Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Vietnam

Rice terraces Vietnam Angelo admiring the rice terraces of Northern Vietnam © Angelo Pittro

In July we celebrated 25 years of Lonely Planet guidebooks in Italian. To mark the occasion we talked to Angelo Pittro, Sales Director (and seasoned traveller) from Lonely Planet Italia, about his latest travels in Northern Vietnam.

Tell us more… I travelled to Northern Vietnam during the Easter break, a perfect time for an escape to this region: the climate is excellent and the rice fields have bloomed into a spectacle that has you reaching for your camera at every opportunity. I left Hanoi heading north on Route 32, passing through the valley of Muong Lo (one of the bedrocks of the Thai community in Vietnam) and Mu Cang Chai, a village nestled amongst some of the most beautiful rice paddies in the country.

In a nutshell… In Northern Vietnam I tried to avoid some of the more well-known places for an off-the-beaten track experience. In the remote regions you’ll discover some of the most tranquil parts of the countryside with sublime natural scenery sculpted from rice terraces, boasting a mosaic of ethnicities that each have their own language, customs and faiths. Whilst trekking we met people from the H’mong, Thai, Red Dao and Tay communities, recognisable thanks to their beautiful and distinct traditional clothing.

Taking a photograph of Northern Vietnam's rice terraces Vietnam's landscapes are photogenic from every angle © Angelo Pittro

Defining moment… Sleeping in a traditional stilt house. The ground floor was completely open to the village outside and was where domestic life unfolded. The bedrooms were on the first floor and featured minimalist decor including an old TV set, a portrait of former Prime Minister Ho Chi Minh and little else. It really was a memorable experience. The comfort of running water, electric lights and showers are nothing compared to a night spent sleeping on a bamboo floor accompanied by the surrounding sounds of nature. In the morning, you’re stirred from your slumber by the soundtrack of village life slowly winding up for the day.

Good grub… ‘What’s boiling in the pot that that old man has been warming up for hours on end on the sidewalk?’ Oh probably the best pho that you’ve ever tasted! Do ‘an Obama’, pull up a tiny blue stool, order a portion and slurp away.

Trying a smoking pipe in Northern Vietnam Angelo testing out his new souvenir © Angelo Pittro

Fridge magnet or better? I bought an old smoking pipe from one of the villagers I met on my travels, it’s made of a long bamboo cane with a small burner in the centre.

You’d be a muppet to miss… The rice terraces and tea plantations are unmissable, but don’t forget to visit the markets and treat yourself to some local produce – even if it’s just a piece of fruit. Don’t be shy: spark up a conversation with the market sellers and you’ll be rewarded with sincere friendliness and a rare curiosity about your appearance and outfit.

Equally, in my opinion, everything seems more beautiful astride a small motorbike and it’s a great way to explore the region. You can rent or even buy one, and then resell it at the end of your trip (if you don’t fancy packing it in your luggage).

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Check out where Trade Marketing Executive Emily Farthing has just got back from.