Vietnam’s cities are fascinatingly beautiful. There’s order in their chaos and old-world sophistication in their simplicity. But the countryside of Vietnam is a different world entirely and is wildly magnificent, serenely enigmatic. In short, it is epic.
A verdant land of sweeping greens, towering karsts and bodies of water awaits you in Vietnam. This country has still managed to retain a sense of being undisturbed by an influx of tourists and retains its historic beauty and allure. In many parts, it’s easy to imagine that dinosaurs could still roam here whilst you make your way through its spectacular plains, jungles or mountains, of course, with the Jurassic Park theme song playing in your head on repeat.
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In fact, many travellers who visit the country seek to trek its remote trails, to delve into its hidden world or to become immersed in its fiercely elevating and powerful landscapes.
If you’re among them (or are now convinced that you should be) here are some of Vietnam’s best, bucket list-worthy treks for you to take note of.
- Distance: 4 km to 18 km
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Duration: One day to multi-day
- Best time to trek: October through April
- Notable stops: Pac Khoang Village, Na Mieng Village, La Village
- Side trip: Ban Gioc Waterfall, Nguon Ngao Cave
Unless you’re a discerning traveller, it’s easy to overlook Vietnam’s mountainous northernmost section. Getting to this region is, after all, not an easy task. The outdoorsy-travellers, however, have long frequented the area, simply due to the fact that it boasts a herculean network of covetable trails.
The province of Cao Bang – practically a stone’s throw away from China, is one of the two hiking and trekking paradises here. A good mix of wild treks and cultural encounters hit the sweet spot. Here, you can hike through rice paddies, over peaks and past rivers, from one village to the next. Make it a day hike or hire a guide for a six to eight-day trek. Whatever you choose, rest assured one of Cao Bang’s many friendly mountain villages would be happy to get you host you for the night.
While you’re there, make sure you jump on a bus from Cao Bang City to visit the exquisite Ban Gioc Waterfall and its neighbouring Nguon Ngao Cave.
See Also: The 21 Best Instagram Photos of Vietnam
Ba Be National Park
- Distance: 15 km
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Best time to trek: October through June
- Notable stops: Coc Toc Village, ethnic villages, Ba Be Lake
- Side trip: Dau Dang Waterfalls
It’s hard to forget a trek where you might encounter butterflies as you ramble on through the jungle. The limestone-riddled Ba Be National Park is home to some 300 butterfly species as well as gorgeous valley views and several opportunities to rub elbows with denizens in local villages.
Keep an eye out for these butterflies as you make your way from Bo Lu Village through the park to the Dzao Ethnic Village, navigating dense terrain, crossing cool water streams, and stopping for inspiring panoramic views. A stop at the Ba Be Lake, the country’s largest natural lake, and a fishing village should be added to your itinerary.
Take the time to visit the cascading Dau Dang Waterfalls before leaving the area. For a longer trip that includes the waterfalls, a four-day trekking tour from Hanoi is a fantastic alternative.
|Most popular destination||Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)|
|Natural attraction||Halong Bay|
|Nightlife destination||Ho Chi Minh City|
- Distance: 6.3 km to 18 km
- Difficulty: Easy to challenging
- Best time to trek: October to May
- Notable stops: Cat Cat Village
- Side trip: Thac Bac Waterfalls
It would be a shame for you to skip a visit to the French mountain town of Sapa, where the friendly Black H’mong people dressed in traditional clothing tout their wares along the trails and picture-perfect rice terraces bedeck the mountainsides.
Sapa is the Vietnamese people’s mountain retreat, but it’s also known for its network of trekking trails. Take an easy day hike during which you might end up going on a shopping spree or dare to climb up to Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest peak, on a two to a three-day trip. There’s a diversity of trekking opportunities for all skill levels to be had in this trekking capital, every experience filled with iced coffee stops in quaint villages, lovely waterfalls and breathtaking, fog-swathed views of the rice terraces.
A little further north is the famous Thac Bac Waterfalls. It’s also worth visiting if you’ve got time to spare.
My time in Sapa was spent on a 2-day winter trek in a cold month of January. Known as one of the top ten rice terrace destinations in the world, it definitely lived up to its position. This mountain town is home to diverse ethnic minorities and most people work their land on the sloping terraces. Imagine trekking along mountains of rice paddies, passing by small ethnic villages being guided by a local Hmong who comes from the same village we were visiting and seeing the lush green scenery along the way. I can definitely say that these experiences are some of my highlights in Sapa. If you’re a first-time traveler to Sapa, make sure to do this trek and stay at one of the homestays too. Also, try to look for the impressive peak of Fan Si Pan, the last major peak in the Himalayan chain and the highest mountain in Vietnam. This quiet village will surely provide you some memorable travel moments in Vietnam. – Angie, Travel Moments
Sapa gave me so many wonderful moments. I’ll never forget that feeling of pure awe as we looked upon Muong Hoa Valley for the first time and saw the green, wild, alien expanse of rice terraces blossom in front of us. Another highlight was seeing our host, May Kieu, ride up to meet us on a badass motorcycle in traditional Red Dao Hilltribe garments! That was amazing.
Wake up as early as you can to find a high viewpoint and catch the misty blue sunrise breaking over the terraces. But I’m sure you’ll be up by the crack of dawn – it’s surprisingly noisy in the morning, with cocks crowing, dogs barking, and geckos chirping. Drink up the mountain life!
Also, if you have dietary requirements or take medications, make sure you bring everything necessary, as the nearest hospital/shop is a while away and may not have what you need. – Melissa, Illumelation
Cuc Phuong National Park
- Distance: 17 km
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Best time to trek: November to February
- Notable stops: Endangered Primate Rescue Center
- Side trip: Cave of Prehistoric Man
Vietnam’s oldest national park is not to be taken lightly. This rich ecosystem that hosts hundreds of species of plants and wildlife is beloved for its natural sights of primaeval trees and curious fauna. A trekking trip here is an irreducible treat for the senses.
There are many trails that wind through its flourishing tangle of trees, but a six-hour day hike should be enough for a first-time visit. Hire a guide and marvel at its biodiversity, your jumping off point the heart of the forest. Climb and wind your way through the jungle, stopping for a relaxing picnic, then eventually pouring into Khanh Village where you would slumber in a house on stilts.
See if your guide can arrange a visit to the Cave of Prehistoric Man. Of course, a four-day trek may also be arranged if you’d like to explore more of the park.
Cat Ba Island
- Distance: 18 km
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Best time to trek: October through January
- Notable stops: Viet Hai
- Side trip: Trung Trang Cave, Hospital Cave
Set where the sea kisses the jungle in Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island isn’t just a stop for day touring tourists who pause for a picnic or even a swim. The island is, after all, the biggest in this karst archipelago and it boasts amazing biodiversity. There’s much adventuring to be had.
Take the popular six-hour trek up the mountaintop, preferably with an experienced guide, stopping for lunch in the remote village of Viet Hai. It’s undoubtedly strenuous, but it’s well worth the sweat, effort and possibly tears. Opportunities to see wildlife like civets, macaques and langurs are aplenty. And at the top, you’ll get the most spectacular reward.
Pop into the Trung Trang and Hospital Caves while on the island. Both are incredible must stop. There are also shorter hikes if you prefer to take it easy.
See Also: The 21 Best Instagram Photos of Vietnam
Even though Cat Ba Island is the largest island within the UNESCO Heritage Site of Ha Long bay, it’s easily overshadowed by its more famous and flashier sister, Ha Long Bay. Mostly unknown on the international tourist roadmap, this hidden gem is a favourite for Vietnamese locals, which is easily one of my favourite aspects of the island too. There’s a different vibe compared to the international tourist stage of Ha Long Bay and the cultural atmosphere is a lot more genuine on Cat Ba, especially apparent if you take a quick 5-minute scooter ride outside of the central harbor.
One of the most important things to note when travelling to Cat Ba Island is knowing when to go. With a surface area of less than 300km2, Cat Ba Island is relatively small and is really noticeable when large crowds arrive, specifically during local holidays. Just minding when local Vietnamese holidays are and planning accordingly, like booking accommodations and activities ahead of time if those dates can’t be avoided can make a world of difference. After all, it’s not every day you’ll be able to sail through thousands of majestic limestone islands and islets. – Charmaine, Where’s the Charm?
- Distance: 4 km to 38 km
- Difficulty: Easy to challenging
- Best time to trek:
- Notable stops: Tra Day Village, Van Village, Buoc Village
- Side trip: Hoa Ban Plus
Easy to hard treks await in Vietnam’s gateway to the mountainous north. Mai Chau has been dubbed Vietnam’s haven for casual hiking for good reason; and it’s also flourishing with ethnic cultures, enhancing every trekking experience.
There are day hikes to be had, but an excellent way to spend your time here is to take on a four-day guided trekking tour during which you’ll be hiking from one mountain village to another. This tour will take you from the city of Mai Chau all the way to Hang Kia in the northwest then backs down to the White Thai village of Van, stopping at other ethnic villages along the way. It isn’t an easy undertaking, but the beautiful views and cultural immersions more than makeup for your hard work.
Stop by Hoa Ban Plus before heading back to Hanoi to shop for handmade goods and support a worthy cause.
Pu Luong (Phu Luong)
- Distance: Around 115 km total
- Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
- Best time to trek: September through November, February through May
- Notable stops: Cao Hoong, Ma River
- Side trip: Mai Chua Valley
Of course, before you head all the way back to Hanoi, you must consider another trek at the nature reserve of Pu Luong. In this gorgeous stretch of land encompassing two mountain ridges, a breathtaking, mostly untrammelled rural region is fecund with flora and fauna as well as rice terraces and limestone karsts.
Start your trekking tour inside the reserve about 22 km south of Poom Coong Village. Trek for three hours to Hang Village, which is to be your jumping off point for your first full trek the day after. This six-day loop through the reserve should take you to many of the ethnic villages, through the jungle, past paddy fields and over the mountains. It’s seriously the stuff of legends.
If you haven’t yet, carve a bit of leisure time to walk around Mai Chua.
See Also: Should I Visit Vietnam?
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
- Distance: A little over 30 km
- Difficulty: Challenging
- Best time to trek: January through August
- Notable stops: Hang En Cave
- Side trip: Hang Toi Cave
Its unapologetically untamed land, marked with vast, intricate systems of caves, prehistoric-looking karsts and a massive river that runs through it all, make the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park a mythical destination. Here, you slip into the slow rhythm then furiously brave the jungles to reach some of the most captivating caves you’ll see in your life.
There are many remote caverns worth trekking to, the best of which might just be Hang Son Doong, one of the world’s largest caves. A four-day trek with the only tour operator that’s given access to the cave is worth the excruciating heat, the steep climbs and the rocky trails. The best parts, you’ll be only the only people there and you’ll also be slumbering in tents inside the cave.
A stop at the Hang En Cave is an absolute must, not just because it’s also worth seeing but also because it’s included in your itinerary.
The Ma Pi Leng Pass is one of the most amazing motor biking routes in Vietnam. The road without barriers winds its way high up into the mountains, to a height of over 1,500 meters. Looking over the edge there is a sheer drop, and an incredible view out to the mountain ranges of Yunnan, China. The Ma Pi Leng Pass is far from any major city as you might imagine in Vietnam. In fact, small towns are far and few between. For any first timer it is essential to know the basics of a motorbike. Learn the common faults of a motorbike, and what to do when you inevitably break down. Otherwise, you may well find yourself spending a night looking out over the mountains. – Josh, The Lost Passport
Phrases and Words
- Thank you
- Sohm dtoh
- Excuse me
Are you ready to trek through Vietnam?