Northern Vietnam is a rich repository of his tory and tradition, with many of the country’s oldest temples and fortresses. It is also blessed with great natural grandeur, ranging from the high moun tains and craggy canyons of the west, to the magical karst islands rising from Halong Bay in the east. In addition, the northwest mountains are inhabited by several diverse and culturally unique ethnic minorities.
Crowned by the serrated peaks of the Hoang Lien Mountains, Northern Vietnam boasts a remarkably unspoiled topography, as well as a diverse cultural landscape. The pristine forests and plunging valleys in the mountainous reaches of the north and northwest are inhabited by dozens of minorities such as the Hmong, Thai, Dao, and Nung. Their villages in Son La, Bac Ha, and Sapa are extremely picturesque, with wooden stilt houses punctuating jade-green terraced rice fields. Also in the far west, the valley of Dien Bien Phu is of great historical importance. It is famous as the site of the Viet Minh victory over the French in 1954 – a triumphant chapter in Vietnam’s history.
The northeast, on the other hand, is known for the hundreds of enchanting karst outcrops that loom over the Gulf of Tonkin’s Halong and Bai Tu Long Bays. Similar formations soar above the tropical forests of Cat Ba Island, also home to golden beaches and spectacular coral reefs. In sharp contrast, the nearby port city of Haiphong, in the northernmost province of the Red River Delta, bustles with commerce and industry. Just south of here are the region’s fertile flatlands, home to the ethnic Viet or Kinh people, and marked by extensive paddy fields. Northern Vietnam also has its share of national parks such as Ba Be and Cuc Phuong, celebrated for flora and fauna endemic to the region. It also boasts the spectacular Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. The area is renowned for the festivals and events that enliven its religious sites, including especially the Perfume Pagoda, which is thronged by hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims for three months every year.