Vietnam has spectacular, spellbinding natural scenery, especially in the north. Northern Vietnam boasts stunning rice terraces, mountains and valleys, as well as the mystical beauty of the coast’s karst islands. But Halong Bay is just the tip of iceberg in terms of what Vietnam has to offer the adventurous traveller, with alternatives like Sa Pa and Ninh Binh deserving attention.

I visited Vietnam for three weeks, spending two in the North and one in the South. Hanoi is a fascinating capital, and from there you can travel to Sa Pa and China, or to Halong Bay. It’s also possible to explore the riverine landscape around Ninh Binh and Tam Coc, where karst mountains rise from a plain of paddy fields. In the South you can travel from Ho Chi Minh City to ancient ruined temples and the delta of the great Mekong river.

The posts below highlight how to travel off the beaten path on a budget in this incredible part of the Earth.

Alternatives to Halong Bay in northern Vietnam: Ninh Binh, Tam Coc and Sapa