Vietnam is one of the best all-round holiday destinations in the world. It has interesting history and culture, dramatic natural wonders, lively cities with good bars and restaurants, and beautiful beaches.
Beach Holidays in Vietnam
Vietnam doesn’t have the same reputation as a beach holiday destination as Thailand but it does have a number of popular and beautiful beach areas with luxury resorts.
Central Vietnam Beach Holidays
Danang and Hoi An Beach Holidays
Around the cities of Danang and Hoi An there is over 20km of sandy beach. One of the most popular areas near Danang is My Khe – a beach that has recently undergone some development and now has a range of luxury resorts to choose from.
Further south is Cua Dai beach. The beach is lined with luxury resorts and palm trees, and is only a short drive away from the city of Hoi An (see below for more on the city).
Nha Trang Beach Holidays
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s most popular beach resort. There is a long beach in front of the main town but it is often very busy and not as clean as it used to be. The good news is that there are some quieter beaches nearby.
There are lots of bars and restaurants in the main town and along the beach, and Nha Trang has a reputation as being a party town.
Bai Duong beach is a couple kilometres to the north of the main beach but is much quieter and cleaner. The beach is smaller but has a number of resorts and is within walking distance of the bars and restaurants of the main town.
Ninh Van Bay is on a headland overlooking Nha Trang – it is only reachable by boat and is home to a peaceful luxury resort.
Doc Let Beach is around 50km north of Nha Trang and is much quieter, with a few hotels and a long beach.
The area around Nha Trang is the best place in Vietnam to go diving from and there are lots of dive centres in and around the town.
Southern Vietnam Beach Holidays
Mui Ne Beach Holidays
Mui Ne is a town to the east of Ho Chi Minh City. The area around Mui Ne has lots of beaches including the 10km Ham Tien beach. The sea is warm and generally good for swimming in, although it can be rough at times. The area is good for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Compared to Nha Trang Mui Ne is much quieter, although development has increased recently so there is a good range of resorts, as well as bars and restaurants in the town.
On the outskirts are red and white sand dunes that you can explore by dune buggy.
Phu Quoc Beach Holidays
Phu Quoc is a large island closer to Cambodia than it is to Vietnam, however you can only access it from Vietnam. The island is ringed with beaches and has a densely forested interior.
The island has become more popular as a beach destination but there are still quiet areas and secluded beaches. The sea around the island has great sites for diving and snorkelling.
The island also has an interesting history. It was fought over by Vietnam and Cambodia and was the site of a prison camp in the American war. There is a history museum on the island and you can visit the prison camp.
Cities and Cultural Sites
Vietnam has a fascinating history. Most recently it is known for its fight for independence from France (the French War) and its fight between north and south over communism (the American war). During the 19th and early 20th Centuries the country was a key part of the French Empire but ruled as a protectorate by the Nguyen Dynasty from Hue. Before that it was ruled by a series of frequently warring dynasties, including a period of Chinese rule from the 1st to the 10th Centuries AD. There were also a number of separate Kingdoms – the most famous of which was the Cham Dynasty.
This tumultuous history means there are a lot of cultural sites in the country – whether it is ancient capital cities or remnants of the American and French wars. Add to that amazing natural wonders and lively cities and you will find yourself overwhelmed with things to do and places to see in Vietnam.
Sapa is a hill town right in the north of Vietnam. The town is 1500m above sea level, however, most visitors use Sapa as a way to explore the surrounding mountains, which are home to hill tribes.
From Sapa you can go on single or multi-day treks that take you into the mountains, through villages and past rice terraces.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and its second largest city. The city is centred around the old quarter and nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. This area is a mixture of French and Vietnamese architecture and is home to temples, a cathedral and old prison as well as several museums. Hoan Kiem Lake is a great place to wander around and admire the Tortoise Tower on an island in the middle – a reference to a legendary tortoise that lives in the lake.
The Ba Dinh district is home to the city’s political sights. These include the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly building and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. At the Mausoleum you can go inside (you have to walk in pairs behind a soldier) to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. The area is also home to the Ho Chi Minh Museum – but don’t worry if you miss this one as there is one in almost every city.
At night Hanoi is lively with lots of bars and restaurants. Hanoi is the best place in Vietnam for Bia Hoi, which means fresh beer. Sellers set out small plastic chairs and tables on pavements around the old town, and sell this locally brewed beer very cheaply.
Halong Bay is one of the top sites in Vietnam. The bay has almost 2000 limestone islands rising from the sea to create a dramatic natural wonder. The majority of the islands are uninhabited but the area is populated by floating villages – where families keep fish farms in nets under their homes.
The best way to see the area is on a traditional Vietnamese Junk. You can stop off to go kayaking – one of the best experiences is kayaking through limestone arches to lagoons hidden in the middle of some of the islands.
Cat Ba town on Cat Ba Island is the main town for Halong Bay – there are lots of hotels, bars and restaurants here if you are not sleeping on a boat. The island is also a national park home to the Cat Ba langur – one of the rarest primates in the world.
Ninh Binh is a small city south of Hanoi. The town itself does not have much in the way of attractions but the area surrounding it is full of interesting sites to explore.
Tam Coc is an area with limestone rocks (similar to Halong Bay) crossed by numerous waterways. You can go on a boat trip (small rowing boats only) along the waterways and through the caves that have been carved out of the rocks over thousands of years.
15km from Ninh Binh is the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. The city was capital in the 10th and 11th Centuries and some of the buildings are still standing. Its location amongst limestone cliffs and rivers is one of the key attractions.
Phat Diem Cathedral is another popular trip from Ninh Binh. This huge French-built cathedral mixes European and Vietnamese styles and was built in the late 19th Century.
Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. The city is split by the Perfume River – the Citadel and old city are to the north, and the new city – with most of the hotels, bars and restaurants – is to the south.
The Imperial Citadel is the main attraction in the city. Inside the Citadel there are lots of temples, palaces and gardens – although many of these were damaged in the French and American wars.
Along the river outside of the city are the tombs of several Emperors. These impressive structures can be seen on a boat trip, or you can cycle along the river to see them.
The city has a good selection of bars and restaurants, and south of the river is lively at night.
From Hue you can also visit the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) where some of the biggest battles of the American war took place.
Hoi An is a beautifully colourful city in the middle of Vietnam. The city is on a river, and the best thing to do is wander round the old town and admire the mixture of French, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture. There are lots of cafes and bars to stop off at, especially along the river.
The most popular sight in the city is the Japanese Covered Bridge and its Pagoda – a beautiful 17th Century wooden bridge.
Near to Hoi An are the Cham ruins of My Son. My Son was the capital of the Cham Empire from the 4th to 13th Century. The site was chosen as it has a natural defence in the form of a ring of mountains around it. Some of the temples are still standing, although many were destroyed in the American War when it was used as a base by the Viet Cong.
There are beaches nearby – see the beach section on Hoi An and Danang above.
Dalat was originally a city for the French to escape the heat of Ho Chi Minh City. Set in the mountains, it has very different scenery to the rest of Vietnam. The area around the city is great for hiking, mountain biking and canyoning.
One of the most popular sights out of the city is Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery, which can be reached by either by cable car or a 4km hike.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City – previously known as Saigon – is the largest city in Vietnam and is more dynamic and cosmopolitan than Hanoi.
Most of the tourist sites are in the French designed District One, which has wide tree-lined boulevards and several parks. The Reunification Palace, which was the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, is in this area. Nearby is The War Remnants Museum, which covers the Vietnam War. To give a flavour of what you will find inside, it was originally named the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. There is also the obligatory museum dedicated to the life of Ho Chi Minh.
The city still has some French Colonial buildings, the most impressive of which is the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Around an hour and a half outside of the city are the Cu Chi Tunnels. These small tunnels were used by Viet Cong in the American war to hide, and the network at Cu Chi is over 120km long. The area has been preserved and you can learn about life at the tunnels, as well as crawl through one that has been enlarged for tourists.
To the south of Ho Chi Minh City the Mekong River splits into nine to form the Mekong Delta. The delta is best explored by boat and you can stop off in some of many towns and villages, and shop at the floating markets.
If you plan to visit North Vietnam you can spend a few days in Hanoi before heading north to the mountains around Sapa to go hiking or mountain biking. From Sapa you can head to Halong Bay for a two-day cruise amongst the limestone islands. And finally onto Ninh Binh, where you can see ancient palaces, and take a boat trips through caves.
Start in Ho Chi Minh City with a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels and a boat trip around the Mekong Delta. From there you can head north into the hills for the city of Dalat where you can go hiking. From Dalat make your way down to the coast and stop off at the beachside resorts of Mui Ne.
The Best of Vietnam
To see all the main sites in Vietnam start with a few nights in Hanoi followed by a boat trip around Halong Bay. From there head south to Ninh Binh for a couple of days exploring the countryside around the city. From Ninh Binh head south along the coast to the old capital of Hue, where you can explore the Citadel. Then spend a couple of nights in Hoi An, which is a short distance south of Hue.
From Hoi An you can either head to the beaches at Nha Trang (if you want more nightlife) or Mui Ne (if you are looking for a quiet beach holiday). From the beach head to Ho Chi Minh City and a tour of the Mekong Delta by boat.
Where to Stay in Vietnam
Vietnam has a large number of hotels that tend to be very good value for money. In some of the less visited places high-end luxury can be hard to come by but the quality of accommodation is generally very good.
When to Go to Vietnam
The best time to visit Vietnam is November to April as during these months the whole of the country is at its driest. From May to September central Vietnam still has good weather, but the north and south tend to see more rain.
Halong Bay is best seen in March and April.
Getting Around Vietnam
A car and driver is the best way to get around Vietnam, although there are trains that link most of the bigger cities.
Getting to Vietnam
There are a few direct flights to Hanoi from the UK with Vietnam Airlines. To use a different airline or get to a different city you will need to have a stopover.