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Essential Vietnam

VISIT THE MUST-SEE SPOTS

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If this is your first Vietnam travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites and destinations located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to Vietnam, which include Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An,  My Son and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). If this is your second trip to Vietnam or you prefer to get off the beaten path, explore our Extended Vietnam page.

Hanoi

Widely considered one of Asia's best cities, this is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Tree-lined avenues and French-colonial architecture offer a unique setting where visitors can enjoy touring in a cyclo (local-style rickshaw) or stroll around one of the many parks and lakes that dot the city.

Ho Chi Minh's legacy remains central to this city, and visits to his mausoleum, memorial museum and former residence are a must. Nearby stands one of the last statues in the world of Vladimir Lenin, a distinct reminder that Communism is not necessarily dead, even though Vietnam's progressive economic state indicates otherwise.

Hanoi's Old Quarter is a visual sensation. Each street offers its own distinct identity since the merchants sell their wares in groups. There is Banner Street, Shoe Street, Copper Wire Street and many more. Take in the Confucian Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison (where John McCain was held), Hoan Kiem Lake, ancient pagodas and a water puppet performance. In the evening, dine at one of many sumptuous restaurants in Hanoi.

Halong Bay

This famous bay is studded with karst limestone islands. Travel by sampan (Chinese junk) throughout the emerald waters of this UNESCO World Heritage area. Access is a four-hour drive from Hanoi through fertile countryside to Bai Chay.

This fishing and mining town serves as the embarkation point for a spectacularly scenic cruise of the bay. Legend holds that the 3,000 limestone pinnacles scattered throughout the Gulf of Tonkin were created by a dragon's tail as he slipped into the sea.

We use converted fishing boats to explore caves, beaches and swimming holes hidden amongst these wondrous formations. Enjoy excellent fresh seafood at one of the local restaurants while reflecting on the beauty of your surroundings.

Hué

This former imperial capital is a UNESCO World Heritage site housing fantastic artistic and architectural treasures. The Tombs of the Nguyen Emperors are the main attraction.

The Ancient Citadel of Hué has not fared well and stands as a reminder of the infamous 1968 Tet Offensive. From Hué, the Nguyen dynasty merged the lands of Vietnam and ruled it for almost 150 years.

Just outside Hué, along the Perfume River, the ravages of war have fortunately left some treasures. Visit Thien Mu Pagoda, the most famous of all Vietnam's temples, and take a boat to the abundant tombs of the emperors where you can stroll through the gardens and mausoleums built to honor the last royal dynasty.

Hoi An

This UNESCO World Heritage site was the most important port in Southeast Asia between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Today, this is one of the most peaceful and interesting places to visit in Vietnam, with myriad influences providing the curious traveler with much to see. The Japanese Covered Bridge ushers you into French-colonial buildings and Chinese pagodas. Influences from foreign cuisines have enhanced the town's cooking style. The Cau Lau soup, which is only made properly with the water from a certain well in town, is phenomenal. Stroll the streets and the waterfront or rent a bicycle to explore the countryside and nearby beach. The town's small riverside market is full of character and very photogenic. A boat trip to nearby communities can also be arranged for an insight into the local wood-carving and boat-making industries.

My Son

The dramatic remnants of My Son Sanctuary comprise one of Vietnam's many UNESCO World Heritage sites, housing ancient Cham civilization ruins.

Historians compare the significance of this site to Angkor Wat, Ayuthaya and Borobudur. Unfortunately, during the war the Viet Cong made their headquarters here and it was bombed out by the American-backed South Vietnamese. Still, a few buildings remain and a visit is worthwhile. To get there you will pass through many villages on a very dilapidated road. You might even find a merchant selling gongs made out of U.S. bombshells.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

One of the grand cities of Asia and a must-see on any trip to Vietnam, Saigon has cosmopolitan charm to spare, fine pagodas, museums, markets, and Caodai Temples.

Formerly South Vietnam's capital city, Saigon is still the center of business, modern culture and development in this growing nation. The whole metropolitan area is now called Ho Chi Minh City; however, the central core of the city, District One, is still known as Saigon. Saigon retains some of its historic charms while plunging headlong into the economic development that is the great promise of Vietnam today. Let us provide you with a guided program that will take you to sites of special interest, including the former U.S. Embassy, Reunification Hall, the bustling district of Cholon (Chinatown) and a plethora of museums and pagodas. Saigon also offers a variety of excellent restaurants, cafés, rooftop bars and nightlife venues.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Visited on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a remarkable testimony to the scope of the war effort.

Over 120 miles of underground tunnels housed everything from field hospitals to strategic command centers of the Viet Cong military. Descend into the tunnels to experience firsthand the terrible conditions endured by the Vietnamese in the fight for their homeland, first against the French colonialists and later the American anti-Communists. This excursion provides insightful lessons in how the tenacious Vietnamese won their last three wars against formidable powers with vastly superior technology.