Reflecting the great richness of cultural and natural heritage, the eight sites listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam since 1987 are a source of national pride, ranking Vietnam first in Southeast Asia in terms of listed sites.
Of these, 5 are cultural sites (the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, the Hue Monuments Complex, the My Son Sanctuary, the Central Sector of the Imperial City of Thang Long in Hanoi and the Old City of Hoi An), 2 are natural sites (Halong Bay and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park) and the last one (the Trang An Landscape Complex) is mixed.
The Hue Monument Complex was the first protected site in Vietnam to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993.
In addition to these 8 listed sites, the country has submitted 7 other sites to the Tentative List, including one cultural site, 3 natural sites and 3 mixed sites.
Halong Bay (since 1994)
Located 170 km north-east of Hanoi, Halong Bay is the second Vietnamese site to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich ecosystem.
This exceptional natural site, one of the most grandiose in South-East Asia, has the largest group of islands and rocky peaks in the world: no less than 1969 karst islands spread over some 43,000 hectares, forming an enigmatic landscape where sea, sky and mountains merge and transport the traveller into a legendary world…
…lush with life! There are some 200 species of fish and 450 species of molluscs. The tropical jungles of some of the bay’s islands are also home to many varieties of birds and wild animals such as monkeys, lizards, iguanas, antelopes…
No wonder Halong Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam! Every year, it welcomes more than 11 million tourists. The lesser-visited bays of Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha, which are part of the same group and have relatively similar landscapes, are good alternatives for travellers looking for off-the-beaten track experiences.
The Central Area of the Imperial City of Thang Long – Hanoi (since 2010)
Located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, at 9 Hoang Dieu Street, Thang Long Imperial City is an archaeological gem of great historical and cultural value. Built under the Ly dynasty in the 11th century on the remains of a 7th century Chinese citadel, it has an original architecture mixing Chinese and ancient Champa kingdom influences. It was an important regional political, cultural and economic centre until the capital was transferred to Hue in 1810.
Although it was partially destroyed by the French in 1873, the imperial city of Thang Long has preserved valuable remains, particularly in its central sector, the best preserved part, which earned it UNESCO World Heritage status in 2010. Particularly noteworthy are the Southern and Northern Gates, the Flag Tower, the Palace of the Concubines, the foundations of Kinh Thien Palace, and the bunker that served as the headquarters of the insurgency during the Vietnam War. Some old colonial houses are also visible in the city walls.
The citadel of the Ho dynasty (since 2011)
Also known as Thành nhà Hồ, this former imperial city located in a plain in Thanh Hoa province, 150km southwest of Hanoi, was built in the 14th century, following the principles of feng shui. Carved from large blocks of limestone, it is one of the largest and best-preserved citadels in Southeast Asia, earning it a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2011.
While much of the citadel was unfortunately destroyed during the invasion of the Minh emperors in 1407, it remains an architectural masterpiece and a testament to the influence of Chinese Confucianism in Vietnam at that time. The 4 main gates and the Nam Giao esplanade have been well preserved.
Trang An Landscape Complex (since 2014)
Located less than 100 km south of Hanoi, in Ninh Binh province, nicknamed “the land-based Halong Bay” because of its very comparable karst landscapes, the Trang An landscape complex covers an area of about 12,000 hectares and includes the tourist site of Tam Coc, the beautiful Jade and Bai Dinh Pagodas, the bird garden of Thung Nham, the ancient capital of Hoa Lu and its temples, and the site of Trang An itself, made famous by the shooting of the Hollywood film “Kong: Skull Island”.
In addition to numerous sacred sites, the Trang An landscape complex is home to hundreds of flooded caves and archaeological remains attesting to human activity dating back some 30,000 years. All these features make Trang An an exceptional geological property, whose rich cultural and natural heritage was recognised by UNESCO in 2014.
The Hue monument complex (since 1993)
The Complex of Hue Monuments, the former imperial capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), was the first cultural site in Vietnam to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993. A true testament to history, they are an outstanding example of an eastern feudal capital and form an exceptional architectural ensemble.
In addition to the Royal Citadel, the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple City, Hue’s monumental complex includes the mausoleums and tombs of the Nguyen kings, its temples and pagodas, including the most famous and oldest, the Thien Mu Pagoda (or “Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady”), as well as a few other buildings, most of which have been well-preserved despite the many destructions suffered during the wars.
The heritage value of Hue is also measured by its privileged geographical location on the Perfume River, with the Ngu Binh Mountain as a backdrop, and the preservation of its cultural identity.
Hoi An Old Town (since 1999)
The colourful old town of Hoi An is considered by UNESCO to be an “extremely well-preserved example of the small merchant ports which, between the 15th and 19th centuries, traded extensively with the countries of Southeast Asia as well as with the rest of the world”. Listed as a heritage site in 1999, it is distinguished by its unique architectural heritage reflecting the different cultural influences of the region: Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and later European.
This cultural diversity can be seen in the architecture of its buildings (Chinese communal houses and temples, Japanese pagoda bridges, beautiful colonial houses, etc.), as well as in the way of life of its inhabitants and the richness of the local gastronomy.
My Son Sanctuary (since 1999)
Located about 40km east of Hoi An, the My Son sanctuary is a vast complex of Cham temples built between the late 4th and 13th centuries. Of the seventy original buildings, unfortunately only a few remain, untouched by war. These precious vestiges of the Champa civilisation attest to the political and religious importance of My Son, then considered the capital of this forgotten kingdom for nearly a thousand years, and to the incredible dexterity of Cham craftsmen.
Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999, the My Son sanctuary is committed to improving the quality of its visitor reception and the maintenance of the surrounding wooded areas.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (since 2003)
Located in Quang Binh province, more than 500 km south of Hanoi, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the second natural site in Vietnam to have been recognised by UNESCO in 2003 for its great heritage value, and in particular for the great richness of its ecosystem.
In addition to beautiful primary and secondary forests with a wide variety of flora and fauna, Phong Nha-Ke Bang Park, which covers a vast limestone area, includes more than 300 underground caves, including Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, discovered in 2009. Hence its nickname “the kingdom of caves and caverns”. A real paradise for nature lovers in search of adventure!
In order to protect this beautiful natural site, and in accordance with the commitments made to UNESCO, measures limiting the impact of tourism have been put in place, such as visitor quotas.
Other natural, cultural and mixed sites have been submitted to UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage Sites: Con Moong Cave, Cat Ba Archipelago, Ba Be National Park, Huong Son Natural Complex and Historic Monuments, Yen Tu Monuments and Landscapes Complex, Sa Pa Petroglyphic Area and Cat Tiên National Park.
Why not organise the stages of your trip to Vietnam around these emblematic sites? Concentrated in the northern and central parts of the country, they can be visited in a ten-day trip, with some sites less visited than others, such as the Imperial City of Thang Long and the Hô Dynasty citadel, of which only ruins remain, requiring less time to visit.