At just three percent of the land mass of the United States, what most surprised me during our time in Vietnam was the diversity of the scenery. From white sand beaches and turquoise water to black rock forests and mountains that hug the clouds, here are some of the most amazing landscapes we came across.
With a coastline of over 2025 miles, it's no surprise that Vietnam has a ton of beautiful beaches. And when the rest stop during your bus trip looks like this, you don't have much to complain about.
The biggest beach destination in Vietnam is likely the town of Nha Trang, which boasts all day boat tours and all night parties. If you're missing Miami while in SE Asia, this is the closest we found. The beach in the main town is pretty nice, but the offshore islands are where you want to head if you're looking to snorkel or dive. With perfect visibility, good quality coral, and thousands of multicolored fish flitting about, having a great day is easy, especially since the all day island-hopping tour costs approximately $6.
But Vietnam's coastline isn't all sparkling white sand and clear blue water. Our favorite coastal landscape was the sand dunes around Mui Ne, which come in both red and white varieties. Whether you jump, run, or slide, it's hard not to let the beauty of the dunes overwhelm you. Stretching for what seems like miles, the dunes are something you'd expect to find in Africa. Instead, they're here, only a few minutes away from one of the best places in the world to learn to kitesurf.
Most countries with a coastline have beaches, but they don't all have rice terraces, especially ones that look like this.
The terraces in Sapa were carved over two thousand years ago by hand and are still inhabited primarily by the Black Hmong tribespeople. These mountain dwellers live off the land, planting and harvesting rice year in and year out in order to sustain their families.
Tourists can explore the terraces by taking a multiday trekking tour with a Hmong guide. You'll stay in homestays run by the local villagers, get knee deep in mud, and appreciate rice way more than you ever have.
Further north and to the east of Sapa lies the unexplored Vietnam of the Ha Giang province. You need a permit to stay the night and a camera with lots of battery power to take all of the photos of the immense scenery that surrounds you as you drive by on your motorbike. The most beautiful part of the road, and arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the world, is the leg between Dong Van and Meo Vac. Here the road darts in and out of rock crevices and up and down mountains and valleys.
Children in traditional tribal outfits scream "hello" from above and below as they carry double their weight of sticks in bamboo baskets. Men wear high-necked black tunics and matching berets and women wrap electric pink scarves over their hair, giving the game of "I Spot" a whole new meaning.
Perhaps the most quintessential scene of Vietnam is the floating limestone karst formations of Halong Bay. Best seen on a multi-day boat tour, these rocks rise out of the still water and emerge through the mist forming, if you look hard enough, the shape of a descending dragon. At least that's what the locals tell you, and how Halong Bay gets its name. Kayaking through some of these formations is a must, as is sitting back on your boat tour and letting the scenery and mist envelop you.
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