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 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.
Chef and cookbook author Tracey Lister and partner Linh Dinh Phung helm the Hanoi Cooking Centre, near the city’s Old Quarter.
The delirious pastiche of the former presidential palace, completed in 1966, calls to mind the lair of a Bond villain crossed with Austin Powers’s pad. Yes, this is where the National North Vietnamese Army crashed its tanks through the fence in April 1975 and effectively ended the war.
Saigon’s main public market sells everything from dried spices and live chickens to cheap clothing and plasticware. And while it may be chaotic and crowded, it’s always entertaining to explore—and especially good for a quick snack from the many food vendors here.
Headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, this tour company organizes custom trips to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and Bali. In addition to a variety of set itineraries, the company also designs personalized tours based on budget and interests, such as history, philanthropy, or cooking.
Bespoke couturier Nguyen Cong Tri fashions runway-worthy satin and silk frocks at ready-to-wear prices (a floaty, turquoise chiffon dress for under $300). But don't expect a quick turnaround: it will take up to 10 days and a couple of fittings (shipping is available).