A "Turtle Tower" pagoda in the center of Hoan Kiem lake in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam. Legend has it that the pagoda sits atop a giant turtle's back in the lake - Aaron Joel Santos
Countless villages pepper the landscape, each peopled by ethnic minority groups that combine to create Vietnam’s rich tapestry of countless unique cultures. Local markets are abuzz with throngs of resplendently clothed minority people, each group seemingly outdoing the next with displays of colour and intricacy.
In the lowland Red River Delta lies the capital of Hanoi, a city that is at once ever-changing and also locked in time. Wander the Old Quarter’s tree-lined 36 streets and -with a little imagination- step back into the 15th century. Incense wafts from ancient temples while traditional medicines are dispensed from apothecary-like shop houses trading as they have for generations.
As a foodie destination, Hanoi is hard to beat. For the adventurous eater, a culinary revelation awaits on every street, with an array of dishes making delicate use of herbs and spices which characterise the region’s cuisine.
In between meals, Hanoi serves up ample helpings of lakeside ambling, culture, history and the arts. After getting your fix of each, make like a local and pull up a chair at one of thousands of cafes to watch life unfurl and gain a true sense of the city’s daily rhythm.
Not far away lies the fairy tale-like landscape of Ninh Binh, where sheer limestone cliffs rear straight up from paddy fields and rowboats take visitors on mesmerising journeys through river caves.
No trip to the north is complete without a visit to Halong Bay, its thousands of islets dotting calm, emerald green waters. Take an overnight cruise to see the bay by moonlight and sunrise to cap an unforgettable journey in arguably Vietnam’s most intoxicating region.