After decades of conflict, Vietnam is littered with historic war sites. The Vietnam War had a major impact on millions of lives from both sides. Visiting Vietnam War sites is a memorable part of any trip to Vietnam.
We will begin the tour in South Vietnam and work our way north through historic war sites of interest. Whether a history buff or simply curious, keep these places in mind while planning your trip to Vietnam.
- Read more about travel in Vietnam.
The Reunification Palace in Saigon, formerly known as the Independence Palace, was the finishing point of the Vietnam War. The structure served as the capitol building for South Vietnam and was home to General Nguyen Van Thieu who took office after President Diem was assassinated in 1963. A bunker in the basement housed the strategic command center for efforts against North Vietnamese forces.
Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation in history, took place at the Reunification Palace up until Communist tanks crashed through the gates on April 30, 1975. Today, the Reunification Palace is open for tours; maps with final troop positions can still be seen in the bunker.
- Read more about visiting the Reunification Palace.
The War Remnants Museum in Saigon should be a priority stop for anyone interested in the history of the Vietnam War. The three floors inside of the museum house exhibits of war artifacts, unexploded ordinance, and photo galleries portraying the horrors of war. Armored vehicles, planes, helicopters, and other implements of war are on display outside around the museum.
The War Remnants Museum was called the Museum of American War Crimes until 1993. Rather than remain objective, the museum sadly portrays a one-sided theme in most of the exhibits. Even still, a visit to the museum is an educational and sobering experience.
- Read more about visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Around 55 miles northwest of Saigon, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a massive network of underground tunnels that once served as a command post for North Vietnamese forces. Living quarters, weapons factories, hospitals, and even entertainment facilities were included in the well-engineered tunnel system.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were thought to stretch over 75 miles, all the way to the Cambodian border! Flushing out the tunnels was an arduous and dangerous task that took years of carpet bombing, gas, and “tunnel rats” - soldiers who specialized in tunnel warfare.
Today, the Vietnamese government has cleaned up parts of the tunnel system and opened them to the public for tours.
- See photos and read about visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels.
4. Nha Trang
The touristy beach town of Nha Trang was home to the Cam Ranh Air Base – one of the most important U.S. Air bases during the Vietnam War. North Vietnamese forces captured the air base on April 3, 1975. Following the capture, the Russian Air Force used the facility as a base until 2002. Today, the old air base has been renovated and serves as the primary airport for Nha Trang.
Many American troops began or finished their arduous tour of duty in Nha Trang, before heading elsewhere in Vietnam. Nha Trang was also a popular place for U.S. soldiers to take leave during the Vietnam War.
The Cam Ranh International Airport is 18 miles from Nha Trang; little of its military past remain.
5. Hoi An
The quaint, riverside town of Hoi An served as a major port for Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and even Dutch traders up until the 17th century. Nearby Marble Mountain was used as a field hospital and command post by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Bombing during the war damaged ancient Cham sites around Hoi An.
Today, the city's narrow brick streets are lined with tailor shops and restaurants. Hoi An was made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 for its rich history. Hoi An is the only place in the world to try authenic Cao Lau noodles.
The battle for Hue and the infamous Citadel in 1968 was one of the toughest and longest of the Vietnam War. Tremendous losses on both sides as well as over 5,000 civilian deaths – many of which were executed by the North Vietnamese Army – eroded support for the war back in the United States. Intense urban fighting and the many walled compounds within the Citadel made the task of capturing Hue take nearly a month. Hue was the catalyst for a significant turning point in war sentiment.
Today, the Citadel ruins and royal tombs are historical attractions; several pleasant days could be spent exploring the many sites. Bullet holes can still be seen riddled in walls throughout the Citadel.
Once home to John McCain and other unfortunate POWs, Hoa Lo Prison is one of the most notorious stops for travelers interested in war history. Although heavily laden with propaganda, the harsh realities of life inside Hoa Lo Prison can be seen – and felt – everywhere. The infamous “Hanoi Hilton” has even been the subject of movies depicting the horrors inside. The guillotine once used for executions can still be viewed.
The Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French between 1886 to 1901 as a place to punish Vietnamese activists seeking independence. Little did they realize that leaks of the harsh treatment inside of Hoa Lo Prison would only fuel the fire for the Communist movement in Vietnam.
- Read more about Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi.