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Ultimate Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

Vietnam, a Southeast Asia country, is where history, tradition and culture live, breathe and prosper. As an intersection of several cultures, our country is now home to 8 World Heritage Sites, classified by UNESCO, 5 of which are cultural heritage sites, 2 are two cultural ones and one mixed heritage site is the only mixed heritage site in Southeast Asia region. Some really famous sites like Ha Long Bay or Hoi An Ancient Town, some even Vietnamese people may not know. Whichever it is, all possess unique historical, architectural or natural values for mankind, being diverse in type and size as well as their attractive features.

In this article, I will guide you through 8 heritage sites from the North to the South along our S-shaped Vietnam, and focus on the unique features of each heritage and the best time to visit those destinations, so that you can find it more easy to choose which one to visit. Let’s dive in !

1. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi

Situated only 900m north of the Old Quarter, the central sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi is the place for history lover. This very place at had been the centre of regional political power for almost 13 uninterrupted centuries, equal to 7 dynasties of Vietnam. The central sector of the Citadel embodies a unique culture from the Red River area, influenced from the North by China and from the Champa kingdom in the South.

Credited to: Lan Nguyen – Flickr

The heritage site cover an area of 18.395ha, includes archaeological area at 18 Hoang Dieu Street and relics in Ha Noi Citadel such as: Ha Noi Flag Tower, Doan Mon, Kinh Thien Palace, to name but a few. Time and the war has destroyed most of the architectural monuments, so you might not see a grandeur monument. Underground, layers of dynasties was found stacked upon each other, and ten of thousands of artifacts has been unearthed, able to partially reconstruct the historical process from 17th to t8th century.

Opening time: Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 – 17:00
Place: 18 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi

Recommendation:

  • Definitely find a knowledgeable guide to introduce about Hanoi history, or else, a visit to this site can be monotonous as there are not really much to see.
  • Hanoi Flag Tower is a must. Back in the 19th century, this fortress was one the tallest tower in the old Hanoi, right now it still offer expansive views of Ba Dinh Square and Hanoi city centre.

2. Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay seems to be the most famous heritage when it comes to Vietnam. Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, this bay is a spectacular seascape of 3000 limestone islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Most of them are uninhabited and covered by dense, green foliage, hence, cruising around countless islands and karsts exude a keen sense of serenity.

Additionally, the site’s outstanding scenic beauty is complemented by its great geographical interest. Visitors to Ha Long also come to explore the world’s most charming caves. Ha Long Bay possesses a incredible diversity of caves and other landforms, deriving from the uncommon geomorphological process of marine invaded tower karst.

Best time to travel:
Spring (Mar- Apr), Autumn (Sep – Oct) are the best time to visit Ha Long, though it is fine to visit all year around

Recommendation:
If you worry that Ha Long Bay may be too touristy, you can head straight to Cat Ba Town, or Lan Ha Bay, both are equally captivating.

3. Citadel of the Ho Dynasty

The citadel of the Ho Dynasty might not be quite famous to most tourists, yet the story behind this stone capital is still one of a kind. This is the only stone citadel remaining in Southeast Asia and is one of the few remains in the world. The massive blocks of stone were slotted together without any mortal, and still stands strong for the test of time – they are over 600 years old already.

Credit to: Alex Curylo

Citadel of the Ho Dynasty was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2011, represents an outstanding architectural style of Southeast Asia in the flowering period of Neo-Confucianism

The dynasty of Ho, however short-lived it is, had left valuable legacies to Vietnamese economy as Ho Quy Ly King was the one who introduced paper money and supported foreign trade by opening ports as well as expanded school curriculum to subjects as maths or agriculture.

Time to visit: Spring & Winter (November to April)
Opening hours: 8:00 – 17:00
Place: Vinh Loc District, Thanh Hoa, Vietnam

Recommendation:

  • For such cultural destinations like this, you should choose a qualified tour guide as there are not much visible to the eyes.
  • Other breathtaking destinations in Thanh Hoa: Pu Luong- A piece of serenity.

4. Trang An Landscape Complex

Located in the southernmost province of Red River Delta, only 100 km south of Hanoi, Trang An Landscape Complex is famous for its spectacular landscape of limestone karsts, foliage, rice fields along emerald rivers. It has also been dubbed the Inland Ha Long Bay.

Tam Coc in the Golden Rice Season, April – May or October

However, Trang An offers more than natural beauty – it is the only mixed natural and cultural world heritage site in Southeast Asia. The site comprises of three protected areas: the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape, and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Forest. The ancient capital of Hoa Lu, with Dinh and Le Dynasties reigning from 10th to 11th century also worth a visit for history lover.

What could be more ideal than rowing a boat through the waterways between vast limestone cliffs rising out of lush rice paddies, then passing through naturally gifted caves and grottoes?

To add to the sentiment, Trang An was among one of the major filming sites of the blockbuster Kong: Skull Island. Immersing yourself in the film setting and follow film crew steps in our tour here

Tribal Village in Kong: Skull Island Movie

Best time to visit: Almost any time of the year is good to visit Trang An. In each season, Trang An has its own beauty, from the harvesting field in Apr-May and Sep-Oct to lotus and water-lily rivers in June. However, Dec-Feb is not quite appropriate due to high chance of spring drizzle.

Activities: Top 4 things to do in Ninh Binh Vietnam

5. Phong Nha Ke Bang

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, possessing the oldest karst mountains in Asia, where the Son Doong – the largest cave on earth are located, has been inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2003. Hundreds of cave systems and underground rivers, many of extraordinary scale and length, make this site a heaven for those who seek the grandeur of nature.

Paradise Cave – stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations

Depend on how active you are, there are much more to explore in this 85,754-ha–nature-reserve. Going deeper inside these caves or discover them by off-the-beaten-track trails, you can absorb the splendour of the caves without having to share it with the daytime crowds.

Phong Nha Cave – a river cave only accessible by boat. Keep your eye out for the Cham writings at the far end of the cave.

Plus, at the heart of the national park harbours the world’s largest cave Son Doong cave. It’s about 5.5miles long in length and is 650ft tall at its tallest point. So large that Son Doong even developed its own localized weather system and unique ecosystem. Centuries of water erosion contributed to collapsed ceilings, allowing jungles to grow inside the cave.

Credit to: Alesha Bradford

Best time to visit: Spring (March to May). In others month in dry season (February to August), the weather is still nice, yet, it is not advisable to go there during rainy season, especially from October to December

Recommendation: More information about Son Doong can be found at Interesting facts about Son Doong and Son Doong Insight.

6. Complex of Hué Monuments

Hue was our capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, the center of political, cultural and religious influence of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Complex of Hue monument comprises of 3 round: Imperial City, Purple Forbidden City and the Inner city and well as the some monuments along the Perfume River. Hué is the landmark of the imperial Vietnamese history, arts and architecture.

Complex of Hué Monuments

Credit to: Andy Leong

Like the overall atmosphere of Hue, this old citadel exudes a sense of tranquility. You should spend enough time here to really experience the beauty of this royal citadel.

Best time to visit: From February to April. Other months are still fine, but you should avoid the rainy season from August to December.

Opening time:

  • Winter 7:00 – 17:00
  • Summer 6:30 – 17:30
  • Additionally: From April 22 to October 15, 2018, the citadel also open at night from 7-10pm.

Ticket price: Hue Imperial Palace 150.000 VND/adult ($6.50) and 30.000VND/child ($1.20). For further info, click here.

Tu Duc Tomb – The summer palace – tomb that the king built himself. Credit to: Chai Yuen Leong

 

Khai Dinh Tomb – the fusion of East and West. Credit to: Hura Cars

7. Hoi An Ancient Town

Located in central Viet Nam – Quang Nam Province, only 30 kilometers from Da Nang city, Hoi An is the most atmospheric town of Vietnam. Regarded as an exceptionally well-preserved example of Far Eastern trading port from the 15th to 19th century, the town reflect a balanced fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures that contributed to this unique survival. The wooden structures and street plan today are still well-maintained over three centuries, which is unique in the region, a strong reason why it was designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1993.

Hoi An Old Quarter

Hoi An is like a living museum of architecture and urban lifestyle. The living heritage reflecting the diverse communities of the indigenous inhabitants of the town, as well as foreigners, has also been preserved and continues to be passed on. Also, the nuances of traffic and pollution are almost absent here, befitting the peaceful and cosy atmosphere of this town.

Best time to visit: February to August (dry season)

Recommendation:

8. My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary is a great heritage of Champa Kingdom, an ancient civilization owing its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. The site used to be the political and religious capital of Champa Kingdom for most of its existence from 3rd century to 1832. For that long-standing history, My Son Sanctuary presents a vivid picture of spiritual and political life in an important phase in the history of South-East Asia. The site was designated as a cultural World Heritage in 1991.

My Son Sanctuary – Ancient architectural ruins in the middle of forest

One thing really interesting about these temple is that if you take a closer look, you will notice that there are no mortal to hold the bricks together. Also, some bricks are covered with moss, while other are red. Which ones are original and which ones are the renovated ? In fact, the thousand-year-old bricks are the ones that still maintain their red color. Cham people are famous for their technique of firing bricks, and the these walls standing the test of time are the proof of their superb skills.

Location: Duy Tan Commune, Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province (about 70km southwest of Danang and 40 km from Hoi An)
Entrance ticket: 150,000 VND ($ 6.7 USD)
Opening time: 6:00 – 17:00

Best time to visit: early in the morning before it gets too hot, or early afternoon when it is not too busy.

So that is the complete list of World Heritage Sites in Vietnam, I hope that you can now choose the one of your favour. Have a nice trip in Vietnam!

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