Things to do in Vietnam
From exploring historic palaces and relaxing on a wide beach to enjoying the vibrant street life, upscale shopping and notable architecture of the cities, there are endless things to do in Vietnam. Travelers would need more than a few weeks to savor it all, but some top activities include taking a historic tour of Hanoi, with visits to the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hoa Lo Prison (aka the "Hanoi Hilton") and the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius.
Save time for a stroll around Hanoi's lakes and the Old Town, where you'll find boutiques stocking silks, lacquer goods, artwork and more. In Saigon, visit the War Remnants Museum, Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park, and Museum of Fine Arts. A stay in Hue is a must for exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Imperial City and Citadel ruins complexes and the spectacular Royal Tomb complexes outside of town, which can be accessed via a scenic bike path. The quaint former trading port town of Hoi An, another UNESCO site, is known for its well-preserved 15th to 19th-century houses, many of which are now museums, galleries, cafes, and fashion boutiques.
The most stirringly beautiful of the Royal Tombs in Hué, Vietnam's most historic city.
Along with the Archbishop’s Residence, this ranks as perhaps the most graceful and visually arresting colonial building in Saigon, full of rococo flourish and wonderful wedding-cake detail.
The white-on-white Modernist building that houses Gaya makes a dramatic first impression (yes, those are giant fountain-pen nibs on the façade). Inside, you'll find the best haute souvenirs in all of Saigon.
Locating Villa Anupa, hidden down a slender lane off Le Thanh Ton Street, is a challenge; even harder is deciding which of Anupa Horvil's butter-soft leather bags should come home with you. Will it be the white hobo with tourmaline beading ($250)? Or the metallic-gray clutch ($160)?
An Indian monk arrived during the third century in what is now the Ha Tay Province, and established the Dau Pagoda that has become one of Vietnam's oldest. An ancient place of worship with ornate wooden carvings, it was rebuilt during the 14th century.
Irony comes to Ho Chi Minh City at this perfectly named boutique that trades in Socialist-themed ephemera: Communist Party T-shirts, Uncle Ho coffee mugs, key-chains emblazoned with NVA tanks, and more.
The temple is topped by a colorful gopuram bedecked with Hindu gods and goddesses.
Located on a sacred site, this righteous park is meant to simulate Buddhist heaven.
The fabulously embellished, often downright zany handbags of Hong Kong native and Hanoi resident Christina Yu are sold in Paris and London at three times the price; here you’ll find her latest designs as well as a small selection of shoes and costume jewelry.
One of the most appealing lanes in Saigon is also the favorite for foreign travelers: three tree-shaded blocks of quirky tube houses and colonial-era shop-houses. Take a walk along the row of cool fashion and home-design boutiques.
If time allows, consider a half-day excursion northwest of the city to these fascinating, albeit touristy, sights. A network of hidden passageways and underground lairs dug by the Viet Cong during the war form the amazing, if claustrophobia-inducing, Cu Chi Tunnels.
This friendly store—one of many similar cotton shops on Le Thanh Ton—ranks as one of the street’s best. The accommodating staff, which speaks halting but comprehensible English, will make simple embroidered cotton or linen sheets, pillowcases, duvet covers, and napkins to your specifications.