This fascinating country is full of surprises and is one of Southeast Asia's most underrated destinations. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
1. Halong Bay
The karst seascape of Halong Bay is one of the best places to visit in the world for spellbinding sea views and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thousands of limestone islands sit within this bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, eroded into jagged pinnacles by wind and water action over millennia.
With the bay's scenery best seen by boat, this is prime cruising territory. Opt for at least an overnight tour to see Halong Bay's iconic views as a day trip doesn't do it justice.
There are plenty of caves in the bay that can be entered including the Hang Sung Sot, with three mammoth caverns, and the Hang Dao Go, with superbly weird stalagmites and stalactites. For most people though, the highlight is simply cruising amid the karsts and soaking up the changing scenery of pinnacles as you pass by.
2. Ho Chi Minh City
For big city fans, no visit to Vietnam is really complete without a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the buzzing commercial hub of the country.
The streets are an insane clog of motorbikes and cars, the restaurant and café scene is incredibly cosmopolitan, and the shopping is the best in the country.
At its center is Dong Khoi, a relatively small and easily navigable central district, which holds most of the city's sights.
Here, you'll find the HCMC Museum, with a brilliant collection of artifacts that weaves together the story of the city, and the grand Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the late 19th century.
One of Vietnam's most historic towns, Hue is packed to the brim with relics from the reign of the 19th-century Nguyen emperors.
Sitting along the banks of the gorgeous Perfume River, the Imperial Enclosure is a huge site set within walls that sprawl for 2.5 kilometers.
While touring the grounds check out the gorgeous Ngo Mon Gate, the Thai Hoa Palace with its finely lacquered interior detailing, the Dien Tho Residence where the Queen Mothers would live, and the Halls of Mandarins with its preserved ceiling murals.
A dazzling number of historic sites lie outside the Imperial Enclosure walls as well.
One of the nicest ways of visiting a collection of outlying sites is by taking a riverboat cruise on the Perfume River. A day cruise can take you to visit several royal tombs along with some pagodas.
If you're short on time, the best tomb to visit is the Tomb of Tu Doc and the most important pagoda in the area is the Thien Mu Pagoda, with its tower that soars for 21 meters high.
4. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
One of the best places to visit in Vietnam for caving, World Heritage-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a dramatic karst mountain formation honeycombed with huge caverns, which are home to superb stalactite and stalagmite displays.
The most popular destination within the park is the Paradise Cave, which extends for a staggering 31 kilometers below ground.
The yawning caverns here are truly spectacular. Tu Lan Cave is a "wet cave," and a visit here includes swimming through the cave-systems river.
The other most popular excursion is to the Phong Nha Caves, where the interior is accessed by boat.
You can access Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park from Son Trach.
5. My Son
Surrounded by lush jungle-covered mountains, My Son is a ruined Cham era temple city that dates from the 4th century.
This old Hindu religious center was still very much in use during the 7th to 10th centuries and only fell into complete decline and abandonment during the 13th century.
There are around 20 temple structures still standing here, all built of brick or sandstone blocks and showing interesting influences from various Asian empires, including Indian and Malay.
Note that the temples of Group B are the oldest, while Group A once contained the site's most important monument but was destroyed deliberately by US forces during the Vietnam War.
A good museum on-site houses plenty of information on the Cham.