Astonishingly exotic and utterly captivating, Vietnam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with a unique heritage. Located on the South China Sea and known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities, it’s also a top outdoor adventure destination and boasts some of the best street food in the world!
Capital city Hanoi pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named and still often referred to as Saigon) is the country’s largest city and home to a number of French colonial landmarks, Vietnamese War history museums and the famous Củ Chi tunnels, used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Second Indochina War.
Vietnam is a narrow, S-shaped country that has a north-to-south distance of 1,650 kilometers and is about 50 kilometers wide at the narrowest point. There are essentially two ways to “do” Vietnam, and each of these begins with flying into either the north (Hanoi) or south (Ho Chi Minh) of the country!
Nội Bài International Airport, located in Hanoi
SOUTH Airport: Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport, located in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam Itinerary Options
Option 1: Start in the north and work your way south (or vice versa), allowing you to stop in any and all cities along this long and narrow country. With an abundance of culture, entertainment and adrenaline activities located all over the country, I chose this option in order to maximize my Vietnam experience!
Alternatively, if you don’t have a lot of time or are only interested in getting a small taste of
Vietnam, you could go with Option 2: Fly into and explore Northern Vietnam, and then fly
domestically to the South, and explore there (or vice versa, South and then North). You will find a ton of different opinions as to whether or not the middle of the country is “skippable,” but in my opinion, it’s definitely not skippable if you have the time and resources!
Vietnam’s World Heritage Sites
Let’s start off with Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A World Heritage Site is a place (such as a building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, or mountain) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as being of special cultural or physical significance. Below is a list of Vietnam’s 8 World Heritage Sites, listed geographically from north to south:
1. Thang Long Imperial Citadel
2. Ha Long Bay
3. Trang An Landscape Complex
4. Ho Dynasty Citadel
5. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
6. Complex of Hué Monuments
7. Hoi An Ancient Town
8. My Son Sanctuary
Sites 1 through 4 can be visited while exploring Northern Vietnam, with the remaining sites
located in the “centre” of the country (not easily accessed if you choose Option 2).
Now, I’m not going to tell you that you should base your trip around these UNESCO Sites, but I will say that it gives a good indication of the quality of destinations located throughout Central Vietnam. Personally, I found Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and Hoi An Ancient Town to be some of the highlights of my trip to Vietnam!
My Vietnam Highlights
While we’re on the topic, here is a list of my Vietnam highlights (by city):
• Ha Long Bay
• Phong Nha
• Hoi An
• Da Lat
*Side note: I definitely regret missing out on Sapa (or Sa Pa), the tourism centre of the northwest. Known for its trekking, landscapes, climate, and ethnic minorities, I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this town. So although I can’t speak from personal experience, from what I’ve heard from dozens of travelers, Sapa is a location not to be missed!
To hear about why these cities made it on my Vietnam Highlights list, click below for my next
article, “My Vietnam Highlights.” Here I’ll detail the accommodations, activities and/or culturally significant sites that contributed to these spots making my highlight list. These include the popular 3-day boat cruise around Ha Long Bay, canyoning adventures in Da Lat, and my favourite hostel in all of Vietnam, Phong Nha’s Easy Tiger! To learn all about the transportation/getting around in Vietnam, check out my article “Transportation: Getting Around Vietnam”
Michelle Ribeiro is a Canadian writer, singer, marketer, yoga teacher and adventure seeker.
Throwing caution to the wind, Michelle has recently quit her job in digital advertising to pursue her passions for travel and writing. Currently surfing somewhere in South East Asia, she has so far visited the likes of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia on this adventure, and has plenty of travel tips to share! Also known as girlonfiah, look out for her upcoming travel and wellness blog, coming soon!