With an intricate system of more than 2,300 rivers and an impressive 3,260-kilometer North-South coastline, Vietnam has seen life flourishing along the major riverbanks and coasts, including the Mekong and Red River Delta, where roughly 40% of the population is clustered in. Consequently, it is no surprise that the sea and riverscapes contribute a great deal to the country’s natural and scenic diversity, as well as the exotic local traditions and lifestyles in these areas.
For a change from the usual mountain or jungle excursions, we listed five exciting water tours where you can spend the weekend leisurely, each with its own distinctive scenery and outdoor activities to offer.
Trang An Boat Tour
Located in Ninh Binh province, north of Vietnam, the World Heritage-classified Trang An landscape complex is a vast region of great cultural, historical, and natural importance. Renowned for its majestic and dramatic alternating landscapes of limestone karst peaks, valleys, rice paddies, and even temples, Trang An’s magnificent beauty is best enjoyed through the all-inclusive boat tours that lead travelers down the most scenic part of the area.
With a ticket price of around VND250,000/person, tourists can hop aboard boats of four to five people, each with a boat driver who is also an experienced local tour guide. On this two-hour long cruise, prepare yourself to be amazed as you discover the varying beauty of Trang An — from the steep limestone cliffs covered with verdant moss and plants surrounding the broad and quiet rivers, to the mysterious grottoes system connected by narrow subterranean waterways that add an adventurous, somewhat thrilling touch to the peaceful sail.
At the moment, different sailing tracks and private boat options are available to nature enthusiasts, including a few stops to discover the secretive temples and pagodas nestled in the limestone towers and meandering mountain paths. At the same time, the 100-kilometer traveling distance from Hanoi makes Trang An all the more accessible for day tours, and tourists looking for a serene getaway can resort to the tower-karst landscape of Trang An to reignite that intimate connection with nature.
Ha Long Bay Cruise
Another natural landscape with distinctive limestone features, Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh province, northeast of Vietnam, is a five-hour drive from the capital Hanoi. Mostly intact and free of human interference, the 1,600 limestone islands and islets, along with the unscathed limestone towers, arches, and caves here boast an outstanding and unique seascape.
What is a better way to indulge in this aesthetic natural scenery than to hop on one among the myriad of boat cruises of various capacities and levels of luxury, from budget-friendly to 5-star accommodations. Upon boarding, travelers can expect a wide range of entertainment services, from dining packages on deck, outdoor lovers’ activities like kayaking, fishing at local villages, and coral diving, to more relaxing options of joining a cooking class or having a spa day, all while enjoying a backdrop of the majestic limestone cliffs and the calm water at the bay.
With four distinct seasons, a little bit of research and planning can go a long way in helping travelers prepare for inclement weather conditions. While traveling in early January - February is ideal to avoid the swarms of tourists into the area, expect this period as a pleasant, relaxing holiday only as the foggy weather may prevent holidaymakers from participating in outdoor activities. The March til May off-season period, on the other hand, proves more conducive for daytime outdoor experiences, although higher levels of humidity may result in spontaneous rainfall.
Cam Thanh Village Basket Tour
Known as the charming old town with quaint architecture, Hoi An offers more than just short sails down the Hoai river at night. Much as travelers can’t get enough of the dreamy and somewhat eccentric sensations of Hoi An, a new breeze is just what’s needed to make your trip even more unforgettable.
Around five kilometers east of Hoi An, the Bay Mau water coconut forest of Cam Thanh commune lures travelers in with its vast areas of mangrove forests and the quiet, undisturbed way of life of the locals. As you settle yourself in the characteristic basket boats, the friendly locals and inhabitants at Cam Thanh village will navigate you through the small waterways while the story of Cẩm Thanh as a safe haven for the people in Hoi An during historical periods leisurely unfolds.
Upon getting closer to the estuary of Cua Dai river, prepare yourself for the unprecedented coracle rowing stunt performance from the experienced fishermen and the makeshift floating “karaoke” stages to double the fun, all with a reasonable price of VND150-200,000/person on a round basket boat that can safely carry around 2-3 adults.
Cai Rang Floating Market Tour
A three- to four-hour drive from HCMC, Can Tho, often dubbed as the “capital” of the Mekong Delta, never fails to present itself as the vibrant cultural and commercial hub of the region. Among the countless stimulating tourist destinations Can Tho’s got to offer, from the vast areas of tropical fruit gardens to the abundance of pagodas and temples of great religious significance, don’t miss out on the floating markets while you’re in the neighborhood.
Together with Cai Be and Phung Hiep, Cai Rang floating market, 5 kilometers from the center of Can Tho, is among the major floating markets in the Mekong Delta, and undoubtedly a staple of the flourishing life on the river basins of Vietnam. While the nature element in the area is undeniably charming, it is the genuine beauty of the day-to-day trade activities that makes Cai Rang so distinctive and memorable.
With a price of VND200-400,000 per person, experience the taste of Mekong as the boats take you down a bustling market day, where the crowds of buoyant shops and stalls are loaded with tropical fruits, produce, and local specialties, like coconut candy, dried fish, and fish sauce. To spot your desired stall in a maze of local boats, look up for the upright poles where samples of goods are displayed.
Craving a hearty meal? Allow yourself to indulge in the myriad of local delicacies while onboard, from bun rieu, com tam, banh mi, to the famous hu tieu that stole the heart of the famous British chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay.
Saigon Dinner Cruise
Speaking of the cityscapes in Vietnam, Saigon is definitely a sight to behold. One of the most bustling economic and financial hubs of the country and in the region, the city flaunts its gorgeous nightlife against a backdrop of shimmering skyscrapers and neon lights.
A symbol of the hedonistic, somewhat extravagant lifestyle, the city is probably best observed from a trip along the Saigon River, where tourists can quietly overlook the spectacular city skyline from afar with a well-deserved, luscious dinner to complement and elevate the experience. Not only available to travelers, these river cruises also operate on a daily basis to city dwellers who wish to explore a more tranquil, elegant aspect of the city.
Before departure, look up the numerous options available online, like the Indochina Queen, the Saigon Princess, or the Elisa for a more personalized experience, as these restaurants range in dining styles, routes, and meal prices, as well as the entertainment offered onboard.