Did you know that Vietnam is an incredible 1,650km long? This epic distance means that most travelers with a 2-week holiday must choose carefully where they want to visit and how they want to get around. While it is tempting to see it all, visiting fewer destinations is usually a much more relaxing and immersive experience. In fact, choosing just one region of Vietnam will help reduce travel time and give you more time to soak in the distinct magic of each place.
As locals and expats living in Hanoi, we have a soft spot for the north and all it has to offer. Today, we want to share that with you in our Northern Vietnam Travel Guide!
Basing yourself in the north of Vietnam promises adventure and culture in equal measure. Imagine mountains and rice paddies as far as the eye can see and local cafes and homes to seek refuge in after days of exploring.
Begin your trip in the charming and chaotic capital. Take a spin on the back of a Vespa to see the city highlights and experience life as a local, and hit the streets in the evening to sample Vietnam’s world-famous cuisine.
Hanoi is a great place to educate yourself on the country’s past with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, the National Museum and the Military History Museum. You can then dive into the country’s diverse ethnic make-up with a trip to the Ethnological Museum. This will set you up for your trip further north to the 50+ minority villages that have found a home in Vietnam.
Two of the major highlights of Northern Vietnam are Sapa and Halong Bay, and for very different reasons. Head to Sapa first for a dose of adventure, trekking to remote villages in the hills and meeting local people with cultures, languages and traditional dress that seem a world away from Hanoi’s hip cafes and modern shopping centers.
From the mountains of the North, head to the coastline to take in one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world in Halong Bay. Cruise among the thousands of jungle-clad limestone islands aboard a luxury junk boat and settle into the tranquil atmosphere with a cocktail in hand.
We recommend spending 2 days in Hanoi, taking the luxurious overnight train for 2 nights in Sapa and then transferring through Hanoi to Halong City for a 2 night cruise in majestic Halong Bay.
Then, if you are looking to get slightly off the beaten track in the north of Vietnam, we recommend a 2 day excursion to either Mai Chau or Ninh Binh, or both if time allows.
Visit Mai Chau in the west before heading north to Sapa and find endless green rice paddies and the picturesque stilt-house villages of the White Thai people. From Halong Bay you can head south to Ninh Binh if you are craving more epic landscapes of towering karst formations; this time amid rural farmland and grazing buffalo.
From Hanoi, or from Ninh Binh, you can then catch an overnight train South to Dong Hoi where you’ll transfer to Phong Nha National Park, home to the world’s biggest cave. While Son Doong cave requires enough time for a week long expedition, you can visit many other beautiful caves on a 2 night trip. Paradise Cave and Dark Cave are some of our favourites.
With a handful of overnight trains and without rushing through each place, this itinerary idea is around 12 nights. It’s always important to leave extra room for downtime too, especially if you are keen to do a lot of tours and activities.
If you want to go even further of the beaten path, you could head to Pu Luong Nature Reserve, close to Mai Chau, or Ba Be National Park, directly north of Hanoi, for more time in Northern Vietnam’s stunning natural landscapes. For those wanting even more adventure, a trip the majestic mountains of Ha Giang and the waterfalls on the border of China are journeys of a lifetime.
Or if you are keen to get further south, Hue and Hoi An/Danang have quick, and cheap, air connections with Hanoi.
We hope this mini-guide has given you ideas for which areas of Northern Vietnam are perfect for you. But, also remember that some places might just be worth stepping out of your comfort zone for!
For help in crafting your perfect Northern Vietnam itinerary, get in touch with our Hanoi-based experts today.