Home Across Asia Alternative Highlights in Vietnam and Cambodia

Alternative Highlights in Vietnam and Cambodia

by Melissa Nicholas

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that tourists hate other tourists. But, when visiting a country’s most iconic sites, we often have to accept that we’ll be part of a pack. Or… do we? In this post, we reveal lesser-known alternative highlights in Vietnam and Cambodia that cannot be found on the typical tourist map, despite being equally enchanting.

Vietnam and Cambodia both receive an unprecedented number of visitors, so it’s rare you’ll see Angkor Wat, Halong Bay or Hoi An without the crowds. However, fortunately, there are a number of sites that are just as beautiful and culturally significant, minus the masses. These are also remarkably quick and easy to access – we promise you won’t have to spend hours on a dirt track…

Alternatives to Angkor Wat

Travellers are often surprised to discover that Angkor Wat is just 1 in a complex of over 1,000 temples. No one can diminish its grandeur – it really is unbelievable – but there are hundreds of other lesser-known Khmer temples to see in Siem Reap, many of which are just as impressive.

Orange robed Monks sitting on the stones in the ruins of the Beng Melea temple

Easy alternative: We can arrange for you to see the huge century pyramid of Takeo and the atmospheric temple of Preah Khan, one of the largest in Angkor. Another great experience is Beng Melea, 77km from Angkor Wat but easily visited in half a day, which is shrouded in jungle, lost temples and adventure.

An ancient trees at the Sambor Prei Kuk with huge roots that dominate the foot of the tree

Off-the-beaten-track” alternative: You’re not going to want to miss Angkor Wat but it’s also important to remember that there’s more to Cambodia than just Siem Reap and its nearby temples. Why not travel to the capital Phnom Penh where you can explore the newly recognised UNESCO World Heritage site of Sambor Prei Kuk? From Sambor Prei Kuk, you could even delve further into the unique scenery of the Cardamom Mountains.

Alternatives to Halong Bay

Halong Bay is one of the most recognisable sights in Vietnam. Travel photography generally depicts the bay as impossibly serene, almost otherworldly. However, it’s visited by hundreds of tourist boats everyday, which all follow a similar route, so there is often congestion from all the excursions – particularly at the caves, village shops and wherever kayaking is possible.

Easy Alternative:  Rather than just going for 1 night, spend 2 nights on Halong Bay. Not only is it a more relaxing experience but you’ll have time to go further afield into Lan Ha Bay, which has the same beautiful scenery but far fewer boats.

“Off-the-beaten-track” UNESCO Alternative – Try Trang An Ecosystem in Ninh Binh (UNESCO since 2014), also known as the ‘inland Halong Bay’. While Trang An is popular with domestic tourists, many travellers from further afield miss out on this exceptionally scenic and intriguing landscape. Those who do visit tend to do so in the afternoon, so if you venture out in the morning you could almost have the whole place to yourself. Trang An can be visited on a day trip from Hanoi or why not stay overnight to spend time exploring the surrounding paddy-field countryside, too?

Alternatives to Hoi An (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999)

Though development in Hoi An itself is limited by UNESCO, its outskirts and the nearby coastal areas have been developed hugely over the last ten years. This means that Hoi An can be rammed with people, particularly around 4pm when everyone crowds around the bridge to snap selfies.

It’s still a lovely place to visit, though. It might seem counter-intuitive, but staying in the town itself is a good way to avoid the crowds – so you have time to explore it outside of peak hours. There are some peaceful properties – like the Anantara Hoi An – that are within walking distance of the centre, so you easily dip in and out. We recommend relaxing at your hotel in the afternoon when the coaches arrive, and then wandering back in for dinner when they’ve dispersed.

Easy Alternative – Explore the very near but seemingly rural islands of the Thu Bon River by bike or Vespa. You’ll get a flavour of real local life as well as a fantastic view of Hoi An from the opposite side of the river.

“Off-The-Beaten-Track” alternative – Rather than choose Hoi An for your beach stay, combine a few days in Hoi An Town with a beach stay further south in sleepy Phu Yen province. This mountainous region has some of the country’s best beaches and Zannier Bai San Ho is a wonderful place to stay. What’s more, you can travel between the two locations by a scenic train journey (down the coast).

Seeking some more tips on how to get away from the crowds in Vietnam and Cambodia?

Please call 020 7924 7133 or email us with your questions here. To see an example of the kind of trip you could have, take a look at our example holiday itineraries. They’re just a starting point,  all our holidays are tailor-made so we can tweak all elements to suit your exact interests. 

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