Vietnam is one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia — and with good reason. Its epic locales, mouth-watering food, insanely bustling cities, distinct culture and low cost have drawn backpackers and holidayers alike for decades.
But it’s worth planning your Vietnam trip well, especially if you want to have a more ‘authentic’ experience. There are plenty of tourist traps to avoid and people’s impressions of the country often depend hugely on where exactly they went.
I’ve twice traveled in Vietnam from north-to-south in a month. My second trip in Vietnam gave me a chance to revisit places but also to go off the beaten track a bit more — and I have to say, I liked my second trip more than the first! In this guide, I’ll be sharing with you some of my favorite places and insights from my two trips in Vietnam.
Important tip: make sure you have a proper Vietnam visa! The visa system works differently in Vietnam. Be sure to read my visa explainer.
Routes and top places
There are a lot of places to explore in Vietnam. To help you get the lay of the land, I made this map showing the most common travel destinations:
By the way, Vietnam is bigger than you might realize! Its narrow shape can be quite deceiving.
Vietnam’s length is actually similar to that of Japan or nearly the whole West Coast of the USA. Driving from the north to south tip in Vietnam would take at least 40 hours combined, so keep these distances in mind when planning your trip. Night buses and overnight trains are a common way to efficiently cover more ground.
Despite its size, many travelers try to cover the whole length of the country in one trip. To do such an itinerary justice I think you need at least 3 weeks (but ideally 4 weeks).
Popular stops on such a grand tour of Vietnam include the capital Hanoi, the karst archipelago of Ha Long Bay, the cute riverside town of Hoi An, the imperial city of Hue, and the cosmopolitan southern city of Ho Chi Minh City.
If you have only one or two weeks, then consider focusing on just the north + center, or the center + south. There’s no shame in doing fewer things but doing them properly.
On my first one-month trip in Vietnam, I didn’t see much in the north. It was still very cold and misty there in December, so I skipped entirely over some popular places like Sapa. On my second visit a few years later, I skipped a lot in the south instead. I just felt more like seeing the northern mountains than the southern beaches. In both cases I had an amazing time. All I’m saying is that you don’t necessarily need to cover the whole works to have an incredible trip!
Vietnam’s four most popular tourist destinations are:
- Halong Bay for its towering limestone islands
- Sapa for its rice terraces and mountain trekking
- Hoi An for its atmospheric ancient town and nearby attractions
- Mekong Delta region, home of floating markets
They’re all great but expect them to be very busy with tourists. These places are 100% on the tourist map and you won’t be alone — though you can still carve out your own experiences within them.
Besides the above places, you’ll probably also want to look at:
- Hanoi, the capital in the north
- Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in the south
- Hue, with its pagodas and ancient imperial city
- Ninh Binh, a national park with beautiful karst mountains
- Phong Nha, Vietnam’s caving and adventure travel capital
- Mui Ne, a windsurfer hangout and coastal resort
- Ha Giang Province, with its stunning mountains
- Danang, Vietnam’s up-and-coming third biggest city
- Nha Trang, an unpretentious beach resort
- Da Lat, former French hill station still loved for its cool mountain air
And many other places that will be mentioned on this page.
Choosing your direction of travel
When you meet backpackers in Vietnam, one of the first questions you’ll surely hear is “north or south?”.
Because of its elongated shape, it just makes sense to travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) or the other way around.
Personally, I prefer going north-to-south. That’s in part because the north is just a great place to start. But the weather will also get more tropical as you go south, so you can reward yourself with some beach time towards the end of your trip.
By the way, the topography of Vietnam makes it a great place for a solo traveller. Since people move in only one of two directions, roughly speaking, it’s easy to make friends and continue to see familiar faces as you move either north or south.
Getting your Vietnam visa
To enter Vietnam you need an approved tourist visa. Unfortunately, Vietnam has one of the most convoluted tourist visa systems in Southeast Asia. It’s honestly a bit of a mess at the moment. I wouldn’t blame you for getting a bit confused! But let me try to clear things up.
I put together a step-by-step guide to getting your Vietnam visa that has all of the gnarly details. You can follow the flowchart in that guide to see which visa is right for you.
But in a nutshell, there are two common options:
Entering Vietnam overland: if you want to cross the border into Vietnam, for example from Cambodia or Laos, then you need to get a visa from a Vietnamese embassy. This could be an embassy in your home country or in a nearby capital like Bangkok. Important: you will need to pre-select your entry date for Vietnam, so you need to know in advance on what date you want to start travelling in Vietnam.
Entering Vietnam by flying: if you’ll enter Vietnam at any of its international airports, then it’s easier to get a visa on arrival. But this also works differently from visas-on-arrival in other countries! You need to be pre-approved and hand over some forms at immigration when you arrive. The easiest way to get this paperwork done is via Vietnam-Visa.com.
Vietnam Visa Pre-Approval
It's easy to get your visa-on-arrival online!
Avoiding the tourist traps
I have to be brutally honest here: Vietnam can sometimes feel like a tour factory, at least if you travel Vietnam in quite a standard way.
Certain popular experiences in Vietnam have been packaged for the masses, focusing on quantity over quality. These local tours can be disappointing as you get shuffled around like cattle, mixed in with different groups, or led around by impatient and humourless guides.
I’m not writing this to be negative. I just want to give you some helpful advice on how to avoid this aspect of tourism in Vietnam. I think you will love Vietnam so much more when you do.
On my first trip in Vietnam, I ended up going on a few such conveyor-belt tours. But on my second visit, I knew better how to avoid them. And by exploring independently or taking alternative tours, I had a much better time.
With the following tips, you too can avoid Vietnam’s main tourist traps. I think these might be the most important tips I can share for Vietnam. People often have a totally different impression of Vietnam based on how they tackled this!
Mekong Delta tours
There are about a bazillion organized tours going to the Mekong Delta region, a vast maze of rivers, rice paddies and riverine islands in southern Vietnam. The tours usually offer a quick visit to the floating markets of Can Tho and a staged photo opportunity where you wear a conical hat while paddling through a bit of bamboo forest, as well as a few other touristy sights. These tours typically involve way too much driving around in buses (especially if it’s a day-trip from Saigon) and can feel impersonal and rushed.
A better way to do it: make your way to the city of Can Tho and stay a night in the Enjoy Mekong Hostel or Victory Coffee & Hostel or find other accommodation there). The hostels can arrange early morning boat tours (starting at 5 AM) just for the floating markets. This way, you’ll beat all the daytrippers and will experience the true hustle and bustle of the market during the early hours. In the afternoon, you can rent a motorbike or bicycle and explore the rice fields by yourself. You’ll get a true taste of rural life in Vietnam and the riverine landscapes of the Mekong Delta.
Tam Coc boat rides
The karst landscapes of Ninh Binh are sometimes called the ‘Ha Long Bay on land’. While the mountains are a bit smaller (and, obviously, on land) I think the area here is one of the real highlights of Vietnam. That said, the popular river boat ride in Tam Coc is known to be an awful tourist trap with a lot of scammy behaviour from the boat drivers. They use all kinds of tricks to extract money from you and many backpackers complain about the experience.
A better way to do it: ignore the Tam Coc tourist trap and go for the better but less known Trang An boat ride. This one starts about 20 minutes further north (and not inside the town), but it’s worth getting there. Don’t be put off by the crowds you may see at the ticket booths. Choose the longer Route 1 and with some luck you may have the whole place to yourself, as most day-trippers and groups take the shorter Route 2 or Route 3. Trang An is amazing and has none of the hassles of Tam Coc.
Halong Bay cruises
The reality is that nearly everyone on their first visit wants to see Halong Bay, so there are hundreds of companies running tours there of varying quality. The location is magnificent and definitely worth it, but know that the experience will be very (very, very) touristy. In my opinion, it might be the most touristy thing to do in Southeast Asia. Since it’s on the water you also can’t do it independently; you have to go on an organized boat tour or cruise. This limits your options a bit, but there are still some cool ways to see Ha Long Bay that will avoid some of the crowds.
A better way to do it: Inform yourself about the tour options and their routes. Consider tours that include Bai Tu Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay. These are neighboring bays that don’t fill up with boats quite so much. You could also choose to stay on Cat Ba Island (the big island near Halong Bay) and take a day-trip from there in the morning — you might beat the rush of tourists coming in from further away like Hanoi.
When it comes to Ha Long Bay cruises, they say you get what you pay for. If you go for a nicer cruise, chances are you’ll be quite satisfied. But it’s fairly common to hear complaints from those who went on backpacker cruises with rock-bottom prices.
Most travelers agree that Halong Bay is worth seeing, but know that it’s getting busier every year. It will soon be getting its own airport and cruise ship terminal. As long as you don’t expect to be alone, you’ll probably enjoy the experience.
How to get around in Vietnam
Getting around in Vietnam usually isn’t too difficult. It has a great bus network and the Reunification Express railway running from Hanoi to Saigon also lets you easily cover a lot of miles.
That’s not to say your journeys will always be comfortable though; local buses can be slow and most night-buses have awkward bunk beds with not much leg space. Sometimes it’s worth spending a bit more on a 1st class train ticket or ‘VIP’ bus service for a bit more comfort if you have the budget.
How to book buses or minivans
Bus services in Vietnam are run by hundreds of different companies. This means timetables are not always complete and not every bus can be booked online.
You can usually book transportation easily via your hotel or hostel reception (who will make a call for you) or at any of the small ticket agents that you’ll inevitably find in any place that any tourists go.
Some sites have made booking online easier in recent years, such as 12Go Asia, Baolau.com and the Vietnamese startup VeXeRe.com, which all accept international payment methods such as PayPal or credit cards.
Do keep in mind there is no centralized booking system in Vietnam. The sites offering online booking basically have to set up lots of separate partnerships with some of the hundreds of bus operators. When you book on their sites, they often still have to manually call the bus operators to confirm. Unless it specifically says ‘instant confirmation’, you may have to wait a few hours to receive the actual ticket.
The best booking sites for buses, trains, ferries, or minivans are:
How to book trains
The trains in Vietnam do have a central booking system these days, making it very easy to book them. In fact, you can now only book trains online.
Trains are slower and somewhat more expensive than buses but, if you ask me, they’re also much more comfortable. I’ve caught far more sleep on night trains than on any of the buses. They’re also a cool way to travel!
After booking your ticket you’ll be sent a PDF document with a QR code and your carriage and seat number. You can simply show this on your phone to the attendant. Every carriage has its own attendant, so there’s always someone to help you find your seat.
Note that you can’t book trains directly with Vietnam Railway as they still only accept Vietnamese payment methods, so you have to book with 12Go Asia or Baolao (which charge a 40,000 dong commission).
It’s best to book trains at least one or two days ahead of time, as they do fill up pretty quickly. While 12Go Asia doesn’t let you book trains departing within the next 24 hours, Baolao might still let you make such late bookings.
There are no hop-on-hop-off tickets for the train. If you’re going south to north or the other way around, you’ll have to buy individual tickets for each part of your journey.
The excellent site Seat61 has a wealth more information about trains in Vietnam.
Traveling at night – is it worth it?
Yes, I think it’s often it’s worth it. It’s common for backpackers in Vietnam to travel overnight, which makes sense given some of the distances involved. There are many night buses and the Reunification Express running from Hanoi to Saigon offers a range of sleeper carriages.
Night travel can save you time and money: you’ll spend fewer waking hours in transit and you get to save a night’s accommodation. But not all night travel will be that comfortable.
Normal night buses: Vietnamese night buses typically have 3 rows of bunk beds stacked two levels high. The beds have a plastic casing around them which is quite restrictive especially if you are tall. There are usually no toilets, so the bus has to take regular toilet breaks that interrupt the journey. At the back there is usually a large flat bed space that will accommodate about four people. These may seem like prized spots at first, but the lack of barriers will make you move constantly and may lead to involuntary spooning of some unwashed stranger.
What I’m saying here is that the regular night buses aren’t all that great. But… they’ll get you there.
VIP/luxury night buses: Unless you’re traveling on a tight budget, be sure to keep an eye out for any upgraded ‘VIP’ buses, which operate between only some destinations. I took one of these from Hanoi to Ha Giang, for example. For just $8 more I got myself a private cabin with a comfy massage bed, USB chargers, snacks, A/C, and more. I thought this was totally worth it.
Night trains: There is a choice from various classes of seats and beds on the Reunification Express. The 2nd class berths have 6 beds in them. They’re quite cramped and there’s not enough room to sit upright. They also might have people sleeping on stretchers in the hallway outside and I’ve also seen certain six-legged insects crawling around the 2nd class carriages (sorry… I thought you should know). The 1st class (soft sleeper) carriages have 4 beds and are a lot more comfortable and clean. 2nd class is probably fine for a budget backpacker, but the 1st class upgrade is worth it if you can spare just a bit of extra dong.
Hop-on-hop-off buses – are they worth it?
There are several operators selling hop-on-hop-off bus passes for Vietnam. This means you can travel the full length of the country (between Hanoi and Saigon) on one ticket and going in one direction.
Sounds convenient, right? Well, keep in mind it reduces your flexibility a lot!
Friends of mine did this but felt constantly restricted in which buses they could use. They were also unable to switch to trains or minivans for particular legs of the journey where these would have been more convenient.
I’ve always booked my transportation one step at a time. Even if the hop-on-hop-off ticket is slightly cheaper overall, it’s not so great to have to lock yourself in. In my opinion, this makes them not really worth it.
Motorbiking in Vietnam
Arguably the best way to explore Vietnam is by motorbike. The feeling of freedom you’ll get is amazing. You’ll also be able to go off the usual travel circuit, getting you much closer to the real country of Vietnam.
There is an active second-hand market with travelers (and locals) buying and selling motorbikes. It’s not too difficult to find one in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the common starting points for a journey.
Some companies even specifically target motorbike travelers with rental or tour services. One of the first companies to do this was Easy Rider (and there are now many copycats with similar names). If you don’t know how to drive, you can rent motorbikes with drivers.
Even if you’re not doing a grand tour of Vietnam, it’s great to rent motorbikes for a few days here and there in each location. Scooters (by which I mean small motorbikes) are the most common mode of transportation in Vietnam and so you can rent them pretty much everywhere. This usually costs around 100,000 VND per day, but it depends on the type of bike.
Several scenic routes are especially popular with self-drive travelers. Consider for example the incredible Ha Giang loop in the north, or the Hai Van pass in central Vietnam. The local blog Vietnam Coracle is a fantastic resource describing many more alternative routes. You’ll also find many tips in our guide to motorbiking in Vietnam.
Taxis & local transportation
Local taxis are inexpensive by Western standards — but do keep an eye on the meter, as not all drivers are honest! An easy way to book taxis or motorbikes is the Grab app. It will also help with the language barrier as you can simply type in your destination. With Grab you still pay in cash, but hail taxis via the app in a manner similar to Uber or Lyft.
Finding places to stay
Accommodation is very cheap in Vietnam. You can already get a great private room for around $20 per night, or a dorm bed for $10. And if you’re not too picky, you can get budget options for even half those amounts.
The best booking sites for Vietnam are Booking.com and Agoda, which list a lot of local and smaller-scale accommodation. Hostelworld is also a great site to check, as always, if you’re intending to stay in backpacker hostels.
One important thing: words like ‘homestay’ or ‘eco resort’ are used pretty liberally in Vietnam. Often this is just empty marketing used by regular hotels or guesthouses. For example, while there are real family-style homestay experiences, some ‘homestays’ are just commercial hotels or bungalows. And nothing might be particularly ‘eco’ about a place except that it’s just near some nature. Be sure to check descriptions so you know what to expect.
Recommended hostels in Vietnam
Old Quarter Hostel
Cheap & super central hostel with hotel-like beds and amenities
$$ Ho Chi Minh
Vy Khanh Hostel
Family-run place in the main backpacker district
$ Hoi An
Tribee Bana Hostel
Great vibes, one of the few hostels inside the ancient town
$$ Da Nang
Loved staying here; 2 min from the beach
Hue Happy Homestay
Great vibes, in quiet part of the center
Best time to go to Vietnam
A challenge with Vietnam is that the climate can be very different in the north, center, and south. You can’t go to Vietnam expecting the weather conditions to be ‘perfect’ if you’re going to travel all of it. I myself have travelled in winter (December/January) and in spring (March/April).
While much of the country is tropical, the north is in a temperate zone. Expect the mountainous north to be a little cold in winter. Even in autumn or spring it can be a bit cold at night. Pack a hoodie, and maybe a jacket for winter. If you’re going in summer, expect it to be very hot and humid.
The north also tends to be quite cloudy and misty for much of the year (because of both weather and smog). The best chance of clear skies in Halong Bay is in April to June, and September/October.
For central and south Vietnam, the wet season is something to keep in mind. For central Vietnam (e.g. Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang) this is in October / November. In the south (e.g. Ho Chi Minh City) it’s May until October.
Best beaches in Vietnam
If you’re hoping for super dreamy beaches that look straight out of a travel magazine, then Vietnam is maybe not the first place to look. While the beaches are okay, they’re nothing like the poster-perfect beaches you can find in Malaysia, Indonesia, or The Philippines.
I know that might sound a bit critical, but I just want to give you an honest take here! Basically, I don’t think Vietnam is ideal for planning some kind of perfect beach honeymoon, because the beaches are just not at that level. But if you just want to add some relaxing beach time to a cultural trip in Vietnam, then you’ll probably enjoy them a lot.
The top beach destinations tend to focus a lot on mass tourism though. Phu Quoc Island is a large-scale resort island (with big hotels, golf courses, its own airport, etc.) which isn’t the vibe you might want as an independent traveller. Mui Ne has only a thin strip of a beach, much of it paved with concrete blocks to prevent erosion. Nha Trang meanwhile mainly targets Russian and Chinese package tourists (though it can be a fun place to party).
I personally love the beaches of Qui Nhon, which have more of a laidback vibe. Other travellers have recommended to me the island of Con Dao. The beaches near Hoi An are also rather pleasant.
Top things to do in Vietnam
Experience the frenetic cities
No other place in Southeast Asia gave me more of a sense of wonder than the first time I visited Hanoi. It’s a strange, frenzied place. There are so many motorbikes rushing through the streets that it sometimes feels like you’re caught in a giant swarm of wasps. So much of life takes places on the street; people eat and drink there, get their haircut, read the newspaper and play games. Having visited Hanoi multiple times now, I put together some insider tips on how to get a local experience in Hanoi.
If you start in the south, you might be equally enthralled with Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon). This city is a bit less traditional than Hanoi and more cosmopolitan and Western-oriented. The traffic and street life is equally crazy there, and while it’s less about old temples or traditional tree-lined streets, Saigon is known as the top place for nightlife.
Stay among the karst cliffs in Trang An
The national park of Trang An (and Tam Coc) is sometimes referred to as the ‘Ha Long Bay on land’. You’ll find beautiful karst mountains poking out of the landscapes of Trang An, except here they are surrounded by rice fields and wetlands instead of the sea. The main activity is to take a paddle boat through the rivers and wetlands to see the stunning mountain scenery, caves, and wildlife.
While Trang An is not as well-known as other places in Vietnam, I highly recommend making a stop for at least a day or two. Most tourists make a quick stop in the nearby town of Tam Coc, which is nice but not that special. Trang An is more of a hidden gem, located on the edge of the park. There you stay in guesthouses and eco-resorts along the river with cute bamboo docks with deck chairs and fairy lights.
You can read much more tips for Trang An (and Tam Coc) in my detailed guide.
Explore the local markets
I will not easily forget all the smells and sights of the local wet markets in Vietnam, and I think no trip is complete without exploring the markets at least once!
At one point I saw some salesmen walk in with a giant tub covered by a net; I was expecting it to be filled with chickens or ducks, but instead it was filled to the brim with live frogs. They keeled over the tub, and started processing the frogs… by picking them up, cutting their head off with a pair of scissors, and then manually gutting it with their bare hands. And that’s just one of the myriad of interesting things you might witness at a local Vietnamese market.
Any local market is sure to be eye-opening if it’s your first time, but good ones to check out are Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi or the floating markets in the Mekong Delta, where sellers offer fruits and vegetables from hundreds of riverboats.
Kick back in cute Hoi An
The delightfully well-preserved town of Hoi An was once a key post for Vietnam’s spice trade with China, Holland, Portugal, and other countries. Today, all the small two-storey merchant quarters serve as all manner of restaurants, souvenir shops, and tailors (the town is famous for selling custom-tailored clothes at unbeatable prices).
Sure, Hoi An’s UNESCO-protected Old Quarter may be 100% made for tourists, but it’s such a pleasant place to be. Tourism development has been very tasteful and all the colorful lanterns hanging over the streets lend Hoi An a lot of charm. The center is also largely pedestrianized, giving you some welcome relief from the chaotic traffic of the bigger cities. Hoi An is a welcoming place and has some worthwhile beaches and sights nearby, making it a favorite among all types of travelers.
Its main shopping streets get rather busy (and are increasingly popular with Chinese tour groups) though most travelers agree it’s a must-visit.
Marvel at the temples of Hue
Hue (pronounced like ‘way’) is the perfect stop in central Vietnam if you’re interested in seeing many tombs, temples, and pagodas. The main draw inside Hue city itself is the Imperial Citadel, but keep in mind that nearly everything at this site was bombed in the war so it can be seen relatively quickly.
Much more worthwhile are some of the sights around Hue. The Tombs of the Emperors, for instance, is very impressive and almost entirely intact. The sights around Hue offer some interesting examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture, and are well worth a visit.
Try the fantastic cuisine
Vietnamese food is simply amazing. But you’d be wrong to assume it’s all about pho noodle soup or spring rolls. Yes, these are probably the things you’re already familiar with from Vietnamese restaurants, but there is a whole other world of Vietnamese food to taste.
Different parts of the country also have rather different specialities. One of the best things you can in Vietnam is to take a guided street food tour in Saigon or Hanoi, as this will give you an incredible crash course in all that’s there on offer. You might also want to check out our very own guide to the best Vietnamese street food. Learn about the different dishes and you’ll avoid just eating bland ‘chicken stir fry’ or generic ‘noodle soups’ on your trip.
Everyone has their own favourites. Instead of regular pho noodle soup, I now tend to order Bun Bo Hue, which is spicier and comes from the city of Hue. I also love Bun Cha, which is grilled fatty pork that you can wrap in some herbs and leaves and white rice noodles, then dip into a lovely sauce.
See the world’s biggest caves
The national park of Phong Nha in central Vietnam is known as one of the best places to go caving in Asia. There are over 500 caves in the area of which 30 can be visited by the general public. These include the world’s biggest cave and the world’s third-biggest cave, which are truly epic locations and quite possibly the most spectacular in all of Vietnam.
Unfortunately, you can only visit these mega-caves on multi-day expeditions (which start at $330), though it’s worth it if your budget allows. I wrote earlier about my tour to Hang En, the world’s third-biggest cave, which was jaw-droppingly amazing.
If you’re on a smaller budget or if you have less time, then there are loads of other caves in Phong Nha that you can visit. Some can be explored independently, others by boat, and there are even some adventure caves that you can swing- and clamber through. Entrance fees are usually just a few dollars.
While not so known just a few years ago, Phong Nha is rapidly becoming the adventure travel capital of Vietnam. The town itself is pleasant as well, with an unhurried vibe and a lovely riverside location.
Explore Ha Giang province by motorbike
This is quite possibly the best thing I’ve done in all of Vietnam. The northern Ha Giang region near the border with China has some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery in the whole country, which has only become more accessible in recent years thanks to improved roads. The remote region is home to minorities such as the Hmong, who dress in colourful attire.
While there are few real tourist attractions, in Ha Giang it’s all about the journey. The scenery is simply spectacular and best enjoyed on a motorbike trip. Many travelers do a loop starting and ending in Ha Giang city. You can pay for motorbike drivers or go on an organized group tour, but the best way is to drive by yourself.
Ha Giang is not a place to tick off the list quickly if you’re in Vietnam on a shorter holiday. It’s also best to have some time for Ha Giang to truly enjoy it. The minimum amount of time needed for the short loop is 3 days, but it’s better to have at least 5 days so you can stop along the way and truly take it all in.
Go sandboarding in Mui Ne
A great spot to stay a couple of nights is the small town of Mui Ne on the southern coast. I should say though that it’s heavy on resorts, many of which are aimed at Russian tourists — and the beach in Mui Ne can be razor-thin and even fortified with concrete in places to prevent erosion. In other words, don’t expect a perfect beach paradise.
Mui Ne is nevertheless a wonderful stop on the backpacker trail. The old fishing village is highly picturesque and famed for its colourful fishing boats. There is also a great little river canyon walk nearby, as well as white sand dunes where you can watch the sunrise or try sliding down the dunes on a board. When you find yourself in this sandy desert, you’ll surely wonder if you’re in Vietnam or in the Sahara Desert. Mui Ne also has a big traveller scene and is a great place to chill out, with even a lot of the low-budget accommodation including pool access or beach bars.
Learn about the Vietnam War
Finally, there are a number of insightful Vietnam War museums and sites — or the American War, as it’s known in Vietnam. The best of the bunch is the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, though expect it to be uncomfortable and heart-wrenching.
Not too far north of Da Nang and Hue are the tunnels of Vinh Moc, an elaborate complex of shelters built by villagers during the war. The tunnels were a success and no villagers lost their lives, though they had to live in absolutely awful conditions. It’s a very insightful place to see, and there are also the similar Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam.
For a more personal perspective, you can go on a tour of the DMZ (the border between north and south Vietnam during the war) by a veteran from the war. It brings to life some of the horrors and sacrifices that this country went through. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the war before your trip, I also recommend to check out The Vietnam War documentary on Netflix, which covers both sides of the conflict as well as the history leading up to it.
P.S. Remember getting a visa for Vietnam works a bit different than for other countries like Thailand or Cambodia. If you’ll be flying into Vietnam, it’s best to get a visa-on-arrival online before you go.