Northern Vietnam is one of the three regions within Vietnam (the other two regions are Central Vietnam and Southern Vietnam). Of the three regions, the oldest is Northern Vietnam, where the Vietnamese culture originated over 2000 years ago in the Red River Delta, though Vietnamese people eventually spread south into the Mekong Delta. Northern Vietnam includes the following subregions: Northwest, Northeast and Red River Delta.
Northern Vietnam’s top destination is the wildly popular Halong Bay, and nearby Cat Ba Island offers excellent hiking, biking and rock climbing. Halong Bay is geology gone wild, with hundreds and thousands of limestone pinnacles protruding from the waters. North of Halong Bay is the less-visited Bai Tu Long Bay, where nature’s spectacular show continues all the way to the Chinese border. To the south of Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, a ‘lost world’ landscape with hiking, biking or just hanging around the order of the day. And just a hydrofoil ride away is Haiphong, the north’s major port and a step back in time with wide boulevards and elegant architecture.
The karst connection continues into Cao Bang province – an essential detour are the sublime lakes of Ba Be National Park – and then west into Ha Giang, Vietnam’s emerging destination for travellers, which hugs the Chinese border.
Further west the landscape segues into towering evergreen peaks and fertile river valleys. This is the heartland of hill-tribe culture with markets enlivened by the scarlet headdresses of the Dzao, the indigo fabrics of the Black H’mong and the Flower H’mong’s brocaded aprons. Sapa is a great base for hiking and stunning vistas of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. For many visitors, Sapa is the northwest, an atmospheric old hill station set amid stunning scenes of near-vertical rice terraces and towering peaks. From this former French hill station, the fabled northwest loop road crosses high mountain passes to historic Dien Bien Phu, before crossing lush lowland valleys south to sleepy Mai Chau. For the ultimate motorbike adventure head to Ha Giang, the final frontier in northern Vietnam.