5 Mountain Destinations to Visit in Northern Vietnam (with Infographics)
“The mountain is calling and I must go” - John Muir
If you were already familiar with the cities and beaches when researching your future Vietnam trip, you've found the right place. The most precious gems of Vietnam lie in the upper North, where spectacular mountain ranges stretch as far as the eye can see.
Scroll down to find out the best mountain destinations in Vietnam. We have also attached infographics with the necessary information that you might want to save for your visit.
1. Why The Mountains on A Vietnam Vacation?
Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer, once said: "When I leave civilization behind, I feel safe." That might be what we all feel.
There is something in the mountain that urban dwellers hardly understand. The sun is always shining. The breeze is pleasant. The air is cool and fresh. Nature is unspoiled. And above all, life is simply beautiful.
In Vietnam, mountains account for about three-quarters of the country’s area. Mountain is home to more than 90% of the remaining forest area and 90% of the rare and precious plant and animal species in the whole country. It’s estimated that there are 24 million people living in the mountains, of which more than one-third are ethnic minorities. They own the oldest, richest and most well-preserved culture in Vietnam, making their homeland a destination worth exploring once you visit the country.
2. What To Expect on A Mountain Trip?
There are so many reasons why the mountains in Vietnam fascinate everyone. The ethnic culture as I mentioned above is just one of them. Dramatic mountain peaks wrapped by dense white clouds, meandering rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, astonishing terraced rice fields when they are in the harvest season, exciting trekking trails, lively atmosphere at an upland market where ethnic people gather to exchange some chats and household items, I just can’t get enough of the wonders that are waiting at every corner to surprise me.
In remote areas, people still wear their traditional dress. Not as trendy as people in the cities, their attires are just awesome with meticulous attention to detail and an incredibly perfect blend of strong colors. You can easy to buy beautiful embroidered fabrics at a very reasonable price. Ethnic women here are skillful craftsmen in their nature.
3. The Top 5 Northern Mountain Destinations (with Infographics)
The mountains are found across the country but the most striking ones are in the north which often takes around 4 to 5 hours to drive from the capital city of Hanoi. These wild, remote regions are home to some of the most mind-blowing sceneries along with the rich ethnic cultures. Head to the northwest to visit Sapa, a former French hill station and the base for superior hiking trails. Ha Giang, bordered by China, the endmost province in the northeast, boasts the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, rugged rock mountains, and majestic rivers. A Northeast loop of Vietnam that takes you in an unforgettable circle from Hanoi to Ha Giang, Hoang Su Phi, Dong Van, Meo Vac, and get back to Hanoi will leave you in awe of the most beautiful nature, culture, and people of the country.
Here are the top 5 mountain destinations that are worth a trip to North Vietnam.
- Sapa. A Summer Vacation By The French Colonialists
Obviously, Sapa is the most well-known mountain destination in Vietnam. Established by the French as a place of retreat in the early 20th century, since then, it has always been an ideal choice for a getaway from Hanoi. Sapa is much easier to travel to now, especially when a few big names in the hotel industry have chosen this place to build their properties, giving visitors more options for accommodation.
Visiting Sapa in summer or autumn, when the colors are bustling in the mountain, you will love to do some treks through some of the best rice terraces in Asia and then stop by ethnic villages to see the distinctive lives of the H'mong or Dao people. For a harder expedition, conquer the rooftop of Indochina, Mount Fansipan (3.143 meters above sea level) in two days.
Bac Ha Sunday Market is a great place to get close to local life. Markets in the mountain are the place for people to come not only to purchase but also to share news and catch up with friends. Sometimes you see a man carrying a small black piglet holding it by arms to the market, and a couple of hours later, when you go back that route, you see him again with the same pig. Then you know, his business was unsuccessful. That man and his pig will be in the market next week if you stay long enough to witness it.
- Travel to Sapa from Hanoi
Located 370 km from Hanoi, Sapa is easily accessed by bus or night train. For more adventure, you can get there by motorbike but make sure you are a good driver because all the roads leading to the northern mountains of Vietnam are uneasy with many twists and turns.
- Accommodations in Sapa
Although the town is packed with lots of hotels and resorts, many love Topas Ecolodge which is located 45 minutes from the town. This resort is widely considered the best eco-friendly property in Vietnam. Hotel de la Coupole MGallery and Silk Path Grand Sapa Resort & Spa sit right in the heart of the town, which are more accessible and convenient for eateries and drinks. Ville De Mont Mountain Resort, awarded Asia’s Leading Lifestyle Resort 2022, is also a good choice.
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- Ha Giang. The Final Frontier in Northern Vietnam
The northernmost province of Vietnam is also one of the poorest and most secluded in Vietnam but a Ha Giang trip offers some of the best mountainscapes in Southeast Asia, especially when you weave your way through the imposing Ma Pi Leng Pass - the King of Passes in Vietnam. At a height of 1.500m, the twisty road there lies right on the steep limestone mountain, with the Nho Que River looming far beneath. Truly breathtaking!
Visit Dong Van Old Town where time seems just slow down. From the hundred-year-old houses with earthy walls and brown tile roofs to the highland market, all are tinged in a nostalgic color of time.40 households in the old town form a small, quiet but close-knit residential community living on the foot of the rocky cliffs. Dong Van Karst Plateau remains largely intact and was acknowledged as a UNESCO Global Geopark for the third time in September, 2023.
Take a 40-minute boat ride on the emerald water of the Nho Que River which is surrounded by majestic mountain peaks to feel small next to nature. The terraced rice fields are just as breathtaking as the ones in Sapa while the local markets are more authentic as Ha Giang is less tourist. You can find here ethnic specialties such as beautiful linen, brocade, buckwheat cake, and Thang Co - a popular dish of the locals.
- Travel to Ha Giang from Hanoi:
400 kilometers from Hanoi, traveling by car is the best way to get to Ha Giang. It takes around 6 hours but it’s often longer as you might want to stop along the way for some sightseeing.
- Accommodations in Ha Giang:
Because of its remote location, don’t expect high-end hotels easy to find in Ha Giang. People who are looking for a wow will love P’apiu - a place to truly get away from the world where you live among mountains and clouds. P’apiu was celebrated as Asia’s leading romantic resort by ASIA award in October, 2023 so you wouldn't want to miss it out. Some decent mid-range retreats away from the center include Palm Ha Giang Ecolodge, Panhou Retreat, and H'Mong Village Resort.
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- Mai Chau. A World Away from Hanoi's Hustle and Bustle
The sleepy town of Mai Chau in the district of the same name lies within a valley, surrounded by rolling hills. The town is now touristy but just 20 kilometers away, there is idyllic rural life with rice fields dotted with Thai villages that ease your mind. Even though it’s a mountain district, the altitude in Mai Chau varies widely. The town has its lowest height at 200 meters while the highest mountain peak reaches 1,536 meters in Pa Co village where Hmong people make up 90% of the population.
White Thai people are the biggest ethnic group in this region. Most no longer wear their traditional dress every day but for their important festivals. Thai women are masterful weavers, producing beautiful textiles and great dancers as they all learn traditional Thai dances since they were a child. People are very friendly. They welcome you with a warm smile as if you are a close friend living far away who has just returned home.
People in Mai Chau still live in wooden stilt houses. They often build houses near a stream or river as Thai people believe water brings life. Mai Chau is not a place for hard treks but for biking, hiking, and relaxation, this ticks the box perfectly. Ride a bike or hike through the rice fields, cassava fields, and rural villages, and immerse yourself in a peaceful life. When the sun sets, share a meal with the locals before settling down for the night in a traditional stilt house and waking up to the rural soundtrack.
- Travel to Mai Chau from Hanoi:
The best ways to access this place are by bus, private car, or motorbike. The travel distance is about 140 km west of Hanoi to Mai Chau Town. There are limousine buses providing much more comfortable travel.
- Accommodations in Mai Chau:
A few good resorts are located in the valley of Mai Chau, you can name Mai Chau Ecolodge and Mai Chau Hideaway but a one-hour drive up the mountain takes you to Avana - a luxury mountain retreat. Being awarded Asia’s Leading Retreat in 2021 and 2022 by World Travel Awards, this beautiful property boasts a private waterfall right in the heart of it and a mindful Spa lying along the gurgling waterfalls.
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- Ba Be National Park. The Million-Year-Old Pristine Nature
Ba Be National Park is a reserve in Bac Kan Province, northeast of Hanoi. The park covers as much as 76 km2 of valleys, caves, rivers, waterfalls, and evergreen tropical forests. Hunting is forbidden but villagers can do fishing. The region is home to some ethnic groups living in 10 villages, half of them are Tay people who have settled in the national park for over 2,000 years.
Ba Be National Park is often remembered for an image of limestone mountains peaking at 1,500m down and plunging into the 6.5 sq. km Ba Be lake that dominates the heart of the park. To some Vietnamese, Ba Be is regarded as the untouched nature and the green lungs of Northeast Vietnam.
If you’re looking for a mountain destination that provides many different kinds of outdoor activities, you’re coming to the right place. Here, you can treks to the waterfalls, bike through the villages, go kayaking on the Nang River, visit Puong Cave which is home to thousands of bats, or cruise Ba Be Lake on a local boat with a stop at An Ma Pagoda located on a small islet in the middle of the lake. Hua Ma Cave is also worth visiting. This 800m-long cave has been shaped by thousands of years of geological changes. No matter what activities you engage in, you will be surrounded by a pristine natural setting that is just beautiful and eye soothing.
- Travel to Ba Be National Park from Hanoi:
240 km northeast of Hanoi, it takes around 5 hours by car to get to the national park.
- Accommodations in Ba Be National Park:
The main overnight stay of choice here is local homestays.
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- Cao Bang. Best Off-The-Beaten-Track Treks
The final stop on our list may also be the least known to travelers. Lacking tourists due to its remote location becomes an advantage: Its rural area is praised as the most beautiful region in Vietnam with poetic landscapes of rolling paddy fields and winding rivers - a reward to travelers who don’t mind a Northern Vietnam odyssey.
Cao Bang’s biggest attraction is Ban Gioc Waterfall - the most astonishing waterfall in Vietnam which is also one of the best waterfalls in the world. This amazing site, fed by the Quay Son River, straddles between Vietnam - China borders swooping down from a peak of 60 meters. This is also the world’s fourth-largest waterfall that lies along the national border.
The pleasant climate in Cao Bang entices you with some day treks which take you through several villages of the ethnic groups. Mountains and jungles are plenty if you look for hard-code exploration. The difference between trekking trails in Cao Bang compared to many others in Vietnam is that it is very likely that you will not encounter a tourist, not even Vietnamese. For once, the mighty mountainous Northern Vietnam is only yours to unveil.
- Travel to Cao Bang from Hanoi:
Cao Bang is 370 km from Hanoi. Buses from the capital to Cao Bang town often take 6 hours.
- Accommodations in Cao Bang:
In the city center, there are a few good 3-star hotels but if you visit the villages, staying at a homestay is not a bad option as the locals here have learned how to attract tourists. They are also good chefs so you can always be sure to have good food.
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