to see and do
Vietnam is a beautiful travel destination. It offers breathtaking landscapes, friendly people, interesting culture, good food as well as a moving history. Although there are numerous nice beaches where you can relax from your travel hardships, I prefer Indonesia or Malaysia in the hunt for postcard pictures of palm-fringed, white-sand beaches and coral reefs.
• The mountainous North: Hanoi is the lively capital of Vietnam where history meets modernity. North and northeast of it you can find the most spectacular landscapes and best hiking options of the country. Ba Be National Park with its majestic Ban Gioc Waterfall, the amazing rice terraces around Sa Pa and the breathtaking Ha Giang area where ethnic groups live as they have for centuries, are only a few examples to be mentioned.
• Ha Long Bay & Lan Ha Bay: Ha Long Bay with its collection of hundreds of limestone islands is the most popular tourist place in Vietnam. To get the maximum quality out of your stay, choose Cat Ba Island as a starting point instead the town of Ha Long. Cat Ba Island is closer to the less visited Lan Ha Bay, a southern part of Ha Long Bay and also well worth a visit. No matter what you prefer (e.g. motorboat or sailing cruises, kayaking, fishing, diving, snorkeling, rock climbing or staying in outer islands bungalows) there is a wide range of operators (for example “Cat Ba Ventures”) based on Cat Ba to book your activity with. I suggest to spend a few days here and try to catch a day with sunshine to shoot amazing photos of the bays. As big parts of Cat Ba Island are designated as a national park there are some more things to do. For a nice view over the island head for Ngu Lam Peak – its highest point.
• Ho Chi Minh City: Formerly known as „Saigon“– the biggest city of Vietnam is a mixture of skyscrapers, little cafés, great food, shopping malls, traditional markets, scooter traffic and remarkably friendly people. If you like to meet young backpackers from all over the world, stay near Pham Ngu Lao Street. But what I definitely recommend to do here is to confront yourself with the history and backgrounds of the Vietnam War, also called the Second Indochina War or American War. First, head for the War Remnants Museum which represents the Vietnamese point of view, but be aware of cruel and shocking content. Second, visit the Cu Chi Tunnels about 70 km northeast of the city. In order to combat better-supplied American and South Vietnamese forces, Communist guerrilla troops known as Viet Cong dug hundreds of miles of tunnels to house troops, transport supplies, lay booby traps and mount surprise attacks. Expect to meet a lot of other tourists there and do not hesitate to send excessive laughing or joking people to the War Remnants Museum as they obviously have not been there yet.
• The Mekong Delta: Stretching from Ho Chi Minh City southwest to the Gulf of Thailand, this huge flatland is Vietnam’s rice bowl. Rice may be the delta’s staple crop, but coconut palms, fruit and sugar-cane plantations are also found here. It is beautiful to watch the conical-hatted farmers tending their land, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams. Tours and overnight stays can be arranged in Ho Chi Minh City as well as other towns in the South like Can Tho.
Tip: To avoid the mass processing by standardized Mekong Delta tours you should ask for a private tour away from the tourist trails and spend the night at a homestay with a local family.
• Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park:
This jungle region with its karst mountains, extensive caves and underground rivers offers lots of opportunities to hike, bike, paddle, climb or relax. Dong Hoi is the closest bigger city that can be reached by bus, train and even plane. The village of Son Trach, about 50 km from Dong Hoi, is the gateway to the park. Make sure to spend a few days here to be able to visit the caves and other attractions at the less busy times of the day. Check in at one of the hostels and stroll around the place to make up your personal plans for the time of your stay. To reduce costs, keep in mind that not everything has to be done in form of a guided tour. Some caves and other places of interest are also reachable with a hired scooter. In the following there are a few caves listed that might be of interest for you. Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the most breathtaking ones on a low budget.
Phong Nha Cave:
Situated on the River Song Coa the Phong Nha Cave is one of the easiest caves to visit. Only 1.5 km of the explored 44 km cave system are open to tourists, and the cave, which can be entered by boat only, is famous for the beautiful shapes of stalagmites and stalactites. It is best to be reached by boat ride but going there by bike or scooter is also possible.
Thien Duong Cave (Paradise Cave):
This cave was discovered in 2005 and opened to the public in 2010. The cave is illuminated with white lights accentuating the elegantly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. The wooden stairs that lead down are professionally installed and create a museum-like atmosphere.
Hang Toi Cave (Dark Cave):
A visit here is more of a fun half-day out than a proper cave tour both due to the condition of the cave and how you get there. The entrance can only be reached by Vietnam’s longest zip-line or kayak. Inside the cave only your head torch will lighten up the scenery. You will be exploring the cave wearing swimming gear and taking a mud bath before kayaking your way back to the entrance.
Son Doong Cave:
To talk about the big stuff: first to mention is Son Doong Cave, the biggest cave on the planet. Oxalis (https://oxalis.com.vn) is the only tour operator that is allowed to run tours to Son Doong Cave. Their thrilling four-day/three-night package which also includes one night in Hang En Cave costs 3000 US-$ but due to limited access and the high demand you need to book months in advance.
Hang En Cave:
This cave is also only accessible with Oxalis Tours, is currently regarded as the third-largest cave on the planet and a cheaper alternative. One-night/two-day tours give travelers the opportunity to camp at a spectacular riverside location within the cave and visit the remote ethnic minority village of Ban Doong. Expect to pay around 300 US-$.
Other beautiful caves off the beaten path are for example Hang Tu Lan Cave and Hang Tien Cave which can be visited for about 90 US-$ as a day trip. Multi-day options including extended jungle trekking and visiting some other caves are also possible.
15.12.2019 - Chris
Covering the south of Vietnam