Travel / Vietnam

Top 8 Places to Explore Whilst Teaching in Vietnam

Ellie Borrell

Ellie Borrell

November 4, 2019

There are hundreds of places you could explore whilst teaching English in Vietnam. The country is diverse in landscape, culture and the myriad of experiences. From the vast mountain ranges of Ha Giang in the north, to the wide-open rivers of the Mekong Delta in the south, this country truly has an experience for all. Over the last year teaching in Vietnam, I have been lucky enough to travel the length of the country while discovering some of the best places to explore for a short break without even exiting Vietnam.

Yes, the vacation time and high earning that comes with being an English teacher in Vietnam allows me to travel further afield to neighbouring countries but Vietnam itself has so much to offer and I can’t get enough of it.

Well connected by motorbike, bus, train, and plane, all teachers have a fantastic opportunity to explore this fascinating country I now call home, well for now at least…

Here are my top 8 places to explore whilst teaching in Vietnam

In the North

1. Cat Ba Island

colorful boats in Cat Ba with limestone karsts in the background

These colorful boats are all over Cat Ba Island

Many associate Vietnam with the famous Ha Long Bay. Despite how beautiful Ha Long Bay is, it’s fame has had a negative effect on the experience it offers. Tour companies run day trips from Hanoi at various times throughout the day so it has become overcrowded with tours and does not offer a remote experience. 

The Island of Cat Ba sits right in the centre of the somewhat 200 small islands that make up Ha Long Bay. Alongside various other bays, such as Lan Ha, the island is equally as beautiful. Made up of lush green jungle and white sanded beaches, Cat Ba Island makes for an ideal short trip from Hanoi.

Two or three days will have you hiking to the mountains’ highest peak. Swimming in the vast turquoise ocean at the base of towering limestone islands. And for the more adventurous, rock climbing!

(To read more about visiting Cat Ba Island, read about my experience here)

2. Ninh Binh (Tam Coc)

man leading a water buffalo through a flooded rice field in Ninh Binh

Water buffalo are common to see in Southeast Asia, and especially near rice paddies.

Located two hours south of Hanoi, the beautiful limestone mountains of Ninh Binh proudly sit. An easy one or two day trip from Hanoi, Ninh Binh makes for an ideal place to visit for teachers in Vietnam. The limestone mountains of Ninh Binh appear from nowhere, almost floating above the rivers that flow below them.

You can experience this natural wonder by boat. Locals run tiny boat trips throughout the day and are an affordable way to make the most of the area.

You’ll find yourself ducking to avoid cave roofs whilst rowing beneath the mountains. After, you emerge into vast open lakes, surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs. 

You are also given the opportunity to ride bicycles through rice paddies and around magnificent lush green scenery, while also being able to discover pagodas and temples throughout the your ride. 

Ninh Binh is an ideal and peaceful escape from the busy streets of Hanoi!

3. Sapa 

Sapa is one of the top places to explore whilst teaching in Vietnam

Sapa is known for its beautiful rice terraces and authentic homestay experiences

The stunning valley of Sapa is home to just some of Vietnam’s ethnic minority tribes and if you’ve seen scenic photos of Vietnam’s northern region, it’s very likely Sapa has been one of them. It offers an incredible cross-cultural experience for travellers with many of the hill tribes having now opened their doors to tourists.

You will have an opportunity to live, eat and walk with ethnic families. If you’re an English teacher in Vietnam, you have probably fully immersed yourself already in Vietnamese culture and with the local people but for tourists who don’t have the privilege of being based in the country for so long, Sapa provides an authentic intercultural experience.

An 8-10 hour train or bus ride from Hanoi, Sapa is a remote and stunning region in Northern Vietnam. 2-4 days should be dedicated to exploring the beautiful area and speaking from experience, I strongly suggest embarking on a hike through the tiered rice terraces, discovering waterfalls and living as a local.

4. Mai Chau 

English teacher exploring Mai Chau by motorcycle

Relax and unwind in peaceful Mai Chau

Steeped in natural beauty, the mountainous region of Mai Chau is a mere 4-hour journey from Hanoi. You can spend 1 to 2 days exploring this region and making the most of what it has to offer.

Mai Chau is a perfect place for teachers to get some downtime where you are able to stay in one of the areas small homestays or hotels. Nestled between mountains or overlooking the vast Hoa Binh Lake, it is one of the most peaceful escapes you can imagine.

Immerse yourself in the region’s stunning scenery, explore the area by embarking on a guided hike, or simply walk or cycle the many winding paths that twist and turn between the idyllic rice paddies. 

In the Center

5. Da Nang

English teacher in Vietnam standing on a boulder overlooking Da Nang beaches

Take a break from city life and enjoy Da Nang’s beaches

Located at the very center of Vietnam is the stunning coastal city of Da Nang. This very vibrant and colorful city can be completed as a 2 or 3 day trip from either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

English teachers in Vietnam flock to Da Nang throughout the year to make the most of its stunning beach. 

As a city on the coast, Da Nang offers both a city and seaside break with day trips available to Hai Van Pass, Cham Islands, and Hoi An. As a result, visitors are given an opportunity to experience some of Vietnam’s greatest attractions. 

A short flight from both major cities in Vietnam, Da Nang is not a location to be missed whilst teaching in the country. 

6. Hoi An

colorful lanterns hang in the streets of Hoi Ain

Once you see the riverfront lit up at night, you’ll understand why Hoi An is called the City of Lanterns

Located only 30 minutes south of Da Nang is the beautiful city of Hoi An. This UNESCO protected heritage site is a popular destination for anyone visiting Vietnam.

The city is famous for its lantern-lit streets, quaint canal and it’s yellow French colonial buildings. Teaming with cafes, eateries, street markets, and ancient temples, Hoi An is a peaceful retreat.

You can spend between 1 to 2 days wandering the streets, cycling around rice paddies and relaxing by the sea. For teachers wanting a bit of peace and quiet, and the opportunity to explore a rare destination that resembles the south of France embroiled in Vietnamese culture and customs, Hoi An is the perfect place to visit. 

In the South

7. Mekong Delta

Vietnamese woman paddles through Mekong Delta coconut forest

Take a cruise down the Mekong Delta and get lost in the Coconut Forest

As a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta makes for an ideal retreat for teachers in Vietnam. It takes no more than 2 hours to arrive at one of the many ports on the river. 

You are then taken out by boat to one of the many islands that have formed amongst the delta. Here smaller boat trips take place under a coconut palm canopy.

Often tours will provide lunch and an opportunity to explore the area by bicycle, which is a wonderful experience in itself.

Those wanting a full experience of the Mekong Delta can embark on a longer tour. Boats cruise the delta daily, and it is even possible to cross the border into Cambodia! Cruises can last up to one week and give tourists an opportunity to experience the delta’s most remote areas with immersive Homestay experiences with locals in each area.

8. Vung Tau 

beachside resort overlooking Vung Tau Beach

Take advantage of the affordable beachside resorts in Vung Tau during school vacations

An ideal short escape from the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City is the coastal town of Vung Tau. Famous in Vietnam for it’s Christ The King statue that towers above the city, it serves as an easy destination in the south. 

A short two-hour journey from Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau is achievable over just 1 or two days. It serves as a perfect weekend escape for teachers in the manic city of HCMC, formerly known as Saigon. 

Despite the fact that the beach is somewhat undesirable, the seaside resorts are affordable and stunning and are an ideal opportunity to enjoy some fresh air and seaside chill time.

These are just my top 8 places I’ve enjoyed exploring whilst teaching in Vietnam but there are so many other amazing places I have visited and plan to visit.

Vietnam honestly never gets old and offers so much to explore and experience. It has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and apart from the intercultural experiences I’ve had and the personal growth I’ve experienced, I have also been so fortunate to travel to some of the most fascinating places this country is blessed with.

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