Get way off the beaten path when you experience the best of Vietnam’s wilderness the best way possible – on foot!
Question time: given the choice, which way would you prefer to reach the peak of Vietnam’s tallest mountain? By 20-minute cable-car OR by challenging your skills and fitness on a 2-day day trek that’ll make you – quite literally – weak at the knees?
If you answer the latter…then this guide is dedicated to you!
Vietnam is fast becoming a popular destination for avid trekkers thanks to its diverse landscape and impressively complex system of hiking trails. Our favourite destinations actually offer hiking options for all levels of fitness and skill (seriously, we hope you’re still reading if you answered the cable-car!) so don’t worry: you need not be an endurance athlete to enjoy a trekking tour of Vietnam. The only prerequisites for this kind of travel are a passion for the great outdoors, an active disposition and the desire to be immersed in pristine wilderness.
All of Vietnam’s most sensational trekking destinations offer more than just nature-filled adventures: the country’s hinterland is inhabited by minority tribes who continue to live, nowadays, the way they have for centuries. And because the country boasts such a long and illustrious history, not to mention amazing regional cuisine, it means that any trekking tour of Vietnam will always be a multi-faceted and comprehensive travel experience.
Want to stretch your legs a little (or a lot) on your next tour of Vietnam? Then don’t miss these amazing trekking destinations.
1. Sapa, Lao Cai Province
We constantly call the Lao Cai Province in the northwest the ‘Vietnam of postcards’ and that’s because it truly is. Those emerald rolling hills covered in terraced rice fields have made travel magazine’s covers for years on end. They are really just as stunning as they appear on photographs. Sapa’s peaks are interspersed with stunning valleys and numerous ethnic Hill Tribe minority villages that offer distinct cultural experiences. Sapa, the base town for tours of the region, boasts inarguably the most comprehensive trekking trail system in the country, making it possible to tackle leisurely walks of a few hours and combine them to create daylong and multi-day adventures without the need to ever backtrack. The options are mind-boggling and the mountainous scenery, even more so. Sapa is home to Mt Fansipan, Vietnam’s tallest peak, among many other impressive sights.
2. Ba Be National Park, Bac Kan Province
In the northeast of the country is where you’ll find Ba Be National Park which offers a totally different trekking experience to Sapa. Centred on the country’s largest natural lake, Ba Be is a maze of tropical jungles set in deep canyons carved among sky-reaching limestone mountains. The best way to explore the park in-depth is on foot, past stunning waterfalls and rivers, through karst caves and following trails alongside expansive rice plantations belonging to minority tribes which you can also visit. Dense tropical and semi-tropical forests and plenty of chances for swimming make this one of the most enjoyable national parks in the country. Combine your hike with a mountain bike, kayak or boat ride on one of the lakes and you’re sweet to go! Include a visit to Ban Gioc Waterfalls – perhaps the most stunning cascades in all of Asia – and your trekking adventure will be more than complete – and rather unforgettable.
3. Cat Ba Island National Park, near Halong Bay
Part of the resplendent Cat Ba Archipelago in northern Vietnam, this namesake main island is traversed by an 18km-long trekking trail that takes you to the peak of Din Ngur Lam, affording absolutely breath-taking views. A shorter and much gentler trail can offer still beautiful views for much less physical effort. If you can tackle the longer trail, however, you’ll be bowled over by the rewards. Cat Ba is not all that big but given its unique geology showcases a stunning biodiversity. If you’re planning to visit Halong Bay then note that a side-trip to Cat Ba, nearby, will be easy to include in your itinerary.
4. Cat Tien National Park – Three Provinces
The southern wilderness belle of Vietnam is so large that it extends over three of the country’s provinces, which means you can access it from two entry points (north and east) and experience a stunning array of different landscapes. The biodiversity here is impressive and Cat Tien boasts centuries-old trees (primary forest) and a myriad of endemic flora and fauna, including colonies of endangered gibbons. High mountains in the north, fertile plateaus in the centre and tropical forests in the south make this a gloriously varied trekking destination. Just beware: visitor numbers are restricted at Cat Tien so you must secure a permit before you visit. Trekking options abound: from multi-day treks up and over high peaks to half-day gibbon-spotting excursions or even just walks of a couple of hours combined with a visit to the Primate Rescue Centre. The main park headquarters is at Nam Cat Tien, which is also the eastern entry point.
Trekking is part and parcel of exploring the least-touristy corners of Vietnam and that’s just the way discerning travellers love it. If you wish to get off the well-trodden trail and carve a path of your own, Vietnam is here for the taking.
Packing list for Trekking in Vietnam
The top trekking destinations in Vietnam may vary but there are a few basics which remain the same. The climate is topical and rains should be expected at any time (yes, even during the dry season) which is what keeps the wilderness so lush and fertile. Here are a few essential items you ought to pack:
- Thin but waterproof long packs and jacket – getting drenched by a downpour is only really enjoyable when it’s blistering hot
- Light long pants, which prevent scratches and insect bites – particularly in jungles and tropical forests
- Insect repellent & sunscreen, hat & sunglasses
- Worn-in hiking boots which support the ankles and lighter walking shoes for in-between hiking days – your feet will love the rest)
- Blister packs for longer trekking trips – all the ups and downs are killers on the feet even with well-worn boots
- Rubber tipped walking poles – particularly useful for downhill sections
- High-altitude trekking destinations, like Sapa, can get quite cold in winter so make sure you pack appropriately warm clothing
- Take a small waterproof day pack even if you’re planning on hiring porters as you’ll always want to have water, snacks, sunscreen and your camera with you at all times
Get About Asia – your Asia travel specialist – hones in on more authentic and personalised Vietnam travel experiences, offering bespoke and dedicated private tours (complete with English-speaking guide, driver and transport) so you can squeeze the most out of your visit. Travel when, where and for however long you wish, at your chosen level of comfort and luxury and with the backup of a trusted team of experts to take care of all the logistics.
Visit Vietnam – and experience it your way.
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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”