This itinerary is an in-depth exploration of the culture, people and landscapes of northern Vietnam. Beginning with the classic highlights of Hanoi and nearby Halong Bay, travelers then venture north, into the highlands that are home to hundreds of villages of northern minority hill tribes. These villages each boast their own culture and language, and many do not even speak Vietnamese. These villages, their close proximity to China, and the resulting cultural melding, are integral to understanding both ancient and modern Vietnam.
In the evening, you will be picked up at the airport in Hanoi and transferred to your hotel. (This service is on a private basis.)
Vietnam's capital is rich in a culture touched by French and Chinese influences over its 1,000-year-long history. One can spend days in the Old Quarter, where fashion houses, art galleries and coffee shops make up the city's most charismatic district. Hanoi features hundreds of serene lakes, great for people watching and strolling an afternoon away. Take an evening to dine at a modern, cosmopolitan restaurant and enjoy a night on the town, but don't forget to take an evening to enjoy the thriving street food scene, one of the city's primary attractions.
You’ll have the whole day to explore Vietnam’s capital city on the back of a motorbike. Your guide will take you to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century. It's a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his simple stilt house where he lived and worked and the museum dedicated to his memory. After that, you’ll visit the bustling Old Quarter with its eclectic mix of architectural styles - traditional ‘tube’ houses, religious buildings, colonial houses, vernacular dwellings and modern concrete edifices.
The day also includes a ‘Street Life’ experience, also on the back of a motorbike. You’ll spend a couple of hours wandering around the back streets in and nearby the Old Quarter. A street food brunch is included – take your pick from traditional Hanoi Pho (beef noodle soup), Nom (green papaya salad with seasoned beef), Banh Goi (pillow-shaped rice pastry with minced pork and mushroom), Banh Cuon (hot rice paper with pork and fried onion) or Bun Cha (fresh noodle with grilled pork). If you’re hungry, try two or three varieties – they are snacks rather than a meal.
Today, after breakfast, you will leave for Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape. There you’ll board your boat, a wooden junk built from the model of the old Vietnamese court vessels with sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure, that will take you first to the busy World Heritage area and then to one of the most well-known grottoes and caves, and then kayak (optional) around the area. Weather permitting, you will be able to swim from the boat and enjoy the clear emerald water. All your meals will be provided on board, usually based on fresh seafood, and you’ll sleep in a cabin with an en suite toilet and shower.
Seemingly infinite, the towering islands of Halong Bay form a landscape unique to this world. From sunrise to sunset, Halong offers some of the most beautiful sights in all of Asia, either from the deck of your Chinese style boat, from your kayak, or from a private beach enjoying a seafood lunch.
You’ll wake in fresh air of the bay with a swim and/or a Tai Chi session on the large sundeck (beginners welcome!). After a light breakfast pastry and tea or coffee, you’ll dock to visit one of the most famous caves in the Bay, Me Cung Cave. This cave has been recognized by archaeologists as one of the vestiges of the pre-Halong new Stone Age culture that existed nearly 10,000 years ago. After a narrow crack only allowing one person through at a time, many partitions appear. These chambers are somewhat small and narrow, but very refined and with many stalagmites and stalactites bearing beautiful forms. By the end of the walk, the panoramic view of Ha Long bay is well deserved.
You’ll return to the junk for a brunch while cruising back to dock around noon whereupon you’ll leave for Hanoi.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll have the use of a day room at Cosiana Hotel to freshen up before your overnight train journey. You'll be transferred to the station in good time to board your train to Sapa.
You’ll arrive in the early morning, where you’ll be met and taken by car to visit a market frequented by ethnic minority peoples. After a picnic lunch, you’ll return to Lao Cai and continue your journey into the mountains to Sapa, a small town perched on the mountainside opposite Mt. Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest peak. You’ll arrive with time to relax and stroll around the town. You’ll spend the night in a Sapa hotel with good mountain views.
Although it’s quite a long drive, the landscape is attractive and the ethnic markets are a fascinating experience. Unlike those in the tourist areas, the markets that we choose are for not only for buying and selling, but are also meeting places for ethnic minority people to meet and exchange news. There will be plenty of color and authentic costumes, but very little to buy as souvenirs unless you want to barter for a water buffalo or a sack of fertilizer!
The trips to ethnic minority markets must be on Tuesday (Coc Ly or Ban Cam market), Thursday (Lung Khau Nhin market), Saturday (Can Cau) or Sunday (Bac Ha, Muong Hum or Muong Khuong markets).
There is something about Sapa that defines itself as undeniably Vietnamese. The rolling valleys, rice terraces, minority hill tribes, and stilted buildings are the image many people conjure when they think of this otherwise modern country. Sapa is where the countryside is still alive and thriving. Opportunities for trekking abound, and interacting with the fascinating locals is the main activity in this remote place.
After breakfast, you will head off into the beautiful Hoang Lien National Park by car, along the road you have the chance to see big rice terraces and a hopefully the high tops of the mountain range. Soon your guide will introduce you to the biggest group of minorities in this area, the colorful Black H’mong people, famous for their indo colored cloths and silver necklace. The walk is on a good path and will take few hours, plenty of time to learn about history and traditional customs. You will then continue the transfer deeper into the valley and cross the beautiful Muong Bo River before reaching Thanh Phu village of Tay minority. Here you will see the big difference in culture as the group wears lighter colors of silk clothing. Your lunch will be served next to the rice fields in a local restaurant. After lunch the tour continues to the small village of My Son and an interesting afternoon walk. This remote tribe is the smallest minority group in Sapa area and home to Xa Pho people. In the afternoon you will arrive in the remote and quiet Red Dao village of Nam Cang. Walking along the small roads you will soon understand that this is “off the beaten trail”, people are looking happily. Finally you will cross a private bridge and check into your private room in the comfortable Nam Cang Riverside lodge. You can now explore the village or relax in the river or at the riverside veranda.
Wake up to the sounds of nature. The day starts with a nice breakfast served just a few meters from the river. The morning is for relaxing at the lodge or visiting the surrounding area. Nam Cang is a small village with quite a big school, which gathers children from other nearby village. You'll have a chance to interact and play with the curious locals, visit a silversmith, learn how to make the Red Dao traditional writing paper, try your hand at embroidery, or take a swim in the river.
After saying goodbye to your hosts, transfer to Topas Ecolodge, where you will have lunch wile enjoying amazing views of mountains and endless rice terraces. The walk after lunch is easy, but not uninteresting. You will visit nearby Lech village, also inhabited by Red Dao. Same as in Nam Cang, the women here wear some of the most colorful and diverse costumes of all of Vietnam's ethnic groups. You then walk back to Topas Ecolodge for the transfer back to Lao Cai.
Here you will board your overnight train back to Hanoi.
You will arrive in Hanoi in the early morning and be transferred directly to the airport for your morning flight to Hue. Breakfast will be on your own account (there are many restaurants at the airport).
When you arrive in Hue, you’ll be met by our guide and driven to your hotel to leave your luggage (note: check-in time after 2:00 PM, early check-in dependent upon availability).
After that, your guide will take you to visit the Imperial Citadel of Hue and the nearby Royal Antiquities Museum. After that, you will visit the colorful Dong Ba market where you can see a lot of ingredients for making Hue local foods and explore the business life of the local. Then you will be transferred to visit some of well-known street restaurants to enjoy a lot of Hue local foods, such as: Hue Pancake (banh khoai), Hue beef vermicelli soup (bun bo Hue), Filtered tapioca dumplings (banh bot loc), literally water fern cake (banh beo), steamed shrimp rice cake ( ban nam ) ... If you’re hungry, try two or three varieties – they’re snacks rather than a meal. You will spend the night in Hue.
The heart of imperial Vietnam's history, Hue is Vietnam's cultural capital. It's architecture calls back to a time when the Nguyen Dynasty built temples, pagodas and palaces across its landscapes. A calm, noble city lives on today, showcasing beautiful buildings that survived bombings during the American War. The easy-going local crowd enjoys a night out, and routinely interacts with foreigners. With a tradition for maintaining authentic recipes, Hue's chefs might be the best example of pure Vietnamese food that dates back to the country's imperial years.
In the morning, your bicycles will be at your hotel ready for you to ride through Hue’s rural villages towards the Thanh Toan Bridge (roofed in Chinese style). Nearby, a local market will provide you with views of daily life and local products. You'll then return to Hue’s city center with en-route visit the Ngoc Son Princess ‘garden house’. It has an attractive family altar and the owner is an expert on Hue’s culture and history – he will be pleased to explain the geomantic principles underpinning the building and garden’s construction.
After lunch, your route will take you past the Imperial Citadel to visit some of the garden houses in Phu Mong Kim Long village, a unique feature in Hue. You'll then ride toward one of the handicraft villages in Hue’s hinterland that specializes in a single product range of traditional cakes - ‘banh it’ and ‘banh phu the’ before looping back to visit Dong Ba Market.
In the morning, your car will drive you to Danang. On the way, you'll cross the Hai Van mountain pass. The views from the top are excellent – you should be able to see Lang Co beach and village, and the lagoon far below, with Danang spread out before you to the south.
Arrive in Hoi An for overnight.
There is a good reason we encourage first time travelers to Vietnam to visit Hoi An. After the hustle and bustle of the big cities, travel in Hoi An will feel easier. There is little modern motor traffic, and its shops and restaurants are mainly tailored for tourists. A romantic cafe culture lives on in French colonial buildings, along with a thriving art scene, can keep you busy (and shopping) for days. Hoi An is also a great base from which to enjoy a couple of beach days, or venture inland to meet with local farmers for a more authentic local experience.
Enjoy this free time at your leisure.
Around 8:00am, you’ll be driven to Cua Dai Beach where you’ll board a boat to the islands - the journey to the first site takes about an hour and ten minutes. Depths extend to 23 meters - coral is approximately two meters beneath the surface. The second site is close to cliffs.
Later, you’ll head for a classic tropical beach for lunch under the coconut trees – fresh seafood caught, prepared and cooked by the crew (alternatives can be arranged if necessary).
Your afternoon will be free to laze on the beach or explore the soft corals near the bay. At about 3:30pm, you’ll clamber back on the boat to return to Hoi An and your hotel.
A lifeguard will be continuously on duty in case of accidents. If he or she considers adverse conditions may constitute a hazard, you are obliged to follow the lifeguard’s instructions. Life jackets are available - you will be advised to wear one on the boat and in the water.
(This service is on a group basis.)
This morning, you will be transferred to the airport in good time to board your flight to Hanoi, and connecting international flights home.
Opened in May 2010, the well-known Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel is perfectly located in Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter, just a 2-minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake (the Sword Lake). The hotel is perfect for value-conscious travelers, with a great location, nice clean rooms, and good service.
For your Ha Long excursion, you'll board the Aphrodite Cruise, one of the best wooden boat on the Bay. It’s a wooden junk based on the model of the old Vietnamese court vessels with two barge sails, a wide transom and rectangular superstructure. The boat has 17 cabins, can accommodate a maximum of 24 people, so you're likely to be joining other travellers for the cruise. The most beautiful of all the goddesses was Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. She was often called the “sea-born” goddess, because she was formed one evening from the foam of the crystal waters of Paphos in the fragrant island of Cyprus, where its waves beat upon a rocky shore. Together with the mythology history, we bring the breath of ocean and the authentic culture of local fish farm in Halong Bay to your truly experience on board with Aphrodite Cruises which featured luxury boutique concept and also cruise its own route away from the crowd to untouched areas of the bay. With its golden sails, polished woodwork and refined traditional decor, private waiting lounge, and longer cruising loops, Aphrodite Cruises truly offer an unforgettable ambiance of relaxed elegance.
With its elegant carriages, the Victoria Express Train recalls a more romantic era. Passing through the exotic landscapes of North Vietnam, it offers every visitor a wonderful travelling experience. Indulge yourself in our dining carriage, “Le Tonkin”, where you can savor the delights of traditional Vietnamese and Western cuisine. Our talented Chef has selected the best wines, adding a further exquisite touch to a memorable experience. Discover our 4-course set menus! The train departs six times a week, linking Hanoi to Lao Cai. The Victoria Express Train is a 8.5 hour trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai, accommodating up to 52 passengers in two luxurious sleeping carriages. Each sleeping carriage has 6 superior cabins (4 berths) and 1 deluxe cabin (2 berths), all are air-conditioned, wood paneled, with individual reading lights, baggage storage and oversized windows.
Built as a traditional mountain chalet with accented wooden décor and a welcoming stone fireplace, The Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa overlooks the village, blending perfectly with the natural surroundings. The Victoria features 77 stylishly designed rooms, each with private terrace, wood flooring and a warm touch of local decoration. Guests will feel at ease in the “mountain chalet” atmosphere. All guest rooms offer views over Sapa village, the resort’s lush gardens or Mount Fansipan. After an exciting day of sightseeing, refresh your soul and body with a revitalizing spa experience. Full resort facilities include swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, games room and fitness center.
Located deep in the remote Sapa Valley with a beautiful river running in front of the house and green forest just behind you don’t find a better location for staying overnight in an old traditional minority village, in the heart of the Vietnamese mountains. This new house is built and owned by a Red Dao minority family. The area is brand new to visitors so prepare to witness the real and remote Vietnam when we go beyond the normal tourist routes, the surprised but friendly looks of local minority people, the children who swim in the river next to your house and to be welcomed to private homes as the local mountainous hospitality is unique. We hope you would like to share our interest in unique experiences and welcome you a remote stay but in comfortable rooms combined with good food and service .
The whole setting of Orchid Hotel is chic, attractive, modern and comfortable. Hotel rooms are beautifully and carefully furnished with elegant wooden furniture and good facilities of full service supplies to meet guests' needs. The Orchid Hotel has an ideal location, just steps away from the Perfume River on a street with several tourist information spots. Here, you will have a wide range of options to explore the culinary flavors of Hue at restaurants, and to relax at bars on the street.
A very pleasant boutique style hotel close to the old town, the Ha An is beautifully situated amid peaceful gardens and water features. Well appointed rooms, decent restaurant and the Ha An hotel is convenient stay in Hoi An. This large and charming garden hotel is set at the eastern edge of Hoi An and has a large, very pleasant garden area in front highlighted by potted orchids. The welcoming, family run hotel is set back from the street in a quiet residential area only a very short stroll to the Old Town.
*Pricing is based on two persons traveling together, based on availability, subject to change.