Vietnam Bucket List – 14 Inspiring Experiences
Planning a trip to Vietnam, but don’t have any idea where to go and what to do? Thanks to amazing people who’ve already traveled around Vietnam, we have come up with a stunning Vietnam bucket list that will help you figure out your trip through Vietnam!
Stunning experiences and places you should definitely put to your Vietnam bucket list
Vietnam is a huge country with so much diversity and beauty. Depending on the time you have to explore the country, it can be very tricky to figure out what you’re going to do since there is an abundance of places and things to experience around Vietnam. From stunning mountains and breathtaking passes in the north to amazing beaches in the south and historically important places in the center; Vietnam has it all!
When we add up friendly people and delicious fresh food on top of that, it’s not surprising it’s a hard task to figure out what to do once you set your feet on this beautiful country.
We connected with 14 different travelers and adventurous souls who’ve already traveled through Vietnam and had some unique experiences. They wanted to share their experiences with you to inspire your next adventure around this stunning country!
Here we go! Find a comfortable place, take the pen and start putting these experiences to your Vietnam bucket list!
#1 Cruise Bai Tu Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a world-class attraction and definitely the most famous place to visit in Vietnam. But all those Instagram photos have resulted in a deluge of tourists crowding the bay, which is only likely to continue with the recent opening of an international airport.
So if you’re looking for an alternative to Ha Long Bay that comes without the crowds, consider cruising Bai Tu Long Bay instead. This nearby bay is still part of the same UNESCO protected area and has similarly impressive limestone karsts that jut out of the tranquil bay. But because only a handful of boat operators have a license to operate here, you’ll be able to experience this bay in tranquility and peace!
Looking to avoid touristic crowds in Ha Long Bay? Check out how to climb Bai Tho mountain!
Spend your days kayaking through the impressive rock formations, swimming in the refreshing waters of the bay, or visiting floating villages and caves. And spend your nights fishing for squid or just relaxing and enjoying the views of the stars (without blaring music from dozens of nearby party boats!).
#2 Ba Na Hills and Golden Bridge
Everyone who has visited Vietnam in recent years will have heard of Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge near Da Nang. If you have not and are planning to visit Vietnam then you should seriously consider including this awesome place to your travel itinerary.
There are a couple of good reasons why Ba Na Hills is so special. First of all, cable-car which takes you to this fantasy world holds a world record for being the highest and longest non-stop cable-car in the WOLRD and the views during the ride are absolutely stunning. Golden Bridge is a relatively recent addition to this fantasy and entertainment park but it has quickly earned the love of travelers due to its unique looks. The bridge which is seemingly made of gold is supported by two massive hands. For this reason, some even call it Gods Hands Bridge.
However, Ba Na Hills is not just about the cable-car ride to the bridge. There is a whole fantasy and entertainment world built high up in the mountains which is where all the fun happens. Visitors are free to enjoy a number of rides, video games, performances and other activities the coolest being a mountain cart ride.
You are in complete control in terms of how fast you go – just release the brakes and enjoy the adrenaline and excitement rushing into your body. Once you are done with the rides you can have a relaxing stroll around the French village or enjoy buffet lunch or dinner at the Beer Plaza.
If you would like to find out how to visit this awesome place Andrius from KATrippin has a separate post about it. You can check it out by following this link.
#3 Ho Thuy Thien – Abandoned Waterpark Near Hue
Hue is a city in central Vietnam, being the country’s capital from 1802 to 1945 there is plenty of history take in as you walk the ancient and busy streets. But Hue is also home to a forgotten dragon.
Ho Thuy Tien is an abandoned water theme park that sits around a 20-minute drive from downtown Hue. Being so close to a busy city you would think the neglected water park would see many adventure-seeking tourists – but that isn’t the case.
This dragon sits at one end of the small lake, on top of a building that once housed crocodiles. While the crocodiles have moved on, the dragon has been left to decay with graffiti-covered scales and broken glass all around.
There are other things to see as you drive around the bumpy and derelict footpath. An auditorium is left in ruins as weeds flourish and peeling paint from water slides give a lingering eerie vibe. To add to the random attraction, there’s a space simulator in one corner of the park.
Since its closure shortly after opening in 2004, Ho Thuy Tien is a unique place to visit and a memorable part of the ancient city of Hue.
#4 Mai Chau
The scenic valley of Mai Chau, which is surrounded by towering cliffs and verdant rice fields, is the perfect escape from the mayhem and noise of Hanoi. A four-hour bus ride from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi, your first glimpse of this beautiful village will be at the stopover point on Thung Khe Pass where you can have a cup of green tea while munching on some grilled corn and sweet potato.
In Mai Chau, it is recommended to plan a homestay in one of the villages, Lac Village being the most popular, as it will be a great opportunity to observe rural life in Northern Vietnam. Rent a bicycle and take a relaxing ride through the area or head to the Pu Luong Nature Reserve, which is well-known for its stunning hiking trails and waterfalls. Visit Thac Bo Temple and the caves and grottos around the area.
While in Mai Chau, do what the locals do. Try cooking your rice in bamboo (Com Lam) and have it with a bit of wild boar. If you don’t fancy any meat, then have it with their coconut and sesame topping. The fragrance of the bamboo and banana leaf makes eating rice a whole different experience.
#5 Overnight Train from Hanoi to Da Nang
To be honest, there were lots of research before our trip as to whether we should take the overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang! There were so many mixed reviews talking about mice and cockroaches, loud and obnoxious people running up and down the corridors, and doors being opened in the middle of the night!
We booked a four-bed soft berth cabin for our family of 4 and we had an awesome experience. Catching the overnight train is definitely one of our best memories of traveling in Vietnam.
This is definitely not 5-star train travel though. I think if you are used to this you will need to lower your expectations – there is no dining car or private bathrooms, wifi or meals provided etc, and if you don’t book all four beds you will be sharing with strangers.
There are some items you should bring with you on your train trip in Vietnam. Bring your own snacks and breakfast (or you can buy noodles etc from the trolley carts), wipes, toilet paper and a silk sleeping bag. There was also drinking water at each end of the carriage, so just bring your water bottles.
Overall, we can highly recommend catching the overnight train in Vietnam as a great experience. From the rolling and rocking of the train to the awesome scenery it is a really great way to travel.
#6 Phu Quoc Cable Car
Phu Quoc is a beautiful island just off Vietnam’s south coast. It’s ringed by incredible beaches and is an amazing place to visit for a relaxed beach break. It’s also home to the world’s longest cable car ride, which soars over the ocean to nearby Pineapple Island.
The views from the cable car are absolutely incredible. You can look down and see the turquoise sea, green islands and fishing boats below. The water is so clear that you can literally see the shadows of the boats on the bottom of the ocean bed.
The beach at Pineapple Island is beautiful, although in my opinion no more so than Phu Quoc’s Long Beach and Bai Sao. But the round trip cable car ride to get there felt to me like an experience I’ll never forget!
#7 Hai Van Pass on Motorbike
Deemed one of the most scenic mountainous passes worldwide, crossing Hai Van Pass on a motorbike is one of the more adventurous and less touristy things to do while in Vietnam. Driving through lush green fields overlooking Danang Bay it is clear to see where the pass gets its reputation.
Although the road is in excellent condition, the drivers should remain alert and rather stop more frequently to take in the views rather than trying to combine it with driving. Once you get used to the road and the turns, crossing Hai Van Pass on a motorbike becomes pure fun!
Thinking of traveling around Vietnam by motorbike? Check out our complete motorbike trip around Vietnam!
Traveling from Hue to Danang (or Hoi An) or the other way around, you can make a whole day out of riding over this “Ocean cloud pass”. One of the popular stops along the way is the Elephant Springs in Bach Ma National Park where you can swim in the crystal-clear azure colored spring waters. Make sure to also stop for a swim and a delicious seafood lunch at the scenic Lang Co beach.
#8 Ha Long Bay Cruise
Located in the province of Quang Ninh in Northern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay literally means “descending dragon”. Its picturesque seascape is decorated by over a thousand limestone karsts and islets. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, what a better way to explore Ha Long Bay than to indulge yourself in a relaxing cruise?
Aboard a traditional, wooden boat, a full-day cruise would be enough for you to marvel in its impressive beauty. Fill your senses by just finding a nice spot at the boat’s deck. For the most part, you’ll cruise the waters. But your Ha Long Bay tour can be more interesting by visiting at least one of its limestone caves and grottoes like Thien Cung, Dau Go, and Sung Sot.
These maybe some of the enchanting caves you’ll ever see because apart from showcasing astonishing stalactites and stalagmites, the caves are well maintained and even adorned with natural and artificial lights. Cruising Ha Long Bay is really a refreshing, therapeutic escape from the busy streets of the city. Indeed, no visit to Vietnam is complete without experiencing it.
#9 Enjoying Local Food of Hue
One highlight that is often overlooked when visiting the imperial capital of Vietnam, is eating the wonderfully original food that Hue is famous for.
The imperial rulers used to enjoy large banquets that unfolded over hours, which required the development of a range of dishes to keep both the kings and their wives satisfied during the long affairs.
Using local produce, chefs developed smaller petite dishes, tasty vegetarian options, fiery soups, and seafood dishes from produce caught from the Perfume River, just to name a few.
However, trying to eat your way through the entire range original Hue food would be an impossible task in one visit, so here are a few “must-try” dishes for your visit.
Bun Bo Hue, probably the most well-known dish from Hue, is a beef noodle soup that is fiery and a mainstay breakfast dish for locals and tourists alike.
Want to know more about the culinary center of Vietnam? Head over to must-try food while traveling around Hue!
Stalls selling Com Hen, a combination of rice, local clams, peanuts, and a mix of other ingredients, are everywhere, as are small restaurants dedicated to Nem Lui, sausages made from pork and cooked on lemongrass skewers, then wrapped in rice paper with an assortment of pickled vegetables and slices of the local green.
A few other dishes worth seeking out are Banh Khoa, the smaller and thicker version of the Vietnamese classic Banh Xeo, Banh Beo, the small rice flour cakes topped with dried shrimp and pork crackling, and the popular street food snacks of Banh Ep and Banh Trang Trung.
If your time is short, there is a well-known local restaurant called Hanh, that offers a set menu, giving diners a chance to experience many of the unique flavors and textures of Hue food.
#10 Water Puppet Show in Hanoi
Watching a water puppet performance is one of the cultural highlights you must experience in Vietnam. The art of water puppetry originated in the 11th century, in the villages of Northern Vietnam. These festivals were originally held by the villagers to entertain themselves when the rice fields would flood. The flooded rice paddies acted as the stage with the water being a symbolic link to the rice harvest.
Today, modern water puppetry is performed in a pool, where the water acts as the stage. The puppeteers stand behind a decorated split-bamboo screen and control the puppets using long bamboo rods. Water hides the puppet strings and puppeteer movements improve the musical and vocal acoustics and provides a shimmering lighting effect. The stories enacted are a reference to ancient Vietnamese folktales. Traditional musical instruments and songs accompany these shows.
The best place to experience this is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located in Hanoi near the Hoan Kiem Lake. There are multiple shows throughout the day and ticket prices cost 100,000 VND. Because of the demand, it is better to book early especially to get a seat in the first few rows.Sit further away and you won’t be able to catch much of the action!
Additionally, you can buy puppets as souvenirs from the theatre as well as from nearby shops. This is definitely a must for your Vietnam trip. For more highlights from Hanoi, you can check our 2-day guide!
#11 Trekking in Sapa
Over the course of multiple trips to Vietnam, we have fallen in love with the northern province of Lao Cai. Most tourists that visit Lao Cai head to the town of Sapa which sits above the beautiful Muong Hoa Valley.
Sapa is famous for its stunning landscape, vibrant handwoven textiles, and the local ethnic tribes; the H’mong, Dai, and Dao. The highlight of your trip will be trekking in Sapa through steep terraced rice fields and waving to the people in these small villages while they tend to their crops or go about their daily chores.
If you really want to get a feel for the local life, make sure you spend at least one night at a homestay in one of the quaint villages. You’ll be treated to dinner by the host family and probably wind up drinking more than a few shots of homemade rice wine.
No trip to Sapa is complete without taking a ride on the cable car to the top of Fansipan Mountain, the highest peak in Southeast Asia. From the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to look north across the patchwork of rice fields in the valley stretching all the way to China!
#12 Exploring Cao Dai Temple
Caodaism is a monotheistic religion that was established in the southern city of Tây Ninh in 1926. Its followers promote peace, unity and tolerance and believe that all religions are essentially the same.
A mix of Asian and Western influences can be seen in religion. Its saints include Sun Yat Sen, Julius Caesar and Victor Hugo. Like many Buddhists in Vietnam, Caodai followers practice at least part-time vegetarianism.
The Great Divine Temple, which is the main temple of the Cao Dai faith, lies about 90 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City and can be visited on a day trip.
Ceremonies involving chanting, music, prayer and incense burning are held four times a day, at 6 am, noon, 6 pm and midnight. Visitors are welcome to watch and take photos from the upstairs galleries. You must wear long pants or a skirt that covers your knees.
The temple is rich in symbolism, the most important symbol is the Divine Eye. Priests dress in red, blue or yellow gowns, while followers dress in white gowns. When they kneel together in prayer, it’s a beautiful spectacle when viewed from up above.
#13 Lantern Festival in Hoi An
In Hoi An, a sleepy beach town and UNESCO World Heritage site along the eastern coastline of Vietnam, the monthly full moon is celebrated by placing lit lanterns down the river in the evening. By nightfall, the river is full of hundreds of lantern-strewn boats and colorful floating lanterns, twinkling in the distance.
The riverside can be a bit chaotic in the evening, with thousands of visitors and vendors vying for your attention, so for a more peaceful experience, I recommend floating down the river, past the revelry, in a sampan boat, to admire the lights and the scenery from afar.
For more travel inspiration check out Uprootedtraveler – a travel blog for vegans.
If you don’t happen to be in town during the full moon, not to worry- Hoi An’s lanterns are so popular that you can find them twinkling along the riverfront on pretty much any given night.
If floating lanterns aren’t your thing, I’d recommend alternatively celebrating the full moon by a nearby pagoda, where monks hold candlelit ceremonies in the evening, perfumed by incense and the sweet night air.
#14 Learning About Local Lifestyle in English Speaking Cafe
My highlight of 6 months living in Vietnam is definitely to volunteer in an English Speaking Coffee Shop in Da Nang where I stayed for three months. If you don’t have so much time it’s okay to just go there for an evening.
In Vietnam, there are many English coffee shops where students go to improve their English. For foreigners, it’s an amazing opportunity to meet locals and learn more about Vietnamese culture.
Right on the first day, I was invited by a local tour guide for Vietnamese people who wanted to improve his English. He showed me hidden places in Da Nang and its surrounding area.
Almost every day I met new amazing people who invited me to hang out with them. It gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about the Vietnamese culture, its lovely people and how they live.
In 2 weeks I had a chance to try delicious local dishes, explore the most beautiful spots around Da Nang, how to drive a motorbike, singing karaoke and even got invited to a Vietnamese wedding.
If you really want to learn about Vietnam you should not miss the change to visit an English Speaking Coffee Shop where you can meet locals and really learn about Vietnam.
These experiences showed me a true Vietnam and I decided to put my energy to give back to people. Infinite Charity was born through these experiences as I want to give back to this colorful and amazing community.
This amazing experience was contributed by Manuel Brandt. Check out his epic journey around the world at his Instagram!
Thank you everyone who put the energy and time into creating this stunning Vietnam bucket list! There are many inspirational stories and experiences and we hope you’ll get some ideas for your next epic Vietnamese trip!
Do you have any experience you’d like to share with us and make Vietnam bucket list more complete? Reach us out and share your experiences!