Phu Quoc Island is one of the best places to visit in Vietnam because of its spectacular beaches. Dương Đông, the big town on the island, is a picturesque fishing village with vibrant markets and a turquoise fleet of boats moored all along the river and offshore. For seafood lovers, there’s a street lined with stacks of tanks all filled with live catch for you to choose from. Take at least one night of your time on Phu Quoc and wander around town. Like many experiences in Vietnam, the best ones are spontaneous, found by chance as you stroll through different communities.
When it comes to the Mekong Delta, Cần Thơ hogs all the attention. Near the Cambodian border, on the same river that floats Cần Thơ’s famed markets, there’s the town of Châu Đốc. For such a small area, it has an impressive variety of cultural influences – Cham, Khmer and Chinese. Many travelers make their way through this town on their way to Cambodia, but it’s not touristy at all. In fact, it’s a perfect place to slow down and take a few days to relax and explore.
Some people are put off by the flagrant exploitation which is morphing Ha Long Bay from a natural wonder into a monument of human greed and the shortsightedness inherent to our age. To get away from hoards of tour buses, go north to Cẩm Phả and Bai Tu Long Bay. It has all the same limestone giants poking their rocky fingers out of the calm waters, but without all the monstrous resorts of Ha Long City. You can also get junk boats out of Ha Long Bay to visit Bai Tu Long Bay. Either way, it’s an interesting alternative.
In southeast Vietnam, where the country bulges out into the South China Sea, most tourists make stops in Nha Trang, Phan Thiết and Mũi Né. They overlook Ninh Hòa, which is home to a 10 kilometer (six mile) stretch of white-sand beach where you won’t see too many foreigners. It’s a lovely town, an hour north of Nha Trang. You get to see what a Vietnamese beach town looks like without all the touristy shops catering to rich foreigners — a nice break from the predictable backpacker haunts.
The Côn Đảo Islands are an archipelago off the coast of southern Vietnam known for turtles, beaches and scuba diving. They’re not on the usual traveling circuit because they’re a bit out of the way. You really do need a few days to properly enjoy them. Before exploring the wonderful, unblemished scenes around the different islands, check out Côn Sơn Town on Côn Sơn, the largest island.
As you finish your descent over the Hai Van Pass, north of Da Nang, you come around one last corner and find one of the most beautiful sights in all of Vietnam. It’s a famous scene from an episode of Top Gear, and if you’re traveling along the coast in either direction, then add some time to have a look at Lăng Cô.
“That image really is a metaphor for Vietnam — the mountains, the coastline, the big new engineering project and the traditional fishing scene…” — Jeremy Clarkson, from Top Gear, Season 12: Episode 8