So you’ve already explored uber-cultural Hanoi, kayaked your heart out in Halong Bay and met with ancient hill tribes in Sapa – but there is still so much more to see and in northern Vietnam. A wealth of ancient temples, mysterious national parks and colonial fortresses await.
Dien Bien Phu
This city in the northwest of Vietnam is best known for its long-fought victory against the French colonial powers in 1954. The battle fought here culminated in the War of Independence, effectively signalling the beginning of the end of French rule. Around 500km west of the capital city Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu is a must for all history buffs, with many notable sights. Scars of the war can still be seen within the Exhibition Museum, Him Lam Hill, Muong Thanh Bridge and the deeply moving Dien Bien Phu Cemetery. If short on time, make visits to both the A1 Hill and the fascinating Dien Bien Phu Museum top of your itinerary.
Cuc Phuong National Park
This is the oldest national park in Vietnam; established in 1962, this primary tropical forest lies about 120km to Hanoi’s west. The vast park covers parts of three provinces and the 22,000 hectares are teeming with a rich diversity of wildlife, including 300 different species of birdlife and 100 different types of mammals, alongside many fish, reptiles, insects and amphibians. The Cuc Phuong National Park is studded with deep mysterious cave systems which have long fascinated archaeologists. Searches have yielded fossils of reptiles, thought to date back some 200 million years. Come visit during the dry season which runs from November through to February; meet the Muong minority community who reside in traditional stilt homes, hike the trails and enjoy the peace and serenity.
Images of pristine Tam Coc will make you look twice; it has more than a passing resemblance to UNESCO listed Halong Bay, with its colourful landscape of karst rocks and river scenery. Tam Coc is much less explored, leaving the intricate caves and rock systems delightfully quiet.
Hung Kings Temple
High up in the enigmatic Nghia Linh Mountains lies the temples of the Hung Kings; the founders of Vietnam. Around 80 northwest of Hanoi, this area in Hy Lang is home to the complex of temples dating back to the 15th century. Located at various heights on the mountain slope, Lower Temple, Middle Temple and Upper Temple are highly revered. This is also the site of the annual Hung Kings’ Festival, Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương, which is held each year on the tenth day of the third lunar month.
Mu Cang Chai
Whilst many travellers head to the remote northern hill regions such as Sapa, there are other hilly gems, such as Mu Cang Chai which lies 1,000 meters above sea level. The landscape is typified by rice plantations balanced precariously on narrow terraced fields. This area is home to communities of H’Mong and Thai, who lead traditional lives. The lush rugged hills and valleys are breathtaking and early morning mist bathes the landscape in an ethereal glow. This region attracts trekkers, eco travellers and keen photographers.