With the cities booming and gleming skyscrapers being built, it’s the natural landscape that makes Vietnam truly breathtaking. The picturesique rice terraces, spellbinding karst seascapes and spectacular historic ruins, Vietnam is undoubtely fascinating and worth the explore. Here are the places that make Vietnam truly exotic, including our favourite off-the-beaten-path destinations.
You might have seen a lot of pictures on Instagram on Halong Bay. It has become touristy with no doubt, but still, you can’t miss this. It’s popular for a reason. Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the karst seascape of Halong Bay also has one of the world’s most spellbinding sea views. The bay’s scenery is best seen by boat, with plenty of caves in the bay that can be entered, with superbly weird stalagmites and stalactites.
Bai Tu Long
If you really want to get away from the regular tourist trail, you can opt to skip out on Halong Bay and head over to Bai Tu Long instead. Located North East of Halong Bay, this area can stretch up to 100km to the Chinese border. Similar in geographical features, you won’t be disappointed because you’ll see the same fantastic limestone karsts, minus the hoards of tourist boats.
Surrounded by the verdant rice field, Sapa is top trekking destination in Vietnam, with oodles of options to trek or day hike between tiny villages and experience the staggering jungle and ranging mountain views. The deep valleys here are home to a diverse mix of the country’s ethnic minorities including the Hmong, Giay, and Red Dzao people.
Mu Cang Chai, Mai Chau
With Sapa becoming more touristy by the minute, Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau is an alternative. They are small towns with inhabitants living a very peaceful and harmonious style. Not only is it quiet and tranquil, the scenery is spectacular with rice terraces and open mountainous areas. You could get there by road from Dien Bien Phu or from Hanoi.
Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay. Begging to be explored, it’s a paradise for travellers who come here to hike, climb and kayak (the waters and coral reefs are protected too). For jaw-dropping views across Ha Long Bay, head up to Cannon Fort.
The far south of Vietnam is where the mighty Mekong River finally finds its way to the sea in a maze of waterways that crisscross the floodplain. Incredibly lush, with paddy field vistas and mangroves, and full of local life. Definitely check out the chaotic floating markets, watch the produce being hawked from colourful boats bathed in early morning light.
A little off the beaten track, head to Ben Tre to experience life on the banks of the Mekong without the tourist crowds of spots. Cruise along the river, stopping at a coconut candy factory to sample the sweet treat the area is famous for. For a touch of romance, set sail at dusk to catch fireflies and watch the sunset.
Buon Ma Thout
Situated in the central highlands of Vietnam, this area is the “Capital of Coffee”. Besides coffee plantations, a beautiful lake is situated next to it and is shallow enough in some areas to be able to cross on elephants! This is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can ride on elephants, and it’s much more ‘rustic’ of an activity than the organized elephant tours in Thailand and other neighbouring countries.
Phu Quoc Island
With the beaches of Nha Trang filled with tourists, head down to the South and enjoy a tranquil day on Phu Quoc, a classic deserted island getaway. It’s still relatively undeveloped, and travellers rave about the west coast with its picture-perfect white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and spectacular ocean sunsets. It’s also well worth exploring the red dirt roads of the lush interior, which is dotted with pepper plantations and dominated by a national park.
Another spot to go for the island getaway. Off the coast of the cultural town of Hoi An, you can take an hour-long boat ride to Cham Island. A small quaint island that boasts a beautiful coral reef perfect for snorkelling or scuba diving. There are also dive schools that arrange tent, bonfire, and lovely seafood dinner as you gaze upon the clear night skies.
Surrounded by lush jungle-covered mountains, My Son is a ruined Cham era temple city that dates from the 4th century. This old Hindu religious center has around 20 temple structures remained, all built of brick or sandstone blocks and showing interesting influences from various Asian empires, including Indian and Malay. Note that the temples of Group B are the oldest, while Group A once contained the site’s most important monument but was destroyed deliberately by US forces during the Vietnam War.
The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne
The Sand Dunes of Mui Ne are two geological wonders no visitor should ever miss out on their travel itinerary! There are numerous tour operators in Mui Ne that organise day trips to these Saharan-like red and white sand dunes, but you can easily make your way to both locales if you prefer exploring according to your own pace. Besides being the picnic hot spot among the locals, you could also fly kite here and of course, catch that beautiful sunset.