20 Unique things to do in Vietnam
Vietnam has been growing in popularity amongst travelers around the world. The main reason being that it is still very afordable! Vietnam, just like many other Southeast Asian countries is a land of diversity, from mountains to plains to oceans, different cuisines in different regions. Vik and I had the opportunity to visit this amazing country in Jan 2017 and we loved every moment we spent there. Vietnamese food, in my opinion is the best tasting food of southeast Asia! Having said that, there are a lot of unique things to do in Vietnam. Take a look at the 20 top picks from our travels there. Happy reading.
1. Listen to the royal musicians of Hue
The Imperial Citadel in Hue is an UNESCO world heritage site that is not to be missed. The Royal musicians in the Imperial City of Hue will serenade you in the gardens adjacent to the Halls of the Mandarins. Check with a local guide to find out when the court musicians will be present. Listening to the Royal Musicians takes you back to times when the Nguyen dynasty ruled Vietnam. We booked our tour through Urban Adventures and we had such an amazing time with the local guides
2. Watch the ocean glow with phytoplankton in Halong Bay
The natural phenomenon of bioluminescence enchants the waters of Halong Bay by night. Spend a few nights aboard a junk boat and venture onto the deck at night when the waters are calm. If you tap the water with a fishing rod you will be delighted by waves of glowing light pulsing through the waters below. We had such a great two night three day stay aboard the beautiful and well maintained Indochina Sails – Valentine junk. I highly recommend this junk if you want to experience impeccable service, delicious food, beyond amazing guest suites and amazing drinks.
3. Get lost in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The original Old Quarter of Hanoi was comprised of 36 streets. Historically, the stores on each street sold items based on the namesake of the street they were located on. For example Hang Mam street sells Fish sauce (Nuoc Mam) and related products. There are many more than 36 streets today but take a map and get lost exploring and witnessing day to day life as a local. While you are there don’t forget to go to the beer street and watch locals and tourist enjoying the evening. Beer street is the go to place to get together and experience local culture at its best. You will witness locals and tourist alike sitting on he tinniest stools possible and enjoying local beer and food. We also did a Hanoi food tour by night and I cannot recommend this enough. Our local guide was phenomenaol and he took us into secret alley ways and showed us the local way of life and even took us to his family’s favorite restaurant. The food was plenty and well worth your money.
4. Kayak in the sea caves of Halong bay
Sprinkled across beautiful Halong and Lan Ha Bays are sea caves tucked between the stunning limestone karst islands dotting the landscape. Vik and I enjoyed kayaking into these quieter areas free of large boats. The good thing about choosing a reputed junk boat is that they make your experience so much better by ensuring that you have a unique and outstanding experience rather than feel like you are one among the hoards of tourist visiting the same place all at once.
5. Go parasailing in Phu Quoc island
Phu Quoc island was quite the paradise. With beautiful sandy beaches and blue waters. The resorts are dotted all over the island and while we were there we had the opportunity to go Parasailing and boy was it fun! Vik and I like to included at least one adventure sport on our travels. If you get a chance try your hand at parasailing in Phu Quoc islands. Along with parasailing they also have many other adventure sports available in many of these islands. Just ensure that the company is well reputed and have the adequate safety measure in place.
6. Try some weird food
I have said this before, I could move to Vietnam just for its amazing food. And its not just about the Pho. They have so much variety with each region having its own flavors and dishes. We also encounterd some rather interesting dishes there. Egg coffee anyone? Even better, some chicken feet? Well where else would you try some weird food. So take your pick and try something you haven’t
7. Wander in the enclosure of the Imperial City of Hue
The Imperial City is a walled palace within the citadel of the city of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. The building was built in 1362, and took 203 years to complete. The Emperor wished to recreate, in abbreviated form, a replica of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Highly recommend getting a guide so they can explain life as it used to be here. You will feel like you are back in time and walk in the same corridors as the rulers of Vietnam did. Be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours here. The area is quite vast and spread out and without a guide you could get lost.
8. Go squid fishing
Squid fishing was rather interesting . If you find yourself walking on the beach at night or twilight in Phu Quoc or anywhere else and you see these really bright lights out in the ocean, and you are wondering what they are, they are Suid fishing boats. Apparently Squids are attracted to bright light. The boats themselves have plenty of large bulbs on them and they set sail to go fishing when its getting dark. We tried our hand at it in Halong Bay.
9. Get grossed out at the meat market
Vik and I usually enjoy visiting the local markets wherever we go. We like to see the local way of life and what better place than the local market. We visited quite a few local markets in Vietnam. Now, don’t be fooled, Ben Than market is more for the tourist, selling souvenirs and food stalls in it. But if you want to see a glimpse of what the local market looks like, then just step outside Ben Than market and ask someone for the meat market or the Wet market. It is attached to the Ben Than market just outside. You will see all sorts of fish, mostly alive, because Vietnamese like their seafood really fresh. You will see all parts of all animals. Some of them were interesting. We witnessed a lady shaving Pig’s ears and one chopping off the legs of frogs. Be prepared to get grossed out and it can get smelly in there.
10. Drink the world’s cheapest beer
“Bia Hoi”, we knew we just had to try this in Vietnam. It is fresh beer brewed daily and it only costs 20 cents! You read that right a glass of Bia Hoi is just 20 cents. Need I say more? Go get yourselves some Bia Hoi. You can find them in Hanoi’s old quarter. Try to go early in the evening because they run out pretty early.
11. Watch a water puppet show
While in Hanoi, do yourself a favor by not missing out on the water puppet show. We watched it at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater and it was just amazing. It is something so unique, local and ancient. It dates back to the 11th century and is a not to be missed. It started as a way to entertain the village folk in rice paddy fields and is now become a beautiful art in itself. Do not miss this show!
12. Set sail on a junk boat in Halong Bay
When people think Veitnam, one of the first thing that comes to their mind after Pho is Halong Bay. This beautiful bay with thousands of limestone islands sticking out of the turquoise water is something out of this world! No trip to Vietnam is complete without visiting this bay. Choose a good junk boat and set sail in these enchanting waters for a couple of night.
13. Take in the views of Saigon from a rooftop bar
Saigon reminded me of Bangalore in India, in a lot of ways. It has a cosmopolitan feel with a few skyscrapers, amazing food, and young adults working hard and partying harder. One of the best ways to enjoy the views of Saigon is by sipping on some delicious drinks on a roof top bar in the heart of the city. We visited the bar called Glow. The drinks were beyond belief and they had live music which we thoroughly enjoyed.
14. Eat street food like a local
Vietnam could be the street food capital of the world. The streets are dotted with the tinniest stools and tables you can imagine and food stalls dishing out some of Vietnam’s best food. You haven’t really lived like a local if you haven’t sat on these tiny stools slurping on some hot Pho. I must admit that I found it a little uncomfortable in the beginning but I guess I got used to it by the end of our vacation. I agree that it can be a little intimidating to decide which street food stall is serving good food and it is normal to worry if you may get sick eating street food, but trust me, we ate only street food the entire time we were in Vietnam and we did not fall sick even once. I think it is mainly because most of their food is boiled and they use fresh ingredients. If you are worried about decide which ones to try, why not go on a street food tour like we did. The very first night we got into Saigon, we did a street food tour and that helped us get a grasp of the local cuisine and also the various areas where it is safe to try them. Ask your guide questions on how to choose a street food vendor and he will gladly tell you how.
15. Go to a Vietnamese cooking class
One of the best ways to indulge in any culture is to learn to make their food. We loved Vietnamese food and so we decided to attend a cooking class. It was the best decision I ever made. Ever since we got back from Vietnam, I tend to make Vietnamese food once a week in our home. Our daughter loves her Pho. The class we took was at the Vietnam Cookery Center in Saigon. Worth every penny.
16. Celebrate Lunar new year with a Vietnamese family
Contrary to what we read before our trip there, Tet or the lunar new year is a great time to visit. We had read that if you were in Vietnam during Tet, you are doomed, because everything is closed and people go to their villages. But you know what, we loved it. We were in Hanoi during Tet and it actually felt nice to be in Hanoi’s Old quarter and not be run over by the crowd of motorbikes. It was way quieter than usual but what we enjoyed were the days before Tet. The colorful stalls selling festival fare for the new year and the local people flocking to get ready for the big holiday. You could sense the celebration in the air. The highlight though was the amazing open-air party the city had organized for the people. They had huge stages, singers and DJ’s. Lucky for us we stayed at a hostel at that time and made some amazing friends and went to party with them. So, don’t miss lunar new year in Hanoi.
17. Drink some snake rice wine
Like I said earlier, Vietnam does have some interesting food and beverages. Snake rice wine being one of them. How do they make it? They put a venomous snake, usually alive, into the rice wine and let it soak there for a few months. The alcohol in the wine is supposed to neutralize the venom . Why do they do this? Snakes are said to have medical properties that can cure a lot of things from acne to cancer, or so they believe. We tried it and I think it tastes just like tequila.
18. Sail in Mekong delta on a traditional sampan
The Mekong delta was a very interesting part of south Vietnam. With it’s orchards and trees and predominantly farm based population, Mekong is so different from Saigon. There are day trips running out of Saigon an any given day. Then you take a big boat to the delta and then go onto a small traditional sampan. It is an experience not to be missed.
19. Crawl through Chu Chi tunnels
Although we did not end up doing this, mainly because of my claustrophobia, I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Saigon. Chu chi tunnels are a network of underground tunnels in Chu Chi district. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers during combat. It is an experience that sheds light on the war and makes you witness the secret underground life during the war. I recommend going on a guided tour so as to better understand the tunnels and how they were used.
20. Get a massage everyday!
What better way to end a day spent walking and exploring this beautiful country than to reward yourself with a massage. Massages are super cheap in Vietnam, and they are great. Don’t expect spa treatment or super luxury massage rooms though. Most of them are large rooms divided by curtains and not a whole lot of privacy. But still they were amazing .