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Things to Do in Vietnam

As chaotic as it is captivating and as fast-paced as it is traditional, Vietnam is a country of contrasts. However, one thing is indisputable—there’s no place on earth quite like it. Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, with its atmospheric Hanoi Old Quarter, striking Do Temple, and West Lake, is best explored on foot or by motorbike, cyclo (three-wheeled taxi), or scooter. Hanoi is also a convenient jumping-off point for junk boat cruises on Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Red River Delta, home to remote tribal craft villages. Continuing down the east coast, the Forbidden Purple City in Hué is a glorious reminder of Vietnam’s Imperial past; the Old Town of Hoi An—arguably Vietnam’s prettiest city — is a hotspot for Vietnamese street food; and Nha Trang is known for its idyllic beaches. Hanoi’s southern rival, Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s largest and most modern city in which sightseeing tours reveal cultural treasures such as the Saigon Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Vietnam Cookery Center—great if a cookery course is on your travel menu. Plus, just a short drive away from Ho Chi Min City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a poignant reminder of the tragedies of the Vietnam War, and the winding canals, lush rice paddies, and traditional villages of the Mekong Delta stretch all the way to border of Cambodia, allowing you to continue your South East Asia adventure with ease.
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Cu Chi Tunnels
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433 Tours and Activities

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of underground passageways that run to more than 120 miles (200 kilometers) in total length in this area alone. Work by the Viet Cong commenced in 1948 as a means of shelter from the French air attacks during the Indochina conflict.

The network provided vital access and strategic control over the large rural area surrounding Ho Chi Minh City; over the following two decades the tunnels became a complex underground city including hospitals, defenses and living quarters. This meant despite all the bombings in the area many of the local people could still continue to live underground. In its prime and at its most impressive the Cu Chi Tunnels stretched from the southern Vietnamese capital all the way to the Cambodian border to the west, and in places was dug to 3 stories deep.

Much of the original tunnel system was destroyed in bombing raids during the 1970s but existing parts have been restored and opened.

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Hanoi Old Quarter
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1,107 Tours and Activities

The Old Quarter is the cultural heart of Hanoi where the pulse of life has constantly beat for nearly 2,000 years. Daily routine starts early and builds to a friendly bustle. Streets have distinct character and are named after the crafts once made there - silver, ladder, silk, paper.

St. Joseph's cathedral rings for mass regularly throughout the day, follow the bells to check its Neo-Gothic style. Huyen Thien Pagoda is another of the many temples peppered around this part of town. The Old City Gate is one of four original entrances to the heart of the Royal City to survive over a thousand years.

Take time to sample the spirit, atmosphere and shopping on offer here - nothing says Hanoi like its Old Quarter.

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Hoi An Ancient Town
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654 Tours and Activities

History lovers flock to this 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Hindu, Arab and Chinese influences are reflected in breathtaking architecture, eclectic food and rich culture.

Naturalists will appreciate the quiet beaches just a short bike ride from the city center, while wanderers will love the pedestrian-only streets of Ancient Town lined with quaint shops and bustling vendors.

Urban skyscrapers and big-city development have yet to touch this former shipping port, which means travelers can enjoy a taste of what Hoi An once was and what Vietnam used to be.

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Marble Mountains
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524 Tours and Activities

The five limestone hills that make up Vietnam’s famed Marble Mountains are each named after one of the five elements: fire (Hoa), wood (Moc), metal (Kim), water (Thuy) and earth (Tho). And while their shadowy caves and hidden tunnels draw thousands of travelers to wander this destination each year, its proximity to beautiful and ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes and access to a stunning summit are other reasons to make the voyage.

Travelers can climb the more than 150 steps that lead to the summit of Thuy Son, where incredible views of natural landscapes as well as access to these grottoes. Visitors can explore Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, as well as the Tam Thai pagoda, which was built in 1825. These ancient religious monuments showcase the region’s age-old tradition of stone carving, thanks to relief work chipped away from the mountain’s marble façade.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
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At this mausoleum the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, founder of unified Vietnam and the country's liberator from Western colonialism, lies in a glass case for public viewing.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex was built with assistance from the USSR and the austere and impressive architecture is recognizably Soviet/Communist in design. Around the building lie 240 ordered squares of manicured grass cut with concrete walkways. This dedication to 'Uncle Ho,' as he is affectionately known, is unsurprisingly one of the nation's most revered sites and as such this is a moving, and eerie, experience. Nearby is the popular Ho Chi Minh Museum dedicated to his life and work.

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Hue Citadel (Dai Noi)
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294 Tours and Activities

Constructed in 1804, this massive fortress designed for the Gia Long Emperor, is surrounded by a zigzag moat and defensive barrier that’s 21 meters thick. But visitors to this citadel-in-a-citadel-in-a-citadel won’t need to swim across rivers or scale towering walls to get a look inside. The Imperial Enclosure is accessible by crossing one of the 10 pedestrian bridges into the once royal land. Pass through Ngo Mon (Noon) Gate, once reserved for those in power, then wander through Flag Tower (Cot Co) and stare up at the nation’s tallest flagpole before weaving through the Nine Dynastic Urns representing different Nguyen kings.

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Bai Tu Long Bay
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The dramatic karst cliffs and iridescent waters of Bai Tu Long Bay are just as mesmerizing as the neighboring Halong Bay, but the comparative lack of crowds adds a tranquillity often lost amidst Halong’s sea of junk boats. Part of the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage site and largely dominated by the lush Bai Tu Long National park, Bai Tu Long Bay makes a worthy addition to any cruise, and with such striking scenery, it’s unlikely to stay off-the-beaten-track for too long.

Highlights of Bai Tu Long Bay include Van Don Island, the bay’s largest and most visited island; the traditional fishing village of Vung Vieng; the white sand beaches of Quan Lan Island; and the remote Co To Island, while popular activities include trekking through the jungle in the Bai Tu Long National Park, spotting wild butterflies on Tra Ban Island and kayaking to Thong Thien Cave.

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Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake)
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258 Tours and Activities

The Lake of the Restored Sword holds as big a place in local folklore as it does in Hanoi’s city culture. According to local legend, an ancient emperor was once floating along the lake when the Golden Turtle God requested his magic sword. It’s an age-old story that locals still tell to curious tourists who wander the lake’s scenic shores. It marks the divide between Hanoi’s Old Quarter and French Quarter and is also home to an endangered species of massive soft-shell turtles that gave nearby Turtle Temple its name.

Today, travelers flock to the lake to escape the hustle of the city. And while the morning hours prove a calming way to greet the day (locals like to gather at one of the many quiet cafes to sip cups of strong, sweet coffee as the sun rises), it’s worth sticking around after dark to capture pictures of Hanoi’s skyline aglow with glittering white lights.

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Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam)
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257 Tours and Activities

The Temple of Literature (or Quoc Tu Giam) was originally built as a Confucian Temple in 1070 AD. Six years later on the same grounds was founded Vietnam's first university to educate the administrative and military warrior Mandarin classes.

Over the years buildings have been added and renovated but much of the architecture dates back to the Lý (1010 - 1225) and Trần dynasties (1225 - 1400). The university operated for more than 700 years but today you can experience the tranquility without its warrior students, with its beautiful gardens and pavilions in a series of courtyards.

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More Things to Do in Vietnam

Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon)

Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon)

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The Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) is a 100­-year-­old performance hall with architecture modeled on the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Nha Hat Lon was erected by the French colonial administration at the turn of the 20th century and is a landmark building in Hanoi. It was built in a typical French style with classic gothic features.

In 1997, the modernization and repair of the building was undertaken by Vietnamese French architects, and the decorative designs on the ceilings, arches, walls, and doors were renewed. Home to the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, the Opera House also hosts the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Ballet, plus both traditional and modern local productions.

No tours of the building are offered but the exterior makes for some good photo opportunities. In terms of atmosphere, the Opera House is best seen at night when it is illuminated by lights.

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Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda

219 Tours and Activities
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Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon)

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon)

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The Gothic twin bell towers of this classic cathedral stretch high into the skyline, marking this as a destination for those looking to escape the buzz of Ho Chi Minh and find some quiet contemplation. Saigon Notre-Dame’s striking red façade and towering stone archways were constructed with materials imported from France in the 1800s. But its unique architecture is not the only draw to this iconic city landmark. In 2005, visitors reported seeing tears flow from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary here, making it a destination for Catholics on religious pilgrimage.

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Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

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One of Da Nang’s more unusual and unexpected attractions is a bridge in the likeness of a dragon spanning the River Han. If the golden dragon slithering across the water isn’t impressive enough, on weekend evenings its body is illuminated by 2,500 LED lights and its head spouts fire and water over the river’s eastern bank.

Opened in 2013, the Dragon Bridge carries a six-lane roadway and two sidewalks over the river. The bridge measures 2,000 feet (610 meters) long and 123 feet (37.5 meters) wide. As the shortest road link between the Da Nang International Airport and the bulk of Da Nang city, visitors arriving or departing by air often pass over this bridge.

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Tra Que Vegetable Village

Tra Que Vegetable Village

204 Tours and Activities
Located between Hoi An Ancient Town and An Bang Beach, Tra Que Vegetable Village is an agricultural district that still uses traditional techniques to produce Vietnamese crops. The fertile farmland, which provides a welcome break from the crowds of Hoi An Ancient Town, is awash with fragrant herbs and home to numerous independent workshops.
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Saigon Central Post Office

Saigon Central Post Office

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Few major cities count the post office among their top tourist attractions, but the classic interior of Saigon Central Post Office continues to be a favorite destination among travelers visiting Ho Chi Minh City for the first time.

Completed in 1891, the design of this architectural landmark mimics an old world European railway station with mile-high ceilings, a larger-than-life portrait of Ho Chi Minh and a centrally located clock face. These rich details are what manage to draw even the travelers who arrive with plans to purchase stamps or mail postcards, to pause and soak up the brilliant interior, which includes hand-painted maps of the old city.

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War Remnants Museum (Bao Tang Chung Tich Chien Tranh)

War Remnants Museum (Bao Tang Chung Tich Chien Tranh)

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Opened in 1975, just a few months after the liberation, the War Remnants Museum is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Laid out in 8 themed rooms are different aspects of the war from imprisonment, to chemical warfare and military might.

In the grounds there are military equipment, weaponry and aircraft on display including fighter planes, helicopters and tanks. Some of the exhibits are shockingly gruesome, explicit photos and prisoner cages detail a war-torn history. This is the story of the Vietnam War told from the other side which mixes the atrocities of war with the reality of military hardware.

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Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc)

Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc)

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One of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam, and the oldest in Hanoi, Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc) was built in during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De (AD 541–547) and moved to its present location in 1615. Located on an islet within West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda offers beautiful architecture, historic relics and artifacts, and a serene and scenic environment.
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Long Bien Bridge (Cau Long Bien)

Long Bien Bridge (Cau Long Bien)

163 Tours and Activities

Designed by Parisian architects and built between 1899 and 1902, Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge was the first steel bridge spanning the Red River and has long been a point of pride for the Vietnamese. During the war against the French in 1954, the bridge served as a vital transportation link for moving food into Northern Central Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the bridge was bombed by American air attacks, and yet today, it still stands as a testament to the nation’s tumultuous history.

Apart from its historical significance, the bridge has a pedestrian path where vendors often set up stalls selling some of the city’s tastiest street foods. It’s also one of the best spots in Hanoi for watching a sunrise or sunset, and it’s not unusual to see young couples having their wedding pictures taken on the historic structure.

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Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)

Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)

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The Reunification Palace is an important site of political and cultural significance, built by the French in 1868 to mark the newly established colony of Indochina.

In 1945, it briefly became the headquarters for the Japanese after their defeat of the French. In 1962, two Vietnamese rebel pilots bombed the palace - the president survived but the palace did not. He commissioned a new one to be built. It was renamed Independence Palace and the design became a Modernist icon. In 1975 the palace was the symbolic site of the triumphant liberation of Saigon. Vietnam was then reunified; since then the building has been known as Reunification Palace. Today it is a working government building as well as having areas open to the public. Tour the private quarters, the president's former office and the War Command Room. You get a real sense of what happened here and its importance in Vietnamese history.

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Titop Island (Dao Titop)

Titop Island (Dao Titop)

148 Tours and Activities
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Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau)

Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau)

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Tourists flock both day and night to this small bridge at the center of Hoi An, known as the Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau), because of its picturesque beauty. As a result, attempting to cross the 12-meter structure will likely be faced with a labyrinth of kissing couples posing for photographs and backpackers loitering in its cool shade. Still detailed Japanese carvings, as well as monkey and dog statues—a nod to the years its construction began and finished—are worth the congestion and guaranteed headache of a trip to this Hoi An landmark.

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My Khe Beach

My Khe Beach

127 Tours and Activities

My Khe Beach is situated in the northernmost part of the stunning 30-kilometer stretch of coast known as China Beach near Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Widely considered to be Vietnam's most picturesque beach, this lengthy stretch of spectacular coastline is famous for being visited by American troops during the Vietnam War.

My Khe is the ideal beach for holidaymakers visiting Central Vietnam, particularly between May and October, with its smooth white sand, gentle gradient, and abundance of coral and marine life. The beach’s low pollution, pleasant temperatures, and calm waters also add to the appeal here (although the waves become much more dramatic come September-time, making for some ideal surfing conditions).

There are an abundance of accommodation, food, and retail outlets in the area, as well as places to hire surf and snorkel equipment.

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Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market

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124 Tours and Activities

Three stories of wholesale and traditional goods, local food and hand-tailored clothes, as well as cosmetics and crafts, make the massive Dong Xuan Market a true experience of southeast Asia.

Both locals and tourists hustle through the jam-packed stalls of Dong Xuan during daylight hours, bartering for better deals on just about anything imaginable. But it’s after dark that the market truly comes alive, as travelers gather to sample traditional foods while watching cultural performances that include music, dance and plenty of energy, too.

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