A mosaic of diverse cultures is waiting for you to explore and experience here in the North of Vietnam.
This land, with its fascinating history, breath-taking scenery and exotic cuisine is the ancient origin of Vietnamese language literature and culture. For foreigners and Vietnamese alike, this part of the country holds a mysterious and seductive charm.
Autumn (September to Mid-December) and spring (March and April) are the two most favorable periods of time for you to visit this region. The sights are colorful and the weather is pleasantly cool, but not so cold that you won’t be able to enjoy the night and all its attractions.
At the heart of the North, Vietnam’s capital is one of the most romantic and poetic cities in the country. In spite of being the second largest, the city feels like a charming and lively little town, especially when you walk around the Old Quarter’s maze of streets. This area is also one of the best places you can go to enjoy various delicious local food such as Pho, Cha ca La Vong (Spicy fried fish with herbs and noodle), Bun Cha Hanoi (charcoal grilled tasty pork with noodle and sauce) and much more. In no other place in the world does a bowl of hot Pho in the morning taste as yummy.
While here you won’t want to forget to get yourself one of the top 10 best drinks in the world – egg coffee - “Incredibly rich taste - like a liquid tiramisu”, says Buzzfeed, the American online social news and entertainment source. Not till after that jolt of sweet goodness, will you be ready for a tour around the city!
Hanoi is filled with historical and cultural delights. For those who are especially interested in history, you will find it insightful and fascinating to learn about what the country went through when visiting the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Museum of Vietnamese Revolution, Vietnamese Military History Museum and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. The last mentioned museum holds a very special place in the hearts of millions of Vietnamese, as the body and possessions of the country’s spiritual and political father rests within its walls.
Culturally, the mix between colonial and pre-colonial architecture has greatly contributed to the unique look and feel of the capital. Many have enjoyed exploring the Temple of Literature, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Fine Art Museum and various temples such as Bach Ma and Ngoc Son.
If live entertainment is what you seek, check out the local shows and concerts being held all year around. The colorfully painted water puppet show is the one you can’t miss, as this show introduces you to some of the delightful myths and stories from ancient Vietnam and is a uniquely Vietnamese experience.
Last but not least, Hoan Kiem Lake has always made the list of must-see-sights in Hanoi. Even though this lake is not the most beautiful on offer in Vietnam, it makes a fine fresh and green rest stop during your city tour, and has some interesting historical and cultural features. If you should wake up early enough in the morning, the mass exercise along the lake is something really worth seeing. Many of the older citizens do Tai Chi and stretching as early as 5am. The festivities usually finish up around 8am so make sure you sleep early the night before.
Red River Delta and coastal Northeast
The two most alluring destinations in this whole area are Ha Long Bay – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and Ninh Binh – in which resides the ancient capital of the old Vietnamese kingdom.
Ninh Binh - widely referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land”, is about 110 Km from Hanoi, and only 2 hours by car/bus. In Ninh Binh you will find Trang An Grottoes and Van Phong Nature Reserve – both these natural attractions will charm you with their serene beauty. Hoa Lu – the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century - with its inner and outer citadels - is a photographer’s dream, with many interesting places to shoot. A bicycle ride around this lovely 19th century look-a-like town is highly recommended.
Ha Long Bay is obviously one of the favorite spots in Vietnam. The bay offers you a feast of natural beauty, with its lush limestone karsts and emerald green water. There are literally thousands of isles in Ha Long Bay and a boat tour around this magnificent area is not to be missed. Kayaking to explore the caves and rock climbing are among the favorite activities here.
Northern Midlands and Highlands
Rated among the top 10 destinations for rice terrace travel (SpotCoolStuffTravel), the Northern Midlands and Highlands areas are breath-taking places for a traveller to explore. Most impressive is the magnificent wilderness and the blend of the ethnic minority hill tribes with their welcoming smiles and beautiful colorful attire.
Ba Be Lake - the core of astonishing Ba Be National Park is the largest natural lake in Vietnam. The lake is a wondrous scene surrounded by marvelous sights of forests, valleys and caves. For those who want to embrace the local life, a homestay in a stilt house with a Tay minority family is an unforgettable experience. Boat trips, kayaking or trekking are ways to immerse yourself in the pure natural beauty of this land.
Sapa – an old hill station by the French - is probably the most well-known and convenient destination to visit. This charming town is often packed with tourists, both foreigners and locals. Trekking up to the mountains with a H’Mong tour guide is definitely one of the best ways to refresh your body and mind in Sapa. If you are up to the challenge, conquering the highest mountain peak in Indochina – Fan Si Pang is a hugely rewarding and fulfilling journey.
A bike/car trip from Sapa to Lai Chau will offer you one of the most spectacular scenes with stunning mountain peaks shrouded in mist. A few hours out from Sapa, Bac Ha Sunday market is a great chance for you to see the most colorful dresses of ethnic women in a busy bustling atmosphere.
With its various choices of local as well as Western restaurants and traditional herbal bath treatments, Sapa makes a perfect rest stop, before going back to Hanoi, after the most incredible adventure to the untouched far north.
For those who love to discover something off the beaten track, Ha Giang and Yen Bai provinces must be on the map. Beyond any doubt, Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai) and Hoang Su Phi (Ha Giang) are among the most marvelous sceneries the country has to offer. Dazzling beauty of rice terrace fields and splendid mountains will take your breath away.