Vietnam is a country full of surprises for travellers who love the city and the outdoors. Geographically speaking, there is more “outdoors” than “city” and so that’s really where the adventure is! We continue our list of Top 10 Eco-Adventures For An Unforgettable Trip In Vietnam with the last four experiences not to be missed in northern Vietnam.
7. Enjoy nature at Trang An River on a paddle boat
Source: Thanhhoa Tran
The natural landscape in northern Vietnam is quite different from anywhere else in the country and it is here at the Trang An River where mountains are connected by rice paddies instead of solid land or water. How would one get around the area? By paddle boat of course! It’s an incredibly satisfying experience, just taking it slow on calm water that reflects surrounding lush greenery and blue skies on a good weather day. There are many paddle boat tours that you can go on which take you around the whole region for about two hours. You don’t have to paddle yourself as there’s a guide who does it for you, taking you through narrow and wide waterways and even a cave. It’s a great way to relax and appreciate the scenery that untouched nature offers in this archipelago of almost 30 valleys and 50 caves.
One of the benefits of this experience is that it feels more authentic as there are fewer tourists here compared to Ha Long Bay, so you’ll have more space to breathe! and To get here, fly to Hanoi and take a train to Ninh Binh. From there, Trang An is just a short taxi ride away. There are also a couple of homestays available starting at RM70 per night in the area if you’d like to spend more time at Trang An and living like a local for a day. Boat tours start at about RM37 and we recommend packing lunch and bringing plenty of drinking water along as it can get quite hot.
8. Take in the mighty Ban Gioc Waterfall and Nguom Ngao Cave
At the furthest point, northeast of Hanoi lies the roaring Ban Gioc Waterfall. Unlike many other parts of Vietnam, this waterfall is rarely visited by foreign tourists, leaving the place as authentic as it can be. It’s common to see both Vietnamese and Chinese locals passing through by boat as the falls also sit right on the border of China. Ban Gioc is breathtaking, not so much for its 30-meter height, but for its width that makes it the fourth largest waterfall in the world. The best time to visit is between the months of May to September where you get to see the waterfall in full form and hear the crash and tumble of water even before it comes into sight, miles away. Boat rides to get you up close as possible to the waterfall are priced around RM20 per person. You can also swim in some of the calmer pools of water below. To get to the waterfall you can book a bus Cao Bang City. Most guesthouses in the city would have a schedule and more information available.
About 10-minutes drive away from Ban Gioc is the fascinating Nguom Ngao Cave. This underground realm was more than a tourist attraction once, providing possibly the only form of shelter and protection to the Tay tribe during the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979. Today, mother nature proudly displays her work of art within the odd formations of the cave’s limestone walls. Stalactites, patterns and textures depict a series of rocky images that are as clear as your imagination gets. Allocate about 2-4 hours for your time at Ban Gioc and Nguom Ngao and take it easy.
9. Explore Dong Van Plateau
Source: Thanhhoa Tran
Move aside El Capitan, and make way for a new wallpaper photo that’s bound to be on every north Vietnam traveller’s laptop screen! There is no shortage of limestone in Vietnam, and we can confidently say that Dong Van Plateau has the most beautiful display of limestone mountains in the whole country. The area is protected under the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network and is part of the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark along with three other neighbouring provinces that are home to at least 17 different ethnic minorities. The Geopark has proven to be a treasure trove of natural history, giving scientists the pleasure of discovering numerous fossils that are only found in this part of the world.
If you’re lucky, you may also spot the adorable Asian Black Bear - also known as the Moon Bear, a unique goat-antelope known as the Sumatran serow, and even the endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, all of which are protected within the geopark’s natural conservation area. Temperatures in Dong Van remain fairly cool year around, except for a sudden drop in winter where it can go to a freezing 5°C! Make your way to Ha Giang province between May to October for drier weather and capture stunning photos of Dong Van’s beauty at dawn or dusk. Passes to the geopark and motorbike rental for your adventure are available in Ha Giang itself.
10. Conquer Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Mount Fansipan
We’ve saved the best eco-adventure for the last, and that is conquering the great Mount Fansipan in Lao Cai! Standing at 3,143 meters, Mount Fansipan is the highest peak in Indochina, earning itself the nickname “The Roof of Indochina”. Trekking packages start at RM500 which include porter services and gear if you need, or you can simply do the trek on your own. Permits are still compulsory and that will cost anywhere between RM89 to RM125 depending on the number of days you need it for. A trek to the summit can take between two to four days depending on which trail you choose - Tram Ton, Sin Chai, or Cat Cat.
The most popular trail is Tram Ton, at 11.2km between its starting point and the summit. Being a favourite choice for travellers can also mean it might be quite crowded. Those who are physically fitter may want to challenge themselves on the Sin Chai trail which is only 9 km, but extremely difficult. If time isn’t a factor, take the 4-day Cat Cat trail which goes for 20km and rewards you with the best scenery throughout the hike.
Do bear in mind that even the fittest person may experience some form of altitude sickness along the way so take it easy and stop to breathe slowly as you enjoy the view. Your journey to Mount Fansipan already begins with a good view of the unique rice paddy field patterns that the Hmong people have neatly dugout following the natural curvature of Sapa’s hills at every level. If hiking really isn’t your thing, there is still hope - just take a cable car from Sapa! It’s the easiest and priciest option of course - tickets start at RM530.
So that sums up our top 10 eco-adventures in Vietnam. Other than being a place for eco-tourism, there are many more things you can do in this country of timeless charm. Just make sure you do enough research before your trip so you’ll be prepared for weather conditions and know how to make the most of your stay. That being said, once you know you’ve done all you can, the whole point of having an adventure is to let go and just enjoy every moment spent discovering something new as part of the experience. Better yet if you have someone to experience it with or make unforgettable friendships along the way.