Vietnam has been open to proper tourism for less than 20 years. And there are still some places where it feels even less. We spent some time in the North on the Chinese border, where there are around 8 ethnic minorities who still live as a traditional life as possible. Sapa and Bac-Ha all take about an hour by road from Lao Cai.
The journey to the North at the moment is via sleeper train that takes around 8 hours, and costs less than $40.
The journey will be cut to 3-4 hours in the next few years when they finish the highway from Hanoi. And even shorter in 5-10 years when the airport opens in Lao Cai. Beautiful country.