Northern Vietnam

Local Time: 08:00

Cast your mind along a narrow, twisting mountain road that sweeps under endless, rippling mountain ranges. You’ll see quiet, otherworldly villages nestled in patchworks of rice paddies or perched precariously on terraces that cut steps to the heavens. You’ll see huge limestone karsts erupting from sapphire blue seas, towering over serenely floating communities.

If you’re ever looking to get to the back of beyond, there are few places like the northern reaches of Vietnam and its massive skies that offer the same sense of isolation. Exploring this region by moped, motorbike or car offers an unbelievable feeling of freedom, as you stumble across dramatic waterfalls, tranquil lakes surrounded by jungle, and undisturbed mountain communities.

Travellers are far more of a novelty in the uppermost reaches of the highlands compared to on the coast and down at the Mekong Delta, so you’re sure to be met by warm hospitality and a smile as wide as the lush green valley you’re travelling through.

And with the standard incredible quality of Vietnamese food (and some Chinese influences seeping over the border), there’s not a lot better than setting up in a hammock with a steaming bowl of Pho and a cold beer, as you watch the sun sink into a delicate indigo haze beyond the ever-reaching mountains.

Highlights

Ha Long Bay

This place doesn’t really need any introduction, but we’ll give one anyway. Just off the coast of Ha Long City is a labyrinth of gleaming limestone towers speckling an iridescently blue bay. Topped with vegetation, these 1600 islands, most uninhabited, provide one of the most breathtaking sights in the world.

Old junks drift lazily through the passageways, villages float in secluded coves, and monkeys patrol the white sand beaches of the larger islands.

Ba Be National Park

A land in the vertical. Ba Be National Park is a wildly plunging, soaring landscape of thousand-metre mountain peaks and low lying, snaking rivers and lakes. Lush jungle with countless species roaming the deep, impenetrable forest drips from the mountains and lines the tranquil, jasmine-scented waterways.

Home to thirteen tribal villages, Ba Be National Park, or Ba Be Lakes, this is a region for getting well off the beaten track, and finding a slice of the old Vietnam.

Bac Ha

Usually a sleepy mountain village, Bac Ha explodes into a whirlwind of noise, colour and movement when Sunday arrives. The lanes flood with villagers from all over the region in a manic rush of bartering, buying and selling. Once the market has finished however, Bac Ha becomes a sleepy backwater once again.

A perfect spot to go trekking in the lush valleys and jungles that surround the town, Bac Ha is off the tourist trail and somewhere to stay as an authentic base to see this spectacular part of the world.

When is the best time to go?

November is clear, calm and beautiful. The ideal time for Ha Long Bay. If you want to avoid the crowds, May is a great time to visit, and you’re going to get more than your fill of vitamin D.

And if you want to see Bac Ha at it’s most manic, visit in late August or early September for harvest season, and prepare yourself for some seriously bustling crowds.