With its dizzying metropolises, blissful islands and immense national parks (not to mention a legendary cuisine!), Vietnam tops many travelers’ bucket lists.
The highlights of the country are innumerable, but there are some spots that simply can’t be skipped.
Here’s our list of the top places to visit in Vietnam.
1. Halong Bay
Halong Bay’s stunning combination of karst limestone peaks and sheltered, shimmering seas is one of Vietnam’s top tourist draws. But with more than 2000 islands, there’s plenty of superb scenery to go around.
Definitely book an overnight cruise and make time for your own special moments on this World Heritage wonder – rise early for an ethereal misty dawn, or pilot a kayak into grottoes and lagoons.
Prefer your karst landscapes a little less crowded? Try the less touristy but equally spectacular Lan Ha Bay, located a little way to the south, or Bai Tu Long, to the north.
2. Nha Trang
The high-rise, high-energy beach resort of Nha Trang enjoys a stunning setting: it's ringed by a necklace of hills, with a turquoise bay dotted with tropical islands.
A sweeping crescent beach of white sand defines the shoreline, backed by an impressive promenade dotted with parks and sculpture gardens. Inland there's a cosmopolitan array of boutiques and dining options, but as restaurant service winds down for the evening, nightlife cranks up – central Nha Trang is a party town at heart.
Looking for a more tranquil vibe? The city also makes for a great launching pad for a beach crawl up the coast to the city of Quy Nhon, with stops at Doc Let, Bai Bau and Bai Xep.
3. Ho Chi Minh City
Increasingly international but still unmistakable Vietnamese, former Saigon has visceral energy that will delight big-city devotees.
HCMC doesn’t inspire neutrality: you’ll either be drawn into its thrilling vortex and hypnotized by the perpetual whir of its orbiting motorbikes, or you’ll find the whole experience overwhelming (and some visitors seem to be perpetually seesawing between the two).
Dive in and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of history (the War Remnants Museum is an essential stop), delicious food and a vibrant nightlife that ranges from beers on street corners to swanky cocktail lounges. The heat is always on in Saigon; loosen your collar and enjoy.
4. Phú Quốc
Lapped by azure waters and edged with the kind of white-sand beaches that make sun-seekers sink to their weak knees, Phú Quốc – way down in the south of Vietnam – is ideal for slipping into low gear, reaching for a seaside cocktail and toasting a copper sun as it dips into the sea.
And if you want to notch it up a tad, grab a bike and hit the red-dirt roads: the island is relatively compact, and offers areas of natural, unblemished jungle alongside some newer, less-serene additions (a Vietnamese version of Disneyland and the world's longest over-sea cable car as two examples).
Vietnam’s capital is a city with one foot buried in a fascinating past, while the other strides confidently toward tomorrow.
Sample Hanoi’s heady mix of history and ambition by wandering the streets of the Old Quarter, sipping an egg coffee (coffee prepared with egg yolks) or slurping on a hearty bowl of bun rieu cua (a sour crab noodle soup) while watching businessmen eat noodle breakfasts or play chess with goateed grandfathers.
When you’re done, check out the crumbling decadence of the French Quarter then zip up the cosmopolitan Tay Ho for fine dining options and the lowdown on Hanoi’s growing art scene.