Idyllic rewards await off the beaten track in Vietnam

By Nguyen Quy   August 31, 2019 | 08:16 pm GMT+7

Some scenic towns in Vietnam are yet to be packed with tourists, and offer an authentic taste of the country.

Vietnam's diverse landscapes encompass white sandy beaches, enchanting rice paddies and lush forests. 

With mountainous town Sa Pa and Ha Long Bay in the north, Da Lat in the Central Highlands and Nha Trang in central region becoming quite touristy with a bunch of luxury hotels and resorts, it is arguably a better idea to discover the S-shaped country’s many picture-postcard towns that are idyllic and lesser-known.

Sa Dec, Dong Thap

Sa Dec is a town in Dong Thap Province, 139 km (86 miles) southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and home to many French-era houses and buildings that reflect Vietnamese history of the 20th century when the country was still dominated by French colonial rule.

This little town was the original setting of the autobiographical novel "L’Amant" (The Lover) by French writer Marguerite Duras that tells her love story with a Chinese-Vietnamese man, Huynh Thuy Le of Sa Dec. The novel was published in 1984 and has since been translated into 43 languages and adapted into a movie in 1992. 

The front of Huynh Thuy Le ancient house in Sa Dec City. Photo by Shutterstock/Vivanvu.

The front of Huynh Thuy Le ancient house in Sa Dec City. Photo by Shutterstock/Vivanvu.

Situated on a street along the Sa Dec River, Le’s ancient house is a living witness to the sad love story but intense romance of the couple and now a tourist attraction in the Mekong Delta.

While in Sa Dec do not forget to visit Tan Quy Dong flower village, one of the most important flower-growing centers in southern Vietnam with a history of more than 100 years.

A farmer waters flowering plants at Sa Dec of Dong Thap Province, southern Vietnam. Photo by Nguyen Tan Tuan.

A farmer waters flowering plants in Sa Dec of Dong Thap Province, southern Vietnam. Photo by Nguyen Tan Tuan.

This garden is at its busiest and most beautiful during January and February as farmers prepare flowers and bonsai trees for Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday and Vietnam's biggest festival, which falls in the first two months of the year.

Cai Be, Tien Giang

Cai Be, a little rural town in Tien Giang Province, is often referred to as the rice bowl of the Mekong Delta and also the country’s largest fruit producing area. It is home to one of the biggest floating markets in the delta, tropical fruit farming, traditional crafts, and historical attractions.

Located on the Tien River, one of two tributaries to the Mekong River in Vietnam, Cai Be floating market is a sight not to be missed though these days it is not as crowded as it used to be as its traders leave to work on land.

Boats carrying fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers from nearby districts gather at Cai Be floating market every morning. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

Boats carrying fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers from nearby districts gather at Cai Be floating market every morning. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

The market opens at around 5 a.m. and boats carrying fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers from nearby districts gather here. It remains a principal attraction for boat tours in the Mekong Delta.

You can also take a boat here to explore nearby islands or take a detour on the way back to see canals or visit orchards. The market is at its best at 5-6 a.m. The light at this time is ideal, so don’t forget to bring your camera.

Another attraction in Tien Giang is a boat tour to Thoi Son Islet, which sits in the downstream part of the Tien River.

People take boat rides under coconut canopies along canals that zigzag through the small islet. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

People take boat rides under coconut canopies along canals that zigzag through the small islet. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

Visitors can take a boat ride under coconut canopies along canals that zigzag through the islet. It has been a popular eco-tourism site since the 1990s. Now it gets hundreds of visitors every day. 

The islet is good for a quick bite at little restaurants decorated with bonsai plants or locals’ houses surrounded by fruit trees.

You can also join in and help locals prepare lunch, which might include wallowing in mud as you try to catch a fish by hand or using traditional fish traps.

There are also many local products worth trying like coconut sweets and jams.

Mai Chau, Hoa Binh

Around 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the northwest of Hanoi, the quiet town of Mai Chau in the northern mountainous province of Hoa Binh provides a welcome respite from the rush of cities like Hanoi.

The beautiful landscape of Mai Chau Valley in Hoa Binh Province. Photo by Shutterstock/Minhhue.

The beautiful landscape of Mai Chau Valley in Hoa Binh Province. Photo by Shutterstock/Minhhue.

Mai Chau is surrounded by limestone cliffs and green paddies. The ethnic White Thai account for a major portion of the town’s population. This small town and nearby villages in the neighborhood have for long lived mainly on rice and brocade weaving.

It is a nice place to go on mountain treks or just walk amidst green rice fields, stay in traditional stilt houses with the ethnic minority residents, visit the Pa Co flea market held every Sunday, and get to know more about the lifestyles, cultures and traditions of the Thai.

On the way to Mai Chau, you can see Thung Khe Pass situated 1,000 meters above sea level, cutting through mountain cliffs in a curve. To best enjoy the views, visit Mai Chau by motorbike.

A patchwork of rice terraces in Mai Chau. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran.

A patchwork of rice terraces in Mai Chau. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran.

The valley is home to two of the most successful homestay tourism villages in Vietnam: Lac and Poom Coong. In both villages, White Thai families offer simple accommodation in stilt houses right at the edge of rice fields.

Dong Van, Ha Giang

Situated around 160 kilometers from the center of Ha Giang, a northern mountainous province bordering China, is Dong Van, a small, quiet town located in a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs. The most picturesque part of Dong Van is the old quarter where there are many rundown clay houses built in the late 19th century.

The typical architecture of the town includes two-story houses with red lanterns hanging along the streets.

The hill-tribe market is a unique feature of the mountainous northern regions and Dong Van Market, held every Sunday from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., is among the largest and busiest.

An aerial view of Dong Van old town in Ha Giang up in the northern mountainous region. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran.

An aerial view of Dong Van old town in Ha Giang up in the northern mountainous region. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran.

It is a place to shop for local products made by ethnic minorities such as the Mong, Han, Dao, Giay, and Tay and a place for young women to hang out with friends in their colorful traditional costumes, shopping and having fun. On Saturdays villagers light up the town with red lanterns against the harsh cold weather in the northern mountains.

Dong Van is home to a mixed community of Tay, Nung and H'Mong people. If you make a trip there in April or May you will see locals tending their terraced fields.

An ethnic minority woman picks yellow mustard flowers in Lao Xa Village, Dong Van District, Ha Giang. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien.

An ethnic minority woman picks yellow mustard flowers in Lao Xa Village, Dong Van District, Ha Giang. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien.

In September and October the carpets of golden yellow rice is ready for harvest and you will be treated to breathtaking scenes of of buckwheat flowers bloom in white and pastel pink all over the Dong Van karst plateau as a bonus. Between November and January pure white and yellow mustard flowers enchant visitors.

Tam Dao, Vinh Phuc

Tam Dao, or ‘three islands’ in Vietnamese, located 90 kilometers southeast of Hanoi, is a hill town in Vinh Phuc Province, northern Vietnam. It is considered a mini version of Da Lat, a resort town in the Central Highlands, thanks to its cool climate all year round with average temperatures of 20-22 degrees Celsius and clouds hanging over it.  

Sunset in Tam Dao is viewed from the Heavens Gate. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Dinh.

Sunset in Tam Dao is viewed from the Heaven's Gate. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Dinh.

Tam Dao has been almost a cliché in the capital's guidebooks for weekend escapes ever since the French discovered the area in late 19th century. Hanoians too have begun to go there in large numbers to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. A two-hour ride from the capital offers a sea of clouds and a maze of hidden spots.

Tam Dao is called ‘dreamy land' by travel bloggers since everything in the town is engulfed by the clouds. The best time to see the town is from 6 p.m. Remember to carry warm clothes against the cool weather.

Today Tam Dao teems with villas, hotels and even luxury resorts. The number of tourists coming here for the weekend has been growing. Sometimes when you take a walk around the town’s winding roads, you can hear the sounds of people singing karaoke.

Spend a little time to discover an old stone church which was built by the French in 1912. It is situated in a nice, high place right in the center of the town from where you can view the entire place.

Tam Dao is now flooded with villas, hotels and even luxury resorts. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Dinh.

Tam Dao now teems with villas, hotels and even luxury resorts. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Dinh.

From the church turn left to reach Heaven's Gate from where you can have an awesome overview of misty Tam Dao, which seems to float in large white clouds amid the blue sky.

Tam Dao Central Market is a small area that you can explore in just 10 minutes. During that time you will see vegetables sold at all stalls, bound in large bundles or wrapped with beef.

Chayote, known as su su in Vietnamese, is a Tam Dao specialty which is grown all over the hillside.

Yell "su su," and a motorbike rider with chayote packed in his backseat is likely to stop and sell you a bunch for a few dollars.

 
 
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