Northern Vietnam’s top ticket is the wildly popular Halong Bay, and nearby Cat Ba Island offers excellent hiking, biking and rock climbing. The karst connection continues into Cao Bang province – an essential detour are the sublime lakes of Ba Be National Park – and then west into Ha Giang, Vietnam’s emerging destination for travellers, which hugs the Chinese border.

Sapa is a great base for hiking and stunning vistas of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak. From this former French hill station, the fabled northwest loop road crosses high mountain passes to historic Dien Bien Phu, before crossing lush lowland valleys south to sleepy Mai Chau