Planning a trip to Southeast Asia and wondering where to go in south Vietnam? Here are 5 unmissable destinations to add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Vietnam is a diverse country, with distinct climates, cuisines and cultural practices in the north and the south. If you’re planning a visit to Southeast Asia and you want to come away with a holistic picture of Vietnam, I highly recommend spending some time in both Northern Vietnam and the southern part of the country.
Southern Vietnam has something for every type of traveller – from island beaches to meandering waterways and floating markets, charming UNESCO architecture to high-rise rooftop bars. Here are 5 places to visit in south Vietnam you absolutely can’t miss!
This guest post comes courtesy of Christine from Travellers With Time.
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Best time to visit Southern Vietnam
The weather patterns for Vietnam are quite unique to each region. In general, the best time to visit Southern Vietnam is from November through until April. This is Vietnam’s high season, and it is the time when you’ll get the best weather across the southern portion of the country.
That being said, the central region of Vietnam, from Hue along the coast to Mui Ne, will be warm and dry for most of the year, although you may find it quite humid in July and August, and wet from then on. From April onwards, the far south, including Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho and Phu Quoc, become humid and wet.
Phu Quoc has a monsoon season, and if you don’t intend to sit in a hotel room, it’s best to avoid Phu Quoc from May to September.
Where to go in South Vietnam: Top 5 destinations
The city of Hue was home to the last Vietnamese Imperial Dynasty, from 1802-1945, when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated the throne. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Imperial Citadel is the main draw card today, with millions of travellers visiting each year.
What to do in Hue
The Imperial citadel was the home of the last Emperor and the seat from which he governed. Inside the Imperial Citadel, the Imperial City encompasses many shrines, temples and buildings including the Forbidden Purple City. The Forbidden Purple City is the inner most city, a private sanctuary for members of the Royal Family.
Scattered throughout the city of Hue are the tombs of previous Emperors. The best tombs to visit in Hue are the tombs of Minh Mang, Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh’s tomb in particular is stunningly beautiful, showing his extravagance.
Hue off the beaten path: How to visit the abandoned dragon water park.
The Perfume River runs through Hue and is used to fill the moat surrounding the Imperial Citadel. The river is so named because of the flowers from orchards up river that fall into the water in autumn. The river offers a beautiful stroll along the promenade beside it.
During the Nguyen Dynasty, as home of the Emperor, Hue had some of the best cooks in the country, and some delicious dishes are still local delicacies. Try some Bun Bo Hue, or Banh Beo, a steamed rice cake with topping, usually pork and prawn.
Where to stay in Hue
The UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Hoi An is about 120km south of Hue, on the Vietnam coast. Known for its architecturally and historically significant sites, arts and crafts and beautiful beaches, Hoi An is an unmissable stop on a tour of Vietnam.
Travel from Hue to Hoi An by train via Danang (3 hrs; $8), by direct bus (5 hrs; $6) or by taxi (3 hrs; $75). Check prices and book tickets on 12Go Asia.
What to do in Hoi An
Hoi An’s Old Town was a bustling trading port between the 15th and 19th centuries, with spices and ceramics being traded with the rest of Asia. Traditional old houses and businesses can still be seen lining the Thu Bon River while cobblestone paths and small alley ways are lined with craft and textile shops. Colourful Vietnamese Lanterns adorn the streets and light the way at night.
Take a day to relax and wander the streets of the Old Town, and at night, visit the many restaurants and bars that line the river. If you’re looking for local dishes to try, Cau Lao is a delicious noodle dish from the region. Banh Mi Phuong, made famous by Anthony Bourdain, really does have the best Banh Mi in Vietnam in our opinion.
For a little culture in the Old Town, the Precious Heritage Museum is a must. A huge collection of photos and traditional costumes from many of Vietnam’s minority tribes line the walls of this amazing museum. French photographer Rehahn spent five years photographing most of Vietnams 54 Ethnic groups and the resulting images are incredible. Some of the traditional outfits inside the museum are the only ones left in the world.
Another cultural attraction most often visited from Hoi An is My Son, the ancient Cham ruins. Not quite as spectacular as the Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat, My Son is still worth a visit if you’re in Vietnam. The Champa Kingdom existed between the 4th and 14th centuries, with the buildings of My Son constructed over those 10 centuries. Unfortunately, they were damaged during the Vietnam war and only 17 of the 71 original structures are still standing.
Just outside Hoi An is An Bang beach, one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches. Relax on a beach chair sipping coconut or explore the A Bang tourist area where you’ll find plenty of resort style accommodation.
For the green thumb, the Tra Que farming village lies between Hoi An town and An Bang. Wander the fields and see traditional methods for growing vegetables, or join a Tra Que farming tour.
Where to stay in Hoi An
The My House Hoi An Homestay is located in the Ancient Town, only a few hundred meters form all the main attractions, shops, restaurants and bars. Closer to An Bang beach, the Hoi An Sea Village Homestay is near the beach and close to the stores and other amenities.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The dazzling, frantic city of Ho Chi Minh is the most populous and most visited city in Vietnam. A mix of history and heritage, and modern urbanisation it is easy to get lost in the fast pace and overwhelmed by the surroundings. It takes a special kind of nerve to cross the street for the first time, and yet the city draws you out, calling you to explore.
Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon, and the more you explore the southern portions of Vietnam the more you’ll hear it still referred to that way. It was the capital of South Vietnam and the home of the government until the end of the Vietnam War.
Travel from Hoi An to Saigon by overnight train via Danang (18 hrs; $38), by overnight bus (22 hrs; $21) or by plane (1.5 hrs; from $24). Check prices and book tickets on 12Go Asia.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh City
Visits to the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels are a great way to learn a little about Vietnam’s history and the Vietnam War. The view points here are naturally a little one sided so it helps to take away the bigger picture rather than some of the details. Some parts of the War Remnants Museum are particularly disturbing while the Cu Chi Tunnels is undeniably interesting.
The Reunification Palace or Independence Palace, was the home and office of the South Vietnam President during the Vietnam war, and technically also where the war ended, as North Vietnamese Tanks broke through the gates. Kept in its original state the Palace is beautiful and a fascinating insight into design of the era.
One of the most beautiful pagodas to see in Ho Chi Minh City is the Jade Emperor Pagoda. A Taoist pagoda with hundreds of Tao and Buddhist deities, both beautiful and horrifying, lining the walls. Inside an inner sanctuary is the Jade Emperor, surrounded by a swirl of incense.
For dinner, the Benh Tanh Street Food Market is an enormous market of food stalls with food from every continent. A selection of Vietnamese and Asian delicacies, fresh seafood, desserts and local beer, you can eat until your heart is content.
One of the beautiful things about Ho Chi Minh City is that in the middle of all the madness, there are parks. Green, quiet, peaceful sanctuaries where you’ll find locals sitting around, or maybe doing Tai Chi. If the hustle and bustle get too much, you’ll find solace inside these areas, including one of the most popular, Tao Dan Park.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City
The backpacker and main tourism district of Ho Chi Minh City is the Pham Ngu Lao ward, in District 1. In the centre of this area, off Pham Ngu Lao is Baoanh Hostel, close to the restaurants and bars but in a quieter street.
On the opposite side of the Saigon River, District 3 is known for its colonial architecture. It’s also close to many of the usual tourist sites such as the Ben Thanh Market. The Hello Saigon Homestay is in a great District 3 location.
Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta and the fourth largest city in Vietnam. It is the perfect mix of traditional Vietnamese culture and lifestyle and modernised tourist infrastructure, managing to maintain a relaxed, local feel while catering to the many Mekong Deltas visitors.
Travel from Saigon to Can Tho by bus (4 hrs; $8) or private taxi (3 hrs; from $109). Check prices and book tickets on 12Go Asia.
What to do in Can Tho
One of the highlights of Can Tho is a boat tour of the Cai Rang Floating Markets. Hundreds of boats filled with fresh produce meet in the centre of the Hau River to trade their goods with travellers and other Vietnamese alike.
While it’s interesting to see the Cai Rang Floating Market, the real highlight is taking a tour that takes you down the picturesque back canals of Can Tho. Generally, a 3-4-hour tour will include the Cai Rang market only, as it is about a 45-minute boat Ride from Ninh Kieu wharf where the boats leave. Book a longer tour to see more of Can Tho’s rural river life.
Aside from floating down the river, there are plenty of interesting temples in Can Tho. The Ong Temple is right near Ninh Kieu Wharf. A couple of kilometres away is the Binh Thuy Temple which is also worth a visit.
About a kilometre from the Binh Thuy Temple is the Binh Thuy Ancient House. The house has been in the Duong family for six generations. The inside of the house is like an amazing antique store, filled with all kinds of pieces featuring both French, Chinese and traditional Vietnamese design.
At night, the boardwalk along the river and Ninh Kieu Wharf is the place to be. There are some bars and restaurants opposite the water, and the boardwalk will take you along the river down a lit path past some beautiful gardens and nice resorts.
Where to stay in Can Tho
It’s easy to get comfortable in Can Tho. The Emerald Boutique Stay is located only 600 meters from Ninh Kieu Pier and other Can Tho attractions.
Moving a little further out of Can Tho City and into the more rural surrounds, the Boutique Lodge Can Tho Homestay offers a beautiful getaway 10km outside the city. With garden surrounds and views of canals and rice fields you’ll see the most beautiful parts of rural Can Tho.
Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc is located at the bottom of southern Vietnam. A large island with beautiful beaches Phu Quoc is fast becoming the Resort capital of Vietnam. Not untouched by tourism, and rubbish, it can be a little disheartening however there is plenty of Phu Quoc to celebrate and enjoy.
Travel from Can Tho to Phu Quoc via Rach Gia by bus + ferry (5.5 hrs; $25). Check prices and book tickets on 12Go Asia.
What to do on Phu Quoc
One thing you can’t miss on Phu Quoc are the beaches. The most popular beach is Long Beach as it is lined with accommodation options and is near the centre of town. Sao beach is also a popular option, although very busy. If you’re after quiet seclusion, Cua Can or Vang Bau are lovely.
Another great beach is Rach Vem, or star fish beach where the sand is covered with star fish at low tide. It’s great to see them but remember not to lift them out of the sea. The water around Phu Quoc is fairly flat, and very warm. It’s the perfect way to spend a few days.
The An Thoi Marine archipelago are a series of islands off of Phu Quoc that form a marine reserve. You can take a boat trip out to the islands to go snorkelling. The calm clear water provides great visibility.
The Dinh Cau Night Market is where you’ll find delicious local dishes and plenty of sea food, just caught in the waters further off Phu Quoc Island. You’ll also find some of the more unusual Vietnamese foods on the menu.
Where to stay on Phu Quoc
Accommodation is spread out across Phu Quoc Island with resorts lining the beaches and more varied accommodation options being found in Duong Dong, the main town. The Lana Land Phu Quoc Homestay is walking distance to Long Beach and a couple of kilometres from the Night Market.
For something a little more relaxed and natural, the Phu Quoc Eco Lodge is within walking distance of both Cua Can and Ong Lang beach, but still only 10km from the Duong Dong Night Market.
There are so many wonderful places to go in Vietnam, you could easily spend years travelling through the country and not see half of it! These places to visit in south Vietnam will give you a great feel for the country and take you to some of it’s most fascinating locations.
Heading to Phnom Penh next? Check out my Cambodia guides:
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- Where to eat Cambodian food in Phnom Penh
- How to use PassApp to get around in Cambodia
- My guide to Kampot, Cambodia’s river town
- My guide to Kampong Cham, my favourite provincial town
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