Vietnam is known for majour tourist attractions like Halong Bay, Sapa and Hoi An. But there are plenty of other things to do in Vietnam and many beautiful places to explore. With a bit of planning and research, you can escape the crowds and experience true Vietnam. Take advantage of the country’s amazing nature and scenery for adventure sports and off the beaten track tours. Here are five of my favorite activities for adventurous travelers to Vietnam:
Top 5 Things to do in Vietnam for Adventurous Travelers
1. Discover remote beaches on Con Dao
A wide, sandy beach with all the amenities but none of the crowds. Nice!
Vietnam has its share of famous beaches – Mui Ne, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc are well known for their long stretches of sandy beaches. And those are beautiful beaches, but their fame brings with it a lot of tourists, making them quite crowded at times. If rows of sun loungers and beach vendors are not your thing, take a look at Con Dao instead.
Con Dao consists of a group of small islands south east of the Vietnamese mainland, far away from the bustling cities and resorts Vietnam is known for. The main island, Con Son, is surrounded by picturesque bays, most of which are still beautifully empty and unspoiled. On the aptly named airport beach (officially Dam Trau beach), you can sip on a fresh coconut while watching little propeller planes making their approach for Con Son airport. The island also offers plenty of hiking and is a Vietnamese top destination for diving, so there are plenty of things to do if you’ve had enough beach time.
It’ll just be you and the crabs (of which there are many)
Want adventure in a different corner of the world? Check out these 5 Activities for Adventure Travelers on the Costa Brava, Spain!
2. Experience local life in the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the “rice bowl” of Vietnam and agriculture is a massive part of the region’s economy, making this area a colourful and tasty place to discover. Fruit is abundant, especially coconut, so market visits are a must. Most travellers take organised tours from Saigon, but you can easily experience the Mekong Delta on your own with a bit of planning. Areas like Can Tho, Vinh Long (and the nearby An Binh island) and Ben Tre offer both upscale accommodation on the river and simple home stays. The home stays tend to be more of a guesthouse experience rather than true home stays, but they can still be a great way to get an insight into local life and some of them offer outstanding local food, often with fresh produce from their own gardens.
There’s no better way to experience the Mekong Delta than on two wheels: hire a bicycle for shorter distances or a scooter to explore wider areas. Ben Tre is an amazing town to base yourself in for a few days to explore the surrounding area and islands by motorbike. You also can’t miss a half day boat tour to one of the floating markets. Can Tho and Cai Be are great options for floating markets.
Google says road: Planning your Mekong Delta adventure with Google maps is a perfectly reasonable plan, as long as you’re prepared to consider this a road and drive your motorbike over it.
Cycling the Mekong Delta local style
Try your sign language haggling skills over a watermelon at Cai Be floating market
3. Eat street food in Saigon
There is no shortage of people, myself included, who travel to Vietnam for the food. And there is no better place to taste everything Vietnam has to offer than Saigon. A mixture between traditional street food and upscale restaurants means you will never go hungry. I’ve also found food quality and taste to be consistently better in Saigon than in the rest of Vietnam. Some highlights to try include Pho Bo Ko, a thick beef stew soup; a crispy Banh Mi sandwich filled with a little bit of everything; or Com Tam rice topped with grilled lemongrass pork. There’s much more though, see my Saigon street food guide or Legal Nomad’s much more comprehensive guide to Saigon food.
If you fancy something non-Vietnamese, Saigon also has great sushi and one of my favourite curry places in the world, Baba’s Kitchen.
Bo Kho, the most underrated Vietnamese soup and a hundred times more exciting than your usual Pho Bo.
Because anything is better with a massive pile of herbs and wrapped in rice paper.
A classic lunch spot: The Lunch Lady (easily found on Google Maps) provides a daily changing bowl of magical soup
4. Take a motorbike tour through the highlands and ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Our one week motorbike tour through the Vietnamese Central Highlands is high up on the list of best travel experiences I’ve ever done, and if you have the time and money to do such a tour, I say go book it now. Dalat – which is worth a visit on its own – is a hub for Vietnam’s Easy Riders, groups of motorbike tour guides that will take you on day tours or longer tours up to four weeks long. They will strap your luggage on the back of their bikes and take you for a ride through the most remote areas of Vietnam, riding along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and stunning mountain passes, stopping to show you how the locals make rice paper, taking you on hikes to unspoilt waterfalls and sharing authentic local meals with you.
Some people prefer discovering the country on their own, but going with a guide means you get to relax on the back of a bike and enjoy the scenery, and you have a translator with you that will make interacting with the locals a lot easier – English is still only spoken by very few people in the remote country side.
Discover the hidden beauty of the Vietnamese highlands
Ban Xeo: crispy fried pancakes filled with pork , shrimps and veggies at a local eatery we would never have found ourselves.
Fact: 98% of near misses during our trip were with animals – amongst them cows, pigs, dogs, goats and the ubiquitous Vietnamese chicken
Freedom! Enjoying the views on the Hai Van Pass, made famous by the guys from Top Gear
This solid bike and our trusted chief Easy Rider Hung lead us from Dalat to Hué in a week packed with excitement
5. Kite surf in Mui Ne or Phan Rang
While sun seekers may complain about the strong breeze all along the East coast of the Vietnamese mainland (famously known as the South China Sea), the strong winds provide great conditions for kite surfers and wind surfers. Mui Ne has become a bit of a mecca for kite surfers and there are now plenty of shops along the beach offering rentals and lessons.
For those looking for a more laid back atmosphere and less crowds, the area around Phan Rang also boasts some great kite surfing areas. Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club is a great place to hang out as well and if you don’t fancy the look of the hotels in the area, they will even let you pitch a tent right on the beach.
A picturesque beach as a base for your kite surfing adventures
Headed to Mui Ne? Check out my food tips for Mui Ne as well and discover the best soup ever!
What’s your favorite memory of Vietnam? And what Vietnam adventures are on your bucket list?