Short Break: Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital and the second-largest city of Vietnam, is more than just a vibrant city steeped in history and culture, teeming with bustling roadside vendors and calming ancient pagodas. It is also the perfect base for an outdoor adventure, as it’s ideally positioned close to Ba Vi National Park, Ha Long Bay, Sapa and Dalat, where you can hike, climb, kayak, cycle and even go canyoning as you take in Vietnam’s lush landscape and rich culture. 

BA VI NATIONAL PARK 

At just an hour’s drive from downtown Hanoi, Ba Vi National Park (entry fee $1) features numerous forest trails between three mountain summits. With several rare florae like the blue cypress and fauna such as the pygmy slow loris and Sunda pangolin (as listed in Vietnam’s Red Book), the park also has an orchid garden and a bird aviary. 

One popular trail is the 30-minute steep climb up 1,229 steps to the top of Tan Vien peak (1,276 m), where an 11th-century shrine is located. Fog often shrouds the peak – visit between April and December for the best chance of dear views of the Song Hong valley and Hanoi in the distance. Small waterfalls, natural hot springs and war relics like a former military training range from the French colonial era can also be found here.

HA LONG BAY

Known for its scenic karst topography and clear waters, Ha Long Bay is one of the natural wonders of the world. Thanks to the smattering of islands that dot the bay, the water is calm with gentle currents, making it ideal for kayaking. You can paddle around floating villages, hidden lagoons, deserted beaches, numerous caves and limestone karsts; gear can be rented from companies that organise guided kayaking tours, such as Indochina Junk and Blueswimmer Adventures.

Alternatively, rock climbing is also possible at Cat Ba, the largest island in Ha Long Bay known for its rugged wilderness. With almost half of Cat Ba (around 170 sq. km.) and the adjacent waters declared a national park, it is ‘home to many crags perfect for rock climbing, such as Butterfly Valley and Ben Beo Wall. Companies like Asia Outdoors (prices start from $30) provides equipment rental and licensed instructors. For those travelling FIT, Ha Long Bay can be reached by bus (around 34 hours, $4) from Hanoi.

SAPA

The area around Sapa is ideal for mountain biking, with winding mountain roads, rainforest valleys, rice paddy terraces and minority villages to explore. Bikes can be rented independently from local operators; alternatively, tour operators also offer guided trips that suit all levels of experience and fitness.

Sapa is also a popular area for trekking – it’s one of the most scenic regions of Northern Vietnam thanks to the colourful tribal villages (where there are homestay options), and it’s the starting point for the ascent to Mt. Fansipan (3,143 m), the highest peak in Vietnam. Trails are typically challenging and pass through muddy hills, with plenty of obstacles to keep hikers on their toes. Local guides can be hired through the main tourism office and various tour operators in town. 

Sapa can be reached by bus (5-6 hours, $20 – 60) or by train (8-9 hours, $13.50 – 27 for day train, $50 – 240 for night train).

DALAT

For those who have the luxury of time and want to venture further, Dalat is a day’s journey south of Hanoi. Here, you can try canyoning, including rappelling down waterfalls, zip-lining and swimming. One particularly famous canyoning site is “The Dalat Washing Machine”, a 16m abseil in which two jets of water from different directions will simultaneously hit you when you’ve reached the bottom of your rope and send you into a frenzied spin, sending you momentarily underwater. Canyoning tours {prices vary according to length and distance) are offered by several companies in Dalat.

GETTING THERE

There are direct flights (3.5 hours) from Singapore to Hanoi on Tigerair, which is currently offering an all-in return fare from S$174 (excluding booking fee), valid for bookings until 31 August 2016. For booking, visit www.tigerair.com. 

 

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