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Northern Vietnam is a world unto itself, a land of brooding mountains, a mosaic of ethnic minorities, a region of overwhelming beauty. Hit the road by 4WD or motorbike for an adventure more than a holiday.
Leaving the capital, head west to the villages of Mai Chau, which are home to the White Thai people and a perfect introduction to the life of the minorities. Northwest of here, where the road begins to climb into the Hoang Lien Mountains (Tonldnese Alps), a logical stop is Son La.
Dien Bien Phu is a name that resonates with history; it was here that the French colonial story ended with their overwhelming defeat at the hands of the Viet Minh in one of the most celebrated military victories in Vietnamese history.
Climb over the mighty Tram Ton Pass to Sapa. This is the premier destination in the northwest, thanks to the infinite views (on a clear day !), an amazing array of minority peoples and some of the region's most colorful markets. Bail out here by train from Lao Cai, or continue east to Bac Ha, home to the Flower H'mong. Motorbikers can continue on to Ha Giang, a realm of mythical landscapes and unchartered territory. From here head to the lovely lakes of Ba Be National Park before heading north east to Cao Bang, a province peppered with karsts, caves and beautiful waterfalls.
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