The easiest and most popular area for trekking is in the northwest mountains around Sa Pa and, to a lesser extent, Mai Chau. Sa Pa is also the starting point for ascents of the country’s highest peak, Fan Si Pan, a challenge to be undertaken only by experienced hikers.
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Though Vietnam was slow to develop its huge potential as an outdoor adventure destination, things have really changed in the last few years. Apart from trekking in the mountainous north, visitors can now also go rock–climbing, canyoning, sea kayaking or kitesurfing, among other activities. Da Lat has emerged as Vietnam’s adventure sports capital and Mui Ne its surf city, though some sports like mountain biking can be done throughout the country.
The easiest and most popular area for trekking is in the northwest mountains around Sa Pa and, to a lesser extent, Mai Chau. Sa Pa is also the starting point for ascents of the country’s highest peak, Fan Si Pan, a challenge to be undertaken only by experienced hikers. Other options include hiking around Kon Tum or Da Lat in the central highlands or in one of Vietnam’s many national parks, including Cat Ba, Cuc Phuong, Bach Ma, Cat Tien and Yok Don. In Yok Don you can even go elephant trekking, though prices are rather steep.
There’s no problem about striking out on your own for a day’s hiking. However, for anything more adventurous, particularly if you want to overnight in the villages, you’ll need to make arrangements in advance. This is easily done either before you arrive in Vietnam or through local tour agents, most of which offer organized tours and tailor-made packages. In most cases you can also make arrangements through guesthouses and guides on the spot. Note that it’s essential to take a guide if you are keen to get off the beaten track: many areas are still sensitive about the presence of foreigners.
Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular in Vietnam. The classic ride is from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, a journey of between two and three weeks. Previously, this would have taken you along Highway 1, battling with trucks and buses, but now the more switched-on tour companies are offering excursions down the Ho Chi Minh Highway which runs along the western Truong Son mountain chain, and is so far thankfully free of heavy traffic.
The area around Sa Pa is a focus for biking activity, with tour operators offering excursions to suit all levels of experience and fitness. You can choose from half-day excursions to multi-day outings including overnighting in minority villages. Other good areas for exploring by bike include Mai Chau, Bac Ha, Da Lat and the Mekong Delta.
North Vietnam is also popular among the motorbiking fraternity. Specialist outfits in Hanoi organize tailor-made itineraries taking you way off the beaten track.
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