Must-See Monday: Top Vietnam Destinations

This post on the top Vietnam destinations is contributed by Hayden Lambirth, Southeast Asia and Indochina travel extraordinaire: In 2010 and 2011, I traveled extensively throughout Indochina, the peninsula in Southeast Asia lying East of India and Southwest of China. This peninsula has a rich culture with heavy influences from both China and India, resulting in some of the most unique foods, atmospheres and people I have yet to encounter. I have composed a list of the top ten backpacking destinations that are must sees in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. For this post, we'll be checking out Vietnam.

1. Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, celebrated its 1,000 birthday in 2010 and has been inhabited as far back as 200 B.C. Hanoi has been known by many different names over the years and has a recent and well preserved French influence. In 1887 it became capital of French Indochina and was the center of various Vietnamese freedom movements, including Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh communist army which started the First Indochina War. Visit the Old Quarter and experience the crammed bustling streets just as they were at the turn of the 20th century, plus more than a few motor scooters whizzing by. Check out some beautiful colonial era buildings, which are an amazing fusion of traditional Vietnamese as well as a French architectural influence. But what is most important to experience in Hanoi is the food; it’s the noodle and pho capital. Hanoi boast the origin of many other famous dishes, including: chả cá, bánh cuốn and cốm. Besides wandering through the old quarters and experience some great Vietnamese cuisine, check out some authentic water puppetry, at the Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre.

2. Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and its economic hub. The first Stock Exchange in Vietnam was opened in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still called by the locals. With a metropolitan population over ten million HCMC has 3.4 million motor scooters on the road, almost double that of Hanoi! It also boasts outstanding public health care, education, and communication; Ho Chi Minh Television is the second largest station in the nation. Check out the Cu Chi tunnels just northwest from the city center; a piece of war history and the staging ground for the 1968 Tet Offensive. Relax after your tunnel tour and check out one of Saigon’s many theaters, like the Municipal Theatre or the Bến Thành Theatre. Pham Ngu Lao Street in District 1 is another popular backpacker destination and a great place to get some great war memorabilia or other souvenirs.

3. Hue

Hue was the home of the Nguyen Dynasty and capital of Vietnam until 1945 when Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to the communists in Hanoi. Hue was also a central point of the Vietnam War and suffered American bombing runs as well as the massacre at Hue, in which communist forces slaughtered thousands of civilians and P.O.W.’s in mass graves. Luckily, there is still some of the famous Citadel to see today. Inside the Citadel lies the Imperial City, and inside this lies the Purple Forbidden City- reserved for the emperor and the imperial family only. But Hue’s imperial heritage can be seen in more than just the remnants of the Purple Palace. The Ao dai, Vietnamese national costume, can still be seen worn around Hue in imperial purple. They are also renowned for their Non La Hue, or Hue conical hats, which have been refined and perfected over the years. If you’re getting any souvenir in Vietnam, get a Hue conical hat. Hue also has a devout buddhist culture compared to the rest of Vietnam, and you will find many great vegetarian restaurants to accommodate this. If you're looking for a day-trip from Hue check out the Demilitarized Zone, circa the Vietnam War, about 44 miles north of the city. Inspired to visit any of these Vietnamese wonders? You can find and book vacation rentals in Vietnam for your next Indochina adventure on Tripping! We hope you enjoyed this series on Indochina Destinations. Keep coming back for more travel tips and destination ideas on our Must-See Mondays!
Photo Credits: Photo 1 Pigalle via Flickr;Photo 2 ArchieB via Flickr;Photo 3 Tyler Ingram via Flickr; Cover Photo Filip Gierlinski via Flickr