Five Must-Have Cultural Experiences in Vietnam
Explore the Land of the Ascending Dragon with this guide.
December 29, 2023
Vietnam is a traveller's absolute dream. From bustling and sensory-captivating city life to beautiful beaches, rivers and expanses of rice fields. It's a country rich in experiences for every type of traveller – including those on a budget.
Knowing that the must-do and "eh, you can skip it" experiences are key to planning any vacay, so to save your precious time, we've collated five must-do experiences to help you make the most of your time in this Southeast Asian gem. It's a special country with a rich culture and warm people — so get out your map and start planning. Or, if you want the plans made for you, check out this amazing eight-day experience that'll give you a taste of some of the best sights of Vietnam as you unlock your love for the country.
STARTING FROM THE TOP… THE ANCIENT TEMPLES OF HANOI
Let's start with a little geography, shall we? Vietnam is located on the easternmost side of Southeast Asia, which means it has a long and lovely coastline. At the top of this coastline (well, it's a little in from the coastline) sits its capital city, Hanoi. Hanoi is more of a 'river city', sitting in the Red River Delta, and you may recognise its beauty and cityscape from films like The Quiet American.
With colonial footprints of China and France, the city's architecture, food and religious sites are influenced by multiple cultures. However, the country's dominant religion is Buddhism, with ancient temples like the One Pillar Pagoda, built in 1049, and Trấn Quốc Pagoda — Hanoi's oldest temple, which is over 1500 years old. Both spiritual attractions represent a rich part of Vietnamese culture. At both temples, you can learn about cultural practices, including the significance of incense and monks.
OVERNIGHT CRUISE ON HALONG BAY
When it's time to make your way south from Hanoi, there is no better way to travel than cruising along Halong Bay. A drive-thru to the Red River Delta and out to the coastline will take you by the beautiful layered rice paddy fields, where you can see farmers taking part in the ancient farming tradition.
Then, hop aboard a Junk Boat, the name anglicised from the Malay adjong, which means ship or vessel. As these boats glide across the water, you can witness Vietnam's exquisite coastline and rock formations, enjoying the mod cons of contemporary holiday luxury alongside the experience of centuries-old aquatic travel.
HOI AN, AN ANCIENT TOWN
If ancient towns and canals are your thing, look no further than Hoi An. Along the central coast of Vietnam, this beautiful city enjoys the best of coast and canal life. Its architecture is splendid to the eye, with a colourful mix of French colonial style blended with Chinese shophouses and Vietnamese tube houses.
Get lost in the history of the place as you explore on foot or by bike, and learn why it's a UNESCO World Heritage-protected site.
BẾN THÀNH MARKET IN HO CHI MINH CITY
Known as "the soul and symbol of Saigon", Bến Thành Market operates from early morning into the evening. With over 1500 stalls, there are endless selections of artisanal edible goods to take with you, as well as beautiful art and ceramic products. Taste the best of local cuisine at stalls selling traditional Vietnamese meals like pho and banh mi. It's a must to rub shoulders with the locals as they go about their day and to experience an institution that's stood the test of time for over a century.
MEKONG DELTA BOAT RIDE
In Southern Vietnam, you'll experience part of the Mekong Delta, which is a network of rivers that flow through Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and the Himalayas. Bến Tre boat rides are a wonderful educational adventure. You can travel down the coconut canal and learn about the many creative ways coconuts are used, as well as experience local hand-made mat weaving and more. Immerse yourself in cultural traditions and beautiful scenery and get to truly understand the unique crafts of the Mekong locals.
There are so many incredible experiences you can have in Vietnam, and these five are just the beginning. Find out more in this curated eight-day experience that'll show you the best the country has to offer.
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