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Muong Hoa Valley, Sapa
If you’ve never trekked before but are looking to tick it off your bucket list, then start out at Sapa. This northern hill station is home to multiple ethnic minority tribes, namely the H’Mong, Dao and Dai people, and extremely scenic landscapes full of mountain peaks, gorgeous streams and terraced rice fields. Muong Hoa Valley is one of the most famous treks in all of Vietnam—it lies between two ranges of mountains running parallel to each other in the southeast of Sapa town.
The views are breathtaking, and the trek is not arduous, making it perfect for first-timers. However, during the rainy season, do expect to fall down more than once and get a little muddy. Make your way over to Ta Van Village through Y Linh Ho and Lao Chai, spend the night at a local homestay so you can interact with the tribespeople, join them on their daily activities, and then you can carry on the next day to Ban Ho through Giang Ta Chai. The three-day two-night tour offered by Central Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi does just that. Sapa O’Chau is also known for the wide range of authentic and socially responsible tours they offer.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is the quintessential must-visit destination in Vietnam. This UNESCO World Heritage protected site is known for the thousands of magnificent limestone pillars topped with thick jungle jutting from its emerald waters. The views from a cruise ship are magnificent, but an even better way to experience this destination is by sea plane! Hai Au aviation offers a fantastic tour (under USD$100!) during which you will even get to land at multiple islands. Plus, you won’t have to make the four-hour road trip from Hanoi to Ha Long City on a bus. If you were looking to splurge at least once during your trip to Vietnam, maybe this should be it.
Besides a stunning coastline, gorgeous islands, luxurious beach resorts and delicious seafood, Nha Trang is also known for having the most developed mud-bath facilities in the country. Not only is mud thought to have medicinal healing properties that are beneficial for your skin, but jumping into a tub full of mud is also quite fun. There are four spas in Nha Trang that offer this therapeutic activity, and these are Galina Spa, 100 Eggs Mud Bath, Thap Ba Spa and I-Resort.
In the small seaside town of Mui Ne, you can tick off three bucket list activities! While snorkelling and diving are both fun water sports, how about trying something a little less popular and a lot more adventurous? The wind that Mui Ne receives makes this town one of the best places to kite surf in the whole of Southeast Asia. The conditions are great for first-timers and what’s even better is that Jibes Beach Club offers lessons for beginners and rentals at prices that will not leave a dent on your wallet.
Mui Ne is also somewhat a geological oddity, being home to two giant stretches of sand dunes — Đồi Cát Trắng (the White Dunes), and Đồi Hồng (the Red Dunes). The white dunes are fantastic for the sunrise, whereas the red dunes, smaller, are mostly visited for its glorious sunset views. Who said you have to visit Northern Africa or Mongolia to get a taste of the desert? For a much cheaper price, you can enjoy some desert and dessert in Vietnam.
What’s also awesome is that there are recreational activities offered in these dunes — you can explore the white ones on a quad bike or if you have a little more money on you, opt for a hot air balloon tour through Vietnam Balloons and tick off two bucket list items in one day!
Phong Nga is another mountainous part of northern Vietnam, and is mostly known for housing the world’s largest cave system — Hang Son Doong. If you are able to shell out about USD$5000, are extremely physically fit, and are known to be extremely patient among your friends, then you will be able to explore this cave with Oxalis Adventure Tours – the only company allowed to provide tours into this cave. Expect long arduous treks, bouldering, rope climbs, sleeping under the stars in a hammock in the jungle, swimming in underground rivers, camping in a cave, etc. It will be the adventure of a lifetime.
If you are not patient, less rich, and much less physically fit, then you can opt for Hang En Cave, the third largest in the world. There are also plenty of other caves to explore like Paradise Cave or Dark Cave. Either way you get the idea, Phong Nha is a great place to tick off that craving for cave exploration.
Da Lat is in the central highlands of Vietnam and is referred to as little Paris. During colonial times, Da Lat was a popular spot for the French to visit during hot summers as the weather there is much cooler and there are plenty of sites to explore. One of the best things to do here is to go canyoning in one of the many waterfalls in the region. You will essentially be navigating your way down a waterfall by abseiling (also known as rappelling), scrambling, zip lining and jumping and swimming. You do not need previous experience to partake.
Phat Tire Ventures is one of the only agencies legally licenced to do canyoning, so book with them, as canyoning can be deadly if safety precautions are not taken. Three people were killed in February 2016. You can trust Phat Tire Ventures as they offer a very thorough orientation – teaching you how to wear your harness, tie knots, and also dry practice using rappelling techniques before tackling the real thing. It also includes “the Washing Machine”. Once you do it, you’ll know how it got its name.
While Vietnam has a coastline that is longer than that of Thailand and offers unexplored spots for diving, reserve your curiosity for Con Dao, which is located down south of Vietnam. It is a group of 16 islands enjoying a protected status, but there are some 20 diving sites open for travellers to explore. You will also find the only dive-able wreck in Vietnam which is extremely photogenic, decorated by corals and sponges and is the key place to see pelagic animals like hawksbill turtles, sharks and rays.
Phu Quoc is an island that lies close to Cambodia. It is known to have the best marine life in Vietnam, so diving and snorkelling are extremely popular activities. Put on some snorkelling gear and take a peek under the sea — you will come across a variety of marine animals such as nudibranchs, cuttlefish, octopus, scorpion fish, crustaceans, pufferfish, anemones, damselfish and even moray eels. The waters here are clear and calm, sheltered from the strong currents that affect other areas around the island, creating the ultimate conditions for first-time divers. While Vietnam is gorgeous above ground, there is also a lot more to explore underwater.