Looking for tour “Discover authentic Vietnam”? Do you want to escape the destinations too often recommended by travel guides and see another side of the hinterland? Or maybe you want to opt for responsible tourism by focusing on emerging destinations and small local communities?
Whatever your motivation, there are always ways to venture off the beaten track in Vietnam. Discover our suggestions of destinations, sites, activities and itineraries to explore Vietnam as it is.
Authentic Vietnam & hidden gems
While Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh and Sapa are must-sees for any first-time traveller to Vietnam, sometimes it’s nice to avoid the crowds and discover the more authentic destinations in the hinterland.
From little-known market towns to less accessible mountainous regions, from rural provinces with few visitors to booming eco-tourism spots, here are the top 20 off-the-beaten-track destinations in Vietnam.
Home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao, Tay and Giay, Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northernmost province and also one of the poorest and most isolated in the country. It is known for its mountain roads that wind through a verdant landscape and open up to incredible views, especially in the rugged geological site of the Dong Van karst plateau and the little-known rice terraces of Hoang Su Phi.
A trip to Ha Giang therefore takes you to the most beautiful mountain scenery in Vietnam’s best off-the-beaten track destination. On the whole, Ha Giang has not yet been reached by mass tourism, making a trip to Ha Giang an authentic experience. Stay with a host family to learn the local culture and enjoy the most enchanting landscapes that Vietnam has to offer.
Y Ty (Lao Cai)
Located in the remote district of Bat Xat, close to the border with China, Y Ty is a good alternative to Sapa which has become too touristy. Y Ty is therefore an ideal destination for those who really want to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Perched at an altitude of almost 2000m, and accessible by a small mountain road, the Y Ty valley remains undeveloped and unknown for the moment, and therefore little frequented by tourists. However, the region offers picturesque landscapes, magnificent rice terraces, idyllic hamlets and crystal clear waterfalls, as well as splendid panoramas, notably of China.
Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai)
If you’ve seen some of these picturesque images of rice terraces in Vietnam, it’s very likely that they were taken in Mu Cang Chai. You would be hard pressed to find hillside fields on this scale anywhere else in the country.
Located in the northwest of Vietnam, about 280km from Hanoi, Mu Cang Chai is known for its breathtaking scenery, poetic ethnic villages and traditional houses surrounded by stepped rice fields. It is one of Vietnam’s best kept hidden gems.
Ban Gioc Waterfalls (Cao Bang)
Located on the Vietnam-China border in the northeastern part of Cao Bang province, the Ban Gioc Waterfalls are one of the most spectacular natural sites in Vietnam.
These waterfalls look very different depending on the time of year you visit: during the dry season there are two separate waterfalls but during the wet season the deluge gives the appearance of one giant waterfall. With a formidable drop of 30 metres and stretching for over 200 metres, Ban Gioc is the fourth largest waterfall along a national border after Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls and Iguazu Falls.
It is truly one of the most fascinating sites you can see in Vietnam, a fantastic opportunity for nature photographers. In addition to the poetic beauty of Ban Gioc, Cao Bang can entice you with other small waterfalls, caves, lakes and ethnic villages in the area.
Da Bac (Hoa Binh)
Located in Hoa Binh province about 100 kilometres west of Hanoi, Da Bac is a destination for ecotourism and culture lovers.
A few years ago, three communities in Da Bac formed an alliance with the aim of welcoming tourists to their villages. Their community-based tourism project is a perfect example of how solidarity tourism can flourish.
Still relatively unknown to foreign travellers, Da Bac allows you to get off the beaten track and have the opportunity to stay with local people in a traditional ethnic house. You can also share fresh and delicious meals with the host family, enjoy hiking, water sports and cultural activities.
Moc Chau (Son La)
Located in Son La province, 200km west of Hanoi, the Moc Chau plateau is an ideal destination for those seeking peaceful landscapes and authentic experiences. Cool temperatures, tea hills and ethnic villages, you will find it all on this scenic plateau.
Visiting the tea hills is one of the most popular activities in this land of nearly 3000 hectares of green and black tea gardens. The huge bright hills under the morning sunlight are always a wonderful inspiration for many photographers.
The best time to visit Moc Chau is in spring when the plateau is covered with plum and peach blossoms, offering spectacular and colourful views.
Mai Chau (Hoa Binh)
Nestled in beautiful valleys in Hoa Binh province, 150 kilometres west of Hanoi, Mai Chau has become one of Asia’s top off-the-beaten-track destinations thanks to its idyllic scenery and rich ethnic minority cultural heritage.
To visit Mai Chau is to come and discover the peaceful villages of the White Thai ethnic group, to share a culture, a way of life so different from where you come from. Mai Chau is indeed the ideal place for those who seek tranquility, a world without the noise of the city and return to what is essential to human happiness – beautiful nature and friendly people.
Pu Luong Nature Reserve (Thanh Hoa)
Pu Luong Nature Reserve is an area of exceptional beauty, interesting culture and high biodiversity. It is endowed with rich forests, limestone mountains, beautiful rice terraces and breathtaking scenery.
Isolated, rustic and set in a unique landscape, it is an ideal place off the beaten track where you can walk through the woods and along the rice fields, cycle through the reserve and visit the many beautiful small villages. It is also possible to enjoy nights and meals with Thai and Muong locals in their traditional thatched houses on stilts for a fully immersive stay.
Bac Ha (Lao Cai)
Located 70km northeast of Lao Cai and 160km west of Ha Giang, Bac Ha district attracts travellers for its beautiful natural scenery and historical monuments. Majestic mountains, rivers and rice terraces, colourful ethnic cultures and friendly people make Bac Ha an ideal destination for backpackers and culture lovers on a trip to Vietnam.
This region is also well known for its colourful weekly ethnic markets, especially the markets of Can Cau, Bac Ha, Coc Ly and Sin Cheng where you can see local scenes that have been taking place every week for generations. Hill tribes from all over the region such as Flower Hmong, Dzao, Tay, Nung, Phu La,…They bring all the local products they have for trade. There are even cattle, horses, goats, dogs and birds. Their colourful and finely woven daily costumes are one of the main attractions in themselves. This is an incredibly beautiful part of Vietnam.
Lam Binh (Tuyen Quang)
Lam Binh is a mountainous district in Tuyen Quang province in the northeastern region of Vietnam, about 7 hours drive from Hanoi. Rich in landscapes of rare beauty, Lam Binh is home to grandiose mountains, lush forests and huge lakes. The region is inhabited by several ethnic groups such as the Tay, Dao, Hmong and Pa then,…
Visitors to Lam Binh can enjoy great outdoor activities and an off-the-beaten track experience such as hiking, cycling through the rice fields, motorbike tours and a cruise on Na Hang Lake. They can also immerse themselves in the culture and daily life of the local ethnic groups during meals and overnight stays or participate in agricultural work.
Thac Ba Lake (Yen Bai)
Thac Ba Lake is one of the largest man-made lakes in Vietnam. Located in Yen Bai province, 160km northwest of Hanoi, the lake was created in the 1970s when Vietnam’s first hydroelectric complex was built.
With a surface area of 23,400 ha, Thac Ba Lake comprises about 1,300 small islands covered with a variety of vegetation forming a very diverse ecosystem.
Around the lake live a dozen ethnic groups, such as the Tay, Nung, San Chi, and especially the white-pants Dao who are concentrated in Vu Linh, a village on stilts on the lake. It is a nice place to spend a night at a local’s house, mixing with the rhythm of the local life and discovering this authentic region far from the crowd.
Ba Be National Park (Bac Kan)
The huge Ba Be National Park lies 240 kilometres north of Hanoi and covers up to 23,000 hectares of valleys, caves, rivers, waterfalls, three huge lakes (or Ba Be Lake which means “three pools”) and of course tropical evergreen forests.
For some Vietnamese, Ba Be is considered the “green lung” of northeast Vietnam. And if you are looking for a mountain destination that offers many types of outdoor activities, you have come to the right place.
In Ba Be, it is possible to do many different hikes on beautiful jungle trails with different levels of difficulty. Your efforts will be well rewarded by the pristine natural surroundings and the friendliness of the Tay people who live here. With its vast network of waterways, Ba Be is also an ideal destination for kayaking enthusiasts. As in Mai Chau, the main choice for overnight accommodation here is with local host families.
Located 100km south of Hanoi, Nam Dinh is a coastal province in the Red River Delta. It may not be famous for being a top tourist destination. But if you like to travel off the beaten track and discover the unusual sites, the province can offer you beautiful places worth visiting, such as Xuan Thuy National Park – a nature lover’s paradise, Tran Temple historical complex, Co Le Buddhist temples.
Visiting Nam Dinh, you can also explore its several traditional handicraft villages specialising in wrought iron, copper casting, bonsai, woodcarving, textile and lacquer work. You will be immersed in the rustic beauty of the rural landscape and discover the rich culture and history of the locals.
Lan Ha Bay (Hai Phong)
Another alternative to bustling Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay is a quieter destination for exploring the waters off Vietnam’s northern coast. The landscape of karst rock formations is almost identical, but there are far fewer junks, which means the area is much quieter and less polluted.
Another advantage Lan Ha has over Halong is the multitude of white sandy beaches that line many of the larger rocky islands. Kayaking, snorkelling and swimming are all available, whether on a day trip or a longer cruise with overnight accommodation.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park (Quang Binh)
Despite being a UNESCO heritage site, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park remains one of Vietnam’s best kept gems.
Located in Quang Binh province, it covers 885 square kilometres and is home to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, with sections reaching up to 200m in height, as well as Paradise Cave, which features spectacular forms of limestone stalactites and stalagmites.
You will also find dozens of other caves, mountains, lakes, jungles, extremely exotic and endemic fauna… This place has it all, both on the surface and in its bowels. It is one of the most impressive and peaceful places that offers endless greenery and a slice of rural life in Vietnam.
Lak Lake (Dak Lak)
Located in Dak Lak province, Lak Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the central highlands. Fed by the Krong Ana River, this lake is 5km long and 2km wide and has consistently calm blue waters. It is surrounded by mountains covered with vast virgin forests with a variety of flora and fauna. The environment of the lake is well protected and during a pirogue ride you will have the chance to discover 43 species of fish, crabs, shrimps and snails living in the lake.
At Lak Lake, you can also learn about the indigenous culture of the central highlands by visiting the Mnong villages where people still live in traditional longhouses with bamboo walls and thatched roofs.
In the region, it is also possible to discover the beautiful Dray Sap and Dray Nur waterfalls or take a trip to the Yok Don National Park.
Da Lat (Lam Dong)
Wondering when is the best time to visit Vietnam? Well, if you plan to visit Da Lat, you don’t have to worry about the seasons. Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” and “Niagara Falls of Vietnam”, Da Lat is one of the most beautiful romantic getaways in Vietnam. Even though the city is attracting more and more visitors these days, we still include Da Lat in this list of hidden gems in Vietnam, as we feel it still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Nestled in the central highlands of Vietnam, Da Lat has historically served as a summer getaway destination for the French, which is evident in the town’s streets and architecture.
However, what sets Da Lat apart from most other resorts in Vietnam is the fact that the city is surrounded by mountains. This creates a very unique climate, making the city pleasant all year round. Hence the nickname “City of Eternal Spring”.
Nui Chua National Park (Ninh Thuan)
Nui Chua National Park is an off-the-beaten-track destination in south-central Vietnam. Located in Ninh Thuan province, it is one of the largest nature conservation areas in Vietnam, covering an area of over 23,400 ha. It is home to a diverse ecosystem of creatures and many species here cannot be found in other parts of Vietnam.
Visitors to Núi Chúa National Park can participate in a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking the park’s trails, kayaking, taking a boat trip to islands off Vinh Hy Bay to explore the seabed with snorkels and fins. Those with more time to explore the national park may want to venture into the buffer zone where they can stay overnight with local people to experience the local culture.
Con Dao Island (Ba Ria Vung Tau)
Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands and islets, most of them uninhabited, located off the southern coast of Vietnam. Each of these islands offers breathtaking beaches, beautiful nature and diverse marine life.
The more remote islands are also home to renowned turtle breeding sites, so if you visit between June and September, you may even get the chance to see turtles laying their eggs.
An Giang (Mekong Delta)
Doesn’t the name An Giang mean anything to you? That’s normal, because it is known by travellers as Chau Doc (a small town on the border with Cambodia) where travellers stop to discover this region. It is one of the most interesting and authentic destinations in the Mekong Delta.
Like most other parts of the Mekong Delta, An Giang is full of rice fields and rural scenes. In addition, it is known for its religious and ethnic diversity, which includes Khmer, Chinese, Cham and Vietnamese. Here you will find religious buildings, unique festivals, floating villages and beautiful flooded forests (especially the Tra Su bird sanctuary). So the experience is varied and interesting!
What activities to discover Vietnam off the beaten track?
Include activities that promote contact and sharing of daily life with locals
Overnight stays, cooking classes and meals with local people
The best way to get to know a population is to share its daily life. By sharing room and board, what a great opportunity to immerse yourself in reality, to enjoy authentic moments of sharing and complicity around a good meal prepared with the host family, to exchange on our mutual visions of life, or simply to relax…
Your agency can organise these convivial moments within a family selected for their kindness and their ability to communicate.
Cycling and helping out in the fields
Two-wheelers are king in Vietnam, whether scooters or bicycles, adults and children alike prefer this means of transport. By doing the same, you will be better integrated into the rhythm of the local life. Discover places that are not easily accessible by car, little-known paths, the other side of the coin by meeting locals and schoolchildren who greet you on the paths in the middle of the rice fields.
During your stay in the countryside, you will also be able to initiate yourself to different work in the fields to perfect your knowledge of Vietnamese culture! Your colleagues working for a few hours will be happy to share with you their ancestral know-how by showing you, for example, how to transplant a rice plant! Shared pleasure guaranteed!
Discovering the local markets
Whether it is a traditional market or the famous floating markets, the market is a place of exchange very much rooted in the daily life of the population. Exotic fruits and original vegetables catch the eye in the middle of a typically Asian disorder and goods of all kinds. Wandering through the market is like getting lost in a whirlwind of smells and endless sensations!
Your agency will be able to guide you freely through these magical places and help you discover the most original markets.
To discover differently the essential sites to have more authentic experiences
For example in the case of Hanoi: Even if you try to avoid the hot spots of Vietnam, a few days in Hanoi is an absolute must for any first time visitor as the city is one of the best preserved in South East Asia.
In addition to discovering its main attractions, we suggest you also favour visiting the residential areas and historical suburbs where you can escape the chaos of the old city or the “secret” places hidden in plain sight, such as the Long Bien Bridge, the “banana island”, the Phu Tay Ho temple,… which escape the radar of most tourists.
You can also organize a morning visit: Wake up early in the morning when the city rises to see Hanoi from a totally different angle: Tay Chi session, visit of a flower market,… This is the time when the city is discovered in the most favourable way, the Vietnamese being themselves very early.
For those who are brave enough to wake up early and not get tired, a gastronomic city tour is also possible in the evening to visit the liveliest districts and taste all the tasty and intoxicating street food (with moderation for the local beer of course!) by scooter or on foot, live the Hanoian night to the full with your guide!
Which tours to discover authentic Vietnam?
Au Fil Du Vietnam offers private and tailor-made tours according to your desires and length of stay. It can be a trip from North to South on the three main regions of Vietnam, focusing on the must-see sites. For example:
- 2 weeks authentic Vietnam tour: Vietnam homestay tour
- 3 weeks authentic Vietnam tour: Vietnam differently
It can also be a totally immersive trip discovering only the landscapes and ethnic groups of the north of the country, such as:
- Vietnam off the beaten track 2 weeks: Ethnics and rice terraces of Upper Tonkin
- Vietnam itinerary 15 days: Fabulous landscapes and secret roads of North
What is your favourite place to discover Vietnam off the beaten track? Which of these alternative destinations would be on your ideal Vietnam tour schedule?