With a history spanning back centuries, Vietnam is home to numerous historical sites throughout the country. From pagodas and palaces to war tunnels and political landmarks, there is plenty to explore while visiting the land of the “Ascending Dragon”.
The Temple of Literature is not just another Southeast Asian temple. While it houses shrines, altars, and religious writings within, this storied location, in the heart of Hanoi, pays homage to a more secular divinity: education. This oasis of peace in an otherwise chaotic metropolis is a place for reflection, meditation, and for the serious …
Historical Sites in Vietnam
Because of Vietnam’s war torn past, there are many relics and ruins from this bygone era. Visit ancient prisons turned museums and even go underground at places like Cu Chi. But these are only a fraction of the historical sites found in Vietnam, where beautiful pagodas rise above city skylines, and temples are still worshipped in today.
Guide to Historical Sites in Vietnam
Vietnam is full of hidden gems regarding natural beauty and has a cuisine that is too good not to explore with your tastebuds. However, any trip to the country wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of the most significant historical locations and museums.
Because of its profound and rich past, Vietnam has many types of sites worth checking out for a better understanding of how the culture came to be what it is today.
A pagoda is an ancient tiered structure that is often associated with religion, and Vietnam has many of them. These beautiful buildings are throughout the country, and even though they have a connection to Buddhism or Hinduism, anyone is welcome inside.
While visiting a pagoda, it’s essential to be respectful of the culture and dress conservatively. Even though there are several pagodas worth visiting around Vietnam, there are a few that make the top of the list.
Thien Mu Pagoda – Seven stories tall and located in the heart of Hue, this is the unofficial symbol of the city. Not only is Thien Mu the tallest pagoda in Vietnam, but it is over four centuries old, having been built in 1601.
Perfume Pagoda – Situated in Hanoi, the Perfume Pagoda is one of the city’s most visited attractions. This pagoda is especially popular during the Tet holiday and the Huong Pagoda Festival in February and March when thousands of people visit the structure.
Tran Quoc Pagoda – The most ancient pagoda in Hanoi at around 1,500 years old, this structure houses several artifacts from the 1600s and has ten shrines. This pagoda is a popular spot to catch a pretty sunset and take in some of the area’s gorgeous scenery.
Historic War Sites
Over the decades, Vietnam has seen a lot of warfare on its land. Tourists looking to learn more about these infamous battles can do so by exploring various historical sites and experiencing a first-hand look at where many significant events happened. Museums and war memorials are also ideal for revisiting the past and sobering attractions to remember those who died fighting.
War Remnants Museum – Where many artifacts and weapons that were used in battle are on display. Visitors can see the cages that prisoners were kept in, as well as many gruesome photographs and dioramas to give tourists a peek back into this dark history. Other exhibits at the War Remnants Museum include a helicopter, bomber planes, a guillotine, and several themed display rooms.
Cu Chi Tunnels – Located in Ho Chi Minh City, this extensive interconnecting underground system was used for many military operations during the Vietnam War by the Viet Cong. Visitors can crawl through a portion of the Cu Chi Tunnels to explore and experience what life for soldiers was like living underground for up to several months.
Cannon Forts – The Cannon Forts on Cat Ba Island transcend several wars, as it had roles in the Vietnam War, World War II, and the Indochina War. Not only is this site loaded with historical significance, but it also offers visitors some of the most scenic views of Vietnam’s jungles.
Sites Connected Related to Dynastys and Royalty
Vietnam has a long history of Dynastys and Royal families in power that played significant roles in shaping the culture and events of the country. There are a few sites that have had a lot of impact on this part of Vietnam’s history that shouldn’t be left off the itinerary.
Hue Imperial Citadel – Erected in 1804, the Citadel was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam’s last royal family, for over 140 years. There were originally 148 buildings when it was complete, but unfortunately, most of them were destroyed during the Vietnam War, and only 20 original structures are left.
Khai Dinh Tomb – One of the must-see attractions in Hue, tourists enjoy seeing the lavish tomb of Khai Dinh, the emperor of Vietnam who reigned from 1916 to 1925. Construction on his tomb began in 1920 and didn’t complete until 1931, and even though it is smaller than many other rulers’, its blend of European and Asian decor makes it an attractive sight.
The Reunification Palace – Ho Chi Minh’s Reunification Palace is where the former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, lived and worked. The five-story building is home to lots of military memorabilia, artifacts, and 1970s decor. Although it primarily functions as a tourist attraction today, it is used once in a while for government meetings and events.
One of the less glamorous aspects of Vietnam’s history is its involvement in battles, especially the Vietnam War. Although this turbulent time caused a lot of suffering and pain for those involved, it’s good to remember those who sacrificed themselves and reflect on the event.
Several of the prison sites used in the war are now museums that can be visited for those looking to learn more about their history or pay their respects to the deceased.
Con Dao Prison Complex – Originally built on the Con Dao Islands in 1861 by the French and used to house political people posed as threats, the Con Dao Prison Complex is a sobering attraction that holds a lot of dark history.
The complex was used once again during the Vietnam War, where captives were abused and tortured in the 1960s and 1970s. Visitors can walk through the prison campus and view the many graphic displays and various rooms that once held up to 40,000 prisoners.
Phu Quoc Prison – Before Phu Quoc Island became a vacation destination for beachgoers, it once served as the location of one of Vietnam’s most heinous prisons. Phu Quoc Prison was in use throughout the Vietnam War and now is a popular attraction among tourists and history buffs who are intrigued about this time period.
The exhibits include several torture devices, a guillotine, several rows of “tiger cages” that were used for confinement, and two stories of historical artifacts that give visitors an idea of what life was like for prisoners.
Hoa Lo Prison – Also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” the Hao Lo Prison was where many American and South Vietnamese were held captive in horrid conditions. Even though most of the prison was destroyed in the 1990s, the Gatehouse remains and serves as a museum to remember this turbulent time in history. The museum has many exhibits, informative displays, recreated rooms, and a rentable audio device to listen along to in your language of choice.
Vietnam’s ancient architecture and ruins are attractive points of interest for many tourists. Even though many sightseers might be well acquainted with more modern historical sites in Vietnam, there are many fascinating sites that are centuries-old and held significance long before the American-Vietnam War.
My Son Sanctuary – Located near Hoi An and built sometime between the 4th and 14th centuries, the My Son Sanctuary features 70 rock structures initially constructed as a tribute to Hindu gods. The secluded environment gives the area a peaceful feeling, and even though it might be a hike to reach, it’s worth it for the views. Shortly after the Vietnam War, the sanctuary became listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hoi An – Sometimes called the “Venice of Vietnam,” Hoi An is a quaint fishing village that dates back to the 7th century, but in the 16th century, it first became an international port that helped its society boom. Visitors to historical sites will enjoy exploring the museums, timepieces, and landmarks throughout the ancient town. One of Hoi An’s most popular attractions is the Japanese Covered Bridge, which has been around since the 17th century.