Vietnam has something for everyone; wild and adventurous backpackers, urban explorers, nature appreciators, and luxury seekers alike.
This is made possible, predominantly by the fact that the country is so wonderfully diverse; no matter what your interests are, Vietnam is sure to whet your appetite for travel experiences and satisfy even the most severe cases of wanderlust.
Topography & Location
A coastal country, perched on the edge of the South China Sea and sharing borders with Laos, Cambodia, and China, Vietnam’s location contributes significantly to the diversity of its topography.
Undulating mountains and rippling tiers of rice paddies characterise the north and northwesterly region; while the south and central north are comprised of flat deltas, sitting in stark contrast to the lofty central highlands. The northeast of Vietnam snuggles against the Gulf of Tonkin (home to the world-famous Halong Bay), and the southern coast shares 3,400km with the Gulf of Thailand.
The effect of Vietnam’s topographic diversity on national tourism is vast; there are not many places in the world where one can choose between the desert, mountains, beaches, jungles, deltas, and cities all within a stone’s throw of each other.
Tourism in Vietnam
For the tourists who visit, it’s usually a priority to design a trip that will capture all of the best parts of the country; from the buzz of the city to the peace and quiet of the mountains.
Solo-exploration is often the best, and finding your own path is often the most rewarding- after all, no two people’s experiences will be alike. Just to get you started though, here are my suggestions (and insider tips!) for things to do that will give any traveler a well-rounded, diverse experience in Vietnam.
Top Things to Do:
Ocean: Cruising in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is usually top of travelers’ lists, especially for those visiting Vietnam for the first time. The impressive scenery is celebrated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site- and for good reason. The towering islands that rise out of the Halong Bay waters are nothing short of mesmerising, and let’s not forget the postcard perfect beaches, ancient caves, and myriad islands generously scattered throughout the region, all of which contribute to Halong’s diverse ecosystem (and make for awesome explorations!).
Take out a kayak and scout out the hard to reach areas, or grab a snorkel and check out the rare coral reefs; better yet why not try your hand at one of the traditional cooking masterclasses, or join a tai chi workshop on the cruise deck at sunrise. Halong Bay cruises range from the cheap and cheerful to the super luxurious; take a browse through on one of the industry’s top booking platforms, Halong Hub.
Mountain: Trekking & Homestay in Sapa
Vietnam’s northerly city of Sapa is fast becoming one of the country’s most-visited tourist hotspots. Known for its cascading rice terraces and intriguing misty scenery, tourists generally choose to come here to explore the countryside and get an authentic look at local life.
For a real Sapa adventure, get involved with a trekking exploration tour of the mountains and farmlands, and forget staying in a hotel- hook up with the homestay community and enjoy one or two nights living with the warm, gregarious locals.
Delta: Travelling Down the Mekong Delta by Rowboat
Historically, life in Vietnam has revolved around the Delta. The surrounding land is incredibly fertile; in fact, a vast proportion of all of Vietnam’s agriculture comes from the Mekong’s surrounding areas.
Delta tours offer a fresh perspective from which to view Vietnam’s countryside, and are easy to access via Vietnam’s southern city-hub, Ho Chi Minh. Try to find a tour that goes on a traditional long-tail rowboat, and look out for the ones that have interesting stops (like the crocodile reserve!)- Lonely Planet offer a great day tour.
Highland: Canyoning in Dalat
Located in the central region, Dalat epitomises Vietnam’s temperate highlands. Dalat itself is a city quite unlike any other in the whole country; it was colonised by the French, who revelled in the chance to escape the suffocating heat of the surrounding arid regions. Nowadays, everything from the architecture to the agriculture echos the former French influence.
Getting out amongst nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air is undoubtedly the best way to experience Dalat. Canyoning is a popular favourite amongst visitors here, an activity that can involve any combination of hiking, walking, abseiling, rappelling, climbing, and swimming- Viet Challenge offer a tonne of canyoning activities and tours.
Beach: Kitesurfing in Mui Ne
Those who are unfamiliar with the world of watersports may not know that Vietnam’s south central town of Mui Ne has a reputation as one of the best spots for wind-powered water sports in all of Asia. A place that used to be nothing more than a small fishing village has developed rapidly over the past few years as the windsurf and kitesurf communities began to spread the word of Mui Ne’s favourable conditions and relaxed, happy way of life.
These days, there are about 15 different kite schools offering lessons, gear rentals, and a chilled out place to stop by and hang out for a while. Beginners are always welcome to come and try it out, and schools like C2Sky Kite Center offer a full beginner course which promises to get newbie kiters up and riding in no time.
City: Street Food Tour – Vespa Adventure Tour in Hanoi/Saigon
A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a city stop, and both Hanoi and Saigon have so much to offer travelers who choose to pause and take in the sights and sounds of the city. If you ask me, there’s no better way to get to know a new place and connect with a foreign culture than through its gastronomy, and there’s a good reason Vietnamese cuisine has gained itself such a positive reputation.
Join in on a street food tour where you’ll be guided by a local through the zipping motorbikes and winding alleys to hunt down some of the city’s best street eats. The guys over at Vespa Adventures are well worth checking out; not only will they bring you around to sample the most delicious food in town, they also offer a completely unique way to explore the city and get to know your surroundings.
Have you made the trip to Vietnam already? What were your highlights?