Vietnam offers a wide range of trekking adventures for those looking to escape the busy cities and to get out into nature. The most popular routes are found in and around Sa Pa, a mountainous region in the northern part of the country. Vietnam’s and Indochina’s tallest peak, Fansipan reaches an altitude of 3144 metres (10282 feet) and takes three days to climb to its summit. If you’re not up for a multi-day expedition, visit the Central Highlands and base yourself in Da Lat. There are several trails in and around the highlands to suit any level of ability.
Some of the adventurous might want to get off the beaten path and explore the more rural parts of the country. This is possible, but it’s best to go through a tour company as some of the ultra-rural villages might not be particularly welcoming to foreigners. The guide can act as a translator allowing you to communicate with the locals.
Despite having a coastline totalling more than 3500 kilometres in both the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam’s status as a diving hotspot is still in its infancy. Inexperienced divers and those looking to get certified should head to Nha Trang in Central Vietnam. The top diving spots here include the Black Island (Hon Mun Island) and Madonna Rock. Expect to see multi-coloured coral and a range of marine life swimming just below the surface. The Cham Islands off the coast of Hoi An also provide some of Vietnam’s best diving spots. If you want a more adventurous experience, visit the Con Dao archipelago near the Gulf of Thailand and swim among the rays and sharks to a shipwreck.
3. Visiting National Parks
Few outsiders associate Vietnam with having a wide range of national parks. Did you know that the country boasts 30 protected areas covering tropical rainforest, caves, waterfalls and a whole plethora of wildlife and endangered species? Some are more famous and accessible than others. Tourists who want to experience nature and outdoor activities should include a trip to one of Vietnam’s national parks on their itinerary. Popular and accessible ones include Cat Tien, Bach Ma and Cuc Phuong. Accommodation in the form of hostels and high-end bungalows can be found in some of the parks. It’s a good idea to plan and figure out your transport and where you’re going to stay in advance.
Zip-lining is another one of the outdoor activities in Vietnam beginning to gain popularity. The longest one is in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh and stretches a total of 400 metres (1312 feet). The line passes over the river towards the entrance of Dark Cave. Ask anyone about their experience, and almost all claim it to be one of their highlights in Vietnam.
5. Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is another extreme sport still in its infancy in Vietnam. With the rise of tourism, the once difficult to reach places are slowly opening up to tour groups and independent travellers. The best places to go rock climbing in Vietnam are in Cat Ba Island, Ha Long Bay and Da Lat. More experienced climbers might be able to transverse the Marble Mountains near Da Nang. VietClimb in Hanoi has recently opened an indoor climbing arena to promote the sport. So far, it’s received a lot of positive feedback from young enthusiasts.
Canyoning is a relatively new concept on the extreme sports scene. The activity entails, as the name implies, passing through rocky canyons. In order to achieve this goal, the adventurer might need to combine rock climbing, trekking, scrambling and passing through rivers. Da Lat is one of the only places to offer this type of activity making it one of the more unique things to do in Vietnam. However, you do need to have a high level of physical fitness and be prepared for what nature might throw at you. Canyoning isn’t easy.
7. Sea Kayaking
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s Unesco-listed paradise in the north-eastern part of the country, offers sea kayaking in a pristine environment. The region itself has more than 2000 limestone islets surrounded by hundreds of lagoons in the jade coloured waters. Kayaking tours take place daily and give tourists the opportunity to visit some of the more secluded parts of the bay. Kayaking around the world famous Ha Long Bay is a once in a lifetime experience and should be a priority for anyone with a passion for the sport.
You might also be able to find other places along Vietnam’s long stretch of coastline offering sea kayaking tours too. But most will just be a few metres off the shore and finding information beforehand can be challenging. Keep your eyes open and an ordinary trip to the beach might turn out to be serendipitous.
8. White Water Rafting
Another first in Vietnam, white water rafting is slowly gaining popularity among local and foreign tourists. The trip begins in Da Lat taking tourists to some of the least explored parts of the region along the Lang Bian River. Experienced rafters will satisfy their urge for adrenaline as they race through a series of rapids ranging from II up to the challenging IV types. If you do want to experience this epic adventure in Vietnam, the only way is to join an organised tour departing from Da Lat.
9. Motorbike Adventures
One of the best things to do in Vietnam for anyone with a passion for adventure is to ride a motorbike from the north to the south of Vietnam. Fly into the country and buy a motorbike and then off you go. A highway links Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City passing through some of Vietnam’s top tourist spots including Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Da Nang and Hoi An. Expect the journey to last at least a few weeks to a month. You can also explore some of the national parks or head to the famous Ha Long Bay if you have the time. Just be aware that the driving conditions can be dangerous and you need to have your wits about you at all times.
10. Mountain Biking
At one time in the not so distant past, a bicycle was the main form of transport for millions of Vietnamese. But in the 21st century, the popularity of riding a bike for recreational activities is beginning to grow. The top spots for a mountain biking adventure are in Sa Pa. Adventurous tourists can arrange either a half or full day excursion with experienced guides to ride along the mountain trails. Expect the tracks to be tough and to pass through some of the minority villages. This is a must for anyone with a passion for cycling and will give an unforgettable cultural experience. Other favourite areas can be found in both Da Lat and the Mekong Delta.
As with the point above, it’s also possible to cycle from one end of the country to the other. More tourists are taking up the challenge of travelling around the country in the saddle. It’s possible to do this solo or as part of a tour.
Vietnam houses hundreds of caves with many of these located in Quang Binh Province a few hundred kilometres south of Hanoi. The world’s largest cave, Son Doong, is found in Quang Binh attracting thousands of adventure seeking cavers each year. Not only does Son Doong entice thrill seekers to this part of Vietnam, but there are also several other cave systems in the region too. The most famous ones include Hang En, Hang Tien and Dark Cave.
Located a few hours north of Ho Chi Minh City lies one of the best beaches Vietnam: Mui Ne. The area has an active nightlife and attracts thousands of tourists each year for a few days of relaxing on the beach. But the clean sand isn’t the only thing that appeals to tourists. Mui Ne is famous for its water sports including paddle boarding. If you’re not sure, imagine a combination of surfing and kayaking as you stand on a board and paddle around in the sea. Getting out onto the water and having a new experience often rates among the Vietnam top things to do in Mui Ne.
13. Sand Boarding
Another favourite activity near Mui Ne is something you wouldn’t expect to find in Vietnam. Believe it or not, a short drive from the beach town are several large dunes inside a desert microclimate. If you want to try, simply rent a motorbike and drive to the dunes before renting a board. Climb up the dune and ride the board back down. Few places in Asia offer this kind of experience, and it’s something that shouldn’t be missed on your trip to Vietnam. And the fun doesn’t end there. If you have your own motorbike, it’s possible to drive along a trail running in parallel to the beach having an off-road adventure while surrounded by incredible scenery.
A short bus journey from Da Lat and a hike through the forests will bring you to Vietnam’s prime abseiling spot. After a brief safety induction, you’ll have the chance to propel yourself down the cliffs and waterfalls in the untouched and often unseen beauty of Da Lat. Abseiling down the waterfalls offers a unique experience as you desperately try to scramble down the slippery rocks while being soaked from the cascades above. Not for everyone, but a fun way to spend an afternoon when you’re in the Central Highlands.
15. The Vietnam Mountain Marathon
This is the ultimate thrill-seeking adventure for those with the stamina and endurance. The gruelling 100-kilometre footrace is the most challenging one-day running event in the country. Beginning near Sa Pa and traversing valleys, mountains and passing through minority villages, the run is somewhat of a legend among the regional running communities. And if you’re not up for the challenge, don’t despair. You can choose between a 10-kilometre fun run to both half and full marathons distances before reaching the punishing ultras of 70 and 100 kilometres. The Vietnam Mountain Marathon is an annual event and worth participating for anyone with a passion for running.
Thrill-seeking tourists are sure to find what they’re looking for on a trip to Vietnam. Everything from trekking in the national parks to diving in unexplored waters to scaling the tallest peak in Indochina is available for the adventurous. Most of these activities, though, should only be attempted with a guide or tour group and may have limited spaces. So, if any of these pique your interests, get online and start planning your Adventures in Vietnam today.