The Northwestern part of Vietnam is among the most rugged and remote parts of the country. Here giant peaks covered in lush forests soar majestically, forming deep and picturesque valleys that roads meander through.
A convenient tour of all the natural wonders located here can be done with Hanoi as the natural start and end point. The loop can be done in both directions, but for this article we’ll be starting in the valleys of Mai Chau and then working our way north.
A great view of Mai Chau valley.
Set between two steep mountains, the valley is covered in rice fields, and as such changes from a vibrant bright green in spring to deep gold in autumn. While the area has become an incredibly popular destination for tourists wanting to trek into nature, they’ve done a wonderful job of preserving the peaceful atmosphere and local authenticity.
As you continue north, there are many choices for pit-stops among the ethnic minority villages on the Moc Chau Plateau, and your group will get to enjoy the serene views of orchards and tea plantations, but eventually you’ll reach Pha Din Pass. Here you should stop for sunset at the viewpoint and enjoy as the fading light shrouds the flower-covered hills in gold.
Tea production is a vital economic activity on the Moc Chau plateau.
Next up is Lai Chau, which has sadly lost much of it’s beauty due to flattening of land for future development, but there are still some great views remaining, and since it’s conveniently located on the loop it’s a good place to stop for a day to trek out to one of the many minority villages or caves in the area.
Finally, Sa Pa is undoubtedly the highlight of the Northwest loop. Here you can plan many days of trekking through the green valleys, staying in homestays and remote villages. There is also an excellent cable-car that provides the perfect opportunity to get a birds eye view of the valleys as it carries you into the clouds and up the mountain. There are more trekking options than are possible to mention here, from visiting the many villages down in the valley, to a multi-day trek up the mountain of Fansipan.
Trekking in Sapa with local people.
For trekking, the best time to visit Northwestern Vietnam is between August and December, with the southernmost parts being fairly warm in august, and Sa Pa growing quite cold, especially at night, from December on. Rains and fog are more common the further into winter you go, but this is also the time when you can get the best views, as the fog and rain clears up every three or four days.
No nature focused itinerary of Vietnam can be complete without a circuit of Northwestern Vietnam, or at the very least a few days spent in Sa Pa. Nature activities at all intensity levels can be found here, from enjoying the views from a car, to relaxed strolls to intense hikes up mountainsides and down valleys.