Explore these top destinations in northern Vietnam. Go beyond Halong Bay and Sapa to find the real treasures in the north
Northern Vietnam has to be one of the most enchanting places in the world, it constantly finds itself in the World’s Top 10 Destinations by Tripadvisor. Mountains, waterfalls, beaches – there is no shortage of them, yet some areas of the North are seldom visited by travelers.
Information about the north of Vietnam is also scattered all around the internet, but lucky for you, with this pictures will inspire you visiting this wonderful lands form Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, Mai Chau, Ha Giang, Cao Bang, to Ninh Binh. Recommended Tours: Northern Vietnam Tours with Locals
Unrivaled Destinations to Explore in Northern Vietnam Tour
Hanoi is an opus of color, unique tastes, conical hats, fruit piled high, fresh beer, and impossibly thick electric wires bundled together stretching between old buildings.
A generous city, it offers something for every kind of traveler. Hoan Kiem District, or the Old Quarter, is a labyrinth of 36 streets that each sell something different.
Women in colorful fabrics and shaded hats will smile at you as you walk by stalls of food.
Coffee drinkers laugh on small plastic stools with their café sua and tea to cool down from the hot sun.
Even better are the motorbikes that populate the roads, sometimes up to four people piled behind the driver, maybe even a dog with his paws over the handlebars. Their beeps like a chorus in the city.
Food in the north is more subtle than the food of the south; emphasis is on individual flavors instead of on a barrage of too many spices to count. You will often find salt on the table to compliment the food.
Do not leave Hanoi without trying bun cha, a noodle dish with strips of pork in a light fish sauce. If you like seafood, you must try my personal favorite, Cha Ca. This dish is often prepared in a hotpot on the table, fish with turmeric is cooked over the heat. Vermicelli noodles, roasted peanuts, and fresh herbs accompany this delicious meal.
There is an abundance of food to try in Hanoi and the best way to find the best food is too simply go where the locals go
Hanoi is the vibrant capital of Vietnam. With so many foods to taste, monuments to see, and neighborhoods to experience, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Although there is an abundance of traveling to do within the city limits, there are beautiful landscapes that stretch past the city border.
Read more: 20 Best Things To Do In Hanoi (Vietnam)
Recommended Best Tours: Day Trips from Hanoi
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay has become the number one tourism hub in Northern Vietnam. Located 170km east of Hanoi in the Quang Ninh province, this UNESCO World Heritage protected site is known for scenic views and sordid backpacker parties.
The bay not only consists of emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone monoliths of various shapes and sizes but also of stalactite and stalagmite caves and beautiful fishing villages.
These karst isles formed over 500 million years ago are scattered around the bay which can be separated into two sections – Bai Tu Long Bay in the northeast and Lanh Ha Bay in the southwest. Both share similar cultural, geographical, and geological characteristics.
The best way to see Ha Long Bay is to sign up for a tour. Whether you are a budget, mid-range, or luxury traveler seeking a relaxing experience, a private romantic tour, family downtime, or some crazy parties, there will be a tour that fits your taste. Some tours last 4 to 5 hours, whereas others span days and nights.
Transport, food (excluding drinks), and accommodation are all-inclusive in the price but activities may or may not be – these include kayaking, visiting caves, fishing, snorkeling, and the like.
Read more: What to do in Halong Bay
How to get Halong bay? Hanoi to Halong Bay Private transfer
Just like Ha Long Bay is the most popular tourist hub in the northeast of Vietnam, Sapa has called dibs on the same title for the northwest of the country. It is the second most popular destination outside of Hanoi.
Located in the Hoang Lien Son mountains of Lao Cai province, just by the Chinese border, 350km northwest of Hanoi, the picturesque town of Sapa is famous for its rugged mountainous scenery with its cascading rice terraces in all shades of green in the Muong Hoa Valley.
Housing Vietnam’s highest peak, Mt. Fansipan (3143m), along with other great mountains like Aurora & J, Sapa is rich in opportunities for treks and has become Vietnam’s premier trekking base. It doesn’t end there.
Sapa is rich in cultural diversity and is host to many hill tribes such as the H’mong (predominant), Tay, and Dao people which make up much of the town’s local population.
Be wary of the weather in Sapa; it can be all over the place. A billboard in Sapa states proudly: “Four seasons in one day.” Chilly winter in the early morning, springtime after sunrise, summer in the afternoon, and cold winter at night.
The temperature can dip below 0 degrees Celsius and there has even been snow! But don’t let that put you off.
Sapa is best around the months of August and September, during the rainy season. Showers are brief, but it does pour buckets.
Your hikes will be way more adventurous, and yes, dangerous; however, the views are more spectacular and green than they are at any other time of the year.
That is, if there is no fog. Avoid visiting Sapa in November to February, the rice paddies are brown and empty. Plus, it’s much colder and many homestays will not have heating or even hot water.
Read more: Sapa Tours from Hanoi Guide
Recommended Tour: Sapa Tour from Hanoi 3 Days
With tiered mountains and a shade of green that seems to only exist in Vietnam, Ha Giang province is one of the most beautiful places you can visit in the country. Read more: Hanoi to Ha Giang Things to Do
It lies in the northeast region of Vietnam and it shares a 270 km long border with China. Roads seem to flow like rivers around the mountains that move in and out of my butts like royal sentries.
Also removed from the ravages of modernization, Ha Giang is one of those unique places that time refuses to touch. Different cultures perch in their villages in this province, their lives are in sync with the natural landscapes that surround them and they often invite travelers to share their culture.
Farther from Ha Giang city is Quan Ba, where you can see Red Dao village, their traditional dress vibrant against the backdrop of the landscape. Read more: Ha Giang Tour with Locals
Travelers can continue in this mostly untouched land to see more cultures that populate the area, like the Hmong women who create their own textiles.
Cao Bang is yet another mountainous area of Vietnam, where apart from surreal views, you also have easy access to the rural and untouched Vietnam. 350km from Hanoi and just 30km from Guangxi province, China, Cao Bang is probably the least popular destination in this list, yet it is just as beautiful as the rest, if not more.
It makes a great stop for travelers coming from or going to China through the Pingxiang border crossing. This province is home to serpentine roads that lead you up and around the endless karst peaks, dense jungles, emerald water lakes, and of course, the magnificent Ban Gioc – Detian falls. Read more: Things to do in Cao Bang Bang Gioc falls
For those tired of the tourist circuit of coastal Vietnam, Cao Bang is a great alternative.
The magnificent Ban Gioc – Detian waterfall is the largest in Vietnam. It is also the 4th largest waterfall along a national border in the world. You will be able to take a raft out into the base of the waterfall and greet Chinese tourists doing the same from the other side! You can reach the falls via public bus. However, it is way better if you do it on your own on a motorbike.
The road there is heavenly and there will be many places to stop and enjoy the countryside. You can also stop by Nguon Ngao caves on the way, an immense cave system that holds a series of majestic caverns filled with intricate formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Read more: Hanoi to Ban gioc waterfall transfer Ba Be Lake
In low season, you may even have the cave to yourself, an experience you cannot have anywhere else. Thang Hien Lake and Pac Bo are other unforgettable stops you don’t want to miss. And these are only doable if you are in control.
Read more: Tay tribe Village Ban Gioc waterfall
Mai Chau is only 4 hours ride away from Hanoi. Yet it feels like a world away from the bustle of the city. This beautiful city is in the Hoa Binh Province which is in the northwestern part of Vietnam.
As you approach Thun Khe Pass, the valley floor and small towns open up before you. The distant mountains and white walls characteristic of the region are calming and refreshing in place of the heaped buildings of Hanoi.
Situated in sprawling rice fields and greenery, with houses built on stilts, this place is one of the most unique destinations in Vietnam. Many travelers come here to breathe in the fresh air and embark upon adventures that are not accessible in the city.
Explore the cavernous mouths of Chieu Cave and Muo Luong cave and stretch your limbs into yoga poses in its depths. If you enjoy the water, take kayaks out on the turquoise rivers that move in and out of the mountains.
If you’re the adventurous type you can also embark upon a longer trek to a neighboring village to explore the various cultures of the region.
If you decide to backpack your way down from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, Ninh Binh should be your first stop after you have covered the north. This (yet again) mountainous province is about a 100km south of Hanoi.
Read more: Things to do in Ninh Binh
In Ninh Binh, there are 100s of limestone cliffs emerging from the ground scattered across green, brown and yellow rice fields and thus, is called the “Ha Long Bay on land”
Useful resources for visiting Northern Vietnam
How to Apply for Vietnam’s e-Visa