I recently spent six amazing weeks solo traveling in Vietnam and I cannot recommend enough going “off the beaten track” in Northern Vietnam. It was an out of the world experience as I stayed in beautiful and remote places, got closer to ethnic minorities, tasted all sorts of local food (and rice wine) and did amazing hikes away from the crowds – all this through scenic and winding roads, national parks, lakes, waterfalls, rice fields, karsts and lovely mountain passes.
Eat, drink and sleep like a local while taking in amazing natural beauty
Throughout the fifteen days I spent exploring Northern Vietnam, I got the chance to discover several homestays; each location competing with the next. The views and locations only got better with every homestay!
I stayed in the little village of Quang Uyen after visiting the famous Ban Gioc waterfalls (at the Chinese Border). The homestay was located in the middle of rice fields and surrounded by karsts (it felt like Halong Bay but on land). For dinner, the host family had prepared (as usual) a variety of fresh vegetables, fish and meat accompanied by home-made rice wine. Everything was simply delicious and it was a great experience to share their table.
In Ba Be National Park, my homestay was located at the edge of the lake. I reached there via a relaxing boat ride, taking in incredible views of the unspoilt wilderness; with a little stop at the Puong cave, full of bats. I was able to snap some beautiful photos of hard working women when I went for a walk just before sunset. They were re-planting rice as some parts of the fields had been damaged from a flood some days ago.
Hiking away from the crowds
Everyone talks about hiking in Sapa and it is indeed a beautiful location but there is so much more to trekking in Northern Vietnam! I was able to avoid tourist traps by venturing far away from the city. It was a much longer hike for sure but the stunning views were definitely worth it! However, the most beautiful hikes I did were in Bac Ha and Ha Giang; not a single tourist – only some smiling locals (ethnic minorities) and a 360-degree view on amazing wilderness.
Ethnic minorities and colorful markets
Throughout my trip I met and even stayed with warm and smiling people from different communities: Dao, Hmong, Tay, White Thai, Lolo. I also discovered some little villages where most inhabitants would earn their living from one form of work, like blacksmithing, farming, making incense sticks, or fishing.
As I wanted to see a local market in Northern Vietnam, I chose Can Cau (also known as the buffalo market). Although smaller than some other markets, this place has retained most of its authentic local appeal; with few tourists visiting. The Flower Hmong people, wearing very colorful dresses, take this opportunity to bring their families for a sort of weekly outing, where some of them sell their products while others come for some shopping and mainly meeting other friends and spending family time at the various food stalls. The main activity however, remains the buffalo sale at the back of the market; don’t miss it!