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8 Vietnam World Heritage Sites Worth Visiting

8 Vietnam World Heritage Sites Worth Visiting

Vietnam in South-East Asia is a magical place full of history and culture. Because of this, eight incredible Vietnam landmarks are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Unesco sites must meet strict criteria to appear on this coveted list, ranging from social, ecological and cultural requirements.

When I visited Vietnam, I explored several famous landmarks on this list, as they are some of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam. You can follow my 2-week Vietnam travel itinerary for more information on planning a trip.

Other Unesco historical sites in Vietnam are off the tourist trail and not so well known. Visiting these iconic Vietnamese landmarks will allow a glimpse into the country’s diverse history away from mass tourism.

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Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.

Map of Vietnam Unesco Sites

Hoi An Ancient Town #1

How to Get to Hoi An – From Da Nang, take a private taxi or jump on a local bus and explore on your own or book a guided tour of Hoi An

Hoi An Ancient Town is a perfect example of a 15th-century coastal trading port in South-East Asia and one of Vietnam’s most popular Unesco sites.

The pastel-coloured buildings and street layout reflect this unique heritage site’s indigenous and foreign influences.

Hoi An is affectionately known as the “City of Lanterns” due to the amount of beautifully coloured lanterns that hang all around town.

Its surviving 17th and 18th-century yellow timber-framed buildings and cobbled streets add to its unique and charming setting along the Thu Bon River.

Cross the fabled 18th-century wooden Japanese Bridge created by the Japanese to reach the Chinese quarter of Hoi An and follow the heritage trail to discover ancient temples, historic houses, assembly halls and museums dedicated to exhibits on local traditions.

Cycle around the rice fields to glimpse everyday life in Hoi An, or head to An Bang and relax on the beach.

Yellow building in Hoi An

My Son Sanctuary #2

How to Get to My Son Sanctuary – Book a Guided Tour – more economical than hiring a taxi as you may have to pay the driver an additional fee to wait around for you while you explore the site. By booking a tour, you get a guide thrown in as well!

 

One of Vietnam’s most revered Unesco sites is My Son World Heritage Site. It was the political and religious epicentre of the Champa Kingdom for almost 1000 years between the 4th and 13th centuries.

The complex contains various shrines, temples and walkways associated with Hindu worship, with inscriptions outlining the historic Champa Kingdom.

The buildings still standing remain mostly from the 10th century onwards, but its tower temples’ impressive ruins are still a dramatic sight.

Over time My Son Sanctuary fell into disrepair and was covered in jungle foliage, becoming another world ruin reclaimed by Mother Nature.

The site was rediscovered in the late 19th century but was then mostly destroyed during the Vietnam War. Therefore, it is not as well preserved as other similar sites worldwide, such as Ta Prohm in Cambodia.

Only a few ruins of the 70 original temples remain, and travellers often wonder whether My Son is worth visiting; however, this Unesco Heritage Site deserves a place on your Vietnam Travel Itinerary for its rich history.

My Son Sanctuary Ruins

The Complex of Hue Monuments #3

How to Get to the Hue Unesco Heritage Sites – By Taxi – arrange a fee for your taxi driver to take you to the Imperial Tombs. Ask him to wait outside each one while you explore. We did this, and it worked out perfectly – he even lent us his fan as it was so hot!

If you want to visit the Imperial City, get your hotel to arrange a taxi to take you there. To get back hail one from outside the complex.

Book a Hue Day Tour

 

Established in 1802 as the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hue was the political, cultural and religious centre under the Nguyen dynasty for nearly 150 years until capital status was moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 1949.

Unesco declared the Hue monuments a World Heritage Site in 1993, consisting of the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City.

The iconic buildings within the Imperial City are all in pretty good condition, although damage to some structures due to the Vietnam War is still evident.

There are plenty of things to see in Hue’s Imperial City, from pagodas and royal buildings to lakes, gates and shrines. It is like travelling back in time and worth a visit.

The Unesco title also covers the Hue Royal Tombs, near the Perfume River. We visited four of the seven royal tombs on a self-guided tour and found them fascinating.

They are large, so give yourself enough time to enjoy them without being rushed.

I recommend visiting all the monuments scattered around Hue to gain an in-depth knowledge of its cultural and spiritual history.

Red and Yellow Temple in the Imperial City of Hue

Halong Bay #4

How to Get to the Halong Bay – Book a Halong Bay/ Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise

 

Known for its spectacular limestone monoliths, Halong Bay has always been a popular travel destination and perhaps the most visited UNESCO World Heritage Site in Vietnam.

Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay includes over 1,600 mostly uninhabited islands forming an area of outstanding beauty and important biological factors.  Fishing communities live on many smaller islands, some having never trodden on land.

Cruising in Halong Bay’s waters is on most travel bucket lists and to sail on the South China Sea and further on to Bai Tu Long Bay is simply incredible. The natural features, including the limestone towers, caves, grottos, and cultural fishing heritage, are why Unesco named Halong Bay a World Heritage site.

Halong Bay is a tourist magnet, so to avoid the crowded waters, book a cruise to sail further out to Bai Tu Long Bay. This area is quieter and really allows you to immerse yourself in this amazing seascape.

Curious to find out more about Bai Tu Long Bay?  Check out my Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise Guide for more information.

A fishing vessel in Bai Tu Long Bay

Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long #5

How to Get to Thang Long – Walk or grab a taxi. This Unesco World Heritage site is located 2km outside Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Established in 1010 by the Ly Dynasty, the complex of historic royal buildings is located in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.

The Imperial Citadel remained in Hanoi as the Vietnamese royal court’s centre and regional political power until 1802.

The Nguyen dynasty then moved the royal court to Hue, where the Imperial City was constructed. It became the new capital of Vietnam until 1949. After this time, Ho Chi Minh City became the capital of Vietnam for a time.

Thang Long’s royal palaces and surrounding buildings were mostly destroyed in the late 19th century following France’s conquest of Hanoi.  

The remaining citadel buildings were used as a prison by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1945 to imprison over 4000 French soldiers captured during the Japanese/French fighting in Indochina.

Excavations in the 21st century uncovered a few remaining structures. These are the Doan Mon gate, marking the southern entrance to the royal palace, the Flag Tower, Kinh Thien Palace’s steps, and the Hau Lau (Princess’ Palace).

Many important artefacts from the 6th – 20th century were discovered during these excavations. They include foundations of old palaces and ancient roads.

Find out more about historical places in Hanoi in my post, 3-Nights in Hanoi Travel Itinerary Guide.

Thang Long Citadel

Ho Dynasty Citadel #6

How to get to Ho Citadel – 3 hours by taxi from Hanoi

Unfortunately, the 14th-century Ho Dynasty citadel is not as impressive as the other seven historic Unesco sites. It is possibly the least recognised of these historical landmarks of Vietnam.  

Its four arched gateways facing north, east, south and west are designed in keeping with the principles of Feng Shui.

They are still intact, highlighting the skill and craftsmanship of the Vietnamese builders of that era. Large stone slabs hewn from the mountains nearby were installed without any mortar.

Climb the stone steps to the top of the Southern gate for a mesmerising view of the Vietnamese countryside. From here, you can walk along the wall, enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this rural area of Vietnam and see villagers working in sprawling rice paddies and cattle working the land.

Ho Citadel is one of Vietnam’s Unesco Sites that is a site which is off the beaten track, and with only four gates remaining, you have to really want to tick it off your things to do in Vietnam list to warrant the drive to get here.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park #7

How to Get to Phong Nha – Trains take up to 10 hours or 1-hour flights go to Dong Hoi from Hanoi or Hoi Chi Minh City.

It is a 40-minute taxi ride from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha’s hotels and homestays.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang is located in the centre of Vietnam. It covers over 800 square km of limestone plateaux and thick jungle foliage.

Be thrilled by the natural wonders found in Phong Nha, including the world’s biggest cave, Hang Son Doong. The only way to visit this magnificent cave is by taking the traditional dragon boat from the Xuan Son boat dock or booking a tour of the cave.

Explore rivers, waterfalls and small villages and be astounded at the biodiversity of this area of Vietnam. On your visit, you will find plenty of things to do in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

Interior of Cave with stalagmites

Trang An Landscape #8

How to Get to Trang An – To reach Ninh Binh from Hanoi, you can travel by bus, train or taxi. The journey takes between 2 and 2.5 hours. It will be a 7km taxi journey from Ninh Binh to Trang An.

Book a Day Tour to Trang An from Hanoi

 

Trang An in Ninh Binh is a magical location and one of Vietnam’s eight world heritage sites. Called the “Halong Bay on Land”, its impressive landscape resembles its more famous counterpart nearly 100 miles away.

Rice paddies connect Trang An’s limestone karst mountains; pedal power is one way to navigate them!

Another less strenuous way of seeing the beauty of the mountains and valleys is by booking a boat tour. Locals will row you around the winding channels, allowing you to immerse yourself in the tranquil landscape.

Trang An’s magic, is evident as you pass caves, temples and pagodas along the route, not forgetting the monkeys that watch you from the jungle canopy.

Trang An is less busy than Halong Bay and a good alternative, allowing you to experience a watery wonderland. It is one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.

Limestone mountains and water with temple

EXPLORE MORE OF VIETNAM WITH ME

Northern Vietnam

Central Vietnam

Please Pin for Future Travel to Vietnam

Medha Verma

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

On my trip to Vietnam, I did manage to visit quite a few of these places such as the Hoi An ancient town, My Son Sanctuary, Ninh Binh, Halong Bay. However, there's one place I really wanted to visit but could not due to shortage of time and that was Hue. Also, I had read about Hang Son Doong before my trip and wanted to go there too, but could not. These two are already in my list for the second trip, whenever that is!

WhereAngieWanders

Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Its great that you managed to get to a few of them and as you say, on your next visit you can visit Hue. The Imperial City is very impressive.

Ummi Nadrah

Sunday 17th of January 2021

I haven't been to many of the UNESCO heritage sites in Vietnam, but the few that I have been, I really loved. Especially Hoi An. Although it's becoming more touristy, it still retains its charm. The colorful lanterns simply mesmerize me. Would love to check out the other sites on my next visit to Vietnam.

Paul Healy

Sunday 17th of January 2021

I thought Hoi An was such a charming place, I'd love to go back there one day. There many interesting historical places to visit in Vietnam you could spend months seeing them all. I've never been to Trang An but your photos look incredible so I'd love to go there one day.

WhereAngieWanders

Sunday 17th of January 2021

I think Hoi An has to be my favourite place in Vietnam - I just loved it.

Blair Villanueva

Saturday 16th of January 2021

Surprisingly, I am just a few hours away to Vietnam from the Philippines and I haven't got a chance to visit and explore Vietnam. You are so lucky to explore these 8 UNESCO Wonders that many Vietnamese are so proud of. There is nothing like this in any places, unique and built thousands of years ago. I would love to visit Vietnam when we are able to travel again.

WhereAngieWanders

Sunday 17th of January 2021

I hope you are staying safe in the Philippines and that when the time is right you will get a chance to visit Vietnam.

Marielle

Saturday 16th of January 2021

Forever love Vietnam! It's one of our favorite countries in the world because it's such an experience to visit every single time. We've been to the country a couple of times and even stayed for a few months living as digital nomads. But we actually haven't been to most of these Unesco sites. Now that you laid it out in this article, we wonder why we haven't gone to most of them. One things for sure, we're coming back to stay for at least a month when travel permits and we'll be checking these places out. Thanks a lot!

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 16th of January 2021

You are welcome! My dream is to stay in Vietnam longer than a couple of weeks and really immerse myself in the culture. It is my most favourite place in the world so maybe one day I will get my wish!