Vietnam is a complex country with many different parts to explore – its cities are welcoming yet lively and its landscape is imposing yet beautiful. Ho Chi Minh City has so much to offer, including buzzy street markets, cultural attractions and plenty of delicious food. Elsewhere, Halong Bay and Hanoi are well worth visiting, while beautiful Da Nang offers tempting beaches, gorgeous scenery and luxury resorts.

Popular ports in Vietnam

Phu My (for Ho Chi Minh City)

While smaller ships can navigate the narrow twists and turns of the Saigon River to dock close to the city, larger cruise ships can’t. Instead, you’ll arrive into the port of Phu My. It’s a large commercial port on the South China Sea, situated 1.5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. There’s little to do at the port itself, so head for the city centre. If your cruise line doesn’t organise excursions, there are plenty of taxis available once you disembark. Ho Chi Minh – also known as Saigon – was Vietnam’s former capital, so is a rich cultural hot spot. There are plenty of opportunities to learn about the war, including the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels – a huge network of underground tunnels used in the war. The historic Ben Thanh Market is worth visiting, too, mainly to find the delicious street food sold on its stalls.

Halong Bay

An atmosphere of magic and mystery surrounds Halong Bay – an archipelago of more than 1,969 islands and rock formations. According to Vietnamese legend, the UNESCO-listed bay was formed when a dragon fell to earth. Cruise ships either dock at the commercial pier or moor off the city, tendering visitors to the pier. On arrival, you’re a 15-minute walk to shops, markets and cafes. You have two choices around what to do in Halong Bay: either stay and explore the incredible natural landscape, or head to Hanoi. If you choose to stay in Halong Bay, hop on a junk cruise and tour the sublime, eerie landscape. If you want to visit Hanoi, it’s best to book onto an excursion, as it’s a three-hour drive away. When you leave Halong Bay, look out for the Bai Chay Bridge: it changes colour at night, putting on a wonderful performance as you sail away.

vietnam halong bay

Da Nang Port

Situated midway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Da Nang is one of the largest cities in Vietnam. Most cruise ships dock at the main port, a 30-minute taxi or bus ride away from the city. Smaller ships are able to travel further up the river, where they can dock closer to Da Nang city. There are a few souvenir stalls on the pier itself, but for the main action, head into the city centre. Da Nang played a large role in the Vietnam War, and as a result, is still rebuilding. However, its natural beauty, huge beaches, luxury resorts and welcoming locals make it a wonderful place to visit. North of Da Nang is Hue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way, you can stop in at China Beach, where American soldiers went to relax. There are still many helicopter hangers and bunkers surrounding the beach.

What are the best cruise ships for a cruise to Vietnam?

As much of Vietnam’s most beautiful scenery starts before you dock, choose a ship that lets you enjoy glorious views on the approach – watching the small fishing boats weave in and around the rugged landscape during sunrise is an unforgettable experience.

Marella Discovery

When you’re on board Marella Discovery, you’ll easily find somewhere to watch the stunning views on your arrival into Vietnam. From the Sky Bar to the five-storey atrium, there are plenty of places to relax and soak up the scenery. Across her 11 decks, you’ll find seven restaurants, a Broadway show lounge, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and plenty of sports facilities. And because all-inclusive comes as standard, you can enjoy anything from sipping cocktails to rock climbing. Marella Discovery is one of the biggest in the fleet, but is mid-size compared to other cruise ships, making it easy to get around. Marella Discovery has something for every passenger: night-time tapas, gourmet delights, a mini golf course, a jogging track, and even an outdoor cinema.

Celebrity Millennium

Having had a full makeover in May 2016, Celebrity Millennium now offers incredible cuisine, a huge range of activities, great on-board entertainment, and comfortable rooms. You can choose your level of luxury when it comes to picking a room: from staterooms to penthouse suites, you’ll find everything you need for a relaxing stay. As well as a great choice of on-shore excursions, Celebrity Millennium has plenty of on-board activities. Pamper yourself at the Canyon Ranch Spa Club, work out at the gym, sunbathe on deck, or enjoy a film at the cinema. Every trip is a delight on board Celebrity Millennium, especially with its range of trips and excursions.

Shore excursion ideas

When it comes to exploring Vietnam, there’s so much to do: learn to cook the delectable national dishes, marvel at its natural wonders, and visit the remains of the recent war.

Vietnamese cooking lessons

Wherever you visit, you’ll be sure to find a Vietnamese cooking class. After tours of bustling markets and busy street stalls to stock up on ingredients, you’ll settle down and learn from professionals. Using local foods like bamboo shoots, mushrooms and fish, you’ll create national dishes. Depending on the class you take, you could learn anything from how to carve decorative flowers from carrots, to creating spring rolls and noodles. Some cookery schools will send you home with copies of the recipes you cooked as well as your own set of Vietnamese cooking utensils.

vietnam cooking

Explore the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta covers a huge area just south of Ho Chi Minh City, with its maze of rives, swamps and islands creating the perfect environment for farming and wildlife. As you cruise along its canals, you’ll see rural villages, floating markets and vast stretches of rice paddies. You’ll tour the delta in a traditional Vietnamese boat – a sampan. Its size means you can make your way down tiny tributaries, where tropical fruits grow in abundance. There’s plenty of opportunities to stop and try the local produce – from sticky rice balls and deep-fried river fish to fresh coconuts and jackfruit.

Understand the Vietnam War

Start off in the War Remnants Museum – one of the most popular attractions in Vietnam. From the brutality of the war to its effect on civilians, you’ll get a deep understanding of the period. You’ll see another side to the story, and get the Vietnamese perspective. Next, visit the Cu Chi tunnels. The network of underground tunnels spreads more than 150 miles, and is famous for the role it played in the war. These tunnels were used as storage areas, weapon factories, kitchens, living quarters and hospitals. At Cu Chi, you can explore these tunnels and delve into a secret underground world.

Top ports of call in this destination