9 Undeniably Underrated Vietnam Excursions

Vietnam is undergoing a meteoric rise to the top of backpacker’s Southeast Asia travel list. Why has the number of tourists grown three-fold from 5 million in 2010 to over 15 million in 2018? A combination of backpacker-friendly pricing and over 3000 kilometers of coastline, pristine beaches, vibrantly unique cities, alpine highlands, jungle lowlands, swaths of seaside desert areas, diverse cultural sites, and ancient historic relics, mostly.

While many backpackers flock to a handful of incredible destinations in Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, and Hoi An, they merely skim the surface of what Vietnam has to offer.

To get a true picture of the country, head to these undeniably underrated destinations:

Trang An Complex - Tam Coc | Part I

Just about three hours south of Hanoi, Tam Coc is a riverside village in Ninh Binh Province that is much more than a quick-stop off. Start with a cycle through the rice fields along the Ngo Dong River and scope out the towering karst peaks. Soak in the 360-degree views from the top of Lying Dragon Mountain. Then take a guided sampan (traditional wooden boat) ride through the river and cave system on the Trang An Complex. Vietnamese call this region the “Halong Bay On Land” and that couldn’t be more accurate.

By Part I, we mean day 5 of our 23-day adventure.
 

Cuc Phuong National Park - Tam Coc | Part II

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Cuc Phuong National Park

The limestone peaks and dense jungle of Cuc Phuong National Park is a beautiful two-hour drive from Tam Coc center. The park is home to some of Asia’s rarest species, including Clouded Leopards, Delacour’s Langur and Asian Black Bear. (Don’t expect to spot these incredibly reclusive species unless embarking on a multi-night trek into the park!) There are also more than 300 documented species of birds, and you can see millions of vibrant butterflies along the paths during April and June.

Before the jungle trek, we make a stop at The Endangered Primate Rescue Center, Vietnam. This an internationally-recognised group who rescues and rehabilitates some of the rarest primates in existence today! Many of these primates can be found nowhere else in the world but at this location. This includes the Delacour's langur. This species is found only in the north-central part of the country and were thought to be extinct until about 40 years ago.

By Part II, we mean day 6 of our 23-day adventure.
 

Elephant Springs - Hai Van Pass

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Elephant Springs

This is a hidden treasure tucked away in the mid-highlands of Vietnam, about 50km south of Hue. Suoi Voi - Elephant Springs - is a natural mountain spring that cascades into freshwater pools. Perfect for a refreshing swim on a hot day! You can boogie yourself down the smooth rocks at the base of the falls, and there are plenty more spots upstream to explore. This lesser-known swim spot lies the Hai Van Pass, deemed by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson as "a deserted ribbon of perfection - one of the best coastal roads in the world".

[Chat with former group members about their experience on Backpacking Through Vietnam!]

Elephant Springs is less busy on weekdays and during the off-season. The bamboo food stalls around the springs are only open on peak days. When open, you can enjoy a cold beer and some boiled chicken dishes as you cool off in the mountain water. Though it is much more popular than in year’s past, Elephant Springs still has an untouched feel and unreal views.
 

The Dark Cave - Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Dark Cave Phong Nha

Zipline across the Chay River to your kayak before getting knee deep in the mud in the Dark Cave! The zipline is the longest in Vietnam and that is just the start of this half-day adventure. After unclipping from the zipline, time for a quick swim to the mouth of the Dark Cave. Time to turn on your headtorch, into the Dark Cave we go...

The Dark Cave, part of a complex cave system not discovered until 1991, is named from the black basalt rock that lines the limestone walls inside the cave. There is also zero natural light! Make your way through the cave streams towards the natural mud bath at the end of one of the narrow passages. Some fossils visible on the walls of the cave are over a million years old! After the exfoliating mud bath, back into the river to clean off and a kayak trip back to where the adventure began.
 

Tra Que Organic Village - Hoi An

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Tra Que Vegetable Village

Get a taste of local life in Tra Que where things remain just as they were over 300 years ago! After helping out the farmers sow seeds in the field, get a literal taste of the farm with a traditional cooking lesson provided by the welcoming farmers who call this home. The class begins with an ingredient lesson at the local farmer’s market and cycle through the rice paddies back to the farm.

Farmers in Tra Que have used the same tools and techniques as they did centuries ago - including the algae they fish out of the neighboring De Vong Lake to use as fertilizer. And also the double-barrel watering buckets you will try out in the field! The farm is a source of fresh vegetables for Hoi An and an interesting stop if you’re cycling towards An Bang Beach.
 

Local School Visit - Hue

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Hue School Visit

The school visit is all about getting to meet the smiley local students who welcome us in for a high-energy morning of cultural exchange! We spend 2-3 hours playing games, helping with school work, giving gifts, and taking part in some friendly Vietnamese schoolyard competitions. There is no better way to see a different side of local life that most other’s backpackers will never get to experience.

This is another Backpacking Tours exclusive excursion that is included on day 10 of our Vietnam adventure.
 

Khanh Le Pass - Dalat

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Khanh Le Pass

While the Hai Van Pass tends to steal the spotlight, the lesser-known Khanh Le Pass (also known as Hon Giao and Omega Pass) offers stunning aerial views along the spiraling highway connecting Nha Trang to Dalat. The short, 30km track is often called the “route connecting flowers and sea” as Nha Trang and Dalat have vastly different topographies, flora, and fauna.

This pass runs from 200m to just above 1,600m above sea level, through dramatic terrains, boasting one of the most underrated passes in all of Vietnam. Weather can change in an instant and should be considered before passing via motorbike. This is a half-day road trip (via private bus) on day 18 of 23 of our tour.

 

Lunch & Learn At The Monastery - Hue

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Monastery Lunch Hue

Stop by a local nunnery for lunch and learn about the incredible life of the women who call this home. The full vegan meal is freshly prepared, with love, by these women who range in age from pre-teen to 55+. Coming from all across Vietnam, the nuns have ended up here due to a variety of reasons. It is truly fascinating to sit and listen to their stories!

This is another Backpacking Tours exclusive excursion that is included on day 10 of our Vietnam adventure.
 

The Fairy Stream - Phan Thiet

Backpacking Through Vietnam - Fairy Stream Mui Ne

Suoi Tien Mui Ne - The Fairy Stream - is a soft, ankle-deep creek dyed red by the surrounding clay and limestone formations. This of this like a kind of walkable version of the Grand Canyon where the desert meets the sea! The soft creekbed is surprisingly pleasant and refreshing to wade through. The rivulet cuts through dream-like canyon just outside of the seaside fishing town of Mui Ne.

The stream is guarded by two landscapes – one side is a mix of white, orange, and red sand dunes, while the opposite is filled with rows of coconut palms, verdant palm trees and various species of wildflowers.
 

Culture and nature lovers, beach-lovers, first-time travellers or seasoned world-wanderers are flocking to Vietnam! For all the reasons above and so many more, Vietnam is very much the new tourist destination in Southeast Asia for backpackers.

Our goal here at Backpacking Through Vietnam is to provide an all-encompassing 23 day group backpacking tour that provides a balance of culture, adventure, and fun for an unforgettable journey. If you have any questions about the tour, or Vietnam in general, shoot us a message or connect with us on Facebook.