Boasting 3,444 kilometres of coastline, magnificent mountain scenery, incredible limestone pinnacles and abundant forest and national parks, Vietnam is blessed with some of the best nature tourism in all of Southeast Asia.
The varied topography of this fascinating country means there’s no shortage of wildlife experiences, both above and below water!
Like with any experience that involves living beings, you should be mindful of making sure any wildlife experience you take part in is ethical. Any experiences that take advantage of animals or negatively affect their natural habitat should be avoided at all costs.
These seven experiences in Vietnam follow the crucial principles of observing wildlife in their natural habitats without harming or distressing them. Therefore, enabling you to have a pleasant experience while being a responsible traveller on your Vietnam tour.
#1 Snorkel with Abundant Marine Life in the Cham Islands
A cluster of eight islands off Vietnam’s central coast, a short one-hour boat ride from the famed yellow town of Hoi An, the Cham Islands are a recognised UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Think pristine beaches and mountainous scenery fringed by dazzling waters!
Protected from the detrimental effects of overfishing and other methods, the waters surrounding the Cham Islands are known for their beautiful coral reefs which are representative of an underwater aquarium! Whether you choose to snorkel or dive, there are several spots around these islands where you can share the waters with scorpionfish, barracuda, octopi and turtles!
Top tip: There are lots of little homestays on the Cham Islands, so to avoid the crowds of day-trippers check yourself in for a night or two to revel in the island’s beauty.
#2 Spot Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins on the Mekong River
One of the last few places in the world to witness the unique beauty that is Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat, the Mekong River on the Vietnam-Cambodia border enables you to catch a lucky glimpse of these mammals.
Sadly, due to hunting methods in the past few decades, the population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the river has dwindled from 1,000 to an estimated 70.
Top tip: To spot these elusive animals, head to a local village on the border and hire a locally-skippered boat. The locals will know exactly where to witness the dolphins.
#3 Watch Baby Turtles Make Their Way to the Sea in Con Dao Con Dao
Just a short flight from the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City or a boat ride from the mainland, Con Dao is a tiny archipelago paradise. It is known for being the place that green turtles, hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles come to nest on beaches now serving as protected breeding grounds.
The 16 uninhabited islands are protected as a national park so as well as seeing tiny turtles make their way to the sea (between April and November), you’ll also be able to enjoy the island’s endless beaches, lush forests and miles of hiking trails.
Top tip: Con Dao is a protected national park so you’ll have to coordinate with the headquarters on the mainland to book your trip.
#4 Get Twitching at Cuc Phuong National Park
Bird lovers rejoice! Cuc Phuong National Park is a bird-watching opportunity that you should not miss on your Vietnam tour.
In the province of Ninh Binh in Northern Vietnam, Cuc Phuong National Park is the oldest national park in the country and the largest. Consisting of karst mountains, lush river valleys and an abundance of fauna and flora, Cuc Phuong attracts a dazzling variety of bird species.
Many of the 336 bird species recorded here are considered rare or endangered appearing in the Red Book of Vietnam. Get your binoculars ready; you may be lucky enough to spot a red-collared woodpecker or a chestnut-necklaced partridge on your trip!
Top tip: Cuc Phuong is a mere two-hour journey from the capital city of Hanoi, so combine your trip with a trip to the beautiful region of Tam Coc.
#5 Spot Endangered Primates at Cat Tien National Park
Perched between Southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and the Truong Son Mountain range, just a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien is a UNESCO-listed national park which spans 70,000 hectares.
Home to an impressive collection of plants, exotic wildlife, ancient trees and two wildlife rescue centres, Cat Tien National Park is undoubtedly worthy of an overnight stay. From night safaris and crocodile tours to trekking and cycling to local villages as well as visiting the Endangered Primates Species Centre, there is so much to do in Cat Tien. Expect to see Gibbons, Langur Monkeys, wild pigs, rare birdlife, porcupines and more.
Top tip: Grab yourself a map at the national park headquarters and head off on a self-guided hunt for the centuries-old trees which scatter the park. They are a sight to behold.
#6 Spot Crocs as you Float Through the Mangroves in Can Gio
A possible day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve is another UNESCO-protected region in Southern Vietnam. The expansive mangrove forest is home to an abundance of colourful birds and mammals including crocodiles who lurk in the marshy wetlands.
In Can Gio, you can hop on a boat with a local skipper to tour the mangrove and spot wildlife. If you’d like to spot some monkeys, you can also visit Monkey Island to see dozens of them in their natural habitat.
Top tip: The Can Gio Museum is a great place to start your tour to learn about the different animals here and the impact that the Vietnam War had on the reserve.
#7 Marvel at a Beach Full of Starfish on Phu Quoc Island
One of the few spots in Vietnam perfectly positioned for a sunset over the ocean, Phu Quoc Island sits on the southern tip of Vietnam and has long been a popular tropical escape for locals and expats alike.
Home to dense forest inland and encircled by pristine, idyllic beaches, Phu Quoc is a great place to begin or end a wildlife adventure. As well as snorkelling and diving in the popular spots offshore, you can head to the island’s very own ‘Starfish Beach’. This beach is home to white sands, shallow crystal clear water and an abundance of native starfish that call this beach home.
Remember, that you should not touch or pick up these beautiful beings but instead enjoy the phenomenon of Starfish Beach from a safe distance. You can go swimming and spend the day at this beach but be mindful when walking into the water that you don’t step on any of the starfish.
Top tip: Try to steer clear of the Vinpearl Amusement Park as it is a zoo where animals are held captive and not representative of a responsible wildlife experience seeing animals in their natural habitat.
Enriching your Vietnam tour with unique wildlife experiences will result in a trip you will never forget. However, it is important to remember to be mindful of responsible travel practices making sure each wildlife experience you involve yourself in doesn’t negatively impact the animals in any way.