Are you looking for the best experiences in Vietnam? From sailing around Halong Bay to exploring Sapa, this is what to do in Vietnam!
I first went to Vietnam in 2009, then again in 2012, so it’s been a fair few years since I’ve been. But I’ve just come back from 3 incredible weeks travelling around Vietnam and I’ve completely fallen in love with the country all over again.
From lazing on beautiful beaches in Phu Quoc, to doing cooking classes in Hoi An, to sailing around the simply stunning islands of Halong Bay, there is so much to see and do here. And the food people, the food!
Vietnamese food is infamous for being sweet, sour, salty and spicy all at once. Pho, their national dish, encapsulates that perfectly. Well, I can assure you the food tastes a 100 times better here.
Vietnam is such an incredible place to travel, and now seems like the perfect time to do it. Even though it’s popular (particularly places like Hoi An and Halong Bay), it definitely doesn’t feel oversaturated with tourists yet. It’s also very cheap, especially compared to neighbouring Thailand.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and you’re looking for a little inspiration, this is the blog post for you. These are the best must-have experiences in Vietnam. Tick off a few of these on your next holiday and you’re in for an incredible time.
If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, then check out my Vietnam travel checklist before you go. This is packed full of useful advice on what to take, etc.
Best Experiences in Vietnam
3 day cruise in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is the poster boy of Vietnam. It’s the photo you see over and over again when researching what to do here. Why? Because it is absolutely stunning.
Honestly, it really is. I know a lot of people think Halong Bays not worth visiting anymore, or that it’s too crowded, but you can still visit and have the place to yourself.
I recently spent 3 days in Halong Bay, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. One of the real benefits of doing the 3 day cruise is you go so much deeper into Halong Bay. Because of that, you leave all the other boats behind you. We genuinely had some sites all to ourselves, not another soul around. How special is that?
If you want to learn more, then I’ve got loads of advice and information in my guide to Halong Bay. This should really help plan your trip here.
A cooking class in Hoi Ai
As I’ve already mentioned, the food in Vietnam is next level. It’s quickly becoming one of my favourite cuisines, and there are so many different dishes to try. It’s not just pho and banh mis – you’ve got to have bun cha, cao lau and the spicy green mango salad.
If you want to learn more about Vietnamese food culture, then I’d really recommend a cooking class in Hoi An. This is the best place in the country to do a cooking class as there are so many different ones to choose from.
On our class we learned to cook green mango salad, crispy pork and prawn spring rolls, authentic bánh xèo (the ever-popular Vietnamese pancakes), and a very unctuous pho with beef and bean sprouts.
I know this is going to sound like hyperbole, but it was one of the best meals we had in Vietnam.
Relax on the beautiful beaches of Phu Quoc
When I’d been to Vietnam previously, I was never that impressed with the beaches. Everyone says the beaches of Da Nang and Nha Trang are gorgeous, but they were always average to me. Nice, but nothing compared to the beaches of Thailand. That was until I went to Phu Quoc that is.
Located just off the south of Vietnam and close to Cambodia, Phu Quoc is a paradise island with palm fringed beaches and perfectly still waters. One of my favourite experiences in Vietnam was having a cocktail on the beach while watching the sunset. All the holiday vibes, but just so beautiful. This place definitely changed my mind about Vietnamese beaches.
Search for the best bowl of pho
If I had to pick only one dish to eat forever in Vietnam, it would be pho. It’s their national dish for a reason – because it is soooo good.
Pho is beef noodle soup with a lot of fresh ingredients like bean sprouts, chilli, lime and mint. Then you’ve got the regional specialities. In south Vietnam, pho has shiso leaves adding an aniseedy taste to it. In north Vietnam, it’s stripped back and is more about the broth.
No matter where you go in Vietnam, no two bowls of pho are the same. That’s why it’s fun searching for the best bowl. And if you find it, then please let me know about it!
Go on a coconut boat tour
If you haven’t seen photos or videos of the coconut boat tour before, then you’re in for a treat. Basically, it’s a bit like a crazy Disney ride on water.
You start off by floating lazily down a river in a circular basket boat called a coracle. Then, things start to ramp up. On the tour you watch people getting spun around like a Spinning Top, you get to join in Vietnamese karaoke in a boat, you get to watch the locals go fishing.
It’s quite hard to describe everything you do, but this really is such an amazing experience in Vietnam. If you’re interested in learning more about this one, then check out my guide to the basket boat tour in Hoi An.
Explore the Marble Mountains
Very close to the beaches of Da Nang you’ll find the Marble Mountains. These are a cluster of karst limestone mountains (think more like very large hills) jutting out the ground like dragon’s teeth. Compared with the flat landscape surrounding them, the Marble Mountains are very different and dramatic.
One of the best things to do at the Marble Mountains is to pay your respects at the pagodas and temples on the mountain. One of my favourite spots was the temple that was at the bottom of a cave with sunlight streaming in – it was such a peaceful spot.
Also, make sure you climb up to the highest point for some of the best views of the Marble Mountains.
Get clothes tailored in Hoi An
Let’s go shopping! I’ve been here 3 times, had 3 different suits made from 3 different shops, and I still wear each one.
If you didn’t know, Hoi An is one of the clothes shopping Meccas of the world. This is because it is so cheap getting good quality clothes tailor made.
On my most recent trip here, I had a very snazzy summer linen suit made for just $120. I also got 4 different shirts made up, because where else can you get a custom design shirt made to fit perfectly for $15?
Not only is it cheap, but it’s a lot of fun choosing the style, the material, and getting everything sized up. It’s a bit like a budget Vietnamese version of Saville Row in London.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Hoi An, then check out my review of the Emm Hotel Hoi An. We really loved staying here for our trip!
Learn all about the history of Hue
Hue often gets looked over, but it is one of my favourite places in Vietnam. It is packed with a rich history, a vibrant culture and stunning architecture. As the ancient imperial capital, it boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Imperial City and royal tombs, offering glimpses into Vietnam’s regal past.
The best thing to do here is walk around the old Imperial City and then get lost among all the statues and temples at the royal tombs. The views of the surrounding countryside from the top of the tombs are pretty special too. It’s a lovely place to be buried that’s for sure!
As the tombs are a little out of the city of Hue, I’d recommend taking a tour so you’ve got someone to show you around and give you the history.
Discover egg coffee (and all the other different types of coffee!)
I’m not happy until I’ve had my daily coffee. Thankfully, I was very happy in Vietnam as they are obsessed with coffee as much I am. And I’m not just talking about flat whites and lattes here – I’m talking about egg coffee.
Egg coffee is the latest trend that’s in every café, and I’m here for it. Basically, egg coffee is whipped up egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk with coffee. It’s almost like a thick custard with your coffee. It is super sweet, super rich, super creamy and downright delicious. There are probably about 1,000 calories per cup, but it’s tastes so good.
Jumping on the trend, a lot of cafes are offering other types of coffee too. On my most recent trip I tried coconut coffee (now my fave), avocado coffee (quite nice, very creamy) and pineapple coffee (sweet, as weird as it sounds). It’s really good fun trying out all the different types of coffee!
Hike up in the hills of Sapa
Sapa is one of those places that everyone falls in love with when they visit. As a former French Hill Station, it is surrounded by mountains so stunning that French colonisers called them the “Tonkinese Alps”. Because of that, this place is a hiker’s paradise.
You can trek through lush valleys stopping off at tiny villages and get to know the local community. One thing I’d really recommend people do is stay with a family in a homestay. It’s one of the most authentic experiences in Vietnam, and it really gives you a taste for local life.
Learn about the history of the Vietnam War
I know it’s very heavy, but I think it’s really important learning about the history of the Vietnam War. Or the American War as the Vietnamese rightly call it.
It was the first war that really gripped the global media, with more photos and videos of battlefront action than had ever been seen before. You can see a lot of these at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a fascinating display which really delves into the history of the war. It’s a harrowing Vietnamese experience, but one that I think is really important to understand the country better.
Cycle through rice paddy fields
Did you know that Vietnam is the third largest exporter of rice in the world? Fun little fact for you. But rice is a big part of life here, and you can see it growing all over the country.
Two of the best places to get among the rice terraces are just outside Hoi An or up in Sapa. I’ve done a cycle tour outside Hoi An before and it was amazing seeing the countryside. We just cycled from village to village and really got in amongst local life. It was such a fun day exploring in Vietnam!
Try street food in Hanoi
When it came to our last night in Vietnam, we were in Hanoi. We really wanted our final meal to be perfect, everything that we loved about Vietnamese cuisine. Big shoes to fill basically.
With all the pressure, it was a hard meal to live up to. We walked in one restaurant, took a look at the menu, then walk out again. We just didn’t want a dud final meal.
Then, as we were walking to another restaurant, we walked past a tiny street food stand that was packed with people. Everyone was sitting around tiny tables, all cooking what was basically slices of meat and vegetables on a roaring burner in the middle of the table. It was such an amazing Vietnamese experience, and everyone was having such a good time. Sometimes the best experiences are getting out of the restaurants and onto the streets.
So there you go, some very unique things to do in Vietnam. If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, feel free to ask me any questions below and I’ll get back to you.
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