Sleepy Bac Ha wakes up for the riot of colour and commerce that is its Sunday market, when the lanes fill to choking point and villagers flock in from the hills and valleys. Once the barter, buy and sell is done and the day-tripper tourist buses from Sapa have left, the town rolls over and goes back to bed for the rest of the week.
Ba Na Hill Resort
A hill resort inherited from the French, lush Ba Na has refreshingly cool weather and gorgeous countryside views. Established in 1919, the resort area once held 200-odd villas, but only a few ruins remain. Until WWII, the French were carried up the last 20km of rough mountain road by sedan chair, but now a 5.7km (the world’s longest) cable car system has opened up access.
Ba Be National Park
Often referred to as the Ba Be Lakes, Ba Be National Park was established in 1992 as Vietnam’s eighth national park. The scenery here swoops from towering limestone mountains peaking at 1554m down into plunging valleys wrapped in dense evergreen forests, speckled with waterfalls and caves, with the lakes themselves dominating the very heart of the park.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003, the remarkable Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. Riddled with hundreds of cave systems – many of extraordinary scale and length – and spectacular underground rivers, Phong Nha is a speleologists’ heaven on earth.
Cat Tien National Park
Cat Tien comprises an amazingly biodiverse area of lowland tropical rainforest. The 72,000-hectare park is one of the outstanding natural treasures in Vietnam, and the hiking, mountain biking and birdwatching here are the best in the south of the country. Always call ahead for reservations as the park can accommodate only a limited number of visitors.