These year reviews are some of my favourite blogs to write. Not only do I love looking back over the last 12 months, but it is so interesting to see how we thought the journey of 2016 would play out and then how it really did.

We presumed we’d come to Vietnam, work, save and eat plenty of noodle soup. Thinking we’d seen plenty of Vietnam back in 2010 and knowing just how big Vietnam is (3x bigger than South Korea), we thought we’d stick mostly to Hanoi and live on the cheap.

Well, it turns out that Northern Vietnam is full of more beautiful places than you can point a motorbike at.

So, despite the fact that we have found ourselves in 5 different countries this year (only 1 of them new), we’ve decided to focus this Top Journeys breakdown solely on Northern Vietnam.

Let’s get into it shall we? In no particular order:

Pu Luong Northern Vietnam

Journey to Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Visiting Pu Luong came about in old-school of travel style with a recommendation from a friend recommended it. “There’s this place along the Ho Chi Minh highway…”

We made the epic journey with one of our best friends Ben who was visiting and it was the trip that made us realise just how much there is to see in Northern Vietnam. Travelling by bike in the park and staying in the local village homestays, and discovering hidden caves behind waterfalls? Perfect.

life in vietnam northern vietnam sapa

Journey to Sapa

When we travelled in Vietnam in 2010 Sapa was THE off-the-beaten path northern destination for your average backpacker. Mai Chau and Ninh Binh certainly weren’t on our radar and driving those dramatic mountain roads was serious travel mileage. Yet I never made it there.

Maybe it was worth the wait because travelling there in a premium cabin on the train in September this year sure beat what I would have been able to afford at 19. Our connections here as expats also meant that we stayed with the most wonderful family, although I’m sure that is how everyone feels after a homestay in rural Vietnam…

36 hours was certainly not enough to do the region justice but I know we’ll be back for more. This time on motorbikes, of course.

bike trip xuan son national park vietnam expats

Journey to Xuan Son National Park

Our trip to Xuan Son was testament to the power of weekend adventures. We had no plans, no prior knowledge of the park and, really, not much time, yet we came back home feeling more refreshed and energised than we had in a long time. It’s another place we’d love to return to and really explore. We heard of caves but never found them and I’m itching to find a hiking trail up to those rocky peaks.

dong-cao

Journey to Dong Cao

Our short overnighter in Xuan Son proved that 150km was a fair journey even for just a night. So, when friends of friends made a plan to go camping 153km out of Hanoi it was an easy choice, even though I don’t finish work until 5pm on Friday. The journey itself was beautiful but it was sharing the experience with like-minded, tent loving souls that made it really special. The area also reminded us of Scotland and you all know how much we loved our journeys in Edinburgh.

thung nai

Journey to Thung Nai

Thung Nai was another unexpected journey in Northern Vietnam that rarely gets a mention online or in guidebooks. Our Vietnamese friend organised everything so that all we had to do was make the journey there by bike, through the gorgeous landscape of Hoa Binh province, hop on a boat and settle in.

Interestingly, this place is a package-holiday kind of deal with pre-set dinners, entertainment and lake excursions but it was just organised enough to make us completely relax and enjoy ourselves. The fact it is such a small place also made it seem more personal rather than ‘touristy’.

This list is just a taster of journeys in Northern Vietnam, the ones that really made us fall head over heels for this country. You’ll have to stick around the blog to find out more…

Here’s to another year in Vietnam!

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