Discovering Vietnam’s remote northern highlands

By Nguyen Quy   October 28, 2019 | 08:03 pm GMT+7

Unlike crowded Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, remote northern mountainous areas remain untouched by mass tourism, offering pristine trekking conditions.

Here are five mountainous destinations near Hanoi ideal for a quick escape.

Ta Xua, Yen Bai

Situated 230 kilometers (143 miles) north of Hanoi, Ta Xua, the 10th highest mountain in Vietnam at around 2,000 meters above sea level, lies between the provinces of Yen Bai and Son La.

For many years, trekking enthusiasts have called Ta Xua one of best places for cloud hunting in the country, the most ideal times being November and April.

Between November and April is the most ideal time to visit Ta Xua Mountain. Photo by VnExpress/Ngong Hankang.

Between November and April is the most ideal time to visit Ta Xua Mountain. Photo by VnExpress/Ngong Hankang.

Although the mountain is often described "a great challenge" with dangerously winding routes, it has become increasingly popular among Vietnamese trekkers in recent years.

Breathtaking close-ups of cloud blanket and valleys are the best reward for those who dare to take up the challenge. 

Cloud hunters have to be present on the peak before 6 a.m. so that they can fully watch the dawn break over the mountain and chase the clouds. Between 5 a.m. until 10 a.m. is the best time of the day to hunt clouds. From 10 a.m. onwards, all the clouds will be blown away by the winds.

To catch a glimpse of this mesmerizing scene, make sure you reach the top of the mountain at the right time of day during the right season.

Sin Ho, Lai Chau

Sin Ho Town is located on the highest peak of Sin Ho Plateau in Lai Chau Province, 430 kilometers (267 miles) north of Hanoi.

It’s worth taking on the zigzagging road to witness wooden houses roofed with dark grey cement, surrounded by layers of cloud. Though the mountain road has been smoothly paved, it still offers a slow and winding drive. 

Sin Ho Town is covered with vast oceans of clouds. Photo by Le Hong Ha. 

Sin Ho Town is covered with vast oceans of clouds. Photo by Le Hong Ha. 

The remote town has yet to be ruined by the tourism boom like its neighbor Sa Pa. Several modern guesthouses and mini hotels operate at a reasonable price in Sin Ho, at only VND250,000 ($10.78) per twin room.  

On Sunday mornings, the sleepy town comes alive. Waves of ethnic Flower H’mong, Blue H’mong, Black H’mong, Lu, Black Dao and Red Dao farmers descend on the central market on either horseback or motorbike, loaded with all kinds of produce.

An aerial view of Sin Ho Town in Lai Chau Province. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

An aerial view of Sin Ho Town in Lai Chau Province. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

Sin Ho Town, considered the ‘second Sa Pa’ of the northwest highlands, offers a temperate climate all year round, untouched green landscapes and unique ethnic culture.

Ta Van Village, Lao Cai

Around 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Hanoi, Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province has grown in popularity as a highlands tourism destination. Set in what have been dubbed the "Tonkinese Alps", the town boasts a cool climate and green scenery, and is home to ethnic hill tribes who farm the lofty terraced rice fields.

Its fame has come at a cost. Sa Pa is already under threat from commercial tourism development. Large portions of the town resemble a construction site, with a cable car system now running to the peak of Fansipan, known as "the Roof of Indochina".

Luckily, some parts of Sa Pa have escaped the tourism boom. One of them is Ta Van Village, some 10 kilometers (5 miles) from the town center.

Ta Van Village boasts peaceful atmosphere and a slow pace of life. Photo by Tuan Dao. 

Ta Van Village boasts peaceful atmosphere and a slow pace of life. Photo by Tuan Dao. 

With neither high-rise buildings nor hotels in Ta Van, all you will find are small wooden bungalows set alongside bamboo groves and streams.

Many locals here have opened their doors to offer homestay services. It's from these houses that you can relish the true taste of Sa Pa; where you can sit back and relax on a bamboo bench next to wooden tables and breathe in the fresh cool air surrounded by wild trees and flowers.

A homestay at Ta Van Village. Photo by Tuan Dao.

A homestay at Ta Van Village. Photo by Tuan Dao.

Though Ta Van is a small rural village, there are several restaurants serving local dishes, though you could also buy fresh food at several grocery stores and cook at your homestay.

It’s not difficult to reach Ta Van. From Hanoi, you can travel by either coach or train to Lao Cai Province before taking another coach to Sa Pa.

From Sa Pa, hire a motorbike, which costs from VND80,000-100,000 ($3.5-4.4) per day, and drive to Ta Van. A motorbike trip is way better than calling a cab.

Pha Luong, Son La

The 2,000-meter high Pha Luong stands on the Vietnam-Laos border. It serves as the roof of Moc Chau Plateau in the northern mountainous province of Son La.

Trekkers climb up the peak of Pha Luong at the height of 2,000 meters above sea level. Photo by Meo Gia.

Trekkers climb up the peak of Pha Luong at the height of 2,000 meters above sea level. Photo by Meo Gia.

This trek lasts only three to four hours, but is the icing on the cake at the end of a scenic 200-kilometer drive from Hanoi to Moc Chau, followed by an 80-km drive from Moc Chau to the Pha Luong border station, with a 6-kilometer off-road challenge to boot.

Pha Luong Mountain is one of the best trekking destinations in northern highlands region. Photo by VnExpress/Meo Gia. 

Pha Luong Mountain is one of the best trekking destinations in northern highlands region. Photo by VnExpress/Meo Gia. 

The border has been a notorious hotspot for smuggling and drug dealing, so you're not allowed to camp overnight and have to register with the Pha Luong border patrol. Keep in touch with a local porter/guide before you set off, bring your passport or personal ID and pick a dry day.

The journey offers breathtaking views of northwestern mountains, challenging slopes, green forests and hair-raising cliffs, and a closer look at the H’mong ethnic minority and their unique culture.

Thien Huong Village, Ha Giang

Situated around 160 kilometers from the center of Ha Giang, a northern mountainous province bordering China, is Dong Van, a quiet district located in a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs. In addition to its geological value and spectacular landscape, Dong Van enthralls tourists with its cultural charms, well preserved for centuries.

Inside the small town, 100-year-old Thien Huong Village, home to the Tay ethnic minority, is one of the few places where traditional culture is well preserved.

Thien Huong Village in Ha Giang Province is home to Tya ethnic minority people. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien. 

Thien Huong Village in Ha Giang Province is home to Tay ethnic minority people. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien. 

From the center of the Dong Van plateau, it only takes 30 minutes to drive to this peaceful and remote village. At its entrance, you can see the stunning over 100-year-old banyan trees that still stand firmly to withstand the hard test of time. This spot offers a place of worship to locals paying homage to the village spirit.

Children from Tay ethnic minortity group smile and play inside the village. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien. 

Children from Tay ethnic minortity group smile and play inside the village. Photo by VnExpress/Xu Kien. 

Thien Huong is an ancient village inhabited by the Tay ethnic minority who make ends meet by farming and winemaking. Exploring the village, you can see various 100-year-old rammed earth houses built in an ancient architectural style using double roof tiles.

Each house consists of two rooms with the upper used for furniture and the lower for cooking and living.

 
 
go to top