From the towering limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay and the famous lantern-lined streets of Hoi An to floating markets in the Mekong Delta and the French Concession district in Hanoi, there are plenty of iconic sights to soak up in Vietnam. And while we relish in showing you these spectacular highlights on our Vietnam Adventures, our expert local guides also take you beyond popular places in a guidebook to truly immerse you in the unique culture of the country. Take a look at 5 different (yet equally incredible) experiences you can have in Vietnam that you won’t find in a top 10 guide.
1. Climb up the Marble Mountains towards peaceful pagodas
Situated in the Ngũ Hành Sơn District, south of Da Nang city in Vietnam, you’ll find a cluster of 5 spectacular Marble Mountains topped with pagodas and Buddhist temples. With each mountain named after the five elements Thuy Son (Water), Moc Son (Wood), Hoa Son (Fire), Kim Son (Metal or Gold) and Tho Son (Earth), these large outcrops and their caves provided shelter and a hospital base for the Viet Cong during the war. Today, quaint villages have sprung up at the base of the Marble mountains, that house local experts who specialise in marble sculpture.
On day 5 of our Vietnam & Angkor Premium Adventure, we not only get to climb the 150 steps to the tallest mountain, Thuy Son, the “mountain of water”, that gives excellent views overlooking My Khe Beach and lush countryside, but we also spend time exploring the large caves. Inside, you’ll find intricate marble carvings, alters burning candles and incense and stone steles for lost soldiers of past conflicts. After an exhilarating day in the mountains, you’ll transfer to Hoi An, and enjoy a relaxing local dinner overlooking the beautiful Thu Bon River.
2. Enjoy an authentic stay in an indigenous stilt village
For those looking to see a different side to Vietnam, why not head deep into the countryside to visit the indigenous villages of Da Bac and Da Bia? Located in Hoa Binh Province, this idyllic region is filled with dewy rice terraces, palm trees and lush rainforest trails that are waiting to be explored. The very phrase Hoa Binh means “peace” in Vietnamese, which is a very apt name to call this spectacular slice of Northern Vietnam.
On days 2 and 3 of our Trails of Vietnam adventure, you’ll get to explore this spectacular indigenous region for yourself. After trekking up and over the Truong Son Mountain range, you’ll stop at the peaceful Sung Village and enjoy a traditional Vietnamese lunch cooked by a local family. After visiting a limestone cave and an ancient tea plantation you’ll enjoy a unique overnight stay in a hill-tribe longhouse. The following day, you’ll take on an exhilarating 5-hour trek through quilt-like rice terraces towards the remote village of Da Bia, where you’ll enjoy lunch and spend time exploring the reservoir on an optional kayaking excursion.
3. Bask in the beauty of Vietnam’s Paradise Cave
Another place many may not have heard of is Thien Duong cave, located in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This relatively new tourist attraction was only discovered in 2005 by scientists from the British Cave Research Association. The group of scientists were helped by a local man who had told them he heard the mountains ‘whistling’ while he was farming. With its spectacular array of stalactites and stalagmites, no wonder the locals have dubbed this cave, “Paradise Cave”.
On day 4 of our Highlights of Vietnam adventure, we visit Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park that’s said to have the oldest karst mountains in Asia. Taking a detour to explore the Paradise Cave, you’ll be shocked by its staggering cave system that stretches for 31 kilometres! Illuminated by multi-coloured floodlights, you can explore this fascinating cave on foot or hire an electric buggy.
4. Try coconut candy in small cottage industries on the banks of the Mekong Delta
The coconut candy making process was first introduced back in the 1930s by Ms Nguyen Thi Ngoc in the Ben Tre Province, which was once known as the “Kingdom of Coconut”. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first coconut candy factories and cottage industries started flourishing all along the Mekong Delta. With manual machines, shredding the home-grown coconuts for their milk and cream, the mixture is then boiled into a caramel substance that makes the coconut candy. Coming in a variety of different flavours like cacao, pandan and ginger, it’s a great local delicacy to try when you’re exploring the Mekong Delta.
On our Vietnam Adventure, we take a boat trip down the iconic Mekong Delta to the vibrant Cai Be floating market. Along the way, we make pit stops to see some small cottage industries that have produced coconut candy for generations. Here, you’ll get to learn more about the process and try some of their delicious local produce. We also visit a small local handicraft village where you can watch skilled workers make coconut stems baskets and more.
5. Make the challenging ascent to the ‘Pass of the Ocean Clouds’
Winding over a mountainous stretch of highway, just north of Da Nang, lies the Hai Van Pass (Đèo Hải Vân) which literally translates to “Pass of the Ocean Clouds”. Renowned as being one of Vietnam’s most scenic coastal roads, it stretches over 21 kilometres and boasts challenging inclines of up to 11 degrees in some sections. With exhilarating twists and turns over a spur of the verdant Truong Son Mountain range, the highest peak of the road reaches a towering 1,627 feet!
Historically, the Hai Van Pass was also a crucial land route to connect the cities of Hue and Da Nang during the American War. If you look closely, you may see that the top of the pass still has fortifications that were once used to stop unauthorised passage since the Dai Viet Kingdom. At the top of Hai Van Pass, you’ll also find Emperor Minh Mang’s ornate brick gate, built in the 19th century, which is surrounded by battle-scattered bunkers dating from the First Indochina War (French War) and later used by American forces during the American War.
On day 10 of our Cycling Vietnam adventure, you’ll get to ride up to this spectacular mountain pass and see these remarkable relics for yourself before continuing towards Hue. Aside from the bunkers and Emperor’s gate, the view alone is worth the journey. Surrounded by lush tropical jungle, you’ll find beautiful panoramic views overlooking the ocean and white sand beaches. From the southern side, you’ll see the whole curve of Da Nang, while from the north you’ll enjoy views of Lang Co Beach.
If these unique places have inspired you to plan ahead for a trip to Vietnam, take a look at our incredible collection of adventures here.