Vietnam’s tourism numbers are through the roof, and while most seek to tick off the country’s main attractions from their travel bucket list, many are beginning to search for lesser-known places to hang their hat.
The city-hubs like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi have relatively long histories of attracting foreign tourists, as does the likes of Quang Ninh Province, home to our world-famous Halong Bay; yet the spike in tourism numbers is beginning to cause an inverse reaction.
Travelers today revel in the ‘different’, in the unheard of experiences, in doing things that few others have done, which is why we now see tourism activities beginning to creep out far beyond the limits of the traditional tourist hubs.
Vietnam is an astoundingly diverse country, with topography ranging from arid desert, to cool and misty highlands, to the flat, fertile delta- not to mention the sprawl of jungles, mountains, plains, and beaches in between. There are few countries in the world that display such vastly diverse environments within its borders, which is why no matter where you go in Vietnam- surprises are the only thing you can count on.
Often it’s the underrated places that offer the best experiences; authenticity, peacefulness, adventure, a chance to tread your own path away from the crowds of tourists following the same route. For any travelers looking to take things “off-the-beaten-path”, these underrated places in Vietnam should be on your radar during your trip:
Cat Ba Island
The largest island in all of Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island belongs to the archipelago of the same name, and is a haven for nature lovers and culture appreciators visiting the famous Halong region. More than half of Cat Ba Island is made up of National Park, which means that most of the flora, fauna, and various types of wildlife fall under the region’s protection.
The area has gained great respect for its efforts to repopulate the Cat Ba Langur community, one of the most endangered primates in the world. There are more than 70 of the golden-headed langurs inhabiting the island these days, alongside nearly 300 other species of animal, 900 types of fish, and a purported 178 species of coral- some of which is the rarest in Asia.
A trip to Cat Ba Island should be all about getting up close with nature; there are a tonne of trekking activities, cycling, hiking, as well as beach activities like kayaking and snorkeling. Visitors also have the option to take out a sail boat and explore the nearby Lan Ha Bay, Halong’s lesser-known and possibly even more beautiful neighbour.
Tucked away slightly inland from the eastern coast, Da Lat epitomises Vietnam’s cool, central highlands. A place that was originally colonised by the French who celebrated the chance to escape the stiflingly hot surrounding regions, the Da Lat of today echoes the colonial influences at every turn; the architecture, the food, even the people themselves.
It’s a big agricultural region, specialising in high quality dairy products (the yogurt is delicious), coffee, and fresh fruits and vegetables that scarcely grow in other parts of Vietnam (strawberries!). Canyoning is a favourite amongst the adventurous visitors who make their way to Da Lat, which is a full-on activity involving hiking, climbing, rappelling, abseiling, cliff diving, and swimming. If that sounds a little heart-in-mouth, that’s because it totally is.
For those of you who prefer to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, Da Lat’s generous spread of coffee shops, gentle hikes, and public gardens should be plenty to keep you happily chilled out.
Phan Rang sits just over an hour south of Cam Ranh airport, yet is worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang’s city life. The town of Phan Rang is quite big, although somehow there isn’t all that much there- just some ‘mom and pop’ shops, mechanics, small hairdressers, the usual- the surrounding rural areas are where Phan Rang really holds its appeal.
The region was put on the map in 2016 for hosting the continent’s official kiteboarding championships in a little corner called Ninh Chu Bay. One of several beautiful bays in the area, Ninh Chu is perfect for beach bums, sports lovers, and nature appreciators. Since then, the wider Phan Rang area has been earning a reputation as Vietnam’s new most coveted spot to practice wind-powered water sports.
The region survives and thrives on fishing, agriculture, and sea salt production- there are also a number of vineyards producing local wine, too. Stop by one of the beautifully decorated “whale temples” to learn how traditional Vietnamese fishing communities worship and celebrate the ‘giants of the ocean’.
Having existed for many generations as nothing more than a tiny coastal fishing town, Mui Ne is now one of Vietnam’s most trendy beach hangouts. Although Mui Ne has welcomed plenty of foreign tourists over the years, it still remains one of the most underrated places in Vietnam with many often skipping past on their way from one end of the country to the other.
Mui Ne has long held a reputation as one of the best spots in Asia to kiteboard and windsurf, and for visitors who fancy giving it a go there are just shy of 15 schools to take your pick from. Slightly to the north of the town sits the white sand dunes, which are best seen by sunrise if you can pull yourself out of bed!
Taking a stand-up paddle tour of the fishing village is another brilliant way to see Mui Ne from a different perspective; while you’re there, stock up on some fresh seafood! Low season is from April-October, which is relatively quiet compared to the high season when the kitesurfing community returns to take advantage of the strong winds by day and the raucous party scene by night.
Ready to plan your Vietnam trip? Get in touch with us for advice, ideas, and of course- Halong cruises.