In minivans, large buses, private jets, public transport, private cars, and more, the tourists are arriving at the world’s premier travel destinations in hordes. Vietnam is one among the many destinations that are reaping the benefits of this. In 2018, around 14 million travellers are said to have visited various places in Vietnam, a steady growth of over 30 per cent in each of the last few years.
While this does bring advantages especially in forms of employment, the long-term effects are jarring. The very beauty that attracts tourists at the first place is eroded by their arrival.
For example, In the gorgeous Ha Long Bay, the government has banned fishing because of the environmental damage. This has forced fishing communities out of their homes. Homeless and jobless, they’re searching for a new spot to ply their trade in. The bay is also contaminated majorly, its azure blue waters not glistening as bright as they once did. Also, accidents have become common with the ever blowing demand being met by low-quality supply.
While the ‘package tourists’ may continue to travel to the hot spots, the independent travellers must make more conscious choices of places to visit in Vietnam. It is a country with warm people, delectable food, gorgeous mountains, quiet beaches, and a vibrant culture that needs to be protected. Moreover, after years of war, Vietnam has only recently found its feet and it would be cruel to cripple it this soon.
I’d go as far as to say that if we’re not travelling to offbeat and non-touristy places in Vietnam, we’re being purposefully ignorant and stupid. It is now a necessity, not a matter of choice.
Places In Vietnam To Avoid
1. Ha Long Bay
Laying on a junk boat as it traverses through crystal blue waters and meanders through the limestone cliffs is a dreamy proposition. But, we’ve already spoken about the massive damage tourism has caused in the bay in no time. A few blogs may recommend Bai Tu Long Bay as an alternative, but things are beginning to look down there as well.
Lan Ha Bay – The same waters and the cliffs without the crowds or any of the environmental damage, this is the ideal alternative if you’re kicked about the bay area.
2. Sa Pa
The villages of Sa Pa high in the northern mountains of Vietnam is the showstopper among the various places to visit in Vietnam. But, things are worsening by the day here, easily visible by taking a walk around Hanoi where every second shop sells you a visit to Sa Pa.
Mai Chau – Situated much closer to Hanoi than SaPa without compromising any of the greenery. A more similar alternative is Ha Giang, a tad further from Sa Pa but frequented by far fewer tourists.
3. Hoi An
I won’t deny that Hoi An’s old town is among the finest you’ll see in Asia, with lanterns adorning the streets, yellow-hued walls, and canals cutting through the town. But, thanks to the explosive number of tourists, the canals are stuffed with boats much like Venice and the streets suffocated with tourists.
We loved staying outside of Hoi An’s ancient town, near the beach area. The rural life around it is unique and the beaches are excellent. Alternatively, spend more time in the historic city of Hue whose vibe is starkly different from the rest of Vietnam.
4. Tam Coc (Ninh Binh)
Popularly known as ‘Ha Long Bay On Land’, Tam Coc’s degradation can be attributed to Instagram. Located in Ninh Binh where King Kong was shot, Tam Coc’s problems range from long irksome boat queues to over-enthusiastic hawkers.
Van Long Nature Reserve is located within the Ninh Binh region but remains far from the prying tourist eyes. The large limestone karsts and caves are reminiscent of Ha Long Bay, hence you won’t even feel the FOMO. Cuc Phuong reserve located in the same province is another offbeat place to visit in Vietnam.
Fresh Offbeat Destinations To Consider
We’ll admit it – We underestimated Vietnam’s size and made very poor itinerary decisions. The best way to explore it is to go deeper within a specific region as opposed to throwing all your hats into one.
Through (crazy hours of) research, meeting other travellers on the road, and our own experiences, we learnt about many offbeat locations in Vietnam that may be deserving of a spot in your Vietnam itinerary.
Here are a few of our recommendations:
For Beach & Diving: Con Dao Islands
Located away from the southern shores of the mainland, the Con Dao archipelago is a tad hard to get to. But, the extra splurge on flights from Ho Chi Minh may just be worth it. White sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, turtle breeding grounds, a historic prison, top-notch diving spots await one at Con Dao. We didn’t manage to reach Con Dao but a lot of trustworthy sources recommended it as one among the most offbeat places to in Vietnam.
For Adventure: Phong Nha Ke Bang
Central Vietnam plays host to a cave network far more extensive than anywhere else in the world. Aside from the world’s largest cave which can only be explored via an exorbitantly priced pre-booked tour with Oxalis (also, a waiting period of many years), there are hundreds of caves well within physical and financial reach. Ride a kayak into the caves, go spelunking, or ride mountain bikes in the surrounding dirt roads. The place is climbing up the tourist charts every day, so the best time to go is today.
For Biking & Nature – Ho Chi Minh Trail (Not The City!)
Erstwhile military supply road between the Northern and Southern regions, the trail leads travellers into unique parts of Central Vietnam. It is ideally explored on a motorbike beginning at Hue or Hoi An. The route traverses remote villages, the relatively unknown Tam Giang Lagoon and its fishing communities, and the Hai Van Pass that featured on Top Gear, among other spots.
We recommend Hoi An Motorbike Tour Adventures run by Mr Phu for this. You could ride on your own or ride pillion (Expect a lot of A-jokes from the crew, though!)
For History & Tribes: Kon Tum
Kon Tum province is home to Vietnam’s lesser-known hill tribes, a place that has preserved age-old traditions. Live in unique rong houses built on stilts, meet the Bahnar or Jarai tribes, or just use this as a base to detox from today’s highly connected world. While in the area, also visit Buon Ma Thuot where you can sample delish coffee and meet Elephants. We didn’t make it here but it is among the biggest travel regrets of the year for us.
Vietnam’s popularity among travellers is skyrocketing every day, which is a boon and bane all at once. It is very easy to be bowled over by Vietnam’s raw beauty. But, you’d do its future a world of good by making more responsible travel choices.
If you know of other places to visit in Vietnam that could excite travellers and save it from the impending over tourism doom, drop them in the comments below, please?