Writing this post I’m coming back to memories from a trip. To the place which I love. Vietnam is one of my favorite countries thanks to its non-touristic character, breathtaking views, delicious food, and friendly and kind people who don’t treat you like an easy way to earn money. I hope, this country won’t be as other Asian places but will remain undiscovered by tourists.
Unfortunately, it was a short journey. I was disappointed with our return. I promised that someday I will come back to discover Vietnam more and more. During the trip, I visited only its north part. I was in Hanoi, the capital, Sapa, where I admired never-ending views of rice fields, and Cat Ba, to explore a famous Ha Long Bay. I spent there a great time.
My top 3 places in Northern Vietnam
My favorite place in North Vietnam was Sapa. Thanks to its wonderful broad sloping rice terraces it became a place which attracts a million tourist every year. Except for rice fields, Sapa offers amazing diverse landscape, because additionally is surrounded by the magnificent Hoang Lien Son mountain range, highlighted by Indochina’s highest peak of Mount Fansipan.
Sapa is home to several ethnic minority groups such as Hmong, Dao (Yao), Giáy, Pho Lu, and Tay. While trekking around Sapa, you can find out and observe how they live and look like. Every ethnic group has its dress – you can easily distinguish every group, and what is the most interesting – its language. Sometimes it happens that they don’t understand each other.
As you can guess, I was taking part in trekking around the rice field. You can easily organize your trip by yourself (but remember that Sapa is a mountainous site and depending on weather conditions, trekking can be dangerous). Another option is buying a guided tour offered by a tourist agency or hotel. The tour price depends on how many days you want to trek. We paid 180 000 VND for one day of trekking (lunch and transport were included).
During our stay in Sapa, the weather was capricious. While trekking, the sky was clouded most of the day, but the day before yesterday was moggy and wet. As you can guess, we had some funny attractions and adventures on the way. The whole walk was in the mud. Sometimes it was very slippery. I wore hiking boots, but sometimes it was difficult to not to slip on the mud, but imagine other people wearing flip-flops, sandals or sneakers. It was so funny. But we had special support from Hmong women, who accompanied us the whole trekking. While slipping on the mud, they were holding us and giving a hand (at the end of the tour, it turned out it wasn’t help in a selfless way. We had to pay them by buying something thet they made, e.g. shawl).
2. Cat Ba
My second favorite place in North Vietnam was Cat Ba Island. A lot of people come here only for cruising around famous Ha long Bay but except for this activity, it is offered a lot of unforgettable places and views. I have chosen Cat Ba island because it is not as touristic, crowded, and expensive as Ha Long. Maybe someday it will change, nevertheless, I recommend staying here and explore its attractions.
Easily you can rent a scooter in many hotels and hostels in Cat Ba. We decided to hire it from our host for 90 000 VND per day and explore the island by ourselves. It was the best idea. As I mentioned, Cat Ba Island offers a lot of unforgettable views. Maybe you can’t tell this on my photos, because of the clouded sky, but I can assure you that it is true.
You can buy petrol from local people and you shouldn’t pay more than 50 000 VND for a 1.5 L bottle. There were many places where you can get petrol. In most cases, people sell petrol by the wayside so you won’t worry about searching for it.
Roads in Cat Ba are in good condition. There are only a few main roads so it would be quite difficult to get lost. Remember to pay attention to some goats on the roads.
Cat Ba National Park
My favorite place in Cat Ba island was Cat Ba National Park. This amazing green jungle covers almost half of the entire island. In 2004 it was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The park is a home to the Cat Ba Langur also known as the white-headed langur. It is a little monkey with golden hair and a long tail. You would have to be very lucky to see one because there are only several dozen of them remaining. Unfortunately, Cat Ba Langurs are the world’s most endangered primates.
If you are interested in hiking, there are a few options range from easy to difficult. In Cat Ba National Park there is one quite easy route which leads you up high enough to look down into the thickly forested valleys. It is a trek to the viewpoint on Ngu Lam Peak. The route is about 4 kilometers.
The alternative trek takes you to the fishing village but it is difficult. This challenging 18km hiking trail in the park takes six hours and you should hire a guide. Not because you can get lost but because of many unexploded bombs leftover from the Vietnam war.
The Cat Ba National Park is daily open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm. The entrance ticket costs 40 000 VND. I recommend getting here early.
Before entering the park, make sure that you bring enough water, sun cream, and insect repellent.
Trung Trang Cave
The Trung Trang Cave is locally known as a “gold treasure”. Over millions of years of geological tectonics, the Trung Trang Cave possess thousands of natural unique stalactites which make for an impressive sight. Visitors can discover more than 300 meters of the cave.
If you are planning to visit the Cat Ba National Park, the entrance to the Trung Trang Cave is included in the ticket price. The cave is located about 12 kilometers from Cat Ba Town, on the way to the Cat Ba National Park (about 1,2 kilometers farther from the cave).
The Trung Trang Cave is daily open from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Accommodation in Cat Ba
There is no problem with finding a place to sleep. Many hotels and hostels offer accommodation for visitors. I recommend staying in Thuy Anh Hotel in Cat Ba Town. We paid 100 000 VND for a double room per night. The host is very kind, friendly and helpful. He organizes cruises along Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay (the price for a cruise was lower than in a tourist agency). Additionally, he rents a scooter for its guests for 90 000 VND per day.
3. Ha Long Bay
During our stay in Cat Ba island, we decided to take a cruise around famous Ha Long Bay. Thanks to its dramatic setting of rocky formations and crystal blue waters, the bay was designated on the World Heritage list.
The tour price included a visit to a floating fishing village and Monkey Island, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling, and lunch. We paid 250 000 VND for each person. We booked the tour from our host and it was cheaper than in a tourist agency.
Except for weather conditions (strong wind and clouded dark sky), it was an amazing tour with beautiful views and a lot of activities. I really enjoyed this cruise and I think it was the best-spent money.
The floating fishing village
Every day thousands of people admired floating fishing villages while cruising around Ha Long Bay. Ha Long is home to four traditional floating villages that date to the early nineteenth century. The interesting fact is that these communities are comprised of 400 households (each boat is a separate household). In floating villages live about 1 700 people who create a completely self-contained society, in perfect harmony with the land and sea. The villages have houses, shops, schools and even police stations (wow!)
It was an incredible experience to see floating fishing villages and find out about the local culture and daily life of its residents.
Monkey Island is a popular attraction among tourists. Almost every tourist agency will encourage you to visit this island. For me, it was a funny and sometimes scary adventure to see nasty monkeys which were attacking tourists and trying to steal what they have in their hands or bags. I have seen a monkey which jumped on a woman’s head and tried to steal her hairband. Another monkey jumped on somebody’s back where was a rucksack and pulled somebody’s wet wipes. But there were also funny moments when monkeys tried to imitate human behavior and picked out cans and bottles from the dumpsters and were drinking like a human. Nevertheless, more times we were hearing the scary scream of tourists.
But Monkey Island is not all about monkeys. On the island, you can take a short trek that takes you up to the peak of the island where you can admire beautiful views of the bay. Make sure that you have proper shoes because a concluding stage of hiking is difficult (it is a rock climbing).
Kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling
As an additional activity while traveling around Ha Long Bay you can kayak, swim, and snorkel.
Would you like to find out more about my best places in Nortern Vietnam? Feel free to write a comment!
Are you going to Vietnam? Here you can find imortant information about visa requirements and public transport.