Vietnam is slowly turning into a world-class holiday destination but as this happens its status of an off-the-beaten-track country slowly diminishes. Thousands of people flock into Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, and Da Nang every year. Even places that were once off-the-beaten-track like Ha Long Bay, Sapa, and Mui Ne are turning into popular tourist destinations. Fortunately, there are still some hidden gems in Vietnam that haven’t experienced the weight of mass tourism (yet). However, if you want to find these places, you have to dig a little deeper. If you want to learn more about a more authentic side of Vietnam and get away from the tourist trail, keep reading. From underrated rural towns to up-and-coming eco-tourism spots, here are the best off-the-beaten-track destinations in Vietnam.
Known across the country as the “marble village”, Non-Nuoc is a charming sleeping village located at the foot of the Marble Mountain. The people inhabiting the village are famous for their six centuries-old unique stone crafting technique that’s slowly putting Nuoc on the tourist map. However, most people that visit Vietnam still aren’t aware that this small village exists even though it’s home to some of the best beaches in Vietnam. Hence, it’s no wonder that daily life in the area surrounding the village goes on uninterrupted by the weight of mass tourism. A reason enough to visit, if you ask me. Talking about beaches and pristine beauty leads us to the next place on our list…
Still not very popular among tourists, Con Dao comprises 16 uninhabited islands on the southern coast of Vietnam. Each one of these islands features jaw-dropping beaches, beautiful nature, and diverse marine life. The most remote islands also feature turtle breeding sites and if you visit between June and September you might even get the chance to see them laying their eggs. As the islands aren’t very popular among tourists, they still don’t have a lot of tourist facilities and if you ask me, this makes them even more appealing. When we talk about untouristy islands in Vietnam, we also have to mention…
Cham Islands are a cluster of islets located on the Hoi An coast with diverse wildlife and protected marine parks with some great scuba diving options. The only way to reach the Cham Islands is by taking a boat from the Hoi An port. However, boat rides operate only during the dry season because the waters get quite rough during the monsoon season. There are some modest accommodation options on the islands but the best experience, in my opinion, is renting a tent and camping under the open sky.
Are you wondering what’s the best time to visit Vietnam? Well, if you’re planning to visit Da Lat, you don’t have to worry about seasons. Nicknamed as the “City of Eternal Spring” and “The Niagara Falls of Vietnam”, Da Lat is one of the most beautiful romantic getaways in Vietnam. Even though the city attracts more visitors nowadays I’m still including Da Lat in this list of hidden gems in Vietnam because I can’t help but feel it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Tucked away in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Da Lat historically served as a summer getaway destination for the French which is evident from the city’s streets and architecture.
However, what makes Da Lat different from most other sea resorts in Vietnam is the fact that the city is surrounded by mountains. This creates a very unique climate, making the city pleasant throughout the year. Hence, the nickname- “City of Eternal Spring”. Not too far from Da Lat, you’ll find the next place on our list…
Po Sah Inu Cham Towers
The Chama civilization flourished along the coasts of Central and Southern Vietnam between 1500 and 500 BC. but today there are only a few remnants of this fascinating lost culture. One of them is Po Shahu Cham. The towers of Po Shahu Cham are one of the most representative samples of Champu architecture and one of the most underrated places in Vietnam. On a first glance, the site resembles a lot of Angkor Wat and it’s evident that there were more buildings surrounding the towers that unfortunately didn’t pass the test of time. Today, the only thing still standing on this once grandiose sample of Champu architecture are the two towers. We might not know a lot about the history and origin of this ancient site but what I do know is that it’s certainly worth visiting.
Talking about interesting architectural discoveries…
Stretching from the Gulf of Tonkin through the Red River Delta, Nam Dinh is a province famous for its unusually high concentration of Catholic churches. I bet that’s one sight you didn’t expect to see in Vietnam. Interestingly, the place that was one of the first regions in Vietnam to be discovered by missionaries is one of the best hidden gems in Vietnam today. The first Christian missionaries came to Nam Dinh in the 16th century to spread Christianity in Vietnam. Throughout the years, they converted a lot of people and built a lot of churches, most of which are still used even today.
If you like unsuspected small towns that hide an array of architectural gems, you’ll also love…
On first sight, Tuyen Quang looks like a small, charming town surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in Vietnam that feature mineral springs, caves, and the gorgeous Thac Ba Lake. However, it’s a lot more than that. This small town holds a special place in Vietnamese history. Some of the city’s landmarks like the Thai Temple and the Tan Trao Banyan tree are closely related to the history and creation of an independent state of Vietnam. The city hosted some of the most crucial battles of Vietnamese history during the Sino-French war and was also a hideout for Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s while he was plotting the French resistance.
If you like the idea of learning more about Vietnam, its people, and its history, you should definitely visit…
Hanoi offers a plethora of activities and day trips but most of them fell short of my expectations. One rare exception was the Duong Lam Ancient Village. Located roughly two hours away from Hanoi, Duong Lam is home to more than 1,000 17th-century traditional Vietnamese houses built of laterite, mud, and rice husks. If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat away from Hanoi’s busy streets where you can take a day trip back in time, there’s no better place than Duong Lam. If you’re looking for another amazing day trip from Hanoi, you should also consider…
Bai Tu Long Bay
If you’re looking for a less popular but just as stunning alternative to Halong Bay, search no further. Located in the northern coast of Vietnam, Bai Tu Long Bay shares a lot of geographical similarities with Halong Bay but it’s far less crowded. The reason for this is that the bay is officially protected by UNESCO and only a handful of tour operators have licenses to arrange day trips around the bay. If you’re lucky, you might even see the only strictly herbivorous marine mammal- the dugong that has been inhabiting the waters of the Bai Tu Long Bay for centuries.
Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park
Despite being a UNESCO Heritage Site, Phong Nha Ke Bang still remains one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets and one of the least known national parks in the country. The national park stretches across 885 square kilometers of unspoiled jungle, caves and underground rivers squeezed between the Laos border and the South China Sea. It’s one of the most peaceful places in Vietnam that offers an endless stretch of greenery and a slice of rural life in Vietnam. Covering such a large area, it’s no surprise that most of the park’s karst zone still remains vastly unexplored. Hence, it’s no wonder that in 2009, an expedition discovered…
Hang Son Doong
You might not expect to see the largest cave in the whole world on a list that features hidden gems in Vietnam but many people still don’t know about it. The main reason for this is that the cave was discovered in 1991 but no one knew just how big it is until 2009. The exploration of the cave lead the expedition to find out that Hang Son Doong is five times larger than the Phong Nha Cave which was once the largest cave in the country. In fact, the cave is so big, it can easily fit an entire Boing 747 inside. In 2013, the cave was open to (a limited number of) visitors and tours are available today. The tours include a week-long trek through the jungle leading to the cave and cost up to $3,000 per person.
If you want to explore the best of Vietnam’s nature but that price tag is too high, check out…
Ba Bể National Park
Even though getting increasingly popular in recent years, I still think that Ba Be National Park needs to be mentioned in the discussion of hidden gems in Vietnam due to its remoteness. Hidden deep in the northern highlands, close to the China border, this national park is riddled with lush vegetation, misty lakes, deep caves, and some of the most remote villages in Vietnam. Here, you’ll find some superb off-the-beaten-track jungle trails, making Ba Be a haven for adventurists.
Since we’re talking about national parks that aren’t so famous, I have to mention…
Pu Mat National Park
Pu Mat is another not-so-known national park that’s located between one of Vietnam’s least frequented provinces, Nghe An, and the border with Laos. Featuring an endless stretch of rice fields, mountain ranges, and charming rural villages, this national park is one of the most peaceful places in Vietnam. One of the most beautiful sights in the park is the Keh Kem waterfall, which is arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Vietnam (the competition is fearsome). If you like to explore places in Vietnam off the beaten track, exploring the narrow scenic route that leads to Pu Mat National Park is a must.
Dotted with gorgeous hillsides, towering peaks, and remote traditional villages, the Ha Giang Province is the newest addition to the rich travel scene in Vietnam. The province is home to many tribal communities, some of which up to 3,000 years old and is one of the most isolated parts of the country. Needless to say, getting to Ha Giang isn’t easy and the only way to reach is the famous Dong Van Loop- a narrow, winding route that leads motorbike drivers in Vietnam through some of the most divine landscapes this country has to offer. The province is still developing and you can’t expect a lot in terms of tourist facilities, but you can have the unique opportunity of staying in a traditional tribal home and getting a first-hand insight into the traditional way of life in Ha Giang.
When new additions to Vietnam’s already rich travel scene are the topic, another place that’s worth mentioning is…
Mu Cang Chai
Have you ever seen some of those too-good-to-be-true pictures of rice terraces rendered in shades of bottle green or golden depending on the season? If you were wondering where in the world were those pictures taken, it was probably in Mu Cang Chai. Mu Cang Chai is another charming highlands district located in Northeast Vietnam. At the time of writing this article, I can still say Mu Cang Chai is one of the best-kept hidden gems in Vietnam but we can’t expect this endless stretch of movie-like, lush rice fields to remain hidden for a lot longer.
Talking about places that are a less famous version of Sa Pa, I have to tell you about…
If you’re looking for a less-crowded alternative of Sa Pa, there aren’t many places in Vietnam that can compare to Y Ty. Y Ty doesn’t have nearly as many tourist facilities as Sa Pa but it also doesn’t have the tourist hordes that have been occupying Sa Pa in recent years. Y Ty is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped communes in Vietnam and visiting is not possible without an organized tour and a permit from Lao Cai province Immigration Department. This makes even the few people that actually get to know about Y Ty more reluctant to visit but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The pristine nature, mountainesque rural charm, and endless layers of rice terraces wouldn’t be what they are if they encountered the weights of mass tourism. I don’t know for how long Y Ty will remain under the radar but until that’s the case, it will remain one of my most favorite places in Vietnam.
We can’t talk about hidden gems in Vietnam if we don’t at least mention the community-based tourism destination of Da Bac. Still relatively unknown among foreign travelers, Da Bac is a district located roughly 100 kilometers away from Hanoi where you can get off the beaten track and get a unique opportunity to stay in a traditional rural Vietnamese home. A few years ago, the people of Da Bac made a goal to bring more tourists to their villages. The final decision was to attract tourists by allowing them to enjoy homestays and mouth-watering home-cooked meals, as well as a range of cultural activities. Da Bac is proof that a place doesn’t need sandy beaches or historic monuments to attract more tourists. Oftentimes, the gifts of Mother Nature and the warm local hospitality are more than enough.
Pu Luong Nature Reserve
This natural reserve is one of the most peaceful places I came across while traveling around Vietnam. A protected area since the end of the 20th century, Pu Luong is famous for its diverse flora and fauna that includes 97 different species of mammals, more than 300 species of birds, and over 2,000 species of vascular plants. It’s no surprise that more tourists visit the reserve nowadays, but most of them aren’t aware of the real gem of the reserve; the ethnic tribal communities that live inside the park’s borders where a traditional way of life is still preserved. Needless to say, the tourist facilities of these communities aren’t impressive but the hospitality of the local villagers more than makes up for it.
Dong Van Karst Plateau
The Dong Van Karst Plateau features a rare anomaly only found in a handful of places around the world. The plateau is located in the Northeastern part of Vietnam, covering an area of 2,300 square kilometers. The landscape of the area is diverse, with mountains up to 2,000 meters high and canyons that go as deep as 800 meters below ground. The geology in the region is rather impressive as well and it features three different groups of sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks that are more than 360 million years old! Finally, this plateau is the last place on Earth where you can see the extremely rare species of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. Unsurprisingly, the Dong Van Karst Plateau has been a UNESCO site since the 1990s.
Lang Tan Temple
In the district of Ly Son, fishing is one of the most important industries but that doesn’t mean that people don’t have a reverence for the sea and its inhabitants. In fact, Ly Son hosts one of the most interesting temples in Vietnam- the Lang Tan Temple or the whale temple. The people for Ly Son believe that the whales are their protectors. Every whale that’s found lying dead on the beach is given a proper burial in the Lang Tan Temple. The rituals that take place in the temple are fascinating and can be seen in only a few other places in the world.
Another reason to visit the temple is seeing the giant skeleton of a whale that was found on the shore of Ly Son over 200 years ago. The whale was 130 feet long and only its head was more than 10 feet long! It’s one of the largest whales ever spotted on our planet and fisherman honor his skeleton every spring in hopes that it will bring them good luck in their future endeavors.
Did you ever visit some of these places? Do you think we forgot to mention some more hidden gems in Vietnam? Let us know in the comments!
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