Parts of Vietnam’s northeast are particularly isolated and fairly challenging to visit. However, this isolation adds to the region’s beauty, as many areas are still extremely undeveloped and unadulterated by tourism. Make the effort to explore this part of the country and you will be rewarded.
Highlights include Ba Be Lakes in Cao Bang province and the road between That Khe and Lang Son, whose beauty of plunging ravines riddled with caves hides a grim and bloody past. To the north of Cao Bang is the cave in which Ho Chi Minh lived upon first returning to Vietnam from China.
This region of Vietnam is also home to numerous ethnic minority groups, including the Tay, Nung, Zoa, Meo, Man and the San Chay. They live in some rather isolated areas and subsist through traditional means. This is one developing trekking area to watch.
During the First Indochina War, this region was the scene of some extremely heavy fighting, especially on the road from Lang Son to Cao Bang. The French had attempted to police cross-border smuggling into China by installing a series of garrisons at That Khe, Cao Bang, Dong Khe and Lang Son. All of these bases were eventually destroyed by guerilla action, along with their supply convoys which supplied Colonial Routes 3 and 4.
The Viet Minh would often destroy parts of the roads for ambush purposes and looking at some of the roads now (especially Route 3 to Lang Son), it is debatable whether they have actually been fixed since.