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Off the Beaten Track in Vietnam


Sometimes, when you are sharing the must-see sights of a brilliant and exciting destination with crowds of other people, it can seem as if the raw edges of the real life you came to experience have been rubbed away, erased by the footfall of thousands of appreciative visitors. Many of the busiest attractions in the world still make it onto our favourites list – they are busy for a reason – but there are times when you want to leave the hordes behind and go in search of new discoveries. A trip to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without including the popular honeypots of Hoi An, Hanoi and Phu Quoc, but should you want to find some quieter corners where tourism has yet to make more than a fleeting impression, this blog post is for you. Here are some of TravelLocal’s favourite places to get off the beaten track in Vietnam.

Beautiful beach on Phu Quoc Island Vietnam

Mu Cang Chai district

Vietnam’s north west corner hides a region of steep valleys and picturesque villages perched among the crinkle cut rice paddies which butt up against the borders with China and Laos. The region’s inaccessibility is also its saving grace, and to reach the area you need to traverse the high pass of Khau Pha, bringing you into the stunning landscape of Mu Cang Chai where the land is worked by the local farmers in the same way it has been for many centuries. Over 2,000 hectares of the dramatic hillsides in Mu Cang Chai district are terraced for rice production, utilising a complex system of irrigation to ensure the paddies are continually topped up with fresh water. Enjoy stunning hikes between culturally intriguing ethnic minority villages.

Mu Cang Chai district Vietnam

Mountain Markets

In Vietnam’s northern mountains you will find peaceful villages where for much of the week there’s nothing much to interrupt the quiet other than the gentle gurgle of a stream or the bark of a dog. But when market day comes around, suddenly the calm makes way for the bustle and noise of lively commerce. From before dawn the traders converge on the marketplace and locals in bright traditional dress arrive to peruse the goods on sale. One of the largest and most colourful markets takes place each Sunday at Bac Ha, while there are smaller and lesser known market days at Coc Ly on Tuesdays, Cao Son on Wednesdays and Can Cau on Saturdays. All of the markets are great places to see local culture in action, with each of them attracting minority hill-tribe people including Flower Hmong, Phu La, Tay and Nung who congregate to chat, browse, buy and sell their produce.

Ladies and baby in Vietnam

Bai Tu Long Bay

Every Vietnam enthusiast has heard of HaLong Bay, a dreamy tropical gulf liberally sprinkled with striking karst islets which elevate the location to one of world class beauty. It’s allure is legendary, and it is often busy with boat-fulls of visitors keen to see the magical limestone pinnacles for themselves, which can inevitably dampen the romance of the experience. Head to nearby Bai Tu Long Bay for equally extravagant, island speckled vistas, where local boats puttering through the waves and misty sunrises are all present and correct, but without so many junks cluttering up the bay. It’s one of the classic destinations in Vietnam, but by visiting a slightly different part of the Gulf of Tonkin, you can recreate the feeling of the Asia of yesteryear.

Hanoi Bay Gulf of Tonkin Vietnam

Con Dao islands

You have to make an effort to reach them, but the Con Dao islands are worth it. A twelve hour ferry journey south from the Vietnamese mainland (or an hour’s flight) will bring you to this little archipelago of 16 islands, and it’s a trip worth making to discover the history and natural beauty of these pretty little isles which are the focal point of the Con Dao National Park. Con Son is the main island and the point of arrival, and greets you with lush vegetation and a colonial old town worth a wander. The seafront location gives it a laid back and appealing air, while the Con Son Museum gives a good overview of the local ecosystems and the difficult history of the islands. There were once prison camps located here, and a visit to the cells is a chilling reminder of the gruesome events that took place. Wash away the prison mood with a trip to one of the many exquisite beaches that fringe the islands – tempting clear aquamarine water offers some of the best diving and snorkelling in Vietnam.

Con Dao islands Vietnam

Ba Be Lake

Some 250 kilometres north of Hanoi, the Ba Be Lake sits in the National Park of the same name, surrounded by picturesque forested limestone hills. It’s the largest and highest lake in Vietnam, a long, thin and deep freshwater lagoon fed by three rivers. The water itself together with the forested shores, islands and cave systems support a wealth of wildlife – 65 mammal species have been recorded, among them 27 different varieties of bat. Keep your eyes peeled for loris, pangolins, bears, flying squirrels and macaques, which are some of the larger and easier to spot animals living in Ba Be National Park. Birders will find a rich selection of feathered wildlife – over 225 species at the last count – and lepidopterists will be ticking of several species from the list of 350 butterflies which inhabit the park. The lake has several points of interest including caves, waterfalls, cliffs and islands, and it’s a scenic and tranquil place to discover.

Ba Be Lake Vietnam

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