Just a few hours north of Hanoi you'll start to ascend, and not just figuratively. The forested mountain slopes and terraced rice fields surrounding Sapa are a breath of fresh air; the ideal antidote for anyone escaping city streets. South of Sapa, an even more accessible escape route can be found. The approach to Mu Cang Chai is really exciting; like entering a forgotten world. Keep an eye out for smoke rising from hidden hillside villages as you travel towards a well-placed eco-lodge to rest and take it all in.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Although the frontier town of Sapa is fairly nondescript, the surrounding slopes are anything but. This is classic trekking country where hill tribe villages host bustling markets and sweeping rice terraces are still farmed by water buffalo. Sit for a while and catch the clouds clinging to the summit of Fan Si Pan - Indochina's highest peak - or linger longer at a spa resort, glowing with the pride that comes from a good day's hike. Just a few hours south, the Mu Cang Chai rice fields offer another trekkers paradise. Largely unknown outside of Vietnam, this region is a gem for hikers looking to follow little-known trails through farmland and tropical forest.
The closer you are to Sapa, the less 'traditional' the markets become. This is not an undiscovered region where foreign visitors are all but unheard of; the locals are often fluent in English and trinkets are often mass-produced rather than unique or handmade. To experience markets that haven't become as touristy, you need to travel. Bac Ha Sunday market, for example, is the largest market that serves the area’s local communities. It's about a two hour drive from Sapa but is the real deal. Seek out culture and connection in traditional Hmong villages dotted between the expertly farmed terraces, speaking to locals and learning more about life deep in rural Vietnam.
Tucked away between the rolling layers of the rice fields there’s a scattering of rustic bungalows overlooking a patchwork of green: the Mu Cang Chai Eco-lodge. The setting is absolutely stunning, and thanks to the lay of the land it's very easy to explore the surrounding plains by bike or on foot. When you're out in this gorgeous landscape, you wouldn't think anywhere else existed; it's incredibly peaceful, so switch off everything! Anyone looking to get back to nature will find Mu Cang Chai's unapologetically earthly ambience an absolute tonic - the complete antithesis to life in the urban fast lane.
Embark on a journey through Vietnam’s less-visited north - lush rolling hills, remote villages and friendly locals, with a side of morning noodles in Hanoi.