Despite only being open to tourists since 1997, Vietnam has established itself as a traveler’s dream. Not only that, it is one of TEFL’s top destinations. Whether you’re a teacher or a traveler, you’ll have no shortage of things to do in Vietnam with its diverse lifestyles and topographic panoply. But as a teacher, you can earn a high salary while maintaining a liberating work-life schedule, all while exploring each and every corner of Vietnam.
As someone who taught English in Vietnam with no prior Asian experience, I could not have imagined a better way to be introduced to Asia. The Vietnam TEFL internship allowed me to immerse myself, slowly but smoothly, into Asian culture, with plenty of time to tick off the best things to do in Vietnam. This was done in good in time. I was meeting like-minded teachers and gaining valuable work experience in an exotic environment.
Teachers in Vietnam will be pleased to hear that there are plenty of national holidays. This means that teaching English in Vietnam isn’t all just about the classroom. Alongside the national holidays, international airports are rife as are attractions throughout the country, making everything accessible. You’ll have all the time in the world to visit iconic locations and explore Vietnam’s stunning landscapes and intriguing lifestyle. So, here are the top 10 things to do in Vietnam!
1. Saunter Down the Streets of Hội An
As an English teacher in Vietnam, the chances are that you’ll be placed in the Northern city of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City down South. So, we’ll start with somewhere in the middle, Hội An.
The name Hội An literally translates to peaceful meeting place in Sino-Vietnamese. And there is not another name which could be so apt. While it certainly offers teachers and travelers in Vietnam the perfect getaway from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City’s urban sprawls to share a tasty banh mi or an invigorating ca phe, it is also the meeting place of both indigenous and foreign presence.
In Hội An, Vietnamese and foreign culture are heavily intertwined. Vietnamese culture, infused with Japanese and French colonial architecture and its obsession with Chinese lanterns makes it a cultural melting pot. It used to be one of Southeast Asia’s major international ports. Along with the sheer amount of trading vessels that the city has welcomed, it embraced a taste of the culture of these traders.
Hội An’s picturesque coastal and riverside streets offer natural tranquility as well as a thriving market culture. Teachers can embrace stimulating lantern festivals and the immense firework display that take place during the Chinese New Year, Tet. Many of its cafés offer cooking classes for those who want to perfect Vietnamese cuisine. Whether you’re more of a beach goer or you an architecture lover, an extrovert or a solo traveler, Hội An sits firmly on the list of things to do in Vietnam.
2. Visit Train Street in Hanoi
Train street, you say? It’s exactly what it sounds like. In Vietnam’s cultural capital, Hanoi, you’ll have the ability to visit a narrow street divided by an active railroad track. On either side of these tracks are cafés, shops, and Hanoi’s classic tube houses. While train street may sound incredibly dangerous and bizarre to you, it is the front porch or backyard to many of Hanoi’s locals.
Whether you’re venturing from one café to the next or shopping on train street, you’ll have to clear from the tracks once you hear the signal in order to let the train pass through. Shop owners and café workers rush to clear the chairs upon hearing its impending arrival. The train leaves inches between itself and the walls of the street in which people cling onto while embracing the train’s presence in awe. Seconds after the train passes, business resumes. Just like nothing happened.
When the train approaches, many travelers place a bottle cap on the railroad track in order to retrieve it as a souvenir once it has been completely flattened by the train. Train street is also a fantastic opportunity for travelers and English teachers to indulge in egg coffee, a Hanoian delicacy. It’s much nicer than it sounds.
3. Complete the Ha Giang Loop
A few hours north of Hanoi is Ha Giang. Bordering China, Ha Giang is showered with stunning scenery which is humbling to say the least. While gazing at its colossal landscapes, teachers will feel almost insignificant. Small farming villages are juxtaposed with granite mountains where windy roads and breathtaking views lie atop.
Teachers and travelers can visit Ha Giang in different ways for different purposes. Adventurous participants of the running community can visit Ha Giang to take part in the Ha Giang Marathon, where you will run among some of the highest peaks of the area. Otherwise, most teachers and travelers are eager to complete the Ha Giang Loop, where they will spend around 3 to 5 days navigating the windy and high terrain of the frontier on a motorbike.
If you are unsure or not qualified to ride a motorbike yourself, plenty of tours offer you the ability to complete the loop as a passenger. Without the stress of driving and navigating carefully, you can embrace all of the views that Ha Giang has to offer.
4. Cross the Golden Bridge in Da Nang
The Golden Hand Bridge isn’t something that you might expect to find in Vietnam. However, it is certainly a formidable addition to the list of things to do in Vietnam. Having only been open since 2018, the Golden Hand Bridge has established itself as one of Vietnam’s must see attractions.
Teachers and travelers can walk across a golden bridge cradled by two enormous hands, 1400 meters above sea level. From here, you can view a seemingly endless scenery consisting of mountains and the sea surrounding Da Nang, the fastest growing coastal city in Southeast Asia.
5. Visit Thought Provoking War Museums
It’s all good to sip on a Vietnamese coffee during your break while teaching English in Vietnam. However, Vietnam’s recent history is rife with conflict. It’s recommended that teachers try to gain insight into this poignant history by visiting the museums it has to offer.
War Remnants Museum (Ho Chi Minh City)
Ho Chi Minh’s war museum offers plenty of insight for travelers who are eager to learn about Vietnam’s conflict. Its exhibitions include military equipment, tiger cages, and graphic photography which will serve as a quick realization that Vietnam’s history isn’t as bright as its people. Exhibitions in the War Remnants Museum display aspects of the French Indochina War as well as the Vietnam War. Remember, in Vietnam, they will refer to it as the American War, not the Vietnam War.
Cu Chi Tunnels (Ho Chi Minh City)
During the Vietnam / American War, thousands of miles of tunnels were dug by Viet Cong troops in order to gain an advantage in guerrilla warfare. These tunnels make up a labyrinth of passages for soldiers to navigate underneath the Cu Chi district undetected. However, to combat this strategy, US and Southern Vietnamese troops navigated these tunnels in order to detect traps and suppress enemy troops. Much like the War Remnants Museum, it is a humbling reminder for tourists of what the Vietnamese went through.
Hỏa Lò Prison (Hanoi)
Not only is the prison relevant to the Vietnam/American War where US troops kept prisoners. The prison was also used by French colonists for political prisoners, giving it a long and wretched history. You may wince at the French guillotine or claustrophobic living chambers. Visiting thought provoking Hỏa Lò Prison will have you appreciating your place as a welcomed guest in peaceful Vietnam.
6. Hoàn Kiem Lake & the Old Quarter
Despite all of Hanoi’s hustle and bustle nature, it has its spots of tranquility and peace.
Hoàn Kiem Lake is the enchanting body of water in Hanoi. Hoàn Kiem Lake is a no motorbike and no car zone, making it an especially unique location in Hanoi.
When you visit Hoàn Kiem Lake, you can peacefully cycle around the lake, enjoy a cà phê sữa đá and share your words at the famous Note Coffee, or you can even visit the nearby and bustling Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is Hanoi’s commercial quarter, and it was often known as the 36 Streets with each street offering something different. You want lanterns? Visit lantern street on Hang Ma. Do you want silk? Try the silk street on Hang Gai. Want gold or to exchange your cash? You can visit Gold Street!
7. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, in Hanoi, ironically, lies the resting place of the Communist Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. The Vietnamese icon led his country to independence against the French, defeating them in 1954. Not only did Ho Chi Minh liberate Vietnam from the French. He played a significant role in leading North Vietnam to victory against its southern counterpart.
Many visitors come to pay their respects to the Vietnamese icon. Others come to learn about his life and achievements. And despite being idolized and his wishes of being cremated, Ho Chi Minh’s deceased and embalmed body is exhibited to the public. It’s strange that he is revered so much, yet his final wishes weren’t fulfilled. Anyway, as a teacher, you’ll have plenty of time if you want to see the body. As a traveler, however, you may need to time your travels. This is because the corpse goes to Russia for three months each year for maintenance.
8. Visit the Jurassic Landscapes of Ninh Bình
Only a couple of hours away from Hanoi’s urban jungle is the otherworldly Ninh Bình. Ninh Bình boasts of a Jurassic landscape in which you’ll have to see for yourself to believe that the postcards are real.
In Ninh Bình, sweeping and bountiful green landscapes meet limestone hills and karst formations. The fact that the producers of Kong: Skull Island chose Ninh Bình as their destination to provide the landscape for their prehistoric monster movie. Whether you’re a thrill seeker, a nature lover, or a laid back traveler, this location should undoubtedly be on your list of things to do in Vietnam.
English teachers can revel in this otherworldly landscape by climbing atop the Lying Dragon Mountain or traversing through bountiful rice paddies and limestone formations on the Ngo Don River in Tam Coc. Travelers will have the opportunity to view different facets of Ninh Bình from atop mountains, within caves, or among rivers.
Rich in biodiversity, Ninh Bình is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Those keen to revel in its biodiversity can visit Cúc Phương National Park, the oldest national park in Vietnam. The Four Paws Bear Sanctuary allows for travelers to view bears rescued from illegal wildlife trade in a natural setting.
The Endangered Primate Rescue Center provides a temporary shelter for langurs, “old world” monkeys, before they return to the wild. Northern Vietnam’s largest wetland nature reserve – Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve – allows travelers to navigate high reeds on bamboo boats.
9. Hạ Long Bay
A list of things to do in Vietnam would be incomplete without the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hạ Long Bay. Hạ Long Bay, which means the bay of descending dragons is a natural marvel which will leave you in complete awe.
Hạ Long Bay’s emerald waters are sprinkled with thousands of limestone isles which you can navigate via kayak or boats. If you’re a thrill seeker, Hạ Long Bay also offers some of the best climbing spots in Vietnam. For those who love a thriving nightlife or tranquil hiking activities, Cát Bà Island, is within touching distance from Hạ Long Bay.
10. Enjoy the Little Things!
Enjoy the little things, as cliché as it may sound. Traveling or teaching English in Vietnam is about enjoying the little things that the country has to offer. While travelers may struggle to fit all of their desired activities into their itineraries, English teachers in Vietnam will have no trouble. This is because they can embrace the Vietnamese lifestyle each day without having to worry about doing something “significant” each day.
Teaching English in Vietnam allows you to sip rich, exotic Vietnamese coffee conveniently. You can slurp delicious Phở each day to the point that it becomes natural and habitual. Visiting local markets and practicing your Vietnamese bartering skills with vendors allows you to actively engage with Vietnamese culture. Just by walking the streets, entertaining your classroom of enthusiastic students and conversing with eager locals you will appreciate Vietnam for what it is.
Top Things To Do in Vietnam
Vietnam doesn’t have to be a place where you must frantically tick the boxes of TripAdvisor’s itinerary. To be rewarded by its culture, you’ll also find that sometimes, less is more. While the ‘best’ things to do in Vietnam are attractive for a reason, there are reasons to visit a country that go beyond a country’s surface value. To not only travel, but to live and teach English in Vietnam provides an authentic experience which nothing else can offer. If you are eager to visit Vietnam, you can read about what I wish I knew before teaching in Vietnam.