James Travel

Things to do in Vietnam: 15 Best Vietnam Experiences

Since the US lifted its embargo in 1995, Vietnam has risen dramatically on the international tourism map. From a modest number of 1,351,300 foreign tourists in 1995, Vietnam welcomed 18.02 million visitors by 2019, ranking fourth among ASEAN countries.

The food is exquisite, full of colors, flavors, and deliciousness. People are kind, friendly, and generous. Traffic in big cities may be chaotic due to the population, but the government is striving to improve. Accommodations and tours are affordable for most people.

Regarding diversity, Vietnam is in its own league. Climate, culture, scenery, and architecture change every region. You never find bored while traveling. There is always something new every day.

Life in this country changes rapidly, yet you still find an exciting combination of old and new, tradition and modernity. The younger generation embraces new opportunities and is ready for change. However, the older generation still quietly holds onto the good old values, making your trip to Vietnam memorable.

A journey from North to South will give you fascinating perspectives. The conservativeness of the North starkly contrasts with the South’s open-mindedness. Hanoi is ancient. HCMC is bustling. Hue is contemplative. Hoi An is one-of-a-kind. Vast tea plantations, impressive terraced rice fields, breathtaking caves, enchanting coastlines, and parts of the country seemingly unchanged for the past 100 years – all promise a series of unique adventures.

Scroll down to discover the 15 best experiences Vietnam has to offer. However, you don’t have to see it all in one go. Each destination itself is more than just an experience, beckoning you to return and explore the places you missed on your first trip.

1. Search The Best Phở in Hanoi

The most famous dish in Vietnam is Phở. Phở varies slightly across the country based on regional tastes. Hanoi is where people are most conservative about Phở —that’s understandable, as the capital of Vietnam is the birthplace of this noodle. They believe that only Phở in Hanoi has the most authentic taste. They don’t just casually walk into any Phở restaurant. Some only eat at one restaurant for decades, regardless of the praise about others.

For Hanoians, a delicious bowl of Phở is like a sensory delight. It’s not just about the piping hot broth, tender meat, and chewy noodles. It’s also about the smell game of spicy ginger, pepper, chili, and scallions. The first spoonful will lead to a second, a third, and so on. 

There are many schools of Phở in Hanoi regarding the cooking methods. Still, generally, there are the following: Traditional Phở, Nam Dinh Phở, sautéed beef Phở, red wine beef stew Phở, and Phở rolls.

Traditional Phở is known for its clear broth and sweet taste from simmered beef bones rather than MSG. Nam Dinh Phở uses pure fish to flavor and has a more prosperous, fattier taste and more ginger flavor. Red wine beef stew Phở is a fusion of Vietnamese and French cuisine. Sautéed beef Phở has an interesting story.  The first person to introduce sautéed beef Phở was Mr. Thin – a Hanoian, in 1979. Instead of boiling, he started to sauté the beef with garlic and shallots, creating an irresistible aroma that attracted diners to his restaurant.

Hanoians love Phở so much that it’s always a great topic of debate among Phở enthusiasts. Someone naively posts, “Restaurant A has the best Phở in Hanoi,” and is immediately followed by hundreds of comments agreeing, disagreeing, and arguing. It feels like every Hanoian is a Phở expert fighting to protect their favorite bowl of Phở.

Below are some local restaurants that are worth trying in Hanoi. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they’re the best.

2. Look Back into The Vietnam War in HCMC

Over its 300 years of history, Saigon-Gia Dinh has become one of Vietnam’s most developed cities, with a population of over 9 million. The name Saigon-Gia Dinh is no longer officially used. Instead, it is called Ho Chi Minh City. However, the city still holds many old memories, including the turbulent days of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War started in November 1955 and lasted until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. The first American soldiers arrived in Vietnam in August 1950 to assist the French. After Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Americans continued to send troops to South Vietnam to support Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic leader in a predominantly Buddhist country.

When the war ended, 58,220 American soldiers died in a war in which the winner was still a subject of debate. While Vietnam gained independence, it also suffered a loss of approximately 3.5 million people, including 630,000 innocent civilians who died from bombing raids.

Nearly 50 years have passed since the end of the war, and Vietnam has changed significantly. It is now a peaceful country with a growing economy. Many Vietnamese who left the country for other lands after the war have returned. Vietnamese people are friendly with American visitors and all other tourists. Only the historical monuments in Ho Chi Minh City (and other parts of the country) remain silent witnesses to a period filled with ups and downs. 

There are some names, such as the Voice of Ho Chi Minh City People, the U.S. Embassy, and Independence Palace, where the Saigon commandos attacked intensely during the Tet Offensive in 1968.  The War Remnants Museum, which opened in 1975, features exhibits of photographs of military equipment, including helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, and guns, and recreates models of prison life and the chemical warfare that took place

Come and learn more about the country’s history for a better understanding of the war, to remember the soldiers who passed away, and to appreciate the changes in Vietnam today.

3. Trek The Mountains in The Northern Mountains

The northern mountainous region has always been my great love. It’s hard to remember how many trips I’ve taken there, but after each trip, I find something to long for.

It is no exaggeration to say that the northern mountains hold the most beautiful natural landscapes, unique indigenous cultures, and challenging trekking routes in Vietnam. This region is a tale of two halves. The Northeast is a wilderness of ethnic villages still sparsely visited by tourists, terraced rice fields clinging to the mountainsides, rising from the valley floor to the sky, and rivers winding through limestone cliffs. This part is home to attractions like Hoang Su Phi, Ma Pi Leng, Ban Gioc Waterfall, Ba Be Lake, Dong Van Plateau, and especially the legendary Ha Giang Loops.

In contrast to the grandeur of the Northeast, it is a romantic and poetic Northwest. You see terraced rice fields, tea hills covering the lower slopes, natural hot springs, and ethnic minorities in beautiful, colorful, and intricate hand-embroidered costumes. If you’ve heard names like Sapa, Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Mu Cang Chai, and Tu Le, these are the towns of Northwestern Vietnam.

The most authentic way to explore Vietnam’s northern mountains is trekking. The trek takes you through terraced fields, reach ethnic villages on the mountainsides, and find deep waterfalls in the forests. Hmong men carry a small black pig to sell at the market. Young girls with dreamy eyes and cheeks blush, and their heads bow shyly when a white person waves. Women in flared skirts carrying heavy loads of firewood on their backs, slightly bent over but always smiling.

Thanks to convenient transportation, Sapa and Mai Chau are the most popular tourist destinations. Even so, I still find their unique beauty. I trek through stilt houses with breathtaking views of rice fields and forests. I like to stop and chat with the locals to learn more about their ethnic cultures, even though we are all Vietnamese. I would not consider these places untouched lands but rather a region that is partly urbanized and partly retains its wilderness. Regardless, the innocent nature and indigenous culture are still there.

4. Taste The Best Street Food in Hanoi Old Quarter

The 1 square kilometer of Hanoi’s Old Quarter is home to some of the freshest, healthiest, and most delicious food on Earth. Dishes are often served in relatively small portions, so you can eat to your heart’s content without worrying about gaining weight. That’s what I love most about this place.

The population density in the Old Quarter is 39,830 people/km², 138 times higher than the national average. Some living spaces are as small as five m² (unbelievable, right?). Now, many might ask: why do many Old Quarter residents still stay?

The answer is: Nowhere in the city is as convenient as the old quarter, where every need is met just a few steps outside. One meter from the door, up to ten different breakfast options are on the same street. There are even more choices for lunch and dinner. Street vendors walk by every ten minutes with all kinds of food. Even how people eat makes the Old Quarter’s culinary scene special and strangely addictive. Imagine a steaming bowl of noodles on a plastic stool on the pavement – you get what I mean.

Let’s start with the Bánh Cuốn (Steamed Rice Rolls) stall, often packed with frequenters. They only cook Bánh Cuốn when someone orders, so the food is always fresh and good. The rice rolls hide minced wood ear mushrooms and pork inside, sprinkled with fragrant crispy fried shallots. Each customer gets a small bowl of dipping sauce. Add lemon juice, chili, and garlic vinegar to your preference. Dip the roll into the sauce and enjoy. The food is wonderful, with the rich, delicious minced pork seeping into the tender steamed rice rolls bursting in your mouth.

Bánh Giò (Pyramid Rice Dumpling) is a favorite snack of Hanoians but less known to Westerners. This typical breakfast dish is made from rice flour with a fatty filling of minced pork, onions, and spices. The ‘cake’ is wrapped in pyramid-shaped layers of banana leaves and steamed until cooked. The outer is soft, and the filling is tasty. One Bánh Giò costs only 15,000 VND and is served with chili sauce and pickled cucumbers.

One of my favorites is Bún Cá (Fish Noodle Soup), a dish that often goes under the radar. It features a fragrant, elegant broth with a mild sour taste. The must-try list continues with Bánh Bao – Steamed Buns with minced meat filling often accompanied by two quail eggs; Bánh Mì with char siu, pate, cucumbers, herbs, and some types of sauces; Gỏi Đu Đủ – Papaya Salad with shredded green papaya, dried beef, herbs, and roasted peanuts on top; and Nước Mía – Sugarcane Juice, a refreshing drink easily found at small roadside stalls, as cheap as 10,000 VND per glass.

Enjoy Vietnam. It’s a delicious country.

5. Visit Pagodas To Learn Vietnamese Spiritual Life

Religion significantly influences the spiritual life of Vietnamese people. Few tourists realize that spiritual architecture in Vietnam includes not only pagodas but also communal houses, temples, and shrines. Pagodas alone number 18.491 and are scattered from North to South, playing a crucial role in the culture.

Vietnamese people view Buddhism as both sacred and intimate. Throughout the nation’s history, pagodas have been built in almost every village. In Vietnamese beliefs, a pagoda represents humanistic philosophy and the spirit of tolerance and harmony.

Pagoda’s architectures vary by region in Vietnam. In the North, this structure is primarily built of wood with ancient carvings, a solemn atmosphere, and dozens of Buddha statues made of bronze, wood, or clay, offering a very special feeling of separation from the outside world.

In Ho Chi Minh City, pagodas are diverse in design and have open spaces. They have lots of doors that are widely open and welcome everyone. Even when entering a pagoda, I still feel like I’m in the city’s heart.

In Hue, people focus on Feng Shui elements. Every architectural piece, every flower, has its own meaning. Pagodas in Hue offers a very Zen and serene feeling.

The way Vietnamese people practice their faith differs from other Asian countries. Here, people are more open; they bring meat, cigarettes, and beer to the pagoda as offerings. They simply offer the best foods to the deities to show their sincere hearts. Some people pray systematically, while others do it very simply. Many believe that true reverence comes from the heart.

In the rural countryside, children come to the village pagodas in summer to play, help clean, and learn Buddhist philosophies. When I visited Tra Vinh, known for its Khmer culture, I saw kids riding their bikes to the pagoda to learn the Khmer language and listen to the monks teach about ethics. I believe this helps children develop kindness and learn to behave well as they grow up.

6. Drink beer on the sidewalk

The sidewalk beer culture is believed to have started in Hanoi decades ago, along with the street food culture. Today, tourists can sit on the pavement with a bottle of beer in almost any city in Vietnam.

Beer is a popular beverage in this country. It is available in hotels, high-end restaurants, and bars, but drinking beer on the sidewalk is a pleasure for many people. Whether you’re a person in business, a government official, or an ordinary worker, anyone can drink a glass of draft beer with light snacks like roasted peanuts or fried tofu and immerse themselves in the city’s vibrant life flowing in front of eyes.

The quickest (and most enjoyable) way to learn about the culture and lifestyle of the locals is to find a sidewalk beer stall, sit down in a plastic chair, and watch.

You will see that Vietnamese people rarely drink beer alone; they usually go in groups with friends or colleagues. Here, drinking beer is a social activity that helps build relationships and strengthen bonds between people. Instead of everyone having their own drink, people like to share. They pour a bottle into two or three glasses, serving others before serving themselves. There is always an ice bucket on the table, as they like drinking beer with ice.

Vietnamese have every reason to raise a toast. If you just get promoted, that would be the first reason to toast. But after that, countless other reasons can be thought of by anyone. Did you make everyone laugh? Raise a toast. Did someone join the party late? Raise a toast. Are you a foreigner who has just met everyone? Raise a toast. 

Vietnamese people don’t say “cheers!” but say “Một, hai, ba, dzô.” In addition to the first two quieter Dzô (similar to cheers in English), the third one is shouted loudly. So, scream as loud as you can if you’re at a street party with your Vietnamese friends.

They also like to drink “100 percent,” meaning they drink the entire glass of beer in one go instead of sipping it little by little. If you consume 100 percent, you will finish your glass of beer and then turn it upside down to show that it’s empty. But if you can’t, you can suggest something else, like fifty percent. Your Vietnamese friends will happily agree with that. After all, drinking beer with Vietnamese is a fun time to get to know each other. It reflects the open, upbeat nature of the people.

7. Cruise for 3 Days 2 Nights on Halong Bay

Many people ask if it’s worth visiting Ha Long Bay. My answer is always, “Absolutely, yes!”

People might hear that Ha Long is crowded. Of course, Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage site is consistently rated as a must-visit for its surreal beauty. In 2019, it welcomed 2.9 million foreign visitors. After COVID-19, the number was 1.15 million in 2023.

Only a few know that Ha Long Bay has two equally beautiful neighbors—Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. However, Ha Long Bay is so famous that its name often refers to all three stunning bays in the Gulf of Tonkin. All three boast some of Vietnam’s most spectacular landscapes, with towering limestone mountains, beautiful beaches, and peaceful fishing villages.

So, if you’re worried about Ha Long being crowded, you can easily switch to Lan Ha Bay. It has fewer limestone mountains, but its beauty is more pristine, with fewer tourist cruises, making this hidden gem a more tranquil experience that is perfect for those seeking an “escape” from the hustle and bustle of the cities.

The beauty of Ha Long is showcased in its landscapes and hidden in its abundant cave systems and secluded beaches.

While a day cruise is a popular and affordable option, it only gives you a glimpse of the surface of the beauty without delving deeper into the remote areas. To fully immerse yourself in the natural world heritage, I recommend a 3-day, 2-night journey. Although more expensive, the leisurely pace and rich experiences make it a worthwhile investment.

From your cabin’s balcony, you’ll find yourself drifting among limestone islands rising from the immense water surface. But the most memorable moment is during sunset when the water is dyed a fiery red by the day’s last rays. The giant islands become darkened and fade away in the distance as the sun begins to set. At that moment, Ha Long has a magical, dreamlike beauty.

8. Search The Red-shanked Douc Langurs in Da Nang

About 10km northeast of downtown Da Nang, Son Tra Peninsula is a precious treasure for its stunning beaches, lush forests, and biodiversity. Its forest ecosystem, a producer of oxygen, sustains a population of 4 million, surpassing the 1.134 million who call Da Nang home. Now you know why Da Nang is praised as the most livable city in Vietnam.

Beneath the dense foliage of Son Tra Peninsula resides a beautiful creature: the red-shanked douc langur, an endemic species of the Indochina region. The population of this species in Vietnam accounts for 83% of the total global population, with their numbers primarily concentrated and steadily growing in the Son Tra Peninsula.

I accompanied Trang and Tho to Son Tra early in the morning in April. Both are experienced experts in douc langur conservation in Da Nang, so the trip expanded my knowledge about this species, known as the queen of primates, and the bittersweetness of conservation work in Vietnam. Douc langurs in Son Tra still face poaching issues, which worries people like Trang and Tho.

Trang remembers every douc langur family on Son Tra. She impressed me because I found them all to be identical, both males and females. Trang showed me a baby douc langur clinging to its mother’s neck, saying, “The mother just gave birth two weeks ago.” Tho handed me a pair of binoculars to observe closer the beautiful faces sitting peacefully on tree branches, looking back at me. Douc langurs live in a family – typically a male, two females, and 3 or 4 offspring. The innocent eyes looking straight into my binoculars captivated my heart. It’s hard to understand why some people can do harm to these beautiful creatures and ruthlessly separate them from their families. 

Trang told me that, in the summer, she and her team often organized trips for children in Da Nang city to Son Tra Peninsula to learn about the douc langurs, all free. “We want these trips to nurture the love for nature in young generations,” Trang said. 

In Son Tra, there is another group of people enchanted by the red-shanked douc langurs. They are photographers who go to Son Tra every day, basking in the sun, waiting for a magical moment of the “model” douc langurs. With their beautiful photos, they and people like Trang and Tho are striving to raise awareness about nature, wild animals, and conservation efforts. Thus, the values of goodness are spread even further.

9. Take A Train Journey From Da Nang To Hue

The “Heritage Train” connecting the beach city of Da Nang with the heritage city of Hue ran its inaugural journey on March 26, 2024. Luckily, I was in Hue then and became one of the first to experience it.

The heritage train has five passenger cars and one dining car, with only a 10-minute stop at Lang Co station during the 1-hour journey. The train cars are clean, with large, comfortable leather seats. The dining place serves typical Central Vietnamese snacks with distinctive local flavors. I appreciated that they served small portions so I could try different foods and avoid food waste. Salted cream coffee – a trendy drink in Vietnam – is something you should try. The food stand manager told me they would introduce a buffet counter in the future so that passengers could have breakfast on the train for an extra 100,000 VND, which is quite affordable.

Embarking on the Heritage Train was a pleasing addition to my Central Vietnam journey and a comfortable alternative to a car. Traveling by train allows me to enjoy stunning coastline scenery. This sight can’t be fully appreciated by any other means of transportation. The rhythmic tatak tatak sounds on the rail tracks added nostalgia for a bygone era to the journey.

Did I mention that the Da Nang – Hue railway line will pass through the Hai Van Pass, which is considered the most beautiful railway route in Vietnam? Honestly, I can’t find a reason why you wouldn’t choose this classic mode of transportation.

According to the latest news, the “Revolution Express” train with two classic steam locomotives manufactured in the 1960s is expected to be operational by the end of 2024 or early 2025, bringing a new railway experience to the Da Nang – Hue route. I will update you more about it.

10. Trace Ancient Ruins in Hue

Time seems to move slower in Hue. Even during rush hour, the streets maintain a tranquil ambiance like a melodious tune. It’s a city where you can drive endlessly without encountering towering buildings. Hue doesn’t need those monotonous, box-shaped apartments. It already has the Perfume River, the Ngự Bình Mountain, and the ancient citadel of the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam. These are the elements that make Hue a city like no other.

Hue is a city steeped in history. Why do I say that? Many provinces need only one ancient temple to create fond memories. The ancient ruins of Huế are endless. The splendid imperial citadel still boasts moss-covered walls and harems fluttering with weeds. Two hundred years ago, this place was alive with the footsteps of emperors, concubines, and high-ranking mandarins of the Nguyen dynasty. Every part of this small city echoes the whisper of the past.

Time seems to move slower in Hue. Even during rush hour, the streets maintain a tranquil ambiance like a melodious tune. It’s a city where you can drive endlessly without encountering towering buildings. Hue doesn’t need those monotonous, box-shaped apartments. It already has the Perfume River, the Ngự Bình Mountain, and the ancient citadel of the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam. These are the elements that make Hue a city like no other.

Hue is a city steeped in history. Why do I say that? Many provinces need only one ancient temple to create fond memories. The ancient ruins of Huế are endless. The splendid imperial citadel still boasts moss-covered walls and harems fluttering with weeds. Two hundred years ago, this place was alive with the footsteps of emperors, concubines, and high-ranking mandarins of the Nguyen dynasty. Every part of this small city echoes the whisper of the past.

11. Learn About Nước Mắm - The Soul of Vietnam Cuisine

Fish sauce is the soul and essence of Vietnamese cuisine, setting it apart from the rest of the world. In every Vietnamese family meal, a small bowl of fish sauce connects everyone on the table.

Despite its widespread use, the exact origin of Vietnamese fish sauce remains unknown. However, many researchers agree that the Vietnamese learned the art of making fish sauce from the Cham people. This is a reasonable assumption.

The Champa Kingdom dates back to the 2nd century. It was once extremely powerful, then collapsed and became an ethnic minority in Vietnam in the early 19th century. Stretched along the Central Coast, the Champa people were renowned for seafaring and expertise in fish sauce making—a popular method of preserving food in ancient times.

People still make fish sauce manually in Central Vietnam. This beloved sauce has a unique flavor in each region, depending on the local fish, climate characteristics, and taste preferences.

Drive along the coastline and visit a fish sauce production facility to observe the process. Phú Quốc, with its rich source of anchovies, is famous for fish sauce with a high protein content, ranging from 40 to 43 degrees. In Ninh Thuận, the last land of the Cham kingdom before its fall, fish sauce facilities are located just a few hundred meters from the fishing ports to secure the freshest fish. Phan Thiết boasts over 300 years of fish sauce-making secrets. Nha Trang, Bình Định, and Đà Nẵng—each province has its own fish sauce brands.

The traditional production of Vietnamese fish sauce is a fascinating process. Huge wooden barrels, bound with thick rattan ropes, are filled with tons of fish and salt. These are then pressed down and fermented for six months to a year. The first liters of amber liquid drawn from these barrels, called Nước Mắm Nhĩ, are the finest and most expensive fish sauce.

Hội An, typically known for its picturesque ancient town, also has fish sauce production facilities that visitors can tour. Although fish sauce production in Hội An is not as well-known as in the aforementioned, it preserves the authenticity of the traditional methods.

12. Explore Én Cave - The World’s Third-largest Cave in Quang Binh

If you’re an avid trekker, you must explore Hang En – a spectacular cave system easier to conquer than Son Doong Cave, both in terms of cost, physical effort, and registration conditions. Adventure enthusiasts who haven’t been able to register for a Son Doong tour can choose En Cave instead. 

En Cave lies in the heart of the limestone mountain complex in Phong Nha—Ke Bang National Park. It is the third largest cave in the world, after Son Doong Cave (also in Phong Nha—Ke Bang National Park) and Deer Cave (Malaysia). ‘En’ is the Vietnamese word for Swallows. The cave has this name because it is the habitat of tens of thousands of swallows, who hardly ever know about humans.  

The journey to En Cave involves trekking over 10km into pristine forests with towering ancient trees, wading through the Rao Thuong River with colorful butterflies landing like flowers on the ground. You’ll pass through dense wild grass, the Doong village of the Van Kieu ethnic people, and take a boat before reaching En Cave – a natural wonder formed 500 million years ago. It’s a venturesome, exciting, romantic, and unforgettable journey.

En Cave is so enormous that it can hold hundreds of people and is as tall as a 40-story building. Inside, you see a natural giant skylight welcoming the mysterious light of nature, jade-colored lakes, white sand beaches, and some tents where you’ll spend the night. It’s a privilege to sleep in such an environment.

Each centimeter of stalactites in the cave conceals hundreds of millions of years of history. They still “live” in the journey of nature’s creation. So, when you can enter this natural wonder, please mind your steps. 

Not only was En Cave home to swallows, but it was also once inhabited by Arem people – the latest ethnic group discovered in Vietnam in 1956. When found, the Arem people lived a very primitive life, wearing bark clothes and eating raw, uncooked food. However, they never consumed all of the forest’s resources but always left some for the forest to continue to grow – something that makes us reflect and learn, isn’t it?

13. Enjoy The Idyllic Countryside in Chau Doc, Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta region is located in the southwestern part of Vietnam, spanning an area of 41,000 square kilometers. In this area, nature and humans are closely intertwined. The Mekong River is the bloodline, providing livelihoods for millions living along its banks through aquaculture and rice cultivation.

I have visited nine out of the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta. While I’m fond of Tra Vinh, Chau Doc is the most beautiful place I’ve seen. You should visit both, but opt for Chau Doc if your time is limited. It has rivers, mountains, endless rice fields, and a diverse cultural tapestry of Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham, and Khmer, as well as enticing cuisine.

The most peaceful and beautiful rural scenery in Chau Doc is the rice fields in Tri Ton and Tinh Bien during harvest. Narrow pathways, just wide enough for a bicycle, resemble delicate threads weaving through the expansive rice fields stretching as far as the Cambodian border. Scattered here are towering palm trees bending gracefully. Harvest season is also when children run out to the fields to catch field mice, a famous dish in the Mekong region.

Cruise on Chau Doc River – a branch of the Mekong River – in the early morning to admire the floating fish rafts in the mistiness under the dawn light. In the distance, a couple on a small boat calmly cast nets into the river. With a series of hydroelectric dams built on the upper Mekong, the number of fish downstream has decreased. The Mekong is gradually losing its flood seasons – the most expected time among farmers. Between August and November, seasonal floods are the warm cradles for shrimp and fish to shelter and reproduce.

If you want to take a short walk, just ask the boat to stop by the riverside to enter Chau Giang or Chau Phong village. The Cham people here are Muslim. They still live in low-rise wooden houses and diligently pray at mosques, which are outstanding in their characteristic Islamic architecture and colors.

Admiring the peaceful life of Chau Doc today, it’s hard to imagine that this land once witnessed the Vietnamese massacre by the Khmer Rouge in April 1978. The people of Chau Doc do not forget those 12 horrifying days, but that doesn’t mean they harbor hatred. They are one of the most gentle and sincere people I’ve met. That’s why life here is so laid-back and serene in this part of Vietnam.

14. Visit Vietnam’s Coffee Capital in Buon Me Thuot

Without even trying, you can see Vietnamese people’s love for coffee displayed everywhere on the streets. Friends meet to chat, colleagues take breaks during lunchtime, or business partners meet to discuss work—all happen at cafes. Going for coffee has become a daily habit of the locals. They drink coffee at any time of the day, share good coffee spots, and update each other on the latest coffee trends. Of course, trendy coffee rarely lasts as long as traditional coffee. 

Coffee was introduced to Vietnam by the French in 1857. Initially, coffee was grown in some northern provinces. However, only in the fertile basaltic land and year-round cool climate of the Buon Me Thuot plateau did coffee develop best and produce beans with excellent quality and rich taste. This area has one of the world’s best soils for developing coffee plantations. Buon Me Thuot quickly became the mecca of the coffee industry in Vietnam, accounting for over 30% of the country’s total coffee exports. Robusta, with its high caffeine content, is the main variety of coffee in this region.

Many coffee farmers in Buon Me Thuot have also begun transitioning to producing high-quality coffee by applying new production methods. I visited Tu at his farm near Erakao Lake, about 7km from the city center. Tu greeted me in simple attire and took me to the garden where farmers harvested coffee beans. The garden has low-growing shrubs to loosen the soil and high-rise trees to shade the coffee trees in the middle from the harsh sun. To ensure the highest quality coffee beans, he only harvests coffee cherries. He handpicks them once again to select those with similar sizes. Besides the farm in Buon Me Thuot, Tu has other coffee plantations in Mang Den. His coffee bean is one of the best in town. 

We sat down and tasted some coffee that Tu had made for me. In the meantime, he explained the flavors of each type of bean. Arabia is light, bright, and sour, while robusta is warm, with a hint of caramel and a touch of bitterness. With each change in brewing method and ingredient combination, Tu’s coffee cups bring different flavors that come and go to the palate, creating exciting experiences for coffee enthusiasts.

Coffee farms Buon Me Thuot are open to tourists who want to learn about and taste local coffee. The coffee harvest season lasts from December to February. If you visit Buon Me Thuot during this time, farmers will be glad to invite you to join them.

In addition to a coffee experience, you can visit Mr. Dang Le Nguyen Vu’s World Coffee Museum—the man who brought the Trung Nguyen coffee brand to the world. Here, you can immerse yourself in coffee culture and learn about the journey to make Vietnam the world’s leading Robusta coffee power.

15. Take a road trip along the South Central Coast

The South Central Coast region witnessed the southward expansion (Nam Tiến) of the Vietnamese into territories that once belonged to the ancient Champa Kingdom. This area also boasts the most beautiful coastline in Vietnam, with stunning, secluded, and sunlit beaches.

You can fly into Da Nang – just a short flight from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City – then start your road trip to explore the charming and culturally rich coastal cities. The further you travel, the more you’ll encounter beaches embraced by rugged, arching mountain ranges. Thanks to this unique terrain, it feels as if you’re on a private, isolated beach, utterly detached from the noisy life: Relaxing yet vibrant. Peaceful and invigorated by the beauty of nature.

The tranquility adds to its allure. Hidden gems like Quy Nhon, Phu Yen, Ninh Thuan, and Binh Thuan stand out. Scattered along the way are remnants of the ancient Champa civilization, serving as fascinating stops to admire the millennia-old unique architecture and learn about the decline of a once mighty kingdom.

This land is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of Vietnam. It has everything a tourist desires: pristine beauty, rich culture, distinctive cuisine, and accommodations to suit all preferences and budgets. I can’t explain why these areas have yet to become popular with tourists despite their appeal. But it also means I have more time to enjoy the peace before the crowds arrive.

To showcase the diversity and charm, the South Central Coast region offers countless things to see and experience.

People hunker at the local markets, selling various vegetables on the ground. At the morning market, you can buy breakfast for just 10,000 VND.

Fishing villages combine outdoor restaurants and seafood markets, promising delightful dinners with fresh, daily-caught fare at reasonable prices. Crab, oysters, sea urchins, and mackerel, you’ll find everything here. Town restaurants always have shrimp-filled Bánh Xèo with a mountain of Vietnamese herbs.

The sunsets and sunrises in this region are famous throughout Vietnam, not just for their vibrant colors but for their variety. Every day is different and always impressive. I often bring a cold beer to the deserted beach to freely experience the sunset’s purples, oranges, and yellows.

What are some tips before you visit Vietnam?

Vietnam is a unique country in the Far East. Having advice from those who know the country well allows you to be prepared for any situation. 

Below are some essential travel tips. Of course, no list is sufficient. But you just need to remember that Vietnamese people are very friendly, hospitable, and always ready to help.

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