Vietnam is home to a spirited culture that motivates a lot of travelers to visit. There are a lot of tours that go around the country’s top destinations like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hoi An, and Nha Trang. But, if you’re the type of adventurer who wants to take the paths less traveled, this list is for you.
Though the major cities in the country undoubtedly bring out some of the finest travel experiences in the country, there are hidden gems in the corners of Vietnam that may bring you a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Since they’re relatively less popular than the locations most tourists flock to, these locations have a more subtle vibe. And because these areas are not as commercialized as the major cities in Vietnam, you’ll encounter more ethnic communities and learn about their customs first hand.
So, for the off the beaten road destinations in Vietnam, here are the hidden gems you won’t want to miss!
Sơn Tây, HanoiRight in the heart of northern Vietnam, this district-level town is over 35 km west of the country’s capital, Hanoi. Sơn Tây is known as the “soldier town” because of its numerous war relics.
In the past, the Vietnamese People’s Army Infantry Academy made the town its headquarters. The town is home to many war stories, including the failed U.S. Raid in 1968. They call one of the most prominent structures in town the Sơn Tây Ancient Citadel. Built entirely in laterite, the structure has withstood the test of time. Now, it’s the icon of the town’s rich history.
There are are a lot of rice paddies, with murals and smaller structures in the middle of the roads. Since it was a military base, various posts have been preserved up to this day.
If you’re staying for a couple of days, you can also tour the town’s thousand-year-old villages where farmers still live. In Duong Lam, you can see the collection of vernacular architecture that was built during the French colonization era.
The town is quieter than the bustling neighborhoods of Hanoi, but this is perfect for those who love the tranquility of nature. A lifestyle centered on farming and old wooden homes, when you’re in Sơn Tây, you can imagine yourself going back in time.
Standing 3,147.3 meters high, Fansipan Mountain is the highest peak in the Indochinese Peninsula. For those who are looking for a feat that’ll test your agility, a trip to Fansipan can easily turn into one of your most unforgettable trekking experiences.
“The Roof of Indochina” is located in the southwest region of Sapa. It’s a dominant part of the Hoàng Liên National Park in the Lào Cai Province. In this area, mountaineering is a popular activity. The entire region is filled with mountain ranges and their parks are protected by the government, so urban developments are very limited here.
During the 1990s, the Fansipan dares serious mountaineers to reach its peak. Now, the mountain has been developed so casual visitors can enjoy the exquisite views of the mountain. You can still expect to hike on the way up, but they now have structured stairs and pit stops along the way.
There are various trails to choose from including Tram Ton, Sin Chai, and Cat Cat. For beginners, Tram Ton is the best option. It’s a gradual trail used by most tourists since it’s not as physically demanding as the others.
For those who love the challenge, Sin Chai is a shorter route. You can reach the peak in two to three days, but this path is steeper. It’s only recommended to those with hiking experience.
Cat Cat is the longest route, but this one offers the best views. This will bring you to the most fascinating corners of the mountain.
The last option for climbing up Fansipan is via a cable car. This particular adventure tours you throughout the mountain and it spans 6,292.5 meters long, making it one of the longest cable rides to date. From atop the cable car station, you can take a tram to the top, or hike up the final stretch, about 30 minutes to the highest point in Vietnam.
The road to Fansipan is also a mirage of nature sceneries you can only find in Vietnam. So, for a touch of heaven, try visiting Fansipan Mountain on your next vacation.
Phong Nha Caves – Ké Bang National Park
Phong Nha is home to the largest caves in the world, but there are a lot of other things to explore in this hidden gem. The Ké Bang National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Park. It consists of beautiful plains, mountains, and caves, including the world-renowned Phong Nha.
Phong Nha has over 500 caves that are about 400 million years old. Whether you’re a geography nerd or not, you’ll enjoy learning about these natural phenomena.
You can tour the caves via boats during day time. There are underground river caves along the Song Con River. The cave is about 8 km long. In the first few kilometers, guests can still step out of the boat and inspect the fascinating rock formations in the area. You can also walk ahead and climb up the stairs at the end of the cave. This will lead you to wondrous vista views of the national park.
Paradise Cave is called the most beautiful cave in Phong Nha. It’s 31 kilometers long, but there are well-developed routes so casual hikers and tourists can pass by easily. The British Cave Research Association recently discovered the cave in 2005.
The tours in Paradise Cave are now operated by a local company. As you go deeper, you’ll see stunning stalactites and stalagmites illuminated by lights. At the end of the tour, you’ll go to doline where you’ll see the circular rooftop that brings sunlight it. It’s a truly magical scene.
Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave is so beautiful, that you’ll think the legends of the dragons are true. Its charisma is so powerful that there’s a long waitlist for those who wish to go on an extensive expedition of the cave. To explore Son Doong, you’ll need to train on rappelling and outdoor camping since the expedition can take a toll on an average tourist.
There are still hundreds of smaller caves you can visit in Phong Nha. And, when you’re done touring the deep earth, you can go back to where the sun hits the land and explore the Phong Nha Village. Check out the Phong Nha Botanical Garden and the wonderful restaurants in town, like the Bamboo Café.
For adventures that’ll give you an adrenaline rush and limitless opportunities for nature exploration, visit the hidden gem that is Phong Nha.
Côn Đảo Islands
The Côn Đảo Islands are located at the bottom part of the country. Separated from the mainland, tourists usually stay in the downtown area called Côn Sơn. This is where most hotels and accommodations are located. Though Côn Đảo is still a lesser-known Vietnam destination, beachside luxury resorts have already made their way here. It’s a sign of brighter tourism in the region.
Côn Sơn is a quiet town with a small population. Colonial buildings and local shops are spread out along the town’s streets. They foster a simple way of life. There’s just one town market and the popular 914 Pier where freshly caught fish are delivered every morning. This is the perfect trip for those who like a low-key, calming local experience.
One of the best ways to explore the Côn Đảo Islands is by riding a motorbike. The town has well-built roads that are easy for new drivers. You can take your time checking out the temples and beaches scattered all over the island.
Morning strolls are also one of the most relaxing ways to absorb the beauty of this town. Admire the old buildings and visit the old Gallic custom house formerly owned by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1895. This was used as an opera house before.
For a cerebral tour, visit the old prison cells on the island. All in all, they have 11 jails and the largest one is called Phu Hai. During the French colonial era, rebels and criminals were gathered here and incarcerated. This serves as a reminder for those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Another destination in the area is the Côn Đảo National Park. This vast natural preserve is home to endangered species like the hawksbill turtle, the dugong, and other turtles. Currently, the park is working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to further protect the marine life in the area. Tourists can explore this ecosystem by walking its trails. You can also visit the WWF for a custom tour.
Meanwhile, a Côn Đảo vacation wouldn’t be complete if you’re not exploring its virgin waters. The Côn Đảo Islands’ reefs are one of the most beautiful sights in the country. Discover the 65m freight ship artifact at the bottom of the reef. Since it’s a tropical area, you can go reef-diving all year round.
Beaches are the other highlight of the area. Relax on any of the islands’ white shores. If you’re riding a bike, you’ll definitely pass by one or two beaches as you cruise around town. For the best coastline views, check out Bãi Đầm Trầu.
Once you’re done swimming, you can explore the market where they have a string of street food vendors and local restaurants. For a more artsy vibe, visit the Infiniti Cafe & Lounge.
Book your trip soon to one of these hidden gems, before they get too swarmed with tourists.