Northeast (Đong Bac)
For most visitors, the northeast is all about Halong Bay. The sublime seascape at this World Heritage site is undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s most enchanting experiences. But high up in the rugged mountains of the interior are some of the country’s most intriguing destinations and far fewer tourists than in the coastal clusters.
Bizarre but beautiful, Halong Bay is geology gone wild, with hundreds and thousands of limestone pinnacles protruding from the waters. North of Halong Bay is the less-visited Bai Tu Long Bay, where nature’s spectacular show continues all the way to the Chinese border. To the south of Halong Bay is Cat Ba Island, a ‘lost world’ landscape with hiking, biking or just hanging around the order of the day. And just a hydrofoil ride away is Haiphong, the north’s major port and a step back in time with wide boulevards and elegant architecture.
Looming above the coast, the brooding mountains of the northeast are another world entirely. The karst connection continues into Cao Bang province, the surreal scenery some of the most stunning in all Vietnam. It is the perfect base for meeting Montagnard minorities and exploring idyllic waterfalls or Ba Be National Park.
Getting back to the basics, this area is a popular route for travelling overland between China and Vietnam. There are two border crossings: one on the coast at Mong Cai that is seldom used, and nother near Lang Son. With all this border traffic, it’s looking good for the locals and the northeast is riding on a boom, as the gateway to Hanoi, by land and by sea.
Getting there & away
Hanoi is the gateway to the northeast and there are excellent roads connecting the capital to Haiphong, Halong City and Lang Son. As the terrain gets more mountainous the roads become more mischievous, but they are generally good throughout the region. Buses are fast and modern in the lowlands, but slow and creaking in the highlands. There are also rail links to Haiphong and Lang Son, but the trains move at a snail’s pace.