Getty Images/iStockphoto

Southwest Highlands

Few parts of Vietnam stir the imagination with the lure of adventure quite like the highlands. The ribbon that is the Ho Chi Minh Hwy winds its scenic way past coffee plantations, pine-studded mountains, rice paddies with their wallowing buffalo, enormous reed-covered lakes and peaceful villages, laying down the challenge of a two-wheeled journey.

Protected jungle hosts singing gibbons, pygmy loris, wild elephants and incredible numbers of birds. Active travelers take to the mountains, forests, waterfalls and rivers in biking, hiking, rafting and abseiling adventures, and the former French colonial hill station of Dalat beguiles with its cool climate, the palaces of the last emperor of Vietnam and bars for after-dark thrills.

The highlands are also where you're likely to encounter many of Vietnam's ethnic minority peoples such as the Bahnar who build tall, thatched-roof building on stilts called rong, or the Jarai who 'feed' the graves of their dead.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southwest Highlands.