Five options for day trips from Hanoi

Want to be transported to a piece of paradise ... try Tam Coc.
Want to be transported to a piece of paradise ... try Tam Coc.

Hanoi is rapidly gaining favour with travellers to South-East Asia.

It's an intriguing city of immersive experiences that will have visitors shuttling seamlessly between past and present, but for those seeking a rustic retreat, Pan Pacific Hanoi's (www.panpacific.com) management suggests five day trips that will offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Though be warned, the definition of day trip is quite a loose one.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay translates from Vietnamese as "descending dragon" and has an origin story worthy of its arresting beauty.

Halong Bay ... North Vietnam's most visited attraction. Image: John Rozentals.

Halong Bay ... North Vietnam's most visited attraction. Image: John Rozentals.

A three-hour drive from Hanoi, this World Heritage site is North Vietnam's most visited attraction. It is revered for its karsts or statuesque limestone towers which serve as custodians of the bay's waters.

Halong Bay spans over 1150 square kilometres, but busy travellers can cover the area's highlights with a day tour, which usually includes visits to popular caves. The bay is also a prime spot for hiking and water activities, and nightlife and entertainment attractions have sprung up as well.

Lan Ha Bay

Technically an extension of Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay can be considered a part of the wider region.

Visitors will also be greeted by a panorama of peaks, with about 400 limestone karsts scattered throughout the bay, but the real reason that visitors love Lan Ha Bay is that resting snugly between the karsts are pristine beaches that await discovery.

Rock climbing, trekking, kayaking, and sunset beach yoga by candlelight are some of the activities offered by tour operators.

Lan Ha Bay ... resting snugly between the karsts are pristine beaches that await discovery. Image: Sandra Burn White.

Lan Ha Bay ... resting snugly between the karsts are pristine beaches that await discovery. Image: Sandra Burn White.

Visitors torn between Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, can easily pick a tour that includes both.

Mai Chau

For a real antidote to city life, head to the rural Mai Chau (a four-hour drive from Hanoi) for some healing and slow living.

The best views are courtesy of the area's rice terraces, set against a postcard-perfect hilly backdrop.

Mai Chau ... healing and slow living.

Mai Chau ... healing and slow living.

Longer stays are recommended for those who relish the opportunity to work alongside the villagers to pick up farming and fishing techniques, while getting to know them better over a shared meal or two.

Day tours that include sightseeing via trekking and cycling are also readily available.

Tam Coc

Tam Coc (Three Grottoes) is a three-hour drive from Hanoi and is a great getaway option for those hoping to be transported to a pastoral paradise.

The general consensus is that Tam Coc is best appreciated while on a paddle-boat ride on the River Ngo Dong, where visitors can survey its limestone formations and rice paddies in their resplendent glory.

The two-hour sampan ride is a definite highlight, meandering through dumpling-shaped karst hills in a flooded landscape where river and rice paddy merge serenely into one.

Keep an eye open for mountain goats high on the cliffs, and bright, darting kingfishers.

Most of the boat tours at Tam Coc will take visitors to its three caves. Don't be surprised when your boat enters the caves to give you a magical glimpse of what lies within.

Ba Vi National Park ... a favourite weekend retreat for locals features a crumbling cathedral.

Ba Vi National Park ... a favourite weekend retreat for locals features a crumbling cathedral.

Ba Vi National Park

To live as the locals do, head to their favourite weekend retreat: Ba Vi National Park. Formerly a French hill station, or a place of rest for colonial officials to escape the summer heat, Ba Vi National Park today attracts hikers and nature lovers.

It is renowned for its three peaks and more than 1200 plant species. Visitors can also bear witness to the remnants of French architecture in the area, in particular, a crumbling cathedral with a collapsed roof and usually in foggy surrounds.