8 Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam To Visit

by Jackie
Published: Last Updated on
A wooden boat along the Trang An river in Ninh Binh, one of Vietnam's UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Do you have an ambitious goal of visiting all 1157 UNESCO sites in the world? If so, consider checking out the 8 World Heritage Sites in Vietnam. 

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has rigorous selection criteria as all sites must provide incredible value to visitors. 

There are currently 5 cultural, 2 natural, and 1 mixed (that has both cultural and natural aspects) UNESCO-recognized Vietnam sites. 

Although we’re living and traveling through Vietnam, we haven’t had the chance to visit all the sites yet. 

So, we reached out to our favorite travel bloggers (also known as “UNESCO World Heritage Sites chasers”) to showcase the 8 incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

Our list is organized by the site’s location from North to South Vietnam. Each section has information on the site, how to get there with various transportation options, and the admission cost. 

What we like about the UNESCO sites in Vietnam is that they provide a well-rounded experience from the historic cities to the jaw-dropping landscape views. These sights are a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Vietnam. 

Interested in our other UNESCO post? Check out why we love these Creative Cities of Gastronomy and World Heritage Sites in Indonesia.

*Disclaimer: We’re giving you a heads up that this post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase for your Vietnam trip, we receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you. Appreciate the support.


Helpful Tips When Visiting Vietnam UNESCO Sites

  • Arrange transportation ahead of time. Whether you’re going on a tour or driving a motorbike, you’ll want to be prepared. We have tips on different transportation options in each of the sections below. 
  • Cash is accepted as payment for the admission cost. The only site that accepts credit cards is Trang An Complex. 
  • Bring all your trash with you or dispose of them properly. Please do not litter at these sites. We need to keep these sites clean for all visitors to enjoy. 
  • Have a data plan for your phone. Before you explore these sites, ensure that you have a SIM card or eSIM card for your phone. You may need to contact someone in an emergency. 

You can buy a SIM card at the airport, such as at Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport, Danang International Airport, or Ho Chi Minh City Tan Son Nhat International Airport

If you prefer an eSIM card, set up one here

For U.S. travelers, if you’re looking for an international phone plan, consider trying Google Fi (formerly Google Project Fi). We’ve used this phone plan since 2016 and love how data and text messages are available in 200+ countries at no additional cost. The plan works in Vietnam, so this is an option if you don’t want to buy an additional SIM card. Learn more here and try it for free. 


Map of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

Here is a map of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Vietnam.

Click on the image to see a larger map of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam. Credit: Map data: Google


Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi

By Ania, The Travelling Twins

Hanoi’s delicious healthy food and its lovely character are a great place to revisit several times. 

Hanoi Citadel, or its formal title, “The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long” or Hoàng Thành Thăng Long in Vietnamese, is a slight change from the hectic bustle of the city.

Unlike most of historic Hanoi, this is an archaeological site rather than a group of ancient buildings. It’s an important one as recognized by UNESCO since 2010. 

This site was the regional center of power for 13 centuries. A Chinese fortress stood on the site until the 11th century when the Vietnamese rebuilt it during their era of independence. It remained the seat of the Vietnamese royal court until they moved to Hué in 1810.  

Most of the buildings on the site today date from more recent history. The 19th and 20th centuries largely disregarded the Citadel until its rediscovery under the present excavations. 

Along with the excavated foundations and pavings, there are several galleries in the museum. Objects found on the site are exhibited here alongside film presentations. 

To bring history up to date, you can also climb down into the cramped scary tunnels of a war bunker. This is right in the middle of the ancient site and a sad relic of the 1960s.

If you’re visiting Hanoi with kids, definitely include the Citadel in your plans. My children enjoyed exploring it, asking questions about its long history, and seeing the beautiful objects. 

It’s also a gentle change of environment from the city.

Entrance of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, also known as the Hanoi Citadel.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an easy UNESCO site to visit while you’re in Hanoi. Photo credit: The Travelling Twins

UNESCO Recognition Year: 2010

How to Get There: The Hanoi Citadel is in the middle of the city within walking distance of the old town. It’s open daily except for Mondays from 8:00am to 5:00pm. 

If you prefer to take a city tour in Hanoi, check out these options:

Admission Cost: Entrance is VND 30,000 (About $1.25 USD) for adults. Entry is free for under the age of 15, and half-price for Vietnamese students and over the age of 60.


Halong Bay – Cat Ba Archipelago  

By Jackie & Justin, Life Of Doing

Halong Bay (Ha Long Bay or Vịnh Hạ Long in Vietnamese) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures to have in Vietnam

Located in Quang Ninh Province, the bay is massive at 1550 square kilometers (600 square miles) and has approximately 2,000 islands

Besides the UNESCO recognition, it’s also considered a New Seven Natural Wonders of the World

While tourism has boomed in Halong Bay, the area is still one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam with the many natural limestone karsts perched along the calm, turquoise water. 

The best way to see the bay up close is via a day trip or an overnight cruise on a junk boat. They are wooden boats that the ancient Chinese used for transportation. The boats are a natural wood color, yet in Halong Bay, they’re required to be painted white. 

If you have the time and the budget, spend 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights on your Halong Bay cruise to fully enjoy the experience. We recently took a 2 days/1 night cruise with Swan Cruises and had a fantastic experience. 

You can choose which areas to explore on your cruise – Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Cat Ba Island. 

Note: If you want to explore Cat Ba Island, you’ll want to go on a 3 day/2 night cruise as there will be more time to explore the island. 

Top activities include relaxing on a beach or your boat’s rooftop, exploring a cave with amazing stalactites, kayaking, eating fresh seafood, and taking a sampan boat ride to see the mesmerizing landscapes. Evenings activities include karaoke and squid fishing. 

Kayaking and snorkeling around the bay usually occur on the first day of the cruise, but that depends on when you visit Halong Bay. The water may be too cold!

If you visit the Halong Bay area, you’ll experience a one-hour sampan boat ride. Your rower takes you through a floating fishing village and underneath the karst (don’t forget to duck your head with the low ceiling!).

You’ll have a fantastic time here as Halong Bay is a relaxing and serene place to visit. 

TIP: Plastic bottles and one-use plastics are not allowed on the cruise. Recently, it’s been in the news that Halong Bay is polluted with plastics and styrofoam, so it’s being cleaned daily to preserve its beauty.  

One of the top reasons to visit Vietnam is to see the gorgeous Halong Bay with the limestone karst and the opportunity to stay overnight on a junker boat.

Halong Bay & Cat Ba Archipelago are beautiful places to visit. Photo credit: SimonDannhauer via Depositphotos.com

UNESCO Recognition Year: 1994

How to Get There: Most people tend to leave Hanoi to Halong Bay via a 4-hour car that is organized by the cruise operator or bus ride

Another option is to take a flight to Vietnam’s newest airport, Van Don International Airport (airport code: VDO), which is 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Halong Bay. It’ll take an hour to get to the port from the airport. 

It’s recommended that you have a tour pre-booked before arriving in Halong Bay as it’s a popular destination.

Check out the tour options below for Halong Bay:

Admission Cost: Your admission to the Halong Bay entrance fee is included in your day or overnight cruise tour. The cost of the cruise will vary depending if you’re taking a budget, mid-level, or luxury operator.


Read More: 

Other Floating Villages in Vietnam: Tan Lap Floating Village in Long An and Can Tho’s Floating Market

Brunei’s Kampong Ayer


Trang An Landscape Complex

By Penny, GlobeTrove

Trang An Complex (Khu Du Lịch Tràng An in Vietnamese) is a gorgeous UNESCO site in Ninh Binh, Vietnam, and certainly merits a visit. A lot of people underestimate its beauty because they take it as a boat ride through the karst landscape. 

The perception is definitely wrong and Trang An is nothing short of gorgeous.

With an interconnected network of waterways through caves and numerous different religious structures that could only be accessed by boat, you will find that your jaw will drop open. 

The journey through the site will take anywhere between 2-3 hours depending on your pace. 

If you have time to head in there and exit somewhere closer to dusk, you’ll find that it’s the perfect time to watch the birds.

Every boat requires four passengers aside from the person who is navigating the boat. The boat will depart only once it is full. 

That means that you may have to wait a while until the boat fills up. If luck is on your side you won’t have to wait long. 

The later you head out, the fewer tourists you will come across. In a way, it was a blessing because you get to experience the karst landscape without the usual hub dub that the tourists bring. 

It was a quiet and peaceful journey that we loved. 

Local rowers wait in their boat until it has a full capacity of four riders. There are two boats in the distance as they head to the karst landscapes in Trang An, Vietnam.

Taking a boat ride is one of the top attractions in Trang An. Photo credit: GlobeTrove

UNESCO Recognition Year: 2014

How to Get There: Take a car, shared minivan, bus, or train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. It’ll take about 2.5-3 hours for each of these transportation options. 

Once you arrive, you can head to Trang An boat area via bus, taxi, or walking. You can also take an organized tour that will depart from Hanoi.

If you’re already in Ninh Binh, ride a motorbike, or bicycle, or take a taxi to Trang An. 

Here are tour options for Trang An:

Admission Cost: 250,000 VND ($10.30 USD) per person for the boat ride. Credit cards are accepted for payment. 


Citadel of the Ho Dynasty 

By Michael, Time Travel Turtle

The Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Thành Nhà Hồ Vĩnh Lộc in Vietnamese) is one of those places that is important – academically. 

But for the average tourist, there isn’t much to see, which is a shame because there is an interesting story behind the site.

It was the political center of the Ho Dynasty that ruled over this region during the 14th century. 

But unlike many of the other dynasties, that had long reigns, the Ho Dynasty only lasted for six years. 

Still, it was enough to build an impressive citadel that introduced a new style of imperial city to Asia. 

It also used neo-Confucianism principles to build this city with a beautiful natural landscape.

So why is it so uninspiring these days? Well, because there isn’t much left.

The most imposing part of the citadel that you can still see is the large stone wall around the boundary, about 900 meters (.56 miles) on each side. You can walk along the top of it and look down into the main city grounds. 

Most of them are farmland these days, though. You’ll likely see farmers making their buffalo walk through rice paddies on the ground that was once a grand citadel – and that may be the most interesting part of your day!

The Citadel of the Ho Dynasty is the location where the Ho Dynasty ruled in the region in the 14th century. The citadel has a stone wall with three tunnels to walk through.

Have you been to the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty in Thanh Hoa Province? Photo credit: Time Travel Turtle

UNESCO Recognition Year: 2011

How to Get There: Visiting the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty is difficult – because so few tourists come here. 

If you’re using public transport, the easiest way is to get a local bus from Thanh Hoa, which will take you about 90 minutes. 

Admission Cost: The entrance fee is only 10,000 VND (less than US$0.50) and that includes a small museum on the site.


Read More: Off the Beaten Path Locations in Vietnam


Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

By Emily, Wander-Lush

One of Vietnam’s natural World Heritage Sites, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng in Vietnamese) was inscribed by UNESCO in 2003. 

The listing recognizes the area’s geological value (it’s one of the largest karst landscapes in Southeast Asia), its primary forests, and its abundance of wildlife (including Clouded Leopards and Langurs).

The park is located in Central Vietnam, at the country’s narrowest point, and borders on the Hin Nammo Conservation Area in neighboring Laos. 

Because of its location, the area was heavily targeted during the Vietnam-America War. 

One of the more unusual ways to explore the National Park is by cycling a portion of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail – a supply line carved out through the jungle.

Aside from its war history, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is best known for its wet caves and underground rivers

A spotlight was thrown on the area in the 1990s when a local happened upon Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. 

A network of smaller caves on the edge of the Park draws tourists with activities such as hiking, kayaking, mud bathing, and zip-lining. 

Multi-cave day tours are a popular way to experience the area’s natural beauty. 

Life Of Doing Editorial Note: Check out our Hang En Cave trekking guide on how to spend 2 days/1 night in the first part of the Son Doong cave trip. 

Walk inside Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park's caves to see the karst landscapes and stalactites.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a stunning place to visit as you explore Central Vietnam. Photo credit: Wander-Lush

UNESCO Recognition Year: 2003

How to Get There: The best way to access Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is via the nearest city, Dong Hoi. The international airport at Dong Hoi is serviced by regular flights from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

There is also a train station in Dong Hoi with overnight trains arriving from the capital.

Local buses connect Dong Hoi with the town of Phong Nha, where you can find a wealth of guesthouses and hostels sprinkled along the banks of the Song Con River. 

If you prefer to take a Phong Nha tour, check out these options:

Admission Cost: Entrance to the National Park is free, yet caves will have different entrance fees.


Read More: Cycle through the Phong Nha’s Bong Lai Valley 


The Complex of Monuments at Hue

By Soumya, Stories by Soumya

Hue, the capital city of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, was an important cultural and spiritual center of Vietnam in medieval times. 

The city is located on the banks of the Perfume River which gives Hue a unique, picturesque setting.

During the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty, many stunning monuments of outstanding cultural and architectural value were built in Hue. 

These include the Hue Citadel (includes the Imperial City, Forbidden Purple City, and royal residences), fortresses, important temples, and royal tombs. Together, they make the Complex of Monuments at Hue (Quần thể di tích cố đô Huế in Vietnamese).

These monuments were built in natural harmony with the surrounding landscape so much so that the landscape is often considered part of the complex. 

The Complex was awarded the UNESCO heritage status in 1993.

Taking a guided tour of Hue’s Monument Complex is an interesting component in every traveler’s itinerary.

It not only gives you an insight into Vietnamese royal families but also helps you appreciate the perfect harmony that nature and man can coexist in. Also, signage inside the complex isn’t great and the area is huge. 

Colorful Hien Nhon Gate (East Gate) which leads to the Imperial City in Hue, Vietnam

Check out this gorgeous Hien Nhon Gate (East Gate) in Hue. Photo credit: efired via Depositphotos.com

UNESCO Recognition Year: 1993

How to Get There: Hue is usually done as a day trip from the beach city of Danang. You can also take a flight, train, or bus from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to get here.

Check out the tour options below to explore Hue:

Admission Cost: You can visit the Hue Imperial City by purchasing a ticket for 200,000 VND ($8.25 USD). 

By adding 150,000 VND ($6.20 USD) extra, you can cover some of the more significant tombs as well. 

Combined tickets are also available. 


My Son Sanctuary

By Alina, The Happy Kid

Not very far from the well-known Hoi An, there is My Son temple complex, an important Vietnamese UNESCO site. 

My Son (Mỹ Sơn in Vietnamese) used to be an important center of the Champa civilization between the 4th and the 14th centuries. 

The temples are dedicated to the god Shiva and represent the longest inhabited archaeological site in the Indochinese Peninsula.

The most important Hindu temple complex in Vietnam, My Son is compared with other similar places in Southeast Asia, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Bagan in Myanmar. 

Unfortunately, a significant part of My Son was destroyed during the Vietnamese War, bombed by the United States. 

Only 17 out of the original 71 structures are still standing and most of them are in pretty bad shape, despite the intensive conservation work.

The site is open for visitors from 6:00am until 5:00pm.

It’s advisable to go early in the morning to avoid the heat, even though in the afternoon there aren’t so many people as most of the organized tours end by 2:00pm.

Walk through the My Son Sanctuary, one of the UNESCO sites in Vietnam, to see the Cham towers, which are made out of bricks and stone carvings.

My Son Sanctuary, a recognized UNESCO site in Vietnam, is one of the places to see the historic Cham towers. Photo credit: The Happy Kid

UNESCO Recognition Year: 1999

How to Get There: The best option to visit My Son Sanctuary is by renting a scooter. It’s a one-hour ride from Hoi An through a picturesque, authentic rural landscape. 

You can also hire a driver to take you there or take an organized tour. 

Here are My Son Sanctuary tour options for you to consider:

Admission Cost: The entrance fee is 150,000 VND ($6.50 USD) 


Related: Check out the other Cham Towers in Vietnam

Quy Nhon’s Banh It and Twin Towers

Nha Trang’s Po Nagar

Mui Ne’s Po Shanu


Hoi An Ancient Town

By Jackie & Justin, Life Of Doing

Hoi An (Hội An in Vietnamese) is the perfect destination for a day trip from Danang or to spend a few days here. 

As a former trading port city in the 15th and 19th centuries, the city had international traders from China, Japan, India, and Europe flowing through the Thu Bon River. 

Currently, this quiet and laid-back city is a nice balance between history, culture, architecture, and shopping galore. 

Most visitors will spend their time walking through Hoi An’s Ancient Town as many of the attractions are concentrated here. It’s a small area so it can get crowded at times. 

Take a walk over the iconic Japanese bridge, visit the Phuoc Kien Pagoda, learn about the culture at the Museum of Folk Culture Museum, and admire the architecture of the traditional houses. 

You don’t have to worry about motorbikes in the area as the roads are closed off to them during certain hours. Watch out for cyclo drivers though. 

If you’re eyeing an opportunity to go shopping, Hoi An is a shopping paradise. From the Night Markets to the local handicrafts store, there are plenty of places to purchase souvenirs. 

Popular gift items include silk lanterns, ceramics, jewelry, and clothes (the fruit Hawaiian prints are the must-have items!) 

Consider getting clothes tailored such as suits, dress shirts, dresses, and shoes at affordable prices. They will be ready in 2-3 days. 

The best part about visiting Hoi An is walking next to the riverside during the evenings. The views are stunning with the colorful lanterns illuminating the riverside and alleyways. 

Hoi An has a variety of silk lanterns for sale and they come in different patterns such as floral designs, and colors. Hoi An Ancient Town is a must visit UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam.

The evening strolls in Hoi An are beautiful with the lit lanterns.

UNESCO Recognition Year: 1999

How to Get There: Most visitors arrive at Danang International Airport and take a taxi, Grab car (same concept as Uber in the United States, so you’ll need to an app), airport shuttle, or hire a driver. The ride will take approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour depending on traffic. 

If you would prefer to take a tour in Hoi An, check out these options:

Admission Cost: Visitors need to purchase a ticket at the ticket stations to walk around the Hoi An Old Town area. Tickets are 120,000 VND ($5.00 USD) and provide access to the town and 6 local sites (museums or old houses). 

Bring the ticket with you at all times as it’s valid during your stay in Hoi An. 

However, the enforcement of the ticket isn’t consistent at various checkpoints.


Final Thoughts

We hope you’re inspired to visit one or all of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam.

It’s our goal to see as many of them as possible during our long-term stay in Vietnam.

Which of these World Heritage Sites in Vietnam do you want to see? If you’ve been to some of them already, which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.


Need more information about Vietnam? Continue reading our other Vietnam posts:


Like this UNESCO post? Save it to your Vietnam Pinterest board.

A woman in a dress stands in front of the lanterns in Hoi An, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Vietnam. This post highlights the 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit in Vietnam.

Pin #1 photo credit: Lucia de la Hoz via Scopio Photos

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4 comments

Deeptha August 5, 2019 - 1:29 am

We haven’t been to Vietnam yet. When we do go, I would love to visit Halong Bay. An overnight cruise would be the perfect way to experience it.

Reply
Jackie August 5, 2019 - 9:37 am

Deeptha – You’ll love the Halong Bay cruise experience! It’s such a beautiful place to explore for a day or two. We still remember the delicious seafood that we had on board the boat.

Reply
Rick Williams May 5, 2020 - 9:35 pm

We visited here and loved it. Specifically Halong Bay. I taught my eight year old son to scuba dive in the shallows there and it was an amazing experience for both of us. We all loved the food and the locals were very friendly. Now all we want to do is go back! Great article, thank you.

Reply
Jackie May 7, 2020 - 10:08 am

You’re welcome Rick. Halong Bay is a special place to visit and it’s awesome to hear that you can go scuba diving there!

Reply

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