Vietnam is so enchanting, that after your first visit, you will most likely already be planning your second visit whilst on the plane. You will most certainly be looking at your map and realizing all the incredible places that you want to return to, or missed along the way.
● Mu Cang Chai: 2,000 meters above sea level and 300 km away from Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam, Mu Cang Chai is home to beautiful rice terraces that curl around the hills. Popular among photographers, hikers, and adventurous travelers, Mu Cang Chai was listed among the ‘Top 50 most beautiful places in the world’ by CNTraveler, and is also home to the Black Hmung people, an ethnic minority found only in Mu Cang Chai. In order to visit Mu Cang Chai, you can either hire a private car for the 6-8 hour journey from Hanoi, or use a mixture of bus and train transport.
● Sapa: If you travel a bit further north from Mu Cang Chai, you will find Sapa. Although Sapa is similar in landscape to Mu Cang Chai, there are large differences between the two. First off, there are five main ethnic groups in Sapa: the Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho. These groups live in completely different types of housing than the Black Hmug people of Mu Cang Chai. In Sapa they live in houses on stilts which is a great cultural experience. In Sapa homestays are recommended, and another addition to the authentic cultural experience to be had in Northern Vietnam.
● Ha Giang: Being a province in Northern Vietnam that borders China, there is a huge amount of influence on the food. Many travelers to Ha Giang choose to rent a motorbike and tour around the hills. Not only will you find UNESCO recognised Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark, which is a landscape characterised by lofty limestone peaks and rock-strewn fields, but you will also have great weather for most of the year! Generally July and August can be very hot, but you will not have to worry about monsoons as you do in many other parts of Vietnam.
● Ban Gioc Waterfall: Also known as Detian Falls or Ban Gioc Ducthien falls, the Ban Gioc Waterfall is actually a collective name for two waterfalls on the Quây Sơn River. These two falls are located on the border between China and Vietnam. You can even pay boat owners to take you on a bamboo raft so close to the waterfall that you can feel the spray on your face! There are many buses that can take you from Cao Bang to the waterfall for around 70,000 Vietnamese dong. It will be a two hour trip, and the bus comes every hour from 530am-6pm, picking up at the Bang Giang Bridge in Cao Bang.
● Pu Luong: Pu Luong is a Nature Reserve, where many years ago ethnic Thai people decided to move here and make it their home. Just a few hours from Hanoi, Pu Luong is the complete opposite to the capital. With beautiful mountains, valleys and the jungle, you can take time and relax in nature. Visit one of the ethnic Thai villages, take a cooking class or craft making class with the locals, or hike Mt. Pu Luong. This is an off the beaten path destination, and since Pu Luong is 150km from Hanoi, the trip will take around four and a half hours. There are no direct public buses from Hanoi, but there are buses to Mai Chau from the My Dinh bus station. After arriving in Mai Chau, you can take a taxi for the remaining 90 minute drive to Pu Luong.
● Quy Nhon: For those that loved the beach destinations of Vietnam but were not a huge fan of all the crowds, Quy Nhon is where you need to go. Although not considered a tourist destination, this medium-sized town is bordered by stunning beaches and incredible countryside. For those interested in history, there is the Binh Dinh Museum. Here you can learn about the struggles of the local Communist Party during the Vietnam War. Additionally there are items from the French colonial period, as well as Cham sculptures. The Thap Doi Cham Towers is another Quy Nhon attraction. Anyone would be impressed with these sculptures as they are in great condition. There is also a pagoda built in the 18th century with a 17 meter high Buddah. Finally, the main attraction is the gorgeous Queen’s Beach, rivaling any beach in Vietnam, and with less tourists too.
● Hon Ong/Whale Island: This island, Hon Ong, is also known as Whale Island. It is part of Nha Trang, but 100km from the main city of Nha Trang. It contains 19 islands in total, and Whale Island is one of the more tucked away and best kept secrets. There is only one resort on this island, so you will need to look far for accomodation. It is recommended to rent a motorbike to take yourself around the island. You will find that this island has retained untouched beauty. With fine white sands meeting pure blue beachfront, you will never want to leave this paradise. Snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and short treks are also possible on Whale Island, while you can also choose to sunbathe or get a massage to maximize relaxation.
● Doc Let Beach: Another part of Nha Trang, Doc Let Beach is considered one of Vietnam’s best beaches. The shallow turquoise water and beautiful sand of Doc Let Beach stretches for an entire 18km! There are three main sections of the beach town, the northern part is where most tourists stay, with many hotels and guesthouses. In the section is a shipyard and port, which is not incredibly beautiful, but it is essential to the local economy. The southern part is isolated and has the best stretch of beach. This is known as Jungle Beach, and although still tranquil, is becoming more and more popular.
Whether you are planning your second trip to Vietnam, or you have a long period of time to visit Vietnam, and you would like to see as much as possible, there will never be enough time to see every incredible inch. You can start with these idyllic and beautiful destinations. Enjoy learning about the ethnic minorities of Vietnam in the north, and the gorgeous beaches of the south. You will not be dissapointed.