Vietnam is a destination rich in adventure, culture, great food, history – and incredible natural scenery. Travelling through the country you’ll encounter staggering karst peaks both on land and off the coast, dramatic mountain ranges, lush jungles, and fertile paddy fields. Below we pick out the very best areas of the country for outdoor adventure.
Far northern Vietnam
Vietnam’s northern frontier is scenically stunning. A ring of mountains surrounds Hanoi to the north and west, offering exploration amongst verdant valleys, deep ravines, and staggering rice terraces. The most accessible area of this little-visited region is Sapa which acts as a jumping off point for exploring the surrounding hill-tribe villages and mountain scenery. Time your visit for one of the region’s fascinating hill tribe markets, which see colourfully-dressed ethnic minority villagers travel in from miles around to barter and trade. We recommend a stay of three nights in the region, with at least full day spent on an engrossing village-to-village trek.
Halong & Lan Ha Bay
It may be Vietnam’s most well-known attraction, but Halong Bay remains a truly remarkable sight. A mesmerising network of limestone karst pillars and rocky outcrops, set against a backdrop of placid turquoise waters, it has an otherworldly outlook and is rightly designated among UNESCO’s seven natural wonders of the world. The very best way to experience Halong Bay is taking a luxurious ‘junk’ cruise; these atmospheric vessels providing the perfect accommodation for watching the scenery slip by. We also recommend visits to neighbouring Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long bay – part of the same coastline, boasting similarly dramatic scenery, but seeing a fraction of the visitor numbers.
Situated 100km south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is known as ‘Halong on land’ for its similar scenery of towering karst pillars, which here rise up from verdant paddy fields as opposed to azure waters. The area is rich in activity and adventure, and demands a stay of at least two nights, during which time you can enjoy a rowing trip through placid lakes and atmospheric grottoes of Trang An or Tam Coc, visit picturesque Hang Mua or Bai Dinh pagodas carved out of the sheer rockface, or hike or cycle through Cuc Phuong or Van Long nature reserves, searching for endangered primates and encountering clouds of tropical butterflies.
Phong Nga Ke Bang
Central Vietnam’s central Phong Nga Ke Bang National Park is home to the world’s largest (Son Doong) and third largest (Hang En) caves. Sitting within dense interior jungle just 20km from the border with Laos, the cave network was only discovered in 2009, and made open to the public in 2013. The caves have since been thoroughly explored and mapped by the British Cave Research Association who, with a network of experienced local adventurers, now run epic overnight adventure tours which culminate in a night under canvas inside the huge entrance chamber. In a few short years Phong Nga has gone from total tourism obscurity to its present status as ‘Asia’s Adventure Capital’.
Cat Tien National Park
Turning to the south of Vietnam, Cat Tien National Park is located 150km north of Ho Chi Minh City and is one of the largest nature reserves in the country. It is also one of Vietnam’s last remaining lowland tropical forests, with visitor numbers limited to protect its’ centuries-old fauna and incredible biodiversity. Your jungle treks here bring you into contact with some of southeast Asia’s rarest creatures, including gibbons, langurs, sun bears, Asian elephants and – if you are incredibly lucky – clouded leopard. Stay in a simple but comfortable jungle lodge, taking the time in between dawn and dusk hikes to visit isolated forest communities or take boat trips on jungle lakes to look for tropical birdlife.
Of all Vietnam’s alluring southern islands, Con Dao is the most isolated and the most striking. A former French penal colony, this little inhabited archipelago is now a protected national and marine park, offering island adventure amongst its rugged interior and wide, near-deserted tropical beaches. Diving, snorkelling, and coastal trekking is the best in all Vietnam, and we’d also encourage hiring cycles or scooters to explore the winding and largely-traffic free roads which circle the island. Con Dao houses the Six Senses and Puolo Condor resorts – two of the very finest beach options in the country.
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