Say what you will, but Vietnam is probably the quintessential Southeast Asian destination. Nevermind the fact that the Vietnamese conical hat has been misused (and abused) by tourists, becoming a “symbol” of intrepid travel in the region, even in places completely unrelated to the country.

Vietnam has also seen a 25.4 per cent increase in international visitors over the past seven months, over the same period last year, according to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam.

Yes, most visitors are bound to get caught up in the fast-flowing streets of popular tourist spots like Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, but there is definitely more to the diverse country. In fact, it’s in the rural areas — the highlands, rivers, rice terraces and padi fields — where you can find hill tribes and other ethnic groups, allowing you to truly experience the culturally-rich country.

The next time you’re visiting Vietnam, set aside more time to explore these unspoiled rural areas and beautiful landscapes that will take up more than just a weekend.

1
Cao Bang Province

Cao Bang is a provincial outpost that lies in a picturesque crook in the Bang Giang River in Northeast Vietnam. Granted, there are not many hotels and infrastructure catered to tourists here, but the city is worth a wander — especially with its large riverside market and water buffalos grazing.

One of the highlights of the province is the Ban Gioc Waterfall located on Quay Son River, one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world. The 60-metre tall waterfall lies at the border between China and Vietnam, and is actually a collective of two waterfalls located on both sides.

2
Lam Dong Province

This mountainous province in the Central Highlands region is a picturesque one, with 70 per cent of its area covered in forest. Its distinctive landscapes include lakes, waterfalls, hills and pine forests.

The province is home to Tam Chau Tea Terraced Fields, the biggest of its kind in South Central Vietnam. It has just opened for tourism very recently, so the field is still largely undisturbed, offering a fresh perspective of Vietnamese tea culture for both local and foreign visitors alike.

3
Dong Thap Province

Dong Thap is a province in the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam, located about 165 km away from Ho Chi Minh City. While breathtaking, the province isn’t as well-known as neighbouring provinces like Tien Giang, Can Tho or Kien Giang.

Its drawing factor, though, is Tram Chim National Park, the biggest birds reserve and education centre in Vietnam, home to a rich biodiversity across 7,600 hectares of wilderness. The national park, located on the Mekong River floodplain, is one of the few natural landscapes found in the area. Here, you’ll find about one-fourth of the total number of birds in Vietnam, equivalent to around 200 species — including some which has been listed in the Red Book of Vietnam and the world.

4
Sapa Area

Sapa was established as a hill station by the French in 1922, but has now become the tourism centre of the northwest. It overlooks a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides, and local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.

Explore further into the surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages and you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm. Check out the Coc Ly Market, which attracts Dzao, Flower Hmong, Tay and Nung people from the surrounding hills, who gather to exchange their homemade products every Tuesday.

(Image credit: Vietnam Tonkin Travel

 

5
Mai Chau Valley

Although located slightly more than 135 kilometres outside Hoi An, the Mai Chau valley is a world away from its hustle and bustle. While the quaint town itself is located in the midst of a lush valley and surrounded by emerald-green rice fields, the beauty and culture lies in the countryside, where you can discover the stunning landscapes and visit the Muong tribe.

The best way to explore the peaceful countryside is riding a bike through the narrow village path, through terraced rice paddies and small villages, discovering the natural beauty of the valley and encountering the culture of the ethnic minority Thai people on visits to the Pom Coong and Na Phon villages.

Dewi Nurjuwita
Senior Writer
Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.