© Bùi Thuận
Bắc Sơn is a rural district of Lạng Sơn Province in the Northeast region of Vietnam and it is situated 160 km northeast of Hà Nội. One of the interesting aspects of this valley is its incredibly high mountains which are about 500-1200 meters high. These mountains, together with the valley’s paddy fields, create a great scenic landscape that you can only see its best after climbing to the peak of a mountain which is located just a few minutes from the town. The valley’s pathways lead you to the paddy fields where you’ll get a chance to see the beautiful river that runs crossing the rice fields. Besides the valley itself, Bắc Sơn district’s villages possess a beauty of their own.
Phong Nha Caves
Home to an expansive underground lake, as well as one the largest underground rivers in the world, Phong Nha is a must-see for travelers heading to northern Vietnam. Located inside Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the caves serve as the park’s main attraction. In fact, the name of the park translates to “wind and teeth,” inspired by the main cave opening where stalactites and stalagmites resemble a monster’s teeth. Best of all, most of the caves inside the park are still a mystery, as only one percent (or so) of the 300 caves have been explored.
© Nguyen Son
A border province and official Frontier Area, Hà Giang lies in the remote far northern region of the country. To visit this province is to journey back in time and encounter some of Vietnam’s most rugged and grand landscapes. Hà Giang is best experienced as a road trip on two wheels, soaking up the majesty of the landscape and the atmosphere of the remote towns and minority villages.
The Quản Bạ Pass holds a lookout that lives up to its name: Heaven’s Gate. Quản Bạ Twin Mountains are a lovely sight to behold from the road. Quản Bạ is also the gateway to the UNESCO recognized Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark, a landscape characterized by lofty limestone peaks and rock-strewn fields. The Mã Pí Lèng is the jewel in the crown of Hà Giang’s many stupefyingly stunning stretches of road. The highlight is a lookout point where the road snakes past a deep gorge carved by the Nho Quế River at around 1,500m.
Sơn Đoòng Cave
© Ryan Deboodt
The largest cave in the world, Sơn Đoòng Cave was carved by underwater springs over three million years ago and was recently opened to the public starting in 2013. It is said that more people have climbed up all 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building than have ventured into Sơn Đoòng Cave so you’ll want it on your list for bragging rights alone. Given the incredible size of the cave, measuring five miles long and over 600 feet tall, explorers witness the development of Sơn Đoòng’s own underground ecosystem.
Hạ Long Bay
© Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin / Shutterstock
With around 2,000 islets sprawling across an indescribable landscape of almost 600 square miles, there’s no wonder Hạ Long Bay was named one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, the bay’s floating mountains and emerald-green waters are said to have inspired the animated landscapes of Avatar, and have been used as the set for films like Kong: Skull Island and Pan (it really is the perfect childhood rendition of Neverland).
Located in the northern coastal region of Vietnam, there are several junk-boats that offer daily and multi-day sails with included excursions such as kayaking, cave expeditions, and in-depth tours through some of the last remaining fishing villages inside the bay.
Tràng An, Ninh Bình
Ninh Bình is a good base for exploring quintessentially Vietnamese limestone scenery. Few Western tourists head here, but many Vietnamese flocks to nearby sights, including the nation’s biggest pagoda and the Unesco World Heritage-listed Tràng An grottoes. Viator hosts popular day trips that include a visit to the ancient Hoa Lư citadel and a boat ride along the Ngô Đồng River. Prices hover at $45.00 USD for a day trip from Hanoi.
Literally meaning “three caves”, travelers visiting Tam Cốc-Bich Động will be stunned by the Hang Cả, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba caves that are situated on the Ngô Đồng River in northern Ninh Bình province. Bích Động refers to a beautiful pagoda complex built in the fifteenth century. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will take your breath away with its limestone mountains, lazy rivers, serene rice fields and bright blue skies. The gorgeous natural beauty makes this area a top destination in Vietnam.
Tà Đùng Lake, Đắk Nông
Tà Đùng Lake used to be a valley adjacent to Tà Đùng Mountain, in Đắk Som Commune, Dak G’long District, Đắk Nông Province. Like a blue mirror in the wild Central Highlands forests, Tà Đùng fills visitors with excitement. Many have called the lake “the Hạ Long Bay of the Central Highlands”.
The Sand Dunes of Mũi Né
Sand dunes in Southeast Asia? Crazy as it sounds, it’s true. Located four hours from Hồ Chí Minh City in Vietnam, Mũi Né is comprised of both the Red and White Dunes as well as the Fairy Stream (which is one of the most Instagrammed locations in Mũi Né). The two dunes are popular boarding/sledding spots, while the Fairy Stream is a pathway of red sand surrounded by greenery. It’s recommended to snap your sunset pictures while on the red dunes to capture the beautiful sun rays reflecting off the colored sand.
Bản Giốc Waterfall
© HoangTuan_photography / Pixabay
Bản Giốc Waterfall is one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights. Located in the northeastern province of Cao Bằng, the falls are 30 meters high and 300 meters across, making Bản Giốc the widest (but not the highest) waterfall in the country. The falls occur on the Quây Sơn River, a beautiful jade-blue body of water flowing from China through a pastoral landscape of rice fields and bamboo groves surrounded by limestone pinnacles.
Despite improved road access and public transportation connections, and the popularity of several recent viral drone videos showcasing the majesty of the falls, Bản Giốc is still a relatively off-the-beaten-path sight. Those on the more adventurous side of traveling can rent a motorbike and make a spectacular journey on their own, but there are plenty of tours and shuttles as well.
© Tran Anh Linh / Gettyimages
A township nestled within the mountains in northwestern Vietnam, Sa Pa, is home to the highest mountain in Vietnam (Fansipan), picturesque rice fields, and several remaining tribal groups. Known for its adventurous trekking and natural landscapes, Sa Pa is the ideal vacation destination for those looking to break a sweat while also enjoying the unique flora and animals native to the region. If you like a little luxury with your nature, there are dedicated spas and resorts that overlook the greenery, mountains, and rice fields.