6 Best cities in Vietnam (that are totally unmissable!)
After spending a month backpacking through South East Asia, Vietnam became a firm favourite of mine. The culture, the food and the history in each city fascinated me time and time again. Each city is so unique and special in its own right, so how do you decide which ones to visit? To help you narrow it down, here are the six best cities in Vietnam (that are totally unmissable!).
Ho Chi Minh City: For the big city lovers
Chaotic, dirty, loud and a total attack on the senses. Welcome to the awesomeness that is Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s like nowhere I have visited before and I came to appreciate how raw and unapologetically real this city is. Many cities are made for tourists and put on a happy face and artificial facade. Not Ho Chi Minh City.
It was here that I discovered my love of Vietnamese food. Working my way through every vegan dish at every stall in the Ben Thanh Food Market!
This is also the place to be if you love to party. Ho Chi Minh City has a banging night life and was the best night out of my whole trip. Enjoy cocktails with incredible views from a rooftop bar and dance until the early hours nightclub hopping on the strip.
Aside from the food and nightlife, one the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City is the Chu Chi Tunnels. This intricate network of tunnels were used by soldiers during the Vietnamese War as a hiding spot, to relay messages and deliver supplies and weapons. You can still go down into these tunnels today (if you’re not too claustrophobic!) and learn about how Vietnamese soldiers lay booby traps with spiked bamboo and mace. It’s a fascinating insight into warfare.
If you want to learn more about the Vietnamese War check out the War Remnants Museum. It’s not an easy visit but an important one. I would also recommend visiting the Dragon Floating Temple and the Independent Palace whilst you’re there.
Nha Trang: For the beach lovers
Heading up the coast from Ho Chi Minh City we have the city of Nha Trang. And it could not be more different! After the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City you’ll likely be ready to chill for a hot minute and baby, let Nha Trang be thy medicine! It’s a beach lover’s paradise that combines traditional Vietnamese culture with cool Miami vibes. It’s popular with international and Vietnamese tourists alike as it’s hot and sunny all year round.
On days you don’t fancy getting your tan on whilst clutching a fresh coconut on the beach, why not spend a day at the spa? Visiting the Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Baths is a great (and fun!) way to continue your relaxation. Plus, the mud is said to have healing properties from its high mineral content. At the spa there is also a mineral waterfall, hydrotherapy wall and a swimming pool as well as treatments available.
I would also recommend visiting the Ponagar Towers. They were built between the 7th and 12th centuries (but no one knows for sure!) and are still actively used for worship by Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists today. The view ain’t too shabby either!
Other points of interest include: Ba Ho Waterfall, Long Son Pagoda, the National Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam and the Thanh Citadel. If you’ve checked all these fab things off your list, head back to the beach and enjoy some water sports.
Hoi An: For the art lovers
Hoi An is always a favourite whenever you speak to people who have visited Vietnam and rightly so!
There is something magical about this city that captivates everyone who visits. From the ancient architecture to the colourful street lanterns; Hoi An is simply stunning.
The buildings date back from the 15th to 19th century when it began life as a South-East Asian trading port. As a result of the many foreign merchants who settled here, the city has both Chinese and Japanese influences.
Old Town Hoi An, the city’s historic district is so well-preserved it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It feels like you are literally stepping back in time wandering through the tiny streets.
There is so much to see and do in Hoi An. Check out the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation, Japanese Covered Bridge and the My Son Sanctuary and ruins. For a little retail therapy browse Hoi An’s famous night market.
I would also recommend touring Hoi An by bike. It’s a great way to get out of the Old Town and visit some of the nearby villages and countryside. A day tour includes the Noi Rang Market, a sampling of ‘My Quang’ and the Kim Bong Craft Village. You’ll also get a tutorial on how to fish from (and not fall out of!) a traditional coracle basket boat.
It’s a vibrant city with bags of charm and a rich, fascinating history. It’s definitely one for your bucket list! And hand down one of the best cities in Vietnam.
Huế: For the history lovers
Huế (pronounced: “hway”) is a city for history-lovers, which is why I personally enjoyed it so much. Think ancient architecture, temples and museums against a serene river with the smell of flowers (aptly named: the Perfume River). It’s a lot more laid back than other cities in Vietnam which gives it a quiet charm.
As the former imperial capital of Vietnam, visiting the Imperial Palace in Huế is a must! The palace complex covers over 50,000 square feet and is extremely well-preserved. It was the seat of power in Vietnam until the French stepped in the 1880s. After this it was mostly used for symbolic traditions until the Nguyễn dynasty was ousted from power in 1945.
A great (and fun!) way to see Huế is by motorbike. You can visit the Tu Hieu Pagoda, the former Ho Quyen Tiger Fighting Arena, the 200-year-old Thanh Toan Bridge, the Royal Antiquities Museum and the Imperial Tombs. All in one day! You’ll also learn how to make traditional conical hats and incense from a local trader before finishing with panoramic views of the Perfume River from the top of Vong Canh Hill. Phew!
Hạ Long City: For the nature lovers
It has to be said that the main draw of Hạ Long City is its’ world-famous Halong Bay. However, it’s well worth the pit stop even if you are just cruising past to do this one visit.
Halong Bay’s beauty, mystery and unique formation draws three million travellers to it each year and comprises of an impressive 775 mini islands across 129 square miles. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the world. Which goes to show how unmissable it is!
The evolution of the bay took 20 million years to form under the impact of a wet, tropical climate. The limestone however dates back 500 million years (over 200 million years before dinosaurs!).
But Halong Bay isn’t just a pretty face. It has a series of cool cave systems which you can explore by kayak and foot. Nobody knows for sure how many caves there are but there are around 30 open for you to explore.
Many travellers are drawn to Vietnam for Halong Bay alone and for good reason, it’s a total bucket list must-do!
Hanoi: For the vegan foodies
If you’re not keen on the craziness of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi is for you. It encapsulates all the things I liked most about Ho Chi Minh City but is calmer and less gritty. It’s a beautiful city that reflects a combination of Japanese, Chinese and French cultural influences from times of occupation.
The highlight of Hanoi for me was hands down the food. I know I keep harping on about the food in Vietnam but it’s a testimony for how delicious it is! It is here my love of Vietnamese food was cemented as I went on a street food tour which included vegan friendly traditional dishes at every stop.
Some of my favourites included, vegan Bún chả which originated in Hanoi (also known as ‘the Obama special’ – as he loved it when he visited Vietnam apparently!), rice noodle pancakes and coconut milk and sticky green rice for dessert. The latter was quite a pudding game changer. The street food tour was also a great way to get to know Hanoi by visiting different food stalls, markets and hidden restaurants frequented by locals across the city.
But there is so much more to Hanoi than food. Take a tour down the bustling streets of the Old Quarter, turtle watch in Hoàn Kiếm Lake, see the Ngoc Son Pagoda, visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and enjoy a water puppet show. The water puppet show in particular is so much fun!
And there you have it folks, the best cities in Vietnam!
If you’d like to visit all these cities in one awesome trip check out the tour I did with Gadventures for more information.
Which do you think are the best cities in Vietnam? Let me know in the comments below! 😊
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