Vietnam is a country with a rich and troubled past that has steadily been attracting more and more international visitors since the cessation of hostilities that took place in the ‘70s.
It’s known for its diverse cultures and the wide array of ethnic groups who reside within its borders.
Vietnamese food is considered to be one of the world’s greatest cuisines; if you’re an adventurous eater with an open mind, you’ll experience smells and flavors here that you probably never dreamed existed.
The people seem to be perpetually smiling; hopefully a little of that will rub off on you as you experience all the country has to offer.
1. Guided Street Food Tour in Hanoi
If you’ve often watched shows on the Food Network and Travel Channel and yearned to be in some of the exotic places featured, then a guided street food tour in Hanoi is just what the doctor ordered.
If you’re staying in the city’s Old Quarter you can arrange to be picked up before your tour.
The tour lasts three or four hours and will treat you to a dizzying and exotic array of authentic dishes that are mainstays of the locals.
Pho – or rice noodle soup – served with bean sprouts, beef and meatballs is a perennial favorite, as is the sweet soup known as Chè.
2. Local Villages and Sa Pa Valley Hike
Vietnam is home to some of the most scenic terraced rice paddies anywhere in Asia.
Carved into the majestic mountains over generations, these emerald green manmade wonders are among the most picturesque in the country.
This six-hour tour includes a 10-kilometer hike, so it’s best left to the relatively fit.
In addition to the natural surroundings, you’ll visit a few villages of the area’s ethnic minorities, like the Black Hmong who live in the Lao Chai Village.
A traditional home-cooked meal will be a welcome break before heading into the nearby bamboo forest that leads to a hidden waterfall.
3. Morning or Afternoon Guided Tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels
During the Vietnam War – or the American War, as the Vietnamese call it – the Vietnamese freedom fighters referred to as “the Viet Cong” built extensive tunnel networks to protect and conceal their equipment and activities from American infantrymen and aircraft.
This six-hour tour will take you to these amazing and macabre examples of human ingenuity. The tours are available with an English or German speaking guide.
Regardless of whether you choose to go in the morning or afternoon, transportation will be provided to and from your hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
A fascinating documentary is part of the tour, and you’ll see actual weapons used in the conflict.
4. Market Tour, Basket Boat Ride and Cooking Class from Hoi An
Located on Vietnam’s east coast just south of Da Nang, Hoi An is a scenic provincial town of more than 100,000 people.
This six-hour market tour and cooking class is led by an English-speaking guide and includes a basket boat ride along the waterways that are teaming with local entrepreneurs selling the ingredients that you’ll need to cook with later.
You’ll be amazed at the diversity, color, and abundance of the items being sold, and you certainly won’t mistake it for the Safeway back home.
This tour is for adventurous foodies and those who like to get out there and rub shoulders with the locals.
5. Marble Mountain and Da Nang Beach Tour with Guide in Hoi An
Located in beautiful Da Nang, My Khe Beach is miles of glistening sand and sparkling water. In many ways, it is worlds apart from many of the overly crowded tourist destinations, especially around Ho Chi Minh City.
The tour lasts eight hours, includes an English-speaking guide and a visit to the majestic Marble Mountain – which is really five mountains in one – and home to the amazing Thuy Son Buddhist temple.
You’ll see Vietnamese architecture in its purest form in Hoi An, and since you’ll probably have worked up an appetite, a sumptuous sampling of local delicacies will be included as well.
6. Halong Bay Tour including Caves, Islands, Kayaks and a Dragonfly Cruise
One of Vietnam’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Halong Bay east of Hanoi, on the Gulf of Tonkin, is really something that shouldn’t be missed.
This tour lasts nearly 12 hours and includes visits to the Heaven Palace Cave via kayak or a traditional boat made from local bamboo.
After an onboard lunch and cruise back to the pier, you’ll embark on a private cruise from which you’ll see many of the amazing geological features among the small islands – many of which have interesting names and shapes that resemble animals.
After more afternoon kayaking and sightseeing, you’ll meet the bus which will take you back to Hanoi.
7. Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre with a No-Wait Entry Ticket
Though as children we’re taught that skipping the line is rude, when it’s a feature included in the cost of your tour, convention flies out the window.
Traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet Theatre has been in existence for thousands of years.
Though some productions focus on life in rural villages, this show highlights important eras in Vietnamese history and myths and lore from this mystical country’s past.
The live show lasts just about an hour. It’ll most likely be one the things you did on your trip to Vietnam that will stick in your mind long after you’ve returned home.
8. Upper Mekong Tour and Vinh Trang Pagoda
Just an hour and a half from Ho Chi Minh, My Tho is home to the Vinh Trang Pagoda – a majestic place that locals revere and consider sacred.
From there, you’ll explore the Mekong Delta via cruise, which includes views of many of the area’s famous islands.
Lunch is included in a tranquil waterside garden, after which you’ll board a traditional sampan and meander through narrow and enchanting canals that may just make you think you’ve entered a different era.
After stopping at a few local shops and enjoying some traditional music, it’ll be time for a leisurely bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh.
9. 3-Islands Full-Day Snorkeling Tour in Phu Quoc
There’s no better way than snorkeling to cool off, get some exercise, and see some amazing marine habitats and the colorful creatures that live in them.
The tour includes stops at three of the most beautiful islands in the Gulf of Thailand and includes transportation to and from your hotel or guesthouse in Pho Quoc.
At midday, lunch will be served on the island Dam Ngang and will include traditional dishes prepared with local ingredients by the boat’s crew.
After another stop, the slow cruise back is a great time to enjoy the scenery and reflect on the amazing day you just had.
10. My Son Sanctuary Early Morning Tour from Hoi An
This four-hour tour includes an English-speaking guide, and though it starts at the unthinkable hour of 4:30 AM, it’ll be well worth it for those eager early birds who make the trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
My Son Sanctuary consists of temple ruins that were constructed between the 4th and 13th centuries, in what was once the cultural and political capital of the Champa Empire – a notable regional power.
This early tour lets you watch the sunrise over the temple spires; due to the hour, you’ll likely have most of the site to yourself.
11. Phu Quoc Speedboat Tour to 4 Islands
This multiple island tour is a great choice for those looking to get off the beaten path and reconnect with Mother Nature.
Tour activities include sunbathing, fishing, swimming, and snorkeling – all of which are centered around the island’s lovely beaches and beautiful coral reefs.
The tour includes hotel pickup and drop-off, and you’ll be conveyed to the islands on a powerful speedboat that’ll really get the adrenaline flowing.
An island lunch of local dishes is included and may just make a hammock-bound siesta an afternoon necessity.
Plan on arriving back at your hotel at around 5:00 PM, just the right time for a shower and some wonderful night activities.
12. Private Motorbike Night Food Tour of Ho Chi Minh City
If you can think of anything more fun and exciting than exploring an exotic city at night by motorbike and eating street food with locals, then your imagination is better than mine.
Reserved for diehard foodies and fearless travel bugs, this four-hour tour is guided by a local and will take you to the varied and vibrant markets, street stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make Ho Chi Minh’s food culture legendary.
Your taste buds will experience things they’ve never even dreamed of, and you’ll get a fascinating glimpse into what makes the locals tick and what they eat day in and day out.
13. Saigon Opera House Show
Though you may not think Vietnam is famous for its opera, catching a show at Saigon’s Opera House is one of the things to do in the city that you won’t want to miss.
This hour-long show isn’t like traditional western opera, and that’s a good thing because it’ll include elements of circus, theatre, music, and poetry, which are revered in Vietnamese culture.
An interesting note is that these shows aren’t scripted, but they’ll take you on a journey through the country’s past and will include many elements of its culture, heritage and the numerous myths and legends that are such important links to the past.
14. Bai Dinh, Trang An, and Mua Cave Full-Day Tour from Hanoi
Starting this diverse tour off is a trip to Vietnam’s largest pagoda – the Bai Dinh Pagoda.
It’s an amazing example of Vietnamese design and is home to many of the nation’s most revered items, including a 30-foot tall bronze Buddha that’s also the largest in the country.
Your guide will give you an insightful look into Buddhism and how it has shaped the culture and history of Vietnam.
The majestic caves on the itinerary are full of their own history too; one was even used in the filming of King Kong due to its unique beauty.
15. Sa Pa Homestay 2-Day Tour by Sleeper Bus from Hanoi
This two-day tour includes cultural and natural elements that you may consider two of the high points of your Vietnamese adventure.
On day one, you’ll visit local villages of the ethnic H’mong and Tay people, where you’ll enjoy a village tour and traditional lunch prepared by a few of the town’s inhabitants.
Day two will include amazing views of ancient rice field terraces, bamboo forests, and more rural and remote ethnic villages, most of which haven’t changed much in many decades.
You’ll meet your bus near the Giang Ta Chai Bridge. After lunch and a bit of refreshment, you’ll hit the road back to Hanoi.