Cultural attractions Vietnam
City of Hoi An
Once known for its bustling international ports and fishing village because of its location on the South China Sea. Hoi An has become one of the main tourist destinations in Vietnam. The heart of this age old town is still the Old Town, with winding lanes and Chinese inspired shops. Some people even refer to this beautiful town as the ‘Venice of Vietnam’ because of the small, narrow canals that can be seen in parts of the town.
Located in Danang and housing the largest collection of Cham sculptures in the world, the Cham museum gives insight into the lives of the Champa people from the 7th to the 15th century. After exploring the beautiful sculptures housed within, take a look at the exterior of the building which was carefully crafted by two French architects, Delaval and Auclair and is said to be a fine example of Cham architecture because of its smooth lines, carefully crafted items of worship and holy animals bordered by flowers and leaves. It is the only museum of this kind and is dedicated to the Champa era.
Bac Ha Market
Every Sunday you can see the residents from the nearby valleys and villages flock to the small town of Bac Ha. Known for its bustling market that is filled with culture and goods to trade. The roads are packed with buses filled with tourists who are there to see the locals dressed in their traditional clothes while they sip juice from fresh coconuts. Bac Ha Market offers a bit of everything; you can eat some water buffalo, try some Thay Cuisine, buy coloured fabrics and smell some of Vietnam’s fragrant spices.
Citadel of the Ho Dynasty
Considered to be an architectural masterpiece of the 14th century, the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty was built in 1397 by Ho Quy Ly over a period of 3 months. Ho Quay Ly was the highest ranking mandarin of the Tran Dynasty. It is about 150km south of Hanoi and is said to be the only stone citadel that remains in Southeast Asia. Thanks to its interesting construction techniques, all the key stone sections are still connected together and have not seen any damage over time or due to weathering. The Citadel was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011 and is considered to be a national relic in Vietnam.
Hue Imperial City
Lying on the edge of the Perfume River is the Imperial City which was the head of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty for 150 years before World War II. In the very centre on the city was the Purple Forbidden City which was an area that was solely used by the royal family. During the Vietnam War it was used as a strategic hold as it stands in close proximity to the demilitarized area that was used to separate North and South Vietnam. Inside the walls that run 2.5km one can enjoy the sites such as the Thai Hoa Palace, which has the most beautiful detailing and the Halls of Mandarins, with its unspoiled ceiling murals.
Also known as the ‘mini Angkor Wat’ of Vietnam, the My Son Cham ruins directly translates to Beautiful Mountain. The ruins of which only 20 temples structures remain are well worth the tedious journey it takes to reach them. Just 60km from Danang or Hoi An, it is a great place for a day visit. The journey takes you through the rolling hills of the countryside, as you ride along the banks of the Han River and pass through small towns with their markets. As you get closer to these temples built from brick and sandstone, the roads tend to become more bumpy, after which you will cross the monkey bridge, get into a jeep and last but not least, the final bit of the journey, a 500m walk through the hillside to reach this magnificent site.
The Tomb of Nguyen Emperor Khai Dinh
A rather extravagant tomb for an emperor who wasn’t as popular as his tomb might suggest. What makes this tomb different from others in the Hue area is that it has an architectural blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and Gothic European elements. Inside the tomb, one can see a lavish golden statue of Emporer Khai Dinh himself, as well as some of his personal effects, gifts and magnificent patterns made of glass and ceramic decorating the walls of the tomb.
Po Shanu Cham Towers
Similar to the ruins of My Son, the Po Shanu Cham towers are some of the last remaining structures of this old Vietnamese culture. Consisting of only two pointed towers and a third building that connects the structures. There is very little known about the history of the towers but it is not hard to see that they were part of something more spectacular. Unfortunately due to neglect and unsuccessful restoration attempts, the towers have fallen into a state of disrepair but hopefully the stone spires and the last remains of the towers will be around long enough for future generations to appreciate the architectural beauty of the Cham culture.
Just west of Hanoi’s old quarter is a reminder of the cost of the Vietnam War. In the residential district of Ba Dinh lies the fallen wreckage of the B-52 Bomber shot down just before the war ended. One of many B-52 bombers that got shot down by North Vietnamese forces in retaliation for the Christmas bombings of 1972 which killed 1318 civilians, this wreckage remains exactly where if fell on December 27th of the same year.. The tires now a bleached bone-white colour against the green waters of the Huu Tiep Lake.
Lang Tan temple
Lang Tan Temple otherwise known as the Temple of the Whale is home to what is regarded by locals as the biggest whale skeleton in Southeast Asia. It is a massive 39 metres in length with the head alone being 3 metres. Evry spring, visitors from all over visit Lang Tan Temple on the island of Ly son. The local fishermen believe that when they honour whales in their death that it will bring them luck and that whales are their protectors. The temple has also been declared a National Historical Site by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Vietnam.
Am Phu Caves
These ‘hell caves’ gives visitors the opportunity to walk through an underworld full of demons. Located in the wonders of the Marble Mountains, this cave was discovered in the 19th century and is the only mountain open to the public. Walking deep inside this cave is an experience like no other, with the recreation of a Buddhist hell where sinners would come to confess their crimes, suffer the punishments and hope to reach ‘heaven’s light’. There is more to the caves than just the pitch-dark tunnels with scary statues and altars made by local artists and surprises around every corner. The caves also hold some amazing rock formations and stalactites and during the Vietnam War one of the chambers was used as A Viet Cong (Vietnam soldiers) field hospital.
Hanoi’s Train Street
Around 3pm and 7pm daily, without fail, a train rushes through Ngo 224 Le Duan in Hanoi. Dubbed the ‘train street’ by the many tourists that has have witnessed this amazing site. The train, which runs between the maze-like quarter of Hanoi, misses the house, children and bikes by just a few meters and in some cases by just inches..
Da Lat Crazy House
Popular amongst honeymooners, the De Lat mountain house is a sight for the eyes. The architecture is a mixture of Antoni Gaudi (designed the La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona) and Alice in Wonderland. The actual architect Hang Nga lives on site and will likely strike up a conversation with guests. She is also the daughter of the former vice president of Vietnam. With twisting, tree trunk like concrete and artificial caverns, stalactites and stalagmites, winding stairs and flowering purple vines, irregular windows and a seriously over-sized sculpture of a giraffe, the Da Lat Crazy House is something unique. An experience not to be missed.
Ho Thuy Tien Abandoned Waterpark
At the cost of 3 million USD, the partially completed Ho Thuy Tien Waterpark was opened in 2004. However, in a strange turn of events the park became more of an attraction was it was abandoned than it ever was before. This is not the kind of place that can just be found on any map, as its location gets passed from one person to another by word of mouth but should you have access to the internet is easy to google. The park’s main feature is the massive, 3-story high Dragon Aquarium that rises from the park’s lake and inside is a staircase built to resemble that of a dragon’s ribcage. The park is made ever more stunning by its dilapidated look, making it look even more eerie.
Le Mat Snake Village
Just 7km northeast of Hanoi is the small village, which is best reached by taxi, of Le Mat. Best known for the fact that they like eating snakes and serving the still-beating hearts in fabulous shots of vodka. Although it may be slightly questionable, if you are looking for an adventurous dining experience, this is definitely a place to visit. In the ‘Snake Village” as it is also known, the snakes are prepared and then served to you 10 different ways. the people of the village are also expert snake hunters and are hired from all over the Long Bien District to take care of any infestations.
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
Founded in Hanoi in 1946, by Nguyen Van Giang because of a milk shortage during the French War. The Vietnamese Egg Coffee is an interesting but tasty blend of coffee, whipped egg and butter. To get an authentic taste of this modern-day favourite, head to Café Giang, where Nguyen Van Giangs son still serves this coffee on a daily basis. The recipe now includes a stronger coffee, sugar and some creamy ingredients including condensed milk, cheese and butter.
Trope l’oeil Murals of Hanoi
These life-sized illusions which begin at 27 Phung Hung, confuse the line between painting and reality and are painted on the blank walls of stone railway arches. The murals allow tourists to blend in with their surroundings. With lovely scenes from all over Hanoi, that confuse the senses, the murals make it difficult to tell where the city begins and the artwork ends. If you are not the type to interact with the artsy walls, grab a cup of tea at the shop across the street where you can enjoy watching others as they enjoy the art illusions.
Thap Ba Hot Springs Centre
Only a 15 minute drive from Nha Trang city, the Thapa Ba Hot Springs Centre is set in the tranquil mountains with a view of greenery and flowers. Facilities at the Thap Ba Hot Springs Centre include: private and shared mud baths, Jacuzzi’s, herbal baths, a swimming pool, waterfall and sauna. Locals believe that the hot springs help detox the body, relieve muscle pain and replenish minerals in the skin. A basic mud bath package includes a 15 minute mineral mud bath, a 30 minute soak in hot mineral springs, followed by a hydrotherapy session. The best time to visit is between 12:00 and 15:00 as it can get very busy with tourists and locals alike.
The Tra Que Minty Garden
This quaint garden in Hoi An is a family business run by Le Van Hai also known as ‘Chef Danny’. Le Van Hai has more than 16 years’ experience in the hospitality industry as a Sous and Executive Chef. When visiting the Tra Que Minty Garden, make sure to take a walk through the vegetable farm where they grow their own produce that is used in their farm-to-table cooking classes. They also specialise in farming and beautiful countryside tours.
Tra Su Bird Sanctuary
If you are in Vietnam during December to January, make sure to give the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary a visit. This 800 000 hectare forest is home to an astounding number of species of birds. December and January are the best time to visit if you would like to see the baby birds hatch. Although much of the wetland is inaccessible to visitors so as to not disturb the birds breeding grounds. Visitors can take a short speedboat ride or a quiet 20 minute paddle along the channels. Both trips might be considered short but the greenery and bird watching possibilities are totally worth it. The sanctuary is about 23km west of Chau Doc