“A trip to the capital, Hanoi, will be wildly different than modern Ho Chi Minh City, just as the lantern-lit streets of Hoi An vary dramatically from the nearby citadels of Hue,” read the CNN’s recent article entitled ‘13 essential Vietnam experiences’.
The article listed promising distinct adventures in Vietnam, including tea plantations, coffee farms, stunning bays, caves and coastlines. It also gave praise to Vietnam as being home to some of the freshest and most delicious cuisine on Earth.
Below is the 13 essential travel experiences in Vietnam as listed by the CNN:
Light a lantern in Hoi An
As one of the most beautiful destinations in Asia, Hoi An promises no shortage of photogenic scenes. But none is more mesmerising than the Full Moon Lantern Festival.
At this monthly festival, the city shuts off its electric lights to let thousands of rainbow-hued lanterns glow against an inky black sky — both throughout the little lanes of Old Town as well as on the Thu Bon River.
Alternatively, travellers can hire a sampan boat to glide along the water for a quieter experience.
Search for the best pho in Hanoi
A taste of pho is a must on every journey, whether it’s your first time or your 50th.
Hanoi is located in northern Vietnam, which is thought to be the birthplace of the de facto national dish, so it makes sense to start your search for the best bowls in the capital.
Wedged between grand colonial French buildings in the labyrinthine Old Quarter, the best pho shops are often the most unassuming, filled with modest furniture, if any at all, and epic cauldrons of bubbling broth.
Trace history in Ho Chi Minh City
We’d recommend spending a few hours at Hoi Chi Minh City’s museums and monuments to commemorate lives lost in the American war.
The War Remnants Museum, opened in 1975, traces several wars through graphic photographs and military equipment — including a collection of helicopters, tanks and fighter jets — as well as reproductions of prison conditions, accounts of chemical warfare and a French guillotine.
Ride the Reunification Express
It might not be the fastest way to get around, but the Reunification Express (officially known as the North-South Railway) is certainly the most scenic.
This 1,072-mile rail line chugs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, passing countless landscapes and landmarks along the 35-hour journey.
More commonly, travellers will take the opportunity to hop on and off the train across several days to explore the country’s beautiful natural scenery and historic towns.
Take an aerial tour of Halong Bay
Halong Bay is considered one of the most breath-taking destinations in Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why. The jade-toned bay is home to thousands of limestone islands, mysterious caves and wildlife.
Launched earlier this year, Halong Heli Tours showcases the unique seascape from on high. Travellers can choose from eight- to 40-minute sightseeing tours that soar over the bay’s many islands, beaches and fishing villages.
Beach hop in Phu Quoc
Located in the Gulf of Thailand off the southwest coast, Phu Quoc promises dozens of beaches in all sizes and shades.
Among them, Sao Beach is often praised as one of the best in Vietnam thanks to its clear water, palm trees and sugar-white sand.
Come sunset, snag a spot on Long Beach to enjoy the island’s famously fiery sunset alongside chilled beers and live music.
Cruise down the Mekong
The Mekong, which is the 12th longest river in the world, has been the lifeblood of Southeast Asia for millennia. Still today, it’s flanked by fishing villages and rice paddies, lush islands, food markets and ancient imperial cities.
Ideal for those who prefer to travel at a slower pace, a Mekong River cruise provides easier access to less-visited rural communities and hard-to-reach natural attractions.
Beginning in Hoi Chi Minh City, we’d recommend a five- to 18-day cruise through the southern corner of Vietnam, up through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodian and on to Luang Prabang, Laos, if time allows.
Explore the world’s largest cave
We’d highly recommended putting up an out-of-office message and succumbing to the full experience of Son Doong: a four-day expedition led by adventure tour company Oxalis.
As the world’s largest cave, Son Doong is over three miles long and 650 feet tall — spacious enough to fit a 40-story skyscraper, according to Oxalis.
Given its size, the stunning cave offers countless natural treasures from 262-foot-tall stalagmites to subterranean rivers, unique species, enormous rock walls and even its own jungle — all of which travelers will experience during their trek.
Take a motorbike ride through the majestic north
In Vietnam, motorbikes rule the road. And though it might make it challenging to cross the street in Hanoi, the country’s affinity for scooters has given way to countless opportunities for adventures on two wheels.
Many avid riders agree that Vietnam’s Ha Giang Loop in the far north, near the border with China, is among the most satisfying routes.
On a four- or five-day trip, you’ll cruise by everything from imposing mountain ranges to local villages, deep canyons and scenic back roads.
Soak up tea culture in Sapa
Mountainous Sapa has become one of Vietnam’s hottest tourist destinations. If you’re up north, we’d recommend stopping for a few nights in Sapa.
In this former French-colonial hill station, it’s easy to fall in love with the temperate highland climate, misty green tea terraces, waterfalls and hiking trails — including the two-day hike up Mount Fansipan.
The region’s lush hillsides play host to hundreds of tea farms that produce green, black, oolong and cinnamon teas, among others.
Go crazy for coffee in Dalat
A few days in Dalat, a mountain town northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, will show you just how prolific the country’s coffee industry really is.
You’ll learn how farmers cultivate coffee berries and roast them to perfection, then taste the coffee for yourself.
Whether sweetened with condensed milk or served through a filtered brew, earthy and aromatic Vietnamese coffee is known to satisfy even the most ardent of coffee connoisseurs.
Make vermicelli noodles in Cu Da village
From springy vermicelli to clear rice noodles, egg noodles, glass noodles and fettuccine-like banh pho, noodles are a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. And nowhere are noodles more ubiquitous than in Cu Da Village.
A noodle lover’s paradise, this ancient village south of Hanoi produces incredible volumes of white and yellow vermicelli to keep up with demand.
To showcase the traditional techniques, several noodle tours include hands-on cooking classes where you can learn top tips from a local family.
Cycle around Hue’s ancient ruins
Having served as the former imperial capital during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945), Hue is one of the best places in Vietnam to admire ancient architecture.
The highlight for most is the UNESCO-listed Complex of Hue Monuments — a walled fortress on the banks of the Perfume River that encloses ancient temples, royal tombs and countless pagodas.
Given the complex’s massive size — stretching across 778 acres (315 hectares) — one of the most pleasant ways to explore is on a bicycle.
Starting in the misty morning hours, travellers can pedal along the peaceful canals, break for coffee and soak up the grandeur of the inner citadel, outer walls and many altars before the crowds roll in.