Vietnam

Trekking in Vietnam: Top 7 Exciting Trails to Conquer

Trekking is a relatively recent travel trend, especially among the younger generations. And Vietnam, with an abundance of diverse trails, is on the rise to be an international trekking hub.

Trekking and hiking are similar in the sense that they both revolve around extensive walks in a natural environment. However, trekking usually takes longer than a day and requires more thorough preparation.

Get Your Trekking Shoes on for Vietnam

Motorbike Trekking: Best Thing to Do in Ha Giang
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

With a good destination in mind, Vietnam has a variety of trekking trails to offer. Similar to many countries, the trekking destinations in Vietnam are quite far away from the big cities.

The mesmerizing mountainous highlands like Sapa and Ha Giang are two of the  top choices. Vietnam also has a number of tranquil and expansive religious complex sites for pilgrims.

In addition, the vast national parks of Vietnam have trails at different difficulty levels for your trekking and hiking capability. Besides, some of them have some of the most beautiful caves to explore.

Most tourist attractions in Vietnam, including places where you can do multi-day trekking, will have hotels and restaurants. Camping in untouched nature is something rather unfamiliar to Vietnamese, so there are usually designated campsites.

You can, however, go off the beaten path and camp freely at your own risk. Luckily, there are trekking tours that involve camping in nature in the destinations on our list.

Nonetheless, you’ll need a suitable means of transportation. This allows you to comfortably carry your luggage and enjoy the scenery to the destinations and in between stops.

Trekking Tours

Other Hiking and Cave Trekking Tours in Phong Nha
[ by Jungle Boss Tours from Facebook ]

Keeping up with the trend, tour agencies already have the best trekking trails covered, including the ones on our list. On a trekking tour, everything’s taken care of and you’ll likely be conveniently transported in a shuttle bus.

Not every trail allows you to explore on your own as some are restricted by the government for specific reasons. Tour agencies can provide you with information on these trails and take care of getting permits.

Tailored trekking tours departing from the main cities of Vietnam can easily be found online. They can also be found in the area of your destination if you decide to get there on your own beforehand.

Independent Motorcycle Trekking

Choosing Your Means of Transportation
[ by Karl JK Hedin from Unsplash ]

Some people prefer doing everything themselves, especially younger generations when it comes to trekking. That’s the reason why, especially in Vietnam and other SEA countries, motorcycle trekking is growing exponentially in popularity.

Motorbike trekking usually includes multi-day riding from one place to another and enjoying everything along the way. It can also be just getting to the destination on your list and exploring from there, maybe even on a tour.

It’s different from other countries where cars are the main vehicle of choice. Repair shops for motorcycles are way more common, especially along an open road or highway.

Regardless if you’re renting a car or a motorcycle, you’ll need some personal papers. They include your ID or passport and both international and national driving licenses.

There are online rental shops you can find via booking agencies like Tripadvisor. Prices vary from place to place but it’s usually around 200 000 – 350 000 VND per bike per day. Often, you can leave motorbikes at selected destinations.

For covering a long distance and possible difficult terrains, geared or sports motorbikes are preferable compared to gearless. Check the engine, mirrors, lights, gas tanks to make sure the bike is in good condition. You can store gas in a 1.5-liter water bottle for a good back-up.

Vietnam Trekking Travel Essentials

Bich Van Pagoda
[ by athree23 from Pixabay ]

Trekking in Vietnam may include paved roads or trails off the beaten track. For those of you who seek the unexpected, they will not fall short of surprises.

Regardless, when you prep for trekking, you should always aim to reduce the weight on your shoulders. Here is a list of basic essentials to keep it light  for trekking in Vietnam:

  • Navigation and weather tools like GPS and maps.
  • Adequate water and maybe snacks depending on the length of the trip.
  • Comfortable sports clothes and footwear with ankle support.
  • A variety of clothing layers to manage temperature fluctuations. 
  • Warm wear or a  raincoat depending on the weather conditions.
  • Flashlights and headlamps for nighttime and inside caves.
  • First-aid kit including sunscreen, bug repellent, and allergy medications.
  • Camping gear if you intend to do rough camping.
  • Recording devices like cameras and GoPros to capture the journey.
  • Portable power banks for your electronics, especially your phones.
  • Protective phone cases to prevent impact humidity damage.

A Map is Vital to Your Trekking Trip

Trekking Trip Maps
[ by Foundry from Pixabay ]

The most important thing is some form of GPS device. If you have a professional one, then you should be good to go. If you don’t, there are some alternatives. Each mobile operating system has its free mapping and navigation service like Google Maps or Apple Maps. This is the most readily available option.

These free mobile navigation systems should be useful enough to get to the starting point of your trek. Also, you should save maps offline to your phone or even print them out and bring along with a compass.

Mobile navigation may not work so well along more obscure paths like the forests of national parks. That’s why you should always take the physical maps provided when purchasing tickets to these areas.

You should also check the weather on a reliable service like Meteoblue. Too sunny or too rainy might make the trek unnecessarily exhausting. Of course, going on a tour with a guide can save you these troubles.

Don’t forget to check out our curated Google Maps for each destination mentioned in this article.

About 4G SIM Card for Internet Connection

Trekking SIM Card
[ by Pexels from Pixabay ]

Mobile navigation requires a data connection which, in this case, is a 4G internet connection from a SIM card. Both Viettel and Mobifone are two reliable mobile service providers with good coverage across the country. That being said, coverage may decrease in really remote areas.

Foreigners, with a passport, can easily get a 4G SIM card and pay for data at Viettel and Mobifone stores across Vietnam. Most retail shops don’t even require identification to purchase SIM cards. Unfortunately, Viettel’s website only comes in Vietnamese and Mobifone’s English interface isn’t very developed.

Trekking in Sapa — the Rooftop of Vietnam

Mountain Biking Trails
[by Krisztian Tabori from Unsplash]

In Sapa, trekking through the valleys of Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range is the most popular activity. Some treks may take up to 4-days or more, often combining trekking on foot, bicycle, or some type of vehicle.

Attractions along the way may include nice local homestays, friendly ethnic villages, and lively handicraft markets. Out on the trekking trails are Sapa’s famous terraced rice fields, glinting waterfalls, and mountain peaks hiding in the clouds.

All things considered, a good local guide can put you in the know and take you to interesting local places. Ethos Spirit and Sapa O’Chau are some reliable NGO agencies.

Fansipan Mountain is the ultimate destination of trekking enthusiasts across Vietnam. This physical quest can take more than two days but, for your safety, never attempt it without an expert guide. Sapa Original Trek is a tour provider for this with deals on Tripadvisor.

However, the impressive Fansipan Cable Car can take you close to the summit in just 15 minutes. Then, it’s just a 603-step-hike to the top.

More about places in Sapa

Motorcycle Trekking the Ha Giang Loop

Ma Pi Leng Pass
[ image by NTK Nguyen Photo from Tripadago ]

Trekking across Ha Giang means conquering ‘the loop’ which is commonly known as the Happiness Road. It starts from Ha Giang city center and connects to the nearby provincial districts.

The winding trail, which takes 8 to 10 hours, is a favorite challenge of bikers wanting to test their skills. Visiting all the destinations along Ha Giang Loop, however, may take 3 to 5 days with stopovers at local homestays. There are also a few camping sites scattered throughout.

The best scenery includes an intriguing vast karst plateau and valleys of terraced rice fields comparable to Mu Cang Chai. A popular detour is the Lung Cu Flag Tower which is the Northernmost point of Vietnam.

The motorbike trekking trail of Ha Giang includes exhilarating turns and adrenaline-filled passes. However, you don’t need to worry if you feel like your driving skills and vehicle are not up to scratch. There are always local riders who will chaperone you through the thrills.

More about places in Ha Giang

Trekking to the Caves of Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park

Hang En Swallow Cave
[ by Dai Bigben from Facebook ]

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park is a World Heritage Site with karst formations dating back roughly 400 million years. It’s home to more than 300 caves, grottoes, and underground rivers offering different trekking experiences.

The famous Son Dong Cave is the currently largest cave system in the world. It even has its own climate which forms clouds within. Trekking there, or to other large cave systems such as  Hang Én or Swallow Cave, requires camping overnight.

The only designated company of both Son Dong Cave and Hang En Cave is Oxalis Adventure Tours. There’s a waiting list so you’ll need to plan ahead. For less waiting time and a cheaper price, you can go for trekking tours through the jungle or to other caves. Jungle Boss Tours is the go-to for this and they have exclusive caves as well.

On a different note, Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave are spectacular sights especially for Instagrammers and amateur photographers. Dark Cave has some fun activities like a zipline across a river and natural mud baths within the cave. Visiting these caves, although not really trekking, can be combined with hikes and trails in the area. 

For an extended multi-day trip, you can start at Hoi An old town, and follow the Vietnamese Central Coastline. The road will take you to the relaxing seaside Danang and the once Imperial Citadel of Hue before reaching the park.

Discover more about Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park

Trekking Extravaganza at Trang An Landscape Complex

The Boat Ride at Tam Coc - Bich Dong
[ by dangquangn from Pixabay ]

Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh is deemed Halong Bay on Land for its karst peaks and waterways. Between these are vast valleys of rain forests and paddy fields surrounding Trang An. Trang An Complex has four sites of cultural and natural significance with separate entrance tickets.

You can do your trekking in nature outside and combine it with visiting interesting sites inside the complex. Each site has its own unique attractions and you can easily spend a day hiking around. Unfortunately, there’s no camping ground in Trang An Complex.

Trang An Grottoes has the most popular boat ride in the complex. However, Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Area arguably has the better one. It also has the best viewpoints after hiking up to Mua Cave and Bich Dong Pagoda.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital is home to many temples worshipping Vietnamese kings and generals. The largest Buddhist complex in Vietnam — Bai Dinh Pagoda — and all of its record-breaking structures are also here. On a different note, Hoa Lu Special-use Forest is for personnel only.

Each site is quite far apart but on the bright side, the roads are really quiet and beautiful. However, most of them don’t provide accommodations so you’ll need to find a hotel or homestay in the neighborhood.

Discover more about the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex

Easy Trekking and Hiking in Cuc Phuong National Park

Cuc Phuong Botanical Garden
[ image from Facebook ]

The national parks of Vietnam are very ideal for trekking and hiking at different difficulties in a monitored environment. Cuc Phuong National Park, also in Ninh Binh, is the most well-known, even internationally.

Trekking in Cuc Phuong means exploring an ecosystem of limestone terrains, monsoon tropical climate, and unique biodiversity. The national park is also home to Muong ethnic villages where customs are still retained.

Cuc Phuong National Park has a number of trekking trails with four different points of departure throughout. You’ll receive maps with detailed information upon purchasing the entrance tickets.

The more easy trails include hiking around the botanical garden and to the observation lookout. You can rent a bicycle in the park for these parts. A guide is usually optional but not for the more specifically challenging routes like the jungle trek.

Discover more about the Cuc Phuong National Park

Trekking to the Mountain Tops of Langbiang

Scale the Mountain Tops of Langbiang
The steps paved with wood panels
[ by Johnny Tuấn from Facebook ]

Langbiang Mountain is the visitor’s favorite scenic tall vantage point and a theme park in the chilly plateau city Dalat. It reaches the clouds and is covered in pine trees and even golden Mimosa flowers during the Spring.

Get your trekking shoes on for Nui Ong and Nui Ba Peaks. They’re at 2 124 meters and 2 167 meters above sea level respectively and both take approximately three hours hiking to reach the top. There are signs showing you the directions to take beginning from the bottom of Langbiang Mountain.

The best scenery is when the sun is still up so make sure to start your trip early. You can rent camping gear downtown for an overnight stay or else, return before it’s dark.

An easy thing you can add to the trip is one hour of hiking the concrete-paved trail up Radar Peak. This peak is the main tourist attraction with activities concerning local ethnic groups down the bottom. Up the top, there are hotel rooms, a coffee shop, a telescope, and even paragliding down to a nearby lake.

Discover more about Langbiang Mountain

Buddhist Pilgrimage Trekking to Yen Tu Mountain

The Mecca of Vietnamese Buddhism at Yen Tu Relics
[ by vietnguyenbui from Pixabay ]

Yen Tu Mountain — the Mecca of Buddhism in Vietnam — is a magnificent spiritual ground surrounded by nature. The official name is Yen Tu Relic and Landscape Complex and it’s on the World Heritage Site pending list. This is also the birthplace of the Truc Lam Zen school of Vietnamese Buddhism.

The entire complex spans 93 km2 with a variety of temples, pagodas, and other sites of ancient legacies. Trekking on Yen Tu Mountain means traveling like a pilgrimage from one religious site to another.

This spiritual quest is what many Vietnamese people do, especially during Lunar New Year and around Vesak Day. There are parts where you can take cable cars to enjoy the view from above.

The complex is vast and it can take days to visit every site but camping is not an option. Fortunately, there are a couple of hotels at the bottom of the mountain, near the cable car station.

More about Yen Tu Moutain

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