Vietnam is overflowing with natural beauty. Even just taking the train across the country, you’re bound to see multitudes of breathtaking scenes through the window. However, there are a few exceptional locations that particularly stand out. These especially astonishing places will take your breath away and tattoo themselves into your memory. Here are 9 of them:
1) Ha Giang (Hà Giang)
Visiting Ha Giang is like stepping into a postcard, well, more like riding a motorbike through a postcard. Although you should probably take a bus to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi, once in Ha Giang province it’s best to experience the incredible beauty of the “Ha Giang loop” by motorbike.
This 3-5 day loop showcases meandering valley roads throughout landscapes of epic mountains of green (or gold, depending on the time of year) terraced rice paddies. As well, you’ll often see seas of purple flowers tended by people from ethnic groups (mostly people from the “H’mong”, “Tay”, “Dao” and “Nung” groups among others) adorning brightly colored garments.
Throughout the loop are various adrenaline-surging mountain passes and viewpoints offering stunning panoramic views of villages, tranquil fields and winding roads. Depending on the weather and time of year, you may even find yourself above the clouds at times.
Ha Giang is the most northernmost province in Vietnam, and is also one of the most remote. It’s often regarded as one of the most photogenic places in Vietnam. Experiencing Ha Giang province via the Ha Giang loop is a true off-the-beaten-path adventure with absolutely surreal massively vertical views; it’s an opportunity to encounter a special corner of the world still largely untouched by modernization and mass tourism.
2) Sapa (Sa Pa)
If Ha Giang is a bit too off the beaten path for you and you’d prefer a bit of a more comfortable experience while still seeing the highland beauty of northern Vietnam, then Sapa is your spot. Sapa was originally a H’mong settlement but was later made into a summer retreat (and sanitorium) for French colonizers in the early 20th century, as the climate of Sapa is similar to that of alpine areas of France. When walking through Sapa today, European-influenced architecture can be witnessed in abundance.
Sapa town is surrounded by breathtaking valleys full of small serene villages nestled among staircases of rice paddies. There are quite a few luxurious hotels in the Sapa city center, and in the valleys outside Sapa there is an abundance of authentic homestays. Many of these homestays also include traditional meals derived from the cuisine of the ethnic people historically from the area.
Furthermore, from Sapa, you can take a cable car to the top of the highest mountain in Vietnam: Fansipan Mountain. The top of Fansipan will usually reward you with a view of mountain peaks poking up through the clouds like an archipelago rising from the sea.
Although it’s highly developed and lacks the level of adventure and authenticity of Ha Giang, Sapa is much more accessible (especially once they finish construction on the airport) and is still an excellent destination for getting some amazing views of the terraced rice paddies that northern Vietnam is so famous for.
3) Ban Gioc Waterfall (Thác Bản Giốc)
Ban Gioc Waterfall is the largest waterfall in Vietnam. Just like the rice paddies found throughout northern Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall is terraced in levels. This waterfall is actually located on the border between Vietnam and China. As it is quite distant from Hanoi and most other attractions, Ban Gioc Waterfall isn’t often too crowded with tourists or sightseers.
To get up close and personal with this roaring wonder, bamboo boats can take people right up to the bottom of the falls.
Although getting to this impressive feature is a bit of a mission (albeit a mission with nice scenery), waterfall connoisseurs won’t want to miss this magical, mighty giant.
4) Halong Bay (Vịnh Hạ Long)
Halong Bay is one of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam, and is arguably the most well-known. Being famous for its jungle-topped massive limestone walls rising proudly from the emerald sea, Halong Bay was seeing millions of tourists each year before 2020.
Most people opt to take boats of all different types and sizes to get up close to these natural marvels. Snorkeling, scuba diving, trekking, rock climbing, and kayaking are also popular activities. Cat Ba Island (Đảo Cát Bà), the largest island in Halong Bay, houses dozens of different hotels, hostels and homestays.
The alluring inherent beauty of Halong Bay has also made it a popular location internationally for filming movies, including 2017’s Kong: Skull Island.
Another stunning location that was used during the filming of Kong: Skull Island is Trang An.
5) Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex (Quần Thể Danh Thắng Tràng An)
Located in Ninh Binh province a couple of hours south of Hanoi, Trang An is Vietnam’s most recently appointed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Similar to Halong Bay, Trang An boasts awe-inspiring cliffs thrusting toward the sky. However, in Trang An, these cliffs stretch upward from a flat, uniform plain while a relaxingly lethargic river system nonchalantly swirls around (and through) the cliffs.
A day around Trang An could include hiking along ridges while enjoying heroic views of the surrounding unique scenery, or taking small boats through grottoes (you may need to duck your head a little bit) as you follow the river. As you lazily meander throughout this distinct ecological park, you’ll see different temples (and a filming location for Kong: Skull Island) along the edges of the river.
Although not a natural landmark, it’s also worth mentioning that Trang An is just a few kilometers the largest Buddhist complex in Southeast Asia: Bai Dinh Pagoda (Chùa Bái Đính).
6) Son Doong Cave (Hang Sơn Đoòng)
A lot of people don’t know this, but Vietnam actually has the largest cave in the world based on volume. It wasn’t discovered until 1991.
However, to see this record-shattering design of nature, you’re going to need to shell out $3,000 for a 4-day expedition. The reason for this high cost is primarily to preserve the cave by limiting the number of visitors each year (1,000 visitors per year).
From what I’ve heard through firsthand accounts given by people I’ve met, this monolithic cave will have you going through the same type of epiphanies that astronauts that go to space feel. Staring at the behemothic ceiling looming so high above you that it feels like the sky, you’re liable to experience realizations of how small and insignificant you actually are, compared to the colossal complexities of the universe; with that shift in awareness, comes acceptance and contentment.
Excursions to Son Doong Cave include trekking, scrambling, climbing with ropes, taking boats and wading through underground rivers. Rather than just witness the largest cave on Earth, you would be thoroughly experiencing it.
Check out this immersive virtual tour from National Geographic if you’re curious about what the depths of this gargantuan beast look like.
7) Hai Van Pass (Đèo Hải Vân) & Nearby Lang Co (Lăng Cô)
For people riding from Hanoi to HCMC or vice versa, the Hai Van Pass marks roughly the halfway point. From different points of the Hai Van Pass, on a clear day, you can get a pretty outstanding distant view of Danang and Son Tra Peninsula.
Riding the Hai Van Pass is an excellent way to get a cool breeze in your face and some serene coastline sights as you snake your way up and over the mountain.
Just to the north of the Hai Van pass is a sliver of land wedged between the ocean and a lagoon; this place is called Lang Co.
On the ocean-side of Lang Co, there is a long beautiful white-sand beach with an impressive view that provides some perspective of the mountains that the Hai Van Pass traverses. On the opposite side (the west side) of the Lang Co mini peninsula, you can rent a tiny boat and paddle around before catching a lagoon-vista sunset dinner at a seafood restaurant built out over the water.
8) Ly Son (Lý Sơn)
Ly Son Island District is a collection of 3 small volcanic islands (including one that’s uninhabited) that is relatively unknown by most non-locals. If you go there, there’s a pretty decent chance that you won’t even see a single Westerner. A mellow, quaint place to visit, Ly Son is where many Vietnamese people come for short holidays. It’s about a one-hour boat ride off the coast of Quang Nghi province.
The amazing thing about Ly Son is how absolutely crystal clear the shallow water surrounding the islands is. During the summer, if you gaze at the shore from the top of one of the volcanoes, you’ll be able to see the ocean floor straight through the translucent water all the way out to nearly 500 meters from the shoreline.
Ly Son has insanely delicious fresh seafood and both islands are absolutely covered in a patchwork of beautiful garlic farms.
9) Dalat (Đà Lạt)
Similar to Sapa, Dalat was “discovered” on a plateau by French colonizers who were looking for a temperate place to serve as a resort and summer retreat.
Dalat is different from other cities in Vietnam, as it’s one of the only places in the country where coniferous trees (“Dalat pine”) grow. Furthermore, Dalat is famous for having numerous different colorful flower fields/gardens, hence part of the reason why Dalat is a popular honeymoon destination. In fact, Dalat actually grows over 3 billion flowers per year, including international exports.
The misty hills embracing Dalat are also home to a multitude of different types of fruit, vegetable, coffee and tea farms. Dalat is special as crops that require colder climates can thrive there, in addition to most common sub-tropical and tropical crops.
Dalat also hosts romantic lakes to stroll around, as well as about a dozen different waterfalls not too far from the city center.
Plus an Abundance of Beaches
With 3,260 km of tropical coastline, Vietnam definitely has no shortage of gorgeous beaches. Although heavenly beaches are dotted throughout the country, a few of the most popular beach destinations include Danang (Đà Nẵng), Hoi An (Hội An), Nha Trang, Quy Nhon (Quy Nhơn), Mui Ne (Mũi Né), Phu Quoc (Phú Quốc), Vung Tau (Vũng Tàu) and, of course, Halong Bay (Vịnh Hạ Long). There’s a map embedded below with the locations of some of the most famous beaches in Vietnam.
The climate of Vietnam is such so that it is often perfect beach temperature. As well, most beaches in Vietnam are still relatively pristine and undamaged by mass tourism. Furthermore, many of them possess impressive vistas of wide white sand stretching out forever in either direction as the bay curves around.
Vietnam is a surrealistically attractive country with natural beauty quite unlike anywhere else. As such, this list is by no means a complete representation of the entirety of Vietnam’s severe beauty.
Furthermore, we didn’t even begin to touch on the major cities. For an idea of what it’s like living in each of the 3 major cities (Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon) then check out this post I wrote here.
Also, see the map below for the exact locations of each of the naturally beautiful places mentioned in this post, as well as locations of some of the most famous beaches in Vietnam.
So what do you think?
Is there a place in Vietnam that’s your favorite when it comes to natural beauty? Also, do you have a favorite place that wasn’t on this list?
If you haven’t yet been to Vietnam, are you feeling motivated to check out any of these locations?
Something to think about, or let’s hear it in the comments.