To say that Vietnam is one of our favourite countries in South East Asia would be an absolute understatement. As we first set out planning our long trip through the country, we were faced with a dilemma and found us asking ourselves the much-asked question. Where to go in Vietnam? The problem about visiting Vietnam is that the country has a number of different attractions and most of them are spread out across the country. This means that you need to prioritize. How does one do this when the list of attractions is so vast? I suggest that you should ask yourself what kind of activities you enjoy. Do you like adventure? Or do you want a very relaxed vacation? Do you like the mountains and fields? Or do you like the sea? Do you like nature? Or do you prefer big cities? The question ’Where to go in Vietnam?’ will slowly answer itself. The beauty of Vietnam is that there is something, for everybody!
WONDERING WHERE TO GO IN VIETNAM? NAVIGATE THROUGH OUR LIST
Vietnam has a long list of impressive places to see and an equally impressive list of things to do. GlobeTrove has gotten together with a number of travel bloggers to put together a list to inspire your travels. The list turned out to be very long (no surprises there!). It includes where each location is, how to get there, recommendations on where to stay and what to do in each area. In order to make accessing the list easier, we’ve provided a number of links below. Just click on them to go directly to the place you want to see!
PU LUONG NATURE RESERVE
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Emily’s suggestion was Pu Luong Nature Reserve.
LOCATION: Thanh Hóa Province (about two hours’ drive from Mai Chau or four hours from Hanoi)
GETTING THERE: Pu Luong Nature Reserve is relatively remote. The easiest way to get there is by motorbike or car from Mai Chau or Ninh Binh. Your guesthouse in Pu Luong can organise a transfer for you.
WHERE TO STAY: There are a number of homestays clustered around the south-eastern corner of the reserve. I highly recommend Ban Hieu Garden Lodge (a very well-appointed, budget-friendly homestay). For a luxury option, the nearby Pu Luong Retreat is a popular choice.
Relatively isolated and far less developed than nearby Mai Chau, Pu Luong Nature Reserve is an absolute gem. If you want to get off the beaten track in Northern Vietnam for a bit of fresh air and trekking, this is the perfect place to do it. Set in a valley between two mountain ridges, Pu Luong Reserve was established in 1999 to protect the area’s biodiversity. Idyllic hamlets of thatched-roof houses and tall palm trees are dispersed throughout the valley, along with dramatic rice terraces. Pu Luong is the best place to see Northern Vietnam’s famous waterwheels—huge bamboo wheels built by people from the Thai and Muong ethnic groups (who dwell on the reserve) to bring water from low streams into their rice fields. Once it’s scooped up, the water is channelled through an elaborate system of bamboo pipes. The craftsmanship involved is absolutely incredible. Wherever there’s a village, you can also find both ‘antique’ and newly constructed wheels.
Hiking is a popular activity in Pu Luong, either short walks or multi-day treks between villages. It’s also a nice place to simply relax with a good book, especially if you can find a waterfall and swimming hole all to yourself. I highly recommend visiting during green season (around late March to July) to see the landscape at its most vivid.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Michelle said Ninh Binh.
LOCATION: Ninh Binh province, Northern Vietnam
GETTING THERE: 2.5 hour drive or train ride South from Hanoi
WHERE TO STAY: A homestay near Tam Coc or Trang An
Often referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land,” Ninh Binh’s impressive karsts and caves have earned it a UNESCO World Heritage designation. The city of Ninh Binh itself is not particularly interesting, but just a few minutes away you’ll find dramatic scenery and cosy villages amidst rice fields. Our top recommendation in Ninh Binh is the Trang An boat ride. It’s about three hours and takes you to hidden temples, magnificent karsts, and through numerous caves. This is a breath taking, tranquil experience unique to the region and shouldn’t be missed.
Other highlights in Ninh Binh include exploring Tam Coc, which also has a boat ride of its own – but the value and experience is not as good as Trang An. Instead, walk or bike around the path that encircles the lake where the boat rides start. From there, you can wander around a riverside cemetery, temple amidst rice fields, and beautiful karsts. Then grab a hearty lunch at one of the restaurants lining the main street.
Nearby Bich Dong Pagoda allows free entry to explore its temple grounds set in a hillside with hidden caves. Climbing the karst at Mua Cave offers one of the best panoramic views in the area. If you love scenery and don’t mind climbing a lot of stairs, it’s worth the entrance fee. If you have the time, allow at least half a day for visiting the expansive Bai Dinh Temple – it’s said to be the largest Buddhist temple complex in the region. All of these attractions are accessible from most guest houses via bicycle, although many visitors prefer to rent a motorbike or a hire a driver.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Shweta said Hue.
LOCATION: A city in Central Vietnam on the banks of Perfume River, about 80 kilometres from Danang.
GETTING THERE: You could fly to Danang airport from Hanoi or Ho Chi Ming City and then take a taxi / public bus to Hue.
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at Four Seasons Nam Hai in Da Nang and did a road trip to Hue.
Hue is a city in central Vietnam that has a 19th century citadel as its star attraction. For anyone looking for cultural immersion on a trip to Vietnam, visiting this city that was once the seat of Nguyen dynasty empire from the 1802-1945 is a must. We visited Hue as a day trip from Da Nang which was our base in Central Vietnam for 4 days. The road trip from Da Nang to Hue which passes through the Hai Van Pass is really scenic. There are several interesting cultural and historic sites to visit in Hue. But we had just a few hours so limited our visit mainly to the historic citadel of Dai Noi. This is a huge complex with several museums, ornate pathways and sculptures. It is not very crowded partly because of its size. The citadel is surrounded on all sides by huge thick walls and also a wide moat with lotus flowers. Taking in the seat of Nguyen emperors in a massive hall, you can well imagine the power centre that Hue once was for the region.
The Perfume River flows adjacent to the road on which the citadel is built. Just a bit ahead of the citadel is the Thein Mu Pagoda – one of the most important religious sites in Vietnam. We visited this lovely pagoda surrounded by a nice garden with flowers all around. This iconic seven-story pagoda – also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady – is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city. This is one of the most visited attractions in Hue, so expect some crowds.
Like I mentioned before, we only had a few hours in Hue during a day trip. But if you have more time, you could also visit the Imperial Tombs, the Japanese bridge (Thanh Toan bridge) and the wartime bunkers.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Michael said Phong Nha.
LOCATION: Phong Nha is in the centre of Vietnam, about 40 kilometres northwest of Dong Hoi.
GETTING THERE: You can get directly to Phong Nha by tourist buses, which go from major cities like Hanoi and Hue. You can also get the train to Dong Hoi and then catch a local bus or a taxi from the station
WHERE TO STAY: A good backpacker option is the friendly Nguyen Shack, while a decent budget hotel option is the Thanh Phat. The Phong Nha Farmstay is also great, or for a lovely experience out of town, Jungle Boss Homestay will look after you well.
The town of Phong Nha is the gateway to one of Vietnam’s most spectacular, but relatively unknown, natural attractions – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. What makes the national park so special are the caves that are hidden within its mountains, including the largest cave in the world. Most people stay at one of the guesthouses in Phong Nha and visit the national park as day trips. There are quite a few caves to choose from but one of the most popular ones is called Paradise Cave. It is 34 kilometres long but, unless you’re on a tour, you can only see the first kilometre. Still, it is incredibly large and beautiful and should leave you satisfied.
Another very popular option is the Phong Nha Cave that is accessed by boat. One you go inside the cave, they’ll turn the engine off and paddle you quietly through the dark. The cave is about 44 kilometres long, but you only go down the first 1.5 kilometres. Seeing the world’s biggest cave is much more difficult. It’s called Hang Son Doong and it’s so large you could fly a Boeing 747 through it! But to protect the cave, only 300 people are allowed in each year and they have to trek for days to get to the entrance. The spots are booked up well in advance and cost at least $3000. For most people, a couple of days of exploring the popular caves, seeing the beautiful karst scenery, and relaxing by the river is the perfect way to spend time in Phong Nha.
BAN GIOC WATERFALL
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Josh said Ban Gioc Waterfall.
LOCATION: On the border of Vietnam and China in Cao Bang Province
GETTING THERE: Motorbike or day trip from Hanoi
WHERE TO STAY: Kieu Chinh Homestay in Cao Bang
The Ban Gioc Waterfall is the largest and most impressive waterfall in Vietnam. It is part of the Quay Son River which divides Vietnam and China in the far north of the country. That’s a pretty spectacular border to visit! While this is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Vietnam, it hardly gets any tourists. This is because it is located just a bit too far for many people to make the effort. 350km, approx. 8hrs travel time, is a long way to go to see a waterfall.
From kilometres away, you hear the crashing sound of the huge volume of water that spills over the edge every second. Then you will know you’re on the right track. The waterfall is impressive from a distance. However, to truly appreciate the size of the Ban Gioc Waterfall you should consider boarding the small bamboo raft which takes you right up to the water. A motorbike trip to the Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of the most memorable routes I have of Vietnam. The badly potholed rural road passes through small villages. Here you will get a chance to meet with famers, visit countryside fresh markets, and get a look into a beautiful aspect of Vietnam’s culture.
YOK DON NATIONAL PARK
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Kristin said Yok Don National Park.
LOCATION: Yok Don National Park
GETTING THERE: Take a local bus that runs daily from Nha Trang, or an overnight bus from Hoi An or Da Nang. Once in Yok Don, catch a pink and green local bus from either the depot or in front of the Coop Mart bound for Yok Don. You’ll know you’re at the right place when you see a giant KFC sign. Buses run every 30 minutes or so until roughly 6pm daily. You will be dropped outside of the entrance sign. Walk about 200 meters to the guesthouse and main office.
WHERE TO STAY: You will need to stay at the guest house in the national park.
Want a Vietnamese experience that is off the beaten path? Enter Yok Don National Park, a secluded gem located between the popular Nha Trang and Hoi An. When I arrived at the national park, I was told that I was the first tourist they had seen in a month.
Yok Don National Park is a deciduous forest and the largest national park in Vietnam, with parts of it sitting along the Cambodian border. Most of the tourism here revolves around these elephants and trekking. There are a few different options, which range from riding the elephants to “finding” the elephant, which involves walking through the forest with the elephant’s trainer while he uses various tricks and techniques to locate his elephant. The elephants are allowed to roam from time to time, but still with chains around the feet as they might otherwise roam too far – right into a farm where they tend to destroy farmer’s crops.
I can certainly understand the appeal of riding on, washing, playing with, and petting domesticated elephants, but given my ethical opposition, I went on a forest walk instead, and had a great time soaking up the forest air, though the real highlights of being at the park are simply to laze on the banks of the river, going swimming, laying in hammocks, attempting to fish, and chatting with the few others who were there, looking for the same peace and quiet. It was also a great place to learn more about the country, through the locals who live and work there, as well as Cherie, an Australian volunteer who had been living there for the past six months during my time of visit.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Melissa said Halong Bay.
LOCATION: Halong Bay
GETTING THERE: Most cruises will provide transport (often at an additional charge) to Halong Bay from Hanoi
WHERE TO STAY: Royal Palace Cruise
Halong Bay is one of the most scenic regions in Vietnam and is a must do for anyone visiting the country. The bay is filled with thousands of giant limestone cliffs which jut from the water and are covered with lush rain forests. Halong Bay is best visited by a 1 or 2-night cruise. There are some great boats with gorgeous rooms able to cater a couple right through to families. During the day you will love kayaking among the spectacular scenery and during the warmer months you can even jump right off the boat for swimming. Most of the boats follow a similar itinerary which includes a stop to explore some caves as well as climbing to a look out where you can get a fantastic view across the bay – perfect family photo opportunity!
All meals are provided on board and most boats even have a bit of a karaoke party and disco. Other activities during the cruise include night squid fishing and if you can manage to get up early enough, Tai Chi. Some boats even have cooking classes. If you can manage to get a few minutes alone, for me, I just loved sitting on the deck and watching the gorgeous scenery pass me by.
There are a range of cruise boats to choose from, but I recommend looking for a mid-range one – like the Royal Palace as some of the more luxurious ones can be pretty pricey yet still follow a similar itinerary. Cruises depart from Halong Bay, but the cruise operators will arrange transfers for you from Hanoi, around a 4 hour drive from Halong Bay. For anyone visiting Vietnam an overnight cruise on Halong Bay is an absolute must and will be something you remember for a lifetime.
HO CHI MINH
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Margherita said Ho Chi Minh City.
LOCATION: Southern Vietnam
GETTING THERE: Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City is one of the most popular entry points to Vietnam. Many people fly there with AirAsia or other local airlines, or reach the town by crossing overland through the Mekong Delta.
WHERE TO STAY: Ms Yang Homestay
Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City is definitely my favourite city in Vietnam. It’s not the Vietnamese capital, (that is Hanoi nowadays) but it used to be before the Vietnam war, and in my mind still has a ‘capital’ feel about it. There are just so many things to do in Saigon, that you could easily spend a week or more in the city. First of all, you can’t miss checking out the main sights like the War Remnants Museum detailing the history of the Vietnam War from a local perspective. Also, don’t miss Notre Dame Cathedral, the town’s main church, where you can definitely appreciate the French influence that’s visible all over town. If the church makes you feel in Europe, you just need to step into one of the city’s market to remind yourself that you are in Asia. Ben Thanh Market is the best known, but I also enjoyed touring Binh Tay market in Cholon which is also known as the city’s Chinatown. If you’re a street food lover don’t miss it. It’s also a great place to grab some souvenirs.
Speaking of street food, Saigon has a lot to offer, from the traditional ‘pho’ noodle soup to banh mi, (a Vietnamese baguette sandwich) and many other delicious dishes. We also recommend trying bia hoi, light home-brewed beer in offer on many street corners around the city at super cheap prices. You’ll find many on Bui Vien street which is Saigon’s most popular backpacker street. Also, don’t forget to save a day to get out of the city. The Cu Chi tunnels are a popular day trip that can be combined with the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh. Caoidaism is a local religion that includes elements of the world’s main confessions, and tours usually include a visit to the main Cao Dai temple during a service.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Andra suggested Sapa.
LOCATION: Lao Cai Province, Northwest Vietnam
GETTING THERE: By train, from Hanoi, an eight-hour train ride all the way to the Lao Cai Railway Station. From there either hire a car to take a minibus which will be waiting in front of the station. The road is constantly curving and makes most people feeling sick. But no worries, once you get up the hill, as Sapa is located at an altitude of 1,500m, you will forget about the road and enjoy the views.
WHERE TO STAY: There are plenty of hotels and guesthouse, but the best accommodation option is to stay with locals in a homestay. So, try to book yourself a homestay from the various travel agencies found all over the town.
Sapa is a famous destination in north-west Vietnam, in the Lao Cai Province. What makes it so special are the mountainous landscape, as well as the presence of ethnic minority groups that distinguish themselves from the other inhabitants of Vietnam from both culture and features. And once you reach Sapa, located at an altitude of 1,500m, the views will take your breath away. Sapa is all about trekking and getting to know the local culture. The treks are not difficult but provide impressive views over the rice terraces sculpted in the mountains. If you feel adventurous, you can even climb the highest mountain in Indochina, Mount Fansipan (3,143). You can choose to do the trek even in one day, or in four days, but the best option would be the two days one. Unfortunately, nowadays anybody can get on top thanks to the Fansipan Legend Cable Car that goes all the way up in no time.
If you are not a fan of trekking, you can also enjoy the local culture by merely spending time within the communities. Try to get to know the tribes, primarily the Black Hmong or the Red Dao. What is interesting is that they all have their traditions, language, and culture. And you will also notice that they each have their type of clothing and colours. For example, you can easily spot a Red Dao woman, from her red triangular turban and their hair shaved on the top part of the head.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Clemens suggested Mui Ne.
LOCATION: South-central Bình Thuan Province
GETTING THERE: Mui Ne can be reached easily by bus, taxi, train or private transfer from Cam Ranh, Dalat, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang.
WHERE TO STAY: Sand Dunes Beach Resort & Spa
Mui Né lies in the south of Vietnam, namely in the south-central Bình Thuan province and about 200 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City, also widely known by its former name of Saigon. The town of Mui Né became a huge tourist magnet after being a small fishing village for centuries. Today one finds hundreds of hotel complexes mostly along the long and picturesque beach. This is actually the place to be in this area, as the fabulous beaches are specifically well known for kite surfing and windsurfing. The area is known as one of the best spots for kiters in Asia. Good wind conditions and good waves attract surfers from all over the world to the small coastal town. Mui Né ward has two beaches: Ganh Beach and Suoi Nuoc Beach, both with a number of resorts. But the most highly developed area is Rang Beach in Ham Tien ward.
Don’t miss the good restaurant options, as Vietnamese food is delicious in this region. Also, visit a massage parlour at least once and treat yourself with a traditional massage. Try to explore the area by motorbike on your own. You can easily rent a bike at one of the shops by the main streets. And undoubtedly one of the greatest attractions are the up to 30 meters high and unique white sand dunes in the hinterland, featuring several lakes and even swamps straight in the middle of sandy terrain. The best advice is: Better go there in the early morning, when it is not quite as hot.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Priyanko suggested Phu Quoc.
LOCATION: Phu Quoc
GETTING THERE: The easiest way is to fly from Saigon, especially since flights are super cheap. Overland journey through Mekong Delta will take more than a day.
WHERE TO STAY: You’ll find resorts all around Phu Quoc and choosing one might be difficult. However, if you’re in the city centre at Duong Dong, then there are options that even backpackers can afford. Check Paris Beach Resort, Saigon Tourist Resort and if you need privacy, nothing quite beats Chez Carole, 15 kms from Duong Dong.
While tourism in Vietnam has exploded in the past few years, the island of Phu Quoc has been passed over by tourists. This is a blessing in disguise because Phu Quoc is the best of South Asian beaches but without the crowds. This is the place to come if you want to fulfill your beach-bum experience without having it spoilt by commercialism. The best beaches are on opposite ends of the island so make sure you rent a scooter (approx. $12-15 a day) to go from Sao and Khem beaches to Dai and Vung Bau beaches. Once the sun sets, make your way to the Dinh Cau night market for what will become your best seafood in Vietnam. There are live snakes that can be cooked for the truly adventurous as well.
Almost half the island is protected land and visiting the Phu Quoc national park with its hikes and waterfalls is a rewarding journey in itself. One personal tip: don’t forget to try nuoc nam, the (in)famous fish sauce from the island straight from the barrels in which its fermenting! You can also visit a pepper plantation and shop for pearls in Phu Quoc. There is a prison and interesting Buddhist temples to see too. Phu Quoc can easily take up a few days if you wish to be active or you could just lie on the beach and savour life’s more simpler joys.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Claudia suggested Hoi An.
LOCATION: Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
GETTING THERE: Fly to Da Nang, then either a collective shuttle or a taxi all the way to Hoi AN
WHERE TO STAY: The Corner Homestay
Hoi An is one of the nicest places to visit in Vietnam. Compared to other cities in Vietnam, this city is an incredibly pleasant place to explore. The reason it is such a nice place to visit is that, despite being touristy, it is significantly less chaotic than the rest of the country. Indeed, the historical centre is closed to traffic, which means that it is possible to walk around without the constant fear of being overrun by a car or a scooter, and without hearing the incessant noise of horns.
But there’s more. What makes Hoi An a great place to visit in Vietnam is the range of things to do there, which is simply excellent. Other than exploring the many historical homes and museums in the quaint town centre, it is possible to go to the nearby beaches, which are blessed with beautiful fine white sand and clear waters. Hoi An is surrounded by rice fields, and one recommended thing to do is renting a bike to explore these gorgeous places. Shopping is another recommended thing to do. The city is famous for the presence of many tailors, so those who have enough time should definitely take advantage of this and have clothes tailor made for a real steal. There are many spas around town, where it is possible to get a massage for a real steal. Last but not least, Hoi An is packed with fantastic eating options, that go from the very budget local eateries and street food, to more upscale restaurants that offer an incredible range of Vietnamese as well as international food, with plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Alex suggested Hanoi.
GETTING THERE: Airplane
WHERE TO STAY: Hanoi Brother Inn
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and one of the most lively cities in all of Southeast Asia. Here you can stroll around the streets of the old quarter and take in the history from colonial times. You can also have a sip of the world’s cheapest beer for just 10 cents a litre, or why not go for an egg coffee?
A visit to Vietnam can’t be complete without visiting Hanoi. No matter if you want to party, go shopping, experience the culture, food and history, Hanoi has something for everyone and there are so many things to do in Hanoi, so you could easily spend several weeks here without getting bored. The price level is also quite nice, and you get a lot of value for your money, especially if you eat at local places. As for transportation, it’s easy to get around by UBER, but I also recommend going for a ride in the traditional cycle taxis.
If you want to know some history, visit the Ho Chi Minh Memorial or walk around the shops in the old quarter. Even today, you can still see that various things are being sold at each street. The names of the streets are just a description of what used to be sold there. Don’t miss to see the railway that goes straight through the city. It’s a sight that you won’t find in many places these days, but in Hanoi you will, and people are still living next to the railway tracks.
CAT BA ISLAND
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Elisa suggested Cat Ba Island.
LOCATION: North of Vietnam
GETTING THERE: by bus from Hoi An to Bai Chai and then by boat. Another popular way to get there is from Hanoi.
WHERE TO STAY: Cat Ba Dream hotel
Cat Ba island is a peaceful island located in Northern Vietnam, with exuberant vegetation and many interesting things to see and do. Also, it is a great place to retire from Hoi An’s hustle and bustle and relax for a couple of days. The island is a very popular holiday and weekend destination amongst locals so if you are looking for a quiet stay I recommend going to Cat Ba during the week.
Cat Ba island has many interesting things, being the boat trip to Halong Bay the most popular one. Along the harbour, local companies propose day tours to Halong Bay of all kinds and we found these day tours cheaper than in the capital. If you are a nature lover you will be happy to learn that more than half of Cat Ba island is declared natural park, with a thick jungle and plenty of lakes and waterfalls to enjoy on a day trip. Also, there is a beautiful coastal walk linking some small bays with no more than a string of sand and a beach bar. It is very cool to hike this coastal walk and stop on one of the bays to have a bath in the south china sea, that’s what we did!
History buffers will enjoy the Cannon Fort, located on the top of the island’s hill, which also comes with one of the best views in Vietnam. Around the fort, visitors can explore some underground tunnels excavated by the Japanese during the WWII. On Cat Ba island we also enjoyed the food, a mix of traditional dishes like Pho Bo and fish dishes with the daily catch for a very good price. The island (and the Halong Bay tour) was definitely one of the highlights of our Vietnam trip.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Halef and Michael said Nha Trang.
LOCATION: South Central Coast of Vietnam, in Khánh Hòa Province
GETTING THERE: Fly to the Cam Ranh International Airport, and bus ride from anywhere linked by National Route 1A. Reunication Railway route also connects Nha Trang to various points in Vietnam
WHERE TO STAY: Intercontinental Nha Trang
Visiting large cities in Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to them. You may find yourself needing a getaway from such a hectic pace. One good escape is the town of Nha Trang. The area is well-known for having some of the best “beach culture” in the country and is also a diving destination for scuba divers looking for decent diving in Vietnam.
Nha Trang is in central Vietnam. It is one of the few places in the country where scuba divers go to dive in what’s used to be Vietnam’s pristine coastline. Years of poverty and wars have turned that Vietnam coastline into somewhat of a less-desirable diver destination. However, there are still plenty of places to dive in Nha Trang, where enthusiasts will find everything from small critters to turtles and cuttlefish.
Not a beach person? Head out to see some of Nha Trang’s historical sites, like the famous Big Buddha or the traditional Xom Moi market. The market is definitely one of many good opportunities in the city to see how locals live their daily lives. We had the opportunity to visit Xom Moi market during our Vienamese cooking class at Lanterns Restaurant – an experience we highly recommend. Your hotel likely can arrange a day trip for you to a few ancient temples and even a motorcycle trip to a rice paddy. An entire day’s tour will cost around $15-20. Definitely a great price for backpackers.
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Ben said Tam Coc.
LOCATION: Tam Coc, Northern Vietnam
GETTING THERE: Tam Coc is easy to get to from Ninh Binh railway station (the taxi driver even put his meter on!)
WHERE TO STAY: I would recommend staying at the incredible ZuLi guesthouse, a welcoming and relaxing retreat set away from the main streets of the town.
Tam Coc and Ninh Binh. Are they the same? Which one should you visit? I’m sure you’re as confused as I was when doing research on where to go in Vietnam. Well no, they’re not quite the same. Whilst they’re only a few kilometres apart, Tam Coc is much smaller, and (despite an increasing number of tourists), has managed to retain a small-town feel to it. Whilst the shops have changed to incorporate the kind of cheap tack you’d expect on the tourist route, the town itself is still beautiful. The main attraction is the two hour boat trip that will take you down the Ngo Dong river, through caves, and through a Halong Bay style limestone landscape. The rowers have a rather unique way of moving the boats, using their feet to propel the oars! Do your research though as there are some well-known scams involving floating sellers on the way that you could get caught up in if not well-informed.
If you hire bikes you can get a bit further afield. About 3 km away is the Bich Dong Pagoda, built into the side of the hills. The ride is a stunning one, through open countryside and rice farms. Around 5 km away is Hua Cave, with a huge hike up the hillside to get the iconic views over the famed Trang An World Heritage landscape. If you are able to hire motorbikes, you can get out to the huge Bai Dinh Pagoda, recently completed, and which I think will go on to be a modern wonder of the world. There is also the ancient capital city of Hua Lu and another boat trip around Trang An, on which you get to explore water-filled caves and visit the set of Kong: Skull Island which is still set up on one of the outcrops.
CAN THO, MEKONG DELTA
When asked where to go in Vietnam, Maire suggested Can Tho.
LOCATION: The Cai Rang floating market is in Can Tho, in southern Vietnam.
GETTING THERE: You can fly into Can Tho airport from several airports in Vietnam. It’s also a 4-hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City.
WHERE TO STAY: A rustic homestay such as Dan Sinh Homestay will add to your experience.
The Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam is an incredible place to visit and allows you to get a real taste of traditional Vietnamese life. Cai Rang is the biggest floating market on the Mekong Delta. You need to wake up really early to see it at its best. Most locals shop here as the sun is rising, or even earlier. The tour I joined met in the dark at 4am, and as we sailed out onto the Mekong River the dawn was just breaking. Despite being in Vietnam, it was also really cold! It was an absolutely once in a lifetime experience bobbing up and down in a boat on the river, and gliding between boats selling almost anything you can imagine.
We stopped for coffee, brewed and served up (steaming or iced) from a tiny rowing boat. Then we pulled in next to a breakfast boat and had the best beef noodles of my life, pulled up over the side of our boat from a steaming cauldron below. Apart from the floating market, this is a fun area to explore by bicycle. You can stay in a rustic wooden homestay built over the water on stilts, and cycle along the waterways taking in local village life.
A lot of people ask me where they should go in Vietnam. I always tell them the same thing. Vietnam is a vast beautiful country with something for everyone. Ask yourself what you want and then search for the place that will give you that. The only issue about it is that Vietnam has so many places that you will fall in love with, it is hard to settle on just a few!