Upon arrival in Hanoi, the traveler is beset by a myriad of stimuli, as the street markets of the Old Quarter, the motorbike-choked roads, and street corners that are packed with children’s patio furniture makes it difficult for one to be bored.
After several days of this though, many will be ready to venture somewhere a bit more chill; fortunately, northern Vietnam has many places in its countryside in which rest and relaxation is easy to come by. Below, we will outline three places that are popular among travellers for their natural scenery, cultural authenticity, and laid back lifestyle…
Want to escape Hanoi for some time in the countryside, but don’t want to freeze your tush off in Sapa? Mai Chau is an excellent choice for those looking for a serene getaway with mountain views, while still retaining tropical temperatures at a modest elevation of only 150 metres above sea level.
Sheer cliffs, emerald green rice fields, and charming villages all await you here in this rural district, creating an environment that stands in stark contrast to what you’ll find in the cities.
There is little here to distract you other than markets filled with authentic handicrafts and unspoiled vistas that merge bucolic farmland with the peaks of the north, and with accommodations like the Mai Chau Ecolodge replacing the soulless concrete hotels that predominate elsewhere, even the place where you bed down at night will become part of your Vietnamese experience.
The Mai Chau Ecolodge has been constructed using local materials, and they employ ecologically responsible practices in the day to day operation of their resort, which has 21 bungalows in total.
Guests will be able to get into touch with the culture as well, as food that is commonly enjoyed in the region is prepared for guests, and regularly scheduled dance shows will allow visitors to feel a connection to Mai Chau that other accommodations simply don’t offer.
If mountains calm you on sight, then there is no better place in the north of Vietnam to abscond to for a week (or longer) than Sapa. Located beneath the shadow of Mount Fansipan, the highest peak in mainland Southeast Asia, the trekking and vistas will not fail to impress you. Those that are fatigued by the tropical heat that dominates the coastal plains will enjoy their time here, as trading an overworked fan for a crisp mountain air and the faint heat of a fireplace can do wonders for the spirit.
Discover tribal villages, explore local markets for the perfect souvenir, or simply take in the ever changing views of area peaks as you quaff a Bia Hoi … whatever you get up to in Sapa, it will prove to be a refreshing change of pace from the chaotic rhythm that dominates in Hanoi.
Cat Ba Island
Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s finest national treasures, but if you want more out of your time here than just a three night cruise through its limestone karsts, then a stay on Cat Ba Island should be in the cards for you and your travel companions.
While the beaches here might pale in comparison to what you can find in Phu Quoc or Nha Trang, the water is warm, the views of limestone karsts are epic, and the hidden nature of some of the best spots make up for the murkier nature of the ocean in this part of Vietnam.
Inland, a national park offers chances to kayak and trek through mangroves, and a circular road offers 100 kilometres worth of village exploration opportunities for those wanting to rent a motorbike.