UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Vietnam

Nga Do
Like much of Southeast Asia, Vietnam does not have as many World Heritage Sites as it deserves. However, it does have considerably more than most of its neighbours.

What is nice about the collection of World Heritage Sites in Vietnam is that there is a good variety in those that have been chosen. Vietnam has five cultural, two natural, and one mixed site listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, emphasizing its rich culture and biodiversity. These landscapes attract millions of local and foreign tourists annually. From the famous Complex of Hue to the mixed heritage of Trang An Landscape Complex, the country is a wonder with cities dating back to several years.

1. Halong Bay

A mythical seascape if there ever was one, it’s no surprise Ha Long Bay is home to as many legends as it is islands. The name ‘Ha Long’ means ‘descending dragon’ and Vietnamese tell a tale of a dragon that descended from the sky, spitting out thousands of pearls that became the islands and islets we see today.

This spectacular bay and Natural Heritage Site stretches across the Gulf of Tonkin, 165 km from Hanoi. Hidden among more than 1,600 limestone formations, are secret grottoes, sparkling beaches, and jaw-dropping caves. You could stay a week and not see all Ha Long’s wonders, but perhaps the best way to go is on an overnight cruise.

Falling asleep and waking up among the splendour of the karsts is the highlight of many a traveller’s time in Vietnam. Mornings are for watching the sunrise, practicing tai chi or sightseeing in the caves. Afternoons are spent swimming, kayaking or simply relaxing on the sun deck. Evenings arrive with striking sunsets and soothing sea breeze, and leave behind a sky riddled with stars.

The scenery in the bay is enhanced by the local life that continues in this dream-like setting. Floating villages rest on rafts, children row to school, men fish for a living, and women cook and sell their wares–all in the company of Ha Long’s majestic karsts and emerald waterways.

World Heritage Ha Long Bay is one of the two best destinations in the North: Halong&Sapa are popular both at home and abroad.

2. Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An Ancient Town is an old town lying at lower section of Thu Bon river, Quang Nam Province. Hoi An Ancient Town used to be a vibrant international commercial port, being an unique Asian traditional harbor in Vietnam, which is rare all over the World.

Hoi An Vietnam attracts tourists to go sightseeing owing to over a million of architectural relics such as streets, club-houses, pagodas, ancient tombs as well as the architecture of Vietnamese style combined with Western countries and Orient countries. In 1999, UNESCO recognized Hoi AnAncient Town as the World Cultural Heritage.  

3. My Son Sanctuary

My Son Sanctuary was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1999 for its impressive tower-temples of the Indian Hindu design, belonging to the Champa Kingdom. My Son possesses 71 monuments and 32 epitaphs of the long gone centuries. The site's history dates back to the 4th through the 13th centuries as the heart of the Champa kingdom. The site was also the spiritual center of the Champa people.

4. Complex Of Hue Monuments

In Central Vietnam, in the city of Hue, lie the magnificent vestiges of the Nguyen Dynasty. Here, against a backdrop of forested hills with a meandering river at their feet, the Nguyen emperors erected administrative offices, military headquarters, palaces, temples and even their own tombs.

Vietnam’s feudal capital was strategically built along the banks of the Perfume River, with easy access to the sea. Taking inspiration from Beijing’s Forbidden City, the structures within the citadel were carefully laid out to be in cosmological alignment with the five elements, cardinal points and colours. The result is unlike anything else you’ll find in Vietnam.

Take a leisurely amble around the complex and watch Imperial Vietnam come to life in full colour. Imposing statues, priceless treasures and intricate mosaics wait around every corner. You can almost hear the strains of Hue’s famous court music and smell the aromas of the elaborate palatial dishes presented each evening.

5. Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park

This site is located in Annamite Mountain Range in Quang Binh, central Vietnam. UNESCO listed the site as a World Heritage Site in 2003. The impressive karst formation, the oldest major karst in Asia has spectacular formations such as a 65km cave and underground rivers. The Phong Nha cave and the Ke Bang forest give this natural site a look of heaven in the jungle. The caves have Neolithic ax heads and artifacts representing the oldest evidence of human occupation. Relics of Ham Nghi King, the last king of the Nguyen Dynasty just before the French colonization, are found in the Maria Mountains north of the park. The site is famous as a religious and tourist attraction site and the caves conceal a Champ temple used for worship in the 9th-10th centuries. The Cave of Phong Nha and the Ke Bang forests were a garrison and weapon store of the Vietnamese army during the war with the USA. The site is highly conserved as part of the continuous forest block of Him Namno Biodiversity Conservation Area.

6. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

There are lots of interesting things to see in Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, but only one of them is a World Heritage Site. It’s also one that you would be very unlikely to visit – the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. The citadel is near the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh but you would hardly notice it there, hidden away behind a large wall. Once you do go in, you may find it rather underwhelming.

The problem is that there isn’t much to see. Most of the buildings there are modern and have no historical significance. There are a few original constructions, including an important set of steps. And an archaeological dig on site will presumably find some more artefacts. The good thing is that it is very convenient to visit because it is close to other tourist sites. And, in fact, it does have one point of interest which has nothing to do with the UNESCO listing – the house and bunker where the communists planned their campaigns during the Vietnam War!

Other heritage sites in the area are the cultural Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (listed in 2010), and Trang An Landscape Complex of mixed heritage in 2014. The imperial cultural site was built during the Ly rule and expanded during the dynasties of Tran, Le, and Nguyen. The Trang An Landscape Complex is both a natural and cultural heritage site. The limestone formations, valleys, and cliffs are the natural part of the place while the temples, paddy fields, pagodas, villages and shrines dating back to several centuries forms the cultural side. In general, Vietnam has a great collection of historic sites. The country has a profound religious past with almost every site having a shrine or a temple. Tourists travel to Vietnam to see the beautiful natural sceneries that have survived the hands of time. The government takes pride in having implemented significant measures to protect these ancient places from the rampant growth and activities of the current civilization.

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