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Northeast

Activities: Trekking, cycling, river rafting, 4WD expedition, motor biking

Elevation: 100m – 1600m

Climate: Cool climate as the north monsoon occasionally advents cold air in from China.

Cultures: The Northeast of Vietnam is also the home of numerous ethnic minority tribes. They live in some of the most isolated places while subsisting through traditional means. Some of the tribes you may encounter on a visit to the Northeast are the Tay, Nung, Zao, H'mong, and the San Chi tribes. Farther away in Ha Giang province, there are a variety of hill tribes numbering from several thousand members to only a few hundred people.

Landscape: The Northeast of Vietnam offers spectacular scenery. Giant Limestone Mountains are surrounded by emerald green rice fields, pristine rivers, bustling ethnic markets and untouched minority villages. 

Best time to visit: From May to September

 

Looming above the coast, the brooding mountains of the northeast are another world entirely. The karst connection continues into Cao Bang province, the surreal scenery some of the most stunning in all Vietnam. It is the perfect base for meeting Montagnard minorities and exploring idyllic waterfalls or Ba Be National Park.

This area is a popular route for travelling overland between China and Vietnam. There are two border crossings: one on the coast at Mong Cai that is seldom used, and nother near Lang Son, the other main gateway between China and Vietnam opening to foreign visitors. The trip to the Northeast follows an itinerary which begins in Thai Nguyen, to the North of Hanoi, then heads North to Bac Can and the Ba Be lakes before moving Northwest to Cao Bang. From there the itinerary heads in a Southern direction through Dong Khe and That Khe to Lang Son. With all this border traffic, it’s looking good for the locals and the northeast is riding on a boom, as the gateway to Hanoi, by land and by sea. 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.

 

Bac Ha

Muong Hum MarketNamed “White Highland”, Bac Ha district is said to preserve most cultures of its ethnic minorities. Coming to Bac Ha is a chance for travelers to experience the soft adventure tour in Vietnam, including motor biking, 4WD expedition, cycling, and especially trekking. Together with its untouched nature, Bac Ha has become an ideal location for off-the-beaten-track treks in Lao Cai province. Also, visiting Bac Ha, travelers cannot miss the chance to visit colorful weekly markets – a special culture here. The Coc Ly, Can Cau and Bac Ha markets, in particular, feature the local scenes having been going on every week for generations in Bac Ha, where cattle, horses, goats and dogs as well as many traditional goods like saddles and plowshares, along with elaborate textiles, handbags and other trinkets made by the local tribes people, the Flower Hmong are bought and sold. One of the main drawing points in Bac Ha district is the intricately woven daily costume of the locals here.  This is an incredibly beautiful part of Vietnam.

Hill-tribe markets Information

Nothing can prepare you for the riot of color and activity at the regional minority markets that can be found dotted around the Bac Ha region. Make sure you've brought enough film or your camera's batteries are fully charged, as they are a photographer's delight!

Can Cau Market – Saturday – In the middle of paddy and corn fields

Saturday morning 6 am to midday

Visitors are generally H’mong groups from highland villages. The local H’mong are the famous variegated or Flower H’mong due to the intricate and colourful nature of their costumes. Travel is often made by horseback as a way of carrying the heavy loads to and from market.

Bac Ha Market – Sunday – The biggest ethnic market in Lao Cai province

From 8 am to lunchtime

Here you will be able to find, buffaloes, horses, blacksmiths, saddlers, traditional medicine doctors, clothing and local artifacts. Frequented by H’mong, Dao, Tay, Nung and Phu La. Be sure to arrive by 9am as the market finished around lunchtime.

Coc Ly Market – Tuesday – Off the beaten track

From 7 am to lunchtime

Several groups of Mong, Dao, Tay, Nung and Phu La groups can be found in this secluded mountain market. Return back by boat down the river Chay and marvel at the untouched natural beauty of the region.

 

Ha Giang

Dong Van Rock Plateau, the highland in the extreme north of Vietnam, which spreads nearly 600 km2 over four districts, namely Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac of Ha Giang province is only one in Vietnam and the second in Southeast Asia that has been recognized as the Global Geological Park, in 2010. At a height of 1000 to 1600 m above sea level, numerous pieces of fossils aged 400 to 600 million years old have been discovered here.

These days, coming to Ha Giang, tourists can enjoy many adventure activities such as motor biking, 4WD expedition, cycling, etc. Apart from conquering towering stony mountains, tourists also have fun visiting geological park, trekking to remote villages of Mong ethnic people, enjoying cultural activities like cow-fighting, agricultural custom and traditional art performance of the local people.  The little picturesque town is full of festival ambiance.

 

Ba Be Lake

Ba Be Lake is fed by the Ta Han, Nam Cuong and Cho Leng rivers, which form the above-ground hydrological system in the southern part of the national park. The lake drains into the Nang River, which flows through the north of the park. The Nang river then flows southwards, eventually meeting the Lo river in southern Tuyen Quang province, before joining the Red River west of Hanoi.

Ba Be National Park is centered on Ba Be Lake. The name Ba Be means "three lakes", although the lake is one continuous water body, 8 km long and up to 800 m wide. At an altitude of 178 m, Ba Be is the only significant natural mountain lake in Vietnam. It is up to 29 m deep, and contains numerous small limestone islets.

The site ranges in altitude from 150 to 1,098 m. The geology of the area is predominantly limestone, with numerous rugged peaks and deep, steep-sided river valleys. The limestone karst landscape contains many caves, the largest being the 300 meter-long Phuong cave, through which the Nang River passes.

Within the park’s boundary there are a several small villages inhabited by members of the Tay, Red Dao, Coin Dao and White H’mong ethnic minorities. Some of the villages offer basic, but reasonably comfortable, homestays. An alternative is the park’s guesthouse, which provides basic accommodation only. Elsewhere, there is limited local standard accommodation in Cho Ra town, about 18km away outside the park.

Tourists can enjoy a soft kayaking to witness the unique landscape of this beautiful destination or take a cycling around the lake or trekking in the national park. The site with very few footprints of tourists will attract anyone deeply interested in Vietnam’s soft adventure.

 

Cao Bang

272km north of Hanoi, Cao Bang province shares a 314km border with China. This is a beautiful mountain area in the northeast of the country and worth exploring.

Cao Bang is home to many ethnic groups who live on forestry and farming. Many still live on the highest peaks and carve stepped rice paddies into the steep mountainsides. The weather is cool all year round. In winter snow sometimes covers some mountain peaks. Many wild orchids grow in the region.

While in Cao Bang, don't miss the chance to visit Ban Gioc waterfall – the largest in the country with a span of 300m (330 yards). The waterfall has three levels, creating a giant staircase. It is fed by the Quay Son River which marks the border with China. The water volume varies considerably between the dry and rainy seasons – the falls are most impressive.