“Why such beauty in this place?” is a line in a lament sung by Chris, one of the main characters in the musical Miss Saigon. But while Chris meant this cry as an expression of horror and heartbreak, this line somehow poignantly describes Vietnam itself. Though colonized by the French, torn against itself during the years of the Vietnam War, and crippled by the war’s aftermath, Vietnam’s beauty is one that endures. Decades after that devastating event in its history, the country has risen from the ashes and is now well on its way to becoming a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia. What does Vietnam have to offer? Here are twelve exciting destinations that will tantalize you when you travel to Vietnam.
Tucked in the highlands of the Langbian Plateau in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, the city of Da Lat is cool all year-round, making it a favored destination for people who want to escape Vietnam’s tropical heat. Da Lat was once the playground of French colonialists, who left behind a collection of French architecture in the city. The city also serves as the gateway to tourists who want to trek the mountains around the area and visit the many minority peoples settled there.
Da Nang is one of the largest cities in Vietnam, as well as one of its most vital port cities. Most tourists go to Da Nang as a base for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Sites close by, specifically Hoi An, Hue and My Son. However, Da Nang is becoming a destination in its own right, thanks to the proliferation of trendy bars and cafes, as well as the presence of the Cham Museum and the newly developed China Beach.
Just like the two Koreas, Vietnam has its own demilitarized zone. However, unlike the two Koreas, Vietnam’s DMZ is now a tourist destination, as the two halves of Vietnam have long since unified. It contains many sights, monuments and memorials to the two modern Indochina wars that have scourged the country, including the famous Vinh Moc tunnels.
Ha Long Bay
Legend has it that when invasion threatened China, the Jade Emperor set forth a sea dragon and her children to ward off the invaders. The dragons spit out pearls that formed islands on aquamarine waters in the area now known as Ha Long Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is definitely one of the most beautiful, albeit surreal, places you’ll see in Vietnam, with thousands of limestone islands rising from the waters and parts of the bay walled in by emerald-green limestone crags.
The capital city of Vietnam is more than a thousand years old and bears the imprint of the many rulers that have passed through its history. One of the most picturesque cities not just in Vietnam but also in Southeast Asia, Hanoi is known by such monikers as “City of Lakes,” owing to the dozens of lakes located within the city; as well as “Paris of the East” for its lovely French architecture and tree-lined boulevards. Because of its long history as the chosen capital city of most of Vietnam’s rulers, Hanoi is the undisputed cultural heart of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City
If romantic Hanoi is the undisputed cultural heart of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is its bustling commercial heart. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s answer to glitzy Singapore and burgeoning Bangkok. Underneath its thickening cosmopolitan veneer, though, Ho Chi Minh still retains much of its colonial French, Chinese and Khmer heritage.
Hoi An is a city where time stands still. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam, Hoi An is an amalgam of local Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and French architecture of features, most of which date back to the 15th century when the city was still a thriving mercantile port. Today, aside from being a time capsule, the city is known for its laidback atmosphere and its cheap bespoke tailors.
For a little more than a hundred years, Hue served as the capital of Vietnam and home of the Nguyen emperors, the last dynasty to rule over the country. The royal descendants of the Nguyen family may be living in exile now, but their former home still retains much of its imperial past. Most notable of these relics are the enclosed Forbidden City, once the Nguyen palace complex; and the Thien Mu Pagoda, the tallest religious building in Vietnam. The city also serves as the jumping point to Vietnam’s DMZ.
The coastal town of Mui Ne is quickly becoming the premiere beach destination in Vietnam, thanks to its lovely white sand beaches and its laidback atmosphere. It’s a popular weekend getaway for locals and expats living in Ho Chi Minh.
The My Son temple complex is a cluster of partially ruined Hindu temples located southwest of Da Nang. It’s considered to be one of the most important Hindi temple complexes in Southeast Asia, occupying the same level as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Indonesia’s Borobodur, and Thailand’s Ayutthaya. Many of the temples in My Son were destroyed when the Americans bombed the country during the Vietnam War.
If Mui Ne is known for its laidback atmosphere, Nha Trang is its exact opposite. This coastal resort city is famous for its scenic bay, its white beaches, and its thriving nightlife. Nha Trang is also the place to go for scuba diving in the waters of Vietnam.
The city of Sa Pa near Vietnam’s northwest border is unique in that its scenery is almost alpine, a complete contrast to the country’s tropical lowlands. Largely quiet and laidback, Sa Pa serves as the gateway to trekking the Hoang Lien Son Mountains and the villages of the Hmong and Dao ethnic tribes.
Vietnam’s beauty is truly a beauty that endures. See it for yourself and book your trip to Vietnam today.