Top 5 charming small towns that are not Hoi An

Nga Do
It's time to leave the guidebook behind and get on an adventure for overlooked treasures.

Top 5 charming small towns that are not Hoi An
Photo by Bùi Thụy Đào Nguyên
1. Sa Dec - A dreamy, colonial town

If you are a fan of the Marguerite Duras autobiographical novel “The Lover,” Sa Dec, the original setting of the story, is worth a visit. As a scenic town with a rich history, you will come across many French-era houses and buildings scattered around the Mekong Delta town.

Once dubbed “Indochina’s flower garden,” Sa Dec now has several tourist-friendly flower villages. Also check the free electric cars and free tour guides when you’re here.

Best time to visit: January and February.

What to try: Hu tieu, a southern noodle soup. 

2. Phan Rang-Thap Cham - The place of everything

While many people are crazy about Da Lat and Phan Thiet, Phan Rang could actually be a better jack-of-all-trades for tourists. There are just so many things to explore: from the centuries-old towers of the Champa kingdom, to the hidden bays dotted along the spectacular coast, to jungle-clad mountains.

For nature lovers, the town also stands out as it is perfectly located, right next to a green gem of the central region: the Nui Chua National Park.

Best time to visit: Just avoid the monsoon season if you want to enjoy the beaches and the forests.

What to try: Biking or cycling along the new coastal road that connects Nha Trang and Da Lat for out-of-this-world scenery.

3. Lang Co - If you skip the bay, your trip to central Vietnam is not complete.

It is hard to describe the breath-taking beauty of Lang Co bay-side town, but everybody who has been there agrees that the sand is whiter, the ocean is bluer and the skies are brighter than anywhere else in Vietnam.

Sitting pretty on the way connecting Da Nang with Hue, the former fishing village is easy to reach and a perfect choice for a quick peaceful getaway in the summer.

And there are many hostels and expensive resorts to go with your budget.

Best time to visit: From April to June, when rains and the chilling weather are away.

What to try: Eating fresh seafood from the lagoon, and watching sunrise and sunset on the beach.

4. Tam Dao - Where Heaven meets Earth

Instead of heading east toward Ha Long Bay, venture west to Tam Dao, or “three islands” in Vietnamese. A two-hour ride from Hanoi offers a sea of clouds, merry meals and a maze of hidden spots.

Covered with a rich flora, Tam Dao is also a naturalists’ paradise, offering fresh air and cool weather, plus a varied supply of insects if you want to explore further.

Best time to visit: Literally anytime of the year

What to try: Trekking to explore the rocky mountains, which is known as one of the most challenging yet underrated treks in the north. Local youths use the path as a warm-up for the 3,143-meter high Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina.

5. Dong Van Plateau - The northernmost point of Vietnam

If Sa Pa is too touristy for you, remember that you still have Dong Van, an arguably more authentic and unique alternative. This is technically more a village than a town, but it does give you that small-town charm that you might be looking for.

The place is not easy to reach and requires a certain level of motorbike riding skills, but its peaceful culture nurtured by ethnic communities and a stunning karst plateau geopark have never disappointed anyone.

Best time to visit: October, when the buckwheat fields are in full.

What to try: Coffee at the only cafe in Lo Lo Chai, which is 1.4 kilometers from the Lung Cu flagpole. 

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