From the country’s highest plateau yet seldom known by tourists to well-preserved islands where used to be a hell on earth to many Vietnamese during the American War, let’s take a journey through these underrated destinations in Vietnam.
Located 320 kilometers to the north of Hanoi, the remote Ha Giang is the northernmost province of Vietnam. This large mountainous area is also home to various ethnic minorities in Vietnam including Tay, H’Mong, Dao, and Nung. The way of life of the locals here is hardly influenced by the modernization of the whole country. Travelers can have a snapshot of that by visiting the busy Dong Van Market which sells a wide range of local stuff such as peach and plum without seeds, anise, and cinnamon.
The town of Dong Van is also known for the Chinese-style houses, including the house of the man who once reigned over Ha Giang, known as the “Cat King”. These houses are characterized by the yin yang roofs and the iconic red lanterns. But perhaps the most convincing reason to visit Ha Giang is the karst plateau which spreads over 4 districts of the province and is more than 1.500 meters high. It is the first Geopark to be recognized by UNESCO in Vietnam thanks to its large collection of tectonics and geomorphology sites along with sensational sceneries featuring some sheer mountain drops. The spectacular landscape is perhaps at its best when you drive along Ma Pi Leng Pass, which is considered as the King of Vietnam Pass. All in all, if you love trekking and photography; and you adore the distinctive ethnic culture, Ha Giang is a “must” during your Grand Circle Tour of Northern Vietnam.
Dong Van_HMong King Palace in Ha Giang, Vietnam
It is not far from Sapa. It is the highest plateau in Vietnam with the average altitude of over 2.000 meters. Vietnamese travelers coming here often named themselves “cloud chasers” as it is covered by cloud and mists all year round. Y Ty is certainly one of the most unpopular and underrated destinations in Vietnam, not only to foreign travelers but to Vietnamese people in general also. “Cloud chasers” are astonished by the spectacular beauty of Mother Nature’s creation, with the yellow rice terraces hiding below the white moving carpets of cloud and the colossal mountains in the distant background.
Y Ty from above, Vietnam
The town here is mainly occupied by the ethnic minorities. One of them, the Ha Nhi people, is famous for their unique mushroom-shaped house which has a 45 centimeter thick wall made of clay. Thanks to it, the Ha Nhi families can keep themselves and their cattle warm from the extreme winter. In fact, there may even be occasional snow in Y Ty. This on-cloud town should be an ideal option for your extreme adventure in Vietnam.
Cat Ba Islands is a great example of an exciting destination, yet being overshadowed by its celebrated neighbor: Ha Long Bay. Despite being one of the most underrated destinations in Vietnam, Cat Ba also has its very own reason to attract travelers.
In fact, if you are looking for a beach destination which provides a great variety of outdoor activities, Cat Ba Islands may even be a better option than Ha Long Bay. And here’s why: The Cat Ba National Park is a vivid display of 7 different ecosystems. It is home to 32 types of mammals and 70 bird species. Some of which are endangered of extinction, most notably the golden-headed langur. There are also over a thousand species of plants, including 118 plants and 160 trees with medicinal value. While in the National Park, you can also go hiking up to the mountain summit, explore the multi-chambered Trung Trang Cave or discover the life in the remote minority village of Viet Hai.
And don’t forget that there are also many beach activities in Cat Ba to level with Ha Long Bay such as sailing and kayaking through the maze of over 300 karst islands of Lan Ha Bay; swimming and scuba diving in one of the hundreds of beaches. You can even choose one of these beaches as your private camping site.
Exotic Voyages say: Cat Ba Islands is an excellent choice if you want to extend your trip to Ha Long Bay for some more days that will be full of exciting activities. Our recommendation is to stay at The Au Co, the first and only luxury cruise to offer a full itinerary in a single trip through Ha Long Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Cat Ba Islands.
Just under 2-hour drive from Hanoi, Ninh Binh Province is an emerging destination in Northern Vietnam. More than a decade ago, the tourism here is limited to Hoa Lu, the former capital of Vietnam over 1.000 years ago, thus it is only able to attract domestic travelers. But recently, Ninh Binh has seen an increasing number of intriguing tourist attractions as well as fascinating activities.
Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam
You will understand why Ninh Binh is called “Terrestrial Ha Long Bay” once you visit one of these sites: Tam Coc, Van Long Nature Reserve, and Trang An. They indeed resemble the bay in many perspectives except the fact that they feature a sublime landscape of vast limestone mountain cliffs rising above water immersed rice paddies. Ninh Binh is also a perfect picture of the typical wet rice civilization in northern Vietnam. You can get a glimpse of it by a morning bike ride before having a Northern Vietnamese lunch at the local’s house.
Exotic Voyages say: You can still relax and enjoy at night without returning to Hanoi by staying at Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh, the only five star choice of accommodation in Ninh Binh.
The sunny land of Quang Binh was once devastated by the bombings of America during the Vietnam War. Now, the province is still overcoming its toll from the past. Tourism is playing a big part of that, and Quang Binh definitely has a big potential of being one of the major destinations in Vietnam. We will see why.
Phong Nha cave in Quang Binh, Vietnam
There are two main contrast destinations within Quang Binh Province: Dong Hoi and Phong Nha – Ke Bang. Dong Hoi is the county of Quang Binh. Although there are not many attractions within the town, Dong Hoi is less visited by foreigners so you will be greeted with a lot of hellos from the locals. The town also has its own collection of beach resorts. We would like to recommend the Sun Spa Resort which has 234 international standard rooms and suites as well as several restaurants and bars with different themes.
The dawn in Quang Binh beach, Vietnam
But the main reason why Quang Binh was considered to be one of the most underrated and promising destinations in Vietnam is Phong Nha – Ke Bang. This national park consists of a large area of the untouched jungle throughout a rugged surface and a huge cave system which will definitely be world famous soon. Despite being two of the most beautiful caves of the world, Thien Duong (Paradise Cave) and Hang En Cave cannot match Phong Nha Cave in terms of size and rooms for expeditions. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 7.729 meters long, contains 14 grottoes and almost 14 kilometers of an underground river. However, this enormous cave has been lately surpassed by Son Doong Cave. It is the biggest cave on the planet. To make it brief, we can put the whole Manhattan including its skyscrapers inside Son Doong Cave. In the future, Son Doong Cave can be one of the premium places for extreme adventure in the world.