Top 8 Off The Beaten Track Destinations in Vietnam

Vietnam is seeing more and more visitors each year, with the actual number of tourists per year reaching to well over 12 million.  Some areas in Vietnam, such as Halong Bay, Sapa, and Hoi An, are very beautiful and are part of Vietnam itineraries but also packed with tourists year round.  Fortunately, if you want to get away from the crowds, you have several tour alternatives.  Here are some of the best suggestions you might consider adding to your Vietnam off the beaten track itinerary.

Central Vietnam Caves

A few years ago, the largest caves in the world were discovered in central Vietnam.  These caves are a complete marvel, in pristine condition and also thought to contain the largest stalagmites in the world, up to 70 metres tall!  Currently, only a limited number of expeditions per year are allowed and come at the very hefty price of $3000 per person.  If this is out of your price range, fear not!  In the same area, you can visit the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, wherein lies two famous caves – Phong Nha cave and Paradise cave.  Up until the discovery of Son Doong cave, Phong Nha cave was thought to be the largest in Vietnam.  To put it into perspective,  Son Doong is more than five times the size of Phong Nha cave!  Nevertheless, the smaller caves are beautiful and unique in their own way.  The entire area is also very serene and peaceful, with many small lakes in the area and quaint lodging options.  

How to get there: From Dong Hoi train station or airport, arrange a pick up with your hotel or hostel in Phong Nha.  The drive is a little over an hour.  Otherwise, it is a 4-hour drive from Hue. 

Phong Nha Ke Bang Cave

Phong Nha Ke Bang Cave

Buon Ma Thuot

One of the unique places in Vietnam is Buon Ma Thuot, it is in the central highlands of Vietnam.  This area is most famous for generating a majority of Vietnam’s coffee for export and is often dubbed Vietnam’s “capital of coffee”.  Besides the coffee plantations, Buon Ma Thuot is also situated next to a large and beautiful lake which is still shallow enough in some areas to be able to cross on elephants!  This activity is a major draw for tourists, but still not enough to make this area touristy.  This is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can actually ride elephants, and it is much more ‘rustic’ of an activity than the organized elephant tours in Thailand and other neighbouring countries. 

How to get there: You can visit Buon Ma Thuot by road from DaLat or Nha Trang.  Or, you can sign up for a motorbike tour through EasyRiders where they have itineraries that take you to Buon Ma Thuot.  

Children riding elephants crossing streams in Buon Me Thuot

Buon Ma Thuot

Vietnam off the beaten track: Culture

Chau Doc

Chau Doc is a small city in the Mekong Delta close to the Vietnam-Cambodia border.  Due to its proximity to the border, the people of this region are either Cham, Cambodian, or Vietnamese in ethnicity, and they all live together in harmony.  The Cham people who live in Chau Doc are descendants of the Muslim Cham people who were displaced from Central and South Vietnam during the war in the 18th century. This unique mix of cultures and religions gives this town a different kind of vibe.  The main draw to this town, besides the slower paced life, is the religious architecture.  A few kilometers outside of Chau Doc is Mount Sam, where they have many temples and pagodas, and around the area, you will find many mosques as well.  Chau Doc has a very close trading relationship with Cambodia so this border crossing is very convenient if you want to continue your journey westward.  An interesting way to get to Phnom Penh from Chau Doc is to take a boat along the river.  

How to get there: By road from Ho Chi Minh City is the easiest route to Chau Doc, and the drive takes 4 to 6 hours. 

Boats on Mekong river in Chau Doc Vietnam

Chau Doc

Mu Cang Chai, Mai Chau

With towns like Sapa becoming more and more touristy by the minute, Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau are great alternatives. Mu Cang Chai is a small town of 43,000 people in northwestern Vietnam is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the country, and Mai Chau is also very similar.  Many people have a romanticized view of rice terraces and open mountainous areas with farmers donning conical hats, and this is the place to see it!  Not only is it quiet and tranquil, the scenery is spectacular.  There are as many as 20 different ethnic groups, and in some areas, the Viet people are not the majority.  These different people live harmoniously with one another and live a very peaceful and self-sustaining lifestyle.  There is very little interference from modern culture and they adhere to their beliefs very strongly.  That being said, they are incredibly friendly and open with tourists.  You will find that they are also less aggressive than their counterparts near Sapa because these smaller towns have not been inundated with tourists in the way that Sapa has.    

How to get there: The easiest way to get to Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau is by road from Dien Bien Phu or from Hanoi.  It is a long drive but so worth it.  Even though it’s a long drive, the journey is much shorter to get there in comparison to the journey time to Sapa.  

Mu Cang Chai highland

Mu Cang Chai

Vietnam off the beaten track: History

Hue

Hue has played a very important role in Vietnam’s history throughout the centuries, not just recent history.  This area was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty almost 150 years just before the emperor abdicated to governmental pressures. The DMZ between North and South Vietnam is also located very close to Hue. During the war between North and South Vietnam, soldiers have built many tunnels near the DMZ. Those are very similar to Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi Tunnels are very touristy, so visiting these tunnels near Hue is a great alternative. There are many more historical sites and museums to visit in Hue. There are fewer tourists visit there than other cities in the region, like Danang and Hoi An.  If you can get past the notoriously bad weather, visiting Hue can be both an enjoyable and educational experience.   

How to get there: Hue is very accessible by road, plane or train since it is on the coast.  In order to visit the DMZ or the tunnels in the area, you will need to set up a tour or find a xe om.

"Tourist

Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu is the city that has been an important aspect of Vietnamese nationalistic pride.  During the French Indochina War, Dien Bien Phu was the site of the ultimate battle between the Viet Minh and the French Union . The battle led to the termination of French rule in Vietnam.  In fact, this battle is so famous that it has been depicted in paintings and caricatures. It also has even been featured in a movie of the same name. 

As a side note, the commander who led the Viet Minh into battle and secured this victory, General Vo Nguyen Giap. He has recently passed away and his death weighed heavily on the hearts of Vietnamese throughout the country. He played a very important part in giving Vietnam its independence. Interestingly, Dien Bien Phu was also once famous for being one of the strongest fertile areas in Vietnam at that time. The area was known for exporting rice mainly but also being at the center of opium export. You can experience some of this history first hand by visiting the bomb crater sites and museums in Dien Bien Phu. The surrounding area of this city is also breathtaking, with the hills and the greenery all around.  

How to get there: Dien Bien Phu is very close to the fringes of Vietnam and although it is accessible by road, it could be a long trip.  Fortunately, there is an airport there and you can fly in from many major cities in Vietnam and Laos.

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Vietnam off the beaten track: Beach

Quy Nhon

With beaches in Vietnam becoming more and more popular in Southeast Asia, it can be difficult finding some quiet beach time.  During high tourist season, many of the beaches in Vietnam are riddled with tourists and locals.  Although this makes for a very lively atmosphere, it is most definitely not tranquil.  Quy Nhon is the perfect alternative to busy beach areas like Nha Trang and Hoi An. The beach is relatively untouched, there are very few peddlers, and it is not very commercialized yet.  There are very few resorts and hotels there and fishing is a major industry in Quy Nhon. This city doesn’t have the kind of nightlife that Nha Trang does, but you feel like you are much more connected to the local culture.  

How to get there:  Quy Nhon is actually quite accessible by train or road. Quy Nhon locates perfectly between Nha Trang and Hoi An.  You can stop over in Quy Nhon to break up the journey!

Vietnam off the beaten track: Quy Nhon beach

quy nhon beach

Con Dao

Con Dao Island, an archipelago off the southern coast of Vietnam, is actually an old prison island.  The Con Dao Prison is a historical site and held many political prisoners during the French colonization.  Today, it is a highly sought after beach destination in Vietnam. It is one of the few places in Vietnam where you have really white sand and turquoise waters!  These islands are very seldom visited by tourists because it is both remote and expensive. Some of the resorts on the island are very expensive. However, there are a few places to stay that are easier on the wallet. Nevertheless, The Island is very untouched and considerably more ‘off the beaten track’ in comparison to other beach areas in Vietnam.  

How to get there:  The only reasonable way to get to Con Dao is by plane.  The short flight from Ho Chi Minh City adds to the appeal of Con Dao. There are only a few flights a week and operate under a smaller carrier affiliate of Vietnam Airlines.

con dao island

con dao island

 

If you like off-the-beaten-track experiences, join us on our Saigon By Night Tour, where we take you to parts of the city that are less frequently visited by tourists.  For more Vietnam Travel Tips, check back on our blog often!

How to stay safe and avoid scams in South Vietnam – Saigon, Nha Trang and Hoi An

In this, the second part of our two-part series on avoiding common tourist scams in Vietnam, we focus on popular tourist destinations in the south of the country. Saigon, Nha Trang and Hoi An all have their fair share of scams and safety hazards that travelers should be aware of. (Read Part 1 of this series HERE).

Famous for its beaches, the south has its fair share of scams to look out for

Famous for its beaches, the south has its fair share of scams to look out for

HOW TO AVOID SCAMS IN SOUTH VIETNAM – SAIGON, NHA TRANG, AND HOI AN

(Please click on the link below to jump direcly to region you want to explore)

  1. Saigon
  2. Nha Trang
  3. Hoi An

SAIGON:

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is Vietnam’s biggest, busiest, and most exciting city. In any such city there are always going to be scams and dangers to beware of.

Airport Taxi & Cyclo Scams: Read our blog post about these notorious scams in Vietnam.

**** If you would prefer to avoid dealing with taxis altogether, or if you’re arriving to Ho Chi Minh City very late and/or you have young children, we can highly recommend Drive Vietnam for the best Ho Chi Minh City airport transfers ****

Hit-and-Run ‘Cowboys’: Drive-by snatchings (including backpacks, handbags, cameras slung around your neck, and ‘smart’ technologies held loosely in your hands) are pretty common in tourist hotspots, such as Ben Thanh Market, Pham Ngu Lao (the ‘backpacker’ district), and Le Loi street. Be particularly careful when crossing roads around Ben Thanh Market and when walking on the sidewalk close to the road in Pham Ngu Lao near the park. Always wear your backpack or handbag on your front, and don’t use your smartphones and tablets in crowded public areas. Another thing to look out for, especially in Pham Ngu Lao, are the adorable ‘street kids’ who wander the backpacker area befriending tourists and selling them chewing gum amongst other things. These children should be at school and the money they receive from you will only go back to the ring of adults (usually not their parents) who control them.

Street life in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is frenetic, but watch those valuables

Street life in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is frenetic, but watch those valuables

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NHA TRANG:

Vietnam’s favorite beach party town, most of Nha Trang’s scams revolve around nightlife and the beach.

Spiked Drink Buckets: Communal drink ‘buckets’ are great fun for a group on a budget, but sometimes bartenders spike these cocktails with their own ‘medicines’, which may lead to more than just a bad hangover. There have been instances where foreigners are robbed after drinking spiked bucket cocktails. Stay clear of the buckets or, at the very least, make sure you’re leaning over the bar staff as he/she pours the liquor.

Crowded House’ Pickpockets: Being such as party town, Nha Trang has more than its fair share of crowded bars and nightclubs. Naturally, this is a pickpockets dream. Keep your wits about you: if someone grinds up against you on the dance floor it’s not necessarily a prelude to hooking up; when the dance is over you might find your wallet and smartphone are no longer in your pockets. The same goes for busy bars where customers are cramped next to each other. Keep the cash you carry to a minimum (admittedly this can be difficult if you’re planning on a big night out). It’s a good idea to invest in a cheap ‘dumb-phone’ for nights out; a standard Nokia is only $20 in Vietnam. Or, quite simply, don’t get too smashed; it’s much easier to stay alert when you haven’t had 5 mojitos, 6 beers, and 3 shots of Jägermeister.

Beach Thieves: The long, lovely stretch of Nha Trang beach is fertile ground for opportunist robbers: a bag or phone left unattended for a couple of minutes while the owner paddles in the surf could be gone in seconds. As with nights out on the town, only take what you need to the beach. Also, drive-by bag snatchers can whip the bag off your back before you realize what’s happening, especially on the seafront road and the backpacker streets. Always wear your bag or camera on your front while in these areas.

Local Voyeurs: Young Vietnamese men have been known to take photos and videos of young foreign women in bikinis on Nha Trang’s municipal beach. Shooting from the beachside park, these people are not very subtle about it. There’s not much you can do other than ignore it, and it’s probably best not to sunbath topless, which is illegal anyway.

Long Son Pagoda: Don’t be fooled into a fake tour around this Buddhist complex by children with printed cards claiming to be guides working for the monks. After they’ve shown you around they’ll insist on a ‘donation’ for the monks or that you buy overpriced postcards from them. Say ‘no’ firmly and, if they persist, state clearly that you will not give them any money.

Nha Trang's beach is long and lovely, but beware of thieves

Nha Trang’s beach is long and lovely, but beware of thieves

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HOI AN

Thankfully, Hoi An is one of the safest tourist destinations in Vietnam. However, there are a couple of minor scams and inconveniences to look out for.

Tailors: Perhaps the thing for tourists to do in Hoi An is to get tailor-made clothes from one of the hundreds of fine tailors here. Prices vary from high-end to budget, but in general you will get what you pay for: if you go cheap there’s more chance of the fit not being quite right, the material being substandard, and the stitching coming apart as soon as you get back home to your country. Do your research and shop around before deciding where to go. (See this previous XO blog for more details)

Manicure scam: A common scam, run by very forceful ladies lurking in the old town, is to offer manicures and other beauty treatments for a dollar or two, only to demand far more once the job is done. Simple solution; do not get beauty treatment on the streets of Hoi An.

Thefts & Hassle: Hoi An may be a small place but it’s hugely popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The narrow old streets can get very crowded during peak months and public holidays. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching can be a problem at crowded places, particularly around the Japanese Bridge and riverfront during the full moon lantern festivities. Don’t carry too much cash or valuables, such as gadgets, on your person, and wear your bags and backpacks on your front. General hassle to buy things and book onto tours is fairly persistent, but strong-arm tactics are rare in Hoi An.

Floating lanterns for sale in Hoi An, one of the safest destinations in Vietnam

Floating lanterns for sale in Hoi An, one of the safest destinations in Vietnam

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FINAL WORD:

Don’t let this list of scams scare you: Vietnam is an extremely safe place to travel, and its people are overwhelmingly hospitable, friendly and honest. Keep an open mind and if or when a scam occurs try to stay calm and put the relative loss of money or inconvenience into perspective. Remember that tourist scams mostly occur in tourist areas; the best way to avoid scams altogether is to get off the beaten path (see this previous XO blog for more details)

We hope you found this Vietnam blog post and our Vietnam Travel Tips useful. If you’re ever in Ho Chi Minh City and you want to see parts of the city that most visitors never get to see, you should consider booking either our “Saigon by Night” or extremely popular “Foodie” tour.

Why choose XO?

*1st motorbike food tour in Vietnam and still the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam. Voted 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine. Listed in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Fodors.
*1st motorbike tour with all female drivers, providing Vietnamese women with previously unafforded opportunities to work in tourism
* 1st motorbike tour in Vietnam to provide accident insurance for all guests
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam with security/support staff following every tour
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam to provide free tour photos to every guest

 

How to stay safe and avoid scams in North Vietnam – Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa

Generally, Vietnam is a very safe country in which to travel. Compared to most major tourist cities in the West – Paris, London, New York, Rome – the streets of Vietnam’s urban centers are much less threatening. However, in some of the more popular tourist destinations in Vietnam, there are a handful of tourist scams and safety hazards that all travelers should be aware of. In this XO blog – the first in a two-part series – we describe some common scams in North Vietnam – especially in  Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Sapa. This guide to avoiding common tourist scams will help you get the most out of this fabulous country and avoid any negative experiences. (Read Part 2 of this series HERE).

Even at night, Hanoi is safer and has fewer scams than most cities in the West

Even at night, Hanoi is safer and has fewer scams than most cities in the West

 

HOW TO AVOID SCAMS IN NORTH VIETNAM – HANOI, HALONG BAY AND SAPA

(Please click on the link below to jump direcly to region you want to explore)

  1. Hanoi
  2. Halong Bay
  3. Sapa

HANOI:

Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, is one of the busiest and most beguiling cities in Southeast Asia. But, as tourist numbers have risen steadily, so too have tourist scams.

Airport Taxi Scam: Many visitors emerge from Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport dazed after a long-haul flight. Scam taxis take advantage of this by picking up passengers at the airport arrivals gate and immediately saying that the hotel they’ve booked has closed down. They will then offer to take you to another, better, cheaper hotel. Inevitably, this turns out to be a substandard and much more expensive hotel. Bewildered and weary, travelers give in to the demands and check-in. Naturally, the taxi drivers get a cut of the room charge. The solution is either to prearrange your airport pick up through your hotel when you book it, or, at the airport arrivals, look out for the official airport taxi drivers (who wear bright yellow jackets). Alternatively, make sure you flag down a trusted taxi company such as Mai Linh, ABC, or Taxi Group. Note: We covered other common taxi scams in Ho Chi Minh and other southern cities in another post.

Fruit Seller Scam: Notorious in recent years, this scam involves local fruit sellers, who struggle along Hanoi’s streets carrying bamboo poles laden with tropical fruit over their backs. The fruit sellers offer tourists a ‘go’ at carrying the bamboo pole, presenting it as a good photo opportunity. When the tourist hands the pole back to the fruit seller they demand money for the ‘service’ or insist that you buy their outrageously overpriced fruit as compensation. Don’t pick up that pole! This common scam can also be found in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hotel Currency Rates: Some budget hotels in Hanoi have been known to swindle customers by switching the room price from dollars to dong, and massively inflating the exchange rate. They may also say that the rate quoted was per person, not per room. Double check when you book, and keep any email confirmation you receive as evidence. Hotels may also charge guests for any preexisting breakages in the rooms. If anything is broken when you arrive notify reception immediately so that they cannot claim you were responsible.

Hoan Kiem Hospitality: A walk around Hoan Kiem Lake is a favorite activity for tourists and locals alike. Young men and women will approach you to practice their English and ‘make friends’. While this is often a genuine attempt to establish friendly contact – I have good friends made exactly like this – it can sometimes lead to invitations to expensive meals or day outings, for which you will be given the bill. Use your ‘travelers’ radar’ to assess whether contact is genuine or not.

A man looking into the air at Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular meeting place in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular meeting place in Hanoi

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HALONG BAY:

Famed for its mystical limestone karsts rising from the sea, Halong Bay is a captivating sight. But, these days, it can get pretty darn crowded with boat tours. Before you visit you should take note of a few things.

Tours & Cruises: A day cruise (and usually a night too) around Halong Bay is one of the most popular tours in all Vietnam. Tourists often book all-inclusive tours from Hanoi. These vary wildly in price and quality. Travellers who book onto the cheaper ones are often disappointed: bad food, terrible accommodation, sloppy service. More importantly, your major concern should be safety. Vietnam has a poor maritime safety record and there have been incidents in recent years in Halong Bay, including sunken tourist boats and on-board fires, which have led to tourist deaths. Our advice is to spend more on your tour, and thoroughly check its credentials before you book. Not only will this ensure better quality, it will also mean better safety standards. An all-inclusive tour to Halong Bay from Hanoi should be around $100-150, anything less and you run the risk of disappointment. Another point to be aware of is that boat tours are often cancelled due to bad weather, especially during the monsoon months from July to September. Good tour companies will reimburse you, but many of the cheaper ones do not. Make sure you understand the policy of your tour clearly.

On-board Theft: Unsurprisingly, there are reports of belongings and valuables being stolen on-board some of the cheaper tour boats. Take care not to leave your valuables unattended. At night, tour boats should have lockers available to passengers so that you can sleep easy knowing that your possessions are safe.

Floating Restaurants: There are hundreds of floating restaurants in Halong Bay, where fresh, reasonably priced seafood is available. However, these restaurants represent the most captive market in Vietnam; with water on all sides, where are you going to run if your hosts decide to overcharge you? Establish in advance (before you’ve made the voyage there) the cost of meals, and whether drinks and the return boat fare are included in the price. The restaurants in Ben Beo, off Cat Ba Island, are said to be better and less touristy than others. A boat out and back should be around 150,000 vnđ, but don’t pay your fee before the return journey to dry land is complete, otherwise, you might find yourself stranded at sea.

Mountain and sky scenery at Ha Long Bay

Halong Bay’s limestone karst landscape draws huge crowds of visitors

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SAPA:

A mountain town surrounded by towering peaks and plunging valleys, unfortunately, Sapa’s natural beauty is undermined by the constant hassle to buy trinkets and book onto tours, as well as the odd tourist scam.

Bogus Hotel Bookings: Such is Sapa’s tourist boom that, in recent years, hotels struggle to serve the hundreds (even thousands) of foreign and domestic travellers they receive on any one night, especially on weekends and public holidays. Even if you have booked your room months in advance, you may still find there are ‘no vacancies’ when you arrive. Check the reputation of your chosen hotel before you book, and, if you’ve booked in advance, reconfirm your booking before your arrival. One of the best things about staying in Sapa is having a spectacular view of the mountains from your hotel balcony. When you make your booking check and check again that you will have a clear mountain view, and, as always, keep the email confirmation from the hotel. Many travelers arrive in Sapa only to find that their mountain view is no more than an air conditioning unit and a bare brick wall.

Train Station Pick Up: Don’t accept a ride to Sapa from Lai Cao train station from anyone except your pre-booked hotel or tour agent. If you don’t have prearranged transportation take a taxi ($25) or one of the reliable minibuses that wait outside the station (50,000vnđ).

A Helping Hand? A quiet walk around Sapa town or the surrounding countryside is now almost impossible. At each turn tourists are met with shouts of ‘You buy something?’ or ‘I take you go for beautiful walk’. The hassle is constant and out of control. Many tourists come to Sapa specifically to visit ethnic minorities who live in the nearby mountains. It may be difficult, but you should ignore approaches from friendly young minority girls telling you their life story and offering you a free guided walk to their village. Inevitably, these ‘free’ guides will demand, beg, and even cry for money once you arrive at their village. Don’t make payment for a service you did not ask for or in order to get the girls to leave you alone, as this only sets a precedent – these young girls’ time would be better spent in school, but, at the moment, it is simply more lucrative for them to prowl the streets of Sapa for the tourist buck. All this leaves travelers in a quandary: what’s real, what’s fake? Is hospitality genuine of just a ruse to a scam? Contact Sapa O’Chau (www.sapaochau.org) for more information about the situation and for tours with genuine local guides.

Mountain view from a Sapa hotel balcony

Mountain view from a Sapa hotel balcony; make sure you get yours

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We hope you found this blog post, and our Vietnam Travel Tips useful. The 2nd part of our Vietnam scams and safety article, focusing on Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Nha Trang, can be found HERE.

This blog is sponsored by XO Tours – Vietnam motorbike tours; offering the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam for 8 years running!

Why choose XO?

*1st motorbike food tour in Vietnam and still most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam. Voted 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine. Listed in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Fodors.
*1st motorbike tour with all female drivers, providing Vietnamese women with previously unafforded opportunities to work in tourism
* 1st motorbike tour in Vietnam to provide accident insurance for all guests
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam with security/support staff following every tour
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam to provide free tour photos to every guest

 

 

The Best Day Trips from Hanoi

Hanoi sits on a bend in the Red River. To the south and east lies the watery world of the Red River Delta, where farms and villages continue as they have done for millennia: producing crops and crafts to supply the capital. To the north and west, the Red River Valley extends all the way to China. Here, mountains rise from the floodplains of the great river, forming deep ravines surrounded by misty peaks and forests. The Red River Valley and Delta is also the historical, mythological and spiritual heartland of Vietnam. It was here that the country’s first great kings ruled; its first citadels constructed, and military triumphs gained. As such, the area is strewn with temples, pagodas and shrines. In short, the best day trips (half-day too) from Hanoi offer plenty of things to do around this amazing city! You should include it in your Vietnam tour.

In this XO Tours Blog, we outline the best day trips from Vietnam’s capital. If you’re looking to travel to Saigon, you should take a look at the best day trips around Ho Chi Minh City.

Beware! XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi. If you book with a tour operator in Hanoi that claims to be XO Tours, you have been defrauded!

 

day trips from Hanoi

 

Day trips from Hanoi:

In general, all of the day trips listed here can be easily organized through reputable Hanoi travel agents. Because there are so many great sights within reach of Hanoi, we’ve arranged them into three groups according to different categories. Click on a category below to read more about the day trips in that group:

 


 

PAGODAS, TEMPLES & HISTORY:

 

Thay & Tay Phuong Pagodas:

A mere 30 minutes west of Hanoi, these two pagodas are rich in embellishments and set in surprisingly (given their proximity to downtown Hanoi) serene locations. Built around craggy hillocks, these pagoda complexes offer lots of atmospheric chambers, anterooms, ponds and courtyards. Papier-mâché and jackfruit wood figurines populate the prayer halls, some of which date from the 16th century. Thay Pagoda has founded nearly a thousand years ago, and there’s a suitable sense of time and history here, especially since there are very few tourists compared to other historical sites. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ba Vi National Park (see below) Time: a few hours

Thay Pagoda, Hanoi Day Trips, Vietnam

Thay Pagoda, Hanoi Day Trips, Vietnam

 

Perfume Pagoda:

Long considered the Hanoi day trip, the Perfume Pagoda is a mystical journey southwest of the capital: by road at first, then by boat through a limestone valley, and finally by foot up the long stairway to the sacred grottoes housing temples and shrines. In many ways, this is the perfect day trip: a mixture of natural beauty, history, culture and architecture. But over the years it has become increasingly busy with domestic and foreign tourists and pilgrims. The crowds can’t detract from the natural beauty of the area, but the litter, trinket selling and constant hassle, can make it feel like a bit of a circus, and certainly detracts from the spirituality of the occasion. Travel tips: book onto an all in one tour from Hanoi so that you won’t have to deal with the queues and hard bargaining once you arrive. Time: half or full day trip.

Perfume Pagoda, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Perfume Pagoda, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital:

Strategically located in a forest of limestone hillocks, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam from 968-1009AD. The physical setting is very pretty indeed, with rivers and moats bisecting dozens of limestone ‘molehills’. Most of the original structures have vanished, but several temples dating from the 16th century still stand. These buildings are dedicated to the worship of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, both of whom ruled from Hoa Lu. The temples are dark and atmospheric, but the best place to view Hoa Lu is from the hilltop where Dinh Tien Hoang’s tomb is located: from here there are superb views of the site and surrounding countryside. Travel tips: combine with other sights in the area, such as Bai Dinh Pagoda (see below). Time: a full day trip (if combined with nearby sights).

Hoa Lu Citadel, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Hoa Lu Citadel

 

Bai Dinh Pagoda:

Just a few minutes’ drive from Hoa Lu, Bai Dinh Pagoda is an enormous complex of brand new religious buildings. Although built on the site of an old temple, Bai Dinh was constructed between 2003 and 2010. The scale alone is reason enough to visit. But there’s also artistry and finery in the smaller details of this gigantic, modern monument to Buddhism. For example, of the 500 statues lining the initial courtyard, each one has been individually designed, and there are a beautiful symmetry and rhythm to the general layout of the complex, which stretches across 700 hectares. As far as scale, awe, pomp and ceremony are concerned, there’s nothing else quite like it in Vietnam. However, Bai Dinh Pagoda has quickly become popular with domestic tourists, so expect crowds and a certain theme-park atmosphere. Travel tips: combine with other sights in the area, such as Trang An boat rides (see below). Time: a full day trip (if combined with nearby sites).

Bai Dinh Pagoda, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Bai Dinh Pagoda

 

Ho Ancient Citadel:

The most southerly of all the sights in this list, it’s worth the extra mileage to visit Ho Citadel, especially if you’re a history buff. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011, the citadel’s imposing walls and wide enclosure date from the late 14th century. Only recently beginning to attract tourists, the old gates and walls of Ho Citadel are surrounded by a fertile, rural landscape typical of the Red River Delta region. The remains of this royal enclosure are impressive and extensive. But another appealing aspect of this historical site is that farming and rural life continues inside the ancient compound. Travel tips: combine with the Ho Chi Minh Road (see below) for a scenic drive to and from the citadel. Time: a full day trip, including travel time.

Ho Citadel, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Ho Citadel

 

Phat Diem Cathedral:

Visited by Graham Greene in 1951 and featured in his novel, The Quiet American, Phat Diem Cathedral is an architectural mélange of Christian, European and Asian elements. The result is an enchanting, East-meets-West version of a cathedral. The curved, tiled rooftops, stone nave, and wooden pillars of this 1891 church are very exotic. The cathedral serves the large Catholic population in the area, which has been exposed to Christianity for almost four centuries, since the arrival of Portuguese missionaries. Travel tips: combine with nearby attractions, such as Tam Coc boat trips (see below). Time: a full day trip (if combined with nearby sights).

Phat Diem Cathedral, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Phat Diem Cathedral

 

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NATURE, NATIONAL PARKS & OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

 

Ba Vi National Park:

A former French colonial hill station, the forested slopes of Ba Vi Mountain rise to the west of Hanoi. Roughly 70km from the capital, this national park is an easily accessible slice of nature: a dose of greenery, birdsong, and clean air just a couple of hours’ drive from Hanoi. A road leads almost to the summit, where there are excellent views over the Red River Valley and back towards to the urban sprawl of the capital. Hiking, bird watching, and waterfalls are all on offer. Travel tips: combine with Thay and Tay Phoung Pagodas (see above). Time: half a day.

Ba Vi National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Ba Vi National Park

 

Tam Dao Hill Station:         

Yet another French colonial hill station nestling in the mountains northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao is larger, greener and wilder than Ba Vi. Three main peaks rise out of the mists to form tam đảo (‘three islands’). The area is a national park, with many varieties of flora and fauna on its jungled slopes. Tam Dao town itself is a tourist trap, but from here there are hikes to bamboo forests, waterfalls and orchid gardens. At almost 1,000m above sea-level, temperatures here are noticeably cooler than Hanoi, which is particularly appealing if you’re visiting during the hot and humid summer months. Travel tips: avoid weekends, when Hanoians flock here in great numbers. Time: a full day trip.

Tam Dao National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Tam Dao National Park

 

Mai Chau Valley:

Although most visitors will want to spend more than a day in this green valley, if you’re pushed for time it’s possible to get to Mai Chau and back in one day. Improved road connections from Hanoi mean that the verdant valleys, terraced hillsides and minority villages of Mai Chau are more easily reached from the capital than ever before. They’ll be a lot of time spent in the car, but it’s a fascinating journey and by lunchtime you’ll be in the green embrace of one of Vietnam’s prettiest valleys. Relax in a wooden stilt home belonging to a White Thai minority family and dine on superb home-cooked food while looking out over a sea of rice paddies, before taking a gentle trek through the valley. Travel tips: start as early as possible to make the most of the day. Time: a full day trip.

Mai Chau, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Mai Chau

 

The Ho Chi Minh Road to Cuc Phuong National Park:

One of Vietnam’s longest and most scenic highways, the Ho Chi Minh Road starts just an hour west of Hanoi. From here, follow it south through a memorable landscape of limestone outcrops broken by blue rivers and dotted with small agricultural towns. In a day, it’s possible to reach as far south as Cuc Phuong National Park where, weather permitting, you can swim in the river before heading back to Hanoi. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ho Citadel (see above). Time: a full day trip.

Ho Chi Minh Road at Cuc Phuong National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Cuc Phuong National Park

 

Trang An & Tam Coc Boat Rides:

Trang An and Tam Coc both offer boat rides through a beguiling landscape of limestone caves and pillars, creating a natural maze which can only be negotiated via narrow waterways, channels and canals. The wooden canoes are piloted by Vietnamese women, many of whom steer the boats using their feet to operate the oars. The scenery is incredible: it’s everything you wanted exotic Southeast Asia to be. But be warned that both Trang An and Tam Coc are firmly on the domestic and international tourist radar and as such can become very busy. Try to go early in the morning or after midday when the crowds tend to lessen. Travel tips: combine with nearby attractions, such as Bai Dinh Pagoda (see above). Time: a full day trip.

Tam Coc & Trang An boat rides, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Tam Coc and Trang An

 

Bac Son Valley:

A fair drive north-east of the capital, Bac Son is emerging as an alternative destination to Ninh Binh. Bac Son Valley is a corridor of bright rice paddy along a gently meandering river, towered over by majestic limestone pinnacles: a landscape worthy of Lord of the Rings. However, unlike Ninh Binh, mass tourism has yet to arrive at Bac Son, which means there’s far more sense of adventure when visiting this region. There’s not much in the way of tourist infrastructure yet, so driving the loop around the pretty valley and stopping for lunch in Bac Son town is likely to be you’re only itinerary option. Travel tips: it’s a long way, so start early in the day. Time: a full day trip.

Bac Son Valley, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Bac Son Valley

 

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CRAFT VILLAGES:

 

Bat Trang Ceramics Village:

Of all the craft villages surrounding Hanoi, Bat Trang is probably the most famous, the easiest to get to and, therefore, the most-visited. Bat Trang is known for its ceramics: bowls, plates, tiles, and pottery of all shapes and sizes. Not 15km from central Hanoi, the narrow, winding lanes of Bat Trang village feel like a medieval suburb, still fueled by the industry that has kept its inhabitants busy for centuries. The famous blue and white ceramics are on sale throughout town, but to see some of the actual work taking place, wander down some of the smaller, back-alleys, where you’ll find coal and gas-fired kilns. Just a short jaunt east across the Red River, Bat Trang can be visited by bicycle or even on foot from central Hanoi. Travel tips: combine with other sights close to Hanoi, such as Thay Pagoda (see above). Time: a couple of hours.

Bat Trang ceramics village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Bat Trang ceramics village

 

Van Phuc Silk Village:

Just 10km southwest of Hanoi, Van Phuc is known for its silk production. With a long and proud tradition of producing some of the finest textiles in the country, you’ll find material for tailor-made clothing as well as off-the-peg outfits, both of which are cheaper here than in central Hanoi. There are many workshops in the area – the sound of electric looms is deafening – and no one seems to mind if you wander around them. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ba Vi National Park (see above). Time: one hour.

Van Phuc silk village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Van Phuc silk village

 

Duong Lam Ancient Village:

About 50km west of Hanoi, Duong Lam is a preserved and restored traditional village. Although many of its buildings are new, a good portion of older buildings (some as old as 300 years) still remain. It’s a very atmospheric place to walk around, and local villagers (many of whom appear to be octogenarians) are particularly friendly and keen to chat. The traditional architecture is beautiful: large stone courtyards, village gates, tiled porches, and local shrines. Travel tips: combine with a trip Thay Pagoda and Ba Vi National Park (see above). Time: half a day.

Duong Lam village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

Duong Lam village

 

We hope this guide helps you in planning your trip to Hanoi and the surrounding areas. XO Tours currently does not offer any tours up North. However, if your trip includes a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, we would love to have you on one of our 4 acclaimed Ho Chi Minh City tours.

Why choose XO Tours?

*1st motorbike food tour in Vietnam and still the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam. Voted 1 of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine. Listed in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Fodors.
*1st motorbike tour with all female drivers, providing Vietnamese women with previously unafforded opportunities to work in tourism
* 1st motorbike tour in Vietnam to provide accident insurance for all guests
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam with security/support staff following every tour
* 1st tour operator in Vietnam to provide free tour photos to every guest
* We hire and train professional tour guides with international tour guide licenses.
* We compete on quality and service, not price.

To learn more about all our fun tours in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, please visit our website at:

https://xotours.vn/

How to get around Ho Chi Minh City on the cheap!

get around Ho Chi Minh city

How to get around Ho Chi Minh city on the cheap

For travellers, Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) can seem very centralized because not only are most of the tourist attractions around District 1, the center of the city, but this district is also quite compact.  However, with 24 districts, the city is actually very spread out and some of the other districts are more than twice the size of District 1.  Though District 1 has a lot to offer in terms of culture, sights and activities, there is a lot more to experience outside of the city.  Getting to the other parts of the Ho Chi Minh City may seem challenging, but there are a number of public transportation options available to you, especially if you want to get around Ho Chi Minh city efficiently and in a cost-effective manner.

How to get around Ho Chi Minh City on the cheap

1. Xe Om 

The Xe Om (the local name for a motorbike taxi) is one of the most efficient modes of transport within the city. It may seem unsafe initially but most Xe Om drivers are courteous and are willing to take you wherever you want to go. Of course it is entirely possible that their driving style may be rough, but you can always tell them to slow down or be more careful. If you feel completely horrified, you can simply cut the ride short and hop off!  Keep in mind though that traffic is intense in Ho Chi Minh City and a certain level of agility and aggressiveness is required to drive in the city. The prices are usually reasonable, around the range of 20,000-40,000 VND for shorter trips. Trips from D1 to the farther districts like D2 or D7 is roughly 70,000VND.   It is best to take a Xe Om within the more central districts such as 1, 3, 2, 7, 4, or 5.  Any farther, and the trip can be draining and more dangerous due to highway driving.

Xe Om drivers may not advertise themselves clearly, but they are very easy to spot.  On any given street corner, you are bound to see one or two men sleeping on their motorbikes – they aren’t just lounging in the sun for fun!  They are in fact waiting for someone to tap them on their shoulder and ask for a ride.  Near touristy parts of town like around Ben Thanh Market, many drivers will call out to you but be careful of the price that they offer as it can be marked up significantly.  Make sure to bargain the price down if you feel that their price is unreasonable.

Xe om in ho chi minh city

He is eagerly waiting for his next customer… 🙂

 


2. Public Bus 

The public bus system is incredibly developed and vast in Ho Chi Minh City.  There are over 100 different bus lines and routes, many of which serve the districts and tourist locations that are far from the centre of the city.  The public bus is also incredibly cheap, where a single ride fare starts at 5000VND.  As a tourist, taking the bus within the city can be arduous.  Having to wait for the bus in the heat, and sometimes rain can be draining, especially when you can get around more quickly on a Xe Om, Taxi, or even walking.  Getting to the farther destinations is a situation in which the public bus is handy.  Taking the public bus is usually more appealing to the adventurous travellers, but given that Vietnamese people are usually friendly and helpful, we urge you to give it a try!  It may be easier than you think. 

To and from the airport, bus no. 152 is very convenient.  We have explained the Bus no. 152 before in our taxi scams blog, since many people fall prey to taxi scams en route to the airport and back, making this airport bus a great alternative.  Bus no. 13 is another great route, which takes you to Cu Chi tunnels.  As we previously mentioned on our best day trips from Saigon article, many tour buses go to Cu Chi, but Cu Chi Tunnels offers free tour guides on site so you can take the public bus there and still have a similar experience as compared to an organized tour.  If you are headed to the Suoi Tien Amusement Park, you can take Bus no. 19, which leaves from Ben Thanh market and stops at the amusement park on its way to a national university.  It is about a 45-minute ride, which is only a little bit longer than the car ride there.  Dam Sen Water Park is also a popular tourist attraction, and Bus no. 11 goes directly from Ben Thanh market to the water park.  In general, Ben Thanh market and Cho Lon are big bus hubs and it is quite convenient to get around if you can get to either market.  The main Saigon Bus website also has a Google Maps based interactive guide to show you all the stops within each route.  And, here is a complete, yet overwhelming, map of all the bus routes in Ho Chi Minh City.  

More information on the city bus – Ho Chi Minh city Management and Operation Center for Public Transport

If you are looking for some day trips from Ho Chi Minh. UNESCO Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere is probably the best trip to go by bus.

buses are one of the many ways to get around Ho Chi Minh City

A typical bus depot.

 


3. Grab and Taxis 

Uber is no longer operating in Vietnam after they merge with Grab in South East Asia  

In 2014, Grab launched in Ho Chi Minh City, bringing a new type of transportation to Vietnam.

For those who are unfamiliar with Grab, it is an online app that has changed the game for taxi services around the world.  Basically, you download the Grab app, get tuned in to cars and drivers in the area on a real-time map.  You put in your pickup location and destination, and the closest driver comes to pick you up!  The whole ride is tracked on GPS. You can use either cash or credit card to pay for your ride and best of all, you could know how much you have to pay before using the service. The use of this modern technology for taxi rides is also making it difficult for taxi drivers to scam tourists, which has been a major issue in this city for a long time.

To Grab’s advantage, Google Maps is well developed and fairly accurate in Ho Chi Minh City.  The ability to pinpoint your start and end locations into Grab is incredibly useful for tourists since communication between taxi drivers who do not understand English can be an issue. And, for women especially travelling alone late at night, Grab is a much safer option.  Right now, riding with Grab is cheaper than taking a taxi (except on the rush hour).  For instance, a ride from District 1 to District 2 or 7 is around 100,000VND, and from District 1 to Tan Binh District is roughly 50,000VND.  If you are a tourist here, take a look at our blog on cell phones to set yourself up with a local  Vietnam SIM card and 3G here.  Download the Grab app (available for iOS, Android), add your credit card (optional), map your location and go!

Download the Grab App on iPhone | Android

The Grab interface

The Grab interface

Grab is now offering at Ho Chi Minh City | Ha Noi | Da Nang | Quang Ninh | Khanh Hoa


4. Saigon Metro (under construction!) 

In 2001, the idea of developing the Ho Chi Minh City Metro was first proposed with 6 different lines covering the greater Ho Chi Minh City area.  Construction for line 1 started in 2008 and for line 2 in 2010.  The first line is said to be finished in early 2020, so only a few more years until we can ride the metro in Saigon!  Although it is still a ways away, the construction is affecting tourism in the city.  Specifically, construction for the District 1 portions of the metro started in July 2017.  As a result, large parts of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue are blocked off and traffic has become much more fierce in parts of District 1.  Nevertheless, it’s an exciting time to be in Ho Chi Minh City now as many big changes are on the horizon.  


5. Hop on-Hop off City Tour Bus

Hop on-Hop off is one of the very popular bus services operated in many famous cites around the world such as New York, London, Rome, Singapore, Bangkok…. In 2015, Hop on-Hop off bus was launched in Vietnam providing a new transportation for tourists to get around Ho Chi Minh City.

For Ho Chi Minh City, the Line 1 Ho Chi Minh City Bus Tour will stop at 9 famous tourist attractions and historical monuments of the city. You can start your trip from any Hop on-Hop off bus stop, or at the starting stop at 23/9 park. They will provide you with the most modern buses with air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Moreover, while sitting on the bus, you are also provided automatic audio guides (headphone) in English, French, Chinese, Indonesian, German, Russian, Bahasa and Vietnamese. When your bus is about to arrive at each stop, the audio guide will start telling you about this stop briefly so that you can decide to get off the bus and visit this site or continue to the next point.

The advantage of this bus service is that the ticket you buy could be used without limitation for 24 hours. This means that you can manage the plan for your city tour by yourself. You can stay at the tourist attraction as long as you want and then catch the next bus right from where you are.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Hop on-Hop off buses operate daily from 8:00 am to 5:30 am. The buses will wait at every stop from 5 to 10 minutes to drop-off and pick-up new passengers. There is always a new bus arriving at each stop every 30 minutes. The price for one adult is VND 330.000 or around USD 15 and for one kid (age 2-12) is VND 270.000 or around USD 12.

Hop on-Hop off bus in Ho Chi Minh City

Hop on-Hop off bus in Ho Chi Minh City

For more information about Hop on-Hop off bus please visit The Line 1 Ho Chi Minh City Bus Tour and have a good day to get around Ho Chi Minh City.


At XO Tours, we strongly believe that there is a lot more to this city than just District 1.  We would love to have you join us on our Foodie Tour, which is the best way to see many different districts besides District 1 and eat great street food along the way.  For more Vietnam Travel Tips, check back on our Blog regularly.