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From frenzied cities to the peace of the rural countryside, sampan boats to sleeper trains, there is so much to see and do across Vietnam. Getting your head around it all can be quite overwhelming but fortunately, we’re here to help!
We’ve brought together ten of the top things to include in your Asian adventure to ensure you come away with an exciting, varied and cultural holiday to one of the most fascinating countries on Earth.
1. Ride the sleeper train on the Reunification Express
The famous Reunification Express runs the entire length of the country, transporting locals and visitors along the 1,726km of line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. With four departures a day (two from each), it stops at all major towns and cities along the way – and you’ll definitely want to break the journey up, as it can take 35 hours to travel from top to bottom!
Most travellers catch the overnight train between Hanoi and Danang (Hoi An) and if you head north to south, you’ll also take in the incredibly scenic Hai Van Pass between Danang and Hue, over a hearty breakfast.
So gaze out the window at the changing rural landscapes, sip on cheap refreshments and enjoy the smug feeling of opting for a low carbon footprint transport option, without the hassle of airports.
2. Vintage Vespa Tour in Ho Chi Minh City
Once dusk has fallen in Ho Chi Minh City, why not hop on the back of a vintage Vespa and zip through the backstreets of Saigon with your experienced driver? This is one of the most exhilarating things to do across the whole of Vietnam!
Along the way, you’ll take in the vibrant local culture, stop off to taste plenty of delicious street food, and people-watch as you cruise along the bustling streets after dark. After a fun-filled night, your final pit stop will see you visit a local (child-friendly) bar for some live music and a well-earned drink!
As well as in Ho Chi Minh City on our Scooting through Saigon bite-size trip, we can also help arrange similar activities in Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An.
3. Lazing by the lagoon
How does two blissful nights in a lagoon retreat, focusing on wellness, mindfulness and yoga sound to you? Yeah…we thought so!
Enjoy ‘clean eating‘ that will nourish your body, soul and mind as you unwind in tranquil, picturesque surroundings. Tucked away on the central coast, close to Hue and Hoi An, this trip will have you breathing deeply and recharging in no time, whether you prefer kayaking across calm waters or finding a quiet spot to read a book.
This is definitely one of our top things to do in Vietnam when you need a rest from the bustling cities and being on the road.
4. Homestay experience in the Mekong Delta
If you’re looking to escape the busy streets of city life, then you could do a lot worse than head off for a taste of life by the river amongst the jumble of waterways and traditional villages that make up the Mekong Delta.
And what better way to make it a truly meaningful experience than by spending a night living like a local in an authentic family-run homestay? Here, you’ll receive a heartwarming welcome, hearty home-cooked food, and simple, yet charming, accommodation in an idyllic setting.
By day, you’ll explore the immense floating markets and lush orchards by boat and by bicycle before returning back to modern day life!
5. Lend a hand in Hue
Here at Rickshaw, we’re all about meaningful travel and nothing epitomises this more than rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in on a working farm in the heart of the Vietnamese countryside.
Set amongst a backdrop of rice paddies and water buffalo, you’d spend the day living like a local and lending a hand to plough the fields, pick fruit, or perhaps catch some fish – all using traditional farming techniques.
If you’re looking for a more authentic experience and to get closer to the real heart of the country, this is not only one of the most unusual things to do in Vietnam, but one of the most rewarding.
6. Head into the Highlands
Before you dive into the frenzied cities or head for the coast, it’s worth delving inland to the Central Highlands around Dalat and Lak Lake. The lake is the largest in the area and you can cruise around it via long boat or kayak, enjoying the serene rise and fall of the sun against the striking backdrop of the countryside. Hike among waterfalls and enjoy a visit to the three M’nong villages, scattered around the lake. The villagers here live a subsistence, agrarian life in which they are self-sufficient in food; growing mainly dry rice, corn, sweet potatoes, watermelon and cassava.
From the lake, you can zip off to Dalat (one of the best ways to see this area is by motorbike). At 1500 m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau, you are offered a cool and misty freshness that is quite different to the rest of tropical Vietnam. For those who seek adrenaline fuelled activities, Dalat is also the adventure sports capital of southern Vietnam, offering zip lines, canyoning, mountain biking, rafting and hiking.
7. Go Underground in Vietnam
Vietnam is home to some of the most extraordinary subterranean chasms in the world and deep in the heart of Phong Nha National Park lies some of the largest, longest and oldest karst systems ever discovered.
You too can plunge into the giant cavernous network of caves and tunnels to explore the hidden depths and narrow passageways of this stunning national park. During our Historic Trails & Hidden Caves bite-size trip, you can visit Phong Nha, Tien Son and Paradise Cave. For those seeking even more adventure, why not zipline your way to the Dark Cave to enjoy the natural mud bath in near complete darkness?
Vietnam is also famous for its underground network of tunnels that were used during the war to shelter from the bombardment. As you leave Phong Nha though, you’ll pass through the DMZ and stop at the lesser-known (but equally impressive) Vinh Moc Tunnels for a chance to learn all about life underground and have a crawl through them.
8. Two-wheel adventures
A fantastic way to explore Vietnam is on two wheels! Bicycle rental is cheap and a much more flexible way to explore, as you’re a lot more independent and don’t need to rely on a driver.
It also gets you out in the open rather than being cooped up inside a car and you’ll undoubtedly discover a lot more by being able to nip down small alleyways when exploring the cities or along dirt trails in the countryside. Pushbikes also have zero carbon footprint, are quiet, and give you an opportunity to burn off your beers!
Obviously, there are dangers being more exposed on a pedal bike, so always wear a helmet and make sure you are covered by insurance. Decent footwear is a must and despite the heat, make sure you wear clothing that offers some protection.
9. Hoi An’s Lantern Festival
On the 14th day of each lunar month, Hoi An plays host to a spectacular luminous display with its colourful Lantern Festival. By closing the streets off to anything on wheels and pulling the electrical plug, hundreds of lanterns illuminate the ancient city for an evening of enchanting festivity – with the streets filled with revellers enjoying cultural dance, music, painting, and amazing food.
One of the most popular things to do is take a sampan boat ride on the river, lighting a candle to set sail in a paper lantern – believed to bring good fortune and love to those who do so. It is an incredibly photogenic experience too so don’t forget the camera!
Additionally, if you’re travelling mid-September time, don’t miss the Mid Autumn ‘Harvest Festival’ – with a public display of the Lion Dance.
The festival is also free so as you just need to be out and about in the streets to enjoy it, and there is no need to purchase any specific tickets in advance. Win!
10. And after all of that… hit the beach!
Vietnam’s beaches might not be as famous as some of its South East Asian neighbours, but they are just as special. They are also nowhere near as busy, meaning they remain far more unspoiled and with so many options across the country, there is a beach for everyone.
Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Palm Island, Hoi An, Mui Ne, Ho Tram… the list is exhaustive. Each will have you drifting away to your happy place, cocktail in hand and golden sand sinking between your toes.
Interested in booking a beach stay in Vietnam during your travels? Our Vietnam beaches guide will give you everything you need to get started…
For even more Vietnam travel tips, head to our travel guide below.