Following a brand new route along mountain roads only recently opened up to motor vehicles, this tour will introduce you to the rich cultures of a wide variety of ethnic groups living in the far north. During your journey you will get plenty of opportunity to trek to their villages and experience some of their most colourful (and photogenic) weekly markets. This tour is suited to those who are agile, can walk a moderate distance and are prepared to accept local guesthouse accommodation. The rewards are superb….
- Take a city tour of Hà Nội.
- Walk through the beautiful Mù Cang Chải Rice Terraces, recently elevated to the status of a National Heritage Site.
- Wonder at the stunning mountain scenery of the far north, from the Hoàng Liên Sơn range around Sapa to the awesome Mã Pí Lèng Pass in Hà Giang’s Mèo Vạc district.
- Explore the Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geological Park, officially recognised in October 2010 as a member of the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks (GGN).
- Meet over 20 different ethnic minority groups, with plenty of opportunities to interact with them and learn about their cultures
- Visit many photogenic ethnic minority markets, including Sìn Hồ, Mường So, Sapa, Mường Khương and Bảo Nhai.
- View several examples of ancient ethnic minority architecture, from old H’mông wooden houses to the Vương Palace at Xà Phìn and the Hoàng A Tưởng Palace in Bắc Hà.
- Relax in the tranquil surroundings of the beautiful Ba Bể National Park.
Day 1: Arrive Hà Nội (Wednesday) (D)
Arriving in the northern capital, you’ll be met by your tour guide and transferred to your hotel for check-in and a briefing on what to expect during your trip. In the evening we will get together for a welcome dinner. Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 2: Hà Nội (Thursday) (B, L)
We start the day with visits to the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace Vestiges Area, the One-Pillar Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. In the afternoon we will visit the National Museum of Ethnology to learn about the 54 ethnic groups of Việt Nam in preparation for our trip, then it’s back to Ngọc Sơn Temple on Hoàn Kiếm Lake to learn about the legend of the “Restored Sword.” In the evening we will attend a performance by the famous Hà Nội Water Puppet Theatre. Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 3: Hà Nội - Nghĩa Lộ (Friday) (B, L)
Today we will leave the capital and head off into the northern mountainous region of Việt Nam. In the morning the focus is very much on the history and culture of the Việt ethnic majority, as we visit the rural idyll that is Đường Lâm commune near Sơn Tây. Here we will visit Mông Phụ village, renowned for its ancient architecture, which boasts a village gate, a Communal House and around 45 houses aged over 100 years. Here the rural lifestyle and customs of villagers hark back to a time long ago. Lunch will be prepared and served by a family which has lived in one of the few preserved wooden houses for nearly 300 years. After lunch we’ll continue to Nghĩa Lộ where, in the late afternoon, we will tour the ruins of an old concentration camp, built by the French in 1944 and destroyed by Revolutionary forces just three years later. Overnight in Nghĩa Lộ
Day 4: Nghĩa Lộ - Sìn Hồ (Saturday) (B)
Today we make an early start and continue our drive northwards, arriving several hours later at the stunning Mù Cang Chải Rice Terraces, recently elevated to the status of a National Heritage Site. There we will take a short walk to the nearby H’mông ethnic minority village of La Pán Tẩn, enjoying the spectacular scenery and learning about the culture of the H’mông people. After stopping for an early lunch in Than Uyên, we will pass through a region populated by Black H’mông, White Thái, Lự, Lào, Giáy (pronounced “Zay”) and Dao (pronounced “Zao”) ethnic people en route to the provincial capital of Lai Châu. From there we will enter the beautiful Hồng Thu valley, heading up the mountain to the remote township of Sìn Hồ. Overnight in Sìn Hồ
Day 5: Sìn Hồ - Phong Thổ (Sunday) (B)
After an early morning visit to the colourful Sìn Hồ weekly market (frequented by Red H’mông, White H’mông, Flower H’mông, Black Dao and Lự ethnicities), we will drive back down the mountain to Phong Thổ, one of the most ethnically-diverse districts in the far north. The afternoon will find us hiking through the hills to visit White Thái and H’mông ethnic villages. Overnight in Phong Thổ
Day 6: Phong Thổ - Sapa (Monday) (B)
Today we’re up early again to visit the busy Mường So weekly market, frequented by White H’mông, Flower H’mông, Black Dao, Red Dao, Dao Tuyển, Lào, Hà Nhì and U Ní people. We then head through the stunning Fansipan mountain range for an indulgent one-night stop in Sapa, one of northern Việt Nam’s fastest-growing tourist destinations. After lunch in Sapa our bus will take us down into the Mường Hoa valley to visit the Black H’mông village of Lao Chải. From there we’ll take a leisurely trek through the rice terraces to the Giáy village of Tả Van. Before returning to Sapa we will also view a unique set of inscribed stones which date from the prehistoric period. Overnight in Sapa
Day 7: Sapa - Mường Khương (Tuesday) (B, D)
This morning we will drive further north through Lào Cai province to the remote Chinese border town of Mường Khương, situated in a region populated by White H’mông, Flower H’mông, Red Dao, Dao Tuyển, Bố Y, Thù Lao, La Chí, Pa Dí, Phù Lá and Nùng people. In the afternoon we’ll enjoy a hike through lush and verdant hills to visit Phù Lá and Nùng villages in Lùng Khấu Nhin. In the evening a group of local musicians and dancers will perform privately for us a selection of songs and dances of the local ethnic groups. Overnight at Cao Sơn Ecolodge
Day 8: Mường Khương - Bắc Hà (Wednesday) (B)
This morning we will head for Bảo Nhai on the Chảy River, where we’ll take a boat ride upstream to Cốc Ly, stopping on the way at the Tày ethnic village of Trung Đô. Then we’ll continue to Bắc Hà, where after lunch we will visit the Hoàng A Tưởng Palace, a grand colonial residence built by the French in 1912 for one of their trusted ethnic minority mandarins. Overnight in Bắc Hà
Day 9: Bắc Hà - Hà Giang (Thursday) (B)
Today we’ll make an early start back down the mountain, where the colourful Bảo Nhai weekly market (Flower Hmông, Red Dao, Dao Tuyển, Tày, Nùng and Phù Lá ethnic people) will be in full swing by the time of our arrival. Then we’ll head across the mountains into Hà Giang province, stopping on the way at a Pà Thẻn village in Bắc Quang district and also visiting the Sùng Khánh Pagoda south of Hà Giang city, known for its ancient bell. Overnight in Hà Giang
Day 10: Hà Giang (Friday) (B)
In the morning we will visit the excellent new Hà Giang Provincial Museum to learn about the province’s ethnic groups, revolutionary history and geological diversity. The afternoon will be free for exploring Hà Giang city and shopping in its busy market. Overnight in Hà Giang
Day 11: Hà Giang - Đồng Văn (Saturday) (B)
Today we will drive north into the extraordinary Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geological Park, officially recognised in October 2010 as a member of the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks (GGN). On the way we’ll visit Quyết Tiến Saturday market, then ascend the beautiful “Heaven's Gate” Pass at Qủan Bạ, with (on clear days) its dramatic views of the Cán Tỷ valley. After a visit to a Bố Y ethnic village, we’ll make a lunch stop at Yên Minh. Ancient architecture is the theme in the afternoon, when we visit an old wooden house in the H’mông village of Sủng Là, made famous in Quang Hải's award-winning 2006 film Pao's Story, and the Vương Palace at Xà Phìn, another grand residence built by the French for White H’mông “King” Vương Chí Sình, their chief opium dealer in the far north. We’ll stop overnight at the small town of Đồng Văn, with its street of old wooden-framed houses. Overnight in Đồng Văn
Day 12: Đồng Văn - Lũng Phìn - Mèo Vạc - Ba Bể Lake (Sunday) (B)
After getting up early to visit the busy Đồng Văn and Lũng Phìn weekly markets (frequented mainly by White Hmông, Tày, Nùng and Lô Lô ethnic people), we will head south eastwards through some of the most fabulous scenery in Southeast Asia, travelling through Mèo Vạc and Bảo Lạc and eventually arriving in Cao Bằng province. It's a long hard drive on a road only recently opened to traffic, but well worth the effort. In the late afternoon we’ll arrive at Ba Bể National Park, home to the largest natural fresh water lake system in Việt Nam and peopled mainly by Tày, H’mông and Red Dao ethnic minorities. Overnight in Tày ethnic minority homestay at Pác Ngòi
Day 13: Ba Bể Lake (Monday) (B. L)
Using our homestay as a base, we will set out for a day trip combining hikes through the spectacular countryside with relaxing boat trips to visit Puông Cave and the beautiful Đầu Đằng Waterfall. Lunch will be taken in a Tày ethnic minority village. Overnight in Tày ethnic minority homestay at Pác Ngòi
Day 14: Ba Bể Lake - Thái Nguyên - Hà Nội (Tuesday) (B)
All good things come to an end - so today we head back to the bright lights of the capital! Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 15: Hà Nội (Wednesday) (B, D)
Your last full day in Việt Nam is officially free for shopping and relaxing, but for those who still want to see more, two further optional tours will be offered - a guided walking tour of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter in the morning and a visit to Hà Nội Citadel in the afternoon. In the evening we will get together for a farewell dinner. Overnight in Hà Nội
Day 16: Depart Hà Nội (Thursday) (B)
This morning you will be free until your transfer to the airport for your flight home.