Vietnam is best known for its culture, food, landscape and its heroic history. I got to experience a little bit of all these things during my 3.5 week stint through this epic country, and I’d love to share some of my highlights with you!
Ha Long Bay!
Ha Long Bay (sometimes spelled Halong Bay) in northeast Vietnam is a popular travel destination known for its emerald waters and more than 3,000 towering limestone islands.
One of its most popular islands, Cat Ba, is great for hiking and rock climbing, both of which I got to take a stab at!
Ha Long has made my Vietnam highlights list because of the amazing and popular “overnight
cruise” or “party boat cruise,” which departs early in the morning from Hanoi city. The tour takes you kayaking though actual floating villages (unlike anything you’ve ever seen!)
Exploring the stunning stalactite throughout Surprising Cave (or Sung Sot Cave) and ends with a day of relaxing, swimming, kayaking, playing volleyball or whatever your heart desires, on your own private island.
The tours are run by numerous operators and usually offer a 2-day/1-night as well as a 3-day/2-night option. I opted for the 3-day option, which included one night aboard a surprisingly well maintained 3-star cruise ship, and one night sleeping in cozy cabins on the private island!
Tour operators are plentiful and as with any tour in Southeast Asia, it’s a good idea to ask around for a recommendation once you’re there in the country (ask advice from your hotel staff or travelers who have just returned from the trip). As much as we like to think that everything can be booked online and in advance these days, many adventures though out Asia are better left arranged on-site. More about this in an upcoming post, but just carve out a few days while you’re in the north of Vietnam to enjoy one of these cruises. It was one of the more expensive activities I did throughout my whole trip, but considering what it included, I feel it was well worth the price tag.
Check trip advisor to get an idea for costs and daily itinerary. Do not miss out on the beauty of Ha Long Bay!
Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Hang Son Doong is reputed to be the world’s largest cave 4. It was discovered by a local in 1990, and “rediscovered” by a British caving team in 2009. I made a stop in Phong Nha, Vietam, specifically to take a trip though this stunning cave and was blown away by its beauty.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is riddled with hundreds of cave systems and magnificent underground rivers – the likes of which you just can’t find anywhere else in the world! If this sort of thing interests you, please don’t skip Phong Nha! It’s not a highly publicized destination and could easily be overlooked, but it is an absolute gem and well worth the stop! Side note- my favourite hostel in all of Vietnam was Phong Nha’s Easy Tiger!So if you get out that way, be sure to book in advance, as this hostel is no secret to travelers and books up fast, especially during the high season!
Hoi An is a beautiful, atmospheric city on Vietnam’s central coast, known for its well-preserved Ancient Town. Also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most beautiful section of Hoi An, referred to as The Old Town, is a collection of historic Chinese and Japanese residential buildings and temples which have luckily been preserved by strict zoning laws 6. Full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shop houses, a river flows through the town, splitting the old section from the main residential area. Hoi An is quaint, and a great city to explore by foot.
Probably the main draw for tourists is the custom made clothing in Hoi An. In a country known for cheap clothing, Hoi An is in a league of its own. Everything can be made here, and made cheap. Women flock to the city with pictures of designer dresses and trendy fashions, looking for custom made replicas, while men can have quality, tailor fit suits made for a fraction of the price they pay back home! Suits can cost as little as $50 USD, and a whole wardrobe can be purchased for less than $150 USD. It’s such big business there that the Vietnamese postal service has a special office dedicated solely to shipping packages overseas!
I would be remiss not to mention the food in Hoi An City. In particular, the White Rose 7 is Hoi An’s local specialty and hands down the most delicious thing I tasted in Vietnam! There’s a pretty interesting story behind this famous dumpling too; read on in the footnotes to find out about how one family holds the secret recipe and supplies the dumplings to many restaurants throughout the town 8. And don’t forget to try Hoi An’s other specialty, Cao lầu. 9 It’s a unique dish (taste and texture) made with noodles, pork, and local greens that can only be found in this region. I’m drooling just thinking about it!
#5 Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park Quang Binh Province
Last but certainly not least is the small town of Da Lat (or Dalat). Nestled in the hills of the Central Highlands, Da Lat is popular with both tourists looking to relax in the mountain air, as well as those looking to participate in a host of adventure sports. I was part of the latter group!
If you ask anyone what to do in Da Lat, Canyoning will be the first thing they say. Like the Ha Long Bay cruise, there are an abundance of tour operators offering full day excursions. On the agenda: rappelling, sliding down waterfalls, water abseiling, and cliff jumping. Can you say ADRENALINE RUSH!? There was a lot of hiking involved in this excursion and I’m sure we put in some serious mileage, but it was well worth it being able to abseil down a large 25m waterfall, cliff jumping from 12m, and another at 7m…
A substantial lunch spread is served in the middle of the day (the guides carry coolers of food and water on their backs though out the day!) and turned out to be a really nice time to catch our breath and connect with other like minded travelers. All in all the experience was top notch, and in terms of tour operators I went with Highland Sport Travel 10 based on other travelers’ recommendations, and couldn’t be happier with my choice. Our guides were super knowledgeable, safe, hilarious and all around great guys, which always makes an experience like this even better.
If you like adventure sports, do NOT miss Da Lat city! !! These were my Vietnam highlights and I’d love to hear about yours! Feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment in the comment section below 🙂
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!