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These two underrated places in Vietnam are missed by most foreign travelers

Thursday, March 14, 2024, 09:00 GMT+7
These two underrated places in Vietnam are missed by most foreign travelers
A fisherman rows a boat at Tia spring in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, located in Vietnam's Central Highlands, in the early morning. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Do an online search for 'The top 10 places to visit in Vietnam' and you will always see a list of the big cities of the country, along with coastal resorts, islands, and the best known natural wonders. There are so many places to see in Vietnam that are not on the radar of most travelers but they are popular places for Vietnamese and expats that live all over the country. 

The first thing that you feel when you walk off a plane in Vietnam is the heat. And, in the south especially, the heat is as consistent as the rain is during summer. This is a big reason why beach resorts and tropical islands are always the 'Top 10' for tourists visiting Vietnam. However, hidden gems like Da Lat City in the Central Highland province of Lam Dong and Dong Nai Province, to the east of Ho Chi Minh City, might interest you if you want to experience the road less traveled in your adventures. 

Da Lat is one of the most romantic cities in Vietnam and there are so many things to do and see in the region. The city is located some 300km east of Ho Chi Minh City and is at around 1,500m above sea level.

Historically, it is believed that the heart of the city was intentionally designed with French architecture to evoke the ambiance of a village in the French countryside. The streets encircling the Da Lat Market are lined with a captivating assortment of building styles, evoking a sensation akin to vacationing in Europe.

Da Lat Market in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, VIetnam. Photo: M.V / Tuoi Tre

Da Lat Market in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, VIetnam. Photo: M.V. / Tuoi Tre

Xuan Huong Lake is the central icon of the city, graced by the cooler climate prevailing throughout most of the year. During sunrise and sunset, the lake's waters shimmer with a captivating brilliance. Whether strolling romantically, engaging in a brisk run, or simply relaxing on the banks with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, this serene lake effortlessly captivates attention with its tranquil beauty.

Tourists use duck-shaped pedal boats on Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, VIetnam. Photo: M.V / Tuoi Tre

Tourists ride duck-shaped pedal boats on Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: M.V. / Tuoi Tre

After nightfall, the Da Lat Market, just off the lake, lights up. The famous steps become a haven for travelers sampling the local food including bánh tráng nướng, dubbed Vietnamese pizza, soy milk, and a host of other hot street foods. For those of us residing in southern Vietnam, it's a rare delight to bundle up in a sizable jacket and cozy hat, relishing the near-perfect crispness of the cool air in the region.

A snack stall at Lam Vien Square in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

A snack stall at Lam Vien Square in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Hoang An / Tuoi Tre

Across the city, local food is sold in restaurants that will delight any taste. This is because Da Lat is known as one of the food bowls of Vietnam. Across the region, vegetables, fruit, and coffee are grown in abundance on account of the unique weather conditions that are limited to this small region.

Daytime in the region offers an abundance of delightful experiences for every type of adventurer. From exhilarating motorbike and bicycle excursions to heart-pounding tree-top rope lines, and the whimsical wonders of the Crazy House and 100 Roof café, there's no shortage of excitement. Jungle adventures, four-wheel driving tours, water sports, and countless other activities await those seeking thrills. The key lies in uncovering these gems and planning ahead to ensure your time is brimming with unforgettable experiences.

A traveler takes a zip-lining ride over a valley. Photo: M.V. / Tuoi Tre

A traveler takes a zip-lining ride over a valley in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: M.V. / Tuoi Tre

For travelers who prefer a more leisurely pace and enjoy immersing themselves in culture, a visit to Lat Village is highly recommended. Here, you can experience the rich heritage of one of the ethnic communities residing outside the city. And don't miss the opportunity to explore the XQ Sử Quán embroidery village, a haven for fashion and art enthusiasts alike. For a deeper dive into the diverse cultural tapestry of Vietnam, venture approximately 25km outside the city to Cu Lan Village, home to the K'Ho ethnic group. This excursion offers a fascinating glimpse into the lesser-known cultures of Vietnam.

The city is renowned for its flourishing flower gardens, particularly those adorning the lakeside, which bloom magnificently, especially during December. Dedicate a morning to admiring the local floral wonders and immersing yourself in their beauty.

Visitors take photos with blooming apricot trees in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Visitors take photos with blooming apricot trees in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

While exploring the city, be sure to visit its captivating pagodas, each offering a unique spiritual and cultural experience. One standout pagoda features a cable car ride spanning approximately seven kilometers to a pagoda located just outside the city -- an unforgettable journey worth embarking on.

On the opposite side of the city awaits an indulgent experience: wine tasting and tours of Langbiang Mountain. Both of these activities are true delights and are considered essential highlights of any visit to Da Lat.

A forest of mai anh dao ((cherry-like apricot blossoms) is seen on the mountainside of Lang Biang. Photo: Duc Tho/ Tuoi Tre

A forest of 'mai anh dao' ((cherry-like apricot blossoms) is seen on the mountainside of Lang Biang in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. Photo: Duc Tho / Tuoi Tre

Da Lat stands as Vietnam's premier wine region, and the quality of its local wines has surged dramatically over the past decade. Highly recommended for any visitor to the region, indulging in Da Lat's wines promises a delightful and memorable experience.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I am sure that those of you who have visited the region will share more stories of your experiences in the highlands of Vietnam.

If Da Lat is considered a hidden gem, then Dong Nai, located just 40km east of Ho Chi Minh City, is a treasure waiting to be discovered. With the construction of a new international airport underway, the region's popularity is poised to soar upon its completion in the near future. Currently, Dong Nai offers tourists and weekend visitors from Ho Chi Minh City a charming rural experience within an hour's drive of the bustling metropolis.

This aerial view captures the construction site of Long Thanh International Airport in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Phan Duong

This aerial view captures the construction site of Long Thanh International Airport in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Phan Duong

Dong Nai has long been known to young Ho Chi Minh City adults as the weekend escape for camping and outdoor adventures, but it is growing into something more. Glamping has emerged as a beloved retreat for numerous city dwellers, seeking a blend of luxury and nature. Tri An Lake, Swan Bay, and Nhon Trach are among the top destinations in Vietnam to indulge in this glamorous camping experience.

A view of Tri An Lake from a campsite in Dong Nai Province, southern VIetnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A view of Tri An Lake from a campsite in Dong Nai Province, southern VIetnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

For families seeking alternatives to bustling tourist areas, Dong Nai provides a wealth of options. From visiting a charming sheep farm to exploring a grapefruit farm with a restaurant and distillery, the region offers diverse attractions. You can also embark on mountain climbing adventures or immerse yourself in the traditional craft at a pottery village. These are just a few of the many experiences available on a day tour from Ho Chi Minh City.

Tourists paddle on Tri An Lake in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: A Loc / Tuoi Tre

Tourists paddle on Tri An Lake in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: A Loc / Tuoi Tre

Cat Tien National Park, situated approximately 100km from Ho Chi Minh City on the eastern side of the province, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Offering a wide range of experiences including tours, homestays, and ecotourism activities, this area is beloved by both Vietnamese locals and expatriates alike. It provides a genuine glimpse into the region's natural beauty, fostering a deep connection with nature for all who visit.

As an expatriate, every expedition into Dong Nai unveils a fresh array of experiences. The beauty of this is that it consistently ignites my eagerness to escape the city and immerse myself in Dong Nai's distinct offerings. Moreover, the fact that it's only an hour or two away by motorbike or car adds to the appeal, making these adventures easily accessible and enticing.

A road leads to the Dong Nai Culture And Nature Reserve in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: A Loc / Tuoi Tre

A road leads to the Dong Nai Culture And Nature Reserve in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: A Loc / Tuoi Tre

Both Da Lat and Dong Nai are well known to those who live in the south of Vietnam but they are rarely spoken about when foreigners look for the best places to experience the real Vietnam. In my travels, these two regions are spectacular and are a must-see for everyone. If you live by the motto 'Take the Road Less Traveled' then start planning your next adventure in Da Lat or Dong Nai. You will meet people and see things that you never thought possible. 

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Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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