Lush landscapes, delicious food, and tons and tons of temples – it’s no wonder Vietnam is now welcoming nearly 1.2 million visitors a month. But with all those tourists have come plenty of overcrowded sights.
HIDDEN GEMS OF VIETNAM
Stroll the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and you’ll find it packed with people. Head to Halong Bay, and you’ll find it congested with cruises in high season. Overtourism is an issue everywhere these days, but in Vietnam, it can be particularly prevalent. The good news is though, there are still some spots that seem to have escaped the masses.
A national park with a fascinating story, a Disney-esque castle open for overnight stays and a narrow street that sees a train roaring down it twice a day – among the quieter corners of Vietnam.
Here is a selection of our favourite hidden gems.
Phong Nha-Ke National Park
Despite being home to both the largest cave in the world and the third largest, Phong Nha-Ke National Park still remains firmly under-the-radar. The area has a rich history – it played a key role in the Vietnam War when its caves were used to hide supplies and because of that, is the third most bombed place on the planet.
Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be one of the most beautiful parks in Asia. Explore its many caves, learn its local culture at quirky attraction The Duck Stop or kick back with a beer at bar Easy Tiger.
Venture Far Insight: Attend a morning information session at Easy Tiger. Run by British ex-pat Michael Rowbottom, it’ll give you great insight into the area.
Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi has many streets to wander, but its Train Street is easily the most unique. A narrow residential road lined with colourful cafés and apartments, it sees a train hurtling down it twice a day.
While the street itself gives visitors a real insight into Hanoi life, the experience of standing on it with a train zooming past is truly something else. The train typically passes at 3:30pm and 7:30pm, but it’s best to arrive well before then. Be warned: this isn’t for the faint-of-heart.
Venture Far Insight: You’ll find the street between Le Duan and Kham Tien Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a 30-minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Red Dao Spa Sapa
While Sapa itself is far from unknown, there’s a spa not far from it that is. It’s called Red Dao Spa and you’ll find it in Ta Phin, a 40-minute drive from Sapa town. Serving up traditional herbal spa experiences, it’s a must-visit for those looking to unwind after a long day of trekking.
A spa attendant will mix brewed herbs into steaming, hot water, and then leave you to be for as long as you’d like. And with the spa rooms boasting floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the rolling rice fields beyond, it’s likely that could be a very long time.
Venture Far Insight: Plan to spend awhile here. You’ll be presented with cups of endless teas after your bath, which you can enjoy in the restaurant upstairs.
Da Lat Crazy House
Walking into Hằng Nga Guesthouse, commonly called Da Lat Crazy House, is like walking into an immersive work of art. There are undulating walls, there are cave walkways, and there is colourful chaos everywhere. Some have likened it to Gaudi, others have dubbed it a real-life Disney castle.
Designed by a Vietnamese architect, the guesthouse opened in 1990, but will continue to be worked on until 2020. Each of its room is animal-themed so if you’re staying here, take a look at photos of each beforehand.
Venture Far Insight: If you can’t spend the night here, it’s still worth dropping by. If you’re lucky, someone at the front desk might give you a tour.
Côn Đảo Islands
Chances are when you think of Vietnam, you aren’t picturing any islands. But that’s what makes visiting Côn Đảo, an archipelago of 16 islets and islands off the southern coast of Vietnam, so special.
Voted in the top 10 most beautiful and mysterious islands in the world by Travel + Leisure last year, they can be found on the East Side of Bà Rịa, a 45-minute ferry from the Hậu River. While you’re there, be sure to visit Dam Trau beach, the Bai Suoi Nong hot springs and Bay Canh Island. For a bit of luxury why not stay at the the beautiful Six Senses Con Dao.
Venture Far Insight: The best time to visit the islands is during the dry season –November to February, but if you’re keen to see nesting sea turtles, go between June and September.
Cau Vang or in English, Golden Bridge, is a 150-metre-long pedestrian bridge supported by two enormous hands. Located in Ba Na Hills, it sits 1,400m above the sea, offering visitors both uninterrupted views of the Trường Sơn Mountains and the feeling of walking on clouds. The hands appear to be incredibly human-like and evoke the idea that humans can do anything. Only open since June, it’s already becoming incredibly popular so if you’re keen to go, go now.
Venture Far Insight: While in the former French colonial city of Ba Na Hills, check out its cable car system, roller coaster with a 30-metre drop and mock European village.