The food is outstanding, the people welcoming and the country itself is as beautiful as it is diverse. From trekking with the Hmong in Sapa, to abseiling down waterfalls in Dalat and admiring all the colourful lanterns in Hoi An there are an innumerable amount of incredible experiences and unique things to do in Vietnam. I want to share some of my favourite Vietnam experiences with you, and this post is the result of my two extended trips there in both 2014 and 2016. Whether you are travelling Vietnam on a budget or are planning to do it in style, I suggest you check out as much of these experiences as possible.
My Top 50 Unique Things To Do in Vietnam
1. Find the pool with the view
One of the best things about Vietnam is that some of the most spectacular places are a mission to get to – which means only those that make the effort will be rewarded! Topas Eco Lodge is one of the most unique hotels in Vietnam and with their new infinity pool overlooking the terraced rice fields outside of Sapa on the far north of Vietnam, it has to be one of the most incredible pools in the world. You can read my full review of the hotel here.
2. Spend a night at a traditional homestay
One of the most unique things to do in Vietnam is to sign up to stay in a traditional Home Stay. You can go through a company like Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel or you can try arrange it yourself. For my Mai Chau homestay (photo above) I organised it through a tour agency on the street in Hanoi, but for my Sapa homestay (first photo, with young children) I simply met a Hmong family when I got off the bus and they agree to take me to their village the next day. The experience is unlike anything else you will have backpacking around Southeast Asia. Seeing how the locals live, eating the food that they cook and just appreciating the beauty of the landscape with no interruptions was by far one of the highlights of my entire trip to Vietnam.
Top tip: Bring some warm clothes and extra socks, it can get quite cold at night time, especially is Sapa.
3. Cycle through the rice paddies in Mai Chau
While some might consider Mai Chau to be very firmly on the Vietnam backpacker trail, it feels like you are miles away from all-night parties and motorbike-mayhem. Cycling through the rice paddies, stopping only to take a dip in a fresh-water stream or to let a herd of buffalo cross the road, is one of the most relaxing activities you will do in Vietnam. I loved stopping to play with local kids, and how the farmers working in the fields were very welcoming and even stopped to let us take some photographs with them. The entire valley is so green it almost hurts your eyes, and there are lots of more challenging routes for those looking for a little more exercise and adventure. If you are feeling extra adventurous, you could sign up to a multi day cycling tour from Hanoi to Mai Chau. There are also great budget Vietnam tours that go all the way from Sapa to Mai Chau.
Top tip: Don’t bring your expensive camera or any valuables you don’t want to get wet. It rains, a lot!
4. Party all night at Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel
I actually can’t count the number of times I have stayed in this hostel. The biggest backpackers hostel in Vietnam, pretty much anyone visiting the country under the age of 25 has probably stayed here. The perfect base before heading off on trips both South and North, this hostel also guarantees a wild night out. It’s a pretty mad place, if I’m honest. Sorry of like walking into a nightclub that is in fact a hostel. It’s impossible not to make friends here and every last staff member is totally bonkers. If you’re a guest they give out FREE BEER every night at 5pm and they have more happy hours than I can count on both hands.
Top tip: Ask for a room on level 5 or 6 if staying here, otherwise you’ll never get to sleep!
5. Learn how to ride a buffalo
I saw this advertised as part of many tours and local operated day trips but never got the chance to try it out myself. Learning to ride a buffalo is surely a great life skill, perfect for when you become a farmer and need to plough your fields! ;-) Or, heaven forbid, your horse is lame and you need alternative transportation! Places that offer this kind of activity include: Mai Chau, Sapa and Hoi An. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sees the value in riding a Buffalo! You can even do a short Basket Boat and Buffalo ride trip with Jack Tran Eco Tours to conquer two Vietnam Bucket List items at once.
6. Buy a cheesy t-shirt and wear it with pride
Granted I wouldn’t be caught dead walking down Grafton Street in Dublin with a t-shirt that says “Ireland” on it, but I wore all my cheesy Vietnam souvenir t-shirts with such pride while in Vietnam. The fact that it was about 100% humidity and I found myself changing clothes about 3 times a day was great excuse to keep buying new t-shirts. Classics include a tank tops with the slogan “Saigon Beer” and “Good Morning Vietnam.” Top tip: Never settle in the first price given…bargain, bargain, bargain!
7. Walk down Hanoi’s famous train street
This was one of my favourite finds in Hanoi, mainly because so few people know about it. Essentially there’s a very narrow residential street near the train station that an absolutely massive train passes through twice a day. There are lots more videos and photos in this post here, but trust me, this is one seriously unique experience that you cannot miss out on. It is sure to get your heart racing if you happen to visit at 3.30pm when the train passes by, and even at other times it is pretty much a photographers heaven. If you plan to travel Vietnam by train, be sure to book your ticket in advance! Top tip: Get there 30 minutes before the train and expect the train to arrive early!!
8. Spend an evening at Beer Corner in Hanoi
20 hours until we’re sitting on little blue plastic chairs drinking Bia Hoi from a street corner in Vietnam. #hanoi #biahoi #beercorner #vietnam #vietnamjourney #traveltheworld #travel #wanderlust A photo posted by Kristin Hampton (@kristin_hampton) on
Oh Beer Corner, how I love you so. No visit to Hanoi would be complete without spending a few hours sitting on a tiny plastic chair, sipping a cold Beer Hanoi and watching the world go by. This place really comes alive at the weekends, the the entire area becomes pedestrianised and there are lots of talented street musicians around to keep you entertained. The beer is dirt cheap and it is super easy to make friends and everyone shares tables, chairs and everything else. A truly unique Vietnamese experience for sure. Top tip: Go early to snap up a chair in one of the more popular spots.
9. Make friends with a Hmong family
Making new friends along the road is always a huge part of my travels, and Vietnam was no different. I was blown away by the level of English many of the young Hmong girls had up in Sapa. Not only could they hold a basic conversation, but they had a lot to say on various topics. From the moment you step off the bus, you will be greeted by these young girls who want to take you hiking. I recommend you befriend them straight away, allow them to put a friendship bracelet around your wrist (this acts as a promise that you will show up the next day) and let them take you on a hike through the mountains. They will introduce you to their Mom, Grandmother, kids, brother, sisters, neighbours. You will learn so much in just a short few hours and you will honestly have a friend for life. Top tip: They LOVE photographs so ask for their address and post them pics when you get home.
10. Get grossed out at a rural food market
Rural markets in Vietnam are not for the faint of heart. You won’t recognise half of what’s for sale, and the huge chunks of raw meat, animal carcasses and bowls of blood are enough to turn anyone’s stomach. While it can be pretty upsetting to see things like dog on display, a long tradition here, is is a very unique thing to to do while in Vietnam and will certainly open your eyes to the way other people live, and eat. Just don’t visit if you’re already feeling queasy! Top tip: Look but don’t eat would be my advice at some of these places
11. Enjoy a glass of the world’s cheapest beer
Vietnam is home to the famous Bia Hoi beer, the cheapest glass of beer in the world. At just 20 cnt a glass, nothing beats the feeling of drinking all night and being presented with a bill of about 2 dollars! The beer is brewed locally every day and then delivered to all the local bars. This means the beer is ridiculously fresh and with just 3% alcohol content, it’s a perfect drink on a hot summers day. Best tasted while sitting on a small plastic chair on street corner, such as Beer Corner in Hanoi but can be found all over the country if you look hard enough.
Top tip: Don’t drink too much of this stuff…the hangovers are killer!
12. Do a Vietnamese cooking class
Vietnamese food is some of the most delicious cuisine in the world so why not try your hand at cooking it yourself. Nearly all the major towns and cities offer full or half day cooking classes, such as ‘Saigon Cooking Class‘ in Ho Chi Minh city to the ‘Hidden Hanoi‘ classes in the country’s capital. From learning how to make traditional fresh spring rolls, to being brought to the market to pick out the right vegetables and herbs, Vietnamese cooking classes are a lot of fun and the best part of all is that you get to indulge in all the dished you have created. Think mouth watering Nem Lui, Hoi An pancakes and fresh Vietnamese Pho….all for you!
Top tip: Try book a morning class so you get to go to the market and help buy the food.
13. Treat yourself to a some daily Pho
Speaking of Pho, you can’t travel around Vietnam without having a bowl in every town and every city. Why? Because the taste, flavour and texture of traditional Pho changes throughout Vietnam. You can have it as clear soup or dark soup, with a lot of vegetables and herbs or very little at all. With beef, with pork, with chicken and sometimes hot enough to make you scream. It really is the darling dish of Vietnam, known the world all over but best tasted on home territory! Enjoy with a cool Hanoi Beer to cool your mouth down after too much chilli sauce.
14. Jump off a boat in Halong Bay
Halong Bay, one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO world heritage site, is best enjoyed from one of the many amazing boats that cruise around its waters. Whether you choose 5 star luxury or a backpackers party cruise, take some time to jump off your boat into the warm waters of the bay. It will give you an entire new perspective of how tall those limestone cliffs are and just how many islands (1000’s…that’s right 1000’s!!) there are in this fascinating world wonder.
Top tip: Ask about safety and rocks before jumping!!
15. Go on a Vespa Adventure in Hoi An
One of my favourite things to do in Hoi An was this half day Vespa Adventure we did through the rural countryside with Buffalo Tours. Sadly both myself and my friend Claire weren’t feeling too well that day, but once we were flying through rice paddies and over bridges, the fresh air had cured us. On out Vespa adventure, we stopped by a Vietnam War Hero with a wooden leg who sang us songs with his guitar and wouldn’t stop smiling. We visited a very local eatery and tried the ladies special homemade shrimp pancakes. We learned to make rice noodles and how they make locally brewed rice wine and stopped off at a beautiful fishing village to take photos. All in one morning! The Vespa’s were super comfy and our guides were full of information about the local area and their way of life.
Top tip: Wear lots of sunscreen – I got very burnt on this day trip!!
16. Overeat on a food tour of Hanoi.
I’m not going to lie, I became so obsessed with Vietnamese food while travelling that I did not one but TWO food tours while in Hanoi and have ZERO REGRETS. While some people don’t want to part with $20 for a 4 hour Hanoi food tour because you know you can get dinner for a dollar at the side of the street, I guarantee it’s worth the money. The guides are bursting with information about life in Vietnam, growing up here, food, cooking, and even just life and travel in general. They take you to cafes and restaurants you would not have dreamed going inside, and introduces you to food that your taste buds will never forget!
Top tip: Don’t eat lunch before an evening tour….you will eat enough to last you days!
17. Kayak through caves in Cat Ba National Park
Most tours to Halong Bay organise a kayaking trip around the islands and through the cave formations. Do your research and MAKE SURE that your Halong Bay tour does this as it’s a real highlight of the trip. On my first visit to Halong Bay things were quite tame and we just spend an hour kayaking slowly around the bay, taking in the beautiful scenery. My second visit involved drinking while kayaking as it was party of a party cruise, so that experience was…slightly wilder. Either way, it’s one of the most unique things to do in Vietnam, an experience you can not have any where else!
Top tip: Don’t forget your waterproof camera. GoPro’s are best!
18. Attend the Ho Chi Minh Opera House
One you have tired yourself out with every adventure activity under the sun (or from North to South), it’s time to reward yourself with a trip to the Opera House. Put on your cleanest clothes and best shoes (no flip flops, please!) and spend a magical evening at the stunning Ho Chi Minh Opera House. Built in 1898, this 48 seater theatre is one of Ho Chi Minh city’s most beautiful buildings, both inside and out. You can find a programme of what’s on their official site here.
19. See Ho Chi Minh from a rooftop bar
Thank you very much for taking a very nice photo of our Sky Pool, @koichi81. We look forward to seeing you again at #Air360skybar #vietnam #saigon #hochiminhcity #rooftopbar #nightlife #dinnertime #diningbythepool A photo posted by Air 360 Sky Lounge (@air360skylounge) on
By the time most visitors reach Ho Chi Minh city, they are tired, dirty and longing for a taste of home. The city has many spectacular rooftop bars, where visitors can sit outside enjoying panoramic views of the skyline and feeling, even just for a few minutes, like their normal citizens again and not just scruffy backpackers. I loved throwing on my favourite dress and heading up to Chill Skybar, even if the purpose was just to take some cool photos!
20. Ride the Hai Van Pass on a motorbike
Made famous in an episode of Top Gear, the Hai Van Pass and coastal road between Hue and Hoi An is one of the most fun rides in Vietnam. Whether you have your own bike or choose to sit on the back of someone else’s (you can hire motorbike drivers called Easy Riders to take you along the route), this 200km stretch of spectacular coastline is a thrilling ride full of hair pin bends, narrow roads and even a change in climate as you pass from North to South.
Top tip: Give yourself a full day, and leave as early as possible in the morning.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Read Tripadvisor reviews here
21. Light a lantern in Hoi An
The prettiest town in Vietnam, Hoi An is so full of colour that it can be difficult to believe it’s all for real. Walking through the pedestrianised streets, which smell of incense and fresh flowers (that grow up the side of the ancient buildings), you get the immediate feeling you are in a very special place. You can buy paper lanterns on the main bridge or anywhere along the river, light them and set them to sail down the river. There are also lots of fun bars and clubs along the riverfront which really come alive after 10pm each evening.
Top tip: Don’t buy from kids, it encourages child labour.
22. Drink some snakes blood shots
My first night in Hanoi I found myself downing some snake blood, snake bile and snake venom shots. Day two in Hanoi I found myself feeling very sick indeed. I’m not sure if it was to do with the snake, or all the alcohol that was consumed afterwards. Either way, this is the kind of experience that is amazing at the time but you *may* regret later. The snake meat spring rolls, however, were simply delicious!
23. Visit the Ho Chi Minh War Remnants Museum
There aren’t too many museums in the world where I have found myself wandering around for hours, silently shedding tears and feeling like an emotional wreck. The Ho Chi Minh War Museum is a haunting place, full of photographs and detailed stories from the Vietnam War. There is so much to learn from a visit here, and I believe it’s one of the most important things to do in Vietnam no matter how little time you may have. It is such a beautiful country today, but we must understand what the country has been through in the past and how their entire country was almost destroyed. Try to give yourself at least a few hours to spend here.
Top tip: Bring some tissues, you will cry. And some water, it’s quite hot in there.
BOOK NOW: Hotels in Ho Chi Minh from $4!
24. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels
You will never fully understand the extent the Viet Cong went to stage secret attacks and remain hidden until you spend a day at the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh city. Additionally, you will never fully understand the meaning of claustrophobia until you lower yourself into these tiny tunnels under the ground, and spend a few minutes in the pitch dark drawing through them. A fascinating complex of tunnels used during the war, a visit here will also educate you on other methods of capture used during the war and will even give yo the chance to shoot weapons such as AK47’s. A pretty eye opening experience.
Top tip: Don’t try to squeeze through if you’re a big guy, they really are….compact.
25. Travel the Mekong Delta in a traditional boat
I messed up my trip to the Mekong Delta. I chose a one day trip from Ho Chi Minh city, which resulted in most of the day spent on a bus. The best way to see this unique part of Vietnam is to do a 3 day tour or to actually stay in a place in the area such as the Mekong Lodge to use as a base for your adventures. Trips through the Mekong Delta usually include travelling on a large ferry to get to the smaller islands and then travelling by smaller dug out canoe to meander through the narrow, overgrown canals, similar to the photo above. Sitting in that boat, as our smiling guide, wearing a traditional cone hat, rows us through the narrow waterways, was one of this moments where I had to sit back and think “WOW, This is Vietnam.”
Top tip: Don’t do the one day tour!!
Search: Best Mekong Delta day trips
26. Taste your first egg coffee
Vietnam is pretty famous for its coffee and you will find coffee shops on every corner of every street. What you might not have known is that there are also a lot of speciality coffees, such as this deliciously frothy egg white coffee which you can purchase in certain cafe sin Hanoi. A real treat after a long day sightseeing! Head to the Giang cafe if you want to try in while in Hanoi.
27. Watch a water puppet show
Water Puppet Show in Hanoi #Vietnam Tag #Legendtravelgroup #waterpuppet #waterpuppetshow #thanglongpuppettheatre #puppet #puppetshow #Hanoi #hanoioldquarter #hanoicity #oldquarter #visithanoi #travelvietnam #Vietnamtravel #travelasia #visitvietnam #southeastasia #asia #asia #travelbird #intrepidtravel #indochinalegend #indochina #vietnamtrip #muaroinuoc A photo posted by Legend Travel Group (@legendtravelgroup) on
Hanoi’s famous water puppets are one of the top things to see and do, according to TripAdvisor. The Thang Long Water Pupper Theatre is really one of a kind, and while a very simple concept, is a truly enjoyable evening. Located in the centre of Hanoi, next to the lake, shows take place every evening at 4pm, 7.20pm, 6.30pm and 8pm. A great way to learn about Vietnamese culture and an excellent outing if you are travelling with kids, or are a bug kid yourself!
28. Eat dinner at the side of the street
Street food in Vietnam…how i miss you so! You will honestly find the best food options on the side of the street, be in freshly made spring rolls, chicken feet grilled on a small BBQ or finding the sugar cane man to but a delicious sugary treat. The trick is to get over your fear and worry about getting sick and just dive straight in. If you’re not sure where to go and what to eat, you can sign up to a street food tour where a young, local guide will introduce you to all the best street vendors, and will take you to places they know are high in quality and taste!
29. Tour Hue’s Imperial City in a carriage
Hue is often overlooked by many, in a rush to get to beautiful Hoi An. Hue’s Imperial City is a great reason to stick around for a few days, as it each step further inside the complex transports you back in time. If you have the budget, paying to tour the city inside a traditional (and elaborately decorated) horse and carriage is a real bucket list treat. Not so long ago this city was the Imperial Capital of Vietnam. Constructed in 1804, the large fortress and palace complex is surrounded by 2.5 kilometre amor and perimeter wall. It’s a wonderful place to explore and photograph, brimming with colour and history. Top tip: Bring lot’s of water as you will be wrecked walking here.
30. Go Quad Biking in Mui Ne
The sand dunes of Mui Ne are hauntingly beautiful, a real contrast to the rolling green hills and rice paddies to be found in the rest of the country. If you show a photo of people cruising over sand dunes on ATV bikes and asked them where to guess where the photo was taken, you can be sure they would never guess Vietnam! A few days in one of Vietnam’s least visited destinations is always a good idea, and if you’re looking for some adventure sign up for a quad biking tour with Mui Ne Explorer. In less than 30 minutes you will transported to a totally foreign landscape, and will create memories you will never forget.
31. Slide into the natural pools at Elephant Springs
Located about 50km South of Hue, and a great place to stop if you are doing the Hue to Hoi An motorbike ride, Elephant Springs is unique on this list as it attracts more locals than tourists. Located half way up a mountain and up a dirt track, it’s the kind of place you would never find unless a local told you exactly where it is. Elephant Springs is essentially a network of natural springs, that flow into a series of pools that are used like swimming pools. Entire families congregate here at weekends, singing, eating and enjoying each others company. You can slide down the rocks into the icy water, or even jump off the rocks if you’re feeling brave. You can rent life jackets here if any one in your group is unable to swim and there are also ladies selling both cooked and prepackaged snack and drinks.
Top tip: If travelling independently, as your hostel how to get here.
32. Have a beach day in Nha Trang
#nhatrang #vietnam #island #lost A photo posted by serdar asik (@serdasik) on
People have a love/hate relationship with Nha Trang, Vietnam’s premier resort town. Very popular with russian tourists on package holidays, the vibe here is very different to other coastal towns and villages in Vietnam. While it might not be the backpacker paradise you dreamed about, or the sleepy beach town, the beach here it very beautiful and it’s a great place to chill out for a few days and to just relax by day and party by night. Have some cash to spare? Why not splurge on a few nights on the stunning Six Senses resort?
33. Escape to paradise on Phu Quoc Island
Vietnã #phuquocisland #vietnam #asia A photo posted by Inspiration 🔝🌴☀ (@beachciaworld) on
Phu Quoc is similar to Mui Ne in that it is not what people imagine when you ask them to picture travelling in Vietnam. Located off the southern tip of this unusually long country, Phu Quoc is a hidden paradise unknown to many and loved to those in on the secret. Think unspoilt beaches lined with palm trees with perfectly positioned hammocks hanging between them, fresh coconut cocktails and sleepy beach bungalows that open right onto the soft sand. Much of the island is still an immense jungle, while the rest is covered in perfect beaches and turquoise water perfect for snorkelling!
34. Visit a traditional fishing village
There fishing villages the entire length of the Vietnamese coastline and they are all as interesting as each other. I visited one just outside of Hoi An and it was interesting to see both men and women at work, catching, sorting and drying the fish. You can also do fishing tours or sunrise photography tours that bring you to small fishing villages as the fishermen see out in their traditional wooden boats at the crack of dawn. Whether you are looking to get involved and actually try your hand at fishing to you just wish to watch the action from a safe distance, a visit to a fishing village is a must on your list of things to do in Vietnam as it’s a first hand look at how a large proportion of the population make a living.
Top tip: Visiting early in the morning or at sunset is best
35. Get some tailored suits made to fit in Hoi An
Hoi An is the number one town in all of South East Asia to get a tailored suit or dress. There are tailor shops lining the streets and their turnaround of 2-3 days is incredible. You can walk in on day of your stay, choose what fabric you prefer and they will measure you up then and there. You will have to stick around for a few days to return for more measurements and to gives the thumbs up to the work being done, but after 3 days you will have a totally unique suit, dress, skirt or even swimsuit made to fit.
Top tip: Give yourself at least 3 full days here if you want to get clothes tailored.
36. Chill by the pool at Sunflower Hotel
Il fait trop chaud pour bouger de là #poolday #posey #sunflowerhotel A photo posted by @margot_le_chat on
The Sunflower Hotel in Hoi An is a bit of a backpacking institution in Vietnam. When people travel from North to South, they don’t take to sites like Hostelworld to decide where to say, they simply listen to what other travellers are saying or, income cases, they already know the ‘in’ place in each town and city. Complete with bar, sun loungers and a swimming pool, this is a great spot to spend a few days if you’re looking to relax, make some friends and party the night away! Top tip: Book in advance, they are almost always fully booked.
37. Abseil down a waterfall in Da Lat
Datanla river canyoning in Vietnam! . . . . . #canyoning #dalat #vietnam #dalatfamilyhostel #datanla #rappel #waterfall A photo posted by Juan Carlos Romero Montero (@junkorm) on
Located high in the mountains, 4900 feet above sea level, Da Lat is famous for its surrounding pine forests and cascading waterfalls. In contrast to the rest of Vietnam, the weather here is always cool and misty with year round spring temperatures. One of the best ways to appreciate this beautiful destination is to visit the various waterfalls and if you’re feeling extra brave ro abseil down one of them. Just make sure you sign up with a licensed guide and tour company such as Dalat Canyoning, as there have been accidents in the past. One of the best ways to see this part of Vietnam is to rent a motorbike and spend a few days exploring.
38. Explore the world’s largest caves in Phong Nha
– 🌏 Phong Nha, Vietnam 📷@Ugly_Spottor – ” Glittery rocks, musical rocks (I’m sure that is not the technical name for both), Rivers, Waterfalls, oh and BATS are few of the many things you get to experience if you take on the Paradise Cave hike. The cave extends to 31kms but it’s not all accessible yet. You can do the 7km hike though which takes you through the cave until you reach the natural light chamber and waterfall #Backpackerstory – 👊🏻 Apply on Facebook.com/backpackerstory for a FEATURE
Phong Nha, a National Park in Vietnam and a UNESCO World Site, situated in Central Vietnam is home to some of the world’s biggest caves. A cave explorers paradise, the area is also home to the oldest karst mountain in Asia which are said to have formed over 400 million years ago. one such cave, Son Doong, is said to be the largest cave in the world and was only re-discovered 7 years ago by a team of explorers. Once you are done exploring the caves, the area is also a great place to go mountain biking, bird watching and hiking. There are lots of great hostels and homestay in the area to rest you weary head after a day exploring, such as the Easy Tiger Hostel, by far the most popular spot with adventurous backpackers. Check out this post my friend wrote about exploring the world’s largest cave!
39. Get a lesson in fashion
The hill tribes of Vietnam are some of the most interesting people you will meet on your trip and their traditional dress alone is enough to make you smile. my friend Donna from Haute Culture Fashion has spent a lot of time with many of these tribes, learning about how they make their clothes and the tradition behind each piece. Read her piece on tribal textiles to learn more, or spend a few days up North with the Hmong, Lu or Red Dao people and find out the answers to all your questions by booking a tour with Ethos Travel.
40. Row across Lak Lake in a dugout canoe
#rowingboat #holak #laklake A photo posted by Willis Pham (@willis.pham) on
While dug out canoes can be found in many of the rural towns and villages in Vietnam, crossing Lak Lake in one of these traditional boats is a truly unique experience. These canoes are a symbol of this lake, and you find them in so many go the photos that document this area both in the past and present. It’s a great way to get back to nature and experience life on the lake as the locals do. The lake itself is located in the Central Highlands and is the largest body of water in this part of Vietnam. Trips cost from about $15 an hour to cross the lake in a canoe and it is totally worth every dollar! Top tip: Please don’t open to take an elephant ride to cross the lake, it’s not kind and it’s not cool
41. Cruise Ha Long Bay on a junk boat
Ha Long Bay, one of the new seven wonders of the world, is best viewed from the deck of a traditional junk boat. Set sail into one of the most beautiful bays in the world, and admire the scenery that looks like it’s from another world. you can do day trips amor overnight trips, where you get to sleep on the boat and wake up to the sun rising above the bay. Legend has it that the bay of dragons (or descending dragon of you directly translate) was formed when dragons were called in to defend the vietnamese from invaders. These dragons dropped giant emeralds into the bay to form an invincible war to stop the invaders. After thousands of years these emeralds grew into the islands that you see today. Or so they say. ;-)
42. Photograph Sapa’s terraced rice fields
Sapa, in the very North of Vietnam and not far from the Chinese border, is famous all over the world for its incredible terraced rice fields. This sea of green is most spectacular during the summer when the rice is being harvested and it’s fascinating to watch the farmers working their way up the seriously steep mountains, harvesting the rice one giant step at a time. This area of Vietnam is a lot cooler than the rest of the country, and is even prone to snow showers in the winter. I stayed in the wonderful Topas Eco Lodge, where I was served breakfast with a the view of my dreams (pictured above). Bring your camera and spend a few days taking photos of this spectacular terrain from every angle possible…it’s actually impossible to take a photo here that you won’t totally love. Top tip: Try not to visit in Winter, The fields are brown and the weather is seriously cold.
43. Spread the love at Hanoi Gay Pride Festival
I was lucky enough to be in the right place and right time on my first visit to Vietnam back in 2014. Participating in the cities first ever Pride Parade was an eye opening experience and I loved every minute of it. In true Hanoi fashion, the parade took place on motorbikes and bicycles, with everyone riding around the city together displaying colourful rainbow flags, t-shirts and signs with positive captions. Stuart Milk, the global LGBT rights activist and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, was also there to help with proceedings which was a real treat. The parade was very different to other I have attended around the world, and it is still in its early stages. If you happened to be in Vietnam over the summer, try fit this into your schedule and help make history.
44. Hike up the Marble Mountain in Danang
Marble mountain just outside Danang city is one of the main stops on the Hue to Hoi An bike ride. you can opt to either hike up to the top (it literally only takes about 15 to 20 minutes) or you can pay to take this great big glass elevator up to the top which I must say is one of the most random things I’ve come across in Vietnam! At the top there is a beautiful Pagoda and a temple, with incredible views of the surrounding area, out as far as the beach. You can then spend another hour exploring the cave and hiking back down the mountain. A great place to stop for an hour or two, and there’s also some beautiful marble souvenirs to be bought.
45. Explore the My Son temple complex
Mornin’ glory #morningStretches #mySonRuins #chamEmpire A photo posted by Caitlin Curtsinger (@caitlinjocurtsey) on
Built between the 4th and 13th century, the My Son Sanctuary in Central Vietnam is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the top sites to visit in Vietnam. These ruins are the most important buildings of the My Son civilisation and are also a remarkable architectural achievement, that dates over 10 centuries. Spending a full day here is like taking a step back in history as you learn how early civilisations lived, how they prayed, how they died. A unique historical and cultural site that has to be seen with your own eyes. You can either stay nearby or visit on a day trip from Hoi An.
46. Be a Vietnamese farmer for the day
This one is a little random but fun all the same. Many rural Vietnamese towns offer visitors the chance to try their hand at woking as a farmer for the day. You will be an apprentice to a local farmer, and will learn how to plant rice, how to fertilise the fields, ride or steer a buffalo and many other essential farming skills. You can do either a full day or half day (it’s hard work, believe me!!) and it’s a great chance to interact with locals on a deeper level and to understand how hard their work really is. One thing is for sure, it will make you appreciate that bowl of rice you eat for dinner a lot more when you see how difficult it is to grow and harvest!
47. Take an outdoor shower in the mountains
This was one of the highlights of my time in Sapa. There was an outdoor shower right up in the mountains allowing me to wash off all the first and sweat from hiking while enjoying one of my favourite views in the world. I’m not sure how many eco lodges there are with this type of faculty but if you find one, make sure to make the most it as it’s a real once-in-a-lifetime feeling taking a shower while gazing down at the terraced rice fields as clouds move in across the mountains and valley below.
48. Take a photography tour of Hanoi
As previously mentioned, Hanoi is one of the most vibrant, colourful and energetic cities on earth. One of the best ways to fully appreciate the beauty of this city, to find the most unique buildings and secret streets, is to take a photography tour of the city. There are many to choose from, but I think a sunrise tour is best as you get to see the city in a new light plus the golden hours are best for photography. Vietnam In Focus offers a range of photography tours, including a Hanoi By Night which includes stops at the main markets, the lake and includes dinner and drinks! Top tip: Ask before you take…people are people, not photography subjects for your portfolio.
49. Spend 17 hours on an overnight train
If you don’t plan on buying a bike and riding it the length of Vietnam, then travelling by train is by far the next best way to see the country. There is a daily train that runs the entire distance from Hanoi to Hoi An, but you would be crazy to do that trip in one go. The longest journey you take will probably be between Hanoi and Hoi An, unless you have plans to see places in between. This 17 hour overnight ride is a lot of fun, especially as you can open the windows on the train to take photos as you whizz past busy road crossings, quiet coastal villages and towns you’ve never heard of. The beds in first and second class aren’t bad at all and come with free bottles of water, a blanket and even charging sockets for your electronics. Top tip: Try book early and get a bottom bunk bed!
50. Step back in history at the DMZ
Schuilen tijdens de Vietnamoorlog #Vietnam #Vietnamwar #VinhMoc A photo posted by Ruben Meijer (@meijersenior) on
Like mentioned previously, when travelling in Vietnam is is so important to understand what happened in the past and the atrocities that took place to these beautiful people before you can understand modern day Vietnam. Visiting the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that once divided North and South Vietnam will open your eyes to how difficult life must have been for people living on both sides of the border at the time and what a tragic past this once broken country suffered. A visit here will allow you to walk through the Vinh Moc tunnels used to shelter people from the constant bombings. The tunnels were also used by villagers to move their village 30 meters underground, deep enough to avoid the bombs being blasted by the American soldiers. They were a huge success and no villagers lost their lives in these amazing tunnels.