Each and every traveller has different number of days or weeks dedicated to explore this beautiful country in South Eash Asia. While many opt for at least a couple of weeks to cover the narrow and long vertical Vietnam from South to North or vice versa, there are others who have shorter or longer period to visit.
Whatever length you’d like to spare for Vietnam, if you want to know the most up-to-date and personal suggestions for top destinations in Northern Vietnam, keep on reading!
These suggestions are based on my personal experiences as well as those from my local and foreign friends who have visited these places.
For those nature and off-the-beaten track adventure lovers, Ha Giang would certainly be the number 1 choice. If you’re willing to take the challenge driving on some raw and bumpy roads on steep hills, you’ll be rewarded with astonishing views that’ll make you stop every few hundred metres for a photo.
I have fallen in love with the breathtaking sceneries and landscapes that vary from one hill to another and I have written two articles covering all details that’ll help you understand and better prepare for your motorbike adventure in Ha Giang. The good news is that if you cannot or do not want to drive yourself, you can hire riders to drive for you while you fully take in the sights throughout the journey. Check those articles here; Ha Giang Part 1 and Ha Giang Part 2.
Ba Be National Park
Ba Be National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its abundant fauna and flora and rich biodiversity in magnificent landscapes such as caves, waterfalls, lakes, and limestone mountains. Ba Be Lake that is located in the centre of the park is a place of fairytale and you can explore the clear waters on a kayak from which you can take in the depth of history this vast nature has endured for millions of years.
This park is just a perfect harmony between different natural wonders and cultural aspects of local ethnic groups. So you will be able to choose an experience that best caters to your interest through a travel agency or on your own.
Ninh Binh is one of the most visited destinations in the north of Vietnam because of its proximity to Hanoi and rural sceneries that are easily found on postcard pictures. The lush green or golden rice paddies, rivers along limestone cliffs and pagodas all make up a great share of top reasons why it is a beloved destination by both local and international visitors.
As it is only a couple of hours from Hanoi, most people go for a day trip which is reasonable enough to cover few of the top sights and spots here. The Bai Dinh temple is the biggest complex of buddhist temples in Vietnam, which is worth visiting if you like that special soothing ambiance of a temple.
Mai Chau is another Vietnamese rural landscape where you can do a short or long escape from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi for a laid-back getaway and enjoy the vast rice paddies and experience ethnic cultures of this region. It is only about 2.5-3 hours from Hanoi city and a popular day-trip destinations to many travellers these days.
If riding a bicycle along agricultural scenery or learning traditional silk weaving skills of Thai ethnic minority is your thing, put Mai Chau in your list.
Sapa, Ninh Binh and Ha Long bay are the top three destinations for visitors to travel from Hanoi. Sapa has been the primary choice for those seeking to explore the far north for mountainous and natural views as well as to be acquainted with Hmong ethnic group residing here. For its remarkable landscapes and cool weather, it has been a top holiday destinations for Vietnamese people as well.
Unfortunately, the overload of development resulted in mass of constructions and dramatic rise of prices. Consequently, I have a lot of friends who have turned their backs on Sapa from disappointments. However, you’ll still be able to enjoy the beauty of its mountains and have a sneak peek into the local ethnic people’s lives.
Ha Long Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay
Ha Long bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been the top destination from Hanoi for years attracting millions of travellers every year. Bai Tu Long bay is located in the northeast of Ha Long bay and began to attract more travellers who are seeking for less crowd than Ha Long bay. There are thousands of limestone islets scattered around the tranquil water where day and overnight boats cruise smoothly pass one another.
Some people might be pushed away from the masses of tourists flooding in and out every day. However, a night on the peaceful water looking over these magical islets and gazing at the stars is an absolute must as it is truly a unforgettable and beautiful experience.
Cat Ba Island
While beach destinations in Vietnam are much more well-known and notorious for crystal clear and emerald colours of the water in the middle and south of Vietnam, there are some decent beaches in the north of Vietnam too. And Cat Ba island is definitely the top place for beaches in the north. There is a national park perfect for trekking and the much quieter town and roads in this island open up opportunities for peaceful motorbike ride for travellers who are tired of the crazy traffic in Hanoi.
Adjacent to Ha Long bay, this island is in Lan Ha bay and there are cruise options to explore the bay featuring similar sceneries to the infamous Ha Long bay.