If you are wondering about where to go in North Vietnam, either just for a weekend trip from Hanoi or even a longer adventure, I made a list of really cool places that are all worth of visiting. I saw most of them thanks to my students that took us as locals. Some of them are well-known among tourists and some not but those are doable in a non-touristy way too. I included useful info about prices and how to get there and short description. I hope the photos will inspire you to hit the road, cause Vietnam is beautiful.
Ba Vi National park
Description: Ba Vi national park is situated on a mountain range with great view points on the top. There is a good road leading 12km up to the top – you can use motorbike to get there (make sure you have enough gas and strong motorbike to get to the top which is more than 1200 m above sea level). Once at the top, you’ll have two hikes ahead of you to mountaintop temples. Den Thuong is the easier of the two, at about 600 steps to the top. The second goes to a temple honouring of Ho Chi Minh, called Bac Ho.
Distance/Time: 45 km from Hanoi; 1,5h on motorbike alternatively you can take xe om for approximately 200k VND
Prices: 15k VND for entrance to the park
Tips: It´s a nice one-day trip but if you wanna enjoy more attractions of Ba Vi National park – forest, waterfalls or swimming in the river you can stay overnight.
Description: Ninh Binh province is also called as Ha Long Bay on the ground thanks to its´ look. It is situated on Red river delta, with amazing limestone mountains, fascinating caves and breathtaking pagodas.
Distance: 100km from Hanoi/ 2 hrs by bus
Prices: 80k VND for single bus ticket (My Dinh station to Ninh Binh); 270k VND for 6km boat trip&enatrance to protected area with a local rower and amazing views of the valley and caves
Tips: Rent a bicycle (it´s around 30k VND/day)and cycle around neighbourhood through the paths in between the mountains, meet local kids running ans laughing around and enjoy sunset on the ricefields. Must see is– Bích Động pagoda (30k VND) and Hang Mua pagoda (50k VND; you have to climb some steps to get to the top but the is amazing, you can see the whole valley and Ninh Binh city), Bai Dinh temple (the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam with astonishing statues)
Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong)
Description: It´s a huge complex of Buddhist temples built into the Huong Tich mountains. It is the site of a religious festival which draws large numbers of pilgrims from across Vietnam. It´s a nice one day trip that includes boat ride with a local woman rower with amazing views of lotus fields, river and surrounding mountains. After one hour on the boat you get to the final destination from where you can take a hike to several pagodas. To get to the most famous one that is built inside the cave – Chua Huong Tich – you have to walk the stairs (45 min walk) or take a cable car.
Distance: 60km/ 1,5- 2hrs on motorbike or bus
Prices: 90k VND for the return boat ticket + entrance into pagodas; 50k VND return local bus ticket
Tips: Stick with official company that is located on the right side of the river, that’s how you can be sure you will pay only once – for boat ride and entrance.
Description: Sapa is capital city of Lao Cai province in northwest Vietnam. It is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority groups that usually live in poor conditions in small houses among terraced ricefields, shepherding or selling colorful souvenirs. Sapa is a great opportunity to experience everyday life of local minorities. Thanks to homestay you can enjoy everyday activities with them; such as hiking, taking bath in river, planting crops or shepherding.
Distance: 340 km/ 5 hrs by bus
Prices: 280k VND for one way sleeping bus ticket from the company situated in Phan Hung street- behind the underground crossing that you usually take to get to Indochina center, it´s very convenient as the bus company is in walking distance from the house and there is a bus to Sapa every hour J You can also take a night train to Lao Cai that costs around 800k VND one way, then you have to take a local bus or xe om to get to Sapa.
100-300k VND / day in homestay including meals, happy water if you are lucky and a local guide
Tips: If you wanna try nice meal and local alcohol avoid staying with Hmong minority as they don ´t know how to cook and don´t drink alcohol. J
Description: Have you seen pictures of terrific green terraced ricefiels? They were most likely taken in Ha Giang province situated in the north part of Vietnam close to Chinese borders. Ha Giang wasn´t discovered by tourists yet so hurry up and take a bus to Ha Giang city, rent motorbikes and hike around J
Distance: 283 km / 7 hrs by sleeping bus
Prices: 200k VND for one-way ticket from My Dinh station; 200 VND/motorbike/day
Tips: Roads in Ha GIang are crazy and bus drivers even crazier but that make the experience even more adventurous. As we had enough drivers and we wanted to organize breaks by ourselves we decided to rent our own bikes and it was worth it even despite some problems such as flat tires or small accidents :P. As regards must-see places – to see all the amazing views you should make a loop: Ha Giang city – Dong Van – Flag Tower – Meo Vac – Ha Giang City (loop is all together 340 km, it´s doable in two days but you are in a rush so it´s better to take more days off to fully enjoy atmosphere, mountains, stunning views and hiking). Ha Giang is close to Chinese borders so there is a possibility that locals/police will ask you for a permit to stay there overnight, but as we didn´t arrange any in advance and we were lucky we didn´t pay anything.
Ha Long Bay
Description: There is no need to introduce one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, because of reconstruction that is going on there and amount of tourists, some people prefer to visit Cat Ba island and Lan Ha bay instead Ha long Bay. It is basically the same thing but with less tourists. (In case the you want to visit Cat Ba and Lan Ha you can take a bus to Haiphong, change the bus to go to port, then take a local boat to Cat Ba, then you have to take another bus on Cat Ba or rent a motorbike that will take you to the opposite site of the island where you can rent private boat)
Distance: 160 km
A) ON YOUR OWN
Price: 80k VND for one way bus ticket from My Dinh + 500k VND for one-day cruise
B) TOUR – check out Lilly agency for good deals
Description: check out in Lilly agency
Price: $125 for 3-day cruise
Description: Mai Chau area is well known for its stilt houses, ricefields and as a great place to cycle or hike around. People there are extremely friendly.
Distance: 160 km
Tips: Rent a bike and discover Mai Chau by yourself, no tour is needed
Description: Are you dare to try a cobra? This is a perfect chance to try all the parts of the snake – including blood, beating heart, bones, skin, meat (they will prepare around 10 delicious dishes for you J)
Distance: 31 km (Address of district with many restaurants where you can get a snake: Phố Lệ Mật, Việt Hưng, Long Biên, Hà Nội, Vietnam)
Prices: taxi –around 350k one way; snake- 300k VND per person + 300k VND per bottle of vodka that you have to order to drink with blood.
Tips: Be brave and try everything