Vietnam is most known for its turbulent wartime history, delicious food, and hyped-up Ha Long Bay. Before arriving in the country and traveling around its countrysides, little did I know that it is also home to some of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Southeast Asia, and charming heritage sites that are worth a peek.

Vietnam’s tourist spots are broadly spread out in its northern, central, and southern regions. The country isn’t overwhelmingly massive, but unless you’re traveling long-term or plan to stick to just one or two regions, you will have to pick destinations to skip or prioritize.

To make it easy for you to decide on where to go, here’s a list of my favorite places to visit in Vietnam:

1. Phong Nha

Well-lit entrace cavern of Paradise Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

Well-lit entrance cavern of Paradise Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

Why go — If this is your first time to know about Phong Nha, join the club! Phong Nha–Kẻ Bàng National Park located in Central Vietnam might not be popular as other places featured on this list, but it has something special to offer that is unrivaled not only Vietnam, but all of Southeast Asia, and maybe even the World — it’s massive and insanely beautiful caves.

How to go

Phong Nga, in Central Vietnam, is 4–5 hours north of Hue by land or 7 hours north of Da Nang. If you are coming from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, consider a flight or train to Dong Hoi. Then, continue the 45-minute land trip to Phong Nha by shuttle. Flights are operated by Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific, and VietjetAir. Flight duration to Dong Hoi Airport (VDH) is around 1 hour from Hanoi (HAN), and 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh (SGN).

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2. Ninh Binh

Overlooking Tam Coc in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Overlooking Tam Coc from the viewpoint at Mua Caves in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Why go — Touted as “Ha Long Bay on land,” Ninh Binh is filled with steep karst mountains soaring amidst tranquil rice paddies, meandering rivers, and dotted with temples and ancient settlements. The best way to explore the area is on a scenic boat ride that passes through the mountainscape or by following the riverside path by bicycle. Ninh Binh is two hours away from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam.

How to go

Ninh Binh is around 2 hours south of Hanoi by land. You can go on the bus from Giap Bat (Southern) Bus Terminal or a train on the Reunification Express. To get around Ninh Binh, you can either join an organized tour or go on a do-it-yourself (DIY) tour by bicycle/motorcycle.

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3. Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake lit up at night during the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hoan Kiem Lake lit up at night during the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hanoi, Vietnam

Why go — Like Bangkok, there seems to be something interesting to discover at every street corner in Hanoi, especially in the old quarter of the city. It’s one of the best cities in Southeast Asia to explore on foot. In addition to a river that runs through the city center, Hanoi also has scenic lakes that are best viewed from rooftop restaurants or bars with a traditional Vietnamese coffee or chilled beer on hand. Hanoi is a destination worth visiting on its own and not just a flight hub in Northern Vietnam.

How to go

Hanoi along with Ho Chi Minh is one of the major international gateways in Vietnam, so getting by air is very easy. Hanoi-Noi Bai International Airport found 45 minutes away from the city center serves frequent flights from Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing. As well as major cities in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Middle East and more. Major airlines include AirAsia, Jetstar, VietJet, Vietnam Airlines.

From the Philippines, Manila-Hanoi flights are served by Cebu Pacific and Vietnam Airlines. Flight duration is around 2.5 hours.

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4. Hoi An

Riverside heritage buildings lit up at night in Hue, Vietnam

Riverside heritage buildings lit up at night in Hue, Vietnam

Why go — If you’re planning to visit Central Vietnam, this is a heritage city that you shouldn’t miss. Hoi An is a small and compact town with an old-world charm. The riverside setting is like a more relaxed version of Malacca, but of course, Hoi An’s vintage buildings are heavily influenced by Vietnamese, French, Chinese, and Japanese influences. Delicious local food is also a major attraction here. The city’s magical atmosphere comes alive under the romantic sunset light and at night when the houses, temples, and shops are lit up.

How to go

The most popular gateway to Hoi An is Da Nang in Central Vietnam. nearest major city. There are a lot of convenient transport options between the two cities. Travel time is only around 45 minutes. To get around Hoi An’s old city, you can either join an organized tour or go on a do-it-yourself (DIY) tour by bicycle or on foot.

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5. Cao Bang

Overlooking Ban Gioc Waterfall and rice paddies in Cao Bang, Vietnam

Overlooking Ban Gioc Waterfall and rice paddies in Cao Bang, Vietnam

Why go — If you’ve read my other best places to visit lists, you may already know about my fascination for beautiful waterfalls. Cao Bang in Northern Vietnam is home to Ban Gioc Waterfall, the most majestic in Vietnam. Half of this massive cascade sits on the Chinese border and is called Delian Waterfall on the other side.

How to go

Total travel time from Hanoi to Ban Gioc is around 8 to 11 hours. If you want convenient transfers, consider booking an organized tour. If you want to go on your own, local buses to Cao Bang depart from My Dinh Bus Terminal in Hanoi. Travel time is 7.5–8 hours. From Cao Bang, minibus and shuttles go all the way to Ban Gioc Waterfall. Travel time is 2.5–3 hours.

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6. Hue

Minh Mang Imperial Tomb in Hue, Vietnam

Minh Mang Imperial Tomb in Hue, Vietnam

Why go — Hue is central Vietnam was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802-1945. It is home to a massive royal citadel called the Forbidden Purple City, which admittedly sounds more interesting than the actual war-ravaged site. For travelers who love visiting heritage sites, a more tempting incentive to visit Hue are exquisite imperial tombs scattered around the outskirts of the city.

How to go

Hue, in Central Vietnam, is located two hours north of Danang. The best way to get there is by train, which offers scenic coastal views along the Hai Van Pass. If you want to fly directly, Hue-Phu Bai Airport (HUI) serves flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Lat & Nha Trang. Airlines include Vietjet, Jetstar & Vietnam Airlines. Travel time to Hue-Phu Bai Airport takes around 1 hour from Hanoi and 1.5 hours from Ho Chi Minh.

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7. Da Nang

Half-carp Half-Dragon Statue and Dragon Bridge lit up at night along the riverside in Da Nang, Vietnam

Half-carp Half-Dragon Statue and Dragon Bridge lit up at night along the riverside in Da Nang, Vietnam

Why go — Da Nang is one of the biggest surprises on my first visit to Central Vietnam. It’s a major tourist hub with its own set of attractions and convenient direct domestic and international flight connections. Da Nang is a great place to visit for travelers who aren’t ready to leave their urban comfort zones. This clean, modern, and laid-back city is bordered by a long white sand beach that is lined with top-notch resorts. The riverside area of the city center feels more like a huge outdoor theme park with well-maintained promenades, iconic bridges lit up at night, and the Sun Wheel (giant Ferris Wheel).

How to go

After Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang’s airport is the next most well-connected international airport in Vietnam. Da Nang International Airport (DAD) serves direct flights from Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul-Incheon, Shanghai-Pudong, Siem Reap, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo-Narita. As well as flights from major domestic destinations including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Buon Ma Thuot, Hai Phong, Pleiku, Vinh, Can Tho, Da Lat & Nha Trang. Major airlines include AirAsia, Jetstar, China Eastern, Silk Air, Vietjet & Vietnam Airlines. Travel time by flight to Da Nang is around 1.5 hours from Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh.

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8. Ha Long Bay

Limestone mountains and tour boats in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Limestone mountains and tour boats in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Why go — No doubt Ha Long Bay is beautiful. With over 1,600 towering karst islands and islets, it’s a natural wonder worth a peek. However, if you’ve been to Krabi (Thailand) or El Nido (Philippines), do not expect too much with the quality of the water. The area that surrounds the bay is simply not as pristine, even under the bluest of skies. If you’re already traveling in Hanoi & Northern Vietnam, consider a trip to nearby Ha Long bay.

How to go

Ha Long City is the main jump-off point to the islands surrounding Ha Long Bay. The land journey from Hanoi takes around 3.5 to 4 hours. There are many shuttle/bus companies operating this route with pick-up directly from your hotel. You can easily book one at your hotel or by shopping around the travel agencies in Hanoi Old Quarter. To get around the bay, you have many options including sightseeing day trips to multi-day overnight cruises.

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9. Ho Chi Minh

City Hall building in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

City Hall building in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Why go — Ho Chi Minh on its own may pale as a travel destination in comparison to other cities in Southeast Asia, but it is a necessary transport hub if you plan to explore Southern Vietnam. In case you find yourself in Ho Chi Minh, the city center offers interesting cultural and urban experiences in addition to worthwhile day trips to the Mekong Delta.

How to go

Ho Chi Minh’s International Airport is the busiest airport in Vietnam. Found 45 minutes away from the city center, this airport serves frequent flights from Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Melbourne & Sydney. As well as major cities in New Zealand, Europe, Middle East and more. Major airlines include AirAsia, Jetstar, VietJet & Vietnam Airlines.

From the Philippines, Manila-Hanoi flights are served by Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Vietnam Airlines. Flight duration is around 2.5 hours.

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Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

Got places in mind that should be on this list? Share your photos and videos and tag #detourista on Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t stop here

Check out these pages for more inspiration on places to go in Asia.