What to do and Where to stay in
Northern Vietnam

With its mist-shrouded mountains, cascading rice terraces and dramatic, karst topography, Northern Vietnam’s striking landscape is arguably its most impressive feature. Bordering China to the north, Laos to the west and with the shimmering coastline to the east, it is a melting pot of cultures with vast and varied scenery.

Experiences in Northern Vietnam

Hanoi, the country’s brilliantly bonkers but beautiful capital, is a natural starting point for visitors drawn to the mountainous north. Full of bustle, this French colonial city is more attractive than sprawling Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south and has colonial architecture and vibrant street life in spades.  Mopeds nip at your heels as you wind through the Old Quarter’s market streets, haggling over silk or slurping Pho soup. City highlights include Hoan Kiem lake with its island pagoda, the Temple of Literature (dedicated to Confucius), the Vietnam National Museum of History and the imposing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the father of modern Vietnam lies. In need of a bit of light relief? Then we highly recommend a Water Puppet Show, a traditional North Vietnam art form that dates to the 11th century.

Dramatic scenery awaits in Sapa, a former French hill station in the northwest, which lies in the shadow of Fansipan, Indochina’s tallest mountain. Hiking is the best way to see its paddy field patchwork, plunging valleys and remote hill-tribe villages.

Just over 100 miles east of Hanoi lie the craggy islands of Halong Bay, a World Heritage Site. Legend tells of a great dragon who created this seascape of soaring limestone towers – stretching for 43,400 hectares -amongst the deep blue waters. Adventurous clans can swim from their junk, or kayak through the emerald-green water, exploring its hidden caves and islands, visiting floating villages and spotting oyster pearl farms along the way. Spend your spare time squid fishing, relaxing on your boat’s sundeck or tucking into a meal as you sail towards a different island. We recommend the lesser visited Lan Ha Bay if you want to avoid hordes of crowds during peak season, however.

Don’t miss Ninh Binh, similar to Halong Bay but on land. Cycle or Kayak past mighty, green-topped limestone monoliths rising from the rural landscapes and explore caves sparkling with stalactites.  This area is also home to the Four Paws Bear Sanctuary, its’ residents rescued from bile farming.  This can also be combined with a trip to the Endangered Primate Rescue and Carnivore& Pangolin Education Centres, if you are travelling with wildlife enthusiasts.

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