Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This article was updated on December 8, 2020.

With many international travel destinations temporarily out of reach, this might be just the time to start planning one of those really big trips you’ve always dreamed of. And while choosing a bucket list-worthy country is the easy part, it’s the tough decisions on where to go and what to see in that country on your limited vacation time that can be the real challenge. So if you choose Vietnam for your next vacation, we’ve made planning a bit easier with these top 6 must-visit places in Vietnam.

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1. Halong Bay

Vietnam has an absolutely fascinating culture and warm, generous people that will make you feel welcome in any part of the country that you visit. But if you want to experience the pearl of Vietnam. you need to visit Halong Bay. This tourist hub is an area of about 600 square miles scattered with thousands of isolated islands, wind-eroded grottoes and hundreds of boats. Most tourists choose a Halong Bay cruise to enjoy moving through the islands at ease. A two-night cruise might have you kayaking the shores of its many islands, cycling the island hills and touring the old farming villages. Emerald waters, insane orange sunsets and a weather system as unpredictable as the next guarantees you won’t forget a visit to this World Heritage site. When it comes to rest, choose from over 260 hotels in Halong Bay here.

2. Hanoi

A busy city, where every laneway specializes in goods whether it’s silver street or clothing street, or the several food streets. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and with an estimated 7.7 million people is the country’s second largest city by population. Explore colonial buildings and ancient pagodas in an ancient setting on the banks of the Red River. A great way to experience the city is on foot or with the locals on the back of a scooter. Even better, why not experience the food of Hanoi on the back of a scooter? And if you don’t try any food in Vietnam, but one? Make it the egg coffee. Thick, sweet, delicious. Need a place to rest your your head? Choose from over 980 hotels in Hanoi here.

3. Hoi An

This historic and charming town also sits on a river bank. Once one of Southeast Asia’s major trading ports, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a feast for the eyes thanks to its grand architecture of ancient Chinese temples and teetering Japanese merchant houses. Hoi An is vastly different from Hanoi thanks to the absence of road traffic and pollution. Walking the streets of the Old City is an overload on the senses—with food carts, lantern market stalls and plenty of tailor shops, bars and massage joints. We took a rather eventful overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang or you can fly in. Then it’s only by road into Hoi An. Tip: For a good introduction to Vietnamese culture, take in a Lune Production while in town. Book your hotel ahead of time with more than 560 Hoi An hotels to choose from here.

4. Marble Mountains

Da Nang is where you will find the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five hills made from limestone and marble. Access up one of the mountains is relatively inexpensive and made easy with an elevator ride or a small climb up a stairway. Explore caves and tunnels and temples filled with ancient Buddhist sanctuaries and places of worship. Make sure you find the special circular cave which leads to the summit and spectacular panoramic views. Find over 1,200 hotels near Marble Mountain here.

5. Ba Na Hills

Want a bit of Europe in your trip? It’s not too late. West of Da Nang are the Truong Son Mountains. To get to the top of the mountains, you can travel on the longest non-stop single track cable car,  which is also the world’s highest. It’s 19,000 feet in length and 4,488 feet from the departure station to the arrival station. Better yet, it travels over the Toc Tie Waterfall and deposits you at a French village. That’s right: On top of the mountains is a hill resort founded by French colonists in 1919. It’s like stepping into a misty Beauty & The Beast provincial town. With a town square, church, hotels and views to die for. It gets at least 59F degrees cooler on top, so make sure you bring an extra layer and enjoy a piece of Europe in usually humid and hot Vietnam. Staying the night? Book the Mercure on Ba Na Hill.

6. Phú Quốc

If you’re wondering where backpackers, expats and jet setters are bolting to next, leave the mainland behind and head to this Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia. Phú Quốc has not yet been trampled to death by tourists (although the masses are coming), so get here quickly to enjoy night markets and bar life in Dương Đông, dense jungle trails and wildlife in Phu Quoc National Park (which comprises more than half the island), pastoral villages and offshore fishing boats on the east coast, and jaw-dropping luxury resorts along the southernmost tip. The JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa is a luxury, five-star resort that was constructed to resemble a 19th-century French-Vietnamese university. No detail was spared in crafting an upscale collegiate atmosphere, including a mascot, a track and field, a chic cocktail lounge (appropriately named the Department of Pharmacy) and even a school dean. We also love the ocean-facing guest rooms, salon-like restaurant Pink Pearl and lushly landscaped grounds. (Learn more about this Roaming Gnome Top Pick!) Look for more things to do here.

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