Where to travel to in Vietnam

Ninh Binh limestone waterway (left), Annie in Hoi An (right)

With its rich culture, ancient temples, recent war history, and breathtaking countryside, Vietnam is an enchanting destination that caters to all kinds of travelers. 

As my first time back in Asia after 19 years, I decided to join this month-long Southeast Asia tour with Gadventures, spending the bulk of the time in Vietnam.

For those who prefer to plan our own trips, deciding on where to visit in Vietnam can be an overwhelming task as Vietnam is packed with destinations. 

In this post, I'll break down my top destinations (from north Vietnam to the south) as a professional photographer and culture-enthusiast for where to travel to in Vietnam. 

Depending on the number of destinations you’re planning to visit, I recommend 6+ days for 2 destinations, up to 16+ days for all 7 destinations.

Affiliate Disclaimer: Certain links in this article are affiliate links. When you click on one of those links and purchase, I will earn a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. Please note that I only promote products and services I believe will provide value.

Table of Contents

Hanoi: Capital City Where Tradition Meets Modernity

Vietnam is a long country in dimension, and we started from the top in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. I stayed in the Old Quarter, and it is an energetic bundle of non-stop traffic.

Traffic lights in Vietnam are more of a suggestion–definitely a culture shock for my first day in Vietnam. Nevertheless, I learned to find the rapid pace and local lifestyle charming after my first 2 days.

The trick to crossing the street is to steady pace yourself so the motorbikes can estimate your speed.

Colorful streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

Motorbike driving past a local flower shop in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi things to do:

  • Explore the narrow alleys of the Old Quarter, and walk around Hoan Kiem Lake (also known as Turtle Tower)
  • Enjoy a coffee break and friendly photoshoot sessions at the famous Train Street.
    • Entrance #1: 224 on Le Duan street
    • Entrance #2: 5 on Tran Phu street
    • The train schedule is inconsistent but I recommend visiting in the morning for the best chance and prepare to stay up to 1 hour before a train passes. I was lucky enough to sit through 2 train during my coffee break! 
  • For history lovers, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum is a great way to enjoy your afternoon. It was initially used by the French colonists for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam to hold American war prisoners during the Vietnam War.
    • Address: 1 P. Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Many of the Vietnamese food during my trip were great, but the must-try food in Hanoi are Pho noodles, Banh Mi sandwiches, and egg coffee.

Drinking coffee at the Train Street in Hanoi, Vietnam


Known as a popular Vietnamese dish, Pho is a noodle soup comfort food that locals prefer to have during breakfast, but travelers usually find them more suitable for lunch or dinner.

Top Pho places in Hanoi: 

  • Pho Gia Truyen
    • Address: 49 P. Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietna
    • Known for its authentic Pho experience
  • Pho Thin
    • Address: 13 P. Lò Đúc, Phạm Đình Hổ, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam
    • Known for its unique style or rare beef and secret family recipe

Banh Mi 

Banh Mi sandwiches were one of my favorites to have for breakfast, or as a grab-and-go lunch. Its cultural origin is influenced by the French baguettes, traced back to the French colonial period in Vietnam. 

Top Banh Mi places in Hanoi:

  • Banh Mi Tram
    • Address: 30 P. Đình Ngang, Cửa Nam, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
    • Known for serving the baguette and fillings separately and their signature sauce
    • Banh Mi 25
      • Address: 25 P Hàng Cá, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
      • Known for its popularity among travelers for its diverse taste, and it’s has great vegetarian options

    Egg Coffee

    Vietnam has a huge coffee culture, also influenced by the French and there’s a hidden gem on the north side of the Turtle Tower lake known for one of the greatest egg coffees in Hanoi: 

    • Cafe Dinh
      • Address: 13 P. Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
      • Known for its traditional, cozy ambience and a secret family recipe passed through generations.
      • The entrance to the cafe is hidden as you’d have to walk up a narrow flight of stairs but it’s well worth the experience. 

    Ha Long Bay: Nature’s masterpiece sculpted by time and tide

    A trip to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi is well-worth it! It is a stunning blend of emerald waters, towering limestone formations, and caves, giving us an enchanting experience with picture-perfect views all around. 

    Ha Long Bay day trips from Hanoi on double decker boats are quite nice, but you can opt for overnight cruises for an elevated experience. Both options are affordable for most westerners.

    Ha Long Bay boat tour

    Ha Long Bay boat tour

    Ninh Binh: Ha Long Bay on land

    One of the most magical places during my trip to Vietnam was Ninh Binh. It’s a pristine landscape of limestone mountains and waterways for nature lovers. 

    Ninh Binh things to do:

    • Catch a sunset in front of a peaceful homestay
      • Our homestay provided meals as there weren't many restaurants in Ninh Binh. 
      • We stayed at Trang An River View Homestay, which was a peaceful place right by the water for sunset as not all homestays face west.
      • Address: 479 B Tràng An, Ninh Xuân, Hoa Lư, Ninh Bình, Vietnam
    • Hike Hang Mua Peak and stroll through the magical Lotus Lake below it
    • Take a boat tour through the grottos 
    • Bike ride through the countryside–check if your homestay offers bike rentals!

    Food to try in Ninh Binh:

    • Mountain goat–this region of Vietnam is known for them!
    • Morning Glory vegetable dish

    Ninh Binh limestone mountain views

    Ninh Binh Lotus Lake (left), Hang Mua Peak (right)

    Phong Nha Caves

    Phong Nha is a quiet town filled with unique caves that call for adventure. Explore the colossal Son Doong cave, the world's largest, and discover hidden gems like Paradise Cave. 

    Despite its quietness, there are usually enough travelers for a memorable night life. After a day of adventure, we met other travelers at our hostel and enjoy a game of pool at a nearby restaurant.

    Phong Nha boat cave tour

    Hoi An: Ancient Riverside Town with Chinese Heritage

    Hoi An Old Town is probably my favorite city in Vietnam, filled with timeless charm and romance. You'll find beautiful lantern-lit streets, colorful architecture, and riverside boats. Almost everywhere you turn is a picturesque scene.

    Hoi An things to do:

    • Wander the streets of Hoi An Old Town
    • Enjoy an afternoon at the Reaching Out Tea House. This was definitely one of my most serene experiences in Vietnam.
      • Address: 131 Trần Phú, Old Town, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
      • It's a unique tea spot hires employees with hearing or speech disabilities so it’s a calming place to journal or people watching. 
    • Visit a tailor shop for affordable, custom-made outfits
    • Enjoy a riverside boat ride after dark
    • Stroll through the night markets, where you’ll find many enchanting lanterns.
      • Hoi An night market hours are from 5pm to 11pm everyday.

    Colorful streets of Hoi An, Vietnam

    Local restaurant in Hoi An (left), pouring tea at the Reaching Out Tea House (right)

    Ky Co Beach in Qui Nhon

    Close to Qui Nhon is Ky Co Beach, a coastal paradise boasting silky white sands and inviting turquoise waters. 

    You can scuba dive and snorkel there, or relax under an umbrella (it costs approximately $10 per umbrella). When it's time for lunch, you can simply walk over to one of the beach restaurants on the boardwalk.

    It was a bit more crowded in the morning but started to empty out in late afternoon. 

    This beach also has cute props like a piano on the pier, a beach swing, and hammocks. 

    So if you’re looking to take Instagram-worthy travel pictures at this paradise beach, I recommend waiting until late afternoon for the empty beach and softer lighting.

    Man doing a flip into the clear waters at Ky Co Beach (left), Row of straw umbrellas at Ky Co Beach (right)

    Beach hammock at Ky Co Beach (left), People playing in the water (right)

    Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

    Last but not least, a trip to Vietnam is incomplete without a visit to the history-filled city of Saigon, also called Ho Chi Minh City.

    This modern Vietnamese city juxtaposes the country’s recent war history, a testament to how fast Vietnam’s economy has developed since the 70s yet you’ll still find those with limb deformities due to Agent Orange from the Vietnam War.

    Meeting and seeing locals that have been affected by the war is eye-opening and a valuable part of my Vietnam travel experience.

    Moments like these don't escape you.

    It makes me grateful, and I aspire for their strength to remain stoic and optimistic despite their struggles. 

    Saigon things to do:

    • Visit the War Remnants Museum for raw insights of the war
    • Take a Cu Chi Tunnels tour from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) 
    • Browse the night markets for souvenirs 
    • Visit the iconic Bitexco Financial Tower Sky Deck for panoramic views of the city 

    Final Thoughts

    Vietnam reveals a tapestry of cultural richness and natural beauty. From the dynamic streets of Hanoi to the serene allure of Ha Long Bay, each destination offers a unique experience. 

    Ninh Binh charms nature lovers with its untouched landscapes, while Phong Nha invites adventurers to explore its world-renowned caves. 

    Hoi An captivates with its romantic riverside ambiance, and Qui Nhon's Ky Co Beach provides a coastal paradise with turquoise waters and Instagram-worthy scenery. 

    Lastly, Saigon balances modernity with historical depth, ensuring that Vietnam's diverse offerings leave an indelible mark on every traveler. 

    Vietnam is a fascinating and rapidly developing blend of tradition and modernity. My time there introduced me to a different way of life, and I’m grateful for the amazing memories–now it’s your turn!

    To shop Vietnam prints for wall art, check out my collection below.


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                Hi, I'm Annie

                Thanks for reading my blog!

                I'm a travel photographer from NYC who discovered her love for photography in middle school. After I started my corporate job, I turned to photography as my escape. It was then that I decided photography wasn't just a hobby, and start Annie Ambience to inspire others to connect with the world.

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