Want to know what Vietnam is known for? It could be the fascinating history, the striking landmarks, the delicious food or even the super-friendly people – Vietnam is famous for many things the world over…
It’s hard not to love Vietnam. Bordering China, Laos and Cambodia, the ‘Land of the Blue Dragon’ is a vibrant melting pot; you’ll be struck by the crazy traffic and buzzing nightlife of the cities, the unbelievably good food, and the beautiful scenery.
Vietnam is famous for its pho, its stunning beaches, and as a top destination for travellers to Asia. I first visited in 2013 – the first Asian country I ever went to. I’ve since been back, and cycled the length of it to really soak up the Vietnam vibes. I love it there!
Here are 21 Vietnam facts that go some way to explaining why it’s such a must-see destination.
21 Things Vietnam is Known For
From its profound historical roots to places to visit and other insider travel tips, here’s everything you need to know about Vietnam.
Vietnam History: ancient culture, colonialism and war
Here are three pivotal periods that have shaped the country.
1. Vietnam’s ancient culture
Vietnam’s Dong Son culture dates back as early as 2,000 BC. These sophisticated people grew rice, kept water buffalo, were skilled at fishing, and had a remarkable knack for making things out of bronze, from functional axes to intricate drums.
2. The French Colonial period
Vietnam fell under French control from the mid-1800s right through to the 1950s. As with many other French colonies, you can still see the influence of the occupiers today, particularly when it comes to the architecture, food — and even the legal and education systems. This is particularly true in places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
3. The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War is arguably the darkest and most famous era of Vietnam’s history. It took place between 1955 and 1975 and was waged between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and South Vietnam, backed by the United States and other anti-communist nations.
The war ended with the Fall of Saigon in 1975 when North Vietnam captured the southern capital. After this, Vietnam was unified under communist rule. The war ravaged the country, claimed millions of lives, and had a major impact on world politics. To learn more about the war, head to The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels just outside the city.
Things to do in Vietnam
From the past to the present, here are four activities that Vietnam is famous for.
4. Riding a scooter
Head to any Vietnamese city and the first thing that will strike you is the sound of moped engines and tooting horns. Two-thirds of the population owns a scooter or motorbike — the country is mad about them. Hiring a motorbike in Vietnam can be a great way to get about (if you’re brave enough to negotiate the crazy traffic).
5. Taking a boat trip
The Mekong Delta is known as Vietnam’s ‘Rice Bowl’ because, as you might have guessed, it’s where they grow a large amount of the country’s favourite grain. A boat tour around the floating markets of Cai Rang or Phong Dien can be a great way to take a glimpse into local life. You should definitely add this to your list of things to do in Vietnam.
6. Hitting the beach
Vietnam’s coastline stretches for more than 1,800 miles (3,000 km) and boasts some incredible white sandy beache sand crystal clear waters. Head to Phu Quoc, Nha Trang or Da Nang and embrace your inner beach bum. You can find out the best beaches in Vietnam here.
7. Wearing an Ao Dai
The traditional Vietnamese dress is called Ao Dai. They’re colourful, long, flowing tunics worn over wide trousers that are typically made of silk. They’re commonly worn by women, but men often don them for special occasions. You can embrace the local culture by getting your own Ao Dai custom-made, supporting talented local tailors who can create a fit just for you. They make for a great souvenir from Vietnam to bring home.
Vietnam landmarks: things to see in Vietnam
8. Hạ Long Bay
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Vietnam is known for its rainforest-topped islands jutting out of the deep emerald waters. Halong Bay is a great place for kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing — or simply snapping a pic for your Instagram feed.
9. Hoi An
The central coast city is one for the history buffs — its Ancient Town is a beautifully preserved trading port that dates back to the 15th century. The buildings and lantern-lit streets in Hoi An are quite unlike anything else in the country.
10. Da Nang
This central coastal city boasts some of the country’s best beaches. But there’s plenty more to explore; take a walk up the Marble Mountains, cross the Golden Bridge, or hop on a cable car for some outstanding views. Definitely add this city to your list of things to see in Vietnam.
READ MORE: The Best Travel Tips for Vietnam
Vietnamese food and drink
Of course, any list of things that Vietnam is known for wouldn’t be complete without a mention of its famous food and drink. These are just some of the must-tries.
Arguably the most famous of all Vietnamese dishes, pho is a tasty, aromatic noodle soup made with a fragrant broth, rice noodles, and toppings like beef, chicken or seafood, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and lime. It’s impossible for anyone travelling to Vietnam not to have their fill of pho.
12. Vietnamese coffee
What is Vietnam known for? Coffee! This isn’t like the stuff you get in Starbucks or Costa though. Known for its strong and distinct flavour, Vietnamese coffee is brewed with a small metal filter, and served with sweetened condensed milk, sometimes over ice. It’s strong, sweet and certain to get you going in the mornings.
13. Banh mi
Remember the French influence? Vietnam’s most famous sandwich is served on a crusty baguette, just like you’d find in Paris. Fillings include grilled meats and pâté, but Vietnamese flavours are added too, like pickled vegetables, fresh coriander, and chilli sauce. Get ready for a mouthwatering explosion of tastes and textures.
14. Papaya salad
This is no ordinary salad. Refreshing and zesty, papaya salad combines shredded green papaya, herbs, peanuts, and a tangy dressing. Bursting with flavours, this dish is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, and spicy — the ideal way to get some of your five-a-day.
7 Surprising Vietnam facts
Here a some of the more weird and wonderful tidbits about Vietnam…
15. Water puppetry
Vietnam has a traditional art called ‘water puppetry’, where puppeteers entertain audiences with wooden puppets on water, usually while music plays in the background.
16. Coffee culture
We’ve already mentioned coffee. But did you know that Vietnam is the second-largest coffee exporter in the world? The country is renowned for its Robusta beans and unique brewing method using a metal filter called a ‘phin’.
17. Longevity hotspot
Want to live to be 100? Head to the mountainous region of Ba Ria-Vung Tau and learn the secrets to longevity from its unusually high number of centenarians. If you were wondering what is Vietnam known for, I’m sure you weren’t expecting life expectancy!
18. The world’s biggest cave
Hang Son Doong in central Vietnam is home to the world’s largest known cave, boasting colossal chambers, towering stalagmites, and even its own jungle.
19. Drinks made of snake venom
Vietnam is known for its exotic delicacies, and one of the most unusual is ‘King Cobra Wine,’ made by infusing snake venom into rice wine.
20. The Lunar New Year exodus
Every year during Tet (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year), there’s a massive migration as millions flock from the cities to their rural hometowns to celebrate with their families.
21. Crazy House
Da Lat, the mountain resort town in southern Vietnam, is best known for its ‘Crazy House’, a surrealist guest house that looks like something straight out of your most bizarre dreams.
What is Vietnam known for?
Hopefully, these 21 Vietnam facts have left you hungry for more. It’s a country that’s a feast for the senses; there’s so much to see, learn, eat and do that once you’ve experienced the magic it’s hard to resist the allure. The minute you return, you’ll almost certainly find yourself planning your next visit!