Northern Vietnam offers a diverse range of natural attractions from stunning beaches, golden rice fields, imposing mountains to lakes, rivers and primeval forests. This article will provide a specific travel guide about 12 top-rated destinations in Northern Vietnam to help you decide which one to visit.
1. Ha Long Bay – A scenic UNESCO Heritage Site living up to the hype
Recognized as a natural wonder of the world by UNESCO, Ha Long Bay is a tourism paradise in Northern Vietnam. It attracts a large number of tourists coming to explore the poetic beauty of natural attractions such as Ti Top Island, Tuan Chau Island, Bai Tu Long Bay, etc. Ti Top Island, a small islet in Ha Long Bay, is famous for the beautiful Ti Top Beach. The beach is not too large compared to others, but it has clear blue seawater in the four seasons.
Lying in the Northwest of Ha Long Bay, Tuan Chau Island has crystal clear water and magnificent underwater scenery. Visitors can go diving or snorkeling to discover the diverse ecosystem there. Bai Tu Long Bay is a laid-back alternative to the vibrant atmosphere of Ha Long Bay with a more soothing vibe. It is home to many amusing destinations such as Thien Canh Son Cave, Vung Vieng Village, Ban Chan Island, Cap La Island and Cong Dam area.
Coming to Ha Long Bay, you should not miss out on the specialties of Ha Long cuisine, which is a combination of fresh seafood and skillful processing techniques. Banh Gat Gu (Nodding Cake) - a roll made from rice powder with minced pork and fried onions, Chao Ha (Acorn Barnacle Porridge) - a dish with nutritious shellfish as the main ingredient, Grilled Chopped Squid - a dish made of chopped or minced squid, are all recommended for you.
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2. Hanoi Vietnam – An over 1000-year-old city with bustling urban lifestyle
Hanoi is always on the list of not-to-be-missed destinations in Northern Vietnam. With a long history and traditional culture imbued with national identity, the capital is home to 3840 Vietnam’s valuable monuments, including 1164 national-level monuments. There are a large number of temples, pagodas and cathedrals in Hanoi: Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, Mot Cot Pagoda, Quan Su Pagoda, Quan Thanh Temple, etc. Inspired by Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, Hanoi’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral has an impressive Gothic architectural design, thus many visitors come there to take photos.
Hoan Kiem Lake is located at the heart of the city where many spiritual architectural works of Vietnam reside, including The Huc Bridge, Turtle Tower, Ngoc Son Temple. Visitors should try Trang Tien Ice Cream and Thuy Ta Ice Cream when visiting Hoan Kiem Lake. Coming to Hoan Kiem district, don’t forget to discover 36 streets of Hanoi Old Quarter and enjoy delicate local cuisine. The Temple of Literature and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum are also important historic relics you should not miss in Hanoi. If you want to spend a day in an amusement park, VinKE & Vinpearl Aquarium Times City is a perfect choice.
Hanoi is well-known for its diverse local cuisine with excellent taste, sophisticated processing and harmony of ingredients. Pho Hanoi is the soul of Vietnamese cuisine with delicate broth, beef, chewy rice noodles and a bit of scallions, herbs and lemon. Bun Cha (Kebab Rice Noodles) is also a must-try dish with sweet and sour fish sauce and mouth watering minced pork. If you are looking for a quality restaurant in Hanoi, Almaz Ha Noi is recommended for you thanks to its high class culinary and entertainment services.
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3. Ha Giang Vietnam – A spectacular mountain kingdom of Vietnam
Located at the pole of Northern Vietnam, Ha Giang is bestowed with a combination of huge mountains, forests and rivers. The province is famous for its winding roads, steep hills, colorful flowers and beautiful terrace fields. Ha Giang is home to a variety of ethnic minorities, thus visiting there provides an opportunity for tourists to know more about their lives.
If you travel to Quan Ba district, Quan Ba Heaven Gate and Quan Ba Twin Mountain are top-rated destinations. Quan Ba Heaven Gate is about 1500 meters above sea level and leads to Dong Van Karst Plateau. Standing there, you can contemplate the imposing beauty of the Northwestern region. Quan Ba Twin Mountain is a natural masterpiece, as it has different colors depending on the time you see it. If you come to Dong Van district, don’t miss out on Dong Van Old Town and Lung Cu Flagpole. The old town has a fair every Sunday, thus you can experience the daily life of the people there. Lung Cu Flagpole is located on a peak 1470 meters above sea level. To reach the flagpole, you need to climb 979 steps.
Coming to Meo Vac district, tourists should visit Ma Pi Leng Pass, which is 20 kilometers long and 1200 meters above sea level. It is known as the king of mountain passes in Northern Vietnam, attracting many enthusiastic adventurers. When you travel to Hoang Su Phi district, Hoang Su Phi terrace field is an unmissable destination. Recognized as a National Heritage, it has a long history of hundreds of years. You should visit the terrace field in September and October to see the golden rice fields.
Ha Giang is popular for its unique local cuisine. Steamed Rice Roll with egg, Multi Colored Sticky Rice, Ao Tau Porridge, Bac Me Lam Rice – a bamboo-tube rice dish, Buckwheat Cake and Thang Den - a popular dish made from pork leg, stir-fried minced pork and au tau root are highly recommended for you.
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4. Trang An Ninh Binh – A breathtaking landscape complex for nature-lovers
Trang An is an eco-tourism area located in Trang An World Heritage Site in Ninh Binh province. Being one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Northern Vietnam, Trang An complex is recognized as a National Heritage Site by the Vietnamese government and a dual World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Trang An is a complex of Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel preserved areas, pagodas, grottoes, caves, lakes, limestone mountains and forests. There are 48 caves connected with 31 wetlands such as Dark Cave, Bright Cave and 2-kilometer waterborne caves such as Sinh Duoc Cave, Dia Linh Cave. Each cave has a unique appearance and stunning stalactites. Trang An is also surrounded by golden paddy fields. Sitting on a small boat and traveling along the river, you can contemplate the panorama of the natural landscape here.
Trang An is home to a lot of temples and pagodas with historic and cultural values. Bai Dinh Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Vietnam with unique architecture and a long history. Tran Temple was built mainly from stone and was the base of the Dinh Dynasty. Trinh Temple worships two important generals of the Dinh Dynasty: Ta Thanh Tru and Huu Thanh Tru.
Trang An Ninh Binh has some unique specialties that you can’t find anywhere else in Vietnam. Rice crust is one of the most popular dishes, as it is crunchy, tasty and fat. Dishes made from goat meat are also popular, such as goat hotpot, roasted goat, rare goat meat and steamed goat meat. There are other specialties such as boiled mountain snail, To Nhu vermicelli noodles, Nho Quan wine, etc.
5. Lang Son Vietnam – Among the must-visit places in Northern Vietnam
Lang Son Vietnam is a province in Northeastern Vietnam, attracting tourists not only with its magnificent natural landscapes but also with many historical and cultural sites. Lang Son Wind Cave is famous for the beauty of natural stalactites of all shapes and iridescent silvery rocks; To Thi Mountain is associated with the lore of To Thi – a local female figure; and Mau Son Mountain is the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
Chi Lang Pass is a well-known historical relic that preserves the traces of the nation’s many heroic victories over invading armies in 981, 1076, 1285 and 1427. Mac Dynasty Citadel is a military structural monument since the conflict of the Le-Trinh Dynasty happened in the 16th and 17th century. Lang Son also has the famous Tam Thanh Pagoda, a sacred place for Buddhists to pray at.
Lang Son is a perfect culinary paradise for foodies. Khau Nhuc (Stewed Pork Belly) is a traditional dish of the Tay and Nung ethnic groups which is made from bacon, shiitake mushroom, wood ear, minced lean meat, and five-spice powder. In addition, there are other specialties such as sour noodle, steamed rice paper roll with egg, Mau Son wine, etc.
6. Hai Phong City – A great choice for backpackers
Known as the “land of flame flowers”, Hai Phong is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern Vietnam thanks to a diversity of pristine destinations, delicious local cuisine and historical monuments. Visiting breathtaking beaches, immersing in the cool water of Do Son Beach, Cat Ba Island, Hon Dau Island, Van Boi Beach and sunbathing on the white sand are some of the best things to do in Hai Phong. The best time to visit Hai Phong is from April to October, since at this time Hai Phong weather is cool, dry and comfortable for you to discover as many famous destinations as possible.
Traveling to Hai Phong, you should visit many historical sites such as Hai Phong Navy Museum where a large number of historical relics and valuable documents are preserved, Tuong Long Tower – a major monument worshiping Buddha, and Bao Dai Villa which is one of seven palaces of emperor Bao Dai. Besides, Voi Mountain, Tuyet Tinh Coc, Dai Hop Commune eco-tourism area are must-see natural landscapes in Hai Phong.
Hai Phong is popular for a variety of local specialties at very affordable prices such as crab noodle soup, spicy breadstick, spicy fish noodle, crab roll, coconut sweet gruel. Hai Phong Spicy Breadstick is considered the soul of Hai Phong cuisine with soft, fragrant pâté and sweet chili sauce. The price of a breadstick is only 2.500 VND.
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7. Son La Province – A hidden gem in the north of Vietnam
Located in the Northwest of Vietnam and 320 kilometers away from Hanoi, Son La is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Vietnam. The province is surrounded by misty mountains, primeval forests, green hills and rivers. Moc Chau Plateau is one of the most famous plateaus among nature lovers where you can see many Moc Chau Tea Plantations and flowers with beautiful white color. Because the local people plant tea in the shape of concentric hearts, Moc Chau Tea Plantations are also called Heart Tea Plantations. This is a well-known place to take photos among visitors.
Situated 18 kilometers away from Moc Chau, Tau Cave is not the name of a cave but rather a primitive village in Son La. The village is home to only 20 households and has no electricity or internet. If you want to experience a calm lifestyle and engage in the beauty of nature, you should visit this village once. Located 12 kilometers away from Moc Chau, Chieng Khoa Waterfall is unspoiled by urban development, thus it is quite wild and natural. The pure white color of the waterfall and the turquoise color of the lake make this place a fairyland. If you go further, you can visit Nang Tien Waterfall which is in the middle of a primeval forest.
Son La’s culinary specialties are highly appreciated by many visitors. There are some popular dishes you should try such as grilled fish, smoked buffalo, five-color sticky rice, salad with buffalo skin, traditional Thai sticky rice, etc.
8. Mai Chau Hoa Binh
Located 110 kilometers away from Hanoi, Mai Chau is a mountainous region in the West of Hoa Binh Province. Thanks to the pristine beauty and tranquility of nature, Mai Chau has become one of the most popular destinations in Northern Vietnam. Traveling to Mai Chau, visitors should visit Mai Chau villages such as Pom Coong Village, Van Village, Nhot Village to understand more about the daily life of local people and the unique culture of ethnic groups.
On the way to Mai Chau, you will go through Thung Khe Pass, which is a perfect place to observe the panorama of Mai Chau. Thung Khe Pass is well-known for its dramatically varied weather in different seasons. After passing Thung Khe Pass, you will go through Mai Chau Flagpole. This is also an ideal place to see the stunning view of Mai Chau Valley with numerous houses, rice fields, mountains and lakes. Mai Chau also has beautiful waterfalls such as Mu Waterfall and Go Lao Waterfall.
Mai Chau has a variety of local specialties such as bamboo-tube sticky rice, free-run chicken, BBQ pork skewer, grilled fish, five-color sticky rice, etc.
9. Mu Cang Chai, Yen Bai
Located approximately 300 kilometers away from Hanoi, Mu Cang Chai is a small mountainous region in the West of Yen Bai Province. It is famous for the beautiful scenery of terrace fields. In the season of rice ripening, Mu Cang Chai is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern Vietnam. To contemplate the golden rice fields, tourists should visit Tu Le commune, which is famous for sticky rice and green rice. The terrace rice fields in La Pan Tan commune, Che Cu Nha commune and De Xu Phinh commune were recognized as a National Heritage in 2007.
Mu Cang Chai is famous not only for terrace rice fields but also stunning waterfalls. Pu Nhu Waterfall is 20 meters high with an impressive rock structure in La Pan Tan commune. Mo Waterfall is a 4-storey waterfall with a picturesque beauty in Mo De commune. Besides, if you are an enthusiastic adventurer, you should visit Khau Pha Pass. It is one of the most winding and dangerous passes in Northern Vietnam. Many travelers visit this pass to enjoy the scenery of the golden terrace fields.
Tu Le sticky rice is a must-try specialty when traveling to Mu Cang Chai. The rice has a sweet taste and special aroma when cooked, and it is often eaten with grilled chicken or pork. Tu Le green rice is also popular among visitors, and you can find it at local markets.
10. Ba Be Lake, Bac Kan Province – Vietnam’s largest freshwater lake
Ba Be Lake is located in Ba Be National Park, Nam Mau commune, Bac Kan province. The lake is formed by three connected lakes including Pe Lam, Pe Lu and Pe Leng, stretching nearly 8 kilometers long with a depth of 20-25 meters. It is on the list of the top 20 beautiful freshwater lakes in the world in need of protection.
Ba Be Lake is surrounded by limestone mountains and primitive forests dating back to millions of years. There are more than 400 species of plants and 300 species of animals in the forests, and 50 species of fish in the lake. Therefore, Ba Be Lake is not only a magnificent natural landscape but also a biodiversity reservoir in Northern Vietnam.
Visitors can enjoy some specialties of Northern Vietnam in Ba Be such as Lon Cap Nach – a dish made from grilled pork with tender texture, bamboo-tube sticky rice and five-color sticky rice.
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11. Cao Bang Province – Where to go in the north of Vietnam?
Known as the “green jewel” of Northeastern Vietnam, Cao Bang Province is not only famous for beautiful natural landscapes but also for a system of historical monuments in the feudal period. Pac Bo Historical Complex is a famous historical monument where Uncle Ho chose to work and lead the Vietnamese revolution after 30 years abroad. The monument consists of Pac Bo Cave, Lenin Stream, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum House, etc.
Ban Gioc Waterfall is the fourth largest waterfall in the world with a height of 60 meters. Near Ban Gioc Waterfall, there is Truc Lam Pagoda – a Vietnamese-style temple for Buddhists. You can contemplate the magnificent beauty of Ban Gioc Waterfall from Truc Lam Pagoda. Besides, Nguom Ngao Cave and Thang Hen Lake are two unmissable destinations in Cao Bang.
Ant’s egg cake is the most popular specialty in Cao Bang. The dish is made from sticky rice, ant’s eggs and young leaves of fig trees. It is very fat and high in protein. Khao Cake is another unique local dish made from glutinous rice flour and sesame. Cao Bang Sticky Rice and Da Hien Vegetables are other popular specialties that you should try.
12. Sapa Lao Cai – One of the TOP destinations to visit in Northern Vietnam
Located at the foot of Hoang Lien Son mountain range, Sa Pa is a tourism center of Northern Vietnam with stunning natural landscapes. Sa Pa is famous for Mount FanSiPan – the highest peak in Vietnam. At the bottom of Mount FanSiPan, Muong Hoa Valley gained its reputation for majestic nature, breathtaking scenery and a diverse culture of many ethnic minorities there. The highlight of the valley is the Ancient Stone Field, a unique destination for visitors to learn more about local history.
Cat Cat Village is an unmissable destination in Sa Pa, which is home to the H’Mong people. The local people cultivate rice on terrace fields and make traditional crafts for living, thus tourists can visit the village to buy their handicrafts. Besides, Ham Rong Mountain is also a popular destination where you can see most of Sa Pa’s tourist attractions such as Muong Hoa Valley, Ta Van village, Cat Cat village, etc. Sa Pa Stone Church, the ancient symbol of Sa Pa, is near Ham Rong Mountain. The church was built by the French during the colonial period, thus it has a Gothic architectural design.
Traveling to Sa Pa, you have a chance to discover many typical dishes of Northern Vietnam such as seven-color sticky rice, grilled pork, grilled chicken, grilled duck, bamboo-tube sticky rice, dried buffalo meat, etc.
With an excellent combination of breathtaking natural landscapes, cultural diversity and delicate taste of local cuisine, it is no wonder that Northern Vietnam is attracting more and more domestic and foreign visitors. Hopefully, this article will help you decide which destination is worth-visiting and be-well-prepared for your trip!