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Travelling to North Vietnam in 2022: feel the winter bite!

It all started in 2021 when my wife suggested that we take another family road trip through Vietnam. We were going to drive up North to Thai Binh for the Tet holidays, so why not continue our journey to reach the mountains of North Vietnam? My wife and kids had never been there, and I wanted to show them all the great locations that I discovered while running my yearly photography tours in North Vietnam. So we just decided to go, even though February is not the best time to visit that area due to the cold weather and lack of sun. Still, mountains being mountains, it was surely going to be great. So here is my experience from travelling to North Vietnam in 2022.

Travelling to Ha Giang in 2022: 

We left right after Tet and first headed to Cat Ba island. I had never visited this island, previously a favourite backpacker destination. I was pleasantly surprised with the peacefulness of the place (without any tourists, of course!) and how beautiful and serene it felt. It’s like you can see a little Ha Long bay from your hotel room!

We then drove into the Ha Giang region. I used to run photography tours there almost a decade ago, and I had not been fully visiting the area again (apart from a quick motorbike trip through the Ha Giang region last year). Ha Giang region is famous for its local markets and beautiful karst plateau, in the area of Dong Van. We started in Cao Bang, before heading to Meo Vac and Dong Van. 

Bac Giang waterfall

This trip was an opportunity for me to go and visit the “tourist spots”. As you know, on my photography tours we tend to avoid the places where all the tourists go, to offer us better and more authentic photo opportunities. As I was with my family this time, we went through a lot of these “must-see” spots: the Bac Giang waterfall at the Chinese border and the Northernmost point in Vietnam called Lung Cu. 

Meo Vac and its minority market

I was pretty excited to go and visit the minority market of Meo vac, which I had never had a chance to. Thanks to my friend Brice (and his fantastic travel blog…. In French only) for all the tips he gave me.  I think this is a very potential minority market in Ha Giang, even though it wasn’t very busy on that day (once again, fear of Covid). But it did make me think about running photography tours in Ha Giang again, as I used to do almost a decade ago.

Even though the markets in Ha Giang in 2022 are not as busy as they should be due to the fear of Covid, there were quite a lot of activities and people going through. I did feel like I was the only foreigner there, as I was, literally. It really is a fantastic time to be travelling in Vietnam right now, and I know I am blessed to be able to have the time to do so. 

Sapa in 2022: another huge disappointment (again!!!)

It was my birthday when we arrived in Sapa, after a night in Lao Cai city. The road was so foggy that I couldn’t see much when driving up there. As we arrived in Sapa, we managed (with difficulty) to find a parking spot, and straight away we were standing in the middle of horrible traffic! I mean huge trucks fuming black smoke, honking in every corner, carrying building materials for even more huge hotels they are building in the city. 

The Sapa that I discovered 13 years ago was definitely gone. We even tried to walk around to find a coffee shop with a view of the mountains. We failed. My wife even (naively) said: “where are the mountains of Sapa?” as we couldn’t see anything but giant hotels and traffic…. 

We stayed over an hour feeling very frustrated and decided to not stay a minute longer. We improvised a visit to the Fansipan mountains, now reachable by cable car (the longest in the world apparently). This was a great experience, even though we couldn’t see much with all the fog. Definitely a birthday I will remember! 

We then decided to go and isolate ourselves into a small village that I often visit on the North Vietnam photography tour: Ta Giang Phin. The weather did not improve much, but at least we felt like we were in the mountains! We chilled in a Hmong homestay for a couple of days, walking around and visiting villages. My kids had a great time playing in a stream where they built dams and threw rocks… everything kids need these days! And I cannot wait to go back there during my North Vietnam 2022 Photo tour!

Lai Chau region: just splendid! 

We then headed South towards Mu Cang Chai, driving through the amazing tea plantations around Tan Uyen. This is a place we come and visit on the photography tour as it is fantastic for photo opportunities! But once again, the weather did not cooperate and I did not take my camera out of its bag… again! 

We spent a couple of nights in Mu Cang Chai to relax, and visit the famous Nam Xoi rice terraces. Once again, we were the only people up there at this time, which is a drastic change compared to what I usually see there when we visit the place in September. 

Back to Hoi An and ready for some great photography adventures! 

As you may have heard, Vietnam is very soon reopening to tourism, and I am very excited to go back and capture Hoi An and its area in 2022! We are now relaunching Hoi An Photo Tour and Workshop after almost 2 years of inactivity, with updated itineraries.

We are also planning to produce a lot of free content for you, including Youtube videos, new blog posts and tutorials. So definitely stay tuned, and if you want to see our latest photos and photography tips, make sure you follow us on Instagram. 

Travelling to North Vietnam in 2022 did feel like I was completely rediscovering the area. The fact that no, or very very few foreign travellers are now in Vietnam made it feel like I was back 10 years ago. The people were pretty surprised to see me in the villages and markets, and I think we have many months ahead of us when we can feel like we are discovering a new area.

If you have a chance to come back to visit Vietnam in 2022 JUST DO IT! The country is still tourist-free and you have got the whole area almost to yourself! 

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Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.

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