An independent selection of the best things to see and do in Vietnam. No paid placements, no advertorial.

Vietnam see and do guide

Introduction

| 01 Apr 2016
Last updated 01 Apr 2016

A look at the best things to see and do in Vietnam...


Cities

Vietnam’s two major cities, Hanoi and Saigon are a fantastic study in contrast. Hanoi will please the eye and the sense of tradition is also palpable. Lakes, some fantastic colonial era architecture and an increasingly confusing clash of old and new make this one of Asia’s most engaging cities.

Don’t be put off by Saigon’s mediocre visual impression and its chaos. This is neither a pretty nor a functional city but the locals give it a buzz that is captivating. The food's amazing too.


History

If history is your thing, there’s loads of it here, but remarkably, Vietnam has done very little to attract the historian traveller. If identified at all, historic sites tend to provide minimal information and sometimes none in English.

Travellers interested in Vietnam’s war past will be surprised at how much there is to see - and how unenlightening visits to historic sites can be.  

History is everywhere in Vietnam but for us, highlights include the old Imperial capital in Hue, the remnants of the last French battle at Dien Bien Phu, Hoi An and the nearby Cham ruins and the capital Hanoi.


Museums

Plenty has changed in Vietnam during the past twenty years but very little progress is evident in the country’s museums. They are notable for their prime locations, impressive buildings, mediocre information, disinterested staff and the absence of locals and travellers alike.

There are several worth visiting though and if you are a museum buff, you may get a kick out of the Ho Chi Minh museums found in most cities and towns as shrines to the great man.

The War Remnants Museum in Saigon is the most popular museum in the country. Its confronting collection on the Vietnam War includes the dramatic Requiem photo exhibition compiled by photographers Tim Page and Horst Faas.   

Don’t be surprised if you have most other museums to yourself.

In Hanoi, the bizarre Russian funded Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Army Museum and the History Museum which focuses on pre Vietnam War history, are also well worth a look.


Beaches

Vietnam’s beaches are only starting to be fully appreciated now with new resorts being developed along the coast and on some of the offshore islands.

Our favourite beach spots are Phu Quoc Island and Hoi An. Mui Ne and Nha Trang also sport some nice sea and sand though Nha Trang is over developed and its main bay is grubby at times.

Phu Quoc Island sports some lovely beaches, dense forest and some great simple accommodations as well.

Hoi An is a good choice for beach with history, food and shopping added. Don’t forget though that its beaches normally enjoy about 6 to 8 months of good conditions each year (March to September). The rest of the year can be rough, cold and at times downright furious as typhoons batter the coast.

Mui Ne and Nha Trang are the most popular and only purpose built beach destinations. Mui Ne has some great smaller accommodations and its proximity to Saigon makes it very popular with the Saigonese and expats.

Vietnam lacks a good supply of boutique and simple bungalow style beachside accommodations that have been the mainstay of beach development elsewhere in Asia. There are a handful in Mui Ne and on Phu Quoc Island. The government’s preference for massive developments - the worst example to date is outside Danang on the road to Hoi An - means that smaller, more innovative and environmentally thoughtful operators are squeezed out.


Shopping


Vietnam’s tailors are being run off their feet with international travellers topping up their wardrobes as they make their way through the country. Hoi An in central Vietnam is the favoured spot. Saigon and Hanoi see plenty of tailoring action too. Saigon’s Ben Thanh Market and Hanoi’s Old Quarter are also good for local homeware pieces, furniture and art.