Northern Vietnam: Sights & Attractions

Hanoi and north Vietnam offer a choice of must-see attractions, including the following…


Blessed with broad tree-lined boulevards, lakes and parks, belle époque villas and beautiful temples, the capital city of Hanoi reflects a fascinating blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences.

Wander the maze of picturesque narrow streets of the Old Quarter; visit Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple, one of Hanoi’s most picturesque temples on mystical Hoan Kiem Lake; browse the sprawling Dong Xuan Market; pay your respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and see personal artifacts of the Vietnamese leader at the Ho Chi Minh Museum or at his charming lakeside home.

Then visit One Pillar Pagoda, a cultural and historic relic built in 1049 and unique for its architectural features or pop into the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), Vietnam’s first university.

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Hoang Lien National Park

Trek into a pristine mountain range, home to Vietnam’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan (3143m). Marvel at the picture-perfect rice terraces, lush vegetation and look out for wildlife including leopard, tiger and black gibbon, as well as more than 150 bird species.

Visit picturesque villages around Sa Pa, the former French hill station, and meet ethnic hill tribe people who still practice animism and wear colourful traditional clothing.

Head to the nearby town of Bac Ha to shop for traditional handicrafts at the lively Sunday market, which is attended by ethnic minorities, including Red Dao, Black Hmong, Tay and Xa Pho peoples.

Sa Pa

With its magnificent mountain views, minority cultures and jumping-off point for trekking and eco-tours into the lush Tonkinese Alps, the sprawling market town of Sa Pa is a must-see side-trip from Hanoi; especially as the small town is now connected by luxury train with Hanoi.

Follow the steps up to the Sapa radio tower for glorious views over the valley, meet with the many hill tribe people who come to town to sell their wares or take a guided trek into the lush countryside to a nearby ethnic village.

Feeling adventurous? Then join a guided multi-day climb through terraced rice farms and stunning green valleys to Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain – Mount Fansipan (3143m).

Sa Pa and the surrounding hillside villages are home to several ethnic minorities including the H’Mong and Dzao peoples, who wander into town to shop and trade. If you miss-out on the busy Saturday market, don’t worry as there’s a smaller market held every day.

Set in a beautiful valley close to the Chinese border, Sa Pa is a former hill station built by the French in 1922. From the end the Second World War until 1954 many French colonial buildings were destroyed during hostilities between the Viet Minh and the French. It’s only since 1993 that Sa Pa has been open to international tourism.

For the best weather, visit Sapa between March and May, and from September to mid-December. The dry season lasts from January to June: January (average 8°C (46°F)) and February are the coldest (and foggiest) months; summer between June (average 25°C (77°F)) and August is warm despite the rain showers.

A big advantage to visiting Sa Pa between September and November is the harvest season. During autumn, the valleys are awash in various shades of green. Look out for the traditional bright red or indigo clothing of the many female farmers as they harvest the rice crop.

Sa Pa is located around 337km northwest of Hanoi.

Note: It's illegal to trek to a minority village without a licensed guide.

Dien Bien Phu

Nestled in the flat Muong Thanh Valley and surrounded by steep and forested hills, Dien Bien Phu sits just 34km from the Lao Border. The site is famous for the Viet Minh's decisive victory over French colonial forces in 1954. Today the region is mainly the home of Thai and H'mong tribespeople.

Learn about the 55-day battle at Dien Bien Phu Museum then head to the battlefield sites at A1 Hill and Doc Lap Hill, the command bunker of French General De Castries. And, some 35km further away, visit the command post of General Vo Nguyen Giap.

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Ha Long Bay

Take a scenic cruise on a refurbished junk through this extraordinary World Heritage site past thousands of towering limestone cliffs, jungle-topped islands, hidden caves, grottoes and clear, emerald waters lapping the white sand of tranquil bays.

Join a tour to see sparkling stalactites and stalagmites inside Hang Thien Cung cave (Grotto of the Heavenly Palace) and in Hang Sung Sot (Surprise Cave).

Come face to face with some interesting rock formations, including a pink phallus, or paddle through low caves into towering limestone islands where the jungle vegetation overhead teems with wildlife.

Latest update: Northern Vietnam Sights: 3 January, 2023