Vietnam is currently one of the hottest tourist destinations in Asia, with tourism figures rising at an incredible 26% in the last year. According to figures from the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sport, 2016 saw tourist numbers surpass 10 million for the first time. Whilst tourism hotspots like the two main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, plus Halong Bay and Sapa saw an enormous influx of tourists, it is still possible to get away from the crowds. The is much to see and do in Vietnam and plenty of attractive destinations in which to do it. So if getting off the beaten track in Vietnam is your idea of heaven, read on.
Finding Nature off the Beaten Track in Vietnam
Vietnam’s Exciting Caves
Vietnam’s cave systems are the envy of the world. Until recently Phong Nha Cave was officially the largest cave in Vietnam, together with the Paradise Cave in the same part of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, it was popular with those who prefer a little more adventure than strolling round a city center or lying on a pristine golden sand beach. Then in the same park in 2009, the Soon Dong Cave was discovered. Ironically locals already knew of it, but were frightened off by the noise of the river running through it, which they attributed to ghosts. The Soon Dong Cave or Cave of the River Mountain, is the largest cave in the world, it is staggering in its enormity. Five times larger than Phong Nha, with stalagmites that tower 70 meters above your head, it is a true wonder of the world. Expeditions here do not come cheap, the thousands of dollars charged, does though guarantee a truly memorable and quiet trip. The national park is close to the Laos Border, the nearest train station and airport being at Dong Hoi, from here it is a one hour drive. Alternatively it is a four hour drive from Hue.
Buon Ma Thuot
Located in the Central Highlands of the country, this is the main coffee growing region in Vietnam and well worth a visit. It is unique in its geographical make-up. This is one of the very few areas in Vietnam in which to see elephants. Riding on elephant across the shallow waters provides a more authentic elephant experience than any of the elephant parks in Thailand. This area can be reached by road from either Nha Trang or Dalat. It is possible to book a motorbike tour here. Whilst Buon Ma Thuot is a popular tourist draw, it does not get busy enough to spoil the adventure.
Finding Culture off the Beaten Track in Vietnam
This small city near Vietnam’s border with Cambodia in the Mekong Delta, has a population made up of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Cham ethnicity. This unusual ethnic mix, gives the city a unique laconic ambience. Everyone gets along fine and the city is a pleasant place in which to find oneself. The architecture here reflects the many religions. Mount Sam on the outskirts of town is home to many pagodas and temples and also mosques. There is a border crossing here into Cambodia and it makes for an interesting boat trip into the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. The city is about 5 or 6 hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City.
This is a really special small town in the north of Vietnam, not far from Sapa. It is home to the ethnic minority White Thai people. Whilst most no longer wear their traditional costumes, they do still make their living in the way they always have. Expert weavers, the women, make and sell traditional styled textiles. Men mainly work in the rice fields and families live in traditional stilt house, some of which provide homestay for culture-hungry tourists. The village is a little bit over populated by tourists in the high season, but there are plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds to enjoy hiking, cycling and relaxation.
Finding History off the Beaten Track in Vietnam
Hue and the Complex of Hue Monuments
Vietnam has endured a long and often traumatic history. The country has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties, cultures and foreign occupiers. The Complex of Hue Monuments is a fabulous place to visit and bear witness to the incredible history here. This used to be the Imperial capital, then during the American war it found itself close to the famous DMZ. Many tunnels were constructed here, similar to the more famous Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City. This are less touristic and all the more enjoyable because of it. This region does experience poor weather for large parts of the year, but at the right time, it can provide a fascinating insight and an enjoyable destination for lovers of history and culture. Hue is a major destination so getting there is easy. From there it is best to join a tour group or rent a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) to take you.
Dien Bien Phu
The city of Dien Bien Phu was where the final battle with the French took place to signal the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam. The battle has been commemorated in many important works of art. The city used to be an important export area in the rice industry; its surrounding areas being so fertile. It was also an important center of the old opium trade. The city is surrounded by beautiful countryside and contains interesting museums within its boundaries. Its somewhat isolated location makes road trips too difficult, but there is an airport close by meaning there are flights available from major locations within both Vietnam and Laos.
Finding the Beaches off the Beaten Track in Vietnam
Vietnam has now finally been recognised as a major center for beach vacations within Southeast Asia. This is of course a double-edged sword. The tourist industry gets a much needed cash injection, but the beaches do get overly busy, especially in peak season. If you wish to experience great beaches and still get off the beaten track in Vietnam, it is possibly. Quy Nhon offers the perfect antidote to the crowded beaches of Nha Trang and Hoi An. The beach here is completely unspoilt and tourism has had little impact. The city is quiet and has no real nightlife venues and there are very few beach vendors to pester you. This beach sits directly between Nha Trang and Hoi An, making access easy and nightlife accessible for those who wish.
This magnificent archipelago off the southern coast of the country provides some of the finest unspoilt beaches in Vietnam. This former prison colony is highly prized for its white sandy beaches and incredible turquoise waters. It is remote and fairly expensive to get there, meaning it has retained its exclusivity and rates very highly as a destination for exploring places that are off the beaten track in Vietnam. Whilst many resorts here are very expensive, it is still possible to visit on a modest budget. The only sensible way to travel is to fly; a few flights from Ho Chi Minh City make the journey each week.
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