 Star Hostels.
You find all 5 Star Hostels in Vietnam here.
Actually, we recommend everybody to stay at the 5 Star Hostels.
You can still join the Party Hostels for their nightlife -even without staying there!
And remember, hostels are the gateway to make lifelong friendships.
Below, you can find a list of accommodations in Vietnam we recommend.
24. Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels
Impressive, terrifying, curious, crazy, wow…
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a MUST-VISIT in Vietnam, no question about it.
You can take day trips from Saigon or go there by your own.
Just ask the hostel for recommendations. You can ask the team at The Common Room Project. It is the 5 Star Hostel in town. They will help you to organized this trip.
FYI: You can also fire an old machine gun. It was around $15, and it’s real bullets.
Although we are no fans of guns, to hear the gun fire in the background when walking around the area adds a special, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s quite an experience!
Read: 24 best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City
25. Visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi
Did you know you can visit the corps of Ho Chi Minh? He is in the Mausoleum and every thousands of people visit him.
This is a free thing to do in Hanoi.
Just check the schedule and plan enough time.
Also: Do NOT try to take a photo of Ho Chi Minh. There are 4 to 6 soldiers in the room. It is forbidden to take a photo.
If you do take a photo, then, well, you will be most likely arrested. Do not risk it!
We mentioned this earlier before in this list. I consider this a must-do, this place tells you a lot about the country. The past, the present and the future!
Read: 41 things to do in Hanoi – for families and solo-traveler
26. Visit the Vinh Moc Tunnels
We told you we will share with you the less known tunnels. But impressive in the same way.
The Vinh Moc Tunnels are located in the “North”, or shall we say, the former North Vietnam.
These tunnels were used to hide from the bombings. The Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon were used to hide and fight.
You see, in the American war, the North was bombed, while they were fighting man against man in the South.
Not many tourists come here since it is not easy to get here. It is in the area of Hue. You need a motorbike or hire a driver to get here.
The entrance fee is very low and there is a guide you can hire.
I would recommend the guide since he or she will share incredible stories e.g. how many babies were born here, how many tunnels were destroyed and so on. There is as well stories of underground villages that were bombed, and destroyed.
Incredible, terrifying stories.
27. Tour with the Hanoi kids
The locals know their way around the best places to visit in Hanoi.
As such, you will get chance to take some of the Hanoi kids with you in an effort to get the most out of your visit.
It involves signing up for the tour which is organized by an organization that seeks to pair the kids or students with the travelers. The students are learning English and thus offers a great opportunity for them to interact as they show travelers around.
It is a fun experience and you get to learn more during the tour.
Read: our first 24 hours in Hanoi meeting local students.
28. Water Puppet Show
One of the best things to do in Vietnam and Hanoi with kids is this one: A water Puppet theatre!
See a unique art form that originates over 1,000 years ago in the Red River Delta. In the past, water puppetry showed the daily life of villagers such as farming, fishing and romance. Now, watch plays about ancient Vietnamese legends, myths and history.
How did this get started?
The world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi has its roots in an art form that dates back to the 11th century. The tradition of water puppet theater stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would create entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water. Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.
I am adding here a video abut the theatre for you.It’s kind of spoiler alert, so don’t watch it if you want to be surprised yet by the actual show.
29. Tam Coc/ Ninh Binh and the “dry Ha Long Bay”
Tam Coc and Ninh Binh are located a bit more than 100km south of Hanoi.
The two villages are next to each other, part of a giant National Reserve.
It is known as the “dry Ha Long Bay” and this is the area you can find locals paddling with their feet.
It is certainly true and super interesting to watch!
Just have a look on the photo below.
The lime stones here are as gorgeous as in the Ha Long bay, yet surrounded by rice fields.
There are even day trips from Hanoi. I would rather suggest staying at least 1 night, since the area is really big. You can also take a boat tour with locals.
We did not do this because the waters were so full of boats. We stayed on solid ground and watched it from the outside.
I recommend staying at Tam Coc Bungalow. It is tucked away, super calm and easy-going.
30. National Park and Monkey Reserve
Unfortunately monkeys are becoming a rare species in Vietnam. There is many influences on this.
We visited the Cuc Phuong National Park and Monkey reserve. It’s a reserve for many different types of monkeys where they try to help monkeys to survive.
It is a really interesting place to visit!
It is around 30km from Ninh Binh. There is day tours from Nih Binh you can book.
We have visited by mid of March and there were millions of butterflies. Literally, millions!
I have never seen anything alike.
The funnies part though: The guys from the Reserve told me there are not many butterflies at the moment, May is the season! Keep that in mind 😉