Let’s, for a minute, forget about all those overused and over-commercialized tourist spaces. If you’re into “real” adventures, I mean the off-the-beaten-track kind of adventures; then you have come to the right place.
Below are the 3 lesser known yet spectacular travel destinations that offer both natural and cultural values. Decide for yourself if you want them to be your next destinations the next time you pay a visit to Vietnam.
1. Mu Cang Chai
Mu Cang Chai (Source: Internet)
What do you love about Sapa? Trekking? Hiking? Homestaying? Cultural traveling? Lush paddy terraced fields? Ethnic-minority markets and dishes? The picturesque Mu Cang Chai has it all to offer, sans the touristy frills.
Situated 300km to the north of Hanoi, at 1000m above the sea level, Mu Cang Chai has one of the most beautiful sites of terraced farmland in Vietnam. The rice terraces spanning over 2,500ha were recognized as national heritage sites in 2007 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. People often call them “The ladders to Heaven”.
Trekking is the best way to explore Mu Cang Chai and admire the pretty villages of Thai tribes and Black Hmong nestling in deep valleys. You have the option of staying overnight in guest houses or hotels, or you can homestay in the villages with the locals.
Mu Cang Chai is magnificent all year round, with endless terraced paddy fields blending harmoniously with the winding mountains and luxuriant forests. But the best time for a Mu Cang Chai excursion is around late September and early October when the ripe season begins and the weather is moderate.
2. Ninh Binh
Van Long Natural Reserve (Source: Internet)
Located 100km to the south of Hanoi, the Ninh Binh boasts of majestic and fascinating natural sceneries. The first imperial capital of Vietnam is such a hidden gem that deserves more attention from international tourists and travelers. It’s no exaggeration to say Ninh Binh is a microcosm of Vietnam.
Ninh Binh is positively and absolutely one of best places to visit in Vietnam with serene landscapes and the typical rural villages of the Northern region with lush green paddy fields, poetic rivers, and striking landscape outcrops. All the 12 major attractions are on the outskirts: Trang An, Tam Coc, Van Long, and Cuc Phuong. Pretty much anytime is a good time to visit Ninh Binh, maybe you want to watch out for showers and thunderstorms in the typhoon season which occurs from June to August.
Ninh Binh, dubbed as the terrestrial Halong Bay, is the best destination for nature and cultural explorers. Here are some of the highlights:
- Tam Coc – Bich Dong: The first thing one should ever do in Ninh Binh is to hop on a small rowing boat for a 2-hour journey through Tam Coc (Three Grottoes). The trip will take you through rice paddy fields that are 4constantly changing colors, nestled in the valleys with imposing limestone mountains. You’ll undergo three caves and get to visit Bich Dong Temple.
- Cultural destinations: Ninh Binh was the once cultural and political center of Vietnam back in 968, hence, the abundance of ancient vestiges. Hoa Lu Ancient Capital is home to thousands of vestiges of temples, palaces, tombs, etc. Bai Dinh Pagoda is a complex of both new and ancient pagodas. There is also Phat Diem church which is considered to be the most beautiful church in Vietnam, designed in Vietnamese architecture and built in 24 years with stone and wood.
- Cuc Phuong National Park: The well-preserved rainforest is a perfect destination for observing the amazingly wide range of animals, hiking, and biking. There are many local tour guides on offer if you’re in need of one.
- Ninh Binh’s specialty: Com Chay (fried rice) and goat meat are the two most famous and tasty specialties in Ninh Binh.
3. Phu Quoc
Coral reef watching (Source: Internet)
Covering a natural area of 593km, the largest island in Vietnam is another less well-trodden destination. Phu Quoc comprises the main island and 21 smaller islets. The “Pearl of the southern sea area” is located in the Gulf of Thailand 45km west of Ha Tien and 15km south of the coast of Cambodia. Even though Phu Quoc is closer to Cambodia than the mainland of Vietnam, it’s only accessible from Vietnam.
Phu Quoc is one of the best places in Vietnam with outstanding beaches, a UNESCO-listed national park that covers over half of it, numerous historical sites and Buddhist shrines, and the best seafood in the country.
Leave all the high-end resorts, luxury dining venues, and top-notch amenities behind; the national park in the northeast with dense rainforests is a must-visit for the best wildlife experience. You can try out many recreational activities here such as bird-watching, hiking, and camping.
Surrounded by bright white sand beaches and turquoise seas, Phu Quoc is sure a paradise for beach babies. There is a collection of activities to keep you occupied and entertained throughout your stay: swimming, diving, snorkeling, coral reef watching, and boat trips. Phu Quoc is also a great place to “feel like a local” and experience life as one: visit the vibrant markets, plant peppers, live in a traditional fishing village, make fish sauce, go fishing with the locals, etc.
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