Australians are in position 8 of the top 10 countries in terms of Vietnam visitor numbers. It’s no wonder since the country is so different from our own and is so welcoming to visitors.
Vietnam is a land of astonishing beauty and we’ve put together the five must-visit locations to add to your bucket list.
Sa Pa Terraced Rice Fields
The terraced rice fields of Sa Pa in the Muong Hoa Valley, Lào Cai Province must be seen to be fully appreciated. Apart from the rich golden beauty of the terraces when the rice is ready for harvest, the astounding know-how of the ancient farmers is something to marvel at. The steep, hilly topography seemed unsuitable for growing rice until the terraced method was developed.
Sapa is situated 1500 metres above sea level in the remote northwest mountains of Vietnam. It has become a busy tourist mecca in recent years so if you plan on visiting, try to do it under your own steam so you can spend some time exploring the lush surrounding landscape. Be sure to take your motion sickness medication with you as the winding road to Sa Pa could see you becoming as ‘green’ as the lush vegetation! If travelling in summer, pack a poncho and some all-weather boots as the rain could catch you out.
Bac Son Valley Agricultural Patchwork
With a generations-old culture of farming, the Bac Son Valley is a scenic dream of a place where time has stood still and the villages are even today, inhabited by descendants. Located just 160km to the northeast of Hanoi, the valley is a patchwork of paddy fields laid out between a backdrop of mountains on each side that look like green inverted cones.
Each field comes alive in a different colour according to its growth phase, harvested to coincide with consumption requirements. On a rainy day, you will be fortunate enough to see a dazzling rainbow bless the landscape, adding even more vibrant colour and relaying the message that all is well. There are day tours, homestay and self-tour opportunities in Bac Son Valley. Spend some time experiencing the local food and warm hospitality, but whatever you do, don’t forget the camera!
Hoi An Lantern Festival
Every month, on the full moon and the new moon, the Hoi An lantern festival brings the streets alive with colour, sounds and aromas. The streets are closed to traffic and the usual commercial lighting is turned off to allow the candles and multi-coloured lanterns to shine at their most beautiful. Performances highlighting the ancient city’s culture and art are held to uphold traditions and to introduce visitors to the local flavour.
You can purchase cardboard lanterns containing candles to float on the river which is said to bring happiness, love and luck. Or, travel down the river in a sampan boat and you’ll see a totally different perspective of the festival from the water. Everywhere you look, your eyes will be greeted by spectacular hanging lanterns of all different colours, shapes and sizes festooning the laneways, streets and riverfront. With bands playing folk music and the sound of bamboo flutes filling the air, you will feel joyous and relaxed as you mingle with the crowds.
Pump up the volume in Nha Trang
Not only is this beach resort city a feast for the eyes but it’s also the scene for some high octane partying. Known for its turquoise waters and popular as a scuba diving destination, Nha Trang Bay is considered one of the world’s most gorgeous bays. Looking like a scaled-down French Riviera of southeast Asia, it attracts visitors from all walks of life including backpackers through to the 5-star luxury traveller.
Spread a towel out on the white sandy beach and gaze out at the water, or the ring of mountains surrounding the locale. Many TripAdvisor reviewers comment that the beach is very clean and not crowded and that at times, local hawkers come along to peddle their wares or services (massage, hair removal etc.) but that they don’t pester tourists and politely accept no for an answer. At night, you can have it loud at the various bars and clubs then follow up with a relaxing spa treatment the next day.
Volcanic natural wonder in Ghenh Da Dia
Less frequented by tourists than it deserves to be – but which makes it more appealing – is Ghenh Da Dia which, in Vietnamese, means The Sea Cliff of Stone Plates. It is an extremely beautiful seashore landscape where approximately 35,000 basalt rock columns of a myriad shapes and sizes interlock to form an incredible sight.
Created hundreds of millions of years ago during volcanic eruptions when the molten basalt met the cold water, they petrified and became the unusual shapes that are seen today. Upon arrival, even visitors who planned to go there marvel at the unexpected sight of it in real life.
Vietnam travel tips
To ensure you have the very best possible experience in the country, the following Vietnam travel tips will give you some insight into the culture so you can behave accordingly.
- When you travel to any developing country, you should take out travel insurance* to cover you for illness, injury, theft, loss of baggage, cancellations and so on. When you research your insurance options, be sure to tell your consultant where you will be travelling so a policy can be found to suit.
- In Vietnam, cultural sensitivities abound. Taking photos of people without their permission is a no-no so do ask first and then be kind enough to show them the photos afterwards.
- Support the locals by purchasing handmade goods. In some cases, they may be more expensive than the same goods in stores but you will appreciate the opportunity to meet the craftsperson face to face.
- Do not drink water from the tap, even if you’re staying in a more upmarket hotel. Stick to quality bottled water and ensure it hasn’t been sitting in the sun for too long.
- If you visit places of worship, be sure to leave an offering in the donation box out of respect.
- Be exceptionally careful during rush hour as many of the motorcycles end up travelling on the footpaths to avoid traffic on the roads.
- You may wish to wear a hygiene mask when making your way around outside in the cities as the fumes from vehicle exhausts can be quite overpowering.
- Carry diarrhoea medication with you in case you succumb to illness after eating street food.
- Only purchase street food when there is a rush on and the turnover of food is high, otherwise you could become sick from eating food that has been sitting around at less than optimal temperatures.
Look a little deeper in Vietnam
We’ve only scratched the surface of Vietnam in this article. There are so many things to do and see in Vietnam that you’ll find yourself wondering where the time went!