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Travel Attractions and Activities in Vietnam | Things to Do & Experience

Updated on July 30, 2012

From swinging Ho Chi Minh City to elegant Hanoi, Vietnam conjures up exotic imageries of pagodas, flowing rivers snaking around dramatic mountains and golden white beaches. Others may remember the Vietnam War, whose tragic legacy can still be found all across the country today. This is a country that stretches more than 2000km with varied geography, there is something for everyone!

War room
War room

Reunification Palace, Saigon

The home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war, this historic landmark is now a museum. Tours are available to visit the building and it is very much fun to explore the various rooms in the building which range from stately official rooms to living and dining spaces to even a dance hall and private cinema.

The highlight of the visit must be the bunkers underneath the building which served as a command area. Old maps and artifacts like telephones can still be seen. When in Saigon, this is a must do.

Ranger showing the size of an entrance at chu chi
Ranger showing the size of an entrance at chu chi
Cao dai temple
Cao dai temple

Crawl through the Chu Chi Tunnels

One can easily hop on a cheap tour run by most local tour operators to Chu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh City. These network of tunnels were dug by the Vietcong as hiding places. Eventually, the networks consist of a maze of underground bunkers that included living spaces, ammunition stores, kitchens, command posts and even a field hospital.

Take the chance to crawl through one of the sanitized tunnels which the authorities have widened and get a sense of the claustrophobic conditions that these amazing people had to survive, live and fight in. They are still a tight fit for the average bloke.

A gallery shows the variety of ingenuous booby traps that were the bane of many an American GIs. You can also blow some cash purchasing live ammo at the firing range. You can fire a range of weapons from Ak47s to MGs.

These trips are run either on a half day or whole day basis, with a detour to visit the Cao Dai Temple, which is a mish-mash of various religions that would leave every foreign visitor at a loss for words.

The real deal is the Vinh Moc Tunnels at Quang Tri Province in Central Vietnam. This is an underground miniaturized village of three levels and is the largest historical tunnel in the DMZ of Vietnam. But if you just have a few days in Vietnam, Chu Chi is your best bet.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

In the sweltering tropical heat, nothing beats ordering a cup of ice cold vietnamese coffee. Sit around the countless cafes that are omnipresent in all cities and simply watch the world go by. A good hot bowl of vietnamese pho would complete the job.

Wicked Sick.

Island Hopping in Nha Trang

Specimen collections at the museum.
Specimen collections at the museum.

Nha Trang in central Vietnam boasts of beautiful beaches that stretches to the horizons. One can easily get a place on boat trips to the nearby islands that depart daily. There is a local network of operators that are linked to almost every single hotel/guesthouse in the city. Lunch is provided and one can swim, snorkel and laze around while sipping mulberry wine, all in. Lovely.

Oh yes, do remember to drop by the Oceanographic Museum. They have fascinating collections of marine wildlife.

Get on a cyclo in Hue

Peddler of soya bean curd
Peddler of soya bean curd

A cyclo is a sort of like a reverse-tricycle. Add that to the mix of motorbikes and cars that clog the streets of Ho chih minh and Hanoi and one quickly understands that it's suicidal to even try flagging one of these rides in these cities.

Instead, head over to the old imperial capital of Hue where things are a bit slower and one can get an unique tour of the charming city on wheels. Do visit the imperial palace and the royal mausoleums by taking a river cruise down the fabled Perfume River.

My personal take is to selectively visit only a few of the important mausoleums as they try to fleece tourists with exorbitant entrance fees at every stop. Instead, look out for mobile peddlers selling soya beancurd in jasmine tea at some stops along temples. The dessert is surprisingly refreshing and simply outstanding.

Visit Hoi An for Old World Charm

Hoi An is a UNESCO listed heritage site not far from the city of Hue in central Vietnam. Once a major port in the 16th & 17th century, much of the old town has been preserved and has been closed off to car traffic. Wander through the old streets and admire the quaint charming shophouses that have been standing for hundreds of years.

Time your visit to coincide with the Full Moon Festival that is held on the 14th of every lunar month. The old town will come alive with lit lanterns and activities like street performances. One can also catch a ride along the river on the many rickety boats (life vests not included).

Halong Bay

Sea Kayaking
Sea Kayaking
Peddler on a boat
Peddler on a boat

World famous UNESCO heritage site with stunning limestone landforms carved out through centuries of natural erosion, Halong Bay is breathtaking in it's beauty. Hop on one of the many cruises on offer by the various tour agencies in Hanoi to get to Halong Bay. It's now chock full of tourists but it's still worth the trip anyway.

Other highlights include visiting a limestone cave and also sea canoeing. If you intend to stay a night on board the boats, ignore the dinghy rooms and sleep on the deck instead under the stars.

Amusing sights include a mobile minimart on a small boat stocked with potato chips, canned drinks and beer comes along and the peddler goes, "Sir, you buy something?" This actually happened to me at 5am!

Hanoi Old Quarter

Consisting of 36 streets, Hanoi's Old Quarter is a must-see when in Hanoi. Grouped according to the various merchandise on offer which ranges from silk, lacquer ware, clothes to funeral offerings, it offers a glimpse to the oldest continuously developed area in Vietnam. It is best explored on foot where the sights and sounds can be easily taken in at your own pace.


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