Trekking in Northern Vietnam

TREKKING BANNER

The northern region of Vietnam is a place of remarkable scenery with high mountains, dramatically steep valleys and verdant rice paddies. Here you’ll find endless trekking opportunities from easy walks along well-trodden paths to strenuous treks over the course of a couple of days. You’ll also find Vietnam’s highest mountain peak – Fansipan – at 3,143 meters high above sea level waiting to challenge anyone looking to reach its summit. What makes this part of Vietnam even more alluring to outdoor adventurers is the vibrant community of hill tribe people and the ethnic minorities that call this region their homeland.

Chances are you’ve heard of Sapa for its picturesque views, but there are also other trekking destinations ready to explore. See below for your Guide to trekking in Northern Vietnam.

My experience

polaroid frame pu luong tour

sapa trekking

"Trekking in Vietnam reveals a land of diverse contrasts, beautiful scenery, people and culture."

Trekking memories

I usually recommend travelers to go trekking when everything is green. When the weather is comfortable and there are fewer tourists. Trekking is even more amazing when the rice paddies are verdant green and lush. 

From September to November and again from March to May are usually the best time to trek in Northern Vietnam. Check below for the best times to visit each trekking destination.  

There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. These are the four tribes you’ll likely come across trekking in Sapa: Hmong, Red Dao, Giay and Tay. Each group wear their own traditional  costumes decorated with many colors and details to distinguish themselves from other groups

Some places are more remote than others, so it is best to prepare beforehand.

What to Pack for Your Trek
Hand sanitizer & toilet paper.
Waterproof jacket or light jacket.
Poncho.
Small umbrella during the rainy season (this really helped us from drowning)
Shorts/t-shirts.
Spare socks and underwear.
Flip-flops to wear after your shower.
Pyjamas (or something dry to sleep in)
A backpack for the day

Some trekking destinations like Ba Be National lake and Mai Chau only take a few hours to reach, therefore travelers opt for day trips. However, if getting to places at least 6 or more, it’s worth an overnight stay and even a couple of days of exploration. 

Get to know the locals
Carry enough water
Support the local community by buying their food and handicrafts
Ask before taking someone’s picture

sapa cover

"Beautiful scenery & well trodden paths, Sapa is the most touristic trekking destination."

Sapa is Vietnam’s most popular trekking destination thanks to its epic scenery, amazing hiking opportunities and proximity to the Hoan Lien Mountains where lies Fansipan peak. There are a number of ethnic minority villages and an attractive waterfall nearby which can be accessed on foot. The paths are well trodden, but many paths lead vast wilderness and untamed corners. But don’t worry, it’s easy to find a route that suits any level of fitness. You can also take an xe om (motorbike taxi) one way and hike the other for those short on time or if you’re not keen on hiking back.

When the rice paddies are green

May and September

How many days in Sapa?

Many travelers tend to choose day treks from Sapa as their base and returning to their hotel each night but for serious adventurers, there are  2-4 day treks where you can spend each night at a local homestay, which means you can wake up the next morning and start your trek straight away.

Sapa Market

The market is so popular, local villagers congregate to buy and sell goods from fresh produce to traditional handicrafts. The market is at its busiest on a Saturday but it’s a great place to visit on any day of the week to see the vibrant energy of northern Vietnam’s ethnic groups all gathered in one place. 

Note

Sapa is easily Vietnam’s most touristic trekking destination. You will see other tourists and ethnic vendors will likely be pushy towards travelers. If you’re looking for a remote trekking experience, Sapa might not be for you unless you choose quieter trails. 

Sapa Bucket List
Cable car to Fansipan
Sapa Love Market
Homestay experience
Silver Waterfalls
Hang out with locals

Best trails
Cat Cat Village
Y Linh Ho Village
Ta Phin Village
Giang Ta Chai Village
Lao Chai Ta Van
Muong Hoa Valley
Ham Rong Mountain

local food
Pau Play Day Cake
Bamboo sticky rice
Thang co
Cap Nach pork

Popular Sapa tours

Fansipan

Sapa tour

2 day tour

Ba be national park

"Extraordinary scenery, fascinating biodiversity and rich culture, all centered around a large fresh water lake."

Just only 200km from Hanoi, Ba Be National Park is a rich area filled with rich and diverse landscapes. Seen as the epitome of wild and untamed, travelers will experience a rich tropical forest surrounding a large freshwater lake and dramatic limestone karsts laced with caves and grottoes. This means there’s plenty of chances for trekking, cycling and cave exploration.

Ba Be Lakeshore

Ba Be is a wonderful place to discover the life of the ethnic people living their traditional way of life. Spending time there boating on the lake, visiting ethnic minority villages, observing their daily life and staying in a homestay will help visitors to understand more about their culture, and take the opportunity to have a go at farming or making handicrafts would enhance their local experience much more.  A local guide can show you around Ba Be’s lake, the forest, the villages, and provide a narrative about their culture and traditions.

When the rice paddies are green

April to May and September to October.

How many days in Ba Be National park?

Two to three days gives you ample time to explore the lakes, caves, mountain, and jungles. One day trips are available but it’s better to spend more time there as it’s a 5 to 6-hour drive from Hanoi.

Bucket list lakeshore
Take a boat trip along the lake
Go Kayaking, Cycling & Trekking
An Ma Temple
Widow’s Island
Fairy Pond
Have a homestay experience
Help with fishing and making handicraft

Other things to do
Explore Puong cave & Hang Ma cave
See the Dau Dang Waterfalls
Visit the Tay, Dzao and H’mong ethnic minority villages
Check out how ethnic people make handicraft
Try Lon Cap Nach a local dish.

Ba be local food
Chayote served with sesame
com lam
Grilled fish from the lake

Popular Ba Be National Park tours

Babe tour

Ba be national park

Mai chau

"A convenient and possibly more authentic alternative to Sapa, Mai Chau is a peaceful getaway from the crowds."

Mai Chau is one of the most beautiful valley outskirts of Hanoi where you can visit and stay in the traditional home of the Thai ethnic minority.

Just a four-hour drive from Hanoi, Mai Chau gives you plenty of opportunities to trek in the lush highlands among the ethnic villages. Hiking here is quite gentle and takes place along well-trodden paths. Trek through traditional villages, gorgeous terraced rice patties and see a number of farm animals strutting around.

Sunday Market

If you arrive on a Sunday, ask your guide to take you to the Sunday market: here you will see livestock, fruit and vegetables, live fish and traditional ethnic clothing. You can try the ethnic and Vietnamese delicacies, admire at the brocade cloths and hand-woven traditional clothes or sip local rice wine! 

When the rice paddies are green 

Around late September and in May.

Interact with the ethnic people

Travelers will instantly feel the warmth and curiosity of the ethnic people and will usually greet you with a quick smile and a wave. For a local experience, it’s best to stay a few nights at a homestay. You might even get a chance to help cook dinner and make handicrafts.

How many days in Mai Chau?

Most travelers spend at least 1 to 2 days exploring Mai Chau. There are tours that include Mai Chau for 1 day before going onto the next destination.

Note

Mai Chau is gradually becoming fairly touristy, but you can still have a good experience with fewer crowds. If you’re looking for a challenging trek, then Sapa would be a better option.

Mai chau Bucket list
Have a homestay experience
Thung Khe Mountain Pass
Lac village (Bản Lác) and Pom Coong village (Bản Pom Coọng)
Mo Luong caves and Chieu caves Go Lao waterfall 

Mai Chau other things to do
Check out handmade shops
Go camping at Ba Khan
Thai ethnographic museum (Bảo tàng văn hóa Thái)

Mai chau Food
Thai vegetable salad (Rau xôi nộm)
 Skewered pork (Thịt lợn xiên nướng)
Bamboo-tube rice (Cơm lam)
Wild bee larvae (Nhộng ong rừng xào măng)
Mai Ha rice wine (Rượu nếp Mai Hạ)
Sour river fish (Cá suối ướp chua Mai Châu)
Fried cicada (Ve sầu chiên)

Popular Mai Chau tours

Mai chau Bucket list

Mai Chau 1 day tour

Pu luong cover

"Pu Luong, a natural beauty untouched by modernization. Get close and personal with the indigenous culture with an easy trek in the mountainous valley."

A tour in Pu Luong valley is the best way to discover the best of the nature reserve in the northwest region of Vietnam. In fact, Pu Luong is my favorite trekking destination for its peaceful atmosphere and the lush scenic landscape.  Trekking here is a great mix of walking, local interaction, and village exploration. Enjoy the fresh air and picturesque views in the day and enjoy overnight stays in an eco-lodge. 

Pu Luong’s waterwheels

One distinct thing you’ll notice in Pu Luong is the bamboo waterwheels made by the Black Thai and Muong ethnic community. Like many bamboo pipes in the valley, they serve to harvest water from low narrow streams to nourish the rice crops. 

When the rice paddies are green

September to November 

How many days in Pu Luong?

We recommend spending 2 days in Pu Luong before or after going to Mai Chau or Ninh Binh. This way, you get to experience different scenery and a varied trekking experience.  

Note

Pu Luong sees fewer travelers and is very remote compared to other trekking destinations. The trek is gentle and more like a walk, so Sapa would be a better option for a challenging trek. 

 

Pu luong bucket list
Kayaking and bamboo rafting in Cham River
Experiencing homestay in local stilt houses
Stay the Pu Luong Retreat Hotel
See locals make sugar cane from scratch
Visit the Kho Muong Villages

Pu loung other things to do
Camp overnight in the valley
Join a volunteering project
Hieu Waterfall
Check out the waterwheels in the Co Lung commune

Pu lung local food
The Black Thai and Muong people specialize in delicious dishes such as locally grown chicken, bamboo dishes, forest vegetables, stream snails, a salad made of wild banana flower, rice wine and much more. These ingredients are sourced at the farm by the ethnic groups themselves. When in Pu Luong, these dishes are not to be missed!

Popular Pu Luong tours

Pu luonngNInh Binh Tour

Mai Chau Pu Luong tour

"An impressive list of attractions in a remote place, but with fewer travelers."

Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northernmost province and perhaps one of the most overlooked places. Bordering China, it is home to the country’s most awe-inspiring mountainous landscapes, soaring rice terraces, and diverse ethnic minority groups.

Trekking in Ha Giang

With rich forests, granite mountains, quiet farming villages, and scenic views in every direction, Ha Giang is a great trekking destination for adventurers. In Ha Giang. trek through routes with fewer tourist in sight, so you can experience it uninterrupted for days, and local interactions are based on mutual curiosity rather than commerce. It’s in a nutshell, the perfect alternative to trekking in Sapa.

When the rice paddies are green

September and early October

How many days?

If you’ll be trekking in Ha Giang with a tour, locals would usually recommend 4 to 5 days as there’s a lot to explore and getting there from Hanoi is already 6 hours! For motorcyclists, 3 days would be better as there’ll be more opportunity to cover more sites in a shorter time.

Note

Ha Giang’s rugged descents and extremely jagged rice paddies make a challenging trek. There are many beautiful rugged passes, but caution should be taken when passing through with a motorcycle.

There aren’t as many choices for accommodation, dining, bike rental, tour guides, etc.

Ha ginag bucket list
Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark
Bac Sum pass
Heaven Gate pass
Tham Ma pass
Chin Khoanh pass
Ma Pi Leng pass
Thon Tha Village
Lung Cu Flag Tower

Ha giang other things to do
Tea House of Baiyue Tribe
Khau Vai Love Market
Pho Bang Town
Hoang Su Phi Sunday Market
Check out the Dzao Traditional Dance
House Of Pao In Dong Van Plateau
Sung La valley Dong Van Ha Giang

ha ginag local food
Steamed egg rolls (Trứng cuộn)
Au Tau rice gruel (Cháo ấu tẩu)
Thang Co (Thắng Cố)
Bac Me bamboo sticky rice (Cơm lam Bắc Mẻ)
Grilled alga
Five-color sticky rice (Xôi ngũ sắc)
Thang Den (Thắng Dền)
Bac Quang orange (Cam bắc quang)

Popular Ha Giang tours

ha giang loop

Ha giang 4 day tour

Ha giang trekking 5days 4 nights

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