Vietnam has been recognized as Asia’s leading tourism destination thrice since 2018 — and is vying for the same award this year. With everything that it has to offer to travelers, from the pristine landscapes, rich and varied cuisine, and cultural heritage sites that offer a glimpse into the ways of life and culture of the locals, there’s no doubt this storied nation is a journey worth taking.
For those dreaming of visiting Vietnam and taking their own meaningful journey, now is the best time to check it off your bucket list. The country’s tourism industry is beginning to gain momentum, with foreign arrivals increasing month after month after Vietnam reopened its borders in March. With the government having already scrapped most entry requirements, getting into the country is almost back to pre-pandemic condition: Easy and hassle-free.
But if Vietnam’s diversity and regional distinctiveness make it hard to decide where to go first, here are some recommendations of the best destinations from Vietnam’s travel experts. Pick one or pick all — Vietnam’s splendor will leave you astonished.
For an enchanting first stop: Hanoi
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, features the right balance of a well-preserved culture and contemporary allure. The city of eight million surprises every traveler that sets foot in it. The tree-lined lanes, colonial facades, cool art galleries, and sophisticated rooftop bars take them to two different eras all at the same time — a kind of vibe you won’t find anywhere else in the country.
Rob Rankin, Vietnam Country Manager at Abercrombie & Kent, fully agrees that this magnificent city deserves to be the first stop for any traveler entering Vietnam.
“The first stop for someone visiting Vietnam has to be Hanoi. The cultural heart and capital of Vietnam, 1000-year old Hanoi is a city of surprising beauty where rows of narrow houses stand alongside elegant French-colonial mansions and ancient traditional temples,” he explained.
The meandering streets of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, Rob added, are where life in Hanoi is centered. With the small boutiques, coffee shops and street vendors dotted around, Hanoi exudes unintimidating energy.
“It’s the perfect first stop because it encapsulates both the ancient traditional and the modern, rapidly developing Vietnam in one fascinating panorama. Even as a long-time resident I’m enchanted more on each visit.”
For a warm welcome: Hoi An
Hoi An is an easy-going, friendly, and slow-paced town in Central Vietnam. Here, the yellow shophouses lined on the streets, the colorful silk lanterns, and the sampans coming and going from the old ferry quay are a sure delight to the senses.
But it is the friendly and warm locals that make the Ancient Town an exceptional destination, according to Nguyen Cuong Bach, co-founder at Metta Voyage.
“Visitors will find the locals here very friendly and warm-hearted like they’re welcoming a friend in their home,” Bach said.
The beauty of Hoi An also inspires romance, having been named one of the most romantic tourist destinations in the world. It possesses an ancient charm and peaceful elegance — thanks to the ancient architecture and sparkling streets — reigniting love among visiting couples.
“I would like to suggest that tourists try boating on the Hoai River and release beautiful small lanterns carrying wishes along the water. Stroll around Hoian night market, immerse yourself in the bustling crowd, enjoy specialties or participate in folk games in Hoi An,” said Bach.
For a taste of tropical paradise: Phu Yen and Quy Nhon
For beach lovers, the coasts of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon offer a piece of paradise. Marie-Anne Palces, director of product and marketing at Luxperia DMC, said the “undiscovered havens of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon should be added to one’s trip.”
Both beach havens are still relatively unknown to most travelers, but they’re starting to gain well-deserved attention among those wanting to enjoy turquoise waters and white sand beaches away from the crowd. They’re serene and luxurious in their own ways, giving visitors a glimpse of Vietnam’s other facets.
The last few years saw a growing number of hotels and tourism enclaves, though not as exuberant and seemingly uncontrolled as the island of Phu Quoc. These two destinations are still very much isolated, sometimes unfortunately skipped; but this makes them the most ideal places to bask in the warmth of the Vietnam sun.
For culture and tranquility: Hue
“Hue is a story full of pleasure and discovery in your journey to Vietnam,” said Vinh Hoang, product specialist at Trails of Indochina. Hue is historic, legendary, and cultural, with most of the things you’d see in the city having imperial legacies. The city is home to pagodas and mansions that bear stories of the Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Even though the centuries that passed, Hue has stayed true to its identity. And tourism here is based on preservation and respect for the past and the gifts nature has bestowed on the languid city.
“Tourism development in Hue is based on the respect of the eco principles, the high appreciation of natural heritage, the wealth of biodiversity, and the preservation of the ecosystem that are offered by the proud local communities for visitors to Hue,” added Vinh.
Do Phuong, co-founder at Slow Travel Hue, concurs. “If the new conscious traveler will ‘cut’ Vietnam into two round trips, then the center is best to land first and get a true feeling of Vietnam.”
“It has a great diversity of landscape and typography. Everything is within a radius of 50km—slow living, green living, traditions well maintained. It is a city of heritage, culture, art, and food of course,” Phuong noted.
Having personally made itineraries and escorted foreign travelers around Hue, Phuong can attest that the city is as beautiful as it is an important story that needs to be told and heard.
For an ultimate bucket-list experience: Halong Bay
There's no place in Vietnam that’s as famous as Halong Bay. A surreal and majestic natural wonder that feels spiritual in a sense, Halong Bay paved the way for Vietnam’s recognition on the global tourism stage. The towering limestone pillars, tiny islets, and the surrounding emerald waters — everything here is awe-inspiring.
“Halong Bay is a famous place that provides majestic natural scenery with many wild features,” said Bui Thanh Tu, CMO at BestPrice Travel. “The clean beaches, beautiful caves combined with interesting activities like kayaking, swimming, rowing boat present an unforgettable experience.”
Overnight and days-long cruises are the latest trends in Halong, as travelers aim to see and explore the scenery closer and longer, taking in the magic the place emits. There are also nearby islets, floating villages, and caves that add excitement to the whole journey.
“Halong Bay is for everyone — for friends, for couples, and for families with children and seniors. It should be part of every traveler’s bucket list.”