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8 of the Most Incredible Unesco World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

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

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

When I visited Vietnam, I explored some of the historic Vietnam Unesco sites on the list. Several may appear on Vietnam travel itineraries as they are some of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam. Other Unesco historical sites in Vietnam are off the tourist trail and not so well known. Visiting these will allow a glimpse into Vietnam’s diverse history away from mass tourism.

If you’d like to learn more about the eight Vietnam World Heritage Sites, read on for my full guide.

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Hoi An Ancient Town – Unesco World Heritage Site #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 is one of the most popular Unesco sites in Vietnam. The pastel-coloured buildings and street layout reflect both the indigenous and foreign influences of this unique heritage site.

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
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My Son Sanctuary – Vietnam Unesco Site Ruins #2

How to Get to My Son Sanctuary – Book a Guided Tour – more economical than hiring a taxi as 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 the most revered Unesco sites in Vietnam 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 that are still standing mostly date 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 then mostly destroyed during the Vietnam War. Thus, it is not as well preserved as other similar sites worldwide, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Out of 70 original temples, only a few ruins remain however a visit to My Son Unesco Heritage Site deserves a place on your Vietnam Travel Itinerary.

My Son Sanctuary Ruins
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The Complex of Hue Monuments – Vietnam World Heritage Site #3

How to Get to the Hue Unesco Heritage Sites – By Taxi – pre-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 perfect – he even lent us his fan as it was so hot!

If you want to visit the Imperial city, then 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 definitely worth a visit.

The Unesco title also covers the Hue Imperial Tombs, all located 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 make sure you give yourself enough time to enjoy them without being rushed.

I would recommend visiting all of 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
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Halong Bay – Vietnam Unesco Listed Site #4

How to Get to the Halong Bay – Book onto 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 both outstanding beauty and important biological factors.  Fishing communities live on many of the 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 and grottos and cultural fishing heritage, are why Unesco named Halong Bay as a World Heritage site.

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

Curious to find more out 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

Decorative SeparatorCentral 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 then 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.

Following excavations in the 21st century, a few remaining structures can now be seen. 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 artefacts from the 6th – 20th century were discovered during these excavations, including foundations of old palaces and ancient roads.

Interested in finding out what other historic places can be seen in Hanoi? Check out my 3-Nights in Hanoi Travel Itinerary Guide for more information.

Thang Long Citadel
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Ho Dynasty Citadel – Vietnam’s Smallest Unesco Site #6

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

The 14th century Ho Dynasty citadel is unfortunately 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 the use of 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, and 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 definitely 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.

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Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – Unesco Natural World Heritage Site #7

How to Get to Phong Nha – Trains taking up to 10 hours or 1-hour flights go to Dong Hoi from Hanoi or Hoi Chi Minh City. Check flights on Skyscanner. From Dong Hoi it is a 40-minute taxi ride to Phong Nha’s hotels and homestays.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang is located in the centre of Vietnam. It covers more than 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. You will definitely find plenty of things to do in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park on your visit.

Interior of Cave with stalagmites

Decorative SeparatorTrang An Landscape – Unesco Area of Outstanding Beauty in Vietnam #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. From Ninh Binh, it will be a 7km taxi journey to reach Trang An.

Book a Day Tour

 

Trang An in Ninh Binh is a magical location and one of Vietnam’s 8 world heritage sites. Called the “Halong Bay on Land”, its impressive landscape is similar to its more famous counterpart nearly 100 miles away.

Rice paddies connect Trang An’s limestone karst mountains, and one way to navigate them is by pedal power! Another less strenuous way of seeing the mountains and valleys’ true beauty is by booking onto a boat tour. Locals will row you around the winding channels allowing you to immerse yourself in the tranquil landscape all around.

Trang An’s magic is evident as you pass caves, temples and pagodas along the route; and not forgetting the monkeys that watch you sail along 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 definitely one of the best things to do in Ninh Binh.

Limestone mountains and water with temple
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EXPLORE MORE OF VIETNAM WITH ME

Northern Vietnam

Central Vietnam

About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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Medha Verma
2 days ago

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
Reply to  Medha Verma
2 days ago

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
4 days ago

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
4 days ago

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
Reply to  Paul Healy
4 days ago

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

Blair Villanueva
Blair Villanueva
5 days ago

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
Reply to  Blair Villanueva
4 days ago

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
5 days ago

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
Reply to  Marielle
5 days ago

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!

Ambica Gulati
5 days ago

Vietnam has been on my list for years. It looks so other wordlly. I would certainly like to see the lmestone monoliths. And now the world’s longest and biggest cave is also on my list.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Ambica Gulati
5 days ago

I hope you can get there when the world is a safe place to travel once again.

Catherine Kaiser
6 days ago

Although I’ve lived in Vietnam, I’ve only visited Halong Bay and Nin Bihn. And honestly, didn’t know about the other six UNESCO World Heritage! But it’s so good to know about them. But, I also wonder, was the taxi the only choice to get to these destinations if I didn’t want to join a group tour? It could be fun, though. And, my Son Sanctuary’s quite a bit similar to Cambodia’s, just thought of it. Lastly, I think Halong Bay is still my favorite!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Catherine Kaiser
6 days ago

I would love to experience living in Vietnam – how wonderful. I have mentioned alternative methods of transport apart from taxis where applicable. Some areas are very remote and no local buses are available leaving a taxi the only option.

Bhushavali N
6 days ago

As someone who loves to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites wherever I go, Vietnam is indeed high up in the list. I’m hoping to visit all the far eastern countries in 2024 or so. Let’s see. I’ve heard and read so much about Hoi An and Halong Bay, so I’m super happy to read about the rest of the sites here in your blog. My Son Sanctuary and Trang looks incredible and out of the world. As someone who loves caves, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is just mesmerizing!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Bhushavali N
6 days ago

Vietnam is such an amazing country so I hope you make it there in 2024.

Danik the Explroer
7 days ago

I haven’t been to Vietnam yet but it is on my radar. I so want to visit ALL these sites amongst others but the eye catching one has to be Trang An in Ninh Binh. I love the scenery in the photos and its the sort of place I would like to chill out or do a bit of hiking. Amazing write up, have bookmarked this page for when I plan my post-covid trip to the country.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Danik the Explroer
7 days ago

I’m glad you found it interesting and I agree that Ninh Binh is beautiful. I have plenty of other posts on Vietnam that will be helpful in deciding where to travel to on your trip.

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