Ha Long Bay is the quintessential must-visit place in Vietnam for any and all types of travellers, as it is ideal for a quiet getaway, a romantic holiday or even for someone looking to explore some culture. However, the parties held at Castaway Island, one of the many islands scattered within the bay, are notorious and infamously known to be some of the best in all of Vietnam.
Getting around the bay requires you to book some sort of tour as it is almost impossible to do it yourself. If you’re there looking to party, then look no further than Ha Long Bay Tour. For over 10 years, they have been offering an all-inclusive two-day or three-day tour of some of the must-see stunning sights of the region. These include activities like sailing around stunning karsts, exploring fishing villages, dining in caves, kayaking, etc. – all the while letting you party your trunks off at the beach in the evening till the wee hours of the morning.
Sapa is a picturesque little town in the northwest of Vietnam and is the country’s premier trekking base. There are plenty of mountains, valleys and ethnic villages for you to explore and get lost in nature.
Over in Sapa you will find the highest mountain in Indochina, Mount Fansipan, which is a beast to conquer. You can opt to do this yourself, but due to recent deaths, this is not recommended. The best way is by taking a group tour, since everything is arranged for you — food, hiking gear, the route, and awesome local homestays where you can mingle with the tribes people. The best ones span over two days and you can check out the tours offered by Sapa O’Chau, a social enterprise that does responsible treks.
Another must-do trek is Muong Hoa Valley, and the best treks will take you days. Hike your way through terraced rice fields, streams and waterfalls and spend your time meeting the locals and crashing over at their homes. They are extremely welcoming. Expect to sleep on the floor in traditional long tail houses, shower in cold water, wake up to roosters around 03.00 a.m., and of course, lots and lots of homemade happy water (rice wine). A good route to take is from Sapa Town to Ta Van Village through Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai. On the second day you can carry on to Ban Ho through Giang Ta Chai. This three-day, two-night tour offered by Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi does just that.
Phong Nha Ke Bang
What’s more adventurous than going on a five-day expedition underground and exploring the world’s largest cave? Phong Nha Ke Bang in Vietnam houses Hang Son Doong, formed during the Carboniferous/Permian geological periods, putting it at a date between two to five million years old. This cave was founded by a curious local by the name of Ho Khanh in 1991, and inside, the cave has its own climate, forests, rivers, and waterfalls – most of which you can enjoy. The cave is used mostly for scientific exploration since it is virtually untouched by man, so imagine going into a place that has been almost free of human involvement for millions of years. It will be like A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.
Oxalis Adventure Tours, the only company allowed to offer tours to the cave, organised the first tourist expedition inside in 2013, at a cost of USD$3,000. You need to be fit to partake in this, as there is a lot of trekking, rappelling down on ropes, climbing, sleeping under stars in a hammock in the jungle, swimming in underground river caves, etc. The waiting list is also rather long as the government only creates about 500 permits a year.
If this got your adventure senses tingling but you ultimately realise you cannot wait so long, opt to explore Hang En cave, the world’s third largest. Other caves to explore are Tu Lan, Hang Va, and Hang Tien. Oxalis has expeditions to all of these.
Just south of Da Nang lies the magical little town of Hoi An, a perfect candidate of what the Vietnam tourism industry is aiming to show the world.
Once a very popular trading port in the silk route, it is now one of the most touristy cities of Vietnam — but despite the crowd, the enchanting charm of the place remains. There are plenty of historical spots to explore in Hoi An, but that’s not all. Tra Que Organic Vegetable Garden where you can try your hand at farming and fishing, and An Bang/Cua Dai beach is within minutes reach as well, providing plenty of opportunity for you to explore, and take a few Instagram-perfect shots. On the outskirts of the city are specialty villages you can reach by cycling such as Thanh Ha Pottery Village, Kim Bong Carpentry Village, Tra Nhieu Fishing Village, and Duy Vinh Sleeping Mat Village, etc.
In 1999, UNESCO formally recognised Hoi An Ancient Town as a World Heritage Site. The town itself is also beautiful to explore, with charming yellow tea houses and lantern-lit alleyways. On full moon days, it gets extra special as the whole city will be full of lanterns. Hoi An is one of the most picturesque cities you can visit in Vietnam, and one day is enough to snap a month’s worth of pictures. It is guaranteed to get you a couple hundred followers quickly — that is, if you are pro at the hashtag game.
Phu Quoc is a fantastic island getaway in the south-west of Vietnam. It is the ideal destination for those seeking fancy resorts and clean beaches. The island is surrounded on all sides by gorgeous beaches, some of which are yet to be explored, and in the north, there is the ginormous Phu Quoc National Park — with plenty of mountains, jungle, streams and waterfalls, perfect for hiking, camping and getting in touch with nature.
Phu Quoc refers to an archipelago of 22 islands so you really have a lot of beach to explore. However, it’s hard to access many of these if you do not know what you are doing. In the main island of Phu Quoc, the popular ones are Bai Sao (Star beach) and Bai Dai (Long beach). Along Long beach is where you’ll find most of the high-end resorts, whereas Sao beach is at the opposite side of the island (east coast) and is very quiet from sunset onward. If you want even lesser known beaches that are also easily accessible, try May Rut islet, Mui Ong Doi, Ong Lang, Bai Thom, and Ganh Dau beach. Find one for yourself, spread out a beach blanket and spend the day working on your tan while you dive into a good, nail-biting book.
Last but not least is Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial capital of Vietnam and the most Westernised city. With so many sprawling high rises, office spaces, high-end residential areas, and awesome alley cafes, this city is perfect for the workaholic that loves urban cities, and spending their day working on their laptop. When you are done with work, head out to one of the many rooftop bars dotted around the city and contemplate the amazing opportunity you are taking advantage of. The city never sleeps, just like you.