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Things to Do in Vietnam

As chaotic as it is captivating and as fast-paced as it is traditional, Vietnam is a country of contrasts. However, one thing is indisputable—there’s no place on earth quite like it. Hanoi, Vietnam’s bustling capital, with its atmospheric Hanoi Old Quarter, striking Do Temple, and West Lake, is best explored on foot or by motorbike, cyclo (three-wheeled taxi), or scooter. Hanoi is also a convenient jumping-off point for junk boat cruises on Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Red River Delta, home to remote tribal craft villages. Continuing down the east coast, the Forbidden Purple City in Hué is a glorious reminder of Vietnam’s Imperial past; the Old Town of Hoi An—arguably Vietnam’s prettiest city — is a hotspot for Vietnamese street food; and Nha Trang is known for its idyllic beaches. Hanoi’s southern rival, Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s largest and most modern city in which sightseeing tours reveal cultural treasures such as the Saigon Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Vietnam Cookery Center—great if a cookery course is on your travel menu. Plus, just a short drive away from Ho Chi Min City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a poignant reminder of the tragedies of the Vietnam War, and the winding canals, lush rice paddies, and traditional villages of the Mekong Delta stretch all the way to border of Cambodia, allowing you to continue your South East Asia adventure with ease.
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Cu Chi Tunnels
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444 Tours and Activities

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of underground passageways that run to more than 120 miles (200 kilometers) in total length in this area alone. Work by the Viet Cong commenced in 1948 as a means of shelter from the French air attacks during the Indochina conflict.

The network provided vital access and strategic control over the large rural area surrounding Ho Chi Minh City; over the following two decades the tunnels became a complex underground city including hospitals, defenses and living quarters. This meant despite all the bombings in the area many of the local people could still continue to live underground. In its prime and at its most impressive the Cu Chi Tunnels stretched from the southern Vietnamese capital all the way to the Cambodian border to the west, and in places was dug to 3 stories deep.

Much of the original tunnel system was destroyed in bombing raids during the 1970s but existing parts have been restored and opened.

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Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
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78 Tours and Activities

Don't leave Hanoi without seeing a Thang Long Water Puppet Theater show. These musical stories portrayed are of historical legends and folk tales. These ever-popular performances are given by a troupe of talented actors and accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese pit orchestra. Great entertainment for all ages. Charming, curious, and enchanting - you'll be pleased you experienced it.

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Nha Trang Beach
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Sometimes called the beach capital of Vietnam, Nha Trang is known for its scenic shores and few are more delightful than the yellow sandy stretch of Nha Trang Beach. This 6-km destination is ideal for swimmers, sunbathers and snorkelers, who will likely find uninterrupted turquoise blue waters to explore on their own. While a slightly more social scene can be found at jumping beach joints like Sailing Club and the local brew house, deserted island vibes can be found further down towards the south side. A popular promenade offers a scenic place for an evening stroll and the nearby town comes alive with plenty of entertaining nightlife options once the sun goes down.

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Temple of Literature (Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam)
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258 Tours and Activities

The Temple of Literature (or Quoc Tu Giam) was originally built as a Confucian Temple in 1070 AD. Six years later on the same grounds was founded Vietnam's first university to educate the administrative and military warrior Mandarin classes.

Over the years buildings have been added and renovated but much of the architecture dates back to the Lý (1010 - 1225) and Trần dynasties (1225 - 1400). The university operated for more than 700 years but today you can experience the tranquility without its warrior students, with its beautiful gardens and pavilions in a series of courtyards.

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Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon)
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226 Tours and Activities

The Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) is a 100­-year-­old performance hall with architecture modeled on the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Nha Hat Lon was erected by the French colonial administration at the turn of the 20th century and is a landmark building in Hanoi. It was built in a typical French style with classic gothic features.

In 1997, the modernization and repair of the building was undertaken by Vietnamese French architects, and the decorative designs on the ceilings, arches, walls, and doors were renewed. Home to the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra, the Opera House also hosts the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Ballet, plus both traditional and modern local productions.

No tours of the building are offered but the exterior makes for some good photo opportunities. In terms of atmosphere, the Opera House is best seen at night when it is illuminated by lights.

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Marble Mountains
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526 Tours and Activities

The five limestone hills that make up Vietnam’s famed Marble Mountains are each named after one of the five elements: fire (Hoa), wood (Moc), metal (Kim), water (Thuy) and earth (Tho). And while their shadowy caves and hidden tunnels draw thousands of travelers to wander this destination each year, its proximity to beautiful and ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes and access to a stunning summit are other reasons to make the voyage.

Travelers can climb the more than 150 steps that lead to the summit of Thuy Son, where incredible views of natural landscapes as well as access to these grottoes. Visitors can explore Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, as well as the Tam Thai pagoda, which was built in 1825. These ancient religious monuments showcase the region’s age-old tradition of stone carving, thanks to relief work chipped away from the mountain’s marble façade.

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Hue Citadel (Dai Noi)
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295 Tours and Activities

Constructed in 1804, this massive fortress designed for the Gia Long Emperor, is surrounded by a zigzag moat and defensive barrier that’s 21 meters thick. But visitors to this citadel-in-a-citadel-in-a-citadel won’t need to swim across rivers or scale towering walls to get a look inside. The Imperial Enclosure is accessible by crossing one of the 10 pedestrian bridges into the once royal land. Pass through Ngo Mon (Noon) Gate, once reserved for those in power, then wander through Flag Tower (Cot Co) and stare up at the nation’s tallest flagpole before weaving through the Nine Dynastic Urns representing different Nguyen kings.

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More Things to Do in Vietnam

Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda

223 Tours and Activities
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Minh Mang Tomb

Minh Mang Tomb

87 Tours and Activities
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Dong Ba Market (Cho Dong Ba)

Dong Ba Market (Cho Dong Ba)

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On the north bank of the Huong River is Hue’s lively Dong Ba Market, stretching out for 16,000 square meters. Still retaining its old bell tower from when it was first opened by King Dong Khanh in 1887, the atmospheric market is divided into separate sections, with the whole upstairs floor dedicated to clothes.

Though Hue has plenty of supermarkets, Dong Ba is an important market for locals and a great place to experience Vietnamese life, with 5,000 to 7,000 people coming here to barter daily.

While you’re at Dong Ba Market, look out for popular local handicrafts like non la bai tho (conical hats with poems woven in the design), xung sesame candies, and Tuan black tea. Dong Ba is also a great spot for trying traditional regional food like beef vermicelli. You’ll find the street vendors serving specialty dishes on the ground floor of the market, on the street parallel to the river.

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Perfume River (Song Huong River)

Perfume River (Song Huong River)

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The Perfume River may have gotten its fame from the film Full Metal Jacket, but visitors to Hue traveled on this scenic body of water even before the movie’s 1987 debut. Each fall, blossoms from nearby orchards drop into the river, producing the unique fragrance that gives this river its name. The unpolluted waters offer cooling breezes for cyclists riding along the winding banks of local rice fields, and breathtaking views of Ngu Binh Mountain. Watch the sun go down and the city light up while you enjoy a cool beer on a late-afternoon dragon boat ride through Hue.

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Lady Buddha

Lady Buddha

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Impossible to miss, Lady Buddha dominates the landscape of Da Nang. The marble statue, perched on the side of Monkey Mountain and visible from nearly anywhere in the city, stands 220 feet (67 meters) tall and measures 56 feet (17 meters) in diameter. Inside the statue, a flight of stairs leads up to 17 floors, each representing a different aspect of the Buddha.

The name Lady Buddha is a bit deceiving. The statue in fact depicts Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy can be found in coastal areas throughout Asia, as she is believed to bring calm to the sea. The giant statue stands in front of the beautiful Linh Ung Pagoda, with its gardens and small souvenir shop operated by monks.

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Royal Antiquities Museum

Royal Antiquities Museum

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Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi Old Quarter

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The Old Quarter is the cultural heart of Hanoi where the pulse of life has constantly beat for nearly 2,000 years. Daily routine starts early and builds to a friendly bustle. Streets have distinct character and are named after the crafts once made there - silver, ladder, silk, paper.

St. Joseph's cathedral rings for mass regularly throughout the day, follow the bells to check its Neo-Gothic style. Huyen Thien Pagoda is another of the many temples peppered around this part of town. The Old City Gate is one of four original entrances to the heart of the Royal City to survive over a thousand years.

Take time to sample the spirit, atmosphere and shopping on offer here - nothing says Hanoi like its Old Quarter.

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Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An Ancient Town

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History lovers flock to this 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Hindu, Arab and Chinese influences are reflected in breathtaking architecture, eclectic food and rich culture.

Naturalists will appreciate the quiet beaches just a short bike ride from the city center, while wanderers will love the pedestrian-only streets of Ancient Town lined with quaint shops and bustling vendors.

Urban skyscrapers and big-city development have yet to touch this former shipping port, which means travelers can enjoy a taste of what Hoi An once was and what Vietnam used to be.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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At this mausoleum the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh, founder of unified Vietnam and the country's liberator from Western colonialism, lies in a glass case for public viewing.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex was built with assistance from the USSR and the austere and impressive architecture is recognizably Soviet/Communist in design. Around the building lie 240 ordered squares of manicured grass cut with concrete walkways. This dedication to 'Uncle Ho,' as he is affectionately known, is unsurprisingly one of the nation's most revered sites and as such this is a moving, and eerie, experience. Nearby is the popular Ho Chi Minh Museum dedicated to his life and work.

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Bai Tu Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay

287 Tours and Activities

The dramatic karst cliffs and iridescent waters of Bai Tu Long Bay are just as mesmerizing as the neighboring Halong Bay, but the comparative lack of crowds adds a tranquillity often lost amidst Halong’s sea of junk boats. Part of the Halong Bay UNESCO World Heritage site and largely dominated by the lush Bai Tu Long National park, Bai Tu Long Bay makes a worthy addition to any cruise, and with such striking scenery, it’s unlikely to stay off-the-beaten-track for too long.

Highlights of Bai Tu Long Bay include Van Don Island, the bay’s largest and most visited island; the traditional fishing village of Vung Vieng; the white sand beaches of Quan Lan Island; and the remote Co To Island, while popular activities include trekking through the jungle in the Bai Tu Long National Park, spotting wild butterflies on Tra Ban Island and kayaking to Thong Thien Cave.

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Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake)

Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake)

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The Lake of the Restored Sword holds as big a place in local folklore as it does in Hanoi’s city culture. According to local legend, an ancient emperor was once floating along the lake when the Golden Turtle God requested his magic sword. It’s an age-old story that locals still tell to curious tourists who wander the lake’s scenic shores. It marks the divide between Hanoi’s Old Quarter and French Quarter and is also home to an endangered species of massive soft-shell turtles that gave nearby Turtle Temple its name.

Today, travelers flock to the lake to escape the hustle of the city. And while the morning hours prove a calming way to greet the day (locals like to gather at one of the many quiet cafes to sip cups of strong, sweet coffee as the sun rises), it’s worth sticking around after dark to capture pictures of Hanoi’s skyline aglow with glittering white lights.

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Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon)

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon)

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The Gothic twin bell towers of this classic cathedral stretch high into the skyline, marking this as a destination for those looking to escape the buzz of Ho Chi Minh and find some quiet contemplation. Saigon Notre-Dame’s striking red façade and towering stone archways were constructed with materials imported from France in the 1800s. But its unique architecture is not the only draw to this iconic city landmark. In 2005, visitors reported seeing tears flow from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary here, making it a destination for Catholics on religious pilgrimage.

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Tra Que Vegetable Village

Tra Que Vegetable Village

208 Tours and Activities
Located between Hoi An Ancient Town and An Bang Beach, Tra Que Vegetable Village is an agricultural district that still uses traditional techniques to produce Vietnamese crops. The fertile farmland, which provides a welcome break from the crowds of Hoi An Ancient Town, is awash with fragrant herbs and home to numerous independent workshops.
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Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

Dragon Bridge (Cau Rong)

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One of Da Nang’s more unusual and unexpected attractions is a bridge in the likeness of a dragon spanning the River Han. If the golden dragon slithering across the water isn’t impressive enough, on weekend evenings its body is illuminated by 2,500 LED lights and its head spouts fire and water over the river’s eastern bank.

Opened in 2013, the Dragon Bridge carries a six-lane roadway and two sidewalks over the river. The bridge measures 2,000 feet (610 meters) long and 123 feet (37.5 meters) wide. As the shortest road link between the Da Nang International Airport and the bulk of Da Nang city, visitors arriving or departing by air often pass over this bridge.

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