Sights in Vietnam can be divided into three major kinds: historical sights, cultural sights and scenic sights.
Throughout its rich 2700 year long history, Vietnam seems to be always on the struggle. Most of Vietnam’s history up to the 19th century is a constantly struggle against China’s dominating influence culturally, politically and militarily while still flourishing culturally and economically. Becoming a French colonization in the late 19th century, the Vietnamese thought they would see independence after the famous Dien Bien Phu battle in 1954. However, war continued until 1975. This war, known internationally as the “Vietnam war” and locally as the “war with the US” involved the Soviet Union and Republic of China supporting the North; and the USA supporting the South.
Though subdued to heavy bombing and warfare, numerous sights witnessing Vietnam’s rises and falls still stand until today throughout the country. They can be found in any city and most are open to tourists. To name a few famous sights, from North to South:
Dien Bien Phu: A quiet valley in North West Vietnam. Here, reminiscents of the famous battlefield that witnessed the 57 day siege leading to France’s defeat still remains.
- Cổ Loa citadel: This 18km long spiral shaped fortress was built around 250 BCE and is connected to many legends about a Vietnamese princess blinded by love and loosing her kingdom to a Chinese prince. Co Loa festival is held annually on the 6th of the first month according to lunar calendar.
- Hoa Lo prison: built in 1904 by the French, this prison was used by the French to hold Vietnamese revolutionists; and later was also used by the Vietnamese to hold captured American pilots.
- Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and Ba Dinh square: where Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s renowned leader used to live, work and made many famous speeches. Uncle Ho’s body is today still kept here.
The DMZ (demilitarized zone) trace its root back to the Vietnam war, when the S-shaped country was divided into two part by Ben Hai river. A one day trip to visit Vinh Moc tunnel, Truong Son cemetary and such historical places is accessible and worth your time. Tours can be arranged on site or in Hue.
This beautiful city on the two sides of the Huong River is the country’s last ancient feudal capital. Relatively young, many of its ancient looks and architectures are still preserved. Hue’s forbidden walls, palaces and royal tombs are a must see and have been certified as a World Culture Heritage by UNESCO.
Once Vietnam’s important international seaport and trading center. Hoi An with its ancient architecture and lifestyles that seems unchanged since the 17th century deserves its position as a World Culture Heritage.
Cu Chi tunnels
A network of connected underground tunnels, hand dug and used as a hiding and living spot for militaries and civilians during the Second Indochine war.
Vietnam has many different religions and ethnic minorities.
Throughout its history, Buddhism was and still is the most popular religion; nearly every village throughout the nation has its own temple or pagoda, varying in size and architecture. Some nation-famous pagodas have sophisticated architecture and decorations and receive millions of visitors each year, to name a few: Chùa Một Cột (One pillar pagoda- Hanoi), Chua Hương (Perfume Pagoda- Ha Tay), Chùa Thiên Mụ (Hue).
Roman Catholism first entered Vietnam during the 16th century. Many churches have been built in Vietnam, such as the 110 year old Phat Diem church in Ninh Binh. This Catholic Church, made from stone and wood, resembles a Vietnamese pagoda yet has distinct elements of a typical Catholic church, harmoniously combining Eastern and Western architecture.
Cao Dai is a religion unique to Vietnam, worshipping both God and Buddha and having three saints: Victor Hugo, Sun Yat Sen and Nguyen Binh Khiem. Cao Dai has aspects that borrow from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Catholic. God is symbolized by the Divine Eye. Temples can be found in many cities, but Cao Dai’s Holy See (the first temple), built between 1933 and 1955 near Tay Ninh province has unique architecture and designs. Make sure you spend some time on this site when you cross border from Cambodia to Vietnam, or while you are in Saigon.
These sights are not only famous tourist attractions but until now are still where local Vietnamese practice there beliefs. Tourists visiting religious sites should pay respect to these beliefs. Many places have a strict dress code (no sandals, shorts, skirts, hats…) and prohibit taking pictures inside. It would make an interesting experience to listen to the monks’ stories and lectures.
Visiting the people
One cannot claim to have known a culture until one has understood and seen the lifestyles of the people. It is always a joy to stroll around the bustling crowded city streets, watching farmers grow rice in the fields, buying fruit from street venders and eating the meals cooked by the people!
Vietnamese people are generally friendly and would not mind a foreign tourist wandering harmlessly through their towns and might even try starting a conversation! Homestay tours are now also quite popular, allowing tourists to live and eat with local Vietnamese around the country. Sapa, Mai Chau,… are the best places for a homestay.
Vietnamese is an ethnically diverse country. Besides the majority Ethnic group, the Viet (or Kinh) there are 53 other ethnic minorities, each with different languages, clothing, and customs. These ethnic groups are scattered around the country (mostly in mountainous areas) and visiting there home towns is also a novel adventure!
Before taking picture or entering any house, make sure you get their permission. Try to respect the local lifestyle and you will understand them more.
Vietnam has a diverse landscape and climate with beautiful scenery.
Sapa in the far North and Dalat down South both offer splendidly cool climate. With small wooden cottages, misty mountain tops, romantic pine forests- these mountainous regions are a wonderful hide-out from Vietnam’s normal hot and sticky weather!
Vietnam’s coast line hosts various beautiful beaches: such as Cat Ba, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Mui Ne- Phan Thiet. The sun is strong and waters are warm. Tourism in Vietnam is still not as developed as in neighboring countries such as Thailand, thus luxurious water sports such as scuba diving might be hard to find in some places, but beaches here are still mostly unspoilt and naturally beautiful. Beaches in Vietnam tend to be crowded in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is weak. Ha Long bay, with thousands of small limestone mountains are also a must see.
The Mekong Delta far South offers a different kind of adventure: with vast land, tropical forests and criss-crossing water ways.
In recent years, many hotel resorts and spas have been invested in Vietnam. Visitors can lay back enjoy the excellent scenery, food and service without any worries.
Traveling North to South has become an increasingly popular tour throughout the years. Many tour agencies offer tours that include transportation, meal, guides… a full package to anywhere you want to see in Vietnam. Smaller day tours are also popular around the country and can be purchases nearly everywhere through agencies, cafes and hotels. For the more adventurous tourists, trekking is of course never out of fashion. Traveling between provinces can be done by train or tour bus, allowing tourists to admire the tranquil countryside view out the windows.
Bicycles and motorbikes can be rented throughout the country and are also a popular means of transportation.