Vietnam is a South East Asia travel staple for good reason.
Well, good reasons—plural—if we’re being totally fair. From super jungly jungle (packed with caves and sinkholes and trekking, oh my!) to perfectly pristine coastlines and an unmatched food scene, this slice of paradisiacal pie has got a little something to suit every kind of traveller.
But with great travel experiences often comes great travel crowds, right? True. Guess it’s lucky we’re here to help you get off the well-trodden rice paddy path and into some of Vietnam’s most underrated experiences then.
Without further ado, here’s our (non-exhaustive but fairly comprehensive) list of where to go in Vietnam for a rabble-free trip:
Caving in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Imagine a cave so big it could house an entire New York City block of 40-storey skyscrapers; a subterranean system so vast it creates its own weather system; and a home to a micro-ecosystem of lakes, rivers and concealed jungle. Just IMAGINE.
First explored in 2009 and later officially declared the largest cave in the world, Hang Son Doong in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, north-central Vietnam, is a geological marvel. You can join a seven-day expedition led by experts from the British Cave Research Association and discover the secrets of this fascinating network of limestone chambers, karst pinnacles, stalagmites and stalactites.
Wade through thigh-deep water by torchlight, examine 350-million-year-old fossils and keep your eyes peeled for white spiders and shrimp. A Boeing 747 could comfortably fly through the largest cavern but you’ll make the trek on foot with a team of porters and guides.
Squid Fishing on Phu Quoc Island
Into calamari? Like to chow down on a little squid ceviche? Enjoy a bit of angling from time to time? Then you better jump on a squid fishing fleet and try your hand at catching dinner.
The easiest way is to nab a spot on one of the tours that depart from Duong Dong Harbour at sunset. These locals will show you the ropes or, for a serious squid-jiggling jaunt, you can commission your own boat and skipper at An Thoi Port in Ganh Dau.
Largely undeveloped, Phu Quoc is located in the Gulf of Thailand, about 15 kilometres off the coast of Cambodia, and is made up of white-sand beaches and lush tropical jungle, with most of the island declared a national park. If you like fish sauce with your squid, check out one of the local distilleries. Nose pegs recommended.
Stay luxe at Anantara Resort
Perched on the edge of a soft-sand beach in a part of Vietnam so far undiscovered by the masses (it’s about halfway between Da Nang and Nha Trang), sits Anantara’s newest resort. With only 26 villas, expect the very best, including plunge pools that boast stunning sunrise views and minibars with fridges larger than the one you have at home and stocked with the best wines and craft beers from around Vietnam.
While away the days frolicking between the beach and the pool bar or take one of the hotel’s experience tours and explore the Quy Nhon’s Champa ruins, dine in neighbouring fishing villages, or party the night away with the locals.
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Looking for adventure?
Vietnam Airlines are doing daily flights to Ho Chi Minh. Pho real.
See bioluminescence at Cát Bà Island
Seeing really, really sparkly plankton is an incredible life experience. You should definitely get yourself to the beautiful Cát Bà island in Vietnam’s north and spend an hour or two witnessing the pretty phenomenon. In fact, don’t just witness it—get in the water and swim with the sea of stars.
If you’ve got enough time, get out of the main town and into nature. There’s heaps of it here. You could hike the Đỉnh Ngự Lâm peak or explore the super remote Viet Hai village. The island is your oyster, friends. There are probably oysters here too, actually.
Snack on snails in Ha Long
Okay, we’re aware that this is technically quite a popular part of Vietnam. BUT—we’re sending you in search of snails. And not every traveller is doing that. Vietnam is big on sea snails and they come in all shapes, sizes and spices. One of the best ways to slurp down a snail is in ‘bun oc’ soup—a street food classic.
Normally eaten at night, your best bet is to sniff out the snails after sunset. The correct way to eat them: choose your snails, choose your cooking method, choose your seasoning and then chow down.
Motorbike the Ha Giang Loop
Wanna get really remote? The mountain ranges in northern Vietnam are super untouched and worth the trip. The best, and only, way to do it? On the back of a motorbike. The Ha Giang Loop will take you about four days, starting in Ha Giang and winding north till you finish up near the border of China.
Expect beautiful villages, breathtaking scenery, some seriously wild mountain passes and big adventure. Make sure to stop off at Heaven’s Gate and the waterfall at Du Gia (cliff jumping encouraged if that’s your bag).
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Explore brand new Biosphere reserves
Last year, UNESCO named two brand spanking new biosphere reserves in Vietnam—Nui Chua National Park in Ninh Thuan Province and Kon Ha Nung Plateau in Gia Lai Province. If you’re a nature addict or conservation aficionado, these are the spots for you.
Nui Chua is about 20,000 hectares of lush forest, seascapes and serious biodiversity. It’s also home to the endemic black-shanked douc langur (a very cute species of monkey, fyi). Over on the other side, Kon Ha is a massive 65,000 hectare patch that’s got the endangered grey-shanked douc langur. Time to play spot the douc langur!
Feeling inspired, wired and ready to fly?
Vietnam Airlines are flying to Hanoi. Right now.
The concept of speed dating started in Sa Pa.