If I look back at my 2 week Vietnam itinerary, it appears like a series of unforgettable experiences. But don’t ask me for my favorite. I don’t have just one. My list of best things to do in Vietnam is quite extensive.
Watching the sunset unfold over limestone islands in Halong Bay, enjoying the gastronomic delights in Hoi An, cycling in the paddy fields beyond this charming town, doing the road trip across the Hai Van pass to reach Hue, stay on the pristine and remote island of Con Dao, taking a stroll in the French quarters of Hanoi, contemplating the indefatigable human spirit while going down in one of the Cu Chi tunnels. There are so many interesting places to visit in Vietnam and experiences to be had. So let me dive right away into top things to do in Vietnam.
Admire the stunning limestone karsts at Bai Tu Long Bay
If I close my eyes, it is easy for me to bring up images of hundreds of forested limestone karsts jutting out of emerald waters of Halong Bay, and the uncrowded Bai Tu Long Bay. A magical evening on a cruise that takes you to the serene Bai Tu Long Bay with good food, wind ruffling all around you and a riot of colors being showcased in the sky is quite an experience. And if you are adventurous, kayaking in the calm waters the next morning would be fun as well. So, I would put an overnight cruise experience at Halong / Bai Tu Long bay on the list of what to do in Vietnam.
Stroll around the charming Hoi An and enjoy the culinary treats
Take it from me, the car-free town of Hoi An will charm you over. From cultural and historic sites as merchant houses, the Japanese covered bridge, to vibrant restaurants and cafes, Hoi An deserves its fame (and the crowds!). This is where we ate some of the best food in Vietnamese restaurants. But the best thing to do in Hoi An is simply amble around the town in the evening and soak in the atmosphere plus take to people-watching from the comfort of a cafe. We stayed at Danang and one of our best experiences in central Vietnam was the trip from Danang to Hoi An.
Take a cycling trip across the countryside
The vibrant cities in Vietnam are interesting but if you are a nature lover, do see the countryside as well. I imagine that there would be several places to visit in Vietnam for this, from Sapa in the north to Dalat in central Vietnam.
A memorable family experience for us was a cycling tour we took as a day trip from Danang. From river crossing with cycles loaded on the boat, cycling across floating bridges, to seeing villagers go about making rice-wine, weaving mats and fixing coracles, this was a lovely day out.
Drive across the Hai Van pass to Hue
For the culturally inclined, a trip to Hue – that served as the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors – should be on their list of places to visit in Vietnam. If you are short on time, just spending half a day at the 19th-century Citadel would be worthwhile.
But even more than the cultural sites of Hue, what got imprinted in my mind was the fun road trip from Danang to Hue. We crossed the Hai Van pass to go to Hue and came back via another route. The Hai Van pass with its winding roads, panoramic vistas and a quick pit stop at what was once a bunker used by the American army is worth a visit.
Spend an afternoon roaming around Hanoi
I wish we had built in more time in the stately city of Hanoi. We spent an afternoon with local university students who showed us around some parts of the city. More than the cultural and historic sites, that afternoon was about understanding the people and their mindsets, what the next generation aspires for in this rapidly developing country. We strolled through two unique areas of the city with them – the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. These two areas couldn’t be more different from each other than chalk and cheese, with only mad traffic being the common theme 🙂
Check out this post on Phung Hung Street Art and how it is reviving the Old Quarter, in case you are headed to Hanoi.
Old Quarter is narrow bylines, cafes with stools spilling on the roads, vibrant local life. The French quarters is dignified with historic art deco buildings all around. The magnificent Opera House and The Metropolitan Hotel bring alive the grandeur of the area just so.
Biking, diving and beach experience at Con Dao Island
The country has plenty of fine beaches with more than 2000 km of coastline. And yet, Con Dao islands with their unique history and stunning beauty made for a memorable experience for us.
These islands were used by the French in earlier times to keep thousands of locals as war prisoners. The horror of that is quite striking against the pristine beauty and stunning vistas that the protected status of these islands – as a national and marine park – provides. Biking across the undulating roads, diving off the coast in Vietnam Sea and relaxing on the stunning beaches of Con Dao island is definitely on my top things to do in. Vietnam.
Come face-to-face with Cu Chi tunnels
I didn’t know what to expect before the visit to Cu Chi tunnels. Though I did know in general about the guerrilla war that the locals waged against the American army for a long time in these forests.
The informed guide, the various displays and models put up, the documentary shown, made for an excellent experience. But what was thrilling was to enter one of the tunnels – a sanitized version of course – to crawl through imagining the lives of soldiers who lived and waged a war from here.
Vietnam has many more thrilling experiences. Not all things can be done and places visited in 2 weeks in Vietnam, but the above made it to my list to remember.
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Have you visited Vietnam? What has been your favorite place or experience there?
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