Vietnam, a land of breathtaking beauty and cultural wonders, holds a treasure trove of hidden gems awaiting discovery. While these destinations require a little more effort — like a day-long trek or a night’s sleep in the wilderness — to fully embrace their magnificence, they leave life-changing impacts.
As travelers seek out new destinations, there is an opportunity to foster sustainable initiatives and prioritize the long-term preservation of these pristine landscapes. It’s a call to action, urging visitors to go beyond mere admiration and contribute to their preservation.
Unveiling a curated selection of five enchanting destinations from north to south, we invite you to venture off the well-trodden path. Prepare to be enchanted as you embark on an eco-conscious journey celebrating the harmonious union of awe-inspiring natural wonders and responsible exploration.
Ba Be, home to Vietnam’s largest natural lake
Ba Be National Park, a subtropical oasis of biodiversity, offers a transformative journey for eco-conscious travelers seeking an immersive connection with nature. A complex of rivers, lakes, and lowland evergreen forests, Ba Be unveils a natural masterpiece steeped in cultural heritage seemingly untouched by time.
The centerpiece of the park, Ba Be Lake, glistens like a gem amidst the verdant surroundings, offering a serene sanctuary where visitors can revel in the tranquility of nature. This is the largest and highest natural freshwater lake in Vietnam, located about 178 meters above sea level, with a length of up to 8 kilometers and a width of 500 meters. It spans over 23,000 hectares of beautiful waterfalls, deep rivers, valleys, lakes, and caves, all set amongst towering peaks. In 2011, the park was recognized as a wetland area of international importance, ranking 3rd in Vietnam and 1938th in the world.
The national park is home to a remarkable array of plant and animal species, many of which are rare and endangered. From the elusive Francois’ langur to the vibrant orchid varieties, the park showcases an astonishing biodiversity that warrants careful preservation. It is also home to Tay, one of the largest ethnic minority groups in northern Vietnam, which offers another meaningful experience.
Distance from a major city: Hanoi – 240 kilometers
How to get there: Book private tours or drive about 6 hours on the road from Hanoi
Best time to visit: Despite dry and chilly winters, the jungles in Ba Be are lush and beautiful all year round. Occasional storms occur between July and October.
Pu Luong’s cascading rice terraces
Located in Thanh Hoa province, just about 150 kilometers from Hanoi, Pu Luong is endowed with abundant natural resources that make it one of the country’s most endearing landscapes. The area is unique for its quaint hamlets and villages of the ethnic Black and White Thai people. In Pu Luong, life is slow and unhurried, a striking contrast to the Vietnamese metropolises most tourists go to.
The nature reserve takes the most pride in the beautifully cultivated rice terraces that offer a sight to behold from the mountainside. It’s easy to spot farmers and buffalos tending huge rice crops. This place, similar to Sapa, is exactly what you see on Vietnam postcards — no, even much better, more picturesque, more magical.
Pu Luong is also home to the famous Thac Hieu Waterfall, which consists of two streams meeting and creating a large pool. This is the perfect spot to cool down after a short hike through the rice fields.
Distance from a major city: Hanoi – 150 kilometers
How to get there: No direct public buses from Hanoi; it takes approximately 4.5 hours to reach by car
Best time to visit: The harvest season is from September to November when the rice fields turn yellow and gold. The green season is between February and May.
Dak Lak, the capital of Vietnamese coffee
Sitting on the lush landscapes of the enthralling Central Highlands, Dak Lak emerges as the beating heart of Vietnam’s coffee culture. The province is blessed with fertile soils, an ideal climate, and a rich cultural heritage deeply intertwined with coffee cultivation.
Dak Lak’s coffee plantations stretch as far as the eye can see, painting the scenery with shades of green. The coffee farmers here, whose unwavering passion for quality coffee beans nurtures a billion-dollar industry, work from sunrise to sundown to ensure that every cup brewed carries the essence of the rich coffee culture Vietnam is most known for.
Visiting Dak Lak offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in coffee-making. From the aromatic scent that fills the air during the roasting process to the refreshing taste of a freshly brewed cup, every step becomes a sensory journey. Each sip represents not only the culmination of meticulous craftsmanship but also a sustainable partnership with the environment and the local communities.
Distance from major cities: Hanoi – 1410 kilometers; Ho Chi Minh City – 320 kilometers
How to get there: Dak Lak has a domestic airport that connects the province to different parts of Vietnam. There are also direct coaches from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Danang.
Best time to visit: March is when the coffee trees are in full bloom, this is also when the week-long coffee festival is celebrated in Buon Ma Thuot.
Cai Be’s colorful river town
Cai Be, a charming town along the Mekong River, is renowned for its vibrant floating market. The town offers a glimpse into the gentle rhythm of life along the waterways, where traditions and commerce are on full display.
The dozens of boats laden with fresh produce, colorful flowers, and local handicrafts are the heart of this bustling little town, where activities start as soon as the morning sun illuminates the river. The lively chatter between traders and the fragrant aromas of exotic fruits are sure to be the best way to welcome the day.
Beyond the floating market is the rustic charm exuded by the maze-like network of canals, verdant orchards, lush rice paddies, and stilted houses. All these carry age-old traditions that have been preserved through generations. It’s a captivating journey back in time, where the essence of rural Vietnamese life is thoughtfully maintained. The culinary delights in Cai Be are not to be missed, too — from succulent river prawns to fragrant rice noodle soups, each dish tells a tale of the fertile lands and the ingenuity of the local cooks who have perfected their craft over time.
Distance from major cities: Ho Chi Minh City – 105 kilometers; Can Tho – 70 kilometers
How to get there: Bus travel from Ho Chi Minh City or Can Tho; there are boat rides to and from Can Tho as part of a tour package
Best time to visit: Floating season is between September and December when visitors can go fishing on traditional wooden boats and spend time in orchards. The dry season is between January and April for harvest time.
Con Dao and its mission for turtle conservation
Con Dao, an immaculate archipelago located off the southeastern coast of Vietnam, is a hidden gem renowned for its natural beauty, rich history, and serene atmosphere. The island’s allure lies in its untouched landscapes, where turquoise waters meet powder-white sands and dense forests teeming with diverse flora and fauna. The archipelago is home to pristine coral reefs, making it a paradise for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.
Con Dao is also exemplary for its commitment to conservation. The archipelago boasts protected areas, including Con Dao National Park, where lush forests are home to rare species, including the critically endangered Con Dao langur. It is also known for its turtle conservation efforts, with its clean beaches serving as nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles. Local organizations and volunteers tirelessly monitor nesting activities, protect nests from predators, and send off hatchlings toward the sea.
Con Dao presents a shining example of how responsible tourism can coexist with conservation efforts. The presence of the sea turtles — and personally witnessing them digging their nests on the sandy shores or seeing the tiny creatures brave their way to their natural habitat — is one magical reminder of the interconnectedness of all life on the planet. This experience is sure to leave visitors with a profound appreciation for the importance of preserving the oceans and the remarkable species that call them home.
Distance from major cities: Ho Chi Minh City – 230 kilometers; Can Tho – 177 kilometers
How to get there: Flights depart regularly from Ho Chi Minh City or Can Tho to the island’s domestic airport. There are also ferry trips from Vung Tau that offer another taste of adventure.
Best time to visit: Con Dao’s coolest weather arrives between September and January, while its hottest months are June, July, and August. The archipelago is prone to strong winds in December and January. The turtle-hatching season takes place from mid-August to early December.