Where to go in Vietnam for first-time visitors
Vietnam is divided into 3 areas, northern, central and southern based on it’s history, geography and culture. To travel from north to south Vietnam, it may take a month or even longer, so where to go in Vietnam for first-time visitor is a big question. If you are searching for a vietnam itinerary 14 days, we recommend you to visit north to south vietnam 14 days for the first visit such as Hanoi, Halong Bay, Da Nang, Hoian, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc or choose to go visit the area for each visit: The North Vietnam tour : Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa/ Pu Luong/ Ha Giang, Ninh Binh. Central: Da Nang, Hoian, Hue. The South Vietnam tour : Ho Chi Minh, Can Tho, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc.
By the late 1880s, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were all controlled by France and collectively referred to as French Indochina. Hanoi is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’, with its yellow ochre colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes. For that reason, you can see many remarkable buildings such as the Hanoi Opera House, colonial villas and mansions in the center. It’s easy to find French influences through cuisines, architecture, and infrastructure here.
The traffic noise and constant clamour of street vendors can be too much for some travellers, but if you want to get to know about Vietnamese city life, Hanoi is the place to do it. The old quarter comprises 40 streets, each street named for the goods or services that they are selling. It is outside the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, which was the main business hub and is now considered a main tourist spot, there are many restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, and night walking street…
There are many places to visit. The historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, built to house the preserved body of beloved revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 1049 of wood in the shape of a lotus blossom and set on a single stone pillar. Continue to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university built in the late 11th century. Ba Dinh historical square where former President Ho Chi Minh declared the Independence of Vietnam in 1945. The Parliament House and the nearby Thang Long Royal Citadel, the only UNESCO world heritage of Hanoi city, used to be the former kings’ palace during the 10th – 18th century.
You can take a day tour to Duong Lam Ancient Town, a typical agricultural village in the northern Red River Delta. Duong Lam was the birthplace of two Vietnamese kings and is the first village in Vietnam to be recognized by UNESCO for its Cultural Heritage Conservation.
For museum fans, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and Vietnam Fine Art Museum, Vietnam Military History Museum and Ho Chi Minh Museum.
The best time to visit Hanoi:
February to April and Late September to November when it is not too hot and there is a little rainfall. The hottest month of the year is June, July.
Halong bay Tour
The karst seascape of Halong Bay is one of the best places to visit in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are thousands of limestone islands and plenty of caves in the bay that can be entered including Sung Sot cave, with three mammoth caverns, and Dao Go cave. We recommend at least an overnight cruise tour to see Halong Bay’s iconic views as a day trip doesn’t do it justice. There are some activities on overnight cruise that you shouldn’t miss out such as kayaking, swimming, cooking class and taichi in the early morning.
The best time to visit Ha Long:
October to April when it is the perfect time for cruising, kayaking, and swimming. July – August often see sporadic hurricanes and storms, which may render cancellation and delay of your trip.
Ho Chi Minh City Tour
Ho Chi Minh City is the main commercial and business hub of the country. The streets are full of motorbikes and cars, and the restaurant and cafés are incredibly cosmopolitan, you can feel the atmosphere straight away once you exit the airport.
Check out some of the best-surviving examples of the city’s French colonial architecture at the old district of Da Kao nearby, and then to witness a dazzling array of Buddhist and Taoist religious iconography, visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda. Despite its modernity, Saigon maintains a strong link to the past, some of Saigon’s most historic landmarks including the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick edifice with twin spires constructed from materials imported from France (entrance is only permitted when no services are being performed). Then head across the square to the Central Post Office, completed in 1891.
The Reunification Palace, known as the Independence Palace, was South Vietnam’s presidents place of residence. Its historic significance is as the spot where North Vietnam’s tanks famously stopped on 30 April 1975, officially ending the war. It’s still housed with 1960s furnishings and is a fascinating place to visit.
The War Remnants Museum paints a disturbing reality of the picture of the brutality and consequences of war, and the many atrocities committed by US Forces during their time in Vietnam. A prewarning though that some images and stories located on the upper levels are graphic and confronting, so you may want to keep children on the lower levels.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is another fascinating experience for all travellers of all ages, and not just those interested in Vietnam’s modern military history. These are an extensive 250km tunnel network that during the war allowed VC troops to operate and communicate in the areas surrounding Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it’s known today.
Immerse yourself in the local culture of the Mekong Delta. Escape the high-energy city for a day of exploring sprawling rice paddies and colorful fruit farms. Travelers will visit a small home factory that makes the traditional dish of sticky rice covered by coconut leaves and then take thirty-minute motorboat excursion passing peaceful scenes of countryside living.
The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City:
The best time to visit is December to April, dry season.
May to late November, it will rain heavily almost every afternoon, the rain is short and clear quickly.
Hoi An Tour
Beautiful Hoi An old town quarter is a joy to explore, packed to the brim with bags of surviving historic architecture and well-preserved merchant houses that hark back to Hoi An’s 15th century trading centre heyday, when Japanese and Chinese merchants who flocked here for the local silks.
You can get a taste of these times as many of the old merchant houses have been opened to the public. One of the most popular is 17th-century Tan Ky House, with fascinating architectural and decorative elements. At the western end of Tran Phu Street is the delightful Japanese Bridge, Hoi An’s major symbol, while nearby is the old town’s most highly decorated temple – Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation.
Hoi An’s charm and attraction is found in simply rambling the old town streets admiring the well-preserved facades, pagodas and museums dotted around the town.
Within a short distance is My Son, My Son is a ruined Cham era temple city that dates from the 4th century and is beautifully surrounded by lush jungle-covered mountains. There are roughly 20 temple structures still standing here showing interesting influences from various Asian empires and during the 7th to 10th centuries this old Hindu religious centre was still very much in use and started to decline and abandoned during the 13th century.
If you are a beach lover, you can stay in Da Nang and take a day trip to Hoi An. To know more about Da Nang, please visit Da Nang Travel Guide.
The best time to visit Hoi An:
January to July, especially from February to May – the best time for beach activities and low tourist footfall. The rainy season starts from September to November, there can be sporadic hurricanes and storms.
Hue is packed with 19th-century Nguyen emperors relics and is one of Vietnam’s most historic towns. The Imperial Enclosure, sitting along the banks of the beautiful Perfume River, is a massive 2.5 kilometres site. Check out the Dien Tho Residence where the Queen Mother would have lived, the gorgeous Ngo Mon Gate, or the Thai Hoa Palace with its finely lacquered interiors and the preserved ceiling murals in the Halls of Mandarins.
A day cruise can take you to visit some pagodas or several royal tombs and is one of the most relaxing experiences in Hue is by taking a riverboat cruise on the Perfume River to a collection of outlying sites. The most popular tomb to visit is the Tomb of Tu Duc, and Thien Mu Pagoda is the most important pagoda in the area, with its 21 meters high tower.
The best time to visit Hue:
From January to April, with temperatures averaging between 20°C and 24°C, you can comfortably explore Hue’s historical sites and temples on foot.
The dry season in Hue lasts from April to August with hot and sunny weather, temperatures peak at 38 to 40 degrees Celsius. For those who can stand the heat in exchange for endless blue sky, the summer months are the way to go.
From September to December is rainy season.
Nha Trang Tour
Nha Trang beach is six kilometres of white sandy beaches and clear waters along the central Nha Trang city shoreline and during summer is packed with foreign visitors as well as local families on vacation. Its main beach is a long, curving stretch along Tran Phu Street backed by a promenade, hotels, and seafood restaurants, rooftop clubs etc and is very much catered for holiday makers. The water here is excellent for swimming, with designated safe swimming areas for families with children.
For the lazy beachgoers manicured lounging areas are readily available, this makes a great option for relaxing days soaking up the sun. You also have many options on the beach for jet skiing, paragliding and all the usual beachside activities.
What to do in Nha Trang:
- Nha Trang Paintball Shooting
If you are a group of youngsters and looking for an adventure in Nha Trang then consider trying out Nha Trang Paintball. Nha Trang Paintball Shooting Club at 9C Tran Phu Street. Players are provided guns, protective gear, and listen to the introduction before the competition. This will require you to try and shoot your opponents with paintballs.
- Visit Yang Bay
There are a number of different waterfalls in the form of Ho Cho, Yang Khang and Yang Bay.
- Soak at Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Baths
Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Baths are the perfect spot if you are looking to relax for the afternoon. Thanks to its high mineral content and people usually slather their skin with the mud and then lie down in the bath and let it work its magic.
- Tour the Alexandre Yersin Museum
This museum is dedicated to Dr. Alexandre Yersin who was a popular scientist in Vietnam, lived from 1863 to 1943.
He founded the Pasteur Institute in 1895 and although he originally came from Switzerland, he could also speak fluent Vietnamese. Some of the things that he did in his lifetime included bringing rubber and quinine trees to Vietnam and he also discovered the microbe that causes bubonic plague.
There is a film about his life shown at the museum, you can also tour Yerson’s office and you can see some of his laboratory equipment.
- Go diving or snorkelling
You can either swim offshore, or you can take a boat to some of the idyllic islands that encircle Nha Trang which have crystal-clear waters and a vast array of sea life.
If you want to get PADI certified then there are around 10 dive shops in Nha Trang where you can take classes, be mindful of the period from October to December as the weather can make diving difficult and the visibility is poor.
- The Hon Khoi Salt Fields
It is one of the most unique attractions in Nha Trang, where workers harvest mounts of natural salt from shallow fields between the months of January and June. The fields are an hour’s drive from Nha Trang city centre, and you can find these salt fields along the way to Doc Let Beach.
Thanks to Vietnam’s extensive coastline, salt production is a thriving industry in Nha Trang, generating about 737,000 tonnes every year.
- Ba Ho Waterfalls
The waterfalls are comprised of 3 natural waterfalls, 40-minute drive from Nha Trang City that end with a clear lake surrounded by dense rainforest, offering a peaceful retreat for swimming, picnics, and fishing.
Alternatively, visitors can join a day tour, which usually offers a guided trip to prominent attractions in northern Nha Trang, including Ba Ho Waterfalls, Monkey Island, and Doc Let Beach.
- The ancient Po Nagar Cham Towers
If you get bored of sunbathing, are just to the north across the Xom Bong Bridge. These have been used as a place of worship here since at least the 7th century however some historians state the site has been a place of active worship since before this time.
- Nha Trang Vinpearl Land
Vinpearl land amusement park offers fun-filled activities for travelling families, with unique water slides, a massive aquarium, a wave pool, amphitheatre, a shopping mall, rollercoasters, water shows, 4D movie theatre, bumper cars, water park and a variety of rides.
Situated on Hon Tre Island, the theme park is connected to the mainland of Nha Trang via a 3,320-metre sea-crossing cable car, which offers great views of the bay along the way. People often say it is like Vietnam Disneyland.
The best time to visit Nha Trang:
From January to August, the weather is warm and humid with little to no rainfall. The average temperature is about 28 – 30°C, perfect for water activities such as island-hoping, surfing, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling…
October and November, higher chance of rain and storms.
Phu Quoc Tour
Phu Quoc island – located in the Gulf of Thailand, just 45 kilometres off the southwestern coast of Vietnam, south of Cambodia. Phu Quoc is a densely forested island, speckled by sweeps of white-sand beaches that attract plenty of sunseekers during dry season.
Dry season (from November to May) is also when the island’s underwater (snorkelling, diving) and above water tourism (kayaking, boat trips) attractions come into action, with many beautiful dive sites in the waters just offshore. Just to the south of Phu Quoc, are the An Thoi Islands, which is home to the best snorkelling in the area and where many of the boat excursions head to. On dry land, the Phu Quoc cable-car soars over the seascape and islands, provide bird’s-eye views for eight kilometres. On a good day you can see all the way from Phu Quoc to the island of Hon Thom in the An Thoi Islands.
Phu Quoc is accessed best by plane, or if you prefer not to fly, there regular ferries from the mainland towns of Rach Gia and Ha Tien. Ha Tien is a popular first (or last) stop-off in Vietnam for overland travellers and lies very close to the southern border crossing with Cambodia.
What to do in Phu Quoc:
- Visit Phu Quoc Prison
Phu Quoc Prison also known as Coconut Tree Prison, was built in 1949 by French colonists. There were as many as 40,000 Vietnamese soldiers and political figures imprisoned and tortured here during the American War.
The prison was opened to the public to visit in 1995. You can see exhibitions that depict the various types of torture individuals endured here, some included electrocution, crucifixion, and food deprivation.
This museum is highly recommend for those who want to learn about Vietnam War history and are intrigued by torture methods.
- Night market
Phu Quoc Night Market is a bustling open-air street market in Duong Dong, open every evening from 5 pm until midnight. there are more than 100 different stalls selling seafood, ice cream, banana pancakes, drinks, and traditional souvenirs… The best thing to do in Phu Quoc in the evening is to taste local food at the night market.
- Phu Quoc Cable Car
The Cable Car is an oversea cable car, the longest and most continuous three-cable aerial car system in the world. It’s located on the southwestern tip of the island. Your journey will begin on Phu Quoc island at An Thoi. Your ride will last for about 15 minutes, ending at Hon Thom Island or Pineapple Island.
Check the weather forecast before you book to make sure that it is clear, that way you get the best views from your seat!
Adults over 1.3 meters will pay 500,000 VND/person, children 1-1.3 meters will pay 350,000 VND, and children under 1-meter ride free.
- Visit Starfish Beach
Starfish Beach is on the northern end of Phu Quoc Island. It’s known for the starfish that gather on the sandbar just offshore. If you wade out in the water a bit, it’s easy to spot them laying on the ocean floor. There are some restaurants here that offer fresh seafood and drinks.
Regardless of whether or not you spot any starfish, this is still an ideal beach for lounging. You can rent chairs for about 50,000 VND per person and the water is ideal for swimming.
- Snorkeling or Scuba Diving
Snorkelling is a very popular activity on Phu Quoc Island because the sea is calm and warm. You can book a full-day snorkeling tour that will take you to Finger Island, Dam Ngang Island, and May Rut Island. You’ll spot colourful coral and some diverse marine life.
Scuba diving trips are available but less popular as the areas around Phu Quoc are overfished.
- Watch Sunset
The sunset in Phu Quoc is lovely, look to the west for a spectacular sunset, just sit down anywhere along the west coast and enjoy one of the best sunsets in Vietnam. This is a truly memorable experience in Phu Quoc. It’s worth visiting Mango Bay’s restaurant near Bai Ong Lang beach or a bar to soak in the sunset.
- Vinwonders Phu Quoc
Vinwonders Phu Quoc is southwest Vietnam’s largest and most modern amusement park, located in Long Beach. That’s a must-see during your visit to Phu Quoc. There are over 100 indoor and outdoor activities around the park, plus an exciting Water Park with dolphin shows and more
Opening hours: 09:00-19:30, Monday to Sunday
Free admission for children 0.99m in height and under
- Coi Nguon Museum
If you want to learn about the history and culture of Phu Quoc Island, Coi Nguon Museum is highly recommended. The museum was established in 2009 by Huynh Phuoc Hue. It features his private collection of artifacts that he collected over 15 years. His collection includes over 2,500 antiques from the 15th – 20th centuries and around 100 traditional paintings. You’ll know about daily life and the people who have inhabited the island for hundreds of years.
The museum is open daily from 7 am until 5 pm. The entrance fee is 20,000 VND per person.
- Tour a Fish Sauce Factory
Most Vietnamese dishes include fish sauce in some way, whether it’s on the side for dipping, used in a sauce or marinade all through from the north to the south.
If you are a Vietnamese food lover, you should know that Phu Quoc is famous for fish sauce. The fish sauce produced on the island is exported worldwide. You’ll be lucky enough to take a tour of one of the factories here to see exactly how it’s made, fermented, and bottled. Khai Hoan, Phung Hung, and Hung Thanh are three popular factories on the island to tour.
The best time to visit Phu Quoc:
Late October to early April, the island is usually cool and pleasant, the average temperature is about 27-28 degrees, the highest temperature reaches 35 degrees.
From late May to early October, Phu Quoc begins to enter the rainy season. This season has heavy rain, strong seas, constant wind, and high air humidity.
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