1. Ho Chi Minh City
The best part of Vietnam to visit as a backpacker has to be Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly called Saigon, the city attracts thousands of tourists each week. Vietnam’s economic hub is located in the southern part of the country and is a sprawling metropolis. The best place to stay is in District 1, which houses a large number of the city’s attractions. If you want to experience the most interesting places in Ho Chi Minh City, check out the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and take a day trip to the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels. Just a word of warning: Saigon is a chaotic city where motorbikes are king and will ride anywhere there is space from on the pavements to towards oncoming traffic. It might not be the best place for families.
Hanoi is probably the best city to visit in Vietnam for anyone with interest in the Vietnam-American War. The capital city in the north has a number of socialist-style relics and gives off a completely different feel to its southern neighbour. Visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and spending an hour or two inside the Museum of the Revolution often rate among the top places to visit in Hanoi. If you do want to backpack in the capital, be aware that the city experiences four distinct seasons. Summer temperatures between June and August can exceed 40°C whereas it’s not uncommon to dip below 5°C in January and February. Backpackers often use Hanoi as a hub for exploring Sa Pa and Ha Long Bay.
3. Mui Ne
Located in southern Vietnam, Mui Ne is one of the top travel destinations for backpackers looking to spend a few days relaxing on the beach. Several hotels and resorts line the relatively clean stretch of coastline. The main road that passes through the resort town has lots of restaurants serving up everything from Vietnamese and Western food to Indian and Russian dishes. Expect to find plenty of places to drink from the traditional plastic seat and tables Vietnamese bars to American-style with live music. Favourite activities include spending time on the beach, windsurfing and renting a motorbike to explore the surrounding area. Mui Ne is also a popular beach resort for Russian holidaymakers.
4. Nha Trang
Nha Trang ranks as one of the top spots in Vietnam for beaches. Located toward the southern end of Central Vietnam, the bustling city extends right onto the long white-sand beach. Both domestic and international tourists often bring their children to enjoy the city. Unlike other beaches in Vietnam, Nha Trang provides visitors with the convenience of a big city with the pristine beauty of a clean beach. Walk inside the maze of blocks, and you’ll find every type of cuisines you could imagine including traditional Vietnamese, buffet-style to western dishes. There are several pubs and bars around the seafront too. The beach, on the other hand, provides loungers for a small fee and shelter from the hot sun under an umbrella. If you want to give your kids a different experience, catch the ferry to one of the nearby islands.
5. Hoi An
An expat’s favourite and one of the wonders of Vietnam: Hoi An. More than a million tourists visit Hoi An each year from local families to international tourists looking for a comfortable place to spend a day or two. The central old town has changed little in the last two hundred years giving it a certain charm compared to the rest of chaotic Vietnam. Head to the coast and be rewarded with clean beaches lined with coconut trees and opportunities to go diving in the nearby Cham Islands.
The food here is also some of the most affordable in Vietnam and tourists can join a cooking class to learn the secrets to bring back home. Not only is Hoi An a laid-back destination filled with history, but just a short distance away will also bring you to the endless fields of rice paddies. Bringing your family here combines cultural experiences with relaxation and is a must for any family travelling through Vietnam.
6. Da Nang
Da Nang is the main city in Central Vietnam. Combining a variety of traditional pagodas with French colonial buildings and a modern city centre, Da Nang makes one of Vietnam’s best holiday destinations. Cao Dai Temple is the city’s most famous temple and a must for families wanting to teach their children about cultural differences. If you want to spend a day relaxing near the sea, both Num Noc and My Khe Beach are worth visiting. Locals, tourists and expats fall in love with Da Nang for the attractive and cultural experience without the chaos of the other major cities. If you want to bring your family, it might be better to fly into either Ho Chi Minh City or Ha Noi and before taking a domestic flight directly to Da Nang in Central Vietnam.
7. Mount Fansipan
In the north of Vietnam in Lao Cai Province lies Indochina’s tallest peak. At a whopping 3134 metres (10282 feet), the mountain demands the very best from climbers. Expect steep climbs and almost suicidal passes around the mountain as you transverse the terrain. If you decide to take the challenge, the trek passes through some of the most remote parts of Vietnam offering incredible scenery few get to experience. But the catch is that it takes three days to reach the summit. If this is something that interests you, check out some of the Vietnam tourism packages and book a place for this epic adventure.
8. Da Lat
Da Lat is a town nestled in the central highlands a few hundred kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City. Most tourists often come here as it's considered to be one of the most relaxing places in Vietnam. But those looking to get the adrenaline pumping will find an outdoor playground in the surrounding mountains. A range of activities from hiking, abseiling, canyoning and white water rafting are a few favourites.
9. Motorbike Trip
Thrill seekers with a sense of adventure can have the ultimate experience in Vietnam. An increasingly popular way to explore the country is on the back of a motorbike. Foreigners can buy a motorcycle in either the North or South Vietnam for a few hundred dollars and ride from one end of the country to the other. If you get a three-month tourist visa, there’s more than enough time to drive from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (or vice versa). Not only will you have the freedom of exploring on your own terms but you’ll also pass through spectacular landscapes in the country. If you have your own transport, it’s easy to visit the must-see spots throughout Vietnam as you progress with your journey.
However, this should only be attempted by the real adrenaline junkies. When you arrive in Vietnam, you’ll notice the chaotic manner in which people drive and the lack of respect for road laws. Outside of the cities, the driving gets worse. Buses and trucks regularly go on the wrong side of the road often coming within inches of smashing into a motorbike. Fatal road accidents happen on a daily basis. But if you have the determination and adventurous spirit to try it, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best experiences in Vietnam.
10. Mekong Delta
Look in the guidebook’s list of tourist places in Vietnam and the Mekong Delta consistently features. The colossal river passing through Indochina has provided a lifeline for fisherman and communities for centuries if not millennia. Reaching the river from Ho Chi Minh City is possible on a day trip. Regular tours depart from the city taking tourists south to experience the wonders of the Mekong. Expect to see a maze of tributaries branching through mangroves, floating markets and the famous Boat Women.
11. Sa Pa
In the far north of Vietnam sits one of the country’s most beautiful spots: Sa Pa. Situated near the border with China in the mountains, Vietnamese tourists have retreated here for decades for the fresh air and mountain landscapes. Sa Pa boasts a variety of activities from hiking along mountain trails to visiting remote villages. Travelling to Sa Pa is challenging and involves first reaching Hanoi before relying on a long journey on the train or bus.
12. Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc, in the Gulf of Thailand off the southern coast of Cambodia, is a haven for nature lovers. Long stretches of coastline surround the island’s core of dense jungle and rainforests. Visitors can relax on the beaches and snorkel in the warm clear waters and hike along mountain trails. If you want to visit, domestic flights depart regularly from Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. After arriving, it’s best to rent a motorbike to explore the island on your own terms.
Vietnam has a lot to offer for tourists ranging from relaxing on the beaches to white-water rafting. Almost everyone will find something to suit their interests in one of these top tourist destinations in Vietnam.