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A History Buff’s Vietnam Travel Itinerary

Vietnam is a dream destination for any history lover. Ancient pagodas, tunnels, prison complexes, and monuments speak volumes of its rich and tumultuous history, and there are remnants of the Chinese and French colonies scattered throughout the country. Take a look at our ideal itinerary made especially for travelers who want to hit the best historical attractions in Vietnam in a single visit.



Enter the country through the 1,000-year-old capital city of Hanoi, an exceptional first stop with a wide variety of historic attractions. Beautiful architecture with Chinese and French influences is found all over the city, including in the bustling Old Quarter. History buffs will delight in the many sites where travelers can discover more about Vietnam’s glorious past. Three to five days should be enough to get a glimpse of the main Hanoi tourist attractions but there’s always more to see if you have some more time.


Hỏa Lò Prison (Hanoi)

via Michael Coghlan on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Established by the French in the late 19th century, Hoa Lo Prison held Vietnamese prisoners and was known for its inhumane conditions. It was also used to imprison American soldiers during the Vietnam War when the prisoners ironically referred to it as “Hanoi Hilton.” These days, a part of the Hoa Lo Prison is kept as a museum, with exhibits showing the lives and deaths of the prisoners.


Temple of Literature

via Ba Thang Nguyen on Pixabay

The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 as a temple complex honoring Confucius, but it’s also the site of the Imperial Academy that’s recognized as the first university in Vietnam. Nestled in a quiet property with landscaped gardens and give courtyards, it’s a picturesque place for a visit.


Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long

via Sinh Dang on Pixabay

Found in the heart of Hanoi, the Thang Long Imperial Citadel is a historic complex of imperial buildings built in the 11th century by the Ly Dynasty. While many of the royal palaces and buildings are now in ruins, there are still a number of fascinating structures remaining in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the Doan Mon Gate, the Flag Tower, and the Princess’ Palace.


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex

via falco on Pixabay

When in Hanoi, make sure to set aside some time to visit Uncle Ho. The remains of the iconic communist leader and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh are preserved in this mausoleum and it’s a renowned pilgrimage site for many Vietnamese people. Other notable sites of historical importance inside the complex include the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, Ba Dinh Square, One Pillar Pagoda, and the Presidential Palace.




Take a domestic flight from Hanoi to Hue for the next step in your Vietnam travels. While taking a bus or a sleeper train is cheaper, flying there would get you there faster and ensure you have more time for sightseeing. The ancient city overlooking the Perfume River is a gold mine in historic sites, with plenty of pagodas, tombs, and ruins to explore over a couple of days. Travelers in Da Nang may also visit Hue on a day tour.


Hue Imperial Citadel

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Don’t miss the magnificent fortress in the center of Hue, a UNESCO-listed site that used to be the imperial capital of Vietnam. It’s home to palaces, a temple, a Royal Theater, and a former palace converted into the Museum of Royal Fine Arts. In the center of the citadel is the Forbidden City, which used to be the living quarters of the emperor.

Hue Tombs

via Đoàn Tiến on Pixabay

As the former imperial center of the country, Hue is home to royal tombs that are worth a visit. Here, travelers can listen to stories of long-dead emperors and roam picturesque grounds that often reflect each ruler’s sensibilities. The most popular is Tu Duc Tomb, designed by Emperor Tu Duc himself and completed before his death—although he ultimately chose to be buried in an unknown location to avoid grave robbers. The tomb complex remains a stunning expanse, with temples, pavilions, and even a lake where he used to fish. Other notable royal tombs in Hue include the opulent Khai Dinh Tomb and the oldest of the Hue tombs, Gia Long Tomb.




Hoi An

From Hue, travel to Hoi An on a sleeper bus or private chartered vehicle, a five- to six-hour journey going south. A UNESCO-listed site, Hoi An Ancient Town dates back more than 2,000 years ago, an important port town that still features vestiges of French, Chinese, and Japanese cultures. Roam around the well-preserved town and marvel at the beautiful architecture, tranquil temples, and other cultural sites. The beautiful Japanese Covered Bridge is one of the town’s main attractions; it was built near the end of the 16th century to link the Japanese and Chinese communities in Hoi An. Three days will give you ample time to enjoy Hoi An and nearby attractions.


My Son Sanctuary

via David Lahuerta on Pixabay

My Son isn’t really in Hoi An, but it’s a great day trip from town. It’s an ancient collection of abandoned Hindu temples built by the Cham Kingdom between the 4th and 13th centuries. Often compared to Angkor Wat, the sprawling complex in Central Vietnam is one of the country’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Keep in mind that many of the structures in My Son were bombed and destroyed during the war against the United States. However, it’s still a magnificent stop for any history buff.




Ho Chi Minh

Finally, fly into Ho Chi Minh City for a taste of Vietnam’s tourist hub and buzziest city. Formerly known as Saigon, this vibrant city is a blend of modern innovation and deeply rooted heritage. There are plenty of sights to keep a history lover busy here, from ancient pagodas to beautiful churches to war museums. Wander the streets to see the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, Ba Thien Hau Temple, Xa Loi Pagoda, and the Central Post Office, among others. Four or five days may be enough to catch the main spots in Ho Chi Minh, although travelers can always stay more to get a real feel of the city.


War Remnants Museum

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The most-visited museum in Ho Chi Minh is the War Remnants Museum, a remarkable place to learn more about the devastating struggles Vietnam went through before gaining independence. It features sobering exhibits on the American War, documenting the horrors of the time from a Vietnamese perspective. While most of the exhibits focus on the war with the US, there are also displays of Vietnam’s conflicts with the French and Chinese.



Independence Palace (Reunification Palace)

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Another must-visit historic building in Ho Chi Minh is the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace. For many of the nation’s locals, this 1960s building is a symbol of the country’s reunification, especially after the historic events of 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates and ended the American War. Tours of the building typically include a peek at the basement tunnels, the war command room, and military jets and tanks outside.

Củ Chi Tunnels

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Not far from Ho Chi Minh is the Cu Chi Tunnels, a famous attraction that’s a popular destination for half-day tours out of the city. The incredible network of tunnels stretches over 200 kilometers long, and it’s pristinely preserved as a war memorial where travelers can see the tunnels, booby traps, trap doors, and more. Dug to be the Viet Cong military base during the American War, these cramped tunnels were used by soldiers for living quarters, transportation of messages and supplies, and quick escape routes during guerilla attacks.


Staying in Vietnam for longer? There are many more historic sites in Vietnam, along with natural attractions and cultural spots. Discover more tours, transportation options, and other travel ideas on KKday.



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