I first heard the phrase ‘book it list’ a couple of years ago, and have to say, I whole-heartedly agree with its intentions. Before arriving in Hanoi, I compiled a Vietnam travel bucket list, and despite frequently ticking incredible places off it, this list of mine is speedily increasing in size. I love scrolling through insta (you can follow me here), reading blogs and perusing travel guides gaining inspiration for booking weekends and longer trips away in this beautiful country. Currently I’m in a very fortunate position meaning I can just ‘book it’ fairly frequently, but whether you’re living in Vietnam and looking for a couple of days away or planning a long tour of the country, here are some suggestions for where you might want to head.
So in no particular order, here is my Vietnam bucket list:
1. Ninh Binh
An easy day trip from Hanoi, Ninh Binh is known as ‘the inland Halong Bay’ thanks to its beautiful limestone cliffs jutting out of rivers. Moped around the paddies or climb up to the top of the Mua Cave for incredible views of layers upon layers of cliffs and forest. For what it’s worth, I was more in awe of the scenery in Ninh Binh than I was in Halong, though I’d recommend the two!
This was my first trip out of Hanoi, just a couple of weeks after arriving.
2. Sapa & Fansipan
Trek around the stepped rice paddies in Sapa or even climb (or cable car for an easy option) up Fansipan Mountain, Vietnam’s tallest, standing at just over 3000m above sea level. The views (if you can avoid the mist) are sure to be spectacular.
3. Halong Bay
You’ve no doubt seen photos of World Heritage Site Halong Bay before. This scattering of islets and rock formations is a wonderful backdrop to a cruise. There are dozens, if not hundreds, to choose from, but most will involve a peaceful kayak and a swim in the Gulf of Tonkin.
4. Ha Giang Loop
Head to northern Vietnam, hire a motorbike and hit the road! Tour around the winding roads, up and down limestone and granite mountains, for 4 or 5 days, taking in some of the most incredible scenery and ethnic diversity in the country.
5. Cao Bang’s waterfalls
Ban Gioc – the collective name for the falls on the Quay Son river – are found in Cao Bang, right on the border of China and Vietnam. Rugged landscapes surround the falls and it looks absolutely beautiful.
Idea: do a longer Ha Giang loop (more like 8 days) and incorporate Cao Bang into this.
6. Hoi An
Known for its colourful lanterns, Hoi An is a delightful town which, having now been 3 times, offers a peace and calm you won’t find in Hanoi’s larger cities. Yes there’s the lanterns floating down the river at night, but there’s so much more too: sunbathe at An Bang beach, dive at the nearby Cham Islands, cycle through the paddy fields, shop at the tailors, kayak round the town or take a day trip out to the My Son Hindu Sanctuary. Having only done a few of those so far, I know I’ll be back.
7. Quy Nhon
Quy Nhon goes unnoticed by most tourists, and I’m not sure why! From what I’ve seen and read, this town seems to be set in the midst of unspoiled countryside and pristine beaches (not yet ruined by constant tourism). I’m planning my next beach break here already.
8. Mui Ne
Yet another beach to add to the list, Mui Ne (~200km from HCMC) offers something extra: sand dunes. Head to either the Red or White dunes and you can sand sled or quad bike round Vietnam’s answer to a desert. It’s also a popular destination for windsurfing and sailing thanks to the wind conditions.
9. Phu Quoc
Closer to Cambodia than Vietnam, Phu Quoc is actually a Vietnamese island known for its white, sandy beaches and sunshine. Clear waters make it a great spot for snorkelling but you can also watch incredible sunsets from Long Beach or Ong Lang Beach, trek through the Phu Quoc National Park jungle, shop at the Duong Dong markets or take the world’s longest cable car across to Hon Thom (Pineapple Island) over the serene Gulf of Thailand.
10. Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha is the largest known cave in the world and is located in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, home to the oldest karst mountains in Asia. This cave complex is huge (~31km), providing opportunities to boat inside, swim in the underground river, walk down into large spaces full of stalagmites and stalactites. Must be magical.
11. Scuba diving in Nha Trang
Nha Trang, the scuba diving capital of Vietnam, lies in the south of the country. The warm, clear waters offer good conditions for developing skills in diving. As something on my list to try, I think I might dive head first into Nha Trang (sorry) and check out what the city has to offer at the same time.
12. Hai Van Pass
The coastal route between Hue to Danang and Hoi An is often part of a visitor’s itinerary when heading to Vietnam, and for good reason, I hear! This mountain pass offers panoramic views of the bay below, and the winding roads also lead you past war-time bunkers. Often completed by motorbike to allow you to see the views out in the open (and also stop easily and quickly for the numerous photo opps), you can also do the pass in a car or minibus by booking at any of the cities above.
Have you ever been to any of these places, or would you recommend somewhere else in this beautiful country?
I’d love to know! Comment below!
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