Back in October 2018 I was fortunate enough to be able to spend two and half months in beautiful Vietnam, riding 7500km from south to north and stopping at many places in between. Below I have made a list of my favourite spots that aren’t on the typical tourist trail!
Probably my personal highlight in Vietnam is Ta Xua ridge. The road to get there (from Bac Yen) is a joy itself and winds its way up and above the cloud line. If you’re lucky you can get stunning views of the clouds blanketing the landscape below. In fact some people go here specifically for the cloud hunting! The road continues on after the initial climb but never stops with the twists and turns and at no point is it boring. It can get a little chilly up here due to the altitude so make sure to pack some layers!
The ridge itself is quite popular with local tourists but don’t be surprised if you’re the only westerner here. It’s a nice little walk along the ridge and the outlook down onto the farmlands below and beyond (or a cloud blanket if you’re there at the right time) is nothing short of superb. If you’re feeling especially daring and you are on a motorbike you can ride it all the way along the ridge.
This really is a perfect place to spend some time, soak in the surroundings and appreciate everything great about life!
Mu Cang Chai
Mu Cang Chai contains some of the best rice terraces to be found in Vietnam (far better than Sa Pa in my opinion and a lot less tourists). Riding around the hillside is a pleasure and every new corner offers a spectacular view.
During late October when I was there the rice paddies were about to be harvested and were a hue that made them look like golden waves, absolutely stunning! It’s a very authentic spot and gives you a snapshot of the everyday life of the local and the ethnic minority farmers that live here. For an even more immersive experience try a multi day trek journeying through the myriad of villages in the area and staying with local families.
My favourite beach in all of Vietnam, Quy Nhon is certainly not a stop on most travellers itineraries. The beach and the promenade are both extremely clean and if you go on a weekday there is next to no one there. There are also plenty of other beautiful beaches a short distance up and down the coast from here, certainly an area well worth exploring.
For a cultural fix, the Thap Doi Cham towers on the way out of town are worth a visit. Built in the late 12th-early 13th century the towers are in excellent condition and offer a snapshot of the Cham architecture.
The food scene is extremely good as well, from street vendors to restaurants you won’t be disappointed with the wide variety of delicious food. I had the best Banh Xeo in all of Vietnam here!
Ban Gioc Waterfall
Located in the far north east corner of Vietnam and on the border with China, this waterfall is truly a site to behold. You can hire a small boat here which will take you super close to the base, but prepare to get wet! The power of the waterfall is immense and as such, generates a refreshing spray that will probably cover you head to toe. Technically you cross the border into China here which is a cool little bonus.
There is a temple on the hill over looking the waterfall which is well worth the walk. The view is nothing short of magical, set amongst the soaring limestone karsts, the water pours through vibrant green bush over multiple levels. You can’t help but admire the creativity of nature here. Easily one of the best waterfalls I’ve ever seen!
Ba Be Lake & National Park
A somewhat isolated lake in North Vietnam, we took a day boat tour across the lake to see its main attractions. The tour took us to see a cave, a waterfall, a lagoon, and a lake temple and involved plenty of locals trying to convince us to buy their stuff (I know I’m not really selling it so far..) however, despite the somewhat lacklustre tour, it’s still enjoyable to relax, soak up this beautiful lake and it’s surroundings and get away from the regular hustle and bustle. Kayaking is also an option, which I think might be a better choice than the boat tour! and if you’re into fishing they have you covered here too. Like most places in north Vietnam the Homestay’s are the best option for accomodation and the locals are very friendly!
A short ride from the lake is Silver waterfall. If you’re feeling adventurous you can climb up and around the waterfall to the top where you will be presented with some fantastic views of the small village surrounded by rice paddies below.
The rather large island below Cambodia but somehow still part of Vietnam, Phu Quoc is the perfect place to get that sun and beach time. It’s fun to ride around the whole island but when I went, the road in the north east of the island was almost non existent and under construction due to landslides, so beware!
At the very south is the longest Cable Car in Vietnam (they do love their cable cars..). Well worth the somewhat expensive price tag, the views from the cable car are nothing short of spectacular. At the other end is Pineapple island, which, although still under construction, has a nice beach you can easily spend the day at. Once construction has completed (especially the waterpark!) it’ll make for a fantastic family holiday destination
Ok Cat Ba may not qualify as “off the beaten track” to some, but it is still skipped by most who make it to Ha Long/Lan Ha Bay, so because of that it makes it on the list!
Nestled on the edge of Lan Ha Bay, here lies North Vietnam’s answer to Phu Quoc island. Cat Ba town is certainly more geared toward western tourists and provides all the comforts you could hope for while you explore the island and the Bay surrounding it. The National Park is right in the centre of the island and well worth a visit. There is a walk here that takes about 2 hours and brings you to some stunning viewpoints over the national park. It is very hot and humid so make sure to pack plenty of water!
The real highlight of Cat Ba is the nearby Lan Ha Bay. You can choose to take a boat tour of the area or charter a small boat from a local and make your own itinerary. We chose the latter and it did not disappoint! As part of the trip we picked up some kayaks and paddled our way through Lan Ha Bay. It was truly one of the most breathtaking experiences I had in all of Vietnam and absolutely lives up to the hype.
This little town holds a special place in my heart. Placed quite literally in the middle of nowhere, arriving at this village was like arriving in paradise after the hell that was the DT112 highway (according to Google Maps). Quite the opposite of a highway in fact, the road turned out to be nothing but a rocky path full of steep ascents and water crossing. Needless to say I don’t recommend anyone to take this route unless you are ready for an off road adventure and very comfortable on the back of a bike!
When we finally got to the bottom we were greeted with radiant yellow rice paddies that surround the town and the smiles and curiosity of the locals. The local market is full of fresh produce and interesting goods and with little exploring you can discover the interesting life of various ethnic groups that call this town home. There are even Hot Springs to take a dip in! It’s safe to say not many western tourists make it here which is a real shame because if you are after a truly authentic place to visit in Vietnam this is it!