The most fascinating Vietnam: exciting things to do in the North.

The most fascinating Vietnam: exciting things to do in the North.

A few days ago, I received a request from my Indian blogger friend Abhinav who is preparing a trip to Vietnam.

The country has not always a good reputation and organising a trip there can be challenging without the right help.

As he knew I’m in love with the Bastar Tribal people and had also met the minorities in Vietnam, he contacted me with this question : Suggest me some exciting things to do in Vietnam.

So I gave him a suggestion for his itinerary and the places to visit in Vietnam, the information for the special military area of the North East.

We also talked about the World biggest cave, Hang Son Doong, the behaviour of a few people and Halong Bay.

Here is all the information you need about the most interesting places to visit in Vietnam!

Northern Vietnam Meo Vac

Do Sapa and Bac Ha still worth it?

Sapa and Bac Ha in the North-west of Vietnam are very touristic, so it’s legitimate to wonder if it’s still worth it.

My answer is a big yes.

The landscapes around the two towns are stunning. But, more important, there’s a lot of minority people to interact with. If you take the time to talk with them, they won’t see you only as a potential customer.

I shot a lot of photos there, really enjoyed the local culture and walking around with the minority women.

Suggestion of Itinerary around the North of Vietnam

I would recommend you a turn from Hanoi to Hanoi around the North. I have been first to Dien Bien but you can go directly to Sapa / Bac Ha then from Bac Ha you can go to the North-East. There’s no information about it but I found a guesthouse in Bac Ha at the end of main street (street of the market) where the couple helped me to catch a bike then a bus to go to the Northeast (I stopped in Huan Su Phi but a few kilometres after there are some more interesting places to go around).

From Hagiang (beautiful landscapes), I arranged the permit to the extreme north east (immigration office in the centre). Without this, you can’t go to Meo Vac and Dong Van. The guesthouses will refuse to host you and you will have to return to Hagiang. These two villages are preserved.

All these places have incredible minority markets and you can hike around, following minority people in their beautiful attire.

Then I have been to Song La and the Ban Gioc waterfalls. For three weeks, I met only minority people !

The most interesting things to do in Vietnam, especially in the North, are visiting the minority markets and interacting with the local people there.

My itinerary

During my 4 weeks there, I made a turn from and to Hanoi.

From where can I Secure a Permit? Do I Need a Guide?

Hagiang immigration office. I have been by myself. They will be impressed if you say you came alone with public transportation from Northwest. It will be easier to get the permit. I paid only 10 dollars.

According to another traveller, I met there, it depends on you… Sometimes, they don’t want to deliver the permit. Sometimes they ask a very high price. He told me that, as I hadn’t a guide, didn’t speak Vietnamese and had no driver, I won’t get it !

When I arrived and explained I had travelled with public transportations from Bac Ha, the two women were so impressed that they took my passport around the centre, gave me the permit for a low price and wanted to give me some presents. I think they were very proud of me as I was a solo female traveller.

You will need it especially for the magnificent minority markets of Dong Van and Meo Vac.

Anything more Offbeat? Any idea of - Hang Son Doong – Biggest cave of world

All the places of Vietnam I just told you about are very offbeat, even Sapa and Bac Ha if you take your time!

Most travellers want to visit the whole Vietnam at once. They generally visit the most famous places. A few of them go to Sapa and Bac Ha. Visiting the south-east is only for a minority of us.

I just found an article on this cave in Vietnam. Do you really think it’s possible to visit ? In 2014, they said there’s only one agency and the price is… 3 000 dollars for one week !

But as a travel blogger maybe you can try to contact this company and negociate comps…

Update (12/08/2016): the only tours are proposed by Oxalis and the price is 3 000$ per person. They furnish the main equipment and the participants shall have a very good health condition.

About Vietnamese people

Vietnam has a not so good reputation amongst the travellers. You can read this article on Vietnamese hospitality.

Be aware that Kinh (Vietnamese majority) are often very racist with the minorities. They can be awful.

And most of the ones working in tourism (bus, tourist office) are very bad with tourists. They will only try to cheat you the whole time. But if you follow this itinerary, you will almost never meet them.

Vietnam is the only place where I was kicked out from a bus in the middle of the mountain because I didn’t want to pay double price.

But I stopped a very modern air con new brand comfortable car, laughed at the bus when we saw him and was invited to eat dog meat.

Halong Bay Vietnam

For Halong Bay, don’t go to Cat Ba. It’s awful!!! Like a big discotheque.

I have been to Quan Lan island. I took a ferry boat through a way that is not used by commercial boats inside the bay. I was in a lovely guesthouse at the beginning of the village. I had a walking turn alone around the island following the sea. The beaches were… wow !!! White sand, long beach, alone !!!

In Quan Lan island, I don’t know if they are from the majority but they were very friendly. I had a warm welcome there.

The minorities I met

Even if the minorities move, they have their main settlement.

Ban Lac village: White Thai.

Sapa: Black H’mong, Red Dao, Tay, Xa Pho, Giay.

Bac Ha: Flower Hmong, Hanhi.

Dong Van: Tay, White Hmong, Giay.

Meo Vac: White H’mong, Tay, Lo Lo, Nung.

Additional tip: the visa

I strongly recommend you to get your visa on arrival.

You will both save time and money as you won’t need to go to the embassy.

You will get an invitation letter and get your visa directly at the airport.

It’s what I have done for this trip and everything was perfect.

Use the link below to apply.


Don’t listen to people who try to convince others not to visit Vietnam.

There’s still a lot of gems in the North and the interactions with the local people are really great.

If you liked this article and the minorities of Northern Vietnam, you’ll be certainly fascinated by Bastar Tribal people in India.

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The minorities of Northern Vietnam

About Stephanie

Stephanie Langlet is called Indie, the female Indiana Jones by her French readers.

She helps the travellers to feel comfortable outside of their comfort zone and to travel closer to the people and culture (read the testimonials).

She is a Trip Planner, Blogger and a Hospitality and Management Consultant.

Fond of the Tribes and Minorities, she’s specialised since 2012 in the tribes and festivals of Central India and have collaborated with Chhattisgarh Tourism Board to promote it. She’s often interviewed by Indian medias.

In 2015, with her French Travel Blog Amatu Artea, she was recognised as one of the Top 6 foreign bloggers about India by Holidify, and as an influencer for Chhattisgarh by Chhattisgarh Tourism Board.

She also runs her own guesthouse in the south-west of France, from May to October.

Her mission is to help to the preservation of the traditions of the World, through the promotion of the traditional festivals and customs.

Know more about Stephanie Langlet.

12 thoughts on “The most fascinating Vietnam: exciting things to do in the North.”

    • Thanks Rob ! I felt frustrated as I’m often contacted for advice privately and on different platforms. So now, I’ll try to follow up on the blog 😉 I’m also impatient to see Abhinav’s pics. I know he wants to go there to meet the minorities also !

  1. Halong Bay is on my personal bucket list. Now have added some more for the same trip.
    Initially published on January 26, 2016

  2. We took a wonderful local tour in Bac Ha with Za http://experience-vietnam.weeb… We also visited Cat Ba during the off season, and it was nice (much less crowded than Ha Long Bay). For the cave we were advised you must bring all your own caving/hiking gear. It looks amazing.
    Originally published on Amatu Artea on the 21th of July.

    • Bac Ha is a great place, especially on the market day and for hiking around.
      I was in Cat Ba after Quan Lan. Even if I arrived at the other side of the island and had a great trip to reach the hotels area, I couldn’t bear these buildings everywhere, loud music and unfriendly / interested people. The weather was also not great and gave me a good excuse to run away 😀 Compared to Quan Lan and its long white desert beaches, it was hell for me.
      This cave still seems an inaccessible dream.

  3. Vietnam is a lovely place and especially the iconic Halong bay, your recommendations are very practical and sensible and would be of great value when planning a trip to Vietnam.
    Originally published on August 3, 2016

  4. Have been to Vietnam but not to any of these places. Thanks for the suggestions. When you help one person, you help many 🙂
    Originally published on July 21, 2016

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