Ha Long Bay
A Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of the destinations most likely to appear on a Vietnamese postcard, the very name of Ha Long Bay summons images of a thousand limestone islands towering over misty waters. Steer clear of Ha Long City, however, a dreary town with an impersonal relationship to the bay. Much of the city’s litter finds its way into the bay as well. For the best experience, hop the ferry through the bay to the gorgeous Cat Ba Island or take a boat cruise that will drop anchor and let you sleep on the water.
Many visitors to the mythical Sapa Valley in Northwest Vietnam will concede that, yes, this is the special one. Mountainous valleys and cascading rice terraces make for stunning vistas that draw visitors the world over. Sapa is rich with ethnic diversity. Local hill tribes and the remnants of civilizations past live deep in the Sapa Valley’s foothills, toiling away in Vietnam’s most indispensible travel destination. Hit the Sapa Market on Saturdays for a biggest rush of commerce and produce in the region. Tram Ton Pass offers the most spectacular view, and continue on up that path to find the beautiful Thac Bac waterfall.
Fun Fact: Children grow up poor in Sapa, and many will forego their educations to support their families by selling trinkets in Sapa Town. Try not to support this. If they aren’t successful hawking wares, they’re more likely to return to school. Consider donations of pencils, notebooks, or toothbrushes instead.
Ba Be National Park
“Ba Be” translates to “Three Bays”, and indeed the national park’s three large lakes are its centerpiece. Flanked by towering limestone mountains, looming caves, and lush evergreen forests, Ba Be National Park offers a pristine glimpse into Vietnam’s secluded natural beauty. Locals have nicknamed it the Ha Long Bay of the mountains. Ba Be has so far avoided the commercializing effects of widespread tourist attention, and remains a very tranquil scenic destination.
Visitors to Mai Chau, a popular and comfortable tourism project a few hours drive Southwest of Hanoi, will stay in the traditional stilted houses of the local communities. Bicycle tours are popular. Accommodation in the small White Thai communities of the Mai Chau foothills offer quiet views of the area’s rice paddies. Mist rolls in regularly through the mountains. Mai Chau is not a prime destination for extreme hikers or adventurers, but instead offers an exquisite opportunity to relax in harmony with nature.