CNN: Hoi An, one of 13 essential Vietnam experiences

QNN |

(CNN) - When it comes to variety, Vietnam is in a league of its own.

From can’t-miss essentials to adventurous side trips, we’ve shortlisted a few of the most memorable experiences in Vietnam:

1. Light a lantern in Hoi An

As one of the most beautiful destinations in Asia, Hoi An (Quang Nam province) promises no shortage of photogenic scenes. But none is more mesmerizing than the Full Moon Lantern Festival.

 
 
 

At this monthly festival, the city shuts off its electric lights to let thousands of rainbow-hued lanterns glow against an inky black sky -- both throughout the little lanes of Old Town as well as on the Thu Bon river.

Held to honor the full moon, the festival takes place along Old Town's waterfront promenade, where music, games and entertainment energize the atmosphere.

Alternatively, travelers can hire a sampan boat to glide along the water for a quieter experience.

Either way, it's easy to take part: You'll simply need to purchase a paper lantern and candle for a couple of dollars -- depending on your bargaining skills -- light the candle, set it inside, then send it down stream accompanied by wishes for happiness and luck. Photo: AFP

2. Search for the best pho in Hanoi

A taste of pho is a must on every journey, whether it's your first time or your 50th.

Hanoi is thought to be the birthplace of the de facto national dish, so it makes sense to start your search for the best bowls in the capital. Photo: Internet
Hanoi is thought to be the birthplace of the de facto national dish, so it makes sense to start your search for the best bowls in the capital. Photo: Internet
 

3. Trace history in Ho Chi Minh City

No matter where you're from, it's important to familiarize yourself with the country's recent history to better understand, and appreciate, modern Vietnam. Photo: CNN
No matter where you're from, it's important to familiarize yourself with the country's recent history to better understand, and appreciate, modern Vietnam. Photo: CNN
 

4. Ride the Reunification Express

The Reunification Express offers a unique opportunity to experience Vietnam's wonderful diversity.

 
 
 

This 1,072-mile rail line chugs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, passing countless landscapes and landmarks along the 35-hour journey. Photo: lonelyplanet

5. Take an aerial tour of Halong Bay

Halong Bay is considered one of the most breathtaking destinations in Vietnam. The jade-toned bay is home to thousands of limestone islands, mysterious caves and wildlife.

Most travelers tour this natural wonder aboard a cruise, but now there's another way to explore: by helicopter. Photo: CNN
Most travelers tour this natural wonder aboard a cruise, but now there's another way to explore: by helicopter. Photo: CNN
 

6.Beach hop in Phu Quoc

If clear water and powder-soft sand sounds right up your alley, Vietnam's “Pearl Island” is for you. Photo: shutterstock
If clear water and powder-soft sand sounds right up your alley, Vietnam's “Pearl Island” is for you. Photo: shutterstock
 

7. Cruise down the Mekong

Ideal for those who prefer to travel at a slower pace, a Mekong River cruise provides easier access to less-visited rural communities and hard-to-reach natural attractions. Photo: Aqua Expedition
Ideal for those who prefer to travel at a slower pace, a Mekong River cruise provides easier access to less-visited rural communities and hard-to-reach natural attractions. Photo: Aqua Expedition
 

8. Explore the world's largest cave

As the world's largest cave, Son Doong is over three miles long and 650 feet tall -- spacious enough to fit a 40-story skyscraper, according to Oxalis. Photo: CNN
As the world's largest cave, Son Doong is over three miles long and 650 feet tall -- spacious enough to fit a 40-story skyscraper, according to Oxalis. Photo: CNN
 

9. Take a motorbike ride through the majestic north

On a four- or five-day trip, you'll cruise by everything from imposing mountain ranges to local villages, deep canyons and scenic back roads. Photo: CNN
On a four- or five-day trip, you'll cruise by everything from imposing mountain ranges to local villages, deep canyons and scenic back roads. Photo: CNN
 

10. Soak up tea culture in Sapa

Mountainous Sapa has become one of Vietnam's hottest tourist destinations. In this former French-colonial hill station, it's easy to fall in love with the temperate highland climate, misty green tea terraces, waterfalls and hiking trails. Photo: internet
Mountainous Sapa has become one of Vietnam's hottest tourist destinations. In this former French-colonial hill station, it's easy to fall in love with the temperate highland climate, misty green tea terraces, waterfalls and hiking trails. Photo: internet
 

11. Go crazy for coffee in Dalat

As the second largest coffee producer in the world -- right behind Brazil -- Vietnam also dedicates some of its highland territory to coffee plantations. Photo: tripadvisor
As the second largest coffee producer in the world -- right behind Brazil -- Vietnam also dedicates some of its highland territory to coffee plantations. Photo: tripadvisor
 

12. Make vermicelli noodles in Cu Da village

From springy vermicelli to clear rice noodles, egg noodles, glass noodles and fettuccine-like banh pho, noodles are a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Photo: CNN
From springy vermicelli to clear rice noodles, egg noodles, glass noodles and fettuccine-like banh pho, noodles are a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Photo: CNN
 

13. Cycle around Hue’s ancient ruins

Starting in the misty morning hours, travelers can pedal along the peaceful canals, break for coffee and soak up the grandeur of the inner citadel, outer walls and many altars before the crowds roll in. Photo Gettyimage
Starting in the misty morning hours, travelers can pedal along the peaceful canals, break for coffee and soak up the grandeur of the inner citadel, outer walls and many altars before the crowds roll in. Photo Gettyimage