Vietnam is a fascinating country that’s become increasingly popular with western travellers in recent years – and little wonder when you look at all the amazing things there are to see and do here. I first went over five years ago when I was starting out as a solo backpacker, joining a two-week whirlwind tour that took in the top sites.
A perfect independent travellers haven, it’s a great place to travel solo if you are not short on time, an ideal country in which to hire a motorbike and travel from one end to the other following the Ho Chi Ming Trail or a great starting point from which to join a group and pack in as much of the country as possible on a comprehensive overland tour, like this Good Morning Vietnam tour which also includes ample time for trekking in the hill tribes.
Aside from the must-see hotspots of Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is known as a trekking haven, and getting right into the heart of Vietnam’s beautiful countryside is a great way to get off the beaten track and really get to grips with local life and tradition. Being able to combine towns, cities, beaches and rural plains is ideal, with some top choices outlined below…
Trekking in Mai Chau
The Mai Chau region of Vietnam is relatively undeveloped and dotted with traditional villages that you’ll have the chance to visit as you explore on foot. A mountainous area, it’s an ideal spot if you’re hoping to enjoy some varied hiking and you’ll typically be walking through paddy fields or areas of lush, passing stilt houses that line the roads, as well as hiking through palm plantations or sections of bamboo forest.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of passing through this kind of rural landscape is being able to interact with the villagers and learn about their way of life. Most evenings you’ll be treated to displays of dancing and music, as well as served up delicious local food – there’s no better way to get to know Vietnamese culture than this.
Hiking in Sapa
It might be well known, but another fantastic area for hiking and getting to know the local communities is in Sapa, which is close to Vietnam’s tallest peak – Fan Si Pan. What’s amazing about this area in the northwest of the country is that there were people living here centuries ago that we know very little about – in fact, all that remains from the earliest civilisation in the region are hundreds of petroglyphs.
In the hills around the town you’ll have the chance to meet some more of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities and stay in another tribal village overnight before continuing your walk through bamboo forests and rice paddies.
Take in the Sights and Sounds of Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon – is a fantastic cityscape to discover and a real must on any trip to Vietnam. Wander aimlessly among markets and local eateries, and find solace in passageways away from the chaos.
There are too many attractions here to mention, but some of the principal ones include the War Remnants Museum, which is home to artifacts and exhibitions relating to the American War (what the Vietnamese call the 1960s conflict), the Museum of Vietnamese History (which deals with a broader spectrum of the country’s past) and the Reunification Palace.
It might be an obvious choice on any trip to Vietnam, but for the avid explorer, it’s a vast space to get lost in and have sporadic encounters.
Enjoy Nha Trang
Nha Trang is one of Vietnam’s coastal cities and a well-known seaside resort, but there’s more here than just a beautiful beach if you know where to look. Check out the Long Son Pagoda, which has existed in one form or another since the 19th century. The main highlight here is the imposing white Buddha statue, although the whole complex is decorated beautifully.
Another site you shouldn’t miss in Nha Trang is the Po Nagar Cham Towers – also known as Thap Ba. This iconic temple complex dates from between the 7th and 12th centuries and is one of the most impressive vestiges of the Cham civilisation. Originally there were eight towers, although only four remain standing now.
Take your time and admire the Hindu statues, sculptures and carvings that adorn the buildings and THEN hit the beach!
This post features a tour suggestion from adventure company, Explore, who I know, trust and highly recommend.