Between traffic nightmares, smog inhalation and the perennial soundtrack of construction work, Hanoi can indeed seem like a bit much at times. Luckily, the position of the capital in northern Vietnam is one that gives it easy access to immense nature comprising some of the best throughout the country. The mountain attractions of northern Vietnam are well documented, but with these come the lakes, beaches, waterfalls, rivers and farms that comprise some of the best nature escapes from Hanoi. These are 5 of those, presented by Mai Chau Ecolodge, a top-rated and luxury eco-accommodation in Mai Chau.
1. Ninh Binh (100km from Hanoi)
Ninh Binh is Hanoi’s premier nature escape, located a simple 2-hour straight-line drive to the south of the capital. This is an entire province of huge natural credentials, long established across ancient mountain ranges and swaying seas of green and gold rice. The provincial city capital of Ninh Binh city and tourist hot spot of Tam Coc are centresfor ear-piercing karaoke, but those searching for the best nature escape from Hanoi will find their answer amongst the greenery outside of these two hubs.
Places to Visit in Ninh Binh
- Cuc Phuong National Park – Cuc Phuong is a 22,000-hectare rainforest located in the far west of Ninh Binh. This was Vietnam’s very first national park and was opened by Ho Chi Minh himself in 1962, with a voiced reminder to the people of Vietnam to protect their environment to safeguard their own futures. Its separate monkey and turtle sanctuaries show that this message was heeded here, as does the park’s rampant jungle, undisturbed caves and untainted lake.
- Tam Coc, Van Long and Trang An – All three of these destinations offer sampan boat tours either down river systems or through gorgeous wetlands. Locals will row visitors out with their feet and take them through close-up scenery made of towering limestone karsts, tenaciously clinging trees and even rice paddies in the shallow riverbed. Tam Coc and Trang An are two of the most popular nature escapes from Hanoi, but Van Long still has an aura of the undiscovered about it.
- Dong Giao Pineapple Farm – Just south of the main tourist action of Ninh Binh lies an attraction well off the radar. Dong Giao is a pineapple farm with 3,500 hectares of space dedicated to the tropical fruit, creating a wonderful spiky carpet of green that lies across rolling hills in the shadows of mountains. Earth paths between the fields give visitors the opportunity to get up close to the young and ripe pineapples, which are often colourless until they mature.
2. Ba Vi National Park (50km from Hanoi)
On one of the 6 or 7 clear days per year in Hanoi, locals can get a glance at Vua (King) peak, the highest mountain in Ba Vi National Park. The clarity of the peak indicates the fact that Ba Vi is one of the closest nature attractions to Hanoi, which usually brings the locals and expats looking to escape the smog and heat. Along with its impressive mountains, Ba Vi is a symphony of blissful waterfalls, calm lakes, cool woodland and, spookily, abandoned French buildings left as relics to Vietnam’s colonial era.
Places to Visit in Ba Vi National Park
- Thac Da Tourist Area – Places that proclaim to be a ‘tourist area’ in Vietnam should usually be taken with a word of caution, but Thac Da shows how it’s done properly. This is a space comprising beautiful gardens, banyan trees and a scintillating waterfall with excellent conditions for swimming. Waterfalls are usually high up on people’s list of natural sites outside of Hanoi and Thac Da has one of the best in Ba Vi.
- Vua Peak – Stare right back at Hanoi from Vua Peak, Ba Vi’s tallest mountain and the best place in the national park to get the furthest views. Over 1,000 stone steps need to be climbed before this 1,300m peak is reached, but doing so will be a reward of fantastic views and personal, if sweaty, accomplishment. Atop the peak is a shrine to Ho Chi Minh and a 13-storey tower surveying the land below.
- Cactus Greenhouse – For something completely different, visitors to Ba Vi’s cactus greenhouse can escape the reality of Vietnam for a while and settle their mind in Mexico. The gorgeous glass dome of the greenhouse is an architectural marvel in itself, but step inside the dome for cute tiled paths winding between over 1,200 different types of cactus.
3. Mai Chau (150km from Hanoi)
It may be one of the furthest nature destinations from Hanoi mentioned in this list, but Mai Chau is a sanctuary of authentic Vietnamese countryside and the extra effort to get here is richly rewarded. This is a valley of strong green hues and outstanding topography, where fields of rice blanket the floor and mountains dressed in trees rise up at their sides. Just a 3-hour drive separates the capital of the Vietnamese with the humble villages of the Thai, Dao and H’mong, three of Vietnam’s 53 ethnic groups with long ties to the land and attractive living arrangements in wooden stilt houses.
Places to Visit in Mai Chau
- Hoa Binh Lake – It usually comes as a huge surprise to tourists cruising around Hoa Binh Lake that this is Southeast Asia’s largest artificial lake. The limestone mountains, caves and inlets look and feel 100% natural, and this beautiful water body in the north of Mai Chau is often referred to as the ‘mini Halong Bay’. Thac Bo Temple squats on one of the outcrops of Hoa Binh Lake and gives one of the best nature trips outside of Hanoi a dash of reveredreligion.
- Go Lao Waterfall – Mai Chau’s water attractions don’t stop at Hoa Binh Lake. Close by is Go Lao Waterfall, a stunning feat of nature in the middle of Mai Chau’s incredible rainforest. Go Lao thunders from high above and creates a spectacular scene, one in which more adventurous visitors could opt for a swim. There are plenty of beautiful Thai stilt homes to admire en route to the waterfall and the subsequent road running alongside Hoa Binh Lake.
- Na Phon Village and Surrounds – In Mai Chau, traditional stilt house architecture often draws as much adulation as nature. The tall, wooden houses of the Thai, Dao and H’mong ethnicities seem to fit perfectly into the overall scene of Mai Chau; most likely because they have been here for centuries and have changed very little in their appearance since they were built. Na Phon and some of the villages around it feature such architecture in abundance.
Anyone looking for Vietnam’s best nature escapes will find their answer in Mai Chau. Here, Mai Chau Ecolodge offers some of the most popular and most trusted accommodation, situated amongst the gorgeous stilt homes of Na Phon village. We use traditional Thai architecture throughout our luxury eco-resort in Mai Chau’s gorgeous valley and offer all destinations mentioned here on our Mai Chau tours
4. Tam Dao National Park (65km from Hanoi)
The doorsteps of Hanoi are fortunate to be blessed with two exquisite national parks. If the mountain heights of Ba Vi are too crowded to provide heat relief and a fresh air escape from Hanoi, then the lofty peaks of Tam Dao are sure to fill in the gaps. The three peaks here actually give Tam Dao (Three Islands) its name, each offering unbelievable scenery from their high position amongst the clouds. The 370km2 area of the national park spans three provinces and includes airy nature in mountain, forest, waterfall and lake settings.
Places to Visit in Tam Dao National Park
- Rung Rinh Peak – One of the three peaks of Tam Dao offers a fairly challenging climb to its summit. Rung Rinh mountain is heavily forested and thus, its floor and steps are often carpeted with leaves. This makes for some incredible nature on all sides and a dark, mossy, mysterious aura when inside the forest. Atop the mountain, visitors can be treated to the freshness of a well-received breeze and great views of rolling nature flecked with cloud.
- Xa Huong Lake – As is the case in Mai Chau, Vietnam is clearly quite adept at forming artificial lakes that retain natural beauty. Take Xa Huong Lake as another example; a highly tranquil area and an ideal spot for a nature escape from Hanoi in its own right. Xa Huong is surrounded by sloping mountains and tall trees pressed up against the banks, offering scenic boating and fishing far from tourist interests.
- Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary – One look at a goofy-looking sun bear and you’ll see why Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary is so popular with visitors. This is a safe place for both sun and moon bears, who were saved fromillegal bile farming throughout Southeast Asia but are now too injured to be released into the wild. A walk around the sanctuary will reveal the endearing nature of these playful bears, who are clearly much happier with their new lives in the shadows of Tam Dao’s mountains.
5. Cat Ba (140km from Hanoi)
Island scenery around landlocked Hanoi is understandably hard to come by. Locals and tourists looking for that relaxed island life will have to make the 140km, 2.5-hour trip to Cat Ba, but will be glad they made the effort the second the ferry docks. Cat Ba’s scenery is astounding and is considered one of the best nature escapes throughout Vietnam, let alone Hanoi. Despite Cat Ba’s role in both 20th century wars of Vietnamese independence, nature has shown its tenacity by regenerating the island with some of the wildest of wild nature and the greenest of green hues.
Places to Visit on Cat Ba Island
- Ngu Lam Peak – Cat Ba National Park is a wealth of natural wonders, the most prominent of which can be seen on a trek from the jungle floor to the forested peak of Ngu Lam. The hike is a fairly simple one framed by gorgeous forest and highlighted by potential sites of langur monkeys, but the real treat is from the viewing platforms at the top, where the rolling green sea of the national park’s canopy stretches to the horizon.
- Tung Thu Beach – Considering its beauty and ease of access, it is mystifying that Tung Thu Beach is one of Cat Ba’s off-the-beaten-track destinations. According to some opinions, this is the best available beach escape from Hanoi, outperforming the far more popular Cat Co beaches in almost every category. Long days can be spent in this fabulous cove with minimal interruptions from other tourists and beach vendors.
- Trung Trang Cave – High above the forest, Trung Trang Cave is one of several limestone caverns strewn across Cat Ba Island. Some caves were adapted for military purposes during the Vietnam War, but Trung Trang retained all of its natural splendour and displays its sparkling stalactites to captivated visitors. One narrow path cuts through Trung Trang, providing views of shapely rock formations and adorable bats hanging from the ceiling.
Those were the 5 best nature escapes from Hanoi as chosen by Mai Chau Ecolodge. We are a luxury ecolodge in northern Vietnam with a strong dedication to protecting the environment and ethnic minorities of our country, especially those around Mai Chau and Can Tho. You can learn more about our responsible travel operations and luxury facilities in Mai Chau by clicking here