"Off the beaten path" destinations in Vietnam

Nga Do
There is no doubt that Vietnam is a very beautiful country. Many tourists who have visited Vietnam can easily tell you how majestic Ha Long or Nha Trang is, or how tranquil Sapa or Mai Chau is. Yet the beauties of our country aren’t bound to these few well-developed tourist sites and may be sometimes, it’s the off-the-beaten-path destinations that could illustrate you more on the nature and people of Vietnam.

North Vietnam

"Off the beaten path" destinations in Vietnam
Photo by Tien Ong
Lai Chau

Lai Chau is a southwestern province of Vietnam sharing border with China. Unlike its neighbor provinces Dien Bien or Lao Cai which have their tourism centers more accessible, Lai Chau is literally a fortress of mountains and rivers with quite dangerous roads. Therefore, Lai Chau should be the destination only for those who love adventure, have decent strength and motorbiking skills. The O Quy Ho pass alone which is the longest and most dangerous pass in Vietnam could make you stumble.   With lesser population and tourism activities, Lai Chau would be the absolute “off-the-beaten-path” destination in Vietnam filled with primitive scenery of mountain forests, majestic caves, beautiful waterfall and distinctive ethnic cultures. Tac Tinh waterfall and Tien Son cave are just pure masterpieces of nature, and you don’t need to pay entrance fees to visit them. Pu Dao village, Vang Pheo village and Hon village are just few of hundreds of ethnic village across Lai Chau with incredible landscape and intact cultural way of life of minority groups. Pu Ta Leng, the second highest peak of Indochina and Hoang Lien Son range are great places for climbing and trekking. Lai Chau is a destination that full of hidden countless charms and attractions.

However, when come to Lai Chau, you can’t avoid feeling a little “unsupported” because of the place’s remote location, bad roads, poverty and lack of tourism services and facilities. So we recommend you to prepare carefully before visit the place, chiefly on your driving skills. From Hanoi, you can visit Lai Chau through 2 ways. First way is through national highway 32C to Lao Cai, then drive on O Quy Ho to Lai Chau. Second option is to go through Yen Bai by highway 32 (different from 32C). Each way is about the same distance, 500km. But you don’t need to ride your motorbike the whole way to face many risks on roads. You can just catch a coach to Lao Cai which would take you only 4-5 hours (through the new expressway) then hire a motorbike to visit Lai Chau. Or else, you can bring your own bike by getting it on the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai for a not very cheap fee of around 200,000VND per bike.

"Off the beaten path" destinations in Vietnam 1
Photo by Daniel Vaulot
Ba Be Lake

Ba Be National Park doesn’t deserve its little reputation, even among domestic travelers. We think Ba Be must be the best destination for summer time in Vietnam. Not just the cool air and beautiful landscapes that Ba Be always should have been known for, it has so much more to offer. Ba Be lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in Vietnam, also listed as top 100 largest natural freshwater lakes around the world. The depth of the lake is about 30 meters; one of the reasons swimming without lifejacket is not recommended here. The lake is so big it is divided into three smaller lakes and this is shown in its name – Ba (three) Be (lakes). From Buoc Lom quay, by hiring a boat or kayak streaming down Nang river, you will visit many beautiful natural sites such as Puong grotto, Dau Dang waterfall, Fairy Pond and some cultural attractions like An Ma Temple and Pac Ngoi village. Near the entrance are Silver waterfall and Hua Ma grotto.

It’s best to spend at least 2 days at Ba Be national park to enjoy all the sites and delicious food here. Above all, the scene of sunset and sunrise in Ba Be lake are also things you shouldn’t miss.

From Hanoi to Bac Kan province, take national highway 3 to the north and drive for about 230 kilometers. At Phu Thong town, turn left to take the provincial road 258 to the park. There is also road to Buoc Lom quay where you can start your tour around the lake.

The price for one boat is around 500,000-700,000VND with 10-12 pax. The tour around the lake would take you up 6 hours.

Central Vietnam

Bach Ma National Park, Thua Thien Hue

Bach Ma National Park is just not famous enough. Located in the far south of Thua Thien – Hue province, the park is the natural border to divide Hue and Da Nang, looking out on the marvelous Lang Co bay and Da Nang bay.  Bach Ma national park is only 40km away from Hue city and can be easily reached by motorbike through the most beautiful pass of Vietnam, Hai Van pass.

The park is gifted not only its majestic sights of mountains and seas but also the richness of flora and fauna. From the entrance of the park to Vong Hai Dai (Sea watch tower) – highest point of Bach Ma mount, the distance is about 16km.  Once you reached the tower, just take it all in: the incredible sight of the winding pass on mountain after mountain, the blue Lang Co bay and Truoi Lake. Just only 5km from the Sea watch tower, there are the five lakes lie under the tree leaves and of which the third lake is the most beautiful. Located at the opposite to the lakes is Do Quyen (Azalea) waterfall. In rainy season, the white flows of water fiercely run down from the top of a colossal black rock at the height of 300 meters, making it a majestic sight of nature.

However, motorbike is not allowed in the park. You have to park your bike at the entrance and take the 12-seat mini van which costs up to 900,000VND per car for a round-trip tour. You can wait to joint other travelers for a shared trip that will save you a lot of money. The entrance fee is quoted 40,000VND.

"Off the beaten path" destinations in Vietnam 2
Photo by Nguyen Dong Son
Phu Yen

Phu Yen has been slept on since forever. And luckily, in 2015, the famous film of Victor Vu “Toi thay hoa vang tren co xanh” (Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass) finally did Phu Yen some justice. For 2016, Phu Yen finally become a new trendy destination in Vietnam as it should be; farther proving that Vietnam tourism is yet to reach its full potential.

The east side of the province is entirely a coastline with length of 189 kilometers, offering some really nice beaches and bays. The north and south of Phu Yen are shielded by two passes Cu Mong and Ca giving also spectacular panoramic scenes of mountain and sea. Tuy Hoa city is the capital of Phu Yen where you should start your trip to other sites of the province. Bai Xep beach is just 17 km away from Tuy Hoa, has appeared in the film with its romantic scenery. The beach is only 500m long but the thing which has made Bai Xep famous is the small green cliff protruding into the sea with full of green cactus growing on it.

Vung Ro and Da Bia Mount is about 40km on the south of the city serving some real marvelous sea sights. Vung Ro bay has 12 beaches which are Bai Chua, Bai Bang, Bai Lau, Bai Lach, Bai Mu U, Bai Nga, Bai Tran Chau, Bai Ho, Bai Nho, Bai Hang, BaiChinh, Bai Nhan. These beaches are praised for their clean shores, blue sea water and less tourists than other beaches in Vietnam. Trekkers shouldn’t miss Da Bia mount which would take you just 2 hour to the top with great scenery.

bai-monMui Dien Cape or Mui Dai Lanh is located 12km away from Vung Ro to the east. This is the most scenic spot to watch sunset with the famous lighthouse and legend blue beach Bai Mon. By all costs, do not miss this site if you ever travel Phu Yen.

Ghenh Da Dia (rapid of stone plates) is a unique site and is one of only 4 rapids of its kind around the world. According to science, this kind of stone setting was made during a volcanic explosion, the lava flows would be frozen when they encountered water and then the solid breaks into columns or oblique. Do not miss this world’s natural wonder.

Cu Mong lagoon and O Loan lagoon with their romantic landscapes and fresh atmosphere will give you a quality relaxing time. Xuan Dai bay or Yen islet and many more sites would make your time in Phu Yen very memorable and beautiful.

South Vietnam

"Off the beaten path" destinations in Vietnam 3
Photo by Lam Tr Th
Con Dao island, Ba Ria – Vung Tau

Con Dao is no underdog in beauty, however, number of tourists to Con Dao can’t compare to other islands like Phu Quoc or Cat Ba due to its far location on the southern sea. The island belongs to Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, about 97 nautical miles away from Vung Tau city and 40 nautical miles from Soc Trang province.

Con Dao is the largest island in Con Dao archipelago consisting 16 different islands. In the past, the island was occupied by the French for an isolated prison like one in Phu Quoc island. The prison itself was horrifying with hundreds of tales about the brutality of the guards, the suffering of the prisoners and their braveness. This island also is the place the national heroine Vo Thi Sau was executed. Beside its great historical values, Con Dao is also known for its immense beauties. You can find countless beaches with incredible sights here: Dam Trau, Lo Voi, An Hai, Dat Doc…. Each one of them is a great place for swimming and about sunset watching, don’t miss the Shark Cape. Con Dao even has a primitive forest called Ong Dung forest on the west side of the island. It will give you the best trekking time with raw nature’s beauties. Bay Canh island and Dam Tre bay can offer you scuba diving, swimming and trekking.

There are two seasons – wet and dry, obviously. Between March and September is wet season with quick rains and milder winds. This time is best for tourists to the island. The dry season is from October to February but the sea waves in this time aren’t really calm as in the other season. Therefore, swimming and diving is not suitable in this time and the costs are more expensive.

To Con Dao island, most of tourists go by boat and just few choose airplane. Flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Co Ong airport in Con Dao are only run by Vietnamairlines and Air Mekong, so expect the prices to be expensive. Boats to Con Dao are starting at Cai Lo quay at Vung Tau with two boats Con Dao 9 and Con Dao 10, and arriving at Ben Dam quay at Con Dao. One more thing to show that going by boat is best that is you can bring your motorbike along with paying an extra price.

Ha Tien town, Kien Giang

Ha Tien town is another great destination that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves even though it is quite famous to domestic travelers. The district-level town of Kien Giang province is located on the far west of the south sharing border with Cambodia. The town has 10 landscapes and each one of which is praised by a poem and has its own title. Sites you can’t miss are Mui Nai beach, Thach Dong Cave, and Da Dung Mountain. Other from Chau Doc, if you want to cross into Cambodia with motorbike it can be done through Ha Tien border crossing gate. Lo Gach pagoda is impressive with the architectural style and Nam Ong pagoda for typical style of pagoda in the south. At night, you can just have a walk to To Chau bridge to see the sight of the town after the sun goes down and have some interesting seafood soups. Also from Ha Tien you can catch a boat to Phu Quoc island easily with cheaper rates and lesser travelling time compared to Rach Gia.

Ha Tien is like Hai Phong in the north, just some place happened on your way to a famous island and people tend to skip these places. If you can spend one more day in Ha Tien, you will discover a lot of interesting things about this idyllic and peaceful town.

Arrive in Vietnam, the visitors not only be immersed in the beautiful natural scenery and romantic atmosphere peaceful harmony of heaven and earth and the people here that Vietnam was interesting destinations for famous dishes and typically Hanoi- ideal destination for all your travel plans.

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