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Wondering what Vietnam is known for? From fragrant noodle soups and iced coffee, to conical hats and floating markets, Vietnam is famous for lots of things.
This country is one of the most visited destinations in southeast Asia, and for good reason. Vietnamese cuisine is both healthy and tasty, packed with fragrant herbs, vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile the landscape is gorgeous, ranging from sandy beaches to beautiful rice terraces and majestic mountains. In the cities of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Hue you’ll also find plenty of museums and historical landmarks, illustrating Vietnam’s fascinating, and sometimes turbulent past.
Here’s a full list of all the things that Vietnam is known and famous for.
Located in the north of the country, the city of Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and the second most populous city after Ho Chi Minh. Famous for its 13th century Old Quarter and well-preserved French colonial architecture, Hanoi has a laid-back vibe and sometimes feels more like a town than a city.
It’s easy to spend days here just wandering around the streets of the Old Quarter sampling all the delicious street food Hanoi has to offer. Vietnamese cuisine varies from region to region, and Hanoi is best known for its bún cha, which consists of grilled pork served over a bed of rice vermicelli noodles.
Grab a coffee at one of Hanoi’s many coffee houses, then spend an afternoon exploring the city’s most famous attractions, including Hoan Kiem Lake and the Temple of Literature.
Ho Chi Minh City has a completely different vibe to Hanoi – this bustling metropolis feels more chaotic and experiences a crazy amount of traffic. Formerly known as Saigon, Ho chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and was the capital of French Indochina during the 19th and 20th centuries. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the city was renamed by the communist government in honor of President Hồ Chí Minh.
Among Ho Chi Minh City’s towering skyscrapers you’ll find temples, pagodas and examples of French colonial architecture. Highlights of Ho Chi Minh City include Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Saigon Opera House and Bến Thành Market – the city’s biggest and most iconic market.
Vietnam’s most famous food dish is pho, a delicious soup made with broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat. Meats served with pho include thinly sliced steak, beef tendon, beef meatballs, tripe and sometimes chicken.
This fragrant, heartwarming soup is served at street stalls and restaurants all over Vietnam, and tastes especially good on a cold winter’s day.
Pho has some regional variations; northern Vietnamese pho features wider noodles and a savory, clear broth, while the southern version has thinner noodles and a sweeter, cloudier broth.
Pho served in the north is usually garnished with green onions, while pho served in the south often has a wide variety of accompaniments, including beansprouts, Thai basil, cilantro and fresh sliced chili.
Banh Mi are Vietnamese sandwiches made with a short baguette that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The baguette is filled with a combination of meats and vegetables, such as pork sausage, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and pickled daikon. To give the banh mi some extra flavor, condiments such as pâté, red chili and mayonnaise are usually served with it.
Banh Mi became popular in the early 1900s, after the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam. Today they’re served all over Vietnam and are usually eaten as a breakfast food or snack.
Vietnamese summer rolls are deliciously fresh, usually consisting of vegetables, shrimp and vermicelli noodles wrapped in a rice paper roll. Unlike spring rolls, which are deep fried, Gỏi cuốn are served fresh with some sort of dipping sauce, such as hoisin sauce or peanut sauce.
Love coffee? Vietnam is known for its iced coffee, which is made with ice, condensed milk and medium or dark roast beans grown in Vietnam. Coffee grounds and hot water are added to a metal drip filter, which is placed over a thick, glass cup.
The cup usually already has about two or three teaspoons of condensed milk in the bottom, creating a dual-layered look. Ice is added before serving to make the coffee icy cold and refreshing.
In rural towns and villages you’ll often see Vietnamese people wearing cone-shaped hats, called Nón Lá. These hats are worn to protect the wearer’s face from the sun and rain but can also be used as a basket for carrying things. Nón Lá are usually made from palm leaves, bamboo or bark of Moc tree – whatever natural materials are available.
According to legend, a giant goddess descended from the sky wearing a hat so large that it shielded people from the torrential rains. It was made from four large leaves that were woven together with bamboo sticks. After she left, people built a temple to commemorate her and made straw hats in the same shape as hers.
If you want to purchase a conical hat of your own, head to Chuong village, which is around 30km south west of Hanoi. The locals of Chuong have been making handmade Nón Lá for centuries and thousands of hats are made here daily.
One of the most popular tourist activities in Ho Chi Minh City is a day trip to the Chu Chi Tunnels – an enormous network of tunnels located in the city’s Chu Chi District. During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong (communist guerrilla troops) used them to house troops, lay booby traps, transport supplies, and launch surprise attacks.
Today, the Chu Chi Tunnels are part of a war memorial park, where visitors can learn what life was like for the resistance fighters and even crawl inside some sections.
While visiting Vietnam you’ll have the opportunity to learn a lot about the Vietnam War, which was fought between North and South Vietnam. Taking place over a period of almost 20 years from 1955 to 1975, the war resulted in enormous loss of life, with millions of soldiers and civilians killed.
Supported by the Soviet Union and China, the North wished to unify the entire country under a single communist regime, but the South opposed this. The South was largely supported by the United States, which deployed U.S. military troops to Vietnam.
Today, Vietnam is home to numerous war museums, including the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Hoa Lo Museum in Hanoi.
One of the most recognizable landmarks in Vietnam is Golden Hand Bridge, a 150-meter long pedestrian bridge in Bà Nà Hills resort, Da Nang. The bridge connects the cable car station with the gardens and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Vietnam. Visitors flock here to snap Instagram photos and to admire the scenic views of the mountains.
This curved bridge is supported by two giant hands, constructed of fiberglass and wire mesh, designed to look like they’re made from stone.
Northern Vietnam is home to Ha Long Bay – an emerald-green bay with incredible limestone pillars and roughly 1,600 islands and islets. Hanoi is the main gateway for tours to Ha Long Bay, so most visitors spend two or three nights in the city before embarking on a junk boat tour of the bay.
Junk boat tours usually include visits to the region’s caves and grottos, along with sea kayaking excursions to explore some of the islets. Ha Long Bay’s spectacular landscape has been formed over millions of years, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Located in the northwest region of Vietnam, Sapa is a mountainous region with a deep valley of beautiful rice terraces. A highlight of Sapa is riding the cable car up to the summit of Mount Fansipan, which is the largest peak in the region. At 3,147 meters, the mountain offers spectacular views of swirling clouds and lush mountain slopes.
For those who love hiking, Sapa offers some of the best trekking in southeast Asia, with plenty of waterfalls, rice fields and remote villages to discover along the way.
Vietnam is known for its motorbikes. They’re cheap, convenient and fun to ride, so it’s no surprise that many people use them as their main mode of transportation. In fact, Vietnam has one of the highest rates of motorbike ownership in the world–around 50 million bikes on the road!
When visiting Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll see lanes and lanes of motorbikes whizzing down the road. Crossing the street here can be a bit intimidating, since traffic lights are virtually non-existent. To cross the street you have to hold up your hand, walk into the road and hope the traffic will stop for you!
Vietnam is famous for its floating markets, which are found on the complex river system of the Mekong Delta. These centuries-old markets are filled with boats selling fruits, meats, poultry, clothing and household goods.
Many visitors to Ho Chi Minh City plan a 2-day tour to Cai Rang floating market, which is the largest floating market on the Mekong Delta. Located just south of the city of Can Tho, Cai Rang is open from 5am until noon, and mostly sells fruit, agricultural products and specialties of the region. Since tourists have to get up early to visit the market, some of the smaller boats also sell Vietnamese breakfast.
Other popular floating markets in Vietnam include Long Xuyen, Cai Be, Phong Dien and Tra On.
Hue is a city in central Vietnam, located on the banks of the Perfume River. It became the imperial capital of Vietnam from 1802 and 1945, after Emperor Gia Long established a new dynasty. The emperor ordered the construction of a new palace complex and citadel in Hué – the Purple Forbidden City – which was based on China’s Forbidden City.
Hue is home to some of Vietnam’s most important historical sites including its Imperial Citadel and tombs as well as many other monuments that reflect its role in Vietnamese history, culture and arts.
Always wanted to own a tailored suit but without the expensive price tag? Hoi An is known for its handmade clothing shops and boasts over 500 tailors around the town. These clothing shops can make all types of garments made to your specific measurements, and production is high quality.
Hoi An’s history of textile manufacturing dates back to the 15th century, when the town was an important Southeast Asian trading port on the Silk Route linking China and the west. Today, Hoi An is known as the textile capital of Vietnam and is the perfect place to get dresses, suits, pants and shirts made at a fraction of the cost.
Ao dai is Vietnam’s traditional costume, which consists of a long, split tunic worn over silk trousers. Áo meansshirt. Dài means “long”. Today’s áo dài originates from a five-part dress called the áo ngũ thân, which was worn in the 18th century by the Nguyễn lords.
In the 1930s, the dress was redesigned by Hanoi artist Le Mur Nguyễn Cát Tường, who made it longer and more form-fitting. Saigon designers made it tighter in the 1950s, and by the 1960s and 1970s, the áo dài was a very popular form of dress.
During the communist period the áo dài was rarely worn except at weddings and formal occasions, but it experienced a revival in the late 1980s, when “Miss Ao Dai” pageants became popular in Vietnam and schools began adopting it as a uniform again.
Today, áo dài is worn at weddings, and for celebrating Tết – one of the most important celebrations in Vietnam. It’s also commonly worn by female teachers and female high school students in the South. The cabin crew for Vietnam Airlines wear the áo dài as a uniform, and you’ll also notice the elegant women of Huế wearing it as their daily attire.
If you want to get fitted with your own áo dài on your trip to Vietnam, visit Luong Van Can Street, which is lined with áo dài tailor shops.
With around 3,260 km of coastline, Vietnam has thousands of beaches and islands just waiting to be discovered.
Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and attracts tourists from all over.
Nha Trang is another popular beach destination that draws visitors looking for relaxation and good weather. This coastal resort is popular for snorkeling and diving, and boasts numerous offshore islands, including Hòn Tre Island, which is accessible via cable car or boat.
Phu Quoc Island is one of Vietnam’s largest islands at 1,210 sq km (460 sq mi) in area; it
has many spectacular beaches including Hon Rom Beach (which means ‘beautiful sand)
where you can relax under palm trees while enjoying views out to sea.
If you want to experience these things for yourself, I’ve put together the perfect 10 day Vietnam itinerary that includes Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Halong Bay. This itinerary is great for first-timers and includes most of the country’s top attractions.
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