Vietnam is one of those amazing countries that never disappoint. It was easily one of my favourite places I’ve been. The history, lush greenery, friendly people, lazy beaches, delicious food, stunning landscapes, affordable price…. Ah! There is so much to love about this stunning south-east Asian country.
Not knowing what to expect from the country was likely a big part of the reason I loved it. You will need to set aside at least 2 weeks to travel through this country. As a Canadian, you will need to get a visa on arrival which will allow you a 1 month’s stay in the country. I stayed the whole month and could have easily stayed longer.
Vietnam is a long and skinny country which makes it an easy spot for traveling. Most of the significant sites are situated along the country’s coastline making this a very scenic country to travel to. For traveling purposes, you will want to note that there is a significant city in the north: Hanoi, and another in the south: Ho Chi Minh City. We highly recommend utilizing both cities for their international airports and booking a flight into one city and out of the other. This will allow you to travel through the entire country and efficiently hit all the major spots on your travels. For the purposes of this post, I list the cities in order from south to north.
The weather is HOT so packing light is easy. Lots of bathing suits, sunscreen, and comfortable walking shoes are a great start. Tourists will enjoy that English is widely spoken here so you will have no trouble communicating. As with most other countries in the area, costs are incredibly affordable here.
When traveling from city to city, I highly recommend taking overnight buses that will get you from city to city. These are comfortable as they have a full bed that allows you to fall asleep and wake up in a new city. They are affordable and easy to book making them perfect for almost every traveller.
Without further ado, the best cities in Vietnam to travel to:
1. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
As the largest city in the country, it has two different names that are both frequently used throughout the country. Ho Chi Minh City is the official name of the city while Saigon was the name pre-1975. Ho Chi Minh was a leader in the north of the country. Following the north’s success in the civil war in 1975, the north flexed its power over the south, forcibly changing the name from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is a history buff’s dream. If you aren’t familiar, Vietnam has had a very turbulent history with a long presence of war up until 1975 with lingering effects of the war still seen throughout the country. With the war being largely between the north and south of the country, there were a few notable outside players such as France and the USA.
The city is full of museums that will give you insight into the history of the country. A great one worth visiting is the War Remnants Museum. This will give you a good overview of the history of the country and equip you with a better appreciation of what to expect from your trip.
In Ho Chi Minh City, be sure to take a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. This is an incredible way to take in history as you get to literally immerse yourself in it. The tunnels that the Vietnamese people carved out during wartime to hide through are still accessible today. Some of these tunnels have even been expanded making them “American sized” and allowing tourists to crawl through them. If that’s not enough, you can fire off an M30 gun to get the full magnitude of the battles throughout the war.
If you are going to visit any of the historical monuments in the south, I recommend prioritizing a visit to museums in Hanoi, as well. The differences seen in the way the history is represented from north to south is very interesting and show a very real change in perspective. A civil upset between the north and the south, while not being actively fought, is still felt throughout the country.
If history isn’t your thing, the city still offers so much to do. You can’t go here without enjoying some local cuisine. Pho, iced coffee and salad rolls are all must-tries when visiting. The food in the city is all amazing, in fact, I even had the best sushi of my life in this city!
There are many large markets and street shopping to be done in this walkable city. With a largely Buddhist population, you will find pagodas and temples throughout the city that are well worth a visit.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
Mia Saigon Boutique Hotel is the place to go if you’re looking for luxury. The staff is so friendly and makes this beautiful hotel that much more appealing. The massive pool will make you forget you’re in the city. If you’d rather have luxury in more of a traditional Vietnamese style, The Reverie Saigon is a great hotel. The decor here is stunning, the staff is friendly, and the food on site is unbeatable.
If you’re looking for a stunningly quirky urban mid-range hotel, Fusion Original Saigon Centre is a must-see. The location of this hotel is perfect and its rooftop pool will give you insane city views.
If sticking to a budget is important to you, Sunrise City Central By Dhome is a great hotel. The rooms are clean and bright and there’s even a rooftop pool. If you don’t need a pool and are looking for a beautiful place on an even tighter budget, the Woody House Saigon is one of the best budget hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.
2. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is located a few hours south of Ho Chi Minh City making it seem very out of the way. While this might detour you, it really is worth the visit.
If you are looking for a simple trip, there are lots of tours you can book leaving from Ho Chi Minh City that may be for you. If you’re looking for more adventure, you can take a bus or plane here to take in the beautiful sights.
You can expect large lush agricultural lands and a fairly dense population in this area. Rivers, swamps, and islands dot the area which is all easily accessible by boat. In fact, boats are actually the primary means of transportation in this area.
The soil is so nutrient-rich that you will find rice paddies, vast orchards, tall coconut palms, and sugar cane growing everywhere in this area. The Mekong Delta is full of life and is one stop you will not want to miss.
If you’re staying in Ho Chi Minh City and are looking for a day tour, this full day tour on the Upper Mekong River is a great trip to book. The 10 hour tour costs $35.10 CAD ($25 USD) and includes round trip transportation from Ho Chi Minh City.
Where to stay in the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Lodge Resort is a beautiful mid-range hotel for those looking for a luxurious jungle inspired experience. The resort has so much greenery, the rooms are amazing, and the pool is clean and beautiful.
The Ben Tre Riverside Resort is an excellent budget friendly hotel option. The rooms are clean and bright and the views from the large pool area are unbeatable.
3. Mũi Né
Sticking to the south-north route plan, Mũi Né (pronounced moo-ee-nay) is a coastal city located 4 hours northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. If you’re looking for a lazy beach vibe, this is the city for you. A top vacation spot in the area, the stunning white sandy beaches of this gorgeous seaside vacation town are sure to impress. Not really a city as much as a picturesque beach town, this is one area where you can happily sit on the beach with a good book and some tasty iced coffee.
If you prefer to be in the water than looking at it, this is a great spot to try your hand at sailing or windsurfing. The windy coastline brings in some great waves which make this a dream spot for many water sports enthusiasts.
For adventurers, there are two sand dunes in the area that are both worth a visit. The red dunes are the closest to town while the white sand dunes are much larger in size and therefore much more popular amongst tourists. Both make for an incredible day trip.
Get here early and enjoy the serenity of the sunrise glistening on the sand. Throughout the rest of the day, the peacefulness of the dunes is disturbed by a mass of tourists and loud quads so coming first thing in the morning will give you a good alternative look.
Renting a quad to explore these dunes is a great way to explore and will save you a ton of energy. The dunes may look small as you don’t have a lot of references but the hills are high and the sand is hot.
Where to stay in Mũi Né
If you are looking for luxury, there are two great hotels I highly recommend in the area.
- The first is the Anantara Mui Ne Resort which is an absolutely stunning boho style hotel with a jungle meets beach vibe. There are multiple pools to choose from, the food is delicious and the greenery makes it feel so luxurious.
- Similarly, the Sailing Club Resort is another great option with similar jungle-beach vibes that just scream relaxing luxury.
Centara Mirage Resort is a great hotel option for those looking for a lavish mid range option. Located right on the water, you will enjoy stunning rooms with your choice of multiple pools offered at the resort. This is a great family friendly hotel with lots of amenities including playgrounds, water parks, bowling, karaoke, and more!
If you are looking for budget friendly accommodations but don’t want to compromise on luxury, I highly suggest the Gia An Hung Guest House. The rooms are clean, the staff is incredibly friendly and the rooms are bright and clean. The location is ideal with a lot of restaurants and markets nearby.
4. Nha Trang
A 4-hour drive north up the coastline of the country you will find the bigger coastal city of Nha Trang. This area is a beach bum/water enthusiast’s paradise. Not far from the coast, there are many different islands that you can sail to that offer scuba diving and snorkelling tours.
Overfishing in the area unfortunately means the waters are not as densely populated with marine life as they once were. Still, the crystal clear tropical waters are worth exploring, specifically when entering the water from a boat.
Interested in scuba diving? Read about what to expect getting scuba certified in Thailand.
One popular island in the area is called Monkey Island. As the name suggests, the island is home to a ton of primates who freely roam around. A tourist island, there is a surprising amount of family-friendly activities to do on this island.
If you’d prefer to spend your day in freshwater, this area has a lot of nearby waterfalls that are worth exploring. A light trek through the jungle will take you to some impressive waterfalls, the most popular being the Fairy Springs and the Ba Ho waterfalls. Yang Bay is another great, far less touristy, area to go in search of impressive waterfalls.
For those more interested in exploring dry land, you are sure to enjoy the many markets, malls and street vendors in the area. Lots of cafes and stunning ocean side restaurants are offered in the area. This is a great spot to enjoy a relaxing massage right on the beach. For a truly relaxing experience, head to Thap Ba Hot Springs where you can dip in both cold and hot mineral pools. The mud in this area is known to be packed with minerals that offer an array of healing properties. Mud baths here are a great way to soak in wellness.
Where to stay in Nha Trang
It doesn’t get much more luxurious than Vinpearl Luxury Nha Trang. This is a great secluded resort style accommodation for those looking to live a stunning island life. If you’d rather stay on the mainland, Mia Resort Nha Trang is another great hotel on the mainland. The villas are amazing with stunning ocean views and the staff here are incredibly friendly.
Nevada Beach Hotel is a great mid-range hotel for those looking to blend luxury and affordability. Spending your days looking out on the water from the rooftop pool will not disappoint.
Azura Gold Hotel & Apartments is a great budget friendly hotel with the best location in the city. You will not know you’re on a budget with the luxury treatment you get at this hotel. The rooftop pool has stunning views of the ocean making this hotel one of the best in the area.
5. Hoi An
A long 9-hour drive north from Nha Trang will take you to the beautiful coastal town of Hoi An. To get here, an overnight bus is a great option and will save you both travel time and hotel accommodation price.
This colourful town is full of rustic charm and looks like it’s right out of a fairytale. One of my favourite places I’ve visited, this is a must-see area for those that visit Vietnam. In fact, the old town, the area along the river, is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is due to its impeccable preservation from its time as a trading port.
This is a great area to rent a pedal bike as the geography is fairly flat and the ideal size. While you can see the sights walking, renting a bicycle will help you to get around faster and allow you to take in more areas. With a river in the center of the city, bars, restaurants and shops line the sides giving you a very unique vibe.
One of the best things to do in this city is eat! Every restaurant we went to seemed better than the last until you’re in a full food coma. I ate the best Indian food I’ve ever had in this city. If you want to stick with the tropical vibe, the beaches are not far from the city center in this area. One of the best beaches in the area that is often less crowded is An Bang beach.
Where to stay in Hoi an
Ann Retreat Resort & Spa is a great hotel to choose if you’re looking for a slice of luxury in this beautiful city. The pool alone is absolutely gorgeous but combine that with the spacious rooms and delicious food and you are set for a perfect vacation.
The Silkian Hoian Hotel & Spa is a great mid range hotel with a great location. The swimming pool is unbelievable and there are bikes you can use free of charge. The Hoi An Golden Holiday Hotel & Spa is another great hotel close to the city center and the beach.
For those on a budget, you can’t get better than Hoi An Heart Lodge. The cozy hotel has a great location, friendly staff, and a fun vibe. Le Charme de Joi An Villa is another great budget hotel with a stunning pool. The location is great being about a 20 minute walk from Old Town.
6. Da Nang
A short 1-hour trip north will transport you into the hustle and bustle of city life found in Da Nang. This city is most known on Instagram for its stunning golden bridge nestled into the Bà Nà hills. Iconic for the large sculptured hands that look as though they are holding the bridge up, this is a must-see travel site. To get to this bridge, you must first take a cable car from Sun World. Head there in the early morning (the first cable car is at 7 am) to beat the crowds.
Da Nang is one of those areas where you will definitely want to rent a scooter. Travelling inland you will find many lush hillsides just waiting to be explored. The street food in this city is an absolute must as it offers a wide variety of delicious cuisine. Da Nang beaches are some of the nicest in all of Vietnam.
The nightlife is also worth a note in the area. This city is booming with growth which you can easily see in the many new resorts lining the beaches and big cosmopolitan towers being constructed in the downtown core. We recommend heading downtown at least once to soak up some of the buzzing downtown scenes.
Where to stay in Danang
A great luxury hotel is Sel de mer Hotels & Suites. You will feel like a VIP with the large rooms, the incredible pool that overlooks the beach, and the on site spa. Louis Mo Apartment is another great space with a stunning pool and friendly staff. If you’re looking to stay on the water, Le Sands Oceanfront Hotel is a great mid-range hotel. This is an especially great hotel for families traveling with kids.
Daisy Boutique Hotel is an absolutely gorgeous budget friendly hotel. Full of greenery and a gorgeous pool in the center of the hotel, this is a beautiful place to stay. Similarly VernalHome Boutique is another great budget conscious hotel with lots of greenery and a beautiful pool.
Two hours up the coast of Vietnam gets you to the old smaller town of Hue. This is a great place to visit because it’s located in the middle of Vietnam. A top site in the area is the Đại Nội Citadel. This was built in the 19th century and has a moat completely surrounding it. Thick stone walls encompass the grounds and is currently one of the top sights to visit in the area. Renting a bicycle to tour through this area will allow you to see and get more from this place.
Taking a day trip to the demilitarized zone not far from Hue is another great experience you shouldn’t miss. This is home to the border between the North and South and is marked by the 17th parallel. There is a great walk-through history tour and you will spend the day looking through tunnels and old military bases.
When in this area I walked into a backpackers hostel for some lunch and had the opportunity to visit a local orphanage. Getting a tour of the facility and spending the morning playing with the kids and building awareness through donations are so important and incredibly valuable. Be sure to take part in some of these opportunities as they come your way.
Where to stay in Hue
If you want to make Hue a destination in itself and are looking for a stunning resort to spend all your time in, the Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa is a destination in itself. You will stay on the water in a slice of paradise as you enjoy a full royal treatment.
If you’re looking for pure luxury with a mid-range price point, look no further than Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa. You will feel like you’re in the jungle with all the greenery, huge beautiful pool, and cozy boho vibes.
Jade Scene Hotel is a great hotel for travelers looking for clean comfortable rooms, a nice pool, and a great price tag.
Vietnam’s capital city is more than 12 hour’s drive north of Hue making this the longest leg of travel you will do. This northern city is home to a large international airport that we recommend using as your port of exit from this trip. There is lots to see and do in this city, although it should not be your last stop – trust me Sapa and Halong Bay are worth their own visit!
The downtown area is centred around a massive lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. According to Vietnamese legend, this lake is home to a mythical ancient turtle. This is the main hub where you will see many locals exercising around throughout all hours of the day. One of the best places to take in the sights of the city is from the 65th floor of the Lotte Tower Observation Deck. Grabbing a drink at the building’s rooftop bar is a must!
Hanoi offers a rich history from both the civil war and international wars with France and the USA. If you took the time to explore the history in the south, you will want to compare that with what you learned in the north. Walking the halls of the famous Hoa Lo Prison is an experience that will stick with you. This capital city is one that is very walkable and loaded with history. A trip to the city’s Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, will give you another great look into the country’s rich history.
The far northern location of this city makes it easy to see the heavy external influences at play. With a large French and Chinese influence, the old architecture is a sight to behold. The French Quarter in Hanoi is also one of the best places to stay in Hanoi. The old quarter is very budget-friendly and therefore popular amongst backpackers.
From Hanoi, you have two remaining must-see destinations: Sapa and Halong Bay. Hanoi is nestled in the center of the two cities (Sapa being inland west and Halong Bay being a coastal town to the capital east) it is up to you which you’d prefer to explore first.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Looking for luxury in the big city? Look no further than La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa. The stunning dark decor throughout is sure to impress but if that’s not enough the rooftop bar sure will. The Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel is another great luxurious hotel option with a stunning pool, great location and amazing staff.
The Golden Rooster Hotel is a great mid-range hotel with an amazing location in the city. The rooms are clean and spacious and the beds are comfortable.
If you’re on a budget, Hanoi La Cacada House & Travel is a budget friendly hotel with a nice location.
Veering inland, a long 5-hour bus drive west, or take an overnight train, will take you from the country’s capital to the mountain town of Sapa. This area is a popular destination among tourists – and for good reason. The lush green mountainous landscape is hard to get through in a short period of time. In these hills, you will find different tribes of people living throughout the paddies. They offer guided overnight tours through the paddies, some of which are overnight explorations that will allow you to sleep with the locals in the villages. These Sapa trekking tours are one of the best things to do in Sapa.
Don’t Forget: Be sure to bring along a good pair of trekking shoes as this requires a decent amount of hill climbing through muddy landscapes.
If you don’t want to commit to an overnight stay in this area, it is still a great place to go hiking. With many waterfalls, a favourite being Silver Waterfalls, there is so much to see and do. The cooler weather in this inland town will welcome change-making hiking much more accessible.
If you aren’t thrilled about the idea of hiking through Sapa, consider renting a motorbike and driving through the nearby streets. Many of them are not paved so you will need to be comfortable on a motorbike before taking to these rugged streets. There are a lot of other small villages that you will come across when exploring. A noteworthy one is Cat Cat Village which is just as cute as the name suggests.
The shopping in this area is unique in that most of the items are handmade by locals. You can expect to see everything from beautiful jewelry, clothing, and trinkets that line the streets. If you take a trek or stay in a homestay, you can often buy some of these trinkets straight from the locals in their village.
If you’re staying in Hanoi but are looking to get a taste of the beautiful hills in Sapa, this 2 day 1 night Sapa hiking tour is a must! The price varies based on the size of your group but is $137.50 CAD ($98 USD) for 2 people including transportation from Hanoi.
If you’d prefer to stay a bit longer and explore some of the city, this 3 day 2 night trekking tour is a great option. You will spend some nights in the city and one night in a hotel in the city.
Both of these tours will have you spending your days hiking through the terraced fields and small villages and staying overnight in a bungalow in a local hill tribe village. These tours are all inclusive and include a guide, all transportation, and even your meals along the way.
Where to stay in Sapa
Luxury in the mountains can be found at the 5 star Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa. This whole hotel is Instagram worthy from the restaurants, the rooms, and the pool! The KK Sapa Hotel is another hotel built for luxury with stunning views of the mountains. The rooms are bright and spacious and absolutely gorgeous.
If you’re wanting luxury but a more affordable price tag, Sapa Relax Hotel & Spa will give you just that. A great location, bright beautiful rooms, and friendly staff combine to make this hotel amazing. Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel is another great hotel in the area with a spacious, upbeat, and quirky vibe with stunning views of the area.
If you’re wanting to stay on a budget, the Sapa Mountain Queen House is a great hotel with big beautiful rooms with authentic decor. The location is ideal and the staff is friendly. Cat Cat Galerie d’Art is another great hotel with clean and large rooms.
10. Halong Bay
Perhaps the most photographed part of the country, Halong Bay is located 2.5 hours west of Hanoi. All those picturesque limestone rock formations you see in Vietnam lie within this one magical northern mecca. It’s a true sight to behold.
The most popular way for seeing this area is, of course, to get out on the water and stand amongst these stunning rock formations. Sure to give you a fresh perspective of the country, these boat tours are incredibly popular amongst tourists.
The limestone rocks are topped with jungle paradises. Overnight cruises are referred to as ‘junk boat cruises’ and are a great way to weave through these islands. If you are feeling more adventurous, rent a sea kayak and tour yourself through some of the 2000 islands. Or you could take a Halong bay cruise through the area for a different perspective of this area.
The beauty in this area goes far beyond the limestone cliffs and stretches into the underwater world. Halong Bay is one of the best places to scuba dive in Vietnam. There are a ton of snorkelling trips that you can do in these emerald green waters.
The rock formations found here naturally house some impressive caves that can be fun to explore. Some popular ones are Hang Sung Sot Caves and Me Cung Caves which are well worth a visit.
As you can imagine, these large limestone rocks are also popular amongst rock climbers and really act as an outdoor playground for adventurers. A great place for hiking is through Cat Ba National Park
Where to stay in Ha Long Bay
If you’re looking to stay overnight, this all inclusive 2 day 1 night cruise is one of the best experiences you can have. The price for the tour varies based on the type of room you’re wanting but luxury is guaranteed.
If you’d rather just spend the day on the water, this Ha Long Bay Day Cruise is an action packed day you’ll never forget. You can expect to spend your time kayaking, swimming, and exploring caves with this experience.
Since the beauty of the area is the water, why not stay on it with this luxurious 5 star Elite of the Seas. If you are looking to splurge, staying aboard this stunning yacht is the way to do it!
If you’d rather stay on dry land and instead do day tours you have lots of options! A great budget friendly hotel is Ha Long Essence Hotel. The rooms are bright and spacious and a great value for your money.