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Adventure Travel Vietnam: hill tribes, scenery, and hectic cities

Children of the Black Hmong hill tribe in Sapa Vietnam has a lot to offer for the adventure traveler.

Magnificent scenery, colorful hill tribes, nice beaches, temples, hectic cities, and the unique Mekong Delta, there is a lot to explore.

But if you hate annoying touts offering postcards, tours, hotels, shoe shine, etcetera, you might want to avoid this country.

Although it is still a communist country, it is the nature of the Vietnamese to sell, sell, sell. They adapted communism, and even Buddhism to reflect their capitalist nature.

Nevertheless, if you know how to handle these touts, Vietnam is an easy country to explore. You can go to any highlight on an organized tour. Or you can hire a motorbike with a guide almost anywhere.

Independent travel is also possible. But every now and then, you might ask yourself why to go through all the hassle, and not just take a tour.

In a hurry? Click here to move down to What's on Offer in Vietnam

Hill Tribes in the North

The North of Vietnam is home to many colorful hill tribes. It is a great destination for trekking through the mountains. The scenery is magnificent, and it is interesting to see how the tribes live in their traditional villages.

We explored the area around Sapa, where we had maginificent views over the valley below. We met the girls of the Black H'mong tribe, who followed us around as cute touts. And we walked along waterfalls, waded through the river, visited small villages of the tribes.

Hanoi, bustling capital, and perfect base for daytrips

Arriving in the capital, you will probably be overwhelmed by the motorbikes in Hanoi, like we were.

Yet, when you settle down somewhere in the old town, you will find the charm of this city. Moreover, it's a perfect base for some daytrips. The scenery in Halong Bay

We took a tour to the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay. Magnificent karst mountains rising up from the sea. It is a bit touristy, but you shouldn't miss it.

And we visited the Perfume Pagoda, to be reached via a boat trip on the river, again in beautiful scenery.

Moving from North to South along the coast

The narrow strip that is Vietnam can be traveled by train, bus, or motorbike. Along the way, you will find the imperial city of Hue.

A nice citadel, although the interior has been damaged by the different walls. But it is still a nice city to visit, and you can make day trips to the demilitarized zone from here. If you're interested in the history of the Vietnam (or, as they say in Vietnam, the American) war.

The mountain range just below Hue is also the border between two climate zones. In summer, you may not notice the difference. But in winter, it can be cold and wet in Hue and the north, and warm and dry just below, in Hoi An and the South.

Hoi An is a nice small harbor city. There are not so many motorbikes here, making it a nice laid back town. And it is a great place to shop for clothes or magnificent woodwork.

Cham towers, remnants of the lost Champa Kingdom From Hoi An, you can make a day trip to the ruins of My Son, an old temple complex of the Champa Kingdom. Although it is also damaged by the war, this is a very interesting trip.

There is a nice beach near Hoi An, but most of the tourists move to Nha Trang. There is more of a tourist industry there, good for diving and snorkeling. Other beaches can be found as well, anywhere between quiet and touristy.

Read more about Hue, Hoi An, My Son, and Nha Trang in the travelogue about our trip along the coast southward, in search for the better weather in Vietnam.

The Central Highlands around Dalat

Below the narrow strip in the middle, Vietnam widens a bit and moving landinward you will find the Central Highlands.

Again, this area has magnificent landscapes, and in the mountains you can find several hill tribes, although not as colorful as those in the North.

A good base for making trips is Dalat, although this place is also popular among local tourists.

From Dalat, we made several trips around the central highlands, visiting waterfalls, hill tribe villages, the Crazy Monk and Crazy House, and much more.

Saigon, capital of the south

Officially, Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. But the old capital Saigon is larger, and it is still the commercial center. The Vietnamese government renamed the city as Ho Chi Minh City, but it is still better known as Saigon.

The city has several interesting places to visit, like the Notre Dame cathedral, the War remnants musuem, and different temples and pagodas.

But it is also nice to just watch the hectic city life from a terrace in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area of Saigon.

The Vietcong tunnels in Cu Chi

On a daytour from Saigon, we visit the Cu Chi Tunnels. More remnants of the war, and the most interesting ones. Visiting these tunnels of the Vietcong give insight in how the war was fought by the Vietnamese. A bit tacky, however, is that tourists can shoot with all kinds of rifles here. Monkey Bridge in the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta

Further south is the large area known as the Mekong Delta.. This is a special part of Vietnam, since everything is different here.

The people in the Mekong Delta live on, in between, and with the water. It's amazing to see the floating markets, the monkey bridges, people doing the dishes in the river, bathing, etcetera.

Adventure Travel offers in Vietnam

Almost every tour in Vietnam is offered on the streets in Hanoi and Saigon. Yet, you may get tired of all the touts, having to haggle all the time, and having no overview. Also, you might want to arrange your trip upfront, especially if your time is limited.

Therefore, we have collected the best adventure travel offers available on the Internet:

Soul Adventures has a 14 day tour exploring the culture of Vietnam. Visit Hanoi, the hill tribes in the North, Hoi An, the Beach, Saigon, and the Mekong Delta in only 2 weeks, including some activities. If your time is limited, but you want to see and do it all, this is the best tour.

Culture House focuses on culture exchange and immersions, volunteering and work experiences, eco-tourism and leisure activities. You can compose your own program, with different building blocks for Adventure, Beach, Culture, or Volunteer work. You can also choose an Orientation module to learn all about Vietnams culture in a local village.

GAP Adventures has a cycle trip through Vietnam, with overnight train trips to cover the distances. Several other trips as well, including one for Families. Check them out here.

Kumuka, one of the largest adventure travel experts in the world, has Activity Tours, Small Group Tours, Specialist Tours, and Family Tours, in all regions of Vietnam. You can find an overview of their tours here.

Responsible Travel searches for inspriring holidays from different tour operators, often local. The common denominator is that the tours need to make a difference to the local people and/or the environment. Their selection of responsible tours in Vietnam can be found here.

Do you want to Do Something Different?. Here is a collection of things to do in Vietnam, although the obvious Halong Bay and other tours are also listed.

And then, there's a possibility for guided on and off-road motorcycle tours in Vietnam. For those, check the Offroad Vietnam website.

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