You may be looking at a map of Vietnam and feeling overwhelmed at the intense desire to explore the north, south and everything in between. As a lover of all things Vietnamese, I can sympathize. Which is why below you’ll find six must do/see/eat places to experience in this gorgeous country.
Explore Tam COc
If you find yourself in northern Vietnam, take a day to explore Tam Coc. Translated literally to ‘three caves,’ this sleepy town sits amongst stunning limestone karsts, endless rice fields and three natural caves that you can discover via a canoe-like boat where the guides pedal with their feet. Seriously.
Take a two-hour bus or train ride from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and then a short drive in a taxi to Tam Coc. Accommodation is available in both Ninh Binh (more of a city) and Tam Coc (a sleepy local town), based on your preference.
Take a city food tour in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) can be intimidating to take on. There are so many districts and delicious food spots to discover that trying to plan a way to hit them all is impossible. This is where city food tours come into play. Local guides take you around the city, stopping at different culinary hotspots where you get to chow down on some of the most mouthwatering combinations of flavors.
I was fortunate enough to have studied abroad with TEAN and had made friends with Vietnamese students in the program who, upon hearing I was in Ho Chi Minh City, offered to take my friends and I around for the night. Having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for years and being guides for one of the best city food tours, they were extremely well versed in the local food scene and every stop we made seemed to taste better than the last.
Pro tip: create long lasting friendships with students from all different countries throughout your semester. It will make for much more epically delicious adventures in the future!
Kayak around Ha Long Bay
If you’re in Hanoi, taking the bus to the ferry and spending a day or two in Ha Long Bay is a must. You can easily find accommodation on Cat Ba Island and from there book a day tour to explore the 1,600 islands that jut out from the water. Instead of just spending the day on the boat, booking a tour that includes a kayaking portion is key. The feeling you get as you’re gliding through the water, looking up at 360-degree views of limestone pillars, is worth every dong and more.
Discover Da Nang’s beaches
Nestled between Hue and Hoi An, Da Nang is often overlooked and considered a brief stopping point from getting from Point A to Point B. But make no mistake, Da Nang has much to be explored! Head to the Lady Buddha and wander around the culturally rich and stunning grounds that overlook the ocean. And don’t leave Da Nang without getting in some serious beach time. Though some areas are bustling with bars and beachside restaurants, by doing a little research and getting out of downtown Da Nang, you’ll find completely desolate yet pristine shores just waiting for you to lay out a blanket and spend an afternoon.
Eat banh mi
Oh banh mi, how you have my heart. I will forever dream of your perfect combinations of flavors. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you spot a stand that looks like this then run, not walk and mark my words: your life will be forever changed.
Get lost in Hanoi
From motorbikes that seem to zoom and weave like a choreographed dance to the beautiful French architecture that makes you forget what continent you’re on, Hanoi will always hold a special place in my heart. Arrive to your hotel, put your bags down and hit the streets. My favorite thing to do in Hanoi is aimlessly explore the bustling streets, stopping to dine on bun cha (the famous dish Obama ate when he was visiting!), sipping on Vietnamese coffee at a cafe that spills out into the street and just pausing to people watch. Hanoi is a must!
Vietnam is jam-packed with stimulation for all five senses and will leave you feeling there just wasn’t enough time to experience it all. Research, read and write down what’s on the top of your must-do list and then put it into action. Believe me, you won’t be sorry.