The Ultimate Outdoor Adventure Itinerary for Vietnam

There are so many reasons to love Vietnam, from the crazy-beautiful landscape to the unanimously delicious bowls of phở (YUM). After a year of living in Vietnam, I still find myself gobsmacked by the place on a near-daily basis.

Why? Mainly because it’s such a diverse country. Where else can you find jungles, mountains, cities, wetlands, beaches, and sand dunes all within a few hundred kilometers of each other?

 

From riding a motorbike through the northern mountains to trekking through one of Vietnam’s many national parks (there are 30, FYI), the country’s outdoor adventure offerings are enough to keep even the most hyperactive travelers totally enthralled.

But before we dig into the main course, let’s run through some essential info that every female traveler should know before hopping on the next flight to Ho Chi Minh.

When is the best time to visit Vietnam?

Even though Vietnam enjoys tropical year round weather, it’s still a seasonal destination. The weather changes pretty significantly throughout the year, so it pays to know what to expect before you plan an outdoors itinerary.

July-October is rain season. During these months, you can pretty much count on torrential downpour at least a couple times a week - maybe even every day. It tends to rain hard for a short period of time each day and the rest of the time it’s a mix of sun and clouds. Humidity will be higher than usual and temperatures will match.

For those planning to spend most of their time outdoors, the best time to visit is November-April. The sun will be out virtually every day, rain is less likely, and the temperature will be warm (although the northern regions will still be a bit chilly from December-February).

Is it safe to travel there as a female (or alone)?

Absolutely. Vietnamese people are kind and respectful, and in most places, they’re completely used to seeing and interacting with foreign travelers.

It’s a very safe country; street crime is low - although there are some unfortunate cases of bag snatching in the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. In fairness though, it’s a danger that can usually be avoided if you keep your valuables hidden and your eyes open.

As for traveling as a solo female, it’s definitely safe to do so. With that in mind, Vietnam is still a developing country with cultures and customs very different to the West, so it’s not unheard of for certain locals to stare - or ask for a photo - when they see a foreigner. While this might make some women uncomfortable, it doesn’t pose any real threat.

If you’re concerned about attracting unwanted attention, you’ll probably feel more comfortable wearing clothes that aren’t revealing. Light scarves and long floaty dresses, skirts, or pants are a good way to go.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff:

The Ultimate Outdoor Adventure Itinerary for Vietnam

1. Trekking in Mu Cang Chai

Nestled into the northerly province of Yen Bai, Mu Cang Chai is all rippling rice terraces, misty mountains, and tumbling hills and valleys (*sigh*).

The scenery is pretty similar to what you’d find in Sapa, but the biggest difference is that Sapa is a huge tourist hotspot while Mu Cang Chai is still pretty much untouched by mass modern tourism.

Book in for an authentic homestay and set yourself up in one of the local’s houses. The homestay hosts are used to having foreign travelers, and they’ll be super into sharing sightseeing tips and stuffing you full of home cooked food.

Trekking in the mountains is a must-do. You can choose to go it alone or sign up for a guided tour, the latter of which is a good way to make sure that you’ll end up with the best views. Make sure you charge your phone; you’re going to want to take a lot of pictures.

It’s easy to reach Mu Cang Chai from Hanoi; just hop on one of the ‘luxury’ tourist coaches (aircon and wifi, score!) in the evening and you’ll be in Mu Cang Chai by morning. Alternatively, you can also take a local bus/train combo, which will work out a bit cheaper but won’t be quite as cushy.

2. Motorbiking in Ha Giang

After you’ve tested out your trekking skills, head further north to Ha Giang Province, right on the edge of the Chinese border.

The first thing to do is rent a motorbike; this is the easy part since you can find bike rentals virtually everywhere in Ha Giang. It’s best to choose a bike specifically designed for mountainous trail riding since they have better power and more control. If that sounds daunting, you can also hire a local guide cheaply and easily; the like of Easy Riders offer motorbike tours with a driver while you just sit on the back and enjoy the view.

Speaking of the view, get ready to be seriously impressed; there’s a reason so many travelers come to this area specifically to ride the Ha Giang Loop. The landscape is all soaring mountains, plunging valleys, terraced rice fields, and small authentic hill tribes.

3. Deep water soloing in Cat Ba

From Ha Giang, head back to Hanoi for a night. Stay in a comfy hotel, stroll around the Old Quarter, and chow down on some bun cha. In the morning, take the early shuttle over to Cat Ba Island.

Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay and is mostly covered by lush jungle and National Park. Trekking in the park is a popular activity - and well worth doing if you’ve still got a hiking buzz after your trip to Mu Cang Chai.

If you’re ready to try your hand at something totally new, head for the coast and get in touch with the local rock climbing crew. Cat Ba Island is the place in Vietnam for climbing, bouldering, and deep water soloing (which, if you didn’t know, involves scaling a rock face over the water - without any harness on; when you get tired you fall right into the warm blue water below).

4. Kayaking in Halong Bay

From Cat Ba, you’re in just the right place to start exploring Halong Bay - which no trip to Vietnam would be complete without.

The emerald blue water and jagged limestone towers rising out of the bay are insanely beautiful; it’s really no wonder Halong Bay is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonder of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site (phew - mouthful).

The most popular way to explore the bay is by hopping on a cruise. It’ll be one of the most expensive things you’ll do in Vietnam, but if you have the funds it’s totally worth it. Try to get onboard for an overnight trip if your schedule allows for it; nothing beats waking up in your cabin and looking out to that view.

Onboard the cruises and back on land, it’s easy to rent kayaks. Pack a waterproof bag and paddle out for a day of exploring; it’s the best way to discover the hidden parts of the bay (think untouched beaches away from all of the tourists!).

Extra tip: if you’re loving the idea of Halong Bay but not too keen on the crowds that come with it, head for Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay nearby; the scenery is just as beautiful but there are far fewer tourists.

5. Canyoning in Da Lat

After your time in Halong Bay, head back to Hanoi and from there take a plane (or train) south to Da Lat. Domestic plane tickets are usually dirt cheap in Vietnam, so flying is usually the best option (think a one hour flight versus a day-long train ride).

Being a former French hill station, the city still has an air of its old European roots. From the architecture to the food, Da Lat is a quirky blend of refined French culture and traditional Vietnamese style.

On top of that, it also happens to be the best place in Vietnam for canyoning - a sport which involves a combination of hiking, rock climbing, abseiling, cliff diving, swimming, and more. Sign up for a canyoning experience to explore the Da Lat countryside in the most hands-on, adrenaline fuelled way possible.

6. Surfing in Phan Rang

Just 2 hours away from the cool mountains in Da Lat, Phan Rang is like another world. It’s one of the driest areas in Vietnam; the landscape is made up of grape vineyards, sea salt pans, huge granite outcroppings, and the bluest water you’ll see this side of the Caribbean.

Not only has Phan Rang been pegged as one of the best places to kitesurf in Asia, it’s also one of Vietnam’s best surfing locations. The coast is surrounded by reef which creates a series of small, clean, barreling waves all along the shore - and since the coastline twists and turns for a good 60 kilometers, there are tons of awesome places to score yourself some waves.

Your best bet is to hook up with the local surf school; they’ll provide you with board rentals, spot guidance, and basic lessons if you need them.

Then, take the scenic coastal road south to your next destination.

7. Kitesurfing in Mui Ne

Located just a 2.5-hour drive from Phan Rang, Mui Ne is a coastal town known best for its world-class kiteboarding conditions.

15 years ago, Mui Ne was little more than a sleepy fishing town. Nowadays, the village serves as the home away from home for members of the wandering watersports community who come here year on year to make the most of the wind and waves.

The beach is lined with kitesurfing schools, so finding a place to take lessons will be a piece of cake. You can take a full beginner’s crash course in 12-ish hours (which usually equates to a couple of days of practice) and you’ll be up and riding independently by the end of the week.

Spend your days getting salty and suntanned, and once you’ve exhausted yourself in the water, head to one of the town’s beach bars and enjoy Mui Ne’s epic party scene.

And there you have it! You’ve covered most of the distance from north to south of the whole country (impressive, impressive…) and in the meantime, you’ve managed to get fit, see the sites, and work up a lil’ suntan.

See? I told you there was a lot to love about Vietnam.

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Grace Austin

Grace is a freelance writer and creative director of Extreme Nomads, the sports & outdoors guide for adventurous travelers. Currently based in Thailand, she’s constantly on the move looking for the best spots to put down her board, bag of bikinis, and little black doggy.
Instagram: @extremenomads

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