Northwest Vietnam Travel Guide
The northwest provinces of Vietnam are rich, lush jungles and valleys with jagged mountain ranges. Most of the regions are culturally diverse with a lot of the villages inhabited by the ethnic minorities. It is still a quite isolated region and has stayed much like a rural backwater and hasn’t seen the full extent of the country’s recent economic achievements.
The local landscape is a rich palette of colours and landmarks, including the Tonkinese Alps (Hoang Lien Mountains) that soar into the sky and provides some of the best scenery in Vietnam. Much of the lowland terrain is unforgiving, but still an easy way to get to know more about the hill tribes. Ethnic tribes like the Montagnards still wear elaborate costumes and friendly to guests, which can become a very heart-warming and humbling experience.
The remote regions of northwest Vietnam are certain to appeal to the travellers on the Vietnam private holidays that are interested in getting away from the main tourist scene and off the beaten track to see some of the country’s most unaffected and beautiful areas.
For a lot of travellers to this region of Vietnam, the most interesting place to visit is Sapa which is an old and an atmospheric hill station that is located in a region of towering peaks and near-vertical rice terraces. Sapa gives the tourist perfect trekking destinations that really make it possible to investigate the country and learn the region’s incredible ethnic diversity. But, there is plenty to see and do beyond Sapa.
Other regions to explore include Mai Chau, Dien Bien Phu and Bac Ha with their own colourful inhabitants and bold landscapes. A great motorbike expedition is possible by travelling to a region like Ha Giang.
To get an appreciation of some of the finest mountain vistas in Southeast Asia on the Vietnam adventure tour it can benefit to ride the stretch of road from Lai Chau into Sapa. A lot and gruelling road trip can take in the northwest loop of Hanoi to Sapa via Dien Bien Phu.
Mai Chau is a further destination that is seeing a growth in popularity with its ability to spend a day trekking with beautiful scenery all-around. Plus, this area has become a small tourist centre for its trekking trade.
Even though it can be a quite time-consuming process to reach these parts of Vietnam, the northwest is certainly worth the time and effort and should be included in any well-planning travel itinerary.
The climate in northern Vietnam is split between a warm to hot wet season (April to October) and a cool to cold season (November to March). The temperature in December-January gets the coolest with the potential for frosty weather in the far north. The cool temperature and heavy mists are certain to cut back on visibility in popular trekking and scenery destinations like Sapa.
For the hot wet season, the climate stays mostly hot with a temperature that is in the region of 37° C in the hottest months (June and July).
On average, the winter temperature on the Vietnam holiday packages can fall to about 17° C while the mountains in the northwest are certain to get a lot colder (10° C or less for extended periods).
Highlights of northwest Vietnam
Mai Chau Valley
Mai Chau Valley is a charming and peaceful place that is approx 135 km from the capital city, Hanoi. Mai Chau is a vast valley area that has a serene collection of standalone stilt houses, farms and small villages. This valley is well-known for its production of ruou can, which is a kind of rice wine that people drink through bamboo straws. Because Mai Chau Valley isn’t too far from Hanoi it makes a perfect destination to stay for the night in an ethnic-minority village while spending the day trekking in the countryside.
Moc Chau is a large and sprawling market town with much of the land devoted to dairy farming. The white-and-black dairy cows imported from Holland are easily seen in the fields and walking across the roads. The dairy farm region is famous for its Moc Chau-branded chocolate bars, ice-cream and rich yoghurt. If planning to stay the night in town, it is important to pack appropriately, with night-time temperatures in the cold months (January-February) falling to –3° C.
Travelling further on from Moc Chau is Highway 6 which leads to plenty of hills that are cultivated with fruit trees, cotton, coffee and tea. By following the road it is possible to enjoy the Son La mountainous landscapes, which are close to the Laos border.
This part of northwest Vietnam is home to several ethnic minorities such as the Hoa, Xinh Mun, White Thai, Tay, Dao, Kho Mu, Muong, Hmong and Mun peoples.
Sapa is one of the countries favourite tourist sites for trekking in view of its outstanding terraced landscapes, ethic minorities, and colourful markets. The region is extremely scenic and doesn’t take much more than 10-minutes to trek pass the town and enter the peaceful countryside for a great Vietnam adventure tour.
The town of Sapa is easily recognized with its varied range of hotels, restaurants and shops that have a very distinct French influence in the architecture. Throughout the local region, there are plenty of ethnic villages and wooden homes with minorities in the Sapa area, including Thai, Tay, Day, Red Dao and Black H’mong.
Sapa was once used as a hill-station retreat by the French for the duration of the summer months because it gave a calming respite from the high temperatures and humidity elsewhere in the country.
Lai Chau province
Lai Chau province is situated between Laos to the west and China to the north and is a region that provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the northwest of Vietnam. Lai Chau is appreciated for its great village life, the plentiful waterfalls, and striking limestone mountains. Lai Chau town can make a great layover destination to break up a trip between Sapa and Dien Bien Phu or Muong Lay – although there isn’t much else here to attract the traveller. But, the one attraction that is worth visiting is the Dong Thien Duoung cave that is approx a 60 minute trek from town.