Vietnam has a special place in my heart. There are definitely more than 10 things to do in Vietnam, closer to 100 but unless you have 4 months, I widdled the list down to 10. Vietnam has some of the best food I have eaten, some of the warmest people, and the most amazing natural scenery. The best time to go to Vietnam and SE Asia in general is during the US winter months, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb. Vietnam is hot, hot in the summer and you’ll soon realize that seeing Saigon in July was a terrible idea. Best itinerary is to start in Saigon in the south and work north to Hanoi. Since Saigon feels 100 times more hectic than Hanoi, I recommend starting there while you have strength and fortitude in your journey, Saigon can wear on you very quickly. Looking for tips on how to book cheaper flights, check out my travel hacking series.
Here is my top 10 things to do in Vietnam list
- See a musical, opera, or symphony at the French Colonial wonders of the Hanoi or Saigon Opera houses.
- Eat a bowl of noodles at any of the ‘dust cafes’ (tiny cafes that spring up on sidewalks). It only costs a $1 and don’t worry if you don’t speak Vietnamese, most offer vegetarian options and standard proteins like chicken or beef. Just point and smile.
- Must see city of Hoi An. Beach locations and great place for cheaply tailored clothes. Nice expat population gives way to some West meets East restaurants smack in the middle between Hanoi and Saigon. Check out my top 10 things to do in Hoi An list.
- Take a junk trip around Ha Long Bay– UNESCO world heritage site and definitely something not to miss. Great tours like Kangaroo Cafe, located in Ha Noi (ignore the confusing website, its a quality Expat group)
- Da Nang, Hue, and Nha Trang are all very popular cities on the sea. Hue’s Imperial City should not be missed.
- Saigon or HMC- Check out the War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Market, and Chu Chi Tunnels. Don’t let the 7 million motorbikes dishearten you, you’ll soon get used to the Honda Dreams honking incessantly. I also have a top 10 things to do in Saigon.
- Mekong Delta is a must and you can actually stay with real Vietnamese families on your visit. How is that for cultural immersion?
- Mountainous Sa Pa- North of Ha Noi is a great place to hike and see the famous markets. Much cooler, bring sweaters and coats.
- Mui Ne– Interesting town along the coast line with martian red sand dunes. It’s about a 1/2 day travel from Sai Gon and worth about 1-2 days of your time.
- Ha Noi- Former capital of Communist North Vietnam in the war and where McCain spent some time at the famous Hanoi Hilton. Gorgeous architecture and culture thanks to French Colonialism with a nice big lake, Hoan Kiem smack in its center. Check out my top 10 things to do in hanoi list.
HAWKERS: Vietnam is full of hawkers,or people trying to make a buck off the rich white foreigner. It can become overwhelming at times and dampen your impression of Vietnam. I would recommend starting to ignore the various hawkers and their wares, no eye contact, no speaking, and feign no interest in what they have to sell. It sounds harsh but after the 5th person tries to sell you a fake North Face backpack, you’ll soon realize it is sage advice.
Adventurous Fun: Rent a scooter @ $5 a day- preferably at the beach or any of the smaller towns along the way. I wouldn’t try this in Hanoi or Saigon for obvious reasons