Carving your own trail through Vietnam is easy, rewarding and exciting – you just need to know how.
No longer Asia’s hidden-secret destination, Vietnam has exploded into the tourism world-stage in the past decade. Nowadays, hubs like Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta have become household names – and much-coveted highlights – the world over. Yet even though Vietnam now boasts a well-defined tourist trail attracting package tour visitors like moths to a flame, getting off the tourist hamster-wheel is super easy. This compact, enticing and immensely varied country offers so much more than any glossy travel magazine could ever depict and having a few tricks up your sleeve will ensure your journey is no run-of-the-mill experience, replicated by millions of others.
A once-in-a-lifetime journey that’ll revitalise your soul and make for unforgettable memories – Vietnam off the tourist trail is just as magnificent as it’s ever been.
Want to carve your own unique trail through this sensational country?
Here are five tried-and-tested ways to do that:
1. Choose ONE region and explore it at length
When planning a trip to Vietnam, we know how hard it can be to fight the urge to see it all and do it all. We’re talking to you, first-time visitors! Yet despite the challenge, fight you must because if you wish to enjoy a non-standardized Vietnam experience, you must give your chosen spots some time. Yes, you could dash about from north to south merely scratching the surface OR you could take your time instead, soaking up one region in depth and seeing all it has to offer whilst planning to explore more on your next visit. At Get About Asia, we offer Vietnam Express Tours because they are among the most popular options for first-time visitors (all the best bits from Hanoi to Saigon in 6 days flat) but also offer slower and more dedicated regional tours to those who’ve been there, done that, and now wish to slow it down. Return visitors know that honing in on just one region of Vietnam can deliver a more intense travel experience. See how we explore the northeast of the country, for example, on our Ban Gioc Waterfall Adventures tour.
Vietnam may seem ‘small’ and easy to travel through but transfer times can cut a huge chunk in a one-week travel itinerary. In this case, having fewer destinations in your plans is actually experiencing much, much more.
2. Travel outside the high tourist season
Overall, the best time to travel to Vietnam is during its dry winter season, between October and April. Combined with end-of-year vacations (in December and January) these make for very busy months in the most popular destinations. Yet if you still want to tick off some major highlights – but loathe having to share them with huge tour groups – then choose to travel during the summer instead. Travelling outside the tourist season makes even the most visited trail feel like it’s a brand-new discovery.
Sure, the hot temps and afternoon rains from June to September may dampen a few hours of your day, but experiencing Halong Bay drenched in fog or a wonderfully refreshing downpour in Hoi An can make for exceptional memories. Besides, the country’s varied geography means that no matter when you travel there will always be one region at its absolute best. If you wish to soak up the spectacle of luscious rice fields in Sapa, for example, without major trekking excursions, the rainy season is ideal. Travel to Vietnam during the quietest months and not only can you save on flights and accommodation but you’ll also have the chance to finally see the country’s major highlights and feel as if you have them all to yourself.
3. Enjoy a Dedicated Tour
One of the best ways to get off the tourist trail in Vietnam – as anywhere else in Asia – is to plan a dedicated tour. A themed trip, if you will. Dedicated trips make for more rewarding travel because they allow you to fully experience one unique aspect of Vietnam in great depth, rather than skim over several.
The most rewarding choices in Vietnam are trekking trips and culinary tours, as the country is an absolute powerhouse of highlights in both categories.
Serving up some of the most magnificent scenery of all, trekking trips in Vietnam take you away from the chaos of the country’s cities and straight into the heart of its pristine wilderness. Even the most popular trekking destinations – like Sapa and Cao Bang – boast plenty of untrodden trails and the options are numerous for adventure-seekers. Meet the fascinating Hill Tribes of northern Vietnam on an epic trek to the Ban Gioc Waterfalls (one of Vietnam’s most astonishing hidden secrets), tackle a full-day, full-adventure hike at Cat Ba National Park (watching out for civets, deer and macaques along the way) or head south to the Cat Tien National Park if you’re a lover of breath-taking landscapes and butterflies – over 400 colourful species live here! The best trekking destinations in Vietnam offer trails for visitors of all ages and fitness levels, so including a mammoth trek – or easy day’s walk – is a piece of Bánh chuối no matter where you choose to go.
Regional, varied and immensely tasty, Vietnamese cuisine is one of Asia’s most revered and exploring the country’s culinary heritage is a wonderful way to spice up your travels, every pun intended. Why not plan a stellar tour around the best gastronomic experiences Vietnam has to offer? Enjoy a hands-on cooking class in every major destination you travel to and include plenty of street-food tours in between. Our Flavours of Vietnam itinerary is meant to kick-start the imagination of foodie explorers who want to combine the best (and yummiest) highlights of all. The gastronomic options in this incredible country are nearly endless, however, so planning a bespoke itinerary with plenty of feasting is easy-peasy.
4. Plan…but not too much
A well-planned itinerary through Vietnam should you leave you plenty of time to wander aimlessly. Not booking out every hour of every day on vacation means you’ll have spontaneity at your beck and call: change plans at the last minute, meander around a historic town without a map always at hand or stop in that small village that catches your eyes as you travel along. Take the long-way around to reach your next intended spot and leave yourself plenty of time in case you wish to stop along the way. Give yourself the freedom to go where the wind blows, as they say, and you’ll be amazed how many unexpected wonders you’ll discover in Vietnam.
5. Skip the package group tours – and get closer to the locals
Package group tours can certainly have their benefits in certain countries yet their main drawback is that they act as a type of barrier between you and the local population. When you’re herded around from A to B in large groups, the chances you’ll have time to share a cup of coffee and a chat with a local are almost non-existent. Package tours run on tight schedules and deal with large numbers of tourists so there’s very little time left for that much-coveted spontaneity or, for that matter, any kind of personalised service. Whilst enjoying a guided trip can actually intensify your experience, it only really works when you are at the centre of the action. This is where private tours deliver a much greater value for money. On a private tour, not only will you dictate where you go, what you do and how long you stay but you’ll also bag a local knowledgeable English-speaking guide whose only job is to interact and guide you and your loved ones, not 40 people. Private tours remove the barrier between you and the local population, making you feel like you’re living Vietnam and not merely seeing it.
Local guides are a wealth of information and your best friends when you want to explore the more authentic sides of Vietnam, pointing you towards the least visited and most rewarding highlights, villages, museums, restaurants and markets. So, talk to your trusted travel agent and get the insider goss on the best places to go in Vietnam and, once there, trust your private guide to lift the veil on more authentic experiences.
Ditch that strict homogenous itinerary and package-tour groups and come experience Vietnam through the freshest and most authentic eyes of all: yours.
At Get About Asia, we love planning bespoke dedicated tours to Vietnam for discerning travellers and understand that since no two travellers could ever be created equal, no two tours should either. So come discover YOUR Vietnam with us!
Call us today and let’s start planning, together, for your absolute trip of a lifetime.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”