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.
Welcome to Vietnam! Upon arrival at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport, you will be greeted by a friendly local representative. From the airport, they will transfer your directly to your hotel, making for a smooth and comfortable start to your adventure. Check into your room, get settled and enjoy your first evening in Vietnam as you desire! (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.
Make the most of today with an exploration of Vietnam’s capital city...from the back of a motorbike! Your first stop of the day will be at the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam, dating back to the 11th century. It is a popular attraction, as is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, his simple stilt house where he lived and worked. The informative museum there is dedicated to his memory. From there, your guide will take your to visit the bustling Old Quarter, with its unique and eclectic mix of architectural styles - traditional ‘tube’ houses, religious buildings, colonial houses, vernacular dwellings and modern concrete edifices.
No exploration of Hanoi is truly fulfilled without a motorbike experience. This tour will also incorporate a local ‘Street Life’ adventure, taken place on the back of a motorbike. You will spend a couple of hours wandering around the back streets in and nearby the Old Quarter. A street food brunch will be included, offering you the chance to 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 are hungry, try two or three varieties – the dishes are more of snacks, rather than a meal...and the more, the better! (This service is on a private basis.)
This morning, 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. For your Ha Long Bay excursion, you will board the La Vela Premium cruise. It is modeled on the early Art Deco Indochinese, a modern Western style steel boat, designed in the early 20th century. The boat has a total of 20 cabins, so you are likely to be joining other travelers for the cruise. When you arrive in the bay, you will board your beautiful boat to get settled and begin exploring!
On your cruise, you will have the opportunity to discover some of the most beautiful treasures scattered across the Bay, and of course, while you are on board, you can take advantage of the cruise’s facilities and services. Both lunch and dinner will be served on board for you today, utilizing an excellent menu of fresh seafood. Following a day full of activities on the water, the vessel anchors at a very quiet location for your overnight stay. Sleep soundly, as you are rocked to sleep by the waters. (This service is on a group basis.)
Seemingly infinite, the towering islands of Ha Long Bay form a landscape that is other worldly. Named a World Heritage site in 1994, Ha Long Bay offers some of the most beautiful scenes in all of Asia, whether you are lounging on a beach, exploring the inside of a hidden cave or cruising along the water in your traditional Chinese junk style boat. Located just a few hours outside of Hanoi, you can easily trade in the crowded streets of the city, to sail between the striking karst formations instead. Ha Long Bay means "Bay of the Descending Dragons" and mythology says the islands were created from the jewels and jade dropped from the mouth of dragons sent by the Gods. No wonder it's so magical!
Wake up this morning among the crisp and fresh air of the bay and make the most of any time left for activities. After enjoying a tea break, the boat will continue to cruise quietly through spectacular limestone formations, in more isolated regions of the bay for spectacular viewpoints. You will return to the Ha Long Bay Harbor around 11:00 AM, from where you will be transferred back to Hanoi.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, you'll have the use of a day room at a comfortable three star 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.(This service is on a group basis.)
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 reason we encourage first time travelers to Vietnam to visit Hoi An. Following the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities, travel in Hoi An feels effortless. There is little modern motor traffic, and the shops and restaurants are mainly tailored for tourists. A romantic cafe culture is featured in French colonial buildings, along with a thriving art scene, that can keep you busy shopping for days. Hoi An is also a great base from which to enjoy a couple of beach days, or to venture inland for a cultural experience with local farmers.
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 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.
La Vela Premium has been designed with today’s luxury world traveler at the heart of its concept. The vessel houses just 20 stunning cabins organised and crafted according to contemporary design trends, and includes both Premium Cabins as well as Premium Balcony Cabins. Offering a premium experience that is reflected in the name, many of the La Vela Premium cabins have personal balconies offering your own private outside space in Ha Long Bay. The La Vela Premium cabins take style and comfort to a whole new level, with spacious, beautifully designed interior spaces that reflect the majesty of Ha Long Bay. La Vela Premium offers adjoining cabins for families as well, allowing you to enjoy your own privacy, while still staying close to your children.
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 .
Nestled in the heart of the city, the Orchid Hotel is the idyllic place to call home in Hue. The perfect venue for sightseeing, this property offers easy access to many famous historical landmarks, including the Perfume River and a variety of lovely restaurants. Enjoy the best of Vietnamese cuisine, only steps outside your front door. The hotel features just 18 spacious rooms and suites, elegantly designed with attention to detail and authentic local style. The friendly staff and quality service ensures you are able to make the most of your stay.
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.