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Trekking in Vietnam – Top 6 Destinations
Trekking is a popular activity in Vietnam, and it’s no wonder. This country offers intense hikes and dazzling scenery. There are all kinds of possibilities for trekking in Vietnam, from half-day to one-week journeys. The views of highland valleys, towering limestone mountains, vivid rice terraces, and pristine coastal areas are sure to impress.
Trekking in Vietnam is easy for backpackers to navigate. Nature reserves and national parks have set trails. Guides are usually available for hire. Northern Vietnam tends to draw the most trekking enthusiasts. This half of the country has dramatic mountain scenery. There are also plenty of immersive cultural experiences to be had with the welcoming local ethnic groups.
We’ve pulled together the Top 6 Desinations for trekking in Vietnam to help you plan your trip. Read on for itinerary suggestions and information on what to expect. Happy trails!
Trekking Destination 1: Cao Bang
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Cao Bang is a province in north-eastern Vietnam. It shares borders with China and several Vietnamese provinces (Hà Giang, Tuyên Quang, Bắc Kạn, and Lạng Sơn). The land is mostly mountains peppered with small villages. It’s home to many ethnic minority groups. The scenery is breathtaking.
The best time to go trekking in Cao Bang is during the winter months (October until April). During this time the temperatures are cooler. There will be some drizzle, but it’s better than heat and humidity! It’s recommended to take 6 days to go trekking in Cao Bang. Here’s our suggested itinerary:
- Drive from Hanoi to the town of Cho Ra (270 km). From Cho Ra, drive to Puoc Nam. Take some time to enjoy Puoc Nam! You can take a cruise on the Nang River or browse the stalls at a local market. You can also venture into a village of the Tay ethnic minority.
- When you’re ready, begin the first leg of trekking. This stretch takes approximately 3 hours. The destination is Cam Thuong. Only pedestrians and horses are allowed on the trail to the village.
- During the 3-hour trek to Cam Thuong, you will be rewarded with astonishing views of raw nature. You will pass by a small community school. Excited school children are likely to rush out and greet you.
- Spend the night in Cam Thuong.
- Enjoy a hearty breakfast in Cam Thuong before resuming your trek. Your next destination is the village of Cam Ha.
- The trek to Cam Ha takes 2 hours and is mostly downhill. This path is way easier than Day 1’s trails.
- When you arrive at Cam Ha Village, treat yourself to a boat ride along the beautiful Nang River. The cruise includes views of an enchanting lake and the famous Puong Cave. This jaw-dropping limestone cave is 300 metres long.
- At mid-day the cruise will stop at the Dau Dang waterfalls. When you’ve had your fill of waterfall frolicking, take lunch at the small restaurant overlooking the Nang River.
- After lunch the cruise carries on to the centre of Ba Be Lake (the largest lake in Vietnam). The lake is located within Ba Be National Park.
- After the cruise, it’s time to get back to trekking. Now you are headed to Pac Ngoi Village. This scenic village is also home to the Tay ethnic minority people. The trek to Pac Ngoi Village takes about 2 hours.
- In Pac Ngoi Village you’ll get to see traditional houses built on stilts. Stop here to eat dinner and spend the night.
- Have breakfast in Pac Ngoi. Then get ready for a short trek to Cao Bang. This trail passes through Ba Be Natural Park. It takes about 1 hour to complete.
- When you reach Cao Bang (probably in the early afternoon), stop for lunch and a tour of the city.
- After your Cao Bang rest stop, you will trek to Pac Rang village.
- Pac Rang is home to the lovely Nung An people. The Pac Nang village is also made up of traditional stilted houses. Spend a restful night getting to know the local culture.
- Rise and shine for some breakfast in Pac Nang. Today’s trek will start at the border town of Ta Lung. You will need to arrange a vehicle transfer from Pac Rang to Ta Lung.
- From Ta Lung you will trek 15 km into a wild frontier area. You will pass through hidden valleys, rice terraces, and stunning limestone mountains.
- The fifth day of your Cao Bang trekking adventure begins with breakfast at your homestay in La Village. From here you will start trekking to Lang Son.
- The trip to Lang Son is actually a combined hike and drive. The hike takes about 2 hours, and you’ll drive the rest of the way.
- The drive though is incredibly scenic. It’s also educational. The road is historically significant for the battles that took place on it between Vietnam and France from 1946 to 1950. If you’re a history buff, you might find yourself pulling over for some sightseeing.
- Take a relaxing lunch at That Khe. When you hit the road again you’re headed for for Lang Son city. Lang Son sits on the border with China.
- It’s the last day of your Cao Bang trekking adventure! Take advantage of being in Lang Son by visiting the caves (Tam Thanh and Nhi Thanh) and the Mac Dynasty Citadel.
- Enjoy some lunch in town, then begin your drive back to Hanoi.
Trekking Destination 2: Cat Ba Island
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The Cat Ba Archipelago makes up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam. There are 367 islands in the archipelago. Cat Ba Island is the largest one. Nearly half of it is covered by a national park, making it a great trekking destination.
Cat Ba Island is an established tourist site and much of it has been commercialized. Most of the island remains wild and untouched, though. This attracts all sorts of of adventurers, especially trekkers. The island features tiny villages, coves, sandy beaches, limestone hills, lakes, caves and waterfalls.
The best time to go trekking on Cat Ba Island is in October and November. This is when the weather is best and the beauty of the island is at its peak. December gets too chilly, June through August are too hot, and March and April are too wet and humid.
You can experience the best of Cat Ba Island in a 1 day trip. Here are our suggestions for trekking on Cat Ba Island:
- Start your trekking day with a hearty breakfast, then head to the Cat Ba National Park.
- The trail through the park is a narrow dirt path. You’ll feel like a real adventurer as you take in the epic landscapes surrounding you. Don’t forget to look down once in a while too; the park is full of fascinating flora and fauna.
- After about 3 hours of trekking you will arrive in the charming little village of Viet Hai Village. Isolated Viet Hai is also known as “fishermen’s village.”
- You can eat lunch with a local family in Viet Hai Village for a taste of authentic village life. After a bit of a rest, begin your second hike. This time you’re headed to the Navy Peak.
- Navy Peak is aAlso known as “Dao Hai Quan.” At 268 metres it is the highest point on Cat Ba island. If you’d rather skip the climb, you can trek around the rice paddies instead.
- After that trek, spend your afternoon cycling on Jungle Road. The road is 7 km long and leads out to the port. From the port you can take a 2-hour boat ride around Lan Ha Bay. We’d also recommend stopping by the beach for a swim before you return to Cat Ba Island.
Trekking Destination 3: Cuc Phuong National Park
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Cuc Phuong National Park is the oldest national park in Vietnam. It is overflowing with ancient trees and over 2000 plant species. The park is a 222-square kilometres of tropical, primeval forest. The wildlife is pretty spectacular, too. The park is home to 133 mammal species, 307 bird species, and 122 reptile species.
The best time of the year to go trekking at Cuc Phuong National Park is during the dry season. November, January, and February are your best bets. A few days will be enough to experience the best of Cuc Phuong National Park. Here’s a general guide for 2 days of trekking in Cuc Phuong:
- If you’re starting from Hanoi, find your way to Ninh Binh. It’s a small city in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam.
- From Ninh Binh it’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Cuc Phuong National Park.
- Once you arrive in the park, visit the Rescue Center. This is an important first step because you will learn about the area’s rich biodiversity and endangered species.
- Once you’ve been briefed, enjoy the trails around the park at your leisure.
- On your second day, make the short trek—about 4 kilometers—to the main highway. From here you can find a ride to Tam Coc. Tam Coc is a popular tourist destination near Ninh Binh with distinct features like limestone outcrops in the midst of lovely rice paddies.
- At Tam Coc, you can take a boat ride down the stream. You’ll be treated to scenic views of rice paddies and Tam Coc’s 3 mysterious caves to cap off your trekking.
Trekking Destination 4: Mai Chau
Mai Chau is another popular trekking destination. This tranquil mountain region has arresting beauty and culture. You will be surrounded by emerald-green mountains, rice fields, waterfalls, tea plantations, and stilted houses made of bamboo and timber.
The best time to visit Mai Chau is between September and May. The weather is perfect in these months. Average temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C. The winter months of November, January, and February are too chilly for trekking. June to September is also not ideal because of the monsoons that bring strong winds and higher humidity.
There are about 7 ethnic minority groups living in Mai Chau. These include the H’mong, White Thai, Tay, Hoa, Viet, Zao, and Muong peoples. There is a lot to experience in Mai Chau, so a 4-day trek is recommended.
- From Mai Chau, head to a village called Xa Linh. Have some lunch there.
- Start trekking in the afternoon. The narrow dirt paths offer glorious scenic views. Follow them for about an hour until you reach Tra Day. This quaint little village is home to the Black Hmong People.
- After touring Tra Day, continue trekking to Hang Kia. There are 2 trails to choose from.
- For an easy journey, take the first trail. It’s rocky but moderate, and passes through a Hmong village.
- For a challenge, take the longer and more difficult trail. You will be hiking uphill through jungles and rice terraces.
- In Hang Kia you can mingle with an ethnic minority called the Flower Hmong. You can spend the night with a Hmong family in a homestay. While dinner is being cooked and prepared for you, enjoy a stroll around the village.
- Before bed, consider treating yourself to an herbal foot massage. You deserve it after all that trekking.
- Today you will trek from Hang Kia to a village called Van. Before you leave Hang Kai, fill up with a breakfast with your Hmong host family.
- Brace yourself for some tough but amazing trekking. First you will follow a jungle trail for about an hour. It will probably be wet because of the dense tree cover blocking the sunlight, so be prepared.
- After passing through the jungle, the trail goes downhill past rice terraces and farms. Take time to enjoy the magical views.
- This stretch of trekking is awesome but pretty long, so be sure to stop for breaks. Don’t forget snacks and your camera.
- After you’ve rested up, follow the trail to a small river. You’ll have to cross it to reach the lovely village of Van.
- Van is home to the White Thai people. To get to Van Village, follow the zigzagging village road through the valley. Once again, the scenery will be spectacular.
- When you reach Van Village, explore and get to know the community. You can find a White Thai family to host you for dinner, and a place to spend the night. You may even get to sleep on a traditional bamboo bed.
- From Van you will carry on to Mai Hich.
- The path to Mai Hich passes through Buoc Village. We recommend stopping in this scenic village. It’s also home to the White Thai people. The trek to Buoc Village takes about 3 hours.
- The path to Buoc Village is interesting because the terrain is varied. It has bamboo forests, uphill and downhill portions, and many farms and rice terraces. Be sure to wave at the local farmers working their fields.
- In Buoc Village you can have lunch (and maybe a nap!).
- From Buoc Village the trek to Mai Hich takes about 2 hours. It is a very leisurely trail. If the weather is good, you may want to stop for a swim in cool stream you’ll pass.
- In Mai Hich you can find dinner and a homestay.
- Wake up early to catch the magical view of sunrise over the mountains. Have breakfast and spend quality time with your host family.
- When you’re ready to start trekking, hike to Van Mai.
- From Van Mai, get a ride to the village of Pom Coong. You can take your lunch there with a local family.
- After lunch, get a ride back to Hanoi.
Trekking Destination 5: Pu Luong (Phu Luong)
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Nestled in the districts of Quan Hoa and Ba Thuoc, in the northwestern province of Thanh Hoa, Pu Luong is a nature reserve snuggled along two parallel mountain ridges. It covers a total area of 17,662ha, and is another famous destination for trekking, mountain biking, and other adventures.
One of the mountain ridges that flank Pu Luong, on the southwestern side, is composed of mostly metamorphic and red-hot rocks, bowed forested hills, and far-reaching, shallow valleys. The other ridge, on the northeastern side, is made up of heavily divided limestone karst and is actually an extension of the limestone range, which runs from Cuc Phuong National Park to Son La province.
Pu Luong has impressive biodiversity and stunning beauty; lush forests, panoramas of
limestone formations, rolling green hills, and rice terraces. The flora is so diverse that it encompasses at least 1,109 vascular plant species.
Pu Luong is also home to 84 mammal species, which include 162 avian species, 24 bat species, 55 fish species, 158 butterfly species, 28 reptile species, 96 land snail species, and 13 species of amphibians.
Stretching a total area of 17,662 ha, Pu Luong is mostly tropical forest and usually known as an “off the beaten path” and home to Thai and enthnic Muong.
Normally, Pu Luong trekkers come from Hanoi, which is just 170km away. But to access Pu Luong, your best option is from Mai Chau or NinhBinh. Trekking involves walking through the forest, passing by a long stretch of paddy fields, visiting small, quaint villages, and biking though the reserve.
The usually villages to visit in your trekking adventure are Ban Hang, Ban Sai, Ban Hieu, and Ban Kho Muong. An authentic homestay is the most rewarding experience when trekking Pu Luong.
Some trekkers immerse themselves in a 6-day trek. In this case, your first day will start by driving for 4 hours from Hanoi to Pulong through Mai Chau and passing through gorgeous sights of rice paddies, as well as tapioca and sugar cane fields. Then you arrive at Pom Coong village, you will drive for another 22km until you reach the reserve.
Then your hike shall begin—a three-hour trek until you reach a village of a Thain ethnic minority called Hang. The houses here are traditionally built, all standing on stilts. You will spend the night in one of their homes, have dinner, and further explore the daily life of the locals.
The following day will be a 6-hour trek in the jungle to Kho Muong Village, stopping now and then in villages that you will pass by.
Your third day is scaling the Pu Luong range, passing by numerous villages—your target destination is Cao Hoong Village . You will spend another night in this Thai ethnic village.
Day 4 is another 6-hour trek—this time to Cao Village. It is a glorious hike through the lush countryside, experience uphill and downhill trails and passing through rice paddies, and rice farmers, forests, and stunning landscapes. You will also spend the night in Cao Village.
On the 5th day, you will trek toward Ma River, descending onto a wide, open valley, which makes the trek very easy. In approximately 2 hours, you will arrive at Pho Doan Town where can enjoy a stroll in the marketplace, as well as along Ma River. You can stay overnight in one of the homes in Pom Coong Village.
Day 6 is a more relaxing hike, being the last day. You can take a leisurely stroll in Mai Chau Valley where you can further immerse yourself in the daily life of the locales.
Those who have explored Pu Luong advise that the recommended time to trek this outstandingly beautiful reserve is during the rice harvest season, where in the plantation is lush and the weather is perfect. The rice harvest season begins in the month of September until November. Another best time to visit Pu Luong is from February to May.
Trekking Destination 6: SaPa
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Found in northwest Vietnam, Sapa, the capital of Sa Pa District in Lao Cai province, is a tranquil mountain town, which was originally established as a hill station by the French in 1922.
Sapa is a highly popular spot for trekkers—in fact, it is the best trekking destination in the entire Vietnam. It lies at an elevation of approximately 1500 meters, or 4,921 feet. Sapa is also home to a diverse ethnic minority peoples, such as Dao (Yao), Xa Pho, Hmong, Tay, and Pho Lu. Sapa is 380km northwest of Hanoi, in close proximity to China’s border. It is blessed with the Hoàng Liên Son range of mountains, including the Fan Si Pan—Vietnam’s highest mountain, which rises 3,143 above sea level.
Imagine sloping terraces, rolling green highlands, paddy fields, views of rain forests, fascinating flora and fauna, rare and endemic species roaming the vast, mountainous lands…it is a magical, fairy tale experience for trekkers. The climate at Sapa in the summer months of May to August is moderate to rainy; and in winter, expect misty and cold, with the occasional snow.
Now, if you are planning to trek Sapa, whether a DIY trip, or part of a tour, just hop on a night train from Hanoi to Sapa, where you will spend two nights. Don’t worry, as the night train is comfortable to sleep in. The cabins are spick-and-span clean and the bunk beds are comfortable.
You must always hire a guide to fully enjoy Sapa. This will ensure that you will experience the best of the best, having a local guide who is familiar with the terrain and the highlights of the area. You may choose a half-day or a full-day hike, or even spend the night. Normally, it takes two to three whole days to full appreciate Sapa, depending on your preference of trekking difficulty.
You do not have to book in advance if you need a local guide, as that can be easily arranged once you arrive in Sapa. You can book a guide through a Sapa hotel, in any tour operators, or at the main tourism office. Easy breezy. There are travel agencies that even offer family-friendly Sapa tours and treks, where you can bring your kids. These sorts of family tours and treks are customized for you and your kids’ needs.
Normally, the tour will begin with a mini bus-ride, which is an hour of looking out the window and weeping at the great scenery before you. Prepare to be bewildered by stunning views of waterfalls, lush, verdant, green mountains, rice paddies…like a picture-perfect postcard.
Trekking Sapa, in a general sense, will prove you with the occasional steep terrains through muddy hills that snake through picturesque farm houses, villages, and rice paddies, boulders, water buffalos, and awe-inspiring sights of imposing mountains, valleys, rivers, and villages. You will, of course, get a chance to reach the summit of Fa Si Pan and bask in the glory of nature. And if you are lucky, you might witness local women dying clothes using natural flowers, which will impress you with the old-fashioned process.
Do not be shocked if local women, especially from the Hmong tribe, approach you and aggressively sell you souvenirs. Once you’ve purchased enough souvenirs, do not feel forced to buy more, even if they walk alongside you for a long time. This is very natural to them, clinging to you in hopes of doing more business.
Be prepared, though, for the extra challenging ordeals if you wish to experience a full-blown Sapa trek: you will find yourself trekking off-the-beaten tracks, hiking up a mountain on all fours, and weaving your way across a bamboo forest, where you will experience being slapped or whipped or cut through by branches. But it’s all part of the fun and adventure.
You may also stop over at a local house to have lunch and enjoy a scrumptious Vietnamese meal with a local family and immerse yourself in the culture. This is one of the most amazing and most authentic Vietnamese experiences, especially if it is a homestay with an ethnic minority.
If you avail a tour package that includes an overnight stay, your accommodation shall be arranged at a family’s house with a complete set of beddings. So no need to bring your sleeping bag.
It is also recommended that you pack light, as no one will carry your bags for you.
If you only have the luxury to pick just one trekking destination in Vietnam, choose Sapa.
Helpful articles and blog posts on Trekking in Vietnam:
We only recommend writers and blogs that we read regularly and believe will deliver substantial value to our readers. The following is our top picks of articles and blogs that we think are worth reading for you to get more information and a more extensive guide to the 3 most beautiful trekking destinations in Vietnam.
- “Balancing on the borders of Ricefields in Sapa” – by Salt in our Hair
- “Discovering Pu Luong Natural Reserve” – by Active Travel Asia
- “Vietnam Cao Bang Trekking Venture Product Tours” – by John Reggis’s Blog
- “Trekking Mai Chau To Pu Luong National Reserve 4 Days” – by Amity Smile Travel
- “Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Cat Ba Island, Vietnam” – by The Road to Anywhere
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