Head south west out of Hanoi and find yourself in the heart of Mai Chau, just south of Da River and bordering the beautiful Hoa Binh Lake. Dedicate several days here to explore, from trekking through local villages to cycling along the peaceful green paths that surround the rice fields, and even trying to master a traditional dance with the locals. Most memorable though is a day spent trekking and boating around Hoa Binh Lake - actually a very beautiful man made reservoir - in the mountains. During the days adventure you could also enjoy lunch at a traditional homestay and take a dip in Go Lao waterfall.
For an alternative to the more well-known Halong Bay - particularly in typhoon season - Ninh Binh is every bit as beautiful. Cultural experiences are a must in this area and range from bamboo basket weaving to fishing and cooking classes, all taught by welcoming locals. The highlight of a stay here has to be a visit to Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of dramatic limestone karst peaks permeated by valleys and covered in lush green foliage. Take a small boat with a guide and explore the area from the water, navigating through caves and valleys as you gaze up on the domineering peaks around you.