Welcome to Northern Vietnam!
This is Vietnam’s big-sky country; a place of rippling mountains, cascading rice terraces, breathtaking bays and stunning sceneries. Northern Vietnam’s cultural attractions are just as diverse ranging from the chaotic highland markets to the hill-tribes in the far north.
[blockquote align=”none” author=”Albert Camus”]You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.[/blockquote]
Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay’s scatter of islands, dotted with wind and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one tourism hub. There are more than one thousand extraordinary limestone islands with different shapes and sizes. Ha Long Bay is considered as one of the world’s natural wonders and the most beautiful tourist destination of Vietnam. All visitors are required to purchase entry tickets for the national park (40,000d) and also separate admission tickets for attractions in the bay, such as caves and fishing villages (30,000d to 50,000d).
Ha Giang is an amazing landscape of limestone pinnacles and granite outcrops. The far north of the province has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and the trip between Yen Minh and Dong Van, and then across the Mai Pi Leng Pass to Meo Vac, is quite mind-blowing. Ha Giang is the capital of what is arguably the most beautiful province in all of Vietnam. This was an area once left alone, that has since seen a recent spike in visitors. The city is bordered by picturesque limestone juts framing the horizon in all directions. A number of great hotels are located on either side of the Lo River. Seafood restaurants can be found nearby as well. For those looking to rent a motorbike to explore the nearby Dong Van Karst Plateau, Ha Giang is the place to do it.
Cat Ba Island
Rugged, craggy and jungle-clad Cat Ba is the largest island in Halong Bay. The central hub of Cat Ba Town is now framed by a chain of low-rise concrete hotels along its once-lovely bay, but the rest of the island is largely untouched and as wild as ever. With idyllic Lan Ha Bay just offshore, you’ll soon overlook Cat Ba Town’s overdevelopment. Almost half of Cat Ba Island and 90 sq km of the adjacent waters were declared a national park in 1986 to protect the island’s diverse ecosystems. Most of the coastline consists of rocky cliffs, but there are some sandy beaches and tiny fishing villages hidden away in small coves. Lakes, waterfalls and grottoes dot the spectacular limestone hills. The island’s largest body of water is Ech Lake.
The mountainous town of Sapa is known for its culturally diverse population as well as its proximity to incredible scenery. Sapa itself is home to the members of many hill tribes, including the Hmong, the Dao, the Muong and the Tay. The town also overlooks the magnificent Muong Hoa Valley and its terraced rice fields, which are staggering to behold. If you want to get an inside look at the local residents and their cultures, then head to Sapa for an overnight trek or a homestay. You can hike out to the more remote villages and then spend the night, dining and learning from the hill tribe residents.
If you only visit one place in Northern Vietnam, it would likely be Hanoi. As the nation’s capital, Hanoi is an exhilarating blend of eastern and western culture. French colonialism is visible through cuisine as well as architecture, particularly in the French Quarter in the Hoàn Kiếm District. Hanoi is packed with incredible temples, and a visit to the 11th century Temple of Literature is a must-do activity. The side-by-side Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum are also major attractions in Hanoi, and both are striking buildings from the exterior. Dine on the wild and wonderful at every corner, sample market wares, uncover an evolving arts scene, then sleep soundly in luxury for very little cost. Meet the people, delve into the past and witness the awakening of a Hanoi on the move.