All photography by Christian Berg
In Northwestern Vietnam, a three and a half-hour drive from the city takes you into the mountains of Hoà Bình. Here you’ll find the peaceful valley of Mai Châu, nestled close to the border with Laos. With a mountain range hugging it all around, Mai Châu is a great choice for laid-back nature lovers looking to cycle through quiet rice paddy fields, enjoy authentic cultural experiences and devour scrumptious home-cooked meals. Spend a day visiting the valley, or stay the night in a Tày stilt house and catch a live dance performance and sunrise over the rice paddies.
Read more: The essential guide to Mai Chau
One of Vietnam’s most famous attractions sits right on Hanoi’s doorstep. Hạ Long Bay, and its less well-known neighbours (Bái Tử Long Bay and Lan Hạ Bay), are just two hours outside of the city. For a convenient day trip to this UNESCO World Heritage site, leave the capital at the crack of dawn. That way you can spend the day cruising in the sunshine, soaking up the magnificent landscape, exploring historic caves or kayaking in the jade waters.
TIP: Bhaya Cruises -- a leader in sustainable cruising in Vietnam -- offers a comprehensive one-day excursion to Hạ Long Bay, including delicious meals and smooth transfers from Hanoi. Their traditional junk boats and smiling staff will make your Hạ Long outing unforgettable.
An hour and a half from the capital, Ba Vì National park is a great gulp of fresh air. The rural hamlets and pastoral scenes on the way let you know you’ve definitely left the capital behind, and the park itself is full of bubbling brooks, lush jungle and lofty hills. Hike up one of the three peaks, where you’ll find a temple for national hero Ho Chi Minh and abandoned French military outposts. A soothing soundtrack of exotic birds, insects and frogs will keep you company at all times. Homestays and hotels are available in and near the park if you choose to stay the night.
What do a World Heritage Site, Vietnam’s biggest pagoda, and the country’s oldest national park have in common? They can all be found in Ninh Bình, a province just two and a half hours southwest of Hanoi. Ninh Bình can be seen in a day but be sure to arrange your tour in advance for a seamless experience. Float down a maze of waterways below epic karsts in Tràng An, before hiking up a hill to the epic viewpoint at Hang Múa. Don’t miss a visit to Hoa Lư, the ancient capital of the north, to discover the history of this area. If you want to extend your stay, kick back at a homestay enveloped by karsts in Tam Cốc.
TIP: SensAsia offers one day and multi-day tours of this charming province with the expertise of a local guide and comfort of a private transfer. If you choose to combine several destinations in the north, look into their bespoke multi-day tours from Hanoi to Mai Châu, Ninh Bình and Hạ long Bay.
In Vietnam, nature and culture are often intertwined, as the most beautiful areas were often chosen as sites for shrines, tombs, and palaces. This is the case at Perfume Pagoda, a series of pagodas and shrines set within the mouth of a cave just two hours from Hanoi. You’ll find the beauty of this destination not only in the sacred temple grounds but also in the journey there. Drifting along Yến stream, climbing the steps to the cave entrance, and marvelling at the impressive stalagmites are a few highlights to look forward to.