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Although the North of Vietnam is still not as developed as the South and coastal cities, this part of the country has a lot to offer.
This region is most famous for the nation’s capital, Hanoi and one of the natural wonders of the world, Ha Long Bay UNESCO Heritage Site.
But Northern Vietnam has much more to see than just these two icons.
Below we check out seven of the best tourist attractions in Northern Vietnam, all of which are easily accessible from Hanoi.
Hanoi is likely to be your entry point to Northern Vietnam, so make sure you take a few days to explore this charismatic and quirky city.
My memories of Hanoi are labyrinth-like alleyways, impossibly stacked buildings, some of the best food we tasted in ages, and discovering the wonder that is egg coffee.
Whether it’s a railway that cuts through buildings, trees growing from balconies or huge lake-centred parks, this is a city of contrasting elements that has been pieced together like an awkwardly cut puzzle.
There are so many things to do in Hanoi, even if you’re only there for a day, here are a few highlights to try:
TAKE A FOOD TOUR
This was our favourite experience in Hanoi. There are a number of companies (see below) that offer these kinds of tour, which will take you on a trip through the incredible variety of Northern Vietnamese food.
THE IMPERIAL CITADEL OF THANG LONG
The centrepiece of Hanoi; a UNESCO world heritage site and the place where independence was declared in 1954. A wealth of ancient artefacts have been discovered here dating back to the 6th century. Be sure to cross the road and see the archaeological diggings which have been sheltered from the elements and present an incredible glimpse into an era long-passed.
THE VIETNAM MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM
Worth a visit for the outside exhibits alone, this is a garden filled with American jets, rusty tanks, bombs and cannons. No-where near as propaganda fuelled as the museums of the South, this museum allows you to get up close with some heavy military hardware in a way which is simply not allowed in British museums.
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM
The final resting place of Vietnam’s iconic leader, this huge granite building contains ‘Uncle Ho’s’ embalmed body. It would be best to double check he is there before heading across, as his body is often taken back to Russia for preservation.
It’s worth checking out the botanic gardens behind the mausoleum which were the most peaceful place we found in the city.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR SOMEWHERE TO STAY – we really enjoyed the Pilgrim Hotel, in the heart of the city overlooking St Joseph’s Cathedral, but there are lots of reasonably priced options as you can see below.Booking.com
Sapa town has been a famous destination for more than a century. This town is surrounded by steep mountains, including the 10,312-foot Mount Fansipan – the highest mount in Indochina. Conquering Mount Fansipan is quite an achievement, though for those who prefer a more gentle life, there is a cablecar to the top.
Most people will have seen Sapa pop up on an Instagram feed at some point, instantly recognisable from the tiered rice paddy fields cut into the slopes, tended by members of one of the five local ethnic tribes.
At the weekend, visitors can participate in Tinh market – an overwhelming cultural feature of local people in Sapa and an attractive point in Sapa tourism. Trekking to Ham Rong Mountain or Cat Cat village is also a fantastic thing to do.
3. Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay – the UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the most worth visiting places in Northern Vietnam.
It is the home of hundreds of small islands, caves, and deserted beaches and the habitats of monkeys. Emerald waters and many limestone towers topped above the water have created Ha Long Bay a majestic beauty that no visitors can forget.
A boat tour in Ha Long Bay will take you to many unique places, such as Dog Stone, Sung Sot Cave and Ti-Top beach. Also, we would also recommend staying in the bay for one of two nights; it will give you an unforgettable experience.
4. The Dong Van Plateau
The Dong Van Plateau is situated in the North of Ha Giang province, about six hours of driving from Hanoi. It is one of the most scenic parts of the northeast mountainous region in Vietnam.
Here, you will see terraced rice paddies climbing to the summits of mountains, Southeast Asia’s deepest canyon, pristine lakes, stone forests, pine forests, 22 ethnic minority tribes, incredible waterfalls, and caves.
These spectacular things have made up the mysterious beauty of the Dong Van plateau and rightly attract a lot of visitors.
5. The Perfume Pagoda
This is a temple complex, about a 2-hour drive from Hanoi. There is no road leading to the Perfume Pagoda, to come here, you have to take a boat through Buddhist temples before arriving in the main complex. Make sure you bring sunscreen and an umbrella as there is no protection on these little boats. They can also be quite uncomfortable, so it is worth having something you can sit on.
After making a boat trip, there are hundreds of steps to climb before reaching the Perfume Pagoda. The views from the top are staggering, though the temple itself has become more commercial in recent years, with lots of stalls set-up outside selling various Vietnamese trinkets, and the unusual market-stall produce synonymous with this part of Asia.
The Perfume Pagoda is also a pilgrimage site for pregnant women in Vietnam to pray for healthy babies, while other people often choose this place for good fortune and health praying.
6. Ninh Binh Province
Ninh Binh province is just about 58 miles (90 km) to the South of Hanoi, and is known as the ‘Ha Long Bay on Land’.
If we were to pick one place to visit from Hanoi it would be this one. Yes, Ha Long Bay has the fame, but Ninh Binh allows you to retreat into a peaceful landscape without the hustle of hundreds of tourists on a day trip.
The train from Hanoi goes straight into Ninh Binh station, but we would recommend staying in Tam Coc, which is less built up, and has lots of cycle routes off into the mountains.
There are lots of different things to do when in the province, but it can be a bit complex to figure out. They famous sights are spread across a large area, so we would advise hiring a scooter for a couple of days to see them all.
Here are our favourites:
- Bich Dinh Pagoda
- Hang Mua (for the famous views like the photo above)
- Bai Dinh Pagoda
- The Ancient Capital of Hua Lu
- Take a boat trip through the Trang An Scenic Complex, made a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2014
The Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex also has the film set of Kong: Skull Island which was filmed here in 2017.
The most beautiful thing you can do in Ninh Binh province is sitting on an aluminium rowboat driven by a local woman using her feet and see the rugged karst terrain, lush foliage and secluded caves. Prepare yourself in advance though, as there are some famous scams that take place on these boats!
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Tam Coc, try the Zuli Zen guesthouse, set back from the road right up against a limestone cliff, and run by two lovely local ladies and their gorgeous dog Coco.
7. Mai Chau
Located in the centre of Hoa Binh province, Mai Chau has become a significant mark of Vietnam tourism thanks to the beautiful mountains, lush greenery, and vibrant culture.
If you want to get an authentic view of Northern Vietnamese culture, Mai Chau is great choice as it is home of seven distinct ethnic groups, including Hmong, Muong, Zao, Viet, Tay, White Thai, and Hoa people.
Mai Chau is a lush valley with many traditional stilt houses, which are built 3 metres off of the ground. When the wet season starts, these houses prevent flooding, and also become shelter for animals.
This is a place for enjoying the great outdoors, so prepare yourself for some tough treks, or hire a mountain bike and head out on one of many local trails.
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I am Emily Pham.
I was born in Vietnam – a country with many unknown beaches, historic sites, and tourist attractions.
Understanding that Vietnam nowadays is a famous destination, I established the blog site vina.com with the purpose of introducing the elegant beauty of Vietnam to friends around the world.
If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, our blog will provide you with essential information on where to go and what to do in our country.
AUTHOR – BEN REEVE
Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.
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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie