Vietnam has more and more visitors every year, with the actual number of tourists each year reaching more than 12 million. Some areas in Vietnam, such as Ha Long Bay, Sapa and Hoi An, are beautiful and part of a Vietnam itinerary but are also packed with tourists all year round. Luckily, if you want to get away from the crowds, you have several alternatives to the tour. Here are some best suggestions you might consider adding to your Vietnam itinerary.
Caves of Central Vietnam
A few years ago, the world’s largest caves were discovered in central Vietnam. These caves are a total wonder, in pristine condition, and also said to contain the largest stalagmites in the world, reaching 70 meters high! Currently, only a limited number of expeditions per year are allowed and have a hefty price tag of $3000 per person. If this is out of your price range, fear not! In the same area, you can visit Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which contains two famous caves – Phong Nha Cave and Thien Duong Cave. Until the discovery of Son Doong Cave, Phong Nha Cave was believed to be the largest in Vietnam. In a word, Son Doong is five times larger than Phong Nha Cave! However, the smaller caves are beautiful and unique in their own right. The whole area is also very serene and peaceful, with many small lakes in the area and quaint accommodation options.
How to get there: From Dong Hoi train station or airport, arrange pick-up service at your hotel or motel in Phong Nha. The drive is a little over an hour. Otherwise, it’s a 4-hour drive from Hue.
Buon Ma Thuot
One of the unique places in Vietnam is Buon Ma Thuot, it is located in the central highlands of Vietnam. This area is famous for producing most of Vietnam’s coffee for export and is often referred to as the “coffee capital” of Vietnam. Besides the coffee plantations, Buon Ma Thuot is also located next to a large and beautiful lake, some places are so shallow that elephants can cross! This activity is a big draw for tourists, but it’s still not enough to make the area attractive. This is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can actually ride an elephant, and it is a much more ‘rustic’ activity than the elephant riding tours organized in Thailand and other neighboring countries.
How to get there: You can get to Buon Ma Thuot by road from Da Lat or Nha Trang. Or, you can sign up for a motorbike tour through EasyRiders, where they have itineraries that take you to Buon Ma Thuot.
Lost Vietnam: Culture
Chau Doc is a small city in the Mekong Delta near the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Because it is located near the border, people in this area, whether Cham, Cambodian or Vietnamese, live in harmony with each other. The Cham people living in Chau Doc are descendants of the Muslim Cham people who migrated from central and southern Vietnam during the war in the 18th century. This unique blend of cultures and religions gives this town a different kind of vibe. The main attraction of this town, besides the slower pace of life, is the religious architecture. A few kilometers from Chau Doc is Sam Mountain, where there are many temples, and around this area you will also find many mosques. Chau Doc has a very close trade relationship with Cambodia, so this border gate is very convenient if you want to continue your journey to the West. A fun way to get to Phnom Penh from Chau Doc is by boating along the river.
How to get there: Overland from Ho Chi Minh City is the easiest route to Chau Doc and takes a 4- to 6-hour drive.
Mu Cang Chai, Mai Chau
With towns like Sapa becoming more and more touristy by the minute, Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau are great alternatives. Mu Cang Chai is a small town with 43,000 inhabitants in the northwest of Vietnam, one of the places with the most beautiful natural scenery in the country, and so is Mai Chau. Many people have a romantic view of the rice terraces and open mountainous areas with farmers wearing conical hats, and this is the place for you to see it! Not only is it quiet and peaceful, the scenery is breathtaking. There are as many as 20 different ethnic groups, and in some areas the Vietnamese do not make up the majority. These different people live in harmony with each other and live a very peaceful and self-sustaining lifestyle. There is little interference from modern culture and they adhere to their beliefs very strongly. That being said, they are extremely friendly and open to tourists. You will find that they are also less aggressive than their counterparts near Sapa as these smaller towns are not overrun with tourists the way Sapa has.
How to get there: The easiest way to get to Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau is by road from Dien Bien Phu or from Hanoi. It’s been a long road but well worth it. Although it is a long trip, the journey there is much shorter than the journey time to Sapa.
Lost Vietnam: History
Hue has played a very important role in Vietnamese history throughout the centuries, not just recent history. The area was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty for nearly 150 years just before the emperor abdicated under government pressure. The DMZ between North and South Vietnam is also located very close to Hue. During the war between South and North Vietnam, soldiers built many tunnels near the DMZ. They are very similar to the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City. The Cu Chi Tunnels are crowded with tourists, so visiting these tunnels near Hue is a great alternative. There are many historical sites and museums to visit in Hue. There are fewer tourists visiting than other cities in the region, such as Da Nang and Hoi An. If you can get through the notoriously bad weather, visiting Hue can be both a fun and educational experience.
How to get there: Hue is easily accessible by road, plane or train because of its location on the coast. To visit the DMZ or the tunnels in the area, you need to book a tour or find a motorbike taxi.
Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu is the city that was once an important aspect of Vietnamese national pride. During the French Indochina War, Dien Bien Phu was the site of the final battle between the Viet Minh and the French Union. The battle led to the end of French rule in Vietnam. In fact, this battle is so famous that it has been depicted in paintings and caricatures. It was even featured in a movie of the same name.
Also of note, the commander who led the Viet Minh into the war and won this victory, General Vo Nguyen Giap. He had just passed away and his death weighed heavily on the hearts of Vietnamese people across the country. He played a very important role in bringing independence to Vietnam. Interestingly, Dien Bien Phu was also famous as one of the most fertile lands in Vietnam at that time. The area is known primarily for rice exports but is also a hub for opium exports. You can experience some of this history firsthand by visiting the bomb craters and museums in Dien Bien Phu. The area around the city is also breathtaking, with the surrounding hills and greenery.
How to get there: Dien Bien Phu is very close to Vietnam’s border regions and although it can be reached by road it can be a long journey. Fortunately, there is an airport there and you can fly to from many major cities in Vietnam and Laos.
Lost Vietnam Travel Destination: The Beach
With beaches in Vietnam becoming increasingly popular in Southeast Asia, it can be difficult to find some quiet time on the beach. During the peak tourist season, many beaches in Vietnam are crowded with tourists and locals. While this creates a very lively atmosphere, it is definitely not quiet. Quy Nhon is the perfect alternative to busy beach areas like Nha Trang and Hoi An. The beach is still relatively unspoiled, very few hawkers and has not been commercialized much. There are very few resorts and hotels there and fishing is a major industry in Quy Nhon. The city doesn’t have the same nightlife as Nha Trang, but you feel like you’re more connected to the local culture.
How to get there: Quy Nhon is actually quite accessible by train or by road. Quy Nhon is perfectly located between Nha Trang and Hoi An. You can stop at Quy Nhon to bid farewell to the journey!
Con Dao, an archipelago off the southern coast of Vietnam, is actually an old prison island. Con Dao Prison is a historical relic and a place where many political prisoners were kept during the French colonial period. Today, it is a much sought after beach destination in Vietnam. This is one of the few places in Vietnam with real white sand and turquoise water! These islands are very rarely visited by tourists as it is both remote and expensive. Some of the island resorts are very expensive. However, there are a few places to stay that are easier on the wallet. However, the island is still very wild and ‘lost’ much more than other beach areas in Vietnam.
How to get there: The only reasonable way to get to Con Dao is by plane. The short flight from Ho Chi Minh City further enhances the appeal of Con Dao. There are only a few flights a week and operate under a smaller carrier branch of Vietnam Airlines.
If you like different experiences, join us on Saigon Night Tour, where we take you to parts of the city less visited by tourists. For more Vietnam Travel Tips, check back often on our blog!