Where to go in Vietnam? See what a local recommends!

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My name is Uyên and I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I love to travel in my own country as well as around the world. When meeting people in other countries, I often get asked questions about Vietnam, such as if there is electricity in the cities, if you risk getting stepped on by elephants in the streets, and many many questions about the Vietnam war (or the American war as it is called here). I have come to realize that in many people's minds, Vietnam is still a war-torn farming country.

While we are still very proud of our excellent rice, and lives can be quite different in the countryside villages compared to the more developed cities, Vietnam is now home to skyscrapers (with electricity!), local tech startups, and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia. Tourists from all over the world love to visit Vietnam due to the rich culture and history, beautiful landscapes, delicious cuisine, friendly people, and vibrant cities.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel to many places in Vietnam and experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are my recommendations for top places to visit in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City

City in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.3

Vietnam's largest city where the sun shines the whole year round

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and the country's financial hub. Located in the south, the city is a mix of old and new, with modern skyscrapers coexisting alongside ancient pagodas, colonial buildings, and lush parks. It has a wide range of culinary options, from bustling street food markets to high-end restaurants. The city is also known for its vibrant nightlife, with various lively bars, clubs, and music venues.

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the biggest cities in Asia. A few popular areas offer different experiences and budgets for your stay. Keep in mind that Ho Chi Minh City is not always easily walkable. It helps if you get a scooter, hire a scooter taxi, or a standard taxi to get around, depending on where you will stay.

The center of the city center

The most central part of District 1 is where you can find the most excellent shopping malls, glamorous hotels, high-rise buildings, and the most famous landmarks, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and the Reunification Palace. This is considered the most expensive area in Ho Chi Minh City. The area includes some well-known streets such as Nguyễn Huệ, Đồng Khởi, Hàm Nghi, Tôn Đức Thắng, Lý Tự Trọng, Mạc Thị Bưởi, as well as the early parts of Hai Bà Trưng and Pasteur. I recommend that you stay here if you visit Ho Chi Minh City for a short trip and want to explore the city center on foot.

Little Japan

Also located in District 1 and very near the center of the city center. Little Japan (just an informal nickname) is a small area packed with hundreds of Japanese restaurants, bars, hotels, guesthouses, and interlacing alleys. The main streets in Little Japan are the early part of Lê Thánh Tôn and all of Thái Văn Lung. The accommodation is more affordable than the center of the city center with easy access to the city center on foot. Obviously, the Japanese food here is excellent.

The Bến Thành Market area

Also located in District 1 surrounding the biggest day and night market in Ho Chi Minh City, Bến Thành. It is home to the best Vietnamese street food and daily business hustle. Many Vietnamese overseas visitors choose this area to stay so that they can fill their stomachs with the Vietnamese dishes of their childhood. You should stay here if you would like to enjoy local street foods and do not mind the busy vibe. Bến Thành market is a must-visit. In my opinion, you can check it out but be aware that the shop sellers can be very annoying and you will need to bargain. I and most of my friends only go here to eat, not to shop. Bến Thành Market is within walking distance from Litte Japan and the center of the city center.

My favorite: District 3

This is my favorite neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City! It is right next to District 1, quite lively but you can relax here too as it is pretty residential in parts, and it has a great food scene. I much prefer the more central part of District 3 around these streets: Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Phạm Ngọc Thạch, Võ Văn Tần, and Hồ Xuân Hương. If you visit Ho Chi Minh City and want to experience a less hectic yet very local feeling, I highly recommend staying in this part of District 3. You can walk to the city center from here too.

Part of District 4 and District Binh Thanh

These two districts are next to District 1. The part close to District 1 includes a massive range of newly built and high-end apartment buildings such as The Manor, Saigon Pearl, Vinhomes Central Park, City Garden, and Icon 56. These areas are relatively close to the city center though it is hard to travel by foot from here so you might need a scooter or take a taxi even for a very short trip.

Korea town

It is another hub far from the city center, located in District 7. It contains excellent shopping malls, affordable hotels, great restaurants, and fun pubs and is considered the most walkable area in the whole city. It was built and heavily invested in by Korean businesses. Hence the nickname. Even if you do not stay here, remember to visit it. Stay in the Korean town if you enjoy daily walking and a more modern Vietnamese lifestyle with better air quality.

District 2

It used to be called the French District and belonged to Ho Chi Minh City. Nowadays, it is considered one of the most wealthy neighborhoods in Vietnam, with a large expat community from many countries in the world and it belongs to Thủ Đức City. It has great restaurants, pubs, shops, and boutiques, as well as many high-end apartment buildings. You will need some transportation to other popular areas of the city. Similar to District 7, in District 2, you will find a bit of a more International lifestyle of Vietnam.

Apart from the areas I listed above, there is another popular area named Phạm Ngũ Lão with many options for accommodation. It is known as the backpacker area and is similar to other backpacker areas such as Khao-san Road in Bangkok. It can be a fun but somewhat shady area, though it has improved. It is at the border of District 1. You can find good food, affordable accommodations, and all-night-long bars and clubs. If you plan a bachelor party, you can stay here, but I recommend not staying with your family.

What to eat in Ho Chi Minh City?

Vietnam cuisine is rich and Ho Chi Minh City is one of the world's best food cities. It is very affordable to eat out. Local people enjoy gathering after work and on the weekends. Even if you are a picky eater, do not worry; you will definitely find something delicious to fill your stomach with. Here I will help you to learn when and what to eat. So you can eat like a local.

Breakfast

For breakfast, Ho Chi Minh City locals often eat:

  • Phở, a rice noodle soup that is typically made with beef or chicken broth and garnished with herbs and vegetables.
  • Bánh mì sandwiches, a type of sandwich made with a baguette filled with meat, vegetables, and condiments.
  • Cơm Tấm, a broken rice dish served with a grilled pork chop, an egg cake, vegetables, and a fried egg.
  • Sticky rice with meat or sweet sticky rice.
  • Other popular breakfast foods include bánh cuốn, steamed rice rolls with minced meat, cooked sausage, herbs and fish sauce, and different noodle soups.

These types of breakfast dishes can be found almost at every corner of any neighborhood. To complete breakfast, remember to have a Vietnamese coffee to start your day. The two most common coffee drinks are cà phê đen, black iced coffee (coffee, sugar with ice) or cà phê sữa đá, iced coffee condensed milk. The latter is my favorite.

Lunch

In Ho Chi Minh City we typically eat a combination of rice, meat or fish, vegetables, and a small bowl of soup. We also eat many popular breakfast dishes for lunch, such as Phở noodle soup; other noodle soups from different regions, such as Mì Quảng, Bún Bò Huế, Bánh canh, Hủ tiếu; Cơm Tấm.

Street food vendors also offer a variety of options such as Bún Thịt Nướng, a dried rice noodle dish with BBQ meat, spring rolls, herb, and fish sauce; various kind of rice floured cakes from Central Vietnam (bánh bèo, bánh bột lọc, bánh nậm) topped or filled with a variety of ingredients such as shrimp, pork, and green onion.

Try the cheapest kind of drink available widely in every restaurant to accompany your lunch: trà đá (ice tea). It is very refreshing and goes very well with every meal.

Mid-day snacks

It is very common with snacks between lunch and dinner, especially for office workers. This is why Vietnam is an excellent market for dessert drinks such as boba tea, also known as bubble tea. It typically contains tapioca pearls, tea, milk, and sweetener. The Vietnamese love boba tea.

Other dishes prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City as desserts are smoothies and chè, a sweet soup with various types of toppings and filling, often combined with coconut milk. If you are not looking for dessert, there are other types of snacks such as fresh summer rolls, crab soup, bánh mì, bánh bèo and dried noodles dishes such as egg noodle wok with tofu and vegetables.

Dinner

Many locals enjoy gathering after work with partners, friends, and colleagues. Many places are what we call nhậu places, a restaurant that serves drinks and a massive food menu. The nhậu place's menu almost always includes seafood, salads, soup, fish, poultry, BBQ, hotpot, rice, and wok dishes. Besides nhậu places, some restaurants offer smaller and more specialized menus. If you are vegetarian or vegan, do not worry, countless restaurants offer only vegetarian or vegan menus. These vegetarian restaurants are usually very calm and have a bit of a Buddhist vibe.

International cuisine food scene

Ho Chi Minh City has a big culinary scene, with many different restaurants offering international cuisine. Popular options include Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, French, Italian, and American food. There are also plenty of restaurants that serve up Western-style dishes like burgers, pasta, pizza, and sandwiches. If you are into fusion, Ho Chi Minh City also offers restaurants with creative takes on traditional dishes.

Explore Ho Chi Minh City

Hoi An

City in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.6

Venice of Vietnam

Hoi An is an ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, located between Da Nang and Hue, cut through with canals. It is known for its well-preserved historic buildings, traditional culture, and stunning natural scenery. The city was a major port and trading hub during the 17th and 18th centuries and is now a popular tourist destination. The city's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring numerous attractions, such as the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation. The former port city's melting-pot history is reflected in its architecture, a mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses, and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge with its pagoda.

What to do in Hoi An

Hoi An has two main parts, the famous Old town, and its beach. There are many things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam. Some popular activities include:

  • Visiting the Old Town: Hoi An's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to many well-preserved buildings, temples, and houses. Be sure to visit famous landmarks like the Japanese Bridge, the Phung Hung Old House, and the Cantonese Assembly Hall. Visitors can take a walking tour to explore the historic architecture and learn about the town's history. The Old Town is lively in the evening and especially beautiful on full moon nights.
  • Shopping: Hoi An is known for its tailors, who can make custom-made clothing and accessories at a reasonable price. Visitors can also shop for traditional crafts, such as lanterns, ceramics, and textiles.
  • Eating: Hoi An is a food lover's paradise, with various local and international cuisines available. Visitors should try the local specialties such as Cao Lầu, a dish made with noodles, pork, and greens. And one of the most nationally famous bánh mì stalls is located in Hoian, named Bánh mì Phượng.
  • Relaxing on An Bang beach: An Bang beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand and crystal clear waters where visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing.
  • Visiting My Son Sanctuary: My Son Sanctuary is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an essential center of the ancient Champa civilization. Visitors can explore the brick temples and towers scattered around the jungle-covered hills.

When to visit Hoi An

Hoi An is a beautiful destination all year round, but the ideal time to visit would be between February, and April or a bit later in the fall, such as September to early November, when the weather is dry and sunny. During this time, the temperature stays in the mid-20s, and the skies remain clear, making it the perfect time for sightseeing and exploring the city.

Hoi An temperatures drop in the winter, so it might not be ideal for visiting the beach but pleasant to go around on foot or bicycle.

When not to go? Due to the heat, June, July, and August can be tricky to visit Hoi An. It is also when the city experiences the most rain and typhoons.

Explore Hoi An

Ha Long Bay

Place in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.6

A bay of wonder

Ha Long Bay is a stunningly beautiful natural wonder, with its spectacular karsts jutting out of the emerald waters. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a great place to explore and experience Vietnamese culture and history. The Bay's natural beauty is complemented by the traditional fishing villages and floating markets that are common in the area. Ha Long Bay is also home to a variety of wildlife, from monkeys to seabirds. It's an excellent destination for anyone looking for a unique and unforgettable experience.

The best way to visit Ha Long Bay

To get to Ha Long Bay, you must arrive in Hanoi and take a car or bus ride to Ha Long Bay. The best way to visit Ha Long Bay is by taking a tour. Many tour operators offer group and private tours of the bay and its islands, which usually include cruising around the bay, kayaking, and other activities.

What to do in Ha Long Bay

I would recommend staying at least one night in Ha Long Bay so you can have time to enjoy the views and do one or a few activities that the bay has to offer:

  • Cruising on a traditional junk boat to explore the bay's limestone islands and caves.
  • Kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding to closely examine the islands and their unique ecosystems.
  • Visiting the Sung Sot Cave, also known as the "Surprising Cave," is one of the bay's largest and most beautiful caves.
  • Exploring the floating villages and markets in the bay, where you can learn about the traditional way of life of the local fishermen.
  • Enjoy the sunset at least once.
Explore Ha Long Bay

Hanoi

City in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.2

A capital of history

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is famous for its centuries-old architecture, cultural landmarks and vibrant street life. It is known as the city of lakes and is home to several monuments, including the Temple of Literature and the One Pillar Pagoda. It is also known for its bustling Old Quarter, famous pagodas, temples, and French colonial buildings, as well as its traditional Vietnamese food and coffee culture. Go to Ho Chi Minh City to eat, go to Hanoi to sightsee.

What to do in Hanoi

Hanoi is famous for the saying "Hanoi không vội được đâu", translation "There is no hurry in Hanoi". The phase reflects somewhat the vibe in Hanoi. There are four seasons in Hanoi and it can be different activities for different seasons. Though, there are some must-see and must-do in Hanoi that any visitor should not miss:

  • Explore the Old Quarter by foot: Walk through the maze of narrow streets and enjoy the traditional architecture of the Old Quarter. Stop by the Hanoi Cathedral, or Saint Joseph's Cathedral, located in the city's historic French Quarter to get a famous street drink: sweet lemon iced tea.
  • Pay your respects to the former president of Vietnam at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
  • Visit the Temple of Literature: Admire the stunning architecture and learn about the history of this iconic landmark.
  • Visit Hoan Kiem Lake: Enjoy a peaceful boat ride on the lake and take in the views of the surrounding city.
  • Admire the beauty of One Pillar Pagoda: Marvel at the intricate design of this iconic Buddhist temple.
  • Stroll around the night markets, where you can find a variety of goods and street food.

What to eat in Hanoi

Even with the massive food culture in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi still has some of its signature dishes that can stand proudly on the food map of Vietnam.

  • Phở, the Saigonese claim that their Phở is the best and the Hanoian beg to differ. The difference between the two Phở noodle soups is that Hanoi Phở has a more subtle and lean taste. It goes best with a pair of non-sweet and hollow deep-fried breadsticks. Another main difference is that the chili sauce is sourer and spicier compared to the chili sauce for Saigon Phở.
  • Bún Chả, a dish of grilled pork and vermicelli noodles served with herbs and a sweet and sour dipping sauce. If you do not try this dish, don't tell anyone that you have visited Hanoi.
  • Bánh Mì, Bánh mì Hanoi is slightly different from Bánh Mì Saigon. I prefer Bánh Mì from Ho Chi Minh city, but there are some different nice flavors to Hanoi Bánh Mì.
  • Chã Cá Lã Vọng, a dish of grilled fish with turmeric, dill, and peanuts, served with vermicelli noodles and herbs. It has a very distinct flavor so it might not be for everyone.
  • Bún Bò Nam Bộ, do not let the name fool you, even the name suggested it is from the South, but this is a Hanoi-style fried beef noodle.
  • Egg Coffee, a traditional Hanoian drink made with egg yolks, sugar, and strong coffee.
Explore Hanoi

Da Nang

City in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.3

Probably the best beach city in Vietnam

Da Nang is a beautiful coastal city on the South Central Coast of Vietnam, known for its stunning beaches, friendly locals, diverse cultural attractions, and delicious cuisine. The third largest in Vietnam is not an exciting, heart-racing place, but to me, it is where the quality of life is most balanced among the big cities in Vietnam. Da Nang is located conveniently between Hoi An and Hue, and it has the main international and domestic airport of the region. I recommend combining Da Nang and Hoi An when you visit this part of Vietnam. In general, Da Nang is the perfect place to relax, explore, and enjoy the beauty of Vietnam.

Best beaches in Da Nang

It is a beach city, but it is lucky to maintain a tremendous local feeling in itself so that you can enjoy the beach and the local lifestyle at a very affordable cost. The best beaches include:

  • Non Nuoc Beach: Located in the Ngu Hanh Son District of Da Nang, this beach is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Vietnam. Non Nuoc Beach offers stunning views of the East Sea, white sand, and crystal-clear waters, making it a great place to relax and enjoy a day of swimming and sunbathing.
  • My Khe Beach: My Khe Beach is one of the most visited beaches in Da Nang due to its convenient location and gorgeous scenery. This beach is known for its golden sand and spectacular views of the nearby Marble Mountains.
  • Tien Sa Beach: Tien Sa Beach is located in the Son Tra Peninsula and is a great place to relax and get away from the city. This beach offers stunning views of the East Sea and is known for its white sand. If you have a chance to get to this part of Danang, stop for a snack or meal at the beautiful InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort.
Explore Da Nang

Phú Quốc

Island in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4.7

Long beaches, white sand, and fish sauce

Phu Quoc is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand, off the coast of Vietnam. It is known for its beautiful beaches, clear blue waters, and lush tropical forests. Tourists visit Phu Quoc for its natural beauty, as well as for its many activities such as swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and fishing.

The island also offers a variety of accommodation options, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly guesthouses, making it accessible to travelers of all budgets. Additionally, Phu Quoc is famous for its pearl farm and fish sauce factory. Overall, Phu Quoc Island offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, adventure, and relaxation, making it a great place to visit for tourists who are looking for a tropical getaway with plenty of activities and natural beauty to explore.

Being about one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, I highly recommend you combine Phu Quoc and Ho Chi Minh City.

What to do on Phu Quoc Island

  • Relaxing and enjoying plenty of beach activities: Phu Quoc Island is renowned for its pristine, white sand beaches and crystal clear waters and it has been a popular beach destination for not only international tourists but also domestic travelers. In Phu Quoc, you can enjoy many beach activities from sunbathing and swimming to snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
  • Island hopping: for a more adventurous experience, take a boat tour around the island and explore some of its smaller islands. You will find hidden beaches, tropical jungles, and more. Some of the must-visit islands near Phu Quoc are Hon Thom Island and Hon Mong Tay Island, both are known for their beautiful beaches.
  • Exploring the local markets, such as the night market in Duong Dong, to see the local handmade crafts and dive into the massive seafood menu.
  • Rent a scooter to go around the island: it is a great feeling to scoot around the island and see its natural beauty.

Best beaches in Phu Quoc

With many beautiful, big and small beaches in Phu Quoc, here are some of the beaches that stand out:

  • Long Beach (Bai Truong): Long beach is the most famous beach in Phu Quoc that offers a nice beach, various accommodations from budget-friendly to high-end exclusive resorts, and many restaurants and bars to choose from.
  • Sao Beach (Bai Sao): is known for its picturesque setting. Sao Beach is less crowded and quieter than Long Beach, and perhaps a more beautiful beach to stay. It is known for its picturesque setting and crystal-clear water.
  • Khem Beach (Bai Khem): is a secluded spot with clear water and a beautiful coral reef.
Explore Phú Quốc

Côn Đảo Town

Town in🇻🇳 Vietnamrated
4

A wilder paradise

Con Dao Island is right behind Phu Quoc as the top beach destination in Vietnam for several reasons. It is known for its beautiful beaches and rich history, with several historical sites related to the French and American wars, as well as the prison where political prisoners were held. Con Dao Island is also home to a diverse array of wildlife and plants, making it a popular destination for nature enthusiasts. Con Dao Island offers a unique blend of natural beauty, ocean views, and friendly wildlife species. It is less developed and simply feels a bit wilder than Phu Quoc, especially if you stay close to nature.

Where to stay in Con Dao

Depending on what you are looking for in Con Dao island, whether you want to explore the local's life or have some me time alone, it would affect the location of where to stay.

Most domestic tourists in Vietnam come to Con Dao Island to visit some war heroes' graves. The most popular one is Vo Thi Sau. For this purpose, local tourists will stay in Côn Sơn town where they can also reach Con Dao prisons and enjoy the Vietnamese local food scene.

Many of the visitors also choose Con Dao as an isolated destination to recharge and be near nature. If this is your reason for the trip, you could choose some exclusive and isolated resorts such as Poulo Condor Boutique Resort or the famous Six Senses Con Dao where you can get access to a private beach and premium service. Of course, these resorts come with a high price tag but are totally worth it even if it makes your stay shorter.

Apart from my favorite places in Vietnam there are more popular places such as Sa Pa, Ninh Binh, and Phong Nha Cave. I hope to visit these places in the near future and add them to this list. If they make the cut.

Explore Côn Đảo Town

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