With its awe-inspiring landscapes, expansive history, and fantastic food, Vietnam attracts tourists from all over the world. In this article, we explore seven unique Vietnamese experiences no visitor should miss.
1. Sample the street food.
Famed the world over for its fragrant herbs and spices, Vietnamese street food tempts the senses with an array of exciting aromas and flavors. Regardless of the time of day, you will see locals of all ages gathering outside store fronts or beneath market awnings. Vendors offer pork belly patties, savory sticky rice, egg coffee desserts, and, of course, pho, the staple salty broth made with chicken or beef, fresh herbs, and silky rice noodles.
Some of the cheapest and best places to eat in Vietnam are found in the traditional open-air markets. There, single-dish stalls, run mostly by women, peddle delicious dishes of home-cooked fare following secret family recipes that have been handed down from mother to daughter over generations.
2. Learn more about Vietnamese history.
The history of Vietnam is tumultuous and complex, the Southeast Asian country having been invaded and riven numerous times. Today, a strong colonial influence remains, visible in everything from the coffee and food to the architecture.
Interwoven with our own past, Vietnamese history is not only fascinating, but important to learn about. Numerous monuments and museums in the country today are dedicated to the Vietnam War. More than 60 percent of the population of Vietnam was born after the war ended in 1975. Today, the country may have moved on, but the sacrifices made on both sides are still commemorated across the nation, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City.
3. Explore the world’s largest cave.
Situated in Quang Binh province, a region of barely penetrable jungle near the border with Laos, Phong Nha National Park is riddled with hundreds of vast caverns, including the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doon, an underground expanse so tall a skyscraper could fit inside.
Phong Nha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts cavers from all over the world. With local guides for hire and rental gear available, you can find everything you need to explore this underground marvel.
Alternatively, for those who prefer to stay aboveground, the region is also famous for trekking. The surrounding jungle is dotted with imposing waterfalls, and monkeys and flying foxes are frequently spotted in the vicinity.
4. Visit Cai Rang Floating Market.
Located in the south of the country, this world-renowned floating market is staged on the Cai Rang River, 6 kilometers from the center of Can Tho. In days gone by, when travelling by road was still a major challenge, Cai Rang Floating Market played a critical role in meeting the needs of local people.
Nowadays, Vietnam’s road traffic infrastructure is much more developed. However, the floating market lives on, serving as an important economic, cultural, and tourist center.
Cai Rang is a great place to sample the local fare, its floating restaurants presided over by chefs with 40+ years’ experience, ready and waiting to serve delicious dishes like hu tieu and banh mi to locals and visitors.
5. Visit a traditional village.
Today, Vietnam is world-famous for its picture-perfect beaches and lively nightlife. By venturing to the northwest, however, visitors can get a taste of a much less touristy part of the country and sample authentic village life.
Sapa is home to several Vietnamese ethnic minorities, including the Dzao, Jarai, Bahnar, and Hmong. Each of these peoples has its own language and signature clothing, as well as its own customs and traditions. In Sapa, families live in stilted houses in differing architectural styles according to their ethnicity. They provide visitors with a tantalizing taste of their culture through traditional poetry, music, and song.
6. Immerse yourself in nature at Ban Gioc Waterfall.
Situated 360 kilometers from Hanoi in Northeast Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall is without doubt the most spectacular waterfall in all of Vietnam, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. It stands 30 meters high and 300 meters wide and sits on the border between Vietnam and China. The waterfall is fed by the Quay Son River and empties via numerous rivulets across multiple terraces, creating an unforgettably enchanting vista.
Although domestic and Chinese travelers are regular visitors, particularly on national holidays, the waterfall is largely untouched by international tourism. Foreign travelers rarely venture this far from the beaten track.
7. Cruise the Mekong Delta
The Mekong River starts in China, flowing through Laos and Cambodia, traversing Vietnam’s southernmost reaches, and emptying into the South China Sea. The Mekong Delta’s tributaries and rivers form a tropical maze through rice farms and towns.
From cruise boats, visitors look out across an expanse of lush green rice fields dotted with stilted wooden houses. Local men and women sell produce from small boats, providing snapshots of the traditional Vietnamese way of life.
The Mekong Delta is home to a myriad of rare and exotic wildlife, the Mekong River itself holding three times more fish species than the mighty Amazon. Popular with ornithologists, this region of Vietnam is home to more than 1,000 bird species.