Many travelers in Southeast Asia head to the nation of Vietnam. With a colorful culture, amazing landscapes and some of the best food in the world, it is easy to see the appeal of Vietnam. Unfortunately, many visitors flock to just a handful of destinations in Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay and Hoi An. While all of these spots are incredible, they don’t represent everything that Vietnam has to offer. To get a true picture of the country, head to underrated destinations like the Ba Be National Park or the Con Dao Islands.
Four hours from Hanoi is the Ba Be National Park. Offering freshwater lakes, mountains and jungles all in one spot, this national park is an incredible destination where you can enjoy plenty of outdoor adventures. Ba Be Lake is the main attraction, and you’ll definitely want to soak in the beauty on a boat trip on the water. Nearby waterfalls like the Dau Dang Waterfall are also a must-see landmark within the park. The Ba Be National Park is popular for guided hiking tours, and there are also several caves worth exploring. The Hua Ma Cave is known for its sculptural stalactites that look like works of art.
In the center of the Mekong Delta is Can Tho. Although Can Tho is the fourth largest city in the nation, it doesn’t have the same name recognition as other major cities in Vietnam. Nonetheless, it is an amazing place to explore. Buddhist pagodas dot the landscape, and there are several incredible floating markets where you can go shopping. For an authentic floating market experience, join a guided boat tour and head to the Cái Răng market at sunrise, where you’ll see local vendors doing their regular shopping before the day begins.
There are a number of varying ethnicities and people groups that all live within Vietnam. If you want to get to know these unique cultures, then plan a trip to Kon Tum. Located in the Central Highlands, Kon Tum is surrounded by small minority villages as well as indigenous hill tribes. You can actually join a guided tour that takes you to a local hill tribe, and you can even dine or drink the local rice wine with them for an evening. While in Kon Tum, make time to visit the Montagnard Church, which was built in 1913 and blends Christian symbolism with local architecture and design.
A huge number of the people who visit Vietnam go on boat tours in Halong Bay. While Halong Bay is beautiful, it is not the only place to see that region’s incredible beauty. In fact, Bai Tu Long Bay is just as stunning, but it is far less crowded. Bai Tu Long Bay is just northeast of Halong Bay, and it offers incredibly similar breathtaking views, islands that pop up from the sea and secluded beaches. Boat tours, either for the day or overnight, are still the best way to see as much as possible within Bai Tu Long Bay.
Nha Trang is by far the most popular coastal resort in Vietnam. Head less than an hour along the coast, however, and you’ll get to Doc Let. Many visitors prefer Doc Let because the beach here is a whopping 10 miles long, and it is quieter and cleaner than Nha Trang. Doc Let is within walking distance of several hotels, and there are also local fisherman who will sell you their catch and even cook it for you right on the sand. If you happen to be staying in Nha Trang, it is well worth a day trip to get to Doc Let and experience the slower, scenic way of life in the area.
The city of Tay Ninh is found in the south of the country, and it is a destination that provides a fascinating insight in Vietnamese culture. Start with a trip to the Cao Dai Temple, which represents the relatively little-known religion of Caodaism. Caodaism began in Tay Ninh, and the temple is a sort of mecca for followers of the religion. The inner hall of the temple is a kaleidoscope of color, with even the priests dressed in yellow, red and blue garments. If you’re up early in the morning, make your way to the Long Hoa Market. Opening each day at dawn, this market bustles until sunset but is packed with locals in the early morning. Tay Ninh is surrounded by the Nui Ba, Heo and Ba Den Mountains, which means that there are excellent hiking trails for those in search of some outdoor recreation and stunning views.
Just off the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, you can find the Con Dao Islands. This group is made up of 16 different islands. In the distant past, Con Dao was used as a remote prison for political prisoners under French colonial rule. Today, however, the Con Dao Islands are known for their scenic beauty. The largest island is Con Son, and that’s where many people start their visit. You might want to explore the beautiful An Hei Beach, or you can try scuba diving or snorkeling at any number of the local beaches.
The large city of Da Nang is located on the coast of Central Vietnam, and it is an underrated destination that many travelers skip over. Da Nang is home to a number of historic and religious landmarks, including the iconic Lady Buddha statue. Just outside of the city of Da Nang, you can hike through the gorgeous Marble Mountains and admire statues carved into the Am Phu Cave. For epic views, make your way to the Ba Na Hill Station via the cable car and enjoy the scenery along with great local restaurants. Of course, no trip to Da Nang would be complete without visiting the beach. Non Nuoc Beach boasts a long white sand coast that visitors and residents alike will appreciate.
Ninh Binh is an entire province in Northern Vietnam, but it is also the name for the capital city of that province. The city of Ninh Binh makes for a great homebase so that you can explore the surrounding countryside throughout the province. This is where you’ll find Tam Coc, also known as Halong Bay on land with its magnificent limestone scenery. You can enjoy a boat ride in Tam Coc and admire spectacular views as the river winds through sheer cliffs. Nearby Trang An Grottoes is another amazing experience, and this time your boat will take you through remarkable caverns.
Mountains, caves and rivers combine to make the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park one of the most scenic spots in all of Vietnam. The cave systems in the park are truly enormous, and you can explore many of them on a large boat. The Phong Nha and Tien Son Caves are close to one another, and they are usually available to tour on a single afternoon. The world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong, is an incredible experience, but it is only open to a handful of people each day. If you would rather see the national park on foot, you can hike along the Nuoc Mooc Spring Eco Trail. Along the way, you’ll cross over bamboo bridges and walk alongside winding rivers.