For terraced rice paddies, the Sapa area is good and Ha Giang Province is unsurpassed. However it does rather depend on what time of year you'll be in Vietnam - between harvesting and the next planting the fields are muddy brown.
Elsewhere in Vietnam, including close to Hanoi and around Quang Ngai, the paddies are on flat land and look much the same everywhere.
In any event, 2-3 days in Hanoi shouldn't be viewed as having time to kill as there is so much to see and do there.
CreakingBones: I'll be there at the end of Feb. We'll do Halong bay for sure but I don't know where else to go to. I was looking at Perfume Pargoda and crossed it off my list after my dad reminded me how crowded it was last year around Feb/Mar. I was looking at Ninh Binh/Tam Coc but I'm not sure about that. We'll have 2 days to explore Hanoi beside that. Any recomendation ?Edited: 15 January 2012, 08:06
The Ninh Binh area is wonderful and definitely worth a visit. You may also want to consider a 3day/2night visit to Halong Bay to allow you to see more remote and more beautiful areas of the bay.
As has been said, this really is not the time of the year to see paddy fields. All is brown mud as its inbetween the harvesting and planting season.
The rice paddies there are all on the flat rather than being terraced, but they provide a stunning contrast to the rugged limestone karsts. Planting might well have been completed by the end of February, although growth will be sparse and there won't be the sea of bright green that prevails in later months.
If you do decide to go there I strongly recommend that you avoid Tam Coc as it becomes overrun by tourists. Moreover aggressive vendors can ruin the experience both on and off the boats.
A similar river journey, but with more caves and without the crowds and hassle from vendors, is Trang An, which in a day trip can be combined with visits to Hoa Lu and Bai Dinh Pagoda.
Among the other places worth visiting in Ninh Binh Province are Kenh Ga and Cuc Phuong National Park, which can also be combined in a day trip although I like staying overnight in the park, which offers fairly comfortable but basic accommodation.
I'm newbie, when is the best time to see rice field in North Vietnam ?
That varies according to altitude (rice is planted later in higher areas), but in general April/May to September/October.
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