Where to visit in Vietnam for the first time

Are you travelling to Vietnam for the first time and looking for some advice on where to visit in Vietnam in the North and South of the country? This guide highlights the best places to visit in Vietnam, whether you are travelling for one, two or three weeks.

If you’re still curious and in need of persuading about whether or not to travel to Vietnam, don’t forget to check out our top 10 reasons to visit Vietnam.

Where to visit in North Vietnam

If you travel from South to North, from Ho chi Minh to Hanoi, then this will be your last stop before flying home. But if you travel from North to South, then this will be your first section of adventure of your trip.

North Vietnam has become so popular with travellers, that many people are just choosing to travel in the North of the country and not even explore further down. We would recommend trying to see as much of the country as possible, but if you do only have a short time, then the North has a lot to offer.

If you are keen on hiking, nature and epic scenery, then you will love the North of Vietnam. However, the North of the country can get chilly so do be aware of this if you travel from November until February, especially if you plan to hike.


Hanoi is the main city in the North of Vietnam and the second largest city in the entire country. It is a buzzing metropolis of coffee shops, bars and restaurants and peppered with art galleries for the culture vultures and lakes for nature fans.

What to do in Hanoi?

The top five things to do in Hanoi are:

  • Visit the disused railway line – but don’t forget that you can catch one train a day heading down the line
  • Take in some art at the Fine Art Gallery
  • Enjoy Hanoi’s famous Egg Coffee and enjoy eating some delicious and warming Pho at ANY of the informal eateries around the city
  • Grab a pint at one of the modern and fun breweries, such as Pasteur Brewery, which is one of our favourites.
  • Party the night away with other backpackers at Ta Hien Corner – here you can find cheap eateries, beers, cocktails or nightclubs at all hours of the day


Sapa is a mountain village in the North of Vietnam. The town itself is a buzzing town and worth a visit on its own, but travellers flock here to hike and trek in the surrounding areas.

Why visit Sapa?

Sapa is the number one hiking and trekking destination in Vietnam. You can hike around the rice fields, visit waterfalls and remote mountain villages. Or, you an conquer Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina. It’s easy to organise a tour or to hike without a guide if you’re an independent walking ninja.

The food is also excellent, here you can enjoy delicious and warming fare, washed down with rice wine. Total and utter escapism!

But, what really makes a visit to Sapa worth it, is meeting the Hmong people who work and live in the mountain areas. They are such warm and friendly hosts, that you wouldn’t want to miss out on the chance to stay in a homestay for at least one night here.

Find out more about Sapa?

Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island

Ha Long Bay has to be one of the most famous sites of Vietnam. Cat Ba Island is also a super popular island in this area to visit, alongside Ha Long Bay. Find out more about why to visit Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island below.

Why visit Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island?

Ha Long Bay is a stunning bay, so much so that it is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Not only is it beautiful, but it is also some what of an eco tourism hotspot. A visit to Ha Long Bay, taking a boat cruise, would make an excellent trip for a day or two from Hanoi. It’s best to visit when the weather is clear to get the best views.

Cat Ba, is around 140km from Hanoi and perfect for an Island escape from Hanoi. Many people choose to head out here for one or two nights, taking a bus and then the ferry. You can travel to Monkey island too, or just enjoy some seafood and exploring the beaches of Cat Ba.

If you’re travelling at a time when the North is colder, then make a beeline for Phu Quoc island in the South if you want sunnier weather (more below).

Ha Giang Loop

The Ha Giang Loop has come somewhat of a motorcyclists mecca. This is an area of Vietnam where anyone who enjoys the open road and the wind in their hair, will love.

What to do in Ha Giang Loop?

There are many options when you visit the Ha Giang Loop. You can take a 3, 4 or 5 day tour. You can hire a motorbike, if you have a licence and the minerals for it! Or you can ride on the back or join a small bus tour instead. Whatever you go for, you’re sure to see some of the most incredible scenery in Vietnam. You can find more information about tours here and below.

Where to visit in Central Vietnam

Many people miss the central area of Vietnam, skipping through to get to the North or South. But, you must visit the central area. There is so much to see and do in Central Vietnam. Whether you want to explore the history and culture of the area, enjoy some unique food or explore on a scooter – there’s something for everyone.

Hoi An

Hoi An is definitively one of our favourite places to stay in Vietnam. It’s a colourful epicentre of all things design, romance and cuisine. A must visit on any Vietnam adventure.

What to do in Hoi An?

The top five things to do in Hoi An are:

  • Enjoy the famous Cao Lau, but you can go one better and take a cooking class in Hoi An too. This town is so renowned for food that you can find many cooking classes, whether you want to include a trip to the market, or just learn to make a few dishes.
  • Take a romantic boat ride along the river. It’s best to do this at night, when all you will see are colourful lanterns and candles, and the face of your loved one.
  • Party in Hoi An – check out one of the Irish Bars, or the Mr Bean bar, which is lots of fun for all!
  • Hoi An is famous for coffee – everywhere you go there are delightful coffee shops, whether you want a coconut coffee, salted coffee or just a straight up espresso.
  • Get a suit or epic evening dress tailored in Hoi An – this is the tailoring capital of the country!

You can read more here if you want a comprehensive guide of where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Hoi An.

Da Nang

Da Nang is a perfectly placed coastal city in between Hanoi to the North and Hoi An. It’s become super popular with travellers, because it has a mix of urban and city vibes, with natural beauty of the coast. Visit Da Nang if you want to surf, eat seafood and enjoy some chill before meandering further to the South or North.

You might have heard of Da Nang as the coastal path was made famous on an episode of Top Gear, when the presenters drove from Hanoi to Da Nang. Taking a motorbike tour from Hanoi to Da Nang has now become a super popular tourist attraction, you can book this easily with your hotel or hostel in Hanoi or Da Nang.


Why visit Hue?

Hue is a historical hub in central Vietnam. The Imperial City is significant in Vietnam, as this is where the Royal Family lived for many years. Therefore it was the seat of power! Today, the Imperial City is a delightful day out for history buffs.

We loved visiting Hue, as it’s small and easy to get around. We also found some of the best food in all of Vietnam during our visit to Hue.

You can hire a scooter and visit the inspiring local area, including the many tombs and temples and the unique (but a little creepy) abandoned water park.

You can read a detailed guide to visiting Hue here.

Where to visit in South Vietnam?

Whether the South of Vietnam is the start of your adventure, or the end, make sure you take some time to check out the main sites and sounds in this area. We loved the South, not least because this is generally the hottest part of the country and even delivers fairly reliable warm weather from November to March when other parts of Vietnam are cooler.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is the capital of Vietnam, and for good reason. Here you will find the biggest and most interesting museums, the best bars and restaurants and of course, the best shopping in Vietnam. Plus, it’s just got a great vibe! Read below for an outline of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.

What to do in Ho Chi Minh City?

Ho Chi Minh City is truly one of our favourite cities. Subsequently, we would be biased when we say that there is a lot to do, but there really is!

You can read our full guide on Ho Chi Minh City here. But, our top highlights to visit in Ho Chi Minh City are:

  • Eating and drinking everywhere – whether you want pizza, Japanese food, local cuisine with a twist, French food or Korean -it’s all here.
  • Partying the night away in Bui Vien party street, trying one of the breweries or speakeasies
  • Exploring the Reunification Palace and the Ho Chi Minh City Museum
  • Spending the night enjoying some entertainment at Ho Chi Minh City Opera House

Mekong River

No doubt if you visit Vietnam, you will want to check out the Mekong River. But, there are lots of options. Below are the top three places to stay if you want to visit the Mekong.

Where to visit on the Mekong River?

  • Can Tho is the third biggest city in Vietnam and also sits nestled onto the Mekong River. Can Tho is also home to the biggest floating market in the country, so worth visiting to see that!
  • Cai Be has a smaller floating market, but is still worth visiting to see the sites and sounds of the market. You can also come here from Hi Chi Minh City on a day trip. Bonus.
  • Ben Tre is the closest of all three options to Ho Chi Minh City and also the smallest town. Here you can come to enjoy a peaceful homestay overlooking the river, delighting in the scenery and not much else. Hire a bike to explore the area slowly!

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is a small island to the South West of Vietnam, just off the Cambodian coast. You can get to Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh, by boat and bus or domestic flight relatively easy. We’ve written a guide to how to get to Phu Quoc here.

Why visit Phu Quoc?

Simply put, Phu Quoc is the best place to go if you want beaches and sunbathing during your visit to Vietnam. It is a delightful island paradise and you can get there with relative ease from the mainland. There are other beaches available, but many on the south coast of Vietnam are prone to slightly dodgy weather, and if you’re visiting from November to March, then the beaches in central Vietnam are not ideal weather wise either.

Crucially, Phu Quoc has a number of different beaches to explore, it being an island. It’s small enough that you can explore the whole thing by scooter, but large enough that you won’t get bored over a few days, or even a week on the island.

Phu Quoc seems to us to be an up and coming destination, with lots of new hotels and restaurants and bars popping up. You can find out more about Phu Quoc below:

Want to read more about Vietnam?


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5 responses to “Where to visit in Vietnam for the first time”

  1. thehungrytravellers.blog avatar

    We are! Our planned route, picking up where we left off when COVID struck, is Hanoi-Ha Long Bay- Nin Binh/Tam Coc- Hue- Hoi An- Da Nang- Ho Ci Minh City and then off to Cambodia, so this post is extremely helpful!

    1. lotuseaters.travel avatar

      Hope you guys get better weather. It was cloudy the whole time we were there. But great to be there. We are both on a diet now after indulging lol

      1. thehungrytravellers.blog avatar

        We’ll be there from mid March to mid April so who knows….!

  2. Yan Baskets avatar

    Nice post! I was there a long time ago but I I loved Ho Chi Minh City 🙂

    1. lotuseaters.travel avatar

      Thanks Yan! Yeah I was 8 years since I last went and it had changed so much.

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