Northwest or literally known as Tay Bac with Hoang Lien Son Moutnain Range is considered the roof of Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular where provides us with spectacular landscapes such as mountains, terraced rice fields, rivers, streams, waterfalls, tea plantation, etc. That area consists of Dien Bien, Hoa Binh, Lai Chau, Son La, Lao Cai, Yen Bai provinces sharing border with Laos and China, and each of the provinces offers travelers different sceneries and cultures. That’s the reason why Vietnam Northwest tour is a perfect option for those who love discovering nature with remote hill tribe villages, unique culture and lifestyle. Especially, beautiful terraced rice field is called Northwest’s specialty that you can see everywhere for traveling from May to September.
Besides great beauty blessed by Mother Nature, Northwest is also home of many ethnic minorities who are in elaborate costumes. For hundreds of years, they created a diverse culture that plays an important role in Vietnamese culture. Even being one of the disadvantageous regions in Vietnam due to its geography and weather, Northwest region is more and more alluring to tourists as it brings something mysterious that appeal curiosity.
Sapa : Around 350Km from Hanoi, Sapa is a charming and beautiful mountainous town, close to the border with China. From the early decades of 20th century, Sapa used to be a favorite site for summer holiday by French and since then, its natural beauty and tens of ethnic groups living around keep attracting to tourists from all over the world. Sapa can really be called the travel hub in mountain and this is the only place in Vietnam where you can have a closest interacting with local ethnic people and where locals are always willing to show you their ways of life.
Bac Ha: Bac Ha is firstly well-known for its interesting ethnic market where is gathering places of hundreds of ethnic people from nearby areas and opens on Sundays only. You can see busy trading scene while traveling to Bac Ha as well as a lot of agricultural products from rice, corn, mushroom, ginger, chilly, vegetable to wine, buffalo, cow, dog, pig, etc. The market is but only for business but also for making friend and relaxing time. In case you can’t manage to visit to Bac Ha market, you have many other options consisting of Can Cau market on Saturdays, Cao Son Market on Wednesdays, Coc Ly market on Tuesdays.
Thac Ba Lake: Thac Ba Lake is a favorite stop on the way from Hanoi to Sapa or vice versa thanks to its peaceful and fresh atmosphere. It is one of the largest artificial lakes in Vietnam and created on mountain during the construction of an electrical dam in 1970. The lake covers an area of 24.300 hectares with many beautiful islands so that people call it Halong Bay on mountain. Besides a short boat trip around the lake to see local fishermen working, to see caves, you can trek to nearby Dao white pants villages to discover their daily life activities.
Mai Chau Valley: Mai Chau Valley is around 150Km from Hanoi where is well-known for its charming beauty and special culture created mostly by Thai ethnic group. The valley is situated right in the middle of two towering cliffs and surrounded by lush rice fields. Unlike Sapa, Mai Chau is an ideal place for homestay, relaxing, light trekking & countryside areas. Besides that, you will be impressed while passing the beautiful road running along Hoa Binh Lake.
Mu Cang Chai terraced fields: Mu Cang Chai is a western district of Yen Bai province, famous for its amazing and fantastic terraced rice fields that you can see everywhere, one after another and from the foot to the top of mountains. Local ethnic groups in those areas have worked hard and made terraced fields as today from generation to generation.
Nghia Lo Town: Nghia Lo town belongs to Yen Bai province that is tucked away in a flat and big valley named Muong Lo. The way from Hanoi to Nghia Lo is just about 200Km but passing lush tea gardens, charming streams, breathtaking views with mountain slopes and valleys in the distance. Normally, Nghia Lo is a transit point from Hanoi to the other sites in the Northwest, especially, to Sapa town.
Dien Bien Phu city: Dien Bien Phu city is an old battlefield between French Army with Viet Minh Army that later becomes the major attraction to visit while you are in Dien Bien. Within the battlefield area, you should visit Him Lam Hill, A1 Hill, bunker of the French General De Castries, Dien Bien Phu Museum, etc. The other natural sites are Pa Khoang Lake, Tham Pua Cave, in which, Pha Din Pass, located 1000 above the sea level is amazing as you can see panoramic view of the whole region.
Moc Chau Plateau: Moc Chau Plateau is a cool region even in Summer where you will feel close to the poetic nature while viewing tea plantation, rice fields and endless grass steppes. There are some different ethnic groups in Moc Chau consisting of Dao, Thai, Mong, Kho Mu and Xin Mun. It is worth enjoying their traditional dances that represent their soul and culture. And even it is sunny or foggy, the plateau is till beautiful thanks to its dreamlike beauty.
Homestay in the Northwest seems to be a good idea as the facilities are equipped to suite tourists well. You can even find homestay with private room instead of sharing living space, wifi, and Western toilet.
Trekking: Trekking in the Northwest is much more beautiful than other regions thanks to its beautiful rice fields and terraced rice fields that flocks to many areas from Mai Chau to Nghia Lo, Mu Cang Chai, Than Uyen, Tu Le, Tam Duong and Sapa.
Festival: The northwest region is home of more than 30 ethnic groups who has created numerous meaningful and fantastic festivals. In which, the 2 most typical festivals are Long Tong Festival and Plum Flower Festival. Long Tong Festival is often opened annually at the end of January by Tay and Thai ethnic groups with the aims of asking for life, spirit, health and harvest, whereas Plum Flower Festival is opened by Thai ethnic group only in February of Lunar Calendar when plum flower is blooming everywhere. The festival is for couple and family but also praying for a good life.
Ethnic market: Ethnic markets are of course the highlights of all Vietnam Northwest tours, especially, in Lao Cai province where the ethnic markets are extremely intriguing and unique. Those ethnic markets can take place weekly or monthly when local ethnic people gather for trading agricultural products.
Catching photo: You can’t stop shooting while traveling in the Northwest area is feedback of many travelers. This is really a paradise of natural beauty where you can take wonderful photos of terraced rice fields, stilt-houses and ethnic people in their colorful costumes.
Tour options in Northwest Vietnam:
3 days 2 nights
Day 1: Hanoi – Sapa
Day 2: Sapa trekking tour
Day 3: Sapa ethnic market – Hanoi
4 days 3 nights
Day 1: Hanoi – Vu Linh – Thac Ba Lake
Day 2: Thac Ba Lake – Sapa
Day 3: Sapa trekking tour
Day 4: Sapa ethnic market – Hanoi
4 days 3 nights:
Day 1: Hanoi – Nghia Lo – Mu Cang Chai
Day 2: Mu Cang Chai – Sapa
Day 3: Sapa trekking tour
Day 4: Sapa ethnic market – Hanoi
5 days 4 nights
Day 1: Hanoi – Mai Chau
Day 2: Mai Chau – Nghia Lo
Day 3: Nghia Lo – Mu Cang Chai – Sapa
Day 4: Sapa trekking tour
Day 5: Sapa ethnic market – Hanoi
Best time to travel to the Northwest: Best time for traveling to the Northwest is not really based on dry season or rainy season that should really be the most beautiful time for enjoying the natural beauty. Then it must be at the end of August and beginning of September if you want to see terraced rice fields at the best beauty. Or it can be February when you can enjoy the amazing beauty of peach and plum flower in both Moc Chau and Sapa.
Road condition: It is not a big problem with road condition in the Northwest as those areas are now much invested by local government comparing to the Northeast. Especially, in the last few years, a new national highway linking Hanoi and Sapa was opened that much supports tourism there as well as surrounding areas. If the average driving speed in the Northeast is only around 35Km per hour, it can be 45Km per hour in the Northwest.
Hotel accommodation: Tourism in the Northwest region is a little bit more developed than the Northeast thanks to its travel hubs like Sapa and Mai Chau. Then it is not difficult to find a good hotel/resort if you want to have time for both relaxing and nature discovering.
Interact with ethnic minorities: It can be said that local ethnic people in the Northwest are quiet familiar with tourists as well as tourism activities. Then you can feel comfortable all the time while talking with local people as well as visiting their houses as they are very willing, friendly and hospitality.
Traveling on your own: As mentioned, local ethnic people in the Northwest, especially, in Mai Chau and Sapa are very willing to take part in your trip as well as show you the best trekking routes as they can speak English pretty well. From your sides, you can easily arrange transfers to those areas on your own and ask for help from locals for traveling out there.