Hanoi is a good hub for visiting othe rplaces in norhtern Vietnam. Although most people follow the common path to such beautiful sights as Sapa and Halong Bay, you don't have to travel that far to see some of Vietnam's amazing countryside.
Ninh Binh Province is where the UNESCO natural heritage of Trang An grotto is located, just two hours drive from Hanoi. It is also called “Ha Long bay on land” dedicated to the amazing beauty of its majestic limekarst islands and Islets rising up from the green and yellow carpets of rice, pink lotus fields or the lush green rushes on Van Long Natural Reserve Area, the biggest swamp in the Red River Delta of Vietnam.
You can spend one or two nights in Ninh Binh to visit its must-see places: row a sampan in either Tam Coc, Trang An grotto or Van Long area, visit Bai Dinh pagoda, the biggest Buddhist pagoda in Vietnam, visit Hoa Lu, the old Capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th century, wildlife at the bird sanctuary of Thung Nham, search for the endangered Delacour's langur in the wild on the mountains of Van Long swamp or visit Cuc Phuong National Park, the old and biggest national park in the North of Vietnam.
Mai Chau Valley
From Hanoi, you can take 4 hours drive to Mai Chau valley, home to the colorful and richly cultural Thai minority people in Vietnam. Mai Chau is also famous for breathtaking natural beauty of its mountains, rice terraces and villages of wooden stilt houses with thatched palm leaf roof nestled between green canopies. There, you can do hiking, biking, rafting, stay with a local family or at an eco lodge overlooking fascinating rice fields. Travel farther up north, you will reach Moc Chau – the biggest tea plantation in Vietnam – Son La, Lai Chau, Dien Bien Phu and Sapa town. This route is the Northwest loop of Vietnam.
Some travelers travel from Hanoi to Mai Chau, spend a night, return to Ninh Binh via Thanh Hoa province, spend a night in Ninh Binh and keep driving to Ha Long Bay for one or two nights.
From Hanoi, you can also travel to the Northeast loop of Vietnam including Ha Giang, Dong Van, Meo Vac, Ba Be National Park. Ha Giang is the most remote mountainous area in the Northern end of Vietnam, famous for its special rocky plateau, breathtaking scenery and colorful markets of different hill tribe minorities such as Lung Phin market, Khau Vai love market, Hoang Su Phi and Xin Man Marke
Nowhere in Vietnam but only in Ha Giang and its surrounding areas, you can meet so many small hill tribes groups. Each of the group has their own custom and tradition. You can realize them through their special clothes, jewelry, even how they tie their hair and décor them with a silver comb. From Ha Giang city, you can take a shortcut through Hoang Su Phi, Xin Man to Bac Ha town in the middle north of Vietnam and continue to Sapa. You can return to Hanoi from Sapa by a night train or by road (6 hours drive).
Hanoi to Ha Long Bay will take 3.5 hours drive, to Hai Phong city is 2 hours drive.