Dominated by the Red River basin and the sea, the fertile northeast is the cradle of Vietnamese civilisation. Until very recently, Vietnam has had challenging relations with the neighbouring Chinese. China occupied the country in the 2nd century BC, and were not vanquished until the 10th century.
Any time that the Chinese wanted to advance upon Vietnam’s affairs, they could do so through the northeast. The most recent occurrence was China’s 1979 attempt to punish the Vietnamese for their occupation of Cambodia. Thousands of ethnic Chinese also fled this region during the 1970s and ‘80s during war between Vietnam and China.
More than three decades on, border trade is surging ahead and Chinese tourists flock to the region during summer.
Northeast Vietnam’s stunning national parks all involve water-based activities. Cat Ba National Park, near Halong Bay, is a rugged island liberally shrouded in lush jungle. This park also includes the 300 or so limestone islands of Lan Ha Bay.
Further northeast, Halong Bay becomes Bai Tu Long National Park, a procession of karst landscapes easily the equal to its more famous neighbour. Bai Tu Long’s isolation offers hidden beaches with a relative lack of tourists. Better boat services to Quan Lan Island are now making the Bai Tu Long region more accessible.
Ba Be National Park features emerald lakes surrounded by soaring mountains and lush forest. Visit for hiking, biking and boat trips to caves and waterfalls, and staying in Ba Be’s village homestays.
Getting There & Away
Hanoi is the gateway to the northeast. Buses are fast and frequent in the lowlands, but slow and creaking in the highlands. There are also slow rail links to Haiphong and Lang Son.
Road connections to Haiphong, Halong City and Lang Son are fast, but as the terrain gets more mountainous, things slow down considerably.